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Friday, February 26, 2016

Barcelona hosts Mobile World Conference

by Mark Ollig

Along the Mediterranean Sea is the beautiful city of Barcelona, Spain.

Last week, it played host to the world’s largest mobile industry gathering.

In addition to attracting 100,000 professionals from around the world, the 2016 MWC (Mobile World Conference) showcased over 2,000 industry exhibits.

The MWC is such a popular annual event, the local Barcelona TV station:, broadcast it live.

Mobile communications is big, and so is the potential of “mobile money,” which was one topic discussed during the MWC.

The GSMA Mobile Money program (think PayPal) is being used in 85 percent of the countries lacking access to formal financial institutions.

According to GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications), which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, there are 271 Mobile Money services available in 93 countries.

Over 1 billion individual Mobile Money digital transactions were processed during December 2015.

Are you using the short-range, wireless Near Field Communication (NFC) chip inside your mobile smartphone for “tap-to-pay”?

You can quickly pay for a purchase by simply “tapping” your smartphone against a store’s NFC compatible payment terminal to wirelessly transmit your payment information, and quickly complete a transaction.

Samsung Electronics Co., held demonstrations showing their newest Galaxy S7 Edge smartphone’s compatibility with the Gear VR (Virtual Reality) gaming headset.

When worn, the VR headset looks like futuristic aviator eye goggles.

There are many virtual events you can “teleport” to, using the “AltspaceVR” application.

This app brings people together in a “social virtual reality environment.”

One experiences VR from a 360 degree, immersive world perspective, and can participate in virtual reality scenarios with other people using the AltspaceVR app.

VR venues include: deserts, outer space stations, hiking trials, scuba diving, and most any other setting you can imagine.

You can virtually share experiences and interact with others while watching movies, playing games, or even while enjoying the comedian performing inside a virtual comedy club.

Learn more about sharing virtual reality with anyone, anywhere at:

During MWC, many electronic wearables were exhibited, including a new fitness tracker in your choice of colorized, artsy-looking, plastic-sculpted wristbands.

It’s called the Garmin Vivofit 3.

This wearable uses a backlit display, and tracks activities using its Move IQ auto feature.

Move IQ monitors one’s walking, running, biking, elliptical training, and swimming (it’s water resistant to 164 feet).

It keeps track of the number of calories burned, and evaluates how you sleep.

An alert-tone can be activated if you’re physically inactive for too long (I might disable this feature).

The Garmin Vivofit 3 battery lasts for one year.

Accenture Digital presented: “The Era of Living Services.”

Living Services associates itself with the interconnected IoT (Internet of Things) devices inside the cloud; commonly known as the Internet.

The reason it’s called Living Services, is because the IoT wearable devices we use travel and “live” with us in real-time.

They continuously gather information about our varied surroundings; this accumulated data allows a personalized profile to be created.

Accenture Digital’s analytical software studies this information, and provides suggestions on how we can better ourselves within our surroundings.

Computer processing chip maker Intel Corp., along with Ericsson (a communications company), presented several 5G mobile wireless technology demonstrations.

Demonstrations showed how 5G technologies will improve the operation of robotics, building security systems; cars connected the Internet via 5G, and the energy management systems within “smart” homes and businesses.

They also showed real-world applications of using 5G technology benefits used within rural agriculture applications.

Two included remotely controlling farm machinery, and information-gathering haptic helicopters (aerial drones).

Facebook’s Chairman and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, after appearing last year, was once again in Barcelona.

“We believe that everyone should have access to the Internet,” he addressed the conference attendees. “It’s kind of crazy . . . we’re sitting here in 2016, and still, 4 billion in the world don’t have access to the Internet.”

Zuckerberg went on to say; “This year we’re going to launch our first satellite over Africa in order to be able to work with operators to extend connectivity [of the Internet].”

The Graphene Pavilion area at the MWC showcased its research and latest achievements, along with prototype devices made with graphene materials.

Use of graphene will allow for extreme flexibility and bendability for much thinner wearables, smartphones, IoT devices, display screens, and batteries.

“The impact of graphene applications in the mobile industry will be profound,” said Prof. Frank Koppens, of The Institute of Photonic Sciences located in Barcelona.

The website for Graphene Flagship the European Union’s largest research initiative, is:

While watching the live Barcelona MWC TV broadcast, I noticed many of the walls inside the conference center had these three large, prominently written words: MOBILE IS EVERYTHING.

