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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Space telescope will see 'MOIRE' of us

by Mark Ollig

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, from which the Internet originated, is currently working on a leading-edge, Earth-orbiting, space telescope.

DARPA states the military would find it “optimal” to have instant access to real-time images and video, from any location on earth, at any time.

They said having this specific access is needed for national security reasons.

According to DARPA, such immediate retrieval of real-time video or images from any desired location on the planet does not currently exist.

They also revealed most video and visual imagery used for military planning and operations is being obtained by aircraft.

Of course, spacecraft (namely) satellites orbiting the earth, are also used; however, they are limited in the size of their optics, or large precision reflective mirrors they are able to contain.

A program to improve optical design, called Membrane Optic Imager Real-Time Exploitation (MOIRE), was started in 2010.

And yes, that’s not a typo, it’s “Exploitation.”

“MOIRE aims to create technologies that would enable future high-resolution orbital telescopes to provide real-time video and images of the Earth from Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) – roughly 22,000 miles above the planet’s surface,” as stated by DARPA.

MOIRE will be using a new type of membrane optic (flat mirrored lens), made of a special plastic, instead of currently- used glass.

The thickness of the new optics, which is housed inside wafer-thin metal “petals,” will be comparable to kitchen plastic-wrap.

This design allows its compactable configuration to be easily stored when it is launched into earth orbit.

In contrast to the Hubble, and the soon-to-be-launched James Web Space Telescope (JWST), DARPA’s new earth-orbiting telescope will be pointed at the earth, instead of away from it.

Another interesting feature about MOIRE will be the size of its mirrored lenses. They will be exceptionally larger than those used on the Hubble or JWST.

If we compare the aperture or size of the MOIRE telescopic mirrors, the Hubble is 7.9 feet, and the JWST is 22.3 feet.

So, how large will the MOIRE lens mirrors be? Hold on, folks, because the planned size is nearly 67 feet.

This would make the MOIRE the world’s largest telescopic optics ever built.

The incredible size of the optics used in this orbital telescope, will allow it to view substantial portions of the earth at one time.

Once in orbit, the MOIRE will unfold itself in order to become fully-deployed.

DARPA provided a realistic artist’s interpretation of how the fully-deployed satellite using the MOIRE optics would look when it’s in a geosynchronous earth orbit. You can view it here:

They announced Phase 1 has been completed. This phase proved the MOIRE’s concept feasibility, and over-all design.

DARPA is now into Phase 2.

One experiment involved with this phase, consists of the manufacturing of smaller MOIRE 16.4-foot prototype primary and secondary optics. This will be used to demonstrate their effectiveness in a ground-based experiment.

Testing also includes having the smaller MOIRE telescopic optical lenses be launched, deployed, and tested in Earth orbit via the FalconSAT-7 cube satellite program, which is operated through the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA).

I suppose this means we can rest a bit more easily, knowing the MOIRE will soon be on the job, meeting our national security requirements on a world-wide basis.

Perhaps, the MOIRE could become the source of a new television reality show. It would be titled: “MOIRE on Earth.” Each week, we would tune in to visit a different place on the planet (in real-time) to see who is doing what to whom.

Yes, indeed, nothing like having the all-seeing eye-in-the-sky, keeping watch over us.

DARPA created a short, animated concept video showing the MOIRE unfolding and expanding itself while in Earth orbit:

Additional information about MOIRE can be found at the Tactical Technology Office on the DARPA website:

  (Photo from DARPA website)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Picturephone shown a half-century ago

by Mark Ollig

A Bell Telephone Company representative demonstrated its futuristic Picturephone to many curious observers gathered around it.

This demonstration took place 50 years ago this week, in Queens, NY, during the 1964 World’s Fair.

The Bell System’s Picturephone presentation included: a video camera, monitor screen, a push-button telephone (which in 1964 was impressive in itself), audio speakers, and a power supply.

The video camera used a Plumbicon tube, which was commonly found in commercial television broadcasting cameras.

The Picturephone included a small, Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitor screen.

In the demonstration video I watched, the sound and video quality of the Picturephone was good; the real-time visual of the person seen on the monitor screen was in black-and-white.

The people using it appeared to delight in seeing the person they were speaking with over this futuristic, video telephone.

On April 20, 1964, using a Picturephone installed at the fair in New York, and one at Disneyland in California, people located in both venues were able to see and talk with each other.

There were reported to be very long lines in both locations, as folks wanted to get a good look at this video telephone of the future.

In June 1964, Picture phone commercial public calling booths were installed in New York City, Chicago, and Washington DC.

Half-hearted enthusiasm greeted these Picturephone calling booths; the person wishing to place a video telephone call needed to schedule an appointment 15 minutes in advance.

