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Friday, October 31, 2014

'Smartening up' submarine communication cables

by Mark Ollig

More than 550,000 miles of submarine cables currently provide telecommunication and Internet services between most of the world’s continents.

The first undersea or submarine cable began providing telegraph service between Dover, England and Calais, France Oct. 17, 1851.

By 2015, there will be some 285 working submarine cables originating from land-based stations on one continent, crisscrossing oceans and seas, and terminating to land-based stations located in other continents, or regions of the world.

The importance of these submarine cables cannot be overstated; they are used by scientists, health facilities, educators, governments, and citizens of the world.

They also provide the pathways of commerce for many global businesses.

These undersea cables furnish the physical venue, or “pipe” for communicating the social narratives and political ideals, for millions – if not billions – of people around the world.

Most of these physical cables are providing their service, while silently resting on the bottom of the sea, or ocean floor.

The longest undersea fiber-optic cable; named the South-East Asia Middle-East-Western Europe 3 (SEA-ME-WE 3), covers 24,000 miles, and includes 39 separate landing points where the cable comes onto dry land.

Besides providing communications and Internet, a recent report is recommending ocean monitoring technology be added onto submarine cables.

In a 40-page report, a joint task force of agencies proposed new uses for submarine cables.

This report addresses “The scientific and societal case for the integration of environmental sensors into new submarine telecommunication cables.”

Many telecom companies and operators of submarine fiber-optic cables, currently monitor the electrical and optical power traveling inside those cables.

Whenever a cable is cut or becomes degraded, the measurements monitored can provide an accurate location of where the disruption is, allowing a submarine cable repair ship to be quickly dispatched to perform restorations.

The report suggests these underwater cables be equipped with sensory devices, which would provide detailed information about their watery surroundings.

Some of the information obtained could include measurements of ocean currents and ground vibrations, using attached accelerometer sensor devices.

By monitoring the ocean’s water pressure, temperature, and other conditions via sensors fastened to a network of submarine cables, weather bureaus and other agencies would be able to obtain immediate information, thus providing advanced warning to nearby coastal regions which could be affected by tsunamis, for example.

Environmental accelerometers, seismometers, pressure gauges, and other sensor devices could be installed on special ports inside the submarine fiber-optic cable repeaters.

These repeaters boost the cables power and signal strength over long distances.

Some fiber-optic submarine cable repeater units are attached every 25 to 100 miles, and get their power from the fiber cable’s copper tubing. This tubing is encased within the same protective steel “strength members” which wrap around the optical fibers.

Specific sensors installed would notify appropriate agencies in the event of earthquakes, landslides, and changes in water quality.

The communication requirements for these sensors are estimated to use a minute amount of bandwidth, and a data rate of less than 20 kilobit per second (kb/s).

Information could be monitored regarding worldwide sea-levels, and the heat exchange between the oceans and the atmosphere.

Non-environmental hazards, such as a ship’s fishing net or anchor dragging a submarine cable out of place, could also be detected.

Today, we are using floating oceanic buoys, earth-orbiting satellites, and ships at sea to gather information about the oceans; however, not enough deep-sea, real-time data is being obtained from the ocean floor.

Many of the world’s submarine cables will be replaced within the next 30 years, so the case is being made for the “greening” of future submarine fiber-optic cables, with real-time sensor-monitoring technology, which would last the expected 25-year lifetime of the new cables.

Submarine cables have the potential to become, as this report states; “a principal vantage point for keeping active watch over the Earth’s ocean environment.”

The report is very detailed, and contains many drawings, charts, photographs, and source links.

The research was conducted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO/IOC), and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The complete report can be read at

My Winsted readers might be interested to know, in the late 1960s, a submarine cable was placed along the bottom of Winsted Lake by the local telephone company.

A pontoon boat containing the large wooden reel holding the submarine cable, along with the telephone company crew, slowly made its way across the lake, traveling west to east.

As the submarine cable was pulled from the reel, heavy steel bolts were strapped onto it about every 10 feet, which weighed down the cable as it was slowly lowered into the murky depths of Winsted’s most famous body of water.