I agree. Advances in mobile technology are essential; being it serves as the transport medium for today’s and tomorrow’s IoT.

By keeping ourselves educated, we better understand of how mobile’s technical fabric is being interwoven into our lives.

Search the latest tweets/messages on Twitter from this year’s Mobile World Conference using hashtag #mwc16.

The website for the MWC is:

Follow the Twitter rants and ramblings of yours truly here: @bitsandbytes.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

'Happy Unplug from Technology Day!'

by Mark Ollig

Could this be the next holiday card we’ll be sending to our friends and loved ones?

Is it even possible for us to be separated from our Internet, social media, smartphones, and high-tech gadgets for a single day?

Maybe we are spending too many of our waking (and waking up) hours interacting with a display screen.

Case in point: I woke up at 4 a.m. last Wednesday, and instinctively reached for my Android phone, opened a Microsoft Word file (today’s column), and began editing it.

Indeed, I am very dedicated to my column; of course, while I was up, I robotic-like checked my Facebook and Twitter.

I also felt obligated to glance at my new emails.

No, I’m not addicted to online social media . . . much.

In addition to the large amount of time spent on social media, Instagram, Netflix, and others, we’re reading and sending (with great regularity) text messages from our smartphones.

I’m doing more typing now than I did during high school typing class.

Indeed, we boomers can easily recall those days of yore.

“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” I imagine this sentence was typed thousands of times on Smith-Corona typewriters inside many typing classrooms.

The attraction to online social media first began for me when I started a local dialup computer Bulletin Board Service (BBS), in the late 1980s.

Ah yes, I nostalgically recall the days before the World Wide Web, when yours truly was the happy system operator of a small, local hobbyist BBS called: WBBS OnLine!

Back then, computer enthusiasts were catching the BBS “bug.”

They were getting online by dialing a local telephone number, and virtually connecting with others within a community BBS.

Those were the days.

However, I need to digress back to today’s topic.

Could we actually take a single day to “unplug” from technology, and all our Internet and online social media?

I do believe it’s good for us to take occasional breaks from social media, and just relax our over-stimulated brains.

Many of us remember how we lived before boarding this swift-moving boat carrying us over huge waves of unremittingly evolving technologies, and incessantly fast-paced social media.

Have we voluntarily or unconsciously, become an active participant in today’s Internet social media, along with our use of; and yes, our obsession with; technologically advanced smartdevices?

There are those of us who remember the simpler technology we used before the BBS’s, the Internet, the Web, the desktop, laptop, and tablet computers, and our smartphones.

I reminisce being a 4-year-old, and picking up the heavy handset from the rotary-dial desk phone sitting on the end table in the family living room.

I placed the handset’s receiver to my ear, and after hearing the “buzzing dial tone,” I carefully dialed “0.”

“Operator . . . how can I help direct your call?” the courteous voice on the telephone asked.

I very politely asked if she could connect my telephone to my grandma’s telephone, because I didn’t know her number.

As a youngster growing up in the late 1960s, another technology I enjoyed using were walkie-talkies.

By the mid-70s, you would have seen yours truly driving around town in a shiny green metallic Plymouth Duster, with a white vinyl top.

You would have also noticed a dangling CB (citizens band) whip antenna extending from the trunk.

CB radios were all the rage back then; everybody was getting them, and coming up with their own unique alias CB handle, or username.

It was fun chatting with other CB’ers; “Breaker breaker one-niner, this here is The Green Hornet. I’m reading you five by five . . . as in wall-to-wall and treetop tall . . . I’ll be ten-ten on the side.”

Yes, my CB handle was The Green Hornet, and my first 23-channel CB radio was a Channel Master.

When the FCC allocated 40 channels for CB radio in 1977, I installed a Midland Cobra CB radio in my car.

Quite a few people around the area where I lived had CB radio base stations in their homes.

CB’ing was as popular then, as using smartphones are today – I can see the millennials rolling their eyes.

I knew of people without a CB radio in their car, installing a “dummy” CB antenna just so it could have that cool “CB look.”

Let’s end this melancholy revisiting of the CB radio craze with; “10-7 to you; we be gone, bye bye.”

Popular then, and still today, are the licensed amateur radio or “ham” radio operators who communicate using voice and Morse code.