Cost was found to be another huge barrier, as it was exceptionally expensive; $16 to place a 3-minute video call from New York to Washington, DC.

Remember folks, this was in 1964, so that $16 would be equivalent to approximately $122 in today’s economy.

The cost of a local phone call using a good-old fashioned, coin-operated payphone back in 1964 was 10 cents, which, for those of you who are wondering, would be equivalent to about 75 cents today.

The consumer price index inflation calculator program I used is on the US Bureau of Labor Statistic’s website:

The folks at AT&T, which, we baby boomers know was the parent, or the “Ma Bell” of Bell Telephone’s operating companies, needed to make a strategic decision in order to entice more people to use their new Picturephones.

In 1965, they decided to cut the cost of placing a 3-minute Picturephone call by about 50 percent.

This pricing strategy proved unsuccessful.

So, the next idea was to move the outdoor Picture phone video booths inside Bell-owned buildings to see if this would increase their usage.

This action resulted in the public still not expressing much interest in them.

Since using a Picturephone was restricted to just the three cities, it did not acquire enough national exposure from the public.

It was expensive, and the people having to make a video call from a location other than their home or place of business, found it too inconvenient.

Many of the Picturephone booths installed were no longer in use by 1968.

By the early 1970s, AT&T admitted the public was not showing enough interest in the Picturephone, causing its loss of appeal.

AT&T did say, at its peak, there were approximately 500 Picturephone subscribers.

While the technology used at the time was impressive, having a Picturephone installed in a business or a home proved too costly for most people; this fostered its fall from favor with the public.

Today, cost is no longer a limiting factor.

We’re able to make video and voice calls on our computers and smartphones using free videoconferencing software applications such as Microsoft’s Skype, and Apple’s FaceTime.

And the good thing is, we don’t need to travel to a Picturephone public calling booth to do it.

Five years ago, I used the Skype program on my personal computer to communicate with my oldest son, while he was in Florence, Italy.

This program was easy to use, and the quality of the video and sound was impressive; besides, the cost of the video call ($0.00), made it a no-brainer.

A photograph of the first videophone call using the Picturephone, from April 20, 1964, can be seen on my Photobucket web page:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stretchable electronic patches

by Mark Ollig

After the interruption of spring, caused by the brief re-appearance of winter snow, yours truly finally feels confident in saying, “The snow and cold is behind us.”

The warmth of the recent sun-filled days melted the snow, and has hopefully left all of us feeling rejuvenated, as we anticipate the approaching summer months.

A mystery photo I posted on my Facebook page brought a couple interesting comments: “What is this? A solar paneled something?”

Another asked, “What’s that? R2D2 sun razor?”

The photo was of a thin, flexible, high-tech, future-looking, stick-on skin patch positioned on the arm of someone using it to monitor their body’s vital signs.

Of course, there are other stick-on medical patches, but this one is unique because of how it uses microfluidic construction.

This allows programmable electronics to be attached to a thin, elastic casing filled with fluid within the base of a wearable patch.

This patch’s electronic components are connected using special pleated wiring, arranged in a paper-folding, origami-like fashion.

The electronic chip components are bonded to the underlying patch, yet suspended by using small-scale support points.

This method of bonding allows the patch to bend and be flexible, without the linked components being compromised.

These components are made up of smaller capacitors, batteries, radio transmitters, sensors, power inductors, filters, and other small-scale electronic devices.

The components on the patch are designed to be, eventually, wirelessly powered.

The patch itself is extremely soft, and can be easily attached and removed from the skin’s surface.

One important advantage of using this microfluidic patch is its use of special wiring which can extend and unfold itself while the patch is twisted, or is bending. This prevents the attached electronic components from becoming disconnected.

“When you measure motion on a wristwatch-type device, your body is not very accurately or reliably coupled to the device,” said John A. Rogers, a Swanland Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois.

Rogers, along with Yonggang Huang of Northwestern University, developed this new health monitoring electronic stick-on patch.

“We designed this device to monitor human health 24/7, but without interfering with a person’s daily activity,” Huang said.

The stick-on patch is designed to be comfortably worn during the day or night.

So, what can this medical patch actually monitor?

For starters, your EKG (electrocardiogram) and EEG (electroencephalogram) information can be monitored and the data sent to your cellphone or computer.

This data will then be transmitted directly to your doctor or healthcare provider’s clinic.

Improved measurements should be obtained using this new patch versus a wrist-worn device as the patch would be continuously adhered to the skin, whereas, normal movement or twisting while wearing a wrist-worn monitoring device produces background noise, which can cause incorrect readings.

A user requiring long-term monitoring, such as needed for sleep studies or stress testing, can use this new patch while going about their normal physical movements and behaviors without worrying about the patch disconnecting.

This was confirmed when researchers did side-by-side comparison testing using traditional EKG and EEG monitors on patients.

