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Friday, December 27, 2013

As we leave 2013 behind us

by Mark Ollig

Alright, here we are at the end of another year; and yes, I will say it, “Where did this year go?”

When I was 30 years younger, I recall being given this pearl of wisdom by someone in their middle 50’s, “Enjoy each year, because when you get to my age, you will find the years going by much faster than you do now.”

Today, I fully understand what this means.

So, it’s going to be 2014 on Wednesday – I can deal with that . . . really, I can.

After typing “2014” and staring at it for a few seconds, for some reason, it caused me to think about the following year; 2015.

Gosh, 2015 is getting closer to Buck Rogers and Star Trek territory, isn’t it? I mean, 2015 looks so futuristic when one looks at it.

Where did 2014 go? It seems like we just started it.

Wait a minute Mark, this new year, 2014, hasn’t gone by us quite that fast – yet.

Possibly, I have some kind of number phobia.

This might be a result of working in the telephone business for too many years, as I deal with numbers every day.

At one time, yours truly had memorized most of the telephone numbers for the local businesses in his hometown; not only that, he could recall many of the cable pair numbers, too. (Physical set of wires used from the telephone company central office to the location where the telephone line terminates).

As I write this column, we are just days away from 2014; and, for some reason, my mind jumped back, and is now stuck in 1984.

Just think . . . George Orwell’s book written about the frightening futuristic year 1984, is about to become 30 years behind us.

Even more amazing, Orwell was writing this book back in 1948, and it was published in 1949.

While we are nostalgically remembering 1984, let’s re-visit some of music we listened to.

In 1984, the top songs included Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose,” Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” Van Halen’s “Jump,” The Culture Club’s popular “Karma Chameleon,” and, of course, who could forget this song (and movie of the same name) by Ray Parker Jr., “Ghostbusters”.

While visiting Billboard’s website, I did a search and found the number-one ranked song for 1984 was recorded by Minnesota’s own artist, Prince, called “When Doves Cry.”

For 1983, Billboard had the song, “Every Breath You Take,” by the group Police, as number one.

Gosh, has it really been 30 years since we first heard Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” on the radio?

For 2013, Billboard’s top artist is Bruno Mars, who, by the way, once held the title as the “Youngest Elvis Impersonator.”

Billboard selected “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, as the number one song for 2013.

One singer (many of you know I always enjoy listening to) holds the title for the largest selling Christmas album of all time. Yes, it is Elvis, and his 1957 “Elvis Christmas Album,” which to date has sold over 10 million copies.

But, I digress.

So, what technology can we expect to hear more about in 2014?

No doubt, Google Glass will be one of them, as it is still on schedule to make its appearance to the public early in 2014.

You may recall from my May 6 column how Google Glass is worn like eyeglasses. There is a small glass display cube attached to the upper-right side of an aluminum headband containing computing processing capabilities. This is where the wearer looks to see the information being presented.

And, of course, we will see new Apple iPhones and iPads – possible new size configurations may be offered to us.

I also forecast we will be seeing some new wearable technology. Perhaps, Apple will bring us its much anticipated iWatch.

In June 2012, I wrote how someday “many of us may be sporting a personal health monitoring sensor, or an environmental measuring device, or an entertainment or social media interface, or some other type of application on a flexible, organic, electronic video display screen – wearable or interwoven into our clothing.”

Will 2014 be the year we begin seeing organic electronics being used in wearables?

Advanced electronic sensors will be connecting more of the home and business appliances we use in our daily lives to the Internet; we will access these sensors for their information.

In 2014, expect to see more nanotechnology breakthroughs.

We will also become more comfortable storing and retrieving our personal information from the Cloud.

The year 2014 looks to be an exciting time for those of us who love technology, so stay tuned.

As we boldly embark into this brand new year, I offer the young people this pearl of wisdom, “Enjoy each year, because when you get to my age, you will find the years going by much faster than you do now.”

My New Year’s wish for all is to have a very happy, safe, successful, healthy, and excitingly technology-filled 2014.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

NORAD tracking the 'Big Red One'

by Mark Ollig

Advanced technology and the folks who know how to use it are currently tracking Santa Claus, Rudolph, and the rest of the reindeer team as they maneuver Santa’s sleigh around the world, filled with toys for all the good girls and boys.

For the record (and for any elves reading this column), yours truly was a very good boy this year.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs, CO is currently tracking Santa as he makes his annual journey from the North Pole.

This year’s tracking of Santa Claus’ journey is code-named “Big Red One.”

NORAD has been tracking Santa’s flight during each Christmas season for the last 58 years.

“The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement misprinted the telephone number for children to call Santa. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD [Continental Air Defense Command] commander-in-chief’s operations “hotline.”

The director of operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born,” said a statement on NORAD’s website.

