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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015: We have arrived

By Mark A. Ollig

The year is 2015; we have officially entered the beginning of technology’s future.

Before we get too far into our 2015, it might be interesting to look back at some of the science fiction movies and writings where the storyline future takes place in the year 2015.

In 2009, the science fiction novel “The Carbon Diaries: 2015” was published in the United Kingdom.

This novel dealt with a British family’s lifestyle changes as they adhere to “carbon rationing” rules enacted by the government because of climate changing catastrophes taking place during 2015.

The “Back to the Future II” movie (written in 1989) takes place in 2015, when it was thought there would be floating hoverboards, and flying cars.

In fact, there have been attempts to build flying cars, and you may have even seen some on YouTube; however, they are not being used as envisioned 26 years ago in the movie.

One video made a sensation in early 2014, showing an apparently floating and flying-over-the-ground hoverboard.

Professional skateboarder Tony Hawk demonstrated what looked to all of us as the real thing, as he traveled down, and a couple of feet above, a paved street in the middle of a city.

It was later learned the video was a hoax.

The video released to convince us the hoverboard was real (sure looked real to me) can be seen here:

You can watch an apologetic Tony Hawk come clean, as he revealed how the flying hoverboard illusion was created in this video:

Another futuristic event taking place in “Back to the Future II” shows a USA Today newspaper company’s flying drone, taking photographs at the scene of a teenage gang arrested near the Hill Valley courthouse.

Today, drones are being used to capture hard-to-take photographic images from the air; this is known as “drone photography.”

Aerial news photography, and video of events captured by using drones, is occurring with greater frequency.

I look for this aerial drone method for recording news and events to continue to gain popularity and wide-spread use among the mainstream media, and independent citizen journalists, as well.

The movie “Event Horizon” (released in 1997) reveals humans establishing a permanent colony on the moon in the year 2015.

Another movie set in 2015, shows an attempt to limit the use of natural resources; including oil and gasoline.

The 1981 Canadian movie “Firebird 2015 AD” depicts the US government outlawing the public’s use of gasoline in automobiles, unless it was for “official purposes.”

This movie includes a scene with the president of the United States speaking before Congress about the deplorable actions of 10 states which have violated federal orders, and have allowed oil and gasoline to be freely provided to its citizens.

Of course, back in 1973 and 1979, we really did experience nationwide oil and gas shortages.

In many states, gasoline was rationed, and people experienced long lines while waiting in their cars at the gas stations.

Thankfully, the last time I checked, gasoline was plentiful, and was selling for around $2 per gallon.

So far, 2015 has not seen the gasoline restrictions as envisioned in “Firebird 2015 AD.”

In 1941, famous science fiction author Isaac Asimov wrote “Runaround,” which includes the famous Three Laws of Robotics:

• A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

• A robot must obey orders given in to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

• A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

“Runaround” is about a robot and two people who travel to the planet Mercury in the year 2015.

They are there to resume mining operations which began on the planet 10 years earlier.

While on Mercury, the robot begins to act in a very strange manner.

It begins running around in circles, and is speaking irrationally.

It was learned the robot’s behavior was caused by the effects of a type of chemical element called “selenium,” which is used to maintain life-support inside the human habitation base on the planet.

The story examines what can happen when the Three Laws of Robotics are put to the test.

I feel, with the continuing advancements in artificial intelligence and robotic technology, the probability of humans interacting with quick-thinking, autonomous robots will someday put these three laws to the test for real.

It’s 2015; let’s begin experiencing the next chapter of technology’s future.

Being I’m such a Star Trek fanboi, I wanted to end this first column of 2015 with the words Scotty said in the 1986 movie “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.”

“Hold on tight, lassie. It gets bumpy from here!”

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014: Springboard into the future

By Mark A. Ollig

This last column of 2014 brings to a close a year filled with a variety of tech stories from the past to the present, along with predictions for the future.

From smart robots, to celebrating the Web’s 25th birthday, this year has definitely provided us with much high-tech content.

This year’s demographics show more individuals, organizations, and businesses using online social media for messaging, advertising, commerce, and for following and commenting on news stories.

Another popular use of social media, specifically Twitter, is attracting public attention to a specific cause or message by using hashtags.