For many years, this submarine cable reliably provided telecommunications service from the telephone company’s downtown central office, to the subscribers located on the east side of the lake.

  Winsted Lake Submarine Cable

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A mysterious, yellow electronic symbol

by Mark Ollig

While starting my car last week, I was surprised by the sudden appearance of a brightly illuminated, yellow icon symbol, just above the speedometer gauge.

Since getting the new car, I’ve learned several of the informational symbols in it, but this one puzzled me.

There I was, sitting alone in my car, staring at this unfamiliar yellow indicator light, pondering what it meant.

A bright yellow exclamation point was in the middle of what looked like two slightly bulging, yellow parentheses connected to a flat, linear baseline. This baseline had four black parallel rectangular squares etched half-way through.

“Could this symbol mean I need more oil?” I wondered.

“It can’t. I just had the oil changed. Maybe there’s a leak,” I said to myself.

I opened the glove compartment, found, and briefly flipped through, the heavily-paged car owner’s manual.

Becoming somewhat impatient, I decided it would be quicker to just call the dealership where I purchased the car.

Speaking with their service department, I described this mysterious, yellow icon symbol, and asked if I could stop in to have them look at it.

“No problem, someone will help you when you arrive,” they confidently said over the phone.

I felt reassured, but somewhat embarrassed; however, since it was such a strange-looking symbol, I thought it might be important, and wanted it checked out right away.

I can hear some of you giggling out there – because you know what this yellow icon symbol means, don’t you?

Remember folks, this is my first new car of the 21st century; I had been driving a 20th century Ford Police Interceptor for many years.

The Interceptor used simple-to-understand analog gauges and icons, which, when illuminated, had a name associated with them, not symbolic codes requiring a specialized decrypting degree in order to understand what they meant.

Fortunately, the car dealership was close by.

As I drove towards their service bay door; it suddenly opened, and a smiling service person inside appeared and waved me in.

“So, let’s take a look,” he said, while checking the instrumentation cluster panel with the yellow symbol still brightly shining.

“Ah, you have low air pressure on one of your tires,” he knowingly said to me.

“So, that’s what it is!” I exclaimed.

It seems the yellow icon I saw symbolized the cross-section of an under-inflated tire; the exclamation point gave emphasis to the low tire pressure.

My car model has an air-pressure monitoring sensor in all four tires, but determining which tire has the low pressure requires one to individually gauge each tire’s air pressure.

Some car models have an icon symbol displaying all four tires, with the current air pressure number for each; any tire with low air pressure is highlighted.

The next car I get will definitely have this.

After the service person measured the air pressure in all four tires, it was determined the front-right tire was the one with the low tire pressure.

This tire was taken off and inspected.

It was found to have a nail in it; as a result, the air was slowly leaking out.

The yellow icon symbol which was activated is called the TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) alert indicator.

A TPMS sensor is mounted inside each tire rim, and includes a battery.

When a tire’s air pressure low threshold setting is crossed, the sensor will activate the yellow dashboard TPMS symbol, using a low-frequency radio signal.

The TPMS battery is encased inside each tire pressure sensor device, and has a life expectancy of approximately five years. When this battery becomes low, the yellow tire pressure indicator symbol will flash, and the dealership (or the mechanic in the family) will need to replace the entire sensor unit, and reset its threshold settings.

Yours truly logically reasoned when one tire battery sensor is low, the other three probably are too, and so, this tire-pressure-aware columnist, would have all four TPMS sensors replaced.

The TPMS alert no doubt saved me from ending up with a flat tire on the highway, or worse, a tire-blow out, which could have resulted in a crash.

So, I am therefore thankful for having the TPMS installed.

Having correct tire pressure improves fuel economy, lengthens a tires road life, and most importantly; increases safety by avoiding accidents caused from under-inflated tires.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s TPMS mandatory compliance date was enacted for all new light-motor vehicles sold after September 1, 2007.

The “Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards; Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems; Controls and Displays” webpage is:

The internationally recognized TPMS low-pressure warning symbol can be viewed from my online photobucket collection at:

By the way, I found the low tire pressure warning icon symbol, and its description, on page four of my car owner’s quick-start guide brochure.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sign language performed by human-like Android

by Mark Ollig

Standing confidently before a group of people, with a warm, friendly smile, she fluidly moves her arms and hands, signing the words “My name is Aiko Chihara; nice to meet you.”