They found the new wireless stick-on skin patch performed similarly to the traditional sensors and monitors used. Also, wearing the patch was more comfortable for the patients.

When attached or bonded on the skin, the modern sensors, circuits, radio, and power supply systems affixed on this small patch have the ability to produce quality health-monitoring results.

“The application of stretchable electronics to medicine has a lot of potential,” Soud Huang. “If we can continuously monitor our health with a comfortable, small device that attaches to our skin, it could be possible to catch health conditions before experiencing pain, discomfort, and illness.”

A video demonstrating the flexibility of this new stick-on, stretchable electronic medical patch can be seen at:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Transitioning the Internet to IPv6

by Mark Ollig

The Internet’s device addressing system, like the 1977 song by Jackson Browne, is “Running on Empty.”

In 1981, a very young Internet began using a device addressing system called Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4).

By 1983, the Internet was being used by the Department of Defense for connecting researchers and universities.

The IPv4 addressing system provides a unique way of identifying individual computers and other devices, allowing them to communicate with each other over the Internet.

A good analogy to compare this to would be with a ten-digit telephone number.

IPv4 is a four decimal, 32-bit code.

For example, a dotted, decimal format Internet Protocol (IP) address of when written in binary code is this: 11011000.00011011.00111101.10001001.

Four decimal points separate each of the eight binary bits, which make up the 32 bits of the IPv4 code.

There can be understandable confusion, because eight bits are known as a byte; however, the size of the byte is referenced as an octet when used in protocol definitions.

Each of these eight binary positions can have two different states (1 or 0); the total number of combinations per octet is 256.

Since each octet can contain any value between 0 and 255, the four octets will provide a maximum combination of 4,294,967,296 unique IP addresses.

I know – it’s a math thing. Thank goodness my mother quizzed me on multiplication tables when I was in third grade. My teacher, Mrs. Seymour, was impressed; and yes, mom, I still remember them.

I watched a 2012 video in which Vinton Cerf, one of the co-creators of IPv4, talked about the problem we face with running out of Internet addresses, and why we need to use IPv6.

Back in 1976, when IPv4 was undergoing development by Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn, they considered the Internet as just an experiment, and assumed having an IP addressing pool of nearly 4.3 billion unique numbers, or Internet termination points, would be enough.

By 1983, both still believed 4.3 billion Internet addresses would suffice “forever,” according to Cerf.

“The thing is, the experiment never ended,” he added.

They soon realized in the early 1990s, that 4.3 billion unique Internet addresses would not be enough, as more and more computers and other devices, became connected to this ever-growing Internet experiment.

Each of these new devices required their own unique Internet protocol identifier address.

So, in 1996, they developed a new formatting protocol for the Internet called IPv6.

I know what you may be thinking; “What happened to IPv5?”

Well, this IP version was not presented for public use.

IPv5 was developed in the late 1970s, and was an experimental design for providing a real-time streaming protocol called Internet ST (Internet Stream Protocol).

It was intended for the transmission of voice and video signals, and was to be used by the military for the “distributed simulation” of real-time war-games.

IPv6 has enough capacity to provide unique addresses for a nearly unlimited number of devices.

There are 128 bits of address space with IPv6, compared with 32 bits used on IPv4.

How many unique IP addresses will IPv6 provide?

Hold on folks, because it is a colossal-sized number 340 trillion, trillion, trillion, or 340,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

“If I had known in 1973, what was going to happen in 2013, I would have insisted on a much larger address space so we wouldn’t have to go through this transition,” Cerf said last June, while talking about IPv6.

It is predicted this year there will be over 7 billion mobile cell phones in use worldwide. If all of these cell phones required Internet access, it would exhaust the current IPv4 limit.

Future cell phones, mobile computing and smart devices, electronic monitors and sensors, our automobiles, and even robotic devices, will be connected to the Internet.

These, and other yet-to-be-invented gadgets, add urgency to the importance of our achieving a world-wide deployment of IPv6.

Today, manufacturers of data routers, servers, switches, mobile smart devices, and other equipment, along with Internet Service Providers (ISPs), public and private businesses, and government agencies throughout the world, have already made, or are currently working on, provisioning IPv6.

IPv4 will continue to operate parallel with IPv6 throughout the transition. This will allow the Internet network operators the time needed to eventually phase out the old IPv4 standard.

We should note the mobile phones and smart devices we currently have may already support IPv6; however, the Internet sites we go to, and the ISPs, need to enable IPv6 functionality, before we can take full advantage of it.

The transition to IPv6 will allow us to connect and communicate with additional billions, and theoretically trillions, of new devices over the Internet, thus bringing to realization the “Internet of Everything.”

Are you IPv6 ready? To find out, click on Google’s IPv6 test site link,