Tweet This! :)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pioneering computer and its programmers

by Mark Ollig

What’s 10 feet high, 3 feet wide, 100 feet in length, operates using approximately 70,000 resisters, 10,000 capacitors, 18,000 vacuum tubes, and miles of wire; and weighs nearly 30 tons?

That’s right, you guessed it: A computational device called an Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, otherwise known as the ENIAC.

The ENIAC has been acknowledged as the first fully-operating, all-electronic, digital computing system.

Its historical marker says the ENIAC “signaled the birth of the Information Age.”

This computer was large and U-shaped. The 40 panel bays it was comprised of inhabited a room 30 by 50 feet.

The electricity required to operate the ENIAC was substantial. It used 150-174 kilowatts of power, which was fed directly into it via dedicated power lines.

ENIAC’s design and construction was financed during World War II by the US Army.

In July of 1943, under the secret code name “Project PX,” the building of the ENIAC began in earnest at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering.

The computer became fully operational in 1946.

John Mauchly and J. (John) Presper Eckert Jr. were the co-inventors of the ENIAC.

They both filed for a US patent June 24, 1947, and were later granted U.S. patent number 3,120,606.

Mauchly worked more on the side of the hardware and electrical components, such as vacuum tube technologies. There were 10 different types of vacuum tubes used in the ENIAC.

Eckert engineered the project and solved many of its technical problems, including how to get better dependability from the vacuum tubes by operating them at one-quarter their normal power rating.

Arithmetic, memory, and control elements were part of the ENIAC’s operating systems. There were 20 processing registers or “accumulators” used for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and square-root problem solving.

According to Eckert, some of the sub-elements of the ENIAC were binary in nature.

During the computer’s testing in 1945, it performed nuclear physics calculations used during the building of the hydrogen bomb.

When the computer was finished being built, it was transported to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. It provided “firing tables” for specific trajectories needed to accurately reach intended targets.

At the time, ballistic targeting calculations normally took 12 hours to perform using a mechanical calculator. The ENIAC could perform these calculations in just 30 seconds.

The army also used its computing power for solutions to other ballistic equations, and artillery firing control problems.

Other uses for the ENAIC’s processing capabilities included: weather forecasting, wind-tunnel designs, atomic-energy calculations, and other scientific applications.

Information was input into the computer using IBM punch cards, and the computer could handle 125 cards per minute. The output information was punched onto IBM cards and then printed.

The ENIAC’s personal requirements called for six technicians working three 8-hour shifts, seven days a week to maintain 24-hour a day operation.

Back in the day, yours truly used many spools of rosin-core solder for soldering “jumper wires” to metal terminal posts on the main distribution frame at the telephone company; however, I doubt I did close to the 5 million hand-soldered joints which were needed to connect all the electrical components and wiring inside the ENIAC.

The ENIAC’s programming interface consisted of controlling some 3,000 rotary switches and dozens of cables plugged into sockets. You programmed the computer by adjusting switches and physically plugging cross-connect cables into the correct sockets in order to work the desired computations.

The six original programmers of the ENIAC were: Betty Snyder Holberton, Jean Jennings Bartik, Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum, and Frances Bilas Spence.

These six pioneers created some of the basic concepts used in modern computer programming.

The existence of the ENIAC was publically announced Feb. 14, 1946; however, “None of us girls were ever introduced . . .we were just programmers,” Antonelli said in 2001.

Information about these six programmers can be found here:

“An amazing machine, which applies electronic speeds for the first time to mathematical tasks hitherto too difficult and cumbersome for solution,” said The New York Times when writing about the ENIAC in 1946.

In a 1995 Computerworld magazine interview of J. Presper Eckert by Alexander Randall 5th, Eckert talked about how fast the ENIAC was in solving problems.

“A person with a paper and pencil can add two 10-digit numbers in about 10 seconds. With a hand calculator, the time is down to 4 seconds. The ENIAC was the first electronic digital computer and could add those two 10-digit numbers in 0.0002 seconds – that’s 50,000 times faster than a human, 20,000 times faster than a calculator,” Eckert explained.