In February, we learned the Internet will not only be used by humans, but also by autonomous robots who will “tap” into it, in order to find answers for completing tasks. 

Robots of the future may be accessing a “Wikipedia for robots” Internet database of knowledge and information contributed to by other robots. 

New concerns about the safety of our private information stored in computer systems on the Internet have been in the news recently, especially since the much-publicized computer cyber-attack (hacking) of Sony’s computer system.

“How comfortable are we with having our online social activities, much of our communications, personal information, and work data, being managed and stored within the Internet?” I wrote this past May.

No longer are we keeping our business and personal data stored offline on devices not connected to the Internet as was done during the 1980s, when people were using “stand-alone” computers, external hard drives, magnetic tapes, and floppy disks.

How times have changed.

Today, our online public “digital footprint” resides throughout the Internet.

In fact, the whole personal information dynamic has changed since the Web came into being.

We trusted our online data was being seen only by those whom we chose to see it.

The necessity to push our personal information online, in order to make it accessible to the companies, government agencies, and organizations we do business with, has created a false sense of security for us. 

This year, we have realized our online data is not 100 percent safe, making it a worrisome time for those of us who do online shopping. 

We have been witness to, and some of us may have been victims of, having our personal credit information compromised via cyber-attacks of the computer systems owned by retailers such as Target, Staples, Home Depot, and Michaels.

This year has been our “wake-up call” to the reality that our online information can be stolen – in spite of any assurances of it being secured, protected, and encrypted.

One way to bypass Internet firewall security, and gain access to information stored on a specific computer system, is for a cyber-attacker to obtain an administrator’s username and password. 

My advice for us is to keep changing our passwords on a regular basis. 

Granted, no online computer system is totally foolproof; however, with the increased number of computer breaches being reported, 2015 needs to be the year the computing community seriously addresses the issue of cybersecurity. 

This year, we also learned about IoT (Internet of Things).

The idea of having most devices (Things) connected, monitored, and controlled over the Internet, is creating a lot of excitement . . . and concern. 

From transportation networks, manufacturer’s plant machinery, energy power grids, cars, refrigerators, to wearable wrist devices - even our coffee makers, will probably have an Internet-linked smart computing chip embedded inside of them.

And yes, I know some of you are thinking: “Computer chips will eventually be implanted in people.” This subject will eventually become the center of much debate and discussion.

If IoT actually comes to fruition, we could have millions, if not trillions, of devices providing information and communicating not only with us, but with other devices connected to the Internet. 

Each of these devices will have their own unique Internet address; most likely using the nearly inexhaustible IPv6 addressing system.

Having much of the world’s electronic devices globally-interconnected and communicating with each other, will create a massive amount of information needing to be logically organized, evaluated, and distributed.

It has been suggested utilizing everyday devices to operate over the Internet will increase industrial and commercial sector efficiencies, and assist in improving the overall social, economic, and environmental conditions for all of us. 

I sense a groundbreaking paradigm shift occurring in how we will be using the Internet of Things; this should be more clearly revealed to us in 2015.

This past year, we looked back at some history, learned about new electronic devices and technology, and of course, the Internet. 

We covered many interesting topics which sometimes provided u,s with more questions than answers. 

Much of the technology we explored this year will serve as the springboard for some very exciting surprises during the New Year. 

In future columns, I plan to continue writing about the Internet and the latest technology news, along with assorted technologies from the past, and how they influence our way of life. 

Let’s continue to study, contemplate, question, and even occasionally become awestruck, as we follow technology’s journey into 2015.

2014 Bits & Bytes columns: 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Santa is a 'high-tech' jolly old elf

by Mark A. Ollig

Six years ago, one of my faithful readers asked me to investigate a question she had about Santa Claus.

Jessica wrote “Does Santa use a computer?”

She also asked if I could provide the answer before Christmas Day.

Being not one to disappoint, I emailed my entire list of elf contacts at the North Pole, hoping one would get back to me before this newspaper’s holiday deadline.

To my surprise, one game elf did reply.

And who was this accommodating gnome?

As some of you may remember, his name was Finarfin Elendil.

The following is what I wrote (with present-day revisions) to Jessica.

Dear Jessica, Santa Claus does indeed use a computer.

