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Thursday, June 25, 2015

'Liftoff! We have a liftoff'

by Mark Ollig

His voice will be remembered by many of us who grew up following NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions.

Earlier this month, NASA announced Jack King, the former head of Public Information at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, had passed away.

King was also NASA’s launch control public commentator from 1965 – 1971.

His was the voice heard describing the events taking place during the final minutes leading up to a rocket launch.

King will be remembered by me, for his balanced and calm narration during the televised launch of Apollo 11.

The Apollo 11 Saturn V (pronounced “Saturn five”) rocket would, for the first time, take humans to the surface of a celestial body outside the Earth’s atmosphere; specifically, the moon.

The Saturn V rocket itself was an incredible sight.

It stood 363 feet (about the height of a 36-story-tall building); the Statue of Liberty (including the pedestal and foundation) stands 305 feet tall.

The Saturn V rocket weighed 6.2 million pounds at liftoff.

By comparison, a NASA Space Shuttle’s gross liftoff weight was 4.5 million pounds.

The Saturn V engines produced 7.6 million pounds of thrust (the forward or upwards force), which according to NASA, would be equivalent to the power of 85 Hoover Dams, or the combined horsepower of 543 jet fighter planes.

An impressive sight to see on television, I can only imagine what it would have been like to witness a Saturn V rocket launch in person.

Let’s revisit the early morning of Wednesday, July 16, 1969.

Huddled in front of our television sets, we listened to Jack King’s confident and reassuring voice during the final minutes before Apollo 11’s historic liftoff from Launch Pad 39A, in Florida.

Television cameras zoomed in on the powerful Saturn V rocket, as we heard: “T minus three minutes and counting . . . T minus three; we are go with all elements of the mission at this time. We’re on an automatic sequence as the master computer supervises hundreds of events occurring over these last few minutes,” Jack King assuredly informed us.

At two minutes, five seconds before liftoff, King announced; “The target for the Apollo 11 astronauts, the moon, at liftoff will be at a distance of 218,096 miles away.”

One 11-year-old youngster (yours truly) vividly recalls the feelings of excitement while listening to King’s description of the events taking place.

It was now less than two minutes until liftoff, the television screen would switch between the Saturn V rocket on the launch pad, to busy technicians and flight controllers at their console positions, inside the Mission Control room, in Houston.

“We’ve just passed the two-minute mark in the countdown. T minus one minute, fifty-four seconds and counting. Our status board indicates that the oxidizer tanks in the second and third stages now have pressurized,” King confirmed.

I briefly looked away from the television, and out the living room window.

In the sky, I could see a very faint moon in the distance, and was taken in by the wonderment of the moment.

“T minus sixty seconds and counting. Neil Armstrong just reported back that it’s been a real smooth countdown,” King informed us.

At approximately forty-six seconds before launch, King said with confidence; “Power transfer is complete. We’re on internal power with the launch vehicle at this time.”

“Thirty-five seconds and counting, we are still go with Apollo 11,” King continued.

The tension, along with excitement, was definitely in the air.

So, there I was, a young, future columnist watching the television screen showing the Apollo 11 rocket on the launch pad.

It was now only seconds from liftoff, which occurred at 8:32 AM Central Standard Time July 16, 1969.

To be honest, folks, the following still give me chills whenever I re-watch the launch of Apollo 11 and hear Jack King say: “T minus fifteen seconds . . . guidance is internal. Twelve, eleven, ten, nine . . . ignition sequence start . . . six, five, four, three, two, one, zero [huge red flames now begin billowing out of the rocket’s engines as a loud roar is heard] . . . all engines running. Liftoff! We have a liftoff! Thirty-two minutes past the hour ... liftoff on Apollo 11!”

The Saturn V rocket, slowly and majestically, begins its ascent into the blue Florida sky, clearing the launch tower while carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

An audio (.wav) file of King describing the last 30 seconds before Apollo 11 thundered into the sky, can be heard here:

John W. (Jack) King, the composed, confident, and reassuring “voice of launch control” passed away June 11, at the age of 84.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My computer crashed; and so did I

by Mark Ollig

Alright, what’s the worst thing that can happen to someone who is habitually attached to their computer every day?

