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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Concern grows over vulnerability of undersea cables

by Mark Ollig

Just when we’re getting the entire planet harmoniously linked together, the question arises; “What happens if one of the neighbors crashes the party, and spoils it for the rest of us?”

This column is about the undersea communication submarine cables encircling and connecting the major populated land masses of the Earth.

Hundreds of fiber-optic submarine cables (each about 3-inches in diameter) crisscross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, linking many countries to essential network services.

These underwater cables not only carry voice and data communications, they are carrying the Internet, and are the backbone for businesses and government networks throughout the world.

Earth orbiting satellites also provide voice, data, and Internet services; however, fiber-optic submarine cables are preferable, as they do not experience the signal delay, or latency problems, satellites contend with.

The average serviceable lifetime of a fiber-optic submarine cable is approximately 25 years.

The consequences of a break or disruption in one submarine cable can be minimized by switching its traffic to an alternate cable – if one’s available.

Today, the world’s economy is especially dependent upon submarine communication cables.

It is estimated over $10 trillion worth of the world’s daily commerce takes place over these cables, making them a very valuable commodity, needing to be safeguarded.

In early February 2008, a major interruption occurred when two fiber-optic submarine cables providing Internet, telephone, and video communications to the Middle East and Asia, were intentionally cut.

This part of the world found itself scrambling to find alternate land or sea routes in order to re-connect citizens, businesses, and governments back onto the Internet, and other service networks they depended upon.

Recently, in a New York Times article, I read about an Adm. Mark Ferguson, who has concerns with Russian submarines coming too close to fiber-optic undersea submarine cables located off the East Coast of the US.

In September, US spy satellites, nearby ships, and aircraft monitored the Russian research ship Yantar, as it slowly made its way along the US eastern border while traveling to Cuba.

The article states there is no evidence of any East Coast submarine cables being intentionally damaged, or cut.

However, it does say American military and intelligence officials are concerned that vital submarine cables, carrying most of the global Internet communications, could become a potential target for interruption during times of confrontation.

“It would be a concern to hear any country was tampering with communication cables; however, due to the classified nature of submarine operations, we do not discuss specifics,” Cmdr. William Marks, a Navy spokesman, said in the New York Times article.

The US Department of Homeland Security considers many undersea cables along the East Coast “critical infrastructure.”

The US military is also concerned about its “secret underwater cables.”

These secret fiber-optic submarine cable location routes are not known by the public, or shown on publically viewable submarine cable maps.

One such map; the Interactive Submarine Cable Map, is located on the TeleGeography Data webpage.

I visited this website and obtained detailed information and location, of some 345 world-wide undersea submarine cables it listed.

This easy-to-use, interactive submarine cable map is continually updated by the Global Bandwidth Research Service.

One can scroll around the planet, zoom in, and get detailed information on a particular submarine cable, by hovering the onscreen finger curser over the cable’s routing path and clicking.

This action will display detailed information about what the submarine cable is used for, who owns it, the length of the submarine cable, and its geographic landing points.

Some of these submarine cables even have their own website.

You can view the screen-capture I took showing information about one submarine cable at:

To explore the non-classified, publically accessible, mapping routes of the world’s submarine cables, go to:

Of course, normal outages or breaks in submarine cables do occur; including having a ship’s anchor accidently catch a submarine cable along the seabed, or in shallow waters.

Submarine cables, as they begin to rise onto the mainland, are sometimes accidently hooked and dragged by a ship’s anchor.

A fishing trawler can also catch and cause damage to submarine cables.

Even submarine cables buried many feet beneath the ocean floor by special undersea rover trenching machines, are susceptible to natural occurrences; such as earthquakes.

Buried submarine cables can also be damaged by movements of the planet’s tectonic plates.

GPS systems, showing the general location of submarine cables, are used by fishing, cargo and other at-sea vessels, in order to know the areas they need to pay attention to during their operations.

Always “on-call” fiber-optic submarine repair ships are geographically stationed throughout the world; ready to respond in the event of a break or damaged submarine cable.

A screen-capture showing the East Coast and southern US border undersea submarine cable locations can be seen at:

Here’s an animation video showing how an undersea fiber-optic submarine cable is installed:

Be sure to watch this recently uploaded to YouTube, Business Insider Science video presenting an animated map of the world’s submarine cables: 

For now, the global party celebrating the benefits of a planet interlocked via undersea submarine cables continues.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Internet's first crash

by Mark Ollig

During President Eisenhower’s administration, a data network intended to link together computers all across the country was being designed.