In fact, the smiling, well-nourished, red-cheeked, jolly old man with the white beard, is extremely computer-savvy.

During the Christmas off-season, the elves, along with Santa, attend computer training classes.

Don’t tell anyone, but one of Santa’s elves, Finarfin Elendil, provided me with the inside scoop about the computer and advanced technology Santa uses.

Santa’s main computer is known as the “Santa Claus Super Computer” (SCSC).

It is located near the North Pole’s largest toy-making factory.

The SCSC is the world’s most powerful (and very top-secret) computer.

The building where Santa’s computer is located is made of special metals, rendering it undetectable from all earth-orbiting satellites, high-altitude surveillance aircraft, and even the omnidirectional camera’s used atop Google Maps Street View cars.

Finarfin Elendil described to me how Santa’s computer’s digital data-stream is algorithmically encrypted, using advanced transmission control protocol signaling techniques processed through an optical-fiber bus star topology within the North Pole’s local area computing network.

Santa rarely mentions this computer when he’s out in public.

Not far from where Santa’s main computer is located is Sleigh Hangar Bay One, which houses Santa’s top-secret, high-tech sleigh he sometimes uses for delivering Christmas presents when he’s in a hurry.

This special sleigh is called Sleigh One.

I learned Sleigh One is not your average wooden snow toboggan.

Indeed, Sleigh One is a fully computerized, low-earth orbiting bobsled using advanced stealth technology, and is made of special space-age materials known only to Santa and NASA.

Sleigh One is spacious; offering Santa, the reindeer, and the elves plenty of leg room.

Its on-board guidance computer receives in-flight coordinates from earth-orbiting satellites using enhanced global positioning system technology.

The MPR (miles per reindeer), is conveniently displayed on Sleigh One’s digital instrumentation panel.

Santa was said to have chuckled when he discovered the elves had installed self-refilling eggnog cups next to their seats on Sleigh One.

Sleigh One receives updated “toy-inventory-remaining” Twitter telemetry and “who’s-naughty-or-nice” text-messaging reports from the air-traffic controller elves broadcasting from Santa’s headquarters at the North Pole.

Sleigh One is said to communicate with the North Pole using encrypted radio frequency uplinks somewhere in the 26.5GHz to 40 GHz Ka spectrum range.

Elf rumor has it Santa may be installing a new mobile communications network using 5G broadband transceivers by 2020.

Not long ago, a few of Santa’s circuit design engineering elves developed and manufactured the classified E1 (Elf-1) Virtual Unlimited-iCore Super-Fast processor chip.

The E1 can process information at a speed of one centillion (1 followed by 303 zeros) FLOPS (floating operations per second).

Finarfin Elendil boasted how circuit design engineers from major computer chip-making companies are constantly calling the North Pole and asking the elves for advice.

Santa uses the E1’s incredible processing speed to instantly map the exact coordinates of every rooftop and chimney throughout the world.

If a particular home has no chimney, the E1 will automatically execute and upload to Sleigh One, a special “backdoor” software program which provides an alternate entry solution so Santa can get the Christmas presents delivered.

Finarfin Elendil confirmed this year’s Christmas Eve reindeer sleigh team will be comprised of Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blixen.

Because of his extremely shiny red nose, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has once again been chosen by Santa to guide the mighty reindeer sleigh team around the world on Christmas Eve.

In the event of a navigational emergency, Sleigh One has a reliable, guidance program on standby.

It’s called the Automatic Assistance Reindeer Pilot (AARP).

Sleigh One can also travel at the speed of light.

Rudolph originally wanted Sleigh One to fly faster than the speed of light, so he could show off in front of the other reindeer, but Santa nixed the idea.

Santa explained going faster than the speed of light would cause the bright, fog-piercing, red beam of light extending from Rudolph’s nose to bend and shine behind the sleigh, instead of in front of it.

Santa revealed this would cause a reverse time-line anomaly, triggering a space-time continuum vortex; causing children’s Christmas presents to be delivered years before they were born.

Rest assured Jessica, your Christmas presents will be delivered in a sleigh traveling well within our space-time continuum’s speed of light safety limits.

I hope Jessica (and all of you) enjoyed reading this story as much as I did writing it.

