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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mobile technology highlights from Barcelona

by Mark Ollig

Many of the mobile communication industries’ biggest players met recently in Barcelona, Spain, for the 2014 MWC (Mobile World Congress).

The MWC is produced by the GSMA (Group Special Mobile Association), located in London.

The GSMA “represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 of the world’s operators with 250 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem,” according to its Twitter page.

This year’s MWC showcased the latest mobile products and technology for those in Barcelona, and for a world-wide online audience, who watched its live-streaming video, and interacted via social media.

The people attending in Barcelona, and interacting online, exchanged ideas and participated in social networking.

Some 1,700 exhibits and displays featuring cutting-edge technology were presented.

Introductions of new mobile devices, by several mobile communication companies, were made.

Keynote speakers included CEOs from Facebook, AT&T, Cisco, IBM, and others.

Approximately 72,500 people, from over 200 countries, attended this conference.

MWC broke down the attendance percentages from each area of the globe:

Europe: 62 percent

North America: 15 percent

Asia Pacific: 13 percent

Middle East: 5 percent

Latin America: 3 percent

Africa: 2 percent

Facebook Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg spoke about how the Internet, and everything it has to offer, is accessible to only one-third of the world’s population.

He said it needs to be made available to the majority of people around the world.

Zuckerberg questioned why the other two-thirds of the world’s population do not have Internet access.

He mentioned how one Internet organization, which is supported by some of the world’s leading technology and mobile service providers, is working to help make the Internet available to those without access.

This organization’s website is located at:

During this year’s MWC, Sony presented their new Xperia Z2 10.1-inch computing tablet featuring a “Live Color LED” display. This mobile device includes a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor running at 2.3GHz, an Android 4.4 operating system, 3GB of RAM, high-definition screen resolution, and an 8-megapixel camera.

At .25-inches thick, the Xperia Z2 is thinner than Apple’s iPad 2 (.35-inches), and weighs just under a pound, as compared to 1.33 pounds for the iPad 2.

This new tablet is waterproof; rubberized flaps cover the main ports and microSD (Secure Digital) memory card slot.

Samsung Electronics revealed a new item at MWC 2014.

They presented a wrist-wearable called Gear Fit, which resembles a smart watch.

Gear Fit tracks one’s movement, heart rate, and sleep patterns, and includes a timer and stopwatch.

This wearable technology also provides instant phone call, SMS (Short Message Service – texting), and email notifications from a Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

All features are easily viewable on the Gear Fit’s curved OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen.

A wearer can also listen to music using Bluetooth.

Gear Fit has changeable wrist straps in black, orange, and mocha grey.

Did I mention it’s waterproof, and has a digital LED time and date display?

Smart sensor technology sewn into our clothing, which yours truly wrote about in 2012, is getting closer to becoming a reality.

French basketball club, PABA (Pays d’Aix Basket Aspttis) exhibited smart-sensing sportswear during the MWC.

A French company, Cityzen Sciences, designed the micro-technology woven into the fabric of an individual player’s basketball shirts which collects data, and monitors their health biometrics.

A player’s heart rate, respiration, and body heat data is delivered to a team manager’s location via mobile broadband. This information provides individual player information to help improve team performance, and keep aware of a player’s current physical condition.

Cityzen Sciences is also working on a way to recharge the smart fabric’s energy source while it is being cleaned in the washing machine.

A video showing a smart-sensing, digital shirt in action can be viewed at:

The company’s Twitter handle is: @CityzenSciences. Its website is:

So, what does the future of mobile social-networking look like for consumers and business?

For one thing, businesses are realizing they need more than just a website and a social media presence to attract and retain customers.

Advanced interactive software apps (applications), installed in our smart devices, operate over an increasingly robust, wireless, mobile, broadband technology.

These enhanced apps and upgraded technologies are bringing us into the next mobile paradigm shift, called “mobile engagement.”

Mobile engagements between a business and consumer are carried out via enhanced apps on smartphones and tablet-like devices.

One example of mobile engagement: a brick-and-mortar retail shop attracts folks by alerting them to products and services through the app on their mobile devices.

Consumers can be notified of, and respond to a particular store’s “Sales and Specials” via their mobile device when they are nearby, or while shopping inside.

Forbes has said mobile engagement services will become a $30 billion industry by 2018.