Miss Aiko Chihara is a prototype communications robot (Android), with an amazing human-like appearance.

This latest state of-the-art robot was developed by Toshiba Corporation with cooperation from Osaka University’s aLab, Shonan Institute of Technology, and Shibaura Institute of Technology.

The Aiko Chihara Android was demonstrated this month during the Cutting-edge Information Technology and Electronics Comprehension Exhibition (CEATEC) event held in Japan.

It was said this Android’s “inspirational name” means: “She looks beyond the immediate horizons, and wants world peace.”

With life-like skin made of silicon, long black hair, moving, blinking eyes, and human-like hands, the Android also speaks while performing sign language.

Aiko Chihara was standing at the Toshiba exhibit booth, exchanging verbal greetings with passers-by, in addition to signing in Japanese.

The “muscles” used to convey this Android’s human facial expressions, are controlled via 15 actuators, which are small, individually-operating motors.

The extremely flexible arm and hand movements are operated using pneumatic pistons, and accurately replicate dexterous, human-like movements, as I witnessed in the demonstration video.

The total number of actuators used as joint muscles to cause movements inside the Android is 43.

The Japan Times YouTube video shows Hitoshi Tokuda of Toshiba Corporation, explaining how the company plans to incorporate technology to give their Androids “automatic response,” and to deploy them as “conversational friends with elderly people with dementia tendencies.”

In 2015, Toshiba says the Androids may be put to practical use serving as receptionists and convention attendants.

It was suggested an Android in a person’s home could be remotely linked to a doctor’s office for two-way patient-doctor interaction or “telecounseling.”

At the office clinic, the doctor’s voice, facial expressions, and arm movements are scanned and transmitted to the Android in real-time.

The Android would repeat the doctor’s speech, and emulate any facial expressions, arm, or hand gestures.

Yes, my dear readers of science fiction; the human doctor is channeling himself through the robotic Android.

The person being counseled would be seen by the doctor using the Androids’ built-in audio and video-camera – live-streaming them onto the doctor’s display device, analogous to a Skype call.

Toshiba currently has a series of Androids undergoing development, and I assume other languages will be added to their signing and vocal abilities.

It is envisioned, in the years to come, these types of human-like Androids will become so life-like, that people will become comfortable around them.

The “robot revolution” is predicted by 2020, to be a 1.2 trillion yen ($11.2 billion) industry, and is seen as a significant factor for Japan’s economic recovery.

In 10 years, I look for robotic Androids to be used in social care settings; assisting and providing companionship for people at home, patients in hospitals, and providing support in other specialty fields.

Toshiba is planning to have an advanced “intelligent social robot” completed in time to be showcased before the world, during the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Robot is derived from the Czech word “robota,” meaning “compulsory labor.”

Looking back, the word robot, as we today think of it, was first mentioned in a science fiction play.

In 1920, Czech writer Karel apek wrote a play called “R.U.R.” meaning “Rossum’s Universal Robots.”

In 1922, this play was first performed in the United States in New York.

Rossum’s Universal Robots is the name of the factory where “artificial people” or automatons, called “robots,” are being built.

Towards the play’s end, the robot named Radius, who led the successful revolution against the humans, climbs atop a balcony railing and declares in measured tones to the other robots in the factory: “Robots of the world! The power of man has fallen! A new world has arisen: the Rule of the Robots! March!”

Chilling, isn’t it?

Hopefully, the advanced robotic Androids that attain self-awareness in the far-distant future, won’t attempt to take over the planet from the humans living on it.

For now, I am eager to see how Androids will be operating in the near-future, say around 2020.

Read the English-translation text of the play “R.U.R.” on the Project Gutenberg website at:

The Japan Times uploaded a YouTube video of Aiko Chihara at:

source: YouTube screenshot

Friday, October 10, 2014

Google Glass and smartphones: Invasion of privacy?

by Mark Ollig


Early last Wednesday morning, while driving to the office, I did the usual stop at my favorite coffeehouse.