The US Defense Department’s new network under their Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) would be called the ARPA Network, or ARPANET.

The Department of Defense Directive 5105.15, which officially began ARPA, was signed by Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy Feb.7, 1958.

ARPANET would support the wide-area packet switching protocols to be used by computers across the country.

The ARPA network laid the groundwork for the “network of networks,” which we today call the Internet.

It was 35 years ago this week, when this network had the misfortune of crashing.

ARPANET stopped working Oct. 27, 1980, and remained out of service for approximately four hours.

The outage was traced to the data routing tables, which had become corrupted when an Interface Message Processor (IMP) malfunctioned.

An IMP would more commonly be identified today as an Internet router, which is a device used to connect networks together. It also passes data packets of information along the networks.

Further in this column, you will read how the IMP influenced another event.

The cause of the 1980 outage was reportedly diagnosed as a “high priority software process running out of control.”

Available resources were quickly used up in the Interface Message Processors.

The underlining problem was said to be “a rather freakish hardware malfunction . . . causing erroneous controlling data packets to be generated.”

It took more than an hour just to figure out how to restore the network.

Several more hours were needed to locate the faulty-working Interface Message Processors, and get them stabilized so they were operating and communicating with each other properly again over the network.

Of course, many “Internet historians” out there will want to correct yours truly by saying the actual “first crashing” of the early Internet occurred in 1969.

Don’t worry; I’ve got it covered.

The first “host-to-host” messaging from one computer to another, was being tried over the ARPA network Oct. 29, 1969.

The first computer node on the network, said to be the size of a “one-bed-room apartment,” was the Scientific Data Systems (SDS) Sigma-7 32-bit host computer. It was located at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

This computer node was linked over the ARPA network with the second node, an SDS-940 time-sharing host computer, located over 300 miles away at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, CA.

Using serial communication protocol cabling, the Sigma-7 computer was connected to what looked like a kitchen refrigerator, but was in fact, the previously aforementioned: Interface Message Processor (IMP).

The IMP executed the hold and sending of the data packets being transmitted over the 56kbps modem connected to leased telephone lines.

The telephone lines served as the physical “transport facility” to the second node in this network, the SRI host computer, which was connected to its own an IMP.

The leased telephone lines also functioned as the “data-line network” between the two IMPs.

Charley Kline, a programmer and student at UCLA, was attempting to send the login command, “LOG” to the SRI SDS-940 computer from his user teletype terminal connected to the Sigma-7 computer.

“I would type a character. It would go into my computer. My software would take it, wrap around it all the necessary software to send it to the IMP. The IMP would take it and say, ‘Oh, this is supposed to go up to SRI,’” Kline said during a 2009 National Public Radio interview.

Kline typed the letters “L” and “O,” which the Sigma-7 computer successfully sent to the SRI SDS-940 computer.

Kline was on a headset, talking over the voice telephone line with Bill Duvall, another programmer who was with the SDS-940 computer, at the SRI, in Menlo Park, CA.

Duvall confirmed to Kline the SDS-940 computer received and recognized his typed characters “L” and “O.”

However, a problem occurred when Kline typed in “G.”

The SDS-940 computer did not receive the “G.”

Then, the network went down: it crashed.


A memory buffer at SRI had become full; causing the ARPA network to crash.

Duvall, who was working the connections on the SRI SDS-940 computer, knew why this happened.

One hour went by while he worked to increase the size of a memory buffer.

Kline’s next “L-O-G” command message was sent, and recognized by the SDS-940 computer without incident, (the SDS-940 computer automatically filled-in the “I-N” to complete the “L-O-G-I-N” command).

Kline was now logged in to the SDS-940 computer, and was able to issue commands within it.

The SRI SDS-940 computer in Menlo Park was treating Kline’s UCLA SDS Sigma-7 32-user teletype terminal in Los Angeles, as if it was a directly-connected user terminal.

This proved instead of needing a separate user terminal on your desk with a dedicated connection to every computer you required access, just one user terminal would be able to login or access, any interconnected computer on the ARPANET.

The logbook by Charles Kline shows the very first message sent over the ARPANET was Oct. 29, 1969, at 10:30 p.m.

Kline’s handwritten “IMP log” of this historic message can be seen at:

You can view a photo of an Interface Message Processor here:

Here’s a diagram of the ARPANET with the UCLA and SRI nodes:

Could today’s entire Internet system stop working and crash?

“It could never happen. There are too many redundancies and alternate network routes which prevent the entire Internet from crashing,” many will say.