Take away their computer and find out.

Some years back, yours truly went through the traumatic experience of having the hard disk drive on his laptop computer crash.

It was a Friday morning; I sat down in front of my computer, turned on the monitor, and hit the return key, which I normally do to get the computer’s attention.

This time nothing happened.

“What’s going on with my computer?” I shouted.

“Well, what did you expect?” My oldest son tersely said to me. “You’ve left it turned on for the last two years.”

I hesitated in my reply, as the gravity of his sentence sunk in. He was right.

Come to think about it, I would turn off the monitor screen – but rarely turned off power to the computer itself. It was always on.

I had lulled myself into a false sense of security, thinking my computer was invulnerable, as long as the fans inside of it kept the components cooled.

On the bright side, I had made backups of my photos and word documents; the not-so-bright side is the backups were made six months ago, and did not include the most recent additions.

I ended up taking the laptop to a popular computer store, where the technician performed a diagnostic check.

It was confirmed. The computer’s hard drive was damaged beyond repair, and needed to be replaced.

I shook my head, and thought about the files on the hard drive, and then recalled those haunting words, “Well, what did you expect? You’ve left it turned on for the last two years.”

The computer tech told me the hard drive may have been damaged from an electrical spike, or it just wore out from the constant spinning of the drive’s platters.

I had come to believe it was best for a computer to be left on most of the time, than it would be having its power being repeatedly turned off and on.

There was hope.

The files I had not backed up may be retrievable using a “hard disk file recovery” diagnostic program.

They would run the recovery program, and contact me with the results.

There was nothing else for me to do there, so I drove back home to wait for their call.

As the weekend approached, I realized I might be facing it without my computer.

I was now “de-computerized” and going through severe “where’s my computer and Internet?” withdrawal symptoms.

There I was, sitting at my desk dumbfounded, staring at the spot where my computer should be.

Instead, I saw a few scattered USB cables, a dusty printer, an unplugged display screen, a mouse, and a wireless keyboard silently staring back at me.

Your humble columnist was lost without his computer.

I gazed out the window of my apartment and noticed the green leaves of some maple trees swaying in a gentle breeze against a blue sky.

A few robins could be heard softly tweeting, and I saw what my mind’s eye fashioned out to be a rabbit’s face in one of the clouds.

A sense of serenity, calmness, and even a wave of contentment replaced the anxiety I was feeling.

“Gosh, this is kind of peaceful,” I thought.

In this moment of tranquil solitude and momentary self-awareness, I admitted to myself that I was spending too much time on the computer.

I was browsing through never-ending web sites, and watching too many YouTube videos.

So, instead of brooding about it, I decided to go for a walk outside.

Stopping at a local coffee establishment, I conversed with the barista as she poured some Columbian French roast coffee into a cup.

Sitting down at a table, I could not help but notice the young folks seated at other tables, staring at their laptop computer screens, while hurriedly typing.

I reached for the newspaper (yes, printed paper media) and flipped through several pages, while occasionally looking out the window onto the patio where other folks were immersed with their computers.

Returning home, I sat down at the desk.

Taking pen and paper, I wrote some words regarding “life without my computer.”

“This might make an interesting column,” I mused.

This story ends with the installation of a new 160GB hard disk drive to replace the damaged one in my laptop.

The operating system and other software programs were successfully re-loaded with no problems.

More good news: the tech geeks at the computer store were able to recover the files I had not backed up from the damaged hard drive.

The lessons learned here is we need to back up our files, use the computer’s sleep and hibernate modes, and properly shut down the computer when not using it for a lengthy period.

Having just finished writing this column, it seems to me to be a good time to step away from the computer, and go outside for a relaxing walk.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

World Wide Developers Conference 2015

by Mark Ollig

Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook smiled and waved in response to applause, while taking the stage during the World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) last week at the Moscone West building in San Francisco.