And let’s remember, the word “Christmas” comes from the very old phrase, “Cristes maesse” which means “Christ’s Mass.”

Dec. 25, Christmas Day, is when Christians all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

           I wish all of my readers
       (and especially to you, mom) 
          a very Merry  Christmas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Internet keeps us better informed

by Mark A. Ollig

The folks at the Pew Research Center just recently released a report regarding our feelings about the Internet.

Their polling suggests we are keeping better contact with family and friends via the Internet, text messaging, and emails.

I have found this to be true.

I’m texting, emailing, and using Internet social media to communicate with friends and family much more these days, rather than placing telephone calls.

Pew Research says 67 percent of online adults report being better informed about friends, while 60 percent believe they know more about their family than they did five years ago, because of their Internet and smartphone usage.

Internet technology provides us with access to news and information about our local communities, and civic organizations.

Surprisingly, the polling only shows 49 percent of people feeling better informed about civic and governmental activities in their town’s community, because of digital and Internet technology.

Regarding their neighbors and neighborhood, only 39 percent feel better informed because of the technology.

In many of the local community websites I have visited online, there is a wealth of information available to citizens.

Perhaps more attention should be paid to getting this information from city websites, to the local citizens.

I wrote a column Nov. 10, 1997 about when my hometown of Winsted first went live with its own “official” city website on the Internet.

Hard to believe it was 17 years ago, isn’t it?

This taking-the-initiative writer feels the time has come to pen an updated column about the variety of services and information city websites are offering to their local citizens and visitors.

The link to the 1997 column “City of Winsted now on the Web” can be read at

We know the Internet provides us with an enormous amount of information.

Pew Research found 72 percent of the folks polled said they liked having this information available to them.

On the other hand, 26 percent felt “overloaded” by this eruption of Internet information.

The report shows 77 percent of the adults polled say the Internet has made today’s students better informed, while 8 percent said students had become less well-informed.

Who those 8 percent were is a mystery to me.

The 2013 “How Much Media? Report on American Consumers” article from the USC Marshall School of Business, predicts Americans will have consumed 1.7 trillion hours of traditional and digital media content by 2015.

This media includes print, television, radio, telephone, Internet, computer gaming, and online social media; like Facebook and Twitter.

It breaks down to an average of 15.5 hours a day per person consuming, and creating original content; whether it be traditional or digital media.

One study from 2008, showed the average American at that time was processing over 100,500 words per day from various sources.

Today’s column is around 900 words, so this writer is doing his part in creating content for your enjoyment.

Pew Research says, of today’s Web users under age 50, 61 percent feel the Internet and smartphones have improved their ability to learn new things, while 44 percent of users over age 50 responded saying this technology has “only a little” or “not at all” improved their learning new things.

Its polling found 75 percent of us feel better informed about national news, due to our increased Internet usage.

The Internet allows us to become more aware of the news and goings-on in other countries around the world.

Pew Research asked people if they feel better informed today about international news because of their use of the Internet and smartphones compared with five years ago. This poll showed 74 percent overall said they had.

I was on a Barcelona news website, reading about their recent vote on the Catalonia community (which Barcelona is a part of) becoming independent from Spain.

Although the website was written in the language of Catalan (there was no English version), I could easily copy and paste its website address, or a specific article into Google Translate, to read the text in English.

When addressing the topic of health and fitness information, 65 percent of Internet users said they are better informed than they were in 2009, due to their use of the Internet and smartphones.

It was satisfying to see the 87 percent of Americans polled who reported using the Internet is helping them to learn new things.

Pew Research discovered the Internet and digital technology is not only about learning new things, it’s also about sharing information.

When asked how digital technology has improved their capability to share thoughts and concepts with other people, on average, 38 percent of online Americans responded with “a lot,” while 34 percent said it improved their ability “somewhat.” There were 27 percent responding with “only a little, or not at all.”

We are enjoying, contributing, and learning from the ever-increasing amount of information being made available to us over the Internet.

Our ability to balance the amount of information we contribute and receive from the Internet, without suffering from “information overload,” is something we continue to learn how to handle.

This Pew Research study was conducted in September from a sampling of 1,066 Internet and smartphone users age 18 and older.