However, I am reminded about an adage my mom occasionally tells me; “Never say never.”

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Smartphone shopping inside 'brick-and-mortar' stores

by Mark Ollig

“Our physical and digital worlds are colliding.”

This is the message in a video from a company called Aisle411.

They are crafting the: “Internet of retail stores.”

Aisle411, based in St. Louis, MO, is working to bring smartphone users the digital sophistication of the Internet’s online window shopping experience, from inside physical retail stores located all across the country.

According to Aisle411, 80 percent of consumers use mobile devices to help them shop.

They also said 90 percent of purchases still occur in brick-and-mortar retail stores.

Shoppers using Aisle411’s software application (app) are able to have an enjoyable and productive in-store shopping experience – using their smartphone.

Yours truly visited the Aisle411 website, and viewed a video they produced explaining some of these shopping benefits.

The company utilizes indoor mapping software, which is a location services platform allowing items inside a store to be easily searchable.

A product’s physical location within the store is immediately shown to customers using a downloadable app from their smartphone.

“You can find products carried in over 200,000 store locations, and indoor map products down to the aisle and section in over 13,000 stores with searchable indoor maps,” Natasha Sanford, marketing manager with Aisle411, said to me during our correspondence.

Aisle411 has special in-store software mapping/platform solutions which can be integrated within an individual retailer’s app.

The retail store technology incorporates business intelligence analytics software used by product producers and the retailer, for analyzing in-store customer behavior.

The analytics include tracking individual aisle sections customers visit how much time they spend in a specific aisle, shelf, or section of the store.

These and other consumer shopping events are logged, and can be used by the store to increase customer satisfaction and product selections.

However; I was more curious about one of their consumer apps called: “Shops.”

In Minnesota, there are 3,272 stores available, or “visible” to the Shops app. Of these, approximately 5.5 percent participate in the indoor store mapping feature, according to Sanford.

Shops is available to download on the iTunes App Store, as well as Google Play Store.

I downloaded the free, 4.4MB (megabyte) Shops by Aisle411 app onto my Android smartphone using this shortened link yours truly created:

The Shops app for an iPhone/iOS device can be downloaded at:

When I opened Shops, I noted the easy-to-read, clean-looking product search menu on my smartphone screen.

Shops next displayed the heading: “Find products in stores nearby” and showed a text search box, and a microphone icon.

The search menu accepts text or voice input.

Choice options were: “All Stores” or stores “Near” to my location.

Shops clearly displays the geographical location of stores where the product you searched for resides.

Stores participating in the in-store indoor mapping allow the Shops smartphone user to easily view and navigate to a particular product’s exact aisle and shelf location.

Searches can vary from using a product’s brand name, a general description, or a category of product.

In the Shops app, I typed; “vitamin C” in the search window.

The search results displayed a geographical map of my current location, and the nearest individual retail stores having this product.

The store closest to my location was 0.8 miles; this retail store is part of a well-known, national pharmacy chain.

Shops included its street address and location on the screen of my smartphone.

Shops then opened up a Google Map, showing the highlighted roads, and travel directions needed to get to the store.

The store hours and its website link were also displayed, along with a telephone handset icon for calling the store from my smartphone.

Pressing “Directions” showed my present location (blue dot), the mileage distance to the store (green icon), and the driving time to get there.

Appearing on the rightside of this store’s logo image was a green “Indoor Map” icon, which, when pressed, took me “inside” the store.

The store’s interior layout was shown; it was like looking at a well-organized schematic for a new house.

On this easily viewable interior diagram, every aisle, counter, and individual product and service section of the store was illustrated and labeled.

Even the location of the restrooms is clearly visible on this in-store map.

Getting back to finding my vitamin C, the in-store map shown on the screen of my smartphone displays its exact location to be in isle 10, directly across from the pharmacy department, and right behind one of the cough & cold product shelves. It is clearly labeled: “Vitamins.”

An orange circle imprinted with a shopping cart hovers over the specific place on the aisle shelf, where the vitamin C products are located.

I would have no problem going into this drugstore, and finding the vitamin C.

Next, I searched for “radio controlled cars,” and was shown a list of stores with “toys” under their names.

The nearest store to me was a well-known national retail toy store; it displayed the aisle number and section where the radio-control cars would be located: “10e, Toys.”

Pressing the “Indoor Map” icon took me inside this store’s interior. It showed a neatly organized, easy to navigate, and color-coded labeled sectional mapping layout of each department in the store.