The computer processing life of the ENIAC ended at 11:45 p.m. Oct. 2, 1955, when it was turned off.

Four of the original 40 panels of the ENIAC are on display at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. You can read more about the ENIAC at the website:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Going online using cellphones

by Mark Ollig

Since purchasing a smartphone last year, I’ve been using it regularly for checking emails, updating my online social media, and staying informed via mobile news websites.

A majority of us are now using smartphones, and so “cellphone” and “smartphone” will be used synonymously throughout my column, as will “online” and “Internet.”

These days, it should not come as much of a surprise to anyone that most of us are using our cellphones for accessing the Internet.

The fine folks at the Pew Internet & American Life Project seem to agree.

They recently made public a new report entitled, “Cell Internet Use 2013.”

This report was created using the results from individual telephone surveys taken from April 17 to May 19.

“A majority of the public now owns a smartphone, and mobile devices are playing an increasingly central role in the way that Americans access online services and information,” said Aaron Smith, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project.

The number of American adults surveyed who use their cellphone to go online was found to be at 63 percent, which represents an eight-point increase from the survey taken in 2012. When Pew started tracking cellphone Internet usage in 2009, 31 percent were using their cellphone to access the Internet.

I was pleased to learn cellphone owners age 50-64 are experiencing a higher-than-average increase in using their smartphones for accessing the Internet. It was reported 51 percent in this group used their smartphone for going online, which is 15 percent higher than was reported in the spring of 2012.

Don’t worry; yours truly is doing his part in keeping up with the younger demographics.

Speaking of the younger demographics; of the 18-29 year-olds, 21 percent said they are regularly using their cellphone versus any other type of computing device for going online.

“For many, such as younger adults or lower-income Americans, cellphones are often a primary device for accessing online content,” Smith is quoted as saying.

It’s not too surprising that the Pew report revealed those young adults, age 18-29, in all likelihood, will at some time go online using their cellphone. In fact, the Pew report found 85 percent of them will, as compared with 73 percent of those ages 30-49.

An amazing 91 percent of all Americans now own a cellphone. The Pew report states 57 percent can be considered regular cellphone Internet users.

The report shows 34 percent of the cellphone Internet users prefer to use their smartphones to access the Internet, instead of their desktop, laptop, or tablet computer.

In addition to checking email, I am using my smartphone much more now to access Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. I also use it for accessing popular national and world online news sites; as well as local area online websites.

I am at home right now using my MacBook laptop to write this column. I have my smartphone connected to the Internet via a wireless tether from the MacBook’s AirPort (Wi-Fi) connection.

The smartphone alerts me to any emails, Facebook, Google+, or Twitter messages. I use it to respond with, instead of the laptop.

Speaking of alerts, my smartphone just whistled, which means I have a new message from someone.

With the increase in the number of smartphones being used, it makes sense we would be seeing more of us using them for going online.

Smartphones, although having a smaller viewing area than other smart mobile devices, do have advantages; they are lightweight, packed with plenty of applications, and are easily transportable.

Results used in the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s Cell Internet Use 2013 report, was created from the data obtained from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Various cellphone Internet usage questions were asked of 2,252 adults, age 18 and older.

Here’s a link to the full report:

Eventually, we will be seeing Internet usage reports include devices such as Google Glass, possibly an Apple iWatch, and advanced high-tech mobile devices that have not even been created yet.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Newest Apple iPhones unveiled

by Mark Ollig

As customary, the Apple Store was taken offline before another highly anticipated presentation event to introduce its latest products.

Last Tuesday’s venue was Apple’s Town Hall auditorium, located in Cupertino, CA.

As Apple’s CEO Timothy Cook walked out onstage, the usual audience fanfare greeted him.

When it came time to announce the iPhones everyone had been anxiously waiting to hear about, Cook introduced Philip W. Schiller, senior vice-president of worldwide marketing at Apple Inc., to come onstage to do the presentation.

The first smartphone Schiller talked about was the newly-designed, less expensive iPhone 5c.

This new iPhone has a 4-inch glass Retina display screen, and is encased in a hard-coated polycarbonate (plastic).