The Mobile World Congress’ website is:

Friday, February 21, 2014

Information content from 'out of this world'

by Mark Ollig


A group of motivated entrepreneurs have an ambitious idea for providing free information content and Internet access – on a global scale.

The plan: release into space hundreds of CubeSats which will orbit the Earth. While circling the Earth, they will transmit digital data content, and provide Internet access to all of us living on the surface.

“What are CubeSats?” you might be asking yourself.

Well, you are not alone, as I, too, was unaware of CubeSats.

And so, yours truly began to do some CubeSat research.

CubeSats are, in fact, fully- working, miniature cubed satellites used in space. They are also referred to as “nanosatellites.”

One type of CubeSat is roughly 4 inches square, and weighs approximately 3 pounds; hence the name is based upon their cubed shape.

OK, back to the plan. It is called Project Outernet.

The entrepreneur’s at Outernet envision hundreds of Earth-orbiting CubeSats, transmitting information to all corners of the globe, including the 40 percent of the world’s population which has no readily available Internet access.

Outernet plans on providing high-quality educational, news, and entertainment content, along with Internet access via Wi-Fi multicasting, at no cost.

Outernet is receiving support from Digital News Ventures, which is a subsidiary of Media Development Investment Fund, a non-profit investing in emerging markets news-related startups.

Today, there are regions of the world where mobile smartphones, tablets, and other mobile computing devices are unusable, due to the unavailability of a technical network infrastructure to support them.

The needed cell towers, fiber-optic, coaxial, or even telephone copper cables used for transmitting digital data, are not available in certain parts of the world.

The main page on the Outernet’s website states, “The primary objective of Outernet is to bridge the global information divide.”

They go further by declaring access to knowledge and information is a “human right.”

Providing everyone, located anywhere on the planet, with the means to access digital informational content, and Internet access at no cost, would truly be revolutionary.

According to Outernet, their Earth-orbiting CubeSats will receive digital data content via upload from ground stations, and then re-transmit this data directly to people’s mobile smartphones, computing devices, and tablets.

The free, two-way Internet nanosatellite access will come later.

Outernet points out how this new space network could also be utilized for “emergency communications” in the event cellular networks on the ground fail.

“Outernet consists of a constellation of hundreds of low-cost, miniature satellites in low Earth orbit. Each satellite receives data streams from a network of ground stations and transmits that data in a continuous loop until new content is received,” according to Outernet’s website.

Wouldn’t having hundreds of these small satellite cubes circling the earth just add to the current space debris problem?

Well, the answer is, “no,” because the CubeSats are placed in a very low orbit, and after a few weeks or months, their orbits will begin to decay, which causes them to fall back into the Earth’s atmosphere, and burn up.

I’m no Einstein, but it seems to me a constant, fresh supply of CubeSats will need to be regularly placed into orbit. This will cost money.

The California Polytechnic State University, located in San Luis Obispo, CA, first developed CubeSats in 1999.

The university (also known as Cal Poly) developed them in order to assist other universities around the world in accomplishing science exploration in space.

A CubeSat can be built for less than $50,000. This makes it financially achievable for some schools and universities to construct their own CubeSats for data-collecting science projects, and have them launched into space.

CubeSats are launched and released into space from inside a Poly-PicoSatellite Orbital Deployer, which is attached onto a rocket as a secondary payload.

The International Space Station uses the Small Satellite Orbital Deployer when releasing CubeSats into space from the space station.

NASA has established a NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) web page. This is for providing free, CubeSat rides into space for science missions, and is intended to offer data-collecting opportunities for students, teachers, professionals, and those involved in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program.

As of this writing, CubeSat Launch Initiative selectees have come from 25 states; some states have multiple selectees.

Minnesota currently has no selectees; however, in North Dakota, the University of North Dakota’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences does.

Here is a link with the updated locations of current CubeSat providers selected via the CubeSat Launch Initiative:

NASA’s CSLI web page, which includes an informative 32-minute video, can be seen at

Outernet’s project timeline began in December 2013, when the Phase I Technical Assessment was completed.

This June, development of prototype CubeSats and testing of long-range WiFi begins.

By September, they anticipate transmission testing onboard the International Space Station.

Outernet expects having established the manufacturing process for “hundreds of satellites” by April 2015.