Once I saw the in-store navigational mapping on my smartphone screen, I was confident I could walk in (the entrance is labeled, too), go directly to the correct aisle, and find some radio-controlled cars.

And yes, the restroom locations were labeled, as were the checkout counters.

The below links are screen-saves taken while using the Shops app from my smartphone:

“Creating the Internet of Retail Stores” video on Aisle411’s YouTube channel is at:

Retail stores interested in Aisle411’s Mobile-Activated Shopping software solutions, can visit:

Their main website is:

I enjoyed using the Shops app; it was fun. Try it out the next time you shop.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Get your rover to the moon and collect $20 million

by Mark Ollig

The above lede might suitably fit next to a gossip magazine article saying: “Elvis is alive and working in Las Vegas as an Elvis-Impersonator.”

Alright, I suppose this comparison is a bit too much; I have no reason to believe Elvis is currently working in Vegas, or anywhere else, for that matter.

However, my aunt and mother will confirm yours truly does a fantastic Elvis impersonation. (Thank you, thank you very much).

We could discuss this further, but I must digress back to the subject at hand.

It’s true about the $20 million; this is the grand prize for the first team to land their space-faring, mechanical rover onto the surface of the moon.

Who is daring (and rich) enough to come up with this type of challenge?

Why, it’s none other than the folks from the all-powerful and all-knowing Google; the search engine of the Internet.

“The mission of the Google Lunar X PRIZE is to incentivize space entrepreneurs to create a new era of affordable access to the moon and beyond,” states Google’s Lunar X PRIZE webpage.

Receiving a check for $20 million seems to be providing the needed incentive for many resourceful, technical entrepreneurs.

Now, before you start building your robotic moon rover, you should know a few conditions must be met before you begin thinking about cashing the check.

Your rover will need to hitch a ride on a rocket, and travel approximately 239,000 miles from the Earth to the moon.

The rover must be delivered in a workable condition onto the lunar surface.

Once on the moon, it will turn on its camera.

Oh yes; one of Google’s requirements is your moon rover needs to be equipped with a high-definition camera.

The camera must be able to successfully transmit images and video from the moon, and back to the rest of us here on the good Earth.

I guess Google feels: “Seeing is believing.”

While on the moon, your rover will be expected to travel (under its own power) at least 550 yards across the lunar surface.

Just make sure your moon rover doesn’t get too close to any of the six Apollo landing sites.

Accidently bumping into one of the lunar module descent stages, flags, or scientific equipment still there, might cause some ill will with the NASA folks.

It would also be wise to keep a safe distance from the astronaut’s lunar footprints.

Currently, I know of two entrants who have signed up for Google’s Lunar X PRIZE challenge.

Astrobotic Technology, a company based in Pittsburgh, was part of the first-ever White House Demo Day, Aug. 4, in Washington DC.

They are a lunar logistics company delivering payloads to the moon for governments, businesses, colleges, non-profits, and individuals.

“With its partner, Carnegie Mellon University, Astrobotic is pursuing the Google Lunar X PRIZE,” according to a White house press release.

President Obama, knowing of their plans for the moon, said; “And then there are the folks at Astrobotic Technology in Pittsburgh. They are shooting for the moon – literally – with plans to land a rover on the lunar surface in the next couple of years, which is pretty exciting. I wouldn’t mind seeing how that turns out.”

Another team with plans for a rover moon landing is optimistically called: Moon Express.

According to Google’s Lunar X PRIZE website, Moon Express has signed a “launch contract” with launch service provider Rocket Lab, which is based in Los Angeles.

However, Rocket Lab has yet to launch any rockets.

Once Moon Express has verified its launch contract, they will also be included in the official competition.

If you want to be part of this race to the moon, you’ll need to get a verified launch contract to the folks at Google’s Lunar X PRIZE,by Dec. 31, 2016.

You should also get busy building your lunar rover.

Yours truly already has plans for constructing a moon rover from a combination of LEGO blocks and an iPhone.

Chanda Gonzales is the education manager for Google Lunar X PRIZE, and can be followed on Twitter at: @ChandaGo.

So, if you’re interested in winning the $20 million grand prize from Google by being first to get a working, lunar-roving vehicle to the moon, visit: for more information.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Facebook crashes: Users flee to Twitter

by Mark Ollig

Last Monday, the most popular Internet social media site crashed.

According to Statista, Facebook has an estimated 1.5 billion monthly active users; so this incident immediately created page-one news.

Facebook’s Internet address would not load; thus causing it to be inaccessible for millions; and potentially over one billion computers and smart devices world-wide.

