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Thursday, February 26, 2015

A YouTube for Kids

by Mark Ollig

Years ago, when yours truly attended grade school and needed to learn more about a particular subject, I would seek out a book from the school library.

Remember folks, this was before Google and YouTube – way before.

The day my parents brought the World Book Encyclopedia set into our home, I was around 10 years old.

Of course, being an average 10-year-old at the time, found me persistently tagging along with my two older brothers, in an effort to participate in the games being played with the other kids in the neighborhood.

I also recall helping to build a wooden fort nestled within a grove of trees, located at the end of our street; right next to the creek.

Many of us kids in the neighborhood used it as a clubhouse.

This clubhouse became the “base of operations” when it was decided we needed to build a raft, in order to explore the lake.

I remember helping to build the raft using scraps of wood we found nearby.

Our raft had a successful launching from the creek’s southern sandy banks, and onto the calm waters of Winsted Lake.

This adventure found the raft floating fairly-well for the most part; until too many kids hopped onto it, and it began to sink.

No worries; the raft was in shallow water, and we just ended up getting a little wet.

Around this same time, my dad had bought me a new bike from the local Coast to Coast hardware store to replace the small, orange, Schwinn bicycle with the 13-inch solid hard-rubber tires I had been riding.

Dad had a huge smile on his face when he caught my “surprised expression” as he removed the new bike (Coast King) from the trunk of his car, and placed it on the driveway.

Now, I could finally keep up with my older brothers while riding my new bike.

I was able to follow closely behind their bikes as they speedily rode through the downtown area side streets in their futile attempt to “lose me.”

It was a fun bicycle to ride; thanks, dad.

But I digress.

The day the World Book Encyclopedia set arrived at our house, I was opened up to a whole new world of discovery.

Yours truly would spend hours browsing through the pages of information and photographs contained inside the encyclopedia volumes.

I clearly remember reading volume sections about astronomy, science, geography, and the Mercury, Gemini, and early Apollo space missions.

Of course, reading the section about the history of the telephone, was something I wouldn’t forget.

The encyclopedia set in my home was the source for much of the information used in the two school science fairs I participated in.

Today, young people are able to learn about the world by using Internet sources, iPads, and watching YouTube videos.

Although YouTube provides a variety of video content; some of it is just not suitable for children.

Recently, Google began offering a new “family-friendly” software app (application) for children called YouTube Kids.

“The official YouTube Kids app is designed for curious little minds to dive into a world of discovery, learning, and entertainment,” said Google.

This new app is designed to only show age-appropriate videos, channels, and playlists suitable for children.

The YouTube Kids app provides parents and guardians of younger children, peace of mind, in knowing the content being viewed is age-appropriate.

Included in the app is video content provided by teachers, filmmakers, and other content creators.

The YouTube Kids app has large display buttons for simple navigation, is easy to scroll through, includes a voice search function, and starts-up in “instant full-screen” mode.

Children videos and online favorites available with this app include:

• Sesame Street;

• Thomas & Friends.

• Mother Goose Club.

• TuTiTu TV.

• DreamWorks TV.

• Minecraft videos & activities.

• Dinosaur Videos.

• Puppy videos.

• Solar system videos.

• Train videos.

• Preschool science experiments.

• Super simple songs.

When a youngster is browsing through the app’s home screen, they will be seeing child-appropriate video channels and playlists.

In addition to the videos, the app provides access to music, science, crafts, and games that kids can explore in a child-friendly place.

The app allows parents to control the content seen, and to set up a timer (like a bedtime setting) to alert their child when it’s time to stop viewing. This timer can also lock the app.

This app works with today’s two most popular OS’s (operating systems), and can be downloaded at no cost onto your Apple iOS or Android OS smart devices.

Download the YouTube Kids app for your Android at: or for your iOS device using:

A short YouTube Spotlight channel video introducing the YouTube Kids app can be seen at:

A screen-shot taken from the YouTube Kids app, can be seen here:

Thursday, February 19, 2015

'Project Ara' moves forward

by Mark Ollig

It could reshape the mobile phone landscape.

In 2013, yours truly wrote a column about a company in the Netherlands called Phonebloks, who came up with the catchy phrase “a phone worth keeping.”

Phonebloks’ Dave Hakkens, said he was trying to come up with a way to reduce e-waste, which is the waste accumulated due to discarded electronic parts.

As we all know, every year the latest and greatest “must have” new smartphone appears, and tech-savvy folks rush out to purchase it.

Instead of having their old phone recycled, many times its electronic parts end up in the trash.

Hakkens considered this, and thought of a new idea for building an easily upgradable smartphone using module blocks.

These domino-shaped module blocks, are self-contained electronic components, comprised of various features a user can add onto their smartphone.

His company’s vision was to provide the public with a customizable mobile device, whereby the user could simply change out modularized, plug-in parts called “bloks” when updating or adding new smartphone functionality.