The outside air was a bit chilly, and it was still dark.

As I got out of my car, I looked up to the west and saw the last quarter of the lunar eclipse, and what they called the “blood moon.” It appeared large and bright in the sky.

There was still a bit of reddish hue on the moon’s surface.

Yours truly wears bifocals, and so I was squinting to get a clearer view. “I wonder if they make a high-tech set of bifocals with a zoom feature in them,” I thought to myself.

After getting my wake-up juice (a large depth charge, light roast, with cream), I walked back to the car remembering how Google had made a sensation last year with their high-tech, “smart eyewear” product called Google Glass, which are worn like regular eyeglasses.

My readers may recall the column from May 6, 2013, when I asked the question: “Will you wear Google Glass?”

So far, I have not seen many folks wearing them.

One reason might have to do with their price.

The Google Glass Explorer Edition (Sky) is listed at $1,500.

One concern I had with Google Glass frames, was how they would adapt them for folks like me, who wear prescription glasses.

Checking Google’s Glass store, for an extra $225, they can be made with an individual’s eye prescription.

Still, I’m curious on why Google Glass hasn’t caught on with the public.

On the Internet blogospheres and other social media sites, I read some people are not wearing them because of the confrontations they receive from others who are uncomfortable about being in the presence of Google Glass wearers.

Some feel wearers of Google Glass could be recording them, or engaging in some other devious invasion of their personal privacy.

Others have labeled wearers of these expensive Google glasses (yes, I am calling them glasses), as being part of the “affluent tech-elite.”

Tech-enthusiasts who enjoy using the newest technology, may be feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable wearing Google Glass in public.

One news outlet reported on an incident of a man wearing Google glasses, while he was walking home.

The man said he was not using any of the features on the Google glasses, when all of a sudden a woman ran up to him and angrily shouted “Glass!” then grabbed his glasses, and ran.

While the chase ensued, the Google glasses ended up being shattered into the ground.

In San Francisco, a social media consultant, while wearing a pair of Google glasses in a local establishment, encountered patrons who began shouting at her because they believed she was filming them without their consent. They became enraged. One patron grabbed her Google glasses, and ran out of the establishment with them.

I also read about businesses banning the use of Google glasses.

One establishment has a sign on their front door showing a red circle and diagonal slash over an image of Google glasses, with the message: “Kindly remove before entering.”

Google glasses have apparently become the target of privacy advocates, who feel its wearers are stealthily recording them, or taking their picture without their permission, and then using “facial search” or other applications.

Perhaps an improved visual indicator on the glasses frame, such has a red LED (light-emitting diode), could activate when it is recording; instead of the small cubed screen, which illuminates when a Google Glass feature is in use.

While Google glass is yet to be popular, millions of us are using our smartphones to record and share breaking news and events with the entire world.

We’re uploading our videos to social media sites such as YouTube, and other online networks.

Today’s ever-growing population of independent citizen journalists, are using their smartphones as a reporting tool.

It’s now commonplace to see citizen-captured news video on mainstream and social media sites.

People are using their smartphones to record and broadcast local community civic and social events, political protests, and social unrest in this, and in other countries, in order to increase public awareness, and in some cases, to bring about change.

Many engaged citizens, who desire to communicate with the public their activism in the causes they believe in, are sharing their video in real-time by using live-streaming social media networks.

Examples include organized citizen journalists and the public who live-streamed and recorded videos of the recent protests held in Ferguson, MO.

Some of the more popular videos have been taken of law enforcement interactions with citizens recorded by passers-by.

After George Orwell’s book “1984” came out, people began worrying about “Big Brother” using video cameras to watch our every move, invade our privacy, and, more or less, take control of our lives.

Many envisioned a future where the authorities would have us under constant surveillance; monitoring us like rats running around in a maze.

Well, that was then, and this is now.

As Sherlock Holmes once said, “The game is afoot.”

It’s 2014, and we live in a society where it’s not just Big Brother with the video cameras – us “rats” have video cameras, too.

How we use video recording technology, without infringing upon each other’s First Amendment and privacy rights, remains the subject of much debate.