NORAD says it is tracking Santa using the same space satellite technology it uses for tracking any other airborne object approaching the Northern Hemisphere.

Santa’s sleigh travels faster than starlight, “but this is nothing that our technologies can’t handle,” a confident deputy commander of NORAD stated.

I imagine starlight speeds would be similar to “Star Trek” warp speeds; however, I am unable to officially confirm this.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer will once again be leading Santa’s sleigh team; and because his red nose gives off the same infrared flash of light as would be detected from a missile launch, NORAD will be able to easily track the speed, direction, and location of Santa’s sleigh as it treks through the air.

The deputy command of NORAD, acting much like the flight director in NASA’s mission control, recently confirmed the status of each Santa tracking command station.

Yours truly (with the help of my North Pole elf contact Finarfin Elendil), was able to obtain a transcript of the radio communications check from the command stations reporting in to the NORAD deputy commander:

“Sir, this is Weather. We forecast light snow, and low-density cloud cover in the higher elevations.”

“Sir, Intel can confirm that Jack Frost and the Abominable Snowman will not be a threat.”

“Sir, this is Cyber. Anti-Grinch viral is up, and we’ll continue to monitor for threats.”

“Sir, this is Maritime. Our ships are standing by to conduct any gift rescue operations, if necessary.”

“Sir, this is Space Domain. We have optimal visibility for our satellites to detect Big Red One.”

“Sir, this is the Air Domain. Air space is clear from all threats.”

“Sir, we can confirm Santa is airborne at this time. He is currently descending to 10,000 feet at a speed of 250 knots,” another station reported.

NORAD confirmed a radar lock was established on Santa’s sleigh, along with visual contact of the Big Red One as he traveled from the North Pole. The visual sighting was confirmed by several inflight military pilots monitoring airspace in northern Canada.

Santa and his sleigh team have been given official clearance to fly throughout the skies inside the Northern Hemisphere, by NORAD headquarters.

They are traveling in favorable weather, making good time, and should arrive by Christmas.

Each year, NORAD reportedly uses more than 1,200 volunteers to answer the many thousands of phone calls it receives from children all over the world.

In 2012, approximately 114,000 calls were answered.

You can follow Santa’s journey on the NORAD Tracks Santa website at

This website includes a Santa Tracker Countdown clock, videos of Santa’s North Pole headquarters, interactive games, movies, a library, and holiday musical tunes.

You will also find a direct link to NORAD’s Santa headquarters, along with the history of NORAD’s involvement in Santa’s annual holiday journey.

The official NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center will open Tuesday, Dec. 24 at 3 a.m. Central Standard Time.

This is when official NORAD Santa tracking updates will be provided, by calling 1-877-HI-NORAD (1-877-446-6723), or by sending an email to

Smooth sailing, Santa; may the wind be always at your back.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Holiday message sent from outer space

by Mark Ollig

An historical event began from a launch pad in Florida 55 years ago this week.

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) had just become operational in October of 1958.

It was working on Project SCORE (Signal Communication by Orbiting Relay Equipment), America’s first earth-orbiting communications satellite.

The “orbiting relay equipment” was housed inside a satellite onboard a US Airforce Atlas booster rocket.

The satellite communications payload weighed roughly 150 pounds.

Project SCORE, according to NASA, was to “. . . demonstrate the feasibility of, and explore problems associated with, [the] operation of a satellite communication system.”

This was the first working test of an earth-orbiting communications satellite relay system, and was nicknamed the “talking atlas.”

This event also marked the first time an Atlas booster rocket had ever been used as a space launch vehicle.

There was extreme secrecy about the operation and the specific course planned for the Atlas 10B mission – in fact, only 35 people in the entire country knew the details of it.

I discovered the person who pushed the firing button for the Atlas rocket to lift-off, did not even know the exact course which had been established for it.

We need to remember; at the time of the Atlas launch, it had only been 14 months since the Soviet Union placed its now-famous Sputnik 1 satellite in orbit around the world with its continuous radio signals of “beep-beep-beep-beep” being transmitted towards the Earth.

At that time, many folks here in the US were frightened the Soviets might arm their future earth-orbiting space satellites with nuclear warheads.

You can listen to one minute of the recorded radio signal beeps as transmitted from the Sputnik 1 satellite at:

Project SCORE was established, in part, to put the United States on an even playing field with the Soviet Union; in light of their success with Sputnik.

I also believe Americans wanted reassurance in knowing the US would have its own satellite in space as soon as possible.

On the evening of Thursday, Dec. 18, 1958, the Atlas rocket carrying the secret US satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral, FL.

Four-and-a-half minutes after lift-off, the rocket reached a speed of 17,000 mph. It maneuvered into Earth orbit via its internal guidance system – which was a technical first.

A total of 8,750 pounds was placed into earth-orbit via the Atlas rocket – the heaviest ever to have been sent into orbit at that time.