It includes many of the features found in the iPhone 5, which was introduced a year ago.

The iPhone 5c operates via the new iOS7 platform (set to be released Sept. 18) and uses the Apple A6 processor.

Schiller stated the battery inside the iPhone 5c is slightly larger than the one inside the iPhone 5, and will provide extended operating time in-between charges.

The iPhone 5c also includes an 8 megapixel iSight camera, and Apple FaceTime HD (high-definition) camera for high-resolution video calls.

Colors available for the iPhone 5c include: blue, white, pink, yellow, and green.

The iPhone 5c comes in two storage sizes: 16 GB and 32 GB.

Pricing for the iPhone 5c is:

• 16 GB: $99; (with two-year carrier contract).

• 32 GB: $199; (with two-year carrier contract).

Apple posted an informative video about the iPhone 5c you can watch at:

Next, Schiller presented the iPhone 5s, which includes the much-rumored fingerprint identity sensor called Touch ID.

This identity sensor is located on the iPhone’s circular Home button.

Touch ID is designed to protect access to the iPhone by requiring the owner’s thumb or finger print to be scanned in order for the iPhone to be unlocked.

The demonstration showed the thumb being used because it is located near the circular fingerprint sensor when holding the iPhone 5s.

If you are not comfortable using a thumb or finger print, you can also unlock the iPhone 5s by entering a coded password.

Individual parts which make up the Touch ID sensor of the Home button include: a laser-cut sapphire crystal, stainless steel detection ring, Touch ID sensor, and a tactile switch.

Users of the iTunes Store, App Store, and iBooks Store should like how the new iPhone 5s will allow them to quickly complete purchases by simply placing their finger/thumb on the Touch ID sensor.

The Touch ID sensor is capable of reading multiple finger- prints.

All fingerprints are encrypted and stored inside the iPhone 5; not a database somewhere in the Internet cloud.

Its sleek, smooth case is made from high-grade aluminum, with diamond-cut chamfered (beveled) edges, giving it a seamless look yours truly liked.

“The 5s is the most forward- thinking phone we’ve ever created. In fact, perhaps the most forward-thinking phone anyone has ever made,” Schiller said during his presentation.

The iPhone 5S utilizes Apple’s new A7 64-bit processing chip (it holds 1 billion transistors), making this the world’s first smartphone employing a 64-bit architecture.

By using the A7, Apple states performance rates will be doubled when completing tasks such as saving video and playing games.

Apple’s new iOS 7 software operating system is also used on the iPhone 5s.

Another new chip is the M7 co-processor, which supports the iPhone 5s built-in accelerometer, gyroscope and compass.

The M7, it is said, will also increase the battery life of the iPhone 5s.

The iPhone 5s has an 8 megapixel iSight Camera, which takes advantage of the new image signal processor built into the A7. This allows for up to 2x faster autofocus, photo capture, and higher video frame rates.

The iSight includes “continuous burst mode.” This feature allows the user to take up to 10 pictures per second when photographing fast-moving action.

For more information about Apple’s iSight, visit:

A new CoreMotion framework application program interface (API), is able to receive motion data information from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass.

This API will make it easier for app developers to create new health and fitness applications for the iPhone 5s.

An example is Nike’s new Nike+Move app. This app will make use of the CoreMotion API and A7 co-processor.

The iOS 7 Maps app for the iPhone 5s will be able to quickly change from street driving to walking directions after you park your car and begin walking to your destination.

The new iPhone 5s is available in an impressive-looking gold, along with silver, and a new “space gray,” which is a darker, black-slate color option.

The iPhone 5s comes in three storage sizes: 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB.

Pricing for the iPhone 5s is:

• 16 GB: $199, (with two-year carrier contract).

• 32 GB: $299, (with two-year carrier contract).

• 64 GB: $399, (with two-year carrier contract).

Details about the new iPhone 5s can be found at:

Apple has introduced two new iPhones, both of which are eye-catching, well-designed, and technology-packed.

The complete Apple video presentation can be viewed here:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Bop: A pioneering smoke detector

by Mark Ollig

What happens when our smoke detector goes off in the living room while we are away from home?