This would reduce e-waste, because instead of buying a new smartphone and throwing out the old one, a person could simply upgrade their existing phone.

Phonebloks’ social media sites promoted how a new type of smartphone “would consist of a main [circuit] board onto which bloks could be snapped on by the user, like Legos. Each blok is responsible for a unique function of the phone.”

Motorola, which created the first mobile cellphone, became seriously interested in this concept, and began development of Phonebloks’ idea.

The development design uses what Motorola calls an “endoskeleton and modules.”

The endoskeleton, or “endo,” contains the structural frame, and is the physical core of this new smartdevice holding all the module blocks in place.

An individual module could be designed for use as a camera, display screen, medical application, additional storage, gyroscope, extra battery, or any other application.

Third-party developers would provide the customized module feature blocks. 

This idea grew wings, and has now taken flight.

So, exactly how does Project Ara fit into all of this?

Well, for one thing, Motorola, which initially began working with Project Ara; and Phonebloks’ smartphone’s Android OS (Operating System), are both owned by Google Inc.

And to top it all off, Phonebloks has now partnered with Google.

Google said since Hakkens’ idea was similar in concept to what they were working on in Project Ara, the company decided to officially associate themselves with Phonebloks.

Why is it called Project Ara?

Google’s lead mechanical designer is named Ara, and Google chose Ara to be the name of their new smartphone.

I would have preferred them calling it the “Markphone,” but that’s just my personal opinion.

“Project Ara aims to enable users to create a modular smartphone that is precisely tailored to their functional and aesthetic preferences,” according to Google’s Project Ara website.

Google developed Spiral 2, a prototype Ara smartphone.

Spiral 2 was presented during this month’s Project Ara Developer’s Conference at the Googleplex, in Mountain View, CA.

The software and hardware developers attending this conference received the latest news and information about Project Ara.

These developers also presented their own ideas and modeling concepts for new feature modules to be used with Ara.

The Spiral 2 is 3G capable, includes custom integrated circuits, application processor board, and a Linaro Android modified OS platform.

The Ara Spiral 2 uses an endoskeleton structural frame for holding the module blocks.

Spiral 2 appeared to be using a 4.5-inch display screen module.

Google will be test marketing the Ara modular smartphone in an actual retail environment later this year.

The location chosen for this test is Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has a diverse mobile user base of approximately 3 million.

These mobile users range from those using entry-level featured phones, to those using premium smartphones.

At least 90 percent of Puerto Rico households have one mobile phone.

Smartphones are used by 77 percent of Puerto Ricans for accessing the Internet.

Puerto Rico’s cell phone providers and carriers are regulated under the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Release of an Ara module smartphone on a regional or global level will be determined after the Puerto Rico test marketing results are in.

How would you feel about being able to simply snap in a modular component onto your smartphone in order to add or upgrade a feature on it, instead of purchasing a whole-new phone?

You can follow Project Ara on Twitter using @ProjectAra.

Google’s Project Ara website is:

Videos from Project Ara Developers Conference 2015 are at:

Phonebloks’ website is:

Follow my ramblings on Twitter via @bitsandbytes.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Can a machine play chess?

by Mark Ollig

Alan Turing asked this question during a lecture at the London Mathematical Society Feb. 20, 1947.

Of course, today, all of us know the answer to Mr. Turing’s question is, “yes.”

Machines capable of playing chess were discussed by Turing as a way for testing “intelligent machinery.”

Today, we refer to it as artificial intelligence.

In 1948, Alan Turing wrote a report titled Intelligent Machinery.

“I propose to investigate the question as to whether it is possible for machinery to show intelligent behavior,” Turing wrote.

To me, this sentence reveals Turing throwing down the gauntlet, and challenging the status quo of when such statements would invoke others to dismiss the idea, saying it was not possible.

Turing also quotes typical attitudes of the time, when people considered machines non-thinking objects, and were using catchphrases, such as “acting like a machine,” and “purely mechanical behavior.”

As I read through Turing’s report, he questions resolute beliefs from 1948, including how some people were unwilling to admit the possibility of any “rivals in intellectual power.”

Turing states intellectual people would have more to lose if they admitted machines could challenge their own intelligence.

He makes the similarity of machine intelligence challenging human intelligence, by using the comparison of an animal species’ intelligence, overriding human intelligence.

Turing also wrote how construction of intelligent machines would be analogous to “Promethean irreverence,” and going against religious belief.

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Prometheus as “a Titan who is chained and is tortured by Zeus for stealing fire from heaven and giving it to humankind.”

Is Turing suggesting by creating intelligence in a machine greater than within a human, that this would be interpreted as obtaining something which had been in the exclusive possession of a higher deity?

He seems to be presenting a very thought-provoking concern which we are still addressing today.

Turing acknowledges the apprehensions and uneasiness about thinking machines, and says intelligence is an emotional state, rather than a mathematical one.

We need to remember Turing is speaking during the late 1940s, at a time when machines were being used for tedious, repetitive jobs.