The deployment into space of Outernet’s CubeSats is scheduled to begin in June 2015.

Will this plan become a reality? Stay tuned.

The website for Outernet is

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Meet ERWIN: The empathetic robot

by Mark Ollig

Well folks, we’re getting closer to the day when we will be commonly interacting with robotic companions, capable of sensing our emotions – and expressing theirs.

Comparable to the androids from our favorite science fiction films, the robots currently being crafted for our future will be cognitive, and emotionally perceptive.

The research and creation of a new, unique, kindhearted robot, has been taking place across the big pond, inside the School of Computer Science, at the University of Lincoln in the UK.

Finding ways, in which authentic, lasting relationships can be established between humans and robots, is the purpose of ERWIN (Emotional Robot with Intelligent Network).

ERWIN is the robotic creation of Dr. John Christopher Murray, who is a senior lecturer at the University’s School of Computer Science.

Murray joined the university in 2009. He is working with robots, and their interactions with humans.

One study, underway by the university, wants to determine how a human-robot relationship is affected by the robots “human-like” thought tendencies.

Accumulated data from the robot’s interactions with humans is one area of interest scientists are currently studying.

This experiment isn’t about creating just another robot, devoid of any emotions.

ERWIN is an experiment in creating a robot which will emotionally empathize with its human acquaintance.

Through conversation and observational interaction, it is hoped ERWIN will be able to relate with a person in a compassionate, concerned, and understanding manner.

ERWIN is capable of expressing emotions using its eyebrows and mouth when communicating with a real person. These emotions include being sad, surprised, angry, and happy.

So, a robot is being developed with emotional reactions.

Personally, I feel we would want our robots to be happy.

I hesitate to consider what an enraged robot might be capable of.

Mriganka Biswas, a Ph.D. student at the university, stated how robots are increasingly being used in situations such as rescuing people from debris, assisting during medical surgeries, and for helping the elderly.

I recently read about robots helping doctors perform heart-bypass surgeries at the Mayo Clinic.

“Surgeons conduct robotic surgery using a robotic system, which includes a camera arm and several interactive mechanical arms, with joints that work like a human’s wrist,” states the Mayo Clinic’s website.

To read more about the Mayo Clinic’s use of robotic surgery, see:

Also, the Japanese government is going forward with “nursing home robots” to assist in caring for their growing elderly population.

Here is an interesting article about their nursing home robot plans:

“Based on human interactions and relationships, we will introduce ‘characteristics’ and ‘personalities’ to the robot,” Biswas said about ERWIN.

He also feels it would be easier to design a human-robot relationship once we can explain how “human-to-human long-term relationships begin and develop.”

Biswas said a robot companion must be friendly, and have the capability to distinguish a person’s emotions and needs, in order to act accordingly.

It seems, from everything I have read, these automatons, in the foreseeable future, will eventually become common-place, providing supplemental support for our aging population, assisting in medical procedures, and providing us with companionship.

I can understand the practicality of using empathetic robots in certain situations when human resources are unavailable.

At this time, ERWIN’s face has a very robotic-looking physical appearance.

Here’s a link where you can see a smiling ERWIN:

The University of Lincoln conducts research in the fields of computer vision, robotics, social computing, medical imaging, microchip design, and computer games.

Their blog can be found at:

How would I react when first meeting ERWIN? Yours truly would probably begin by mentioning the weather; you know . . . something to start the conversation with.

“We seem to be getting out of this latest cold snap. Wouldn’t you agree, Erwin?”

Of course, the robot would probably first smile at my humble attempt to converse, and come back at me with some algorithmic statement about cold weather patterns, only a computer-networked, empathetic robot would understand.

In the years ahead, (an aging) yours truly might be assigned an empathetic robot to care for him.

With my luck, this robot will have developed some sort of emotional self-centeredness complex – and will instead insist I take care of it.

When considering human companionship versus computerized robotic machines, I recall an original “Star Trek” episode. In it, Mr. Spock is explaining to Dr. McCoy how “computers are more efficient than human beings . . . ” Dr. McCoy quick-wittingly responds: “But tell me – which do you prefer to have around?”

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Online social media experiences

by Mark Ollig

Early this morning, while writing this column, I paused and looked out the living room window.