Apple’s highly-anticipated keynote address was given before an audience of 5,000 software developers and others, who were lucky enough to get tickets.

The 26th WWDC had attendees from 70 countries, with 80 percent attending for the first time.

Apple reported 100 billion software applications (apps) have been downloaded by users for its Apple computing devices.

How many apps do you have installed on your smart device?

The average is 119.

There are more than 195,000 educational apps currently available in the Apple App Store.

Another statistic from Apple revealed nearly 850 apps are being downloaded every second to iPhones and iPads.

Apple says they have paid more than $30 billion for the apps purchased from the software program developers writing the computer code.

The young (and older) folks, who learn how to code proficiently, enjoy the satisfaction of seeing their apps working in mobile devices and on the Web – plus, they earn money by selling them.

During this year’s WWDC, Apple officially announced its entrance into the highly-competitive live-streaming music industry.

A new Apple Music app will soon be your access to “Beats 1.”

Beats 1 is a live, 24 hours a day, seven days-a-week, online radio station operated by Apple.

Apple announced Beats 1 will have studios in New York, Los Angeles, and London, and will be broadcast to more than 100 countries.

Popular BBC Radio 1 host Zane Lowe, will be leaving the BBC, and become the disc jockey (DJ) doing the broadcasting over Beats 1 in Los Angeles.

Ebro Darden will be the DJ in New York, and Julie Adenuga will be stationed in the Beats 1 London studio.

Beats 1 is going up against popular online stations such as Pandora, Rhapsody, iHeartRadio, and Spotify.

Apple Music will include personalized playlists, and offer millions of songs to its users.

Beats 1 will offer exclusive interviews, guest hosts, and stay current in the world of music.

Using Siri (Apple’s intelligent voice assistant), an Apple Music user will be able to issue voice commands, such as “Play me the best songs from 1994.”

Cook described Beats 1 as “the next chapter in music.”

Apple’s new online music-streaming service will launch June 30, with a three-month free membership.

After the three-month membership expires, the service will be priced at $9.99 for an individual monthly subscription, and $14.99 for an account with six users.

It is estimated by 2018, digital online music streaming will have become a $1.8 billion industry.

Visit Apple’s Beats 1 website at

Craig Fedeerighi, Apple’s senior vice-president of software engineering, presented the new operating system (OS) version for the Mac computer, OS X v10.11.

OS X v10.11 is code-named El Capitan, and will replace the current OS X v10.10 codenamed Yosemite.

As many of you know, El Capitan is also the name of the famous mountain in Yosemite National Park, CA.

The El Capitan user interface (UI) enhances management of full-screen apps.

A new feature, called Mission Control, will cleanly display all open windows. Onscreen finger gestures are used to interact within them.

Working with software programs inside split-screens was also demonstrated by Fedeerighi.

Apple’s dedicated webpage for El Capitan is:

Look for El Capitan to become available for downloading this fall from the Mac App Store.

The Apple Watch also had an OS upgrade to “WatchOS 2.”

This version will make it easier for developers to create new software apps, and access more of the watch’s hardware, using the WatchKit SDK (software development kit).

One demo showed an Apple Watch user using Siri for voice-replying to an incoming text message seen on the watch’s display face.

The new Apple Watch OS 2.0 will not be out until autumn.

Look for more goodies for the Apple Watch to be announced then, which, coincidentally, is just in time for the holiday shoppers.

Apple’s newest mobile operating system, iOS 9, will be available this fall.

Apple demonstrated how this new operating system will allow a user to work simultaneously inside two apps at the same time, via finger swipe commands on an iPad screen.

The Apple iPad full-screen “app preview” was demonstrated during the keynote using the “Slideout” feature.

This allows a user to multitask within apps using swipe commands, via split-view screens.

Apple also announced a new version of it’s Swift high-level programming language, which is used for building apps for their iOS and OS X platforms.

Their latest release, Swift 2, is now open source; meaning, its source code is freely available for app developer’s redistribution and modification.