He does, however, describe how one piece of new computing machinery, the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer (ENIAC), is able to compute enormously large numbers, over long periods of time, with no failures.

Turing may have been trying to make an analogy about the logical processing ability of the computer, and its similarity to how the human brain solves problems.

He said some people feel intelligence in machinery would simply be a reflection of its creator.

Turing counters this reasoning by comparing it with a discovery, independently made by a student, being fully credited to the teacher.

He said while the teacher would be pleased with how his method of teaching helped the student with the discovery, the teacher himself would not take actual credit for the discovery.

It is during this part of the report, that Turing talks about “paper machines” for people to play chess against.

“Playing against such a machine gives a definite feeling that one is pitting one’s wits against something alive,” Turing said.

Mr. Turing, this I do understand.

It was Christmas Eve 1982; our family was celebrating the holiday at my mother’s home, in the house I grew up in.

One present I received from my mother was a digital computer chess set called the Sensory Chess Challenger.

She knew I had regularly played chess with my father, who had passed away earlier in the year.

My dad and I would sit across from each other at the kitchen table, each of us with our cup of coffee, and play chess; sometimes for hours.

When the Christmas festivities ended later that evening, I got back to my apartment, took the computer chess game console out of the box, plugged it in, set up the chess pieces, turned it on, and began playing chess against a computer for the first time.

I was awe-struck at being able to play chess with a computer.

It was surprising to me how the computer was tactically, and seemingly intelligently responding to every chess move I made.

The computer was an excellent chess player.

With help from quite a few cups of coffee, I ended up playing several chess games throughout the night, against what appeared to be an intelligent machine.

Alan Turing was right.

It did feel like I was pitting my wits against something alive.

While playing chess with the computer, I was also remembering the times I played chess with my dad.

There’s a photo of the Sensory Chess Challenger at 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

FCC redefines Internet broadband speeds

by Mark  A. Ollig

Our friends at the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) recently stepped up to the Internet baseball plate, swung their bat, and solidly hit the ball.

I won’t say they hit it out of the park, but I will commend them for recognizing the need to modernize the definition of “broadband” Internet speed.

Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, requires the FCC to report annually on whether broadband “is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion,” and to take “immediate action” if it is not.

The 2015 Broadband Progress Report was approved by the FCC Jan. 29.

Per this report, the FCC’s newly updated broadband benchmark speed is now 25 Mbps (Megabits per second) when you’re downloading data from the Internet, and 3 Mbps when uploading data to the Internet.

Previously, the FCC defined broadband as 4 Mbps down, and 1 Mbps up.

The 4 Mbps is also defined by the FCC as the minimum downloading speed for watching an HD-quality streaming movie.

The largest subscription video provider, Netflix, which during peak video viewing times is said to use about 35 percent of the Internet’s bandwidth, says 5 Mbps is required for HD-quality video.

You can read the Netflix Internet connection speed recommendations via its webpage:

The FCC’s Broadband Speed Guide can be found at:

The FCC’s news release stated it recognizes the end-user’s connection to the Internet must be able to handle today’s greater bandwidth and higher data speeds used for providing their voice, data, video, and graphic services.

The 2015 broadband report stated 55 million Americans lack access to this new broadband definition; meaning, 17 percent of the US population does not have 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service.

Of this 55 million, 22 million, who are living in rural areas of the country, are not being served by this new FCC broadband definition.

Surprisingly, 8 percent of the people living in the cities and urban parts of America are unable to get access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps broadband speeds.

The report acknowledges there is still a significant “digital divide” between urban and rural America.

Rural America, according to the FCC report, “continues to be underserved at all speeds.”

One of the key findings of the report listed 20 percent of people living in rural areas lack access to 4 Mbps/1 Mbps Internet access speeds.

Internet speeds of 10 Mbps/1 Mbps are unavailable to 31 percent of rural Americans, per the 2015 Broadband Progress Report.

It also points out over half of all rural Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps broadband.

Fiber optic networks, the preferred communications transmission medium (in my humble opinion) for providing and supporting the advanced broadband “digital-learning tools,” is still not being provided to roughly 35 percent of this country’s schools, per the Jan. 29, 2015 FCC news release.

Do you want to know how fast of an Internet connection you have?

Testing your current Internet speed can be accomplished using your Internet Service Provider (ISP) recommended test site, or other speed testing sites on the Internet.

One very popular Internet speed testing site yours truly uses, is provided by broadband testing and web-based network diagnostic company, Ookla, which operates

You can test your Internet speed here:

The US Congress defines broadband as a “high-quality” means which allow users to “originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video” services.

A PDF (portable document format) file of the Jan. 29 FCC news release can be viewed at:

It was The Communications Act of 1934, which established the FCC’s authority.

This Act replaced the authority of the Federal Radio Commission, which began in 1926.

Before the Federal Radio Commission, there was the Radio Act of 1912, which required every radio station in the US to be licensed by the federal government.