This event prompted many of its users to become upset and extremely restless.

They first began noticing problems loading the Facebook webpage around 2 p.m. (CDT).

A press release from Facebook stated they were having “configuration issues.”

Millions of folks, suffering from acute Facebook social media withdrawal, virtually traveled to the next-best social media site available to them for relief: Twitter.

There, thousands of messages (tweets) were being posted to the trending Twitter hashtag: #facebookdown.

For many, it seemed like the day of social media Armageddon had arrived, as folks frantically sent their personal messages of grief, frustration, and prophetic retributions out onto the gigantic Twittersphere.

Some folks were even typing Twitter messages proposing some sort of secret conspiracy had taken place.

These messages suggested Facebook was taken offline because of NASA’s earlier in the day announcement of water being discovered on the planet Mars.

Of course, this was not the case; but it did make for some exciting online drama.

After careful consideration, this experienced telecommunications technician from yesteryear felt “configuration issues” was the more likely cause.

The “tallying registers” at Twitter headquarters must have been pegging off the charts with the sudden deluge of users logging onto their service, seeking online sanctuary and respite.

It would be about two hours, before the service-affecting isues were fully resolved, and folks could once again log in to Facebook.

During the outage, I read a variety of Twitter messages.

Many expressed frustration; others were somewhat humorous about the situation.

Photos of the Facebook “thumbs down” were being posted, along with screen shots of Facebook’s failed login message saying; “Sorry, something went wrong. We’re working on getting this fixed as soon as possible.”

“Hello . . .Mark Zuckerberg. [I] want your complaints book!” was one apparently frustrating tweet posted by @Lima_Cero.

Another message by @LiamJones19 read; “So frustrating when I’ve got unread messages and notifications I can’t look at.”

Naturally, I got into the spirit of things, and ended up posting a couple Twitter messages of my own.

In one tweet, my Twitter username: @bitsandbytes, posted about bringing back to life my old dial-up computer BBS (bulletin board system).

“I’m re-installing my vintage 9600 bps Hayes Optima smart modems, getting some analog phone lines, and firing up the old WBBS OnLine!,” yours truly tweeted.

Others must have liked this Twitter message, as it received favored status.

Some of you might remember, back in the early 1990s, I used to be the system operator of a dial-up hobbyist computer bulletin board service accessible over telephone lines – not the Internet.

I lived in Winsted when I operated the BBS, so I called it WBBS (Winsted Bulletin Board System).

For anyone with nostalgic memories of using a computer BBS, check out my 2007 column:

I also posted “The Scream” painting by Edvard Munch, with the Twitter hashtag at the top saying; “#FACEBOOK DOWN!!!”

Twitter user @ClaireDampier tweeted; “I’m only here [on Twitter] because Facebook is broken.”

“Martians have taken over #Facebook, and now they are negotiating with NASA the water they supplied is too wet,” posted Twitter user @djsounder.

I also saw messages typed in other languages on Twitter, such as this tweet written in Portuguese from @NairaJakeline; “The Facebook could stop forever.”

One tweet in German by @JuliaBecker98 assured us with; “At least Twitter is there for you.”

A Spanish written tweet by @Miel_de_abeja, commented; “Time flies when Facebook falls.”

This tweet may have been posted by a teacher; “Facebook is down, boys and girls. It’s time to actually read a book. I want a page summary on what you’ve read,” instructed @Dayniaa.

One logically thought-out tweet from @AmyStretton said; “First thing we do when Facebook stops working? Check Twitter to make sure it’s not just us.”

Instagram, the popular photo sharing site, is a part of Twitter, and was affected by the outage, as its clients were unable to enter their Facebook login, which is used by Instagram to post their photographs.

I especially liked this tweet from @fauxnelson; “Can you imagine Walter Cronkite reporting on Facebook being down?”

Having watched Mr. Cronkite deliver the news, I think he might have said something along the lines of; “Good evening from the CBS News Control Center in New York. This is Walter Cronkite, reporting. We are receiving printed teletype bulletins into our news room confirming the popular online social media site Facebook, is currently unreachable by its Internet patrons. We will bring you the latest updates as we receive them. And that’s the way it is, Monday, September 28, 2015.”

Once Facebook began working, Twitter messages expressing relief, appreciation, and thanks began being posted.

The last tweet I will leave you with was this tongue-in-cheek message by user @demileegoldiee; “People still use Facebook?

Above is my Twitter #facebookdown post. :)