A free Swift programming language iBook is available from Apple’s iTunes store. It can be downloaded onto your Apple iOS or OS X device at

Swift 2 code information and software tools can be found at

Resources needed for creating apps and accessories for the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch can be found in this handy Apple resource page

Apple's CEO Tim Cook at the start of WWDC 2015
source:  (screen shot from live Apple broadcast)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Moms surveyed about kids and technology

by Mark Ollig

“Quit watching so much television. Go outside and play.”

How many of us as children remember hearing this after sitting motionless for too many hours in front of the television screen?

After a momentary frown, I would usually go outside to ride my bike, throw the baseball around, or participate in a “Kick the Can” game with my siblings and the neighborhood kids.

When yours truly was growing up, there were, of course, no cellphones for my parents to call or text me on when I needed to come home.

Back then, mom or dad would remind me to “come home when the streetlights go on.”

Today, parents are still concerned about their kids spending too much time in front of a screen.

The results of a survey conducted to learn about mothers’ attitudes regarding the use of digital technology by their kids, was recently published.

The Personal Device Perception Survey was prepared for Touchjet ( by The Hoffman Agency (, with cooperation from Instantly (

This survey asked mothers age 25 to 54, 15 questions concerning technology and their child’s use of it.

The answers revealed some interesting perceptions by the mothers about technology’s effect on their children, and their families.

Feeling they are losing their kids to the digital screens on cell phones, iPads, tablets, and video games, was the response of 71 percent of the moms surveyed.

One question found 79 percent believing too much digital screen time could have a harmful effect on their child’s vision.

Another question revealed 89 percent worry about the amount of time their kids spend in front of a screen.

One question raised in the survey was about kids spending too much free time alone with their computing tablets, smartphones, and video games.

Some 84 percent are concerned devices and technologies are jeopardizing kids’ social skills.

The survey also revealed an alarming 92 percent agreeing the use of digital screens is an “epidemic in our society.”

This high percentage indicates to me their belief children are spending too much time alone with tech devices, and not enough time perusing other activities, and being with people.

However, answers to other survey questions suggest the moms do understand the benefits of having technology in classrooms, within families, and in a workplace.

Use of technology and devices, if used by kids for school purposes, was approved by 96 percent of the moms surveyed.

The support of technology, when used to help bring families closer together was acknowledged by 94 percent.

Allowing more time on devices/technology because it will be important for college and work was favored by 67 percent

When asked how they prefer to have their child spending their free time, the moms responded; 62 percent playing sports, 79 percent reading, and 89 percent playing outdoors.

Other suggestions receiving 7 percent agreement included: refining their motor skill activities, working on puzzles, and playing with friends, siblings, and “regular toys,” such as blocks.

I was surprised at seeing “playing video games,” was selected by 16 percent, while 17 percent agreed they prefer to have their child “watching videos” with their free time.

The survey does not indicate moms have a problem with technology itself.

This is supported by the 94 percent who agreed they would be interested in technology that brings kids and families together.

The last question asked the moms was if they preferred having their child using a “one-to-one” computing device; such as a computing tablet when in school, or if their child should instead participate in an interactive group device; such as a classroom touchscreen smart projector.

Having their child partake in an interactive group device was chosen by 58 percent, while 42 percent chose a one-to-one device.

A breakdown of the age groups participating in this survey: 44 percent, or 456 responses, from age 25-34; 37 percent, or 383 responses, by the 35-44 year olds; and 18 percent, or 188 responses, were obtained from the 45-54 year olds.

Being curious why the survey did not include the dads’ opinions, I contacted The Hoffman Agency.

“We wanted to focus in on perceptions held by moms for this first survey. We are planning additional surveys in the coming months around perceptions held by dads, and then families overall,” the spokesperson told me.

The survey brings to light how kids might want to try balancing their time using technology with other activities; including spending more time with people, and enjoying the outdoors.

Maybe they could even start up a neighborhood game of Kick the Can.