That’s right. Its high-pitched shrieking tone will just bounce off the interior walls with no one aware of the potential disaster.

One device our homes and businesses could use is an intelligent smoke alarm which sends us a text message alert whenever it goes off.

Marcus Schappi, an inventor from Sydney, Australia, answered the call and designed a “remote control for your smoke alarm.”

He recently demonstrated his new, intelligent, smoke detector.

It’s called the Bop Smoke Alarm.

It communicates with a user by way of an app (software application) downloaded to a person’s mobile device.

Schappi’s design was one of the award-winning apps selected during the Apps4Broadband competition, co-hosted by the Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation, which is a “national research initiative connecting people to the benefits of broadband through innovative services.”

Apps4Broadband participants were invited to develop prototypes or working applications focusing on emerging technologies for delivering broadband services connected to homes in Australia.

On a recent video Schappi posted online, he demonstrated how the Bop Smoke Alarm works.

“This is the world’s smartest smoke alarm,” Schappi says at the start of the video.

The Bop Smoke Alarm, via its internal Wi-Fi circuitry, maintains a constant connection to a home or business’s broadband router or high-speed gateway.

The alarm’s “intelligence” actually comes from a remote cloud-server, whose software supports the features designed within the app.

Once a user downloads the Bop Smoke Alarm app onto their mobile device, several parameters can be set; such as the smoke alarm’s sensitivity.

For example, when you are at home cooking, and the Bop Smoke Alarm goes off, it can be programmed to delay activating an alert message, or the alarm can be silenced from your mobile device.

A person can program the Bop Smoke Alarm to not send out an alert SMS (Short Message Service) text message to your mobile device until a predetermined number of minutes have passed. The alert SMS message delay can be set for up to 10 minutes. A delay time can be used in order to avoid any false alarms (such as when the smoke alarm goes off while cooking).

Speaking of cooking, if the smoke alarm goes off while yours truly is cooking, you would see him frantically waving a dish towel in the direction of the ceiling smoke detector in a panicky effort to disperse the smoke enough to silence the alarm before someone comes knocking on his door.

Remote testing of the smoke alarm using the mobile device app can be accomplished, as well. This provides peace of mind in knowing the smoke detector is working properly when one is away from home or the office.

When the Bop Smoke Alarm detects smoke, its audible alarm goes off. Then, via its app programing in the data cloud, it will page your mobile device with an alert SMS message in order to see if you reply; it does this first to make sure you are personally OK.

However, if you do not respond to this message within two minutes (I assume this is the default setting), the Bop Smoke Alarm’s app will then call the telephone number you specified during its original setup programming.

The person receiving the phone call from the Bop Smoke Alarm program will hear: “This is an automated warning. Smoke has been detected at (address is given). The owner’s number is (the telephone number of the Bop Smoke Alarm’s home address or owner is given). This message will repeat three times.”

Schappi said the Bop Smoke Alarm “is provided as hardware and software as a service (SaaS).”

One does not need to worry about when to change out the Bop Smoke Alarm’s battery, as a text message will be sent whenever its battery power is low.

Batteries would be sent out for a user’s Bop Smoke Alarm whenever they are scheduled to be changed, Schappi added.

Reliable operation of the Bop Smoke Alarm requires:

• Broadband (high-speed Internet) connection.

• Always-on connection to the broadband.

• Constant reliability of the network.

The Bop Smoke Alarm, according to Schappi, supports “independent living,” and will notify family or care providers of any smoke alarms it detects.

He also pointed out that in Australia, 16 percent of the people living there are hearing- impaired, and the SMS information and alert messages sent by the Bop Smoke Alarm provides this percentage with a visual notification.

These messages and alerts can also be sent to smartwatches, which vibrate when receiving an incoming message.

Information logs kept by the Bop Smoke Alarm app include the most recent smoke alerts, and when they were acknowledged.

The Bop Smoke Alarm system is scheduled to become commercially available in Australia early 2014.

Plans for any US sales of this new smoke alarm system were not immediately known.

The Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation website is

To watch the online video showing Schappi demonstrating the Bop Smoke Alarm, go to