This satellite was successfully used for relaying real-time voice and teletype communication messages received from a location on earth through the upper atmosphere. After receiving the messages, the satellite would transmit them back down to a specific ground station.

The satellite also had two special devices onboard.

They were a pair of tape recorders, each with a four-minute recording capacity. Both provided safeguard-redundancy: One recorder acted as the primary unit, and the other as a backup unit.

These recorders in the satellite were able to receive radio messages from Earth, record the messages and transmit them back again.

There was one very special voice message, the recorders carried.

It turns out it was a good thing NASA had installed a redundant recorder onboard.

The primary recorder had failed; therefore, the backup was used to transmit a special Christmas greeting to the world.

The following surprise message from President Dwight D. Eisenhower was radioed to Earth December 19, 1958, from the first US earth-orbiting communications satellite:

“This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you via a satellite circling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America’s wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere.”

The batteries onboard the satellite lasted for 12 days, and then, on Jan. 21, 1959, the Atlas satellite’s orbit began to decay. It entered the upper Earth’s atmosphere, where it burned up.

An important technological milestone had been achieved – one which paved the way for the next generation of communication satellites.

A video of the Atlas 10B rocket satellite launch, along with the voice recording of President Eisenhower’s Christmas message to the world, is stored in the Internet Archive at 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Global Internet, mobile-broadband numbers climbing

by Mark Ollig

As we draw nearer to the end of 2013, I thought it might be interesting to check out some numbers regarding Internet and mobile-broadband usage.

Recently, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) published their Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Facts and Figures report for 2013.

Here’s a question for you: who has the greater percentage when it comes to using the Internet on a global scale; women or men?

It turns out, more men than women are using the Internet. The ICT report reveals 37 percent of all women are online, as compared with 41 percent of all men.

About 40 percent of the world’s population, or 2.7 billion people, are online and using the Internet.

For 2013, there are approximately 6.8 billion mobile-cellular subscriptions throughout the world, which just about equals the total population on the Earth (7.1 billion). Slightly more than half (3.5 billion) of these mobile-cellular subscriptions are located in the Asia-Pacific region.

There are an estimated 750 million households on the Earth connected to the Internet; this represents 41 percent of the world’s households.

In developed world locations, 78 percent of all households show being connected to the Internet, as compared with only 28 percent in developing world regions.

Of the 1.1 billion households in the world not connected to the Internet, 90 percent are located in developing world regions.

In Europe, 77 percent of the households are connected to the Internet, while in Africa, only 7 percent are.

In North America, 61 percent of all households have an Internet connection.

Surprisingly, there are 960 million households in the world without an Internet connection.

When the ITU reported on the world’s high-speed broadband Internet access, they defined it as a data transfer speed of at least 10 Megabits per second (Mbps).

Asian countries found to have high-speed broadband Internet availability included China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Hong Kong.

There are also several European countries offering high-speed broadband Internet, including Portugal, Iceland, and Bulgaria.

In contrast, less than 10 percent of the fixed (wired) broadband subscriptions in Africa offer Internet speed of even 2 Mbps.

Mobile-broadband is the common term used for wireless Internet access.

It was projected by the end of 2013; more than 2 billion mobile-broadband subscriptions would be in use worldwide.

For all of North, Central, South America, and the Caribbean, there are 460 million mobile-broadband subscriptions, representing a 48 percent penetration rate within the population.

In Europe, a reported 422 million subscriptions for mobile-broadband are active, which represents a 68 percent penetration.

In the Commonwealth of Independent States, which include Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and six others, there are 129 million mobile-broadband subscriptions, representing a 46 percent penetration rate.

Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco, Iraq, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and 15 others, have 71 million mobile-broadband subscriptions.

In Africa, there are 93 million mobile-broadband subscriptions, representing an 11 percent penetration.

The Asia-Pacific region has the most mobile-broadband subscriptions, with a reported 895 million. This represents a 22 percent penetration rate.

The ITU report says the total number of mobile-broadband subscriptions has increased from 268 million in 2007, to an incredible 2.1 billion in 2013.

Africa is reported with the highest mobile-broadband growth rate during the past three years; from 2 percent in 2010, to 11 percent in 2013.

Another study by the large communications company, Ericsson states mobile phone subscriptions by the year 2019 will reach an incredible 9.3 billion.

VeriSign, a global leader in providing Internet domain names, reported 265 million Internet domain names were registered throughout the world during 2013. This represents an 8 percent increase from last year.

Per the Internet Stats Today website, China has reached 604 million Internet users as of September 2013. The majority of these users are accessing the Internet via mobile smartphones.

Internet World Stats is predicting global Internet usage by 2020 will be approaching a 75 to 85 percent world-wide penetration.

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), reports more than 45 million people in Iran were using the Internet as of March 2013.

The website for the ITU’s telecom page can be found at