I shook my head as I stared at the frost-covered thermometer.

The temperature was, once again, below zero.

Unquestionably, this has got to be one of the longest cold streaks we’ve had to endure in quite some time.

But I digress.

Last week, Facebook celebrated its 10th anniversary.

In February 2009, I was convinced to join this social media site.

Before Facebook, yours truly had been socializing online using the MySpace social media site.

The person I give the credit to for convincing me to join Facebook was my oldest son, who at the time, was preparing for his trip to Italy.

“What would be a good way to stay in contact with you?” I asked him. “Go to Facebook and request to add me as a ‘friend’,” he told me.

“What about using MySpace?” I suggested.

“No, you want to get on Facebook,” he replied confidently.

And so, I took the plunge and signed up with Facebook, and became my son’s “Facebook friend.”

As a parent, I try not to (most of the time) post anything embarrassing on my son’s Facebook wall.

I recall navigating myself around Facebook five years ago; it reminded me of when I was a member of the dial-up online community called “Prodigy.” I can hear many of you out there saying; “Yes, I remember using that back in the day.”

Prodigy began in 1984 (has it really been 30 years?), and by 1990, it had grown to over 465,000 subscribers, making it the second-largest online service behind CompuServe.

I still have a few of those complimentary, white porcelain Prodigy coffee mugs, which are shaped like a computer terminal screen and keyboard.

By 1992, yours truly had gotten the virtual online community “bug,” and started my own dial-up computer bulletin board service I called; “WBBS,” which stood for Winsted Bulletin Board Service.

In 1994, with the World Wide Web operating over the Internet, dial-up Prodigy subscribers were accessing content on the Web via Prodigy’s Internet connection.

Prodigy provided a “gateway” for us to access the Internet. I regularly used this social media site for my Internet access during the early ‘90s.

I also belonged to the America Online (AOL) dial-up site. AOL was started in 1985.

During the late ‘90s and 2000s, I was mostly using AOL.

As technology improved, many of us found it no longer necessary to use our regular home telephone line and modem in our computers for dialing into online services like Prodigy, in order to access the Web and the Internet.

By the mid-90s, we began installing on our computers web browsers such as: NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) Mosaic, Internet Explorer, and Netscape Navigator to browse the Web, and were using dial-up services, cable modems, DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), and other types of high-speed Internet connections obtained from the telephone and cable companies.

Jumping ahead to 2009, I became very active in my Facebook online community. I was (and still am) stopping in daily to update my status, post photos, read or leave personal messages, and to share and catch up on the latest news and goings-on with family and friends.

During early 2009, I was praising the many advantages of Facebook with former Herald Journal & Enterprise Dispatch editor Lynda Jensen, whom I spoke with frequently while writing my columns.

I recall talking with her over the phone and via email saying “how much fun it would be for you to get on Facebook.” I finally ended up convincing Lynda to get her own Facebook account.

Once Lynda got her new account established on Facebook, we moved our playful back-and-forth bantering onto it.

For a little over a year, we both posted photos and links to interesting stories on our Facebook walls, and shared humorous and witty comments using its status and text chat program.

Lynda said because of Facebook, she was able to find her best friend from college, her pastor, a former co-worker, and other people she knew.

She even wrote a couple columns about her adventures with Facebook.

Lynda’s March 2, 2009 column is titled: “Dragged into the 21st Century” (I think yours truly inspired this title). It can be read here:

The following week, she had written: “Hacking my way through the digital jungle on Facebook.” This column is located at:

Of course, the sites themselves, these “virtual digital communities” such as Facebook, have no real wood or brick-and-mortar buildings, or tables and chairs in them. They are, however, easily accessible online socializing venues where we can take solace interacting with real people.

Sites such as Facebook (and similar), have many advantages to them; being able to search for and make contact with former classmates and co-workers, friends and family, keeping up with the latest buzz on our favorite celebrities, sports teams, and, for knowing the latest happenings with the businesses we patronize.

Oh, I still miss the days of dialing into a local computer bulletin board service (BBS), and engaging in the solidarity of text chatting with the regulars, but I’m happy to see today’s virtual online community is very much alive and well.

Let’s use it to create lasting memories, and to learn, share information, and enjoy the humor, camaraderie, and playful banter we experience there with our friends and family.