Hams connect with people across the country, around the world, and sometimes even with a crew member of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station.

One of my teachers in high school, who taught us electronics, had a working ham radio set up in the corner of the classroom.

We did a lot of “CQing” over it.

So, will we be seeing a new Hallmark card wishing the recipient a “Happy Unplug from Technology Day!” anytime soon?

I don’t think so.

Technology, the Internet, social media networks, smartdevices, and smartphones are now woven into the fabric of our daily lives.

However, as I wrote in 2009; “Being human, I sometimes reach a point where I need a break from the online world. One need not feel guilty. There is no harm here and nothing to feel bad about.”

Follow my rants and ramblings on Twitter at: @bitsandbytes.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Wolfram/Alpha's 'computational knowledge engine'

by Mark Ollig

Have you used the powerful Internet search engine that provides better detail and clarity than commonly used search engines with their endless web links?

This feature-rich, online resource has been available for almost seven years – yet it’s still not widely recognized.

Try your next mathematical calculation, or search for information, using the Wolfram|Alpha Computational Knowledge Engine.

Search results are obtained through real-time computations using a vast, internal collection of continually updated algorithms, and a pioneering computing language.

Its programs use “Wolfram Language” software created by Stephen Wolfram, which is based on his Mathematica software programing language.

Wolfram, 56, is a scientist, mathematician, and theoretical physicist.

He is also the founder and CEO of Wolfram|Alpha Research, which is headquartered in Champaign, IL.

The Wolfram|Alpha project began in 2005.

The original Wolfram|Alpha computational data servers became available to the public over the Internet May 15, 2009.

Wolfram|Alpha has grown considerably since 2009, and is continually adding to its knowledge base.

Its processing uses some 10 million lines of Mathematica code, and its servers contain terabytes of data.

Wolfram|Alpha sources 32 specific disciplines, or areas of study and interest, you can directly access for your research. Some of these disciplines include:

• Mathematics.

• Engineering.

• Chemistry.

• Music.

• Health and Medicine.

• Food and Nutrition.

• Culture and Media.

• People and History.

• Web and Computer Systems.

• Computational Sciences.

• Astronomy.

• Arts and Design.

• Surprises.

“Surprises” shows example sentences for “conversing” with Wolfram|Alpha, and sample questions used within the study and interest areas.

The Mathematics subject area includes many problem-solving examples.

One can query specific values for solving a variety of complex mathematical equations.

You can do some serious math; such as: “integrate x^2sin^3 x dx” and see the detailed, formulated results, and graphical plots of the integral.

The Web and Computer Systems section contains much information about data networks, Internet protocols, and website addresses or uniform resource locator (URL).

In one example, I computed the data transfer time over devices using Wi-Fi wireless networks with an 802.11n data transfer protocol.

This section also provides information about “notable computers” used in the past.

Comparing software products, obtaining information about various file formats, or finding a program to work with a specific file, is also accessible.

There’s a side-by-side wireless comparison feature. Type in wireless networks you want compared; such as the data transfer rate of an 802.11n and an 802.11b wireless network.

The Web and Computer Systems section also includes a 12 character password and captcha generator, and will analyze a password’s “strength.”

This section had an easy-to-use hexadecimal, decimal, octal, and binary conversion tool, which sure would have been helpful for me to have had many years ago.

Back in those days, yours truly was completing these conversions with the only computational computing tools available: paper, pencils, erasers, and my brain processor.

Wolfram|Alpha will answer how much time remains until a special event, such as a holiday.

At 7:19 a.m. last Wednesday, I queried: “hours until Christmas.”

The answer given was: 7,656 hours.

Wolfram|Alpha also neatly broke down this timespan into: months, weeks, and days. We still have plenty of shopping days (319 as of last Wednesday) until Christmas.

Students (and adults) learning to code are creating many beneficial software applications (apps) we use on our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other smartdevices.

These coders are taking ideas, and turning them into reality.

“The Wolfram Demonstrations Project section is an open-code resource that uses dynamic computation to illuminate concepts in science, technology, mathematics, art, finance, and a remarkable range of other fields,” said Stephen Wolfram.

This project section currently has 10,537 interactive project demonstrations.

Within this section, typing the word “Coding” showed 296 separate coding demonstration projects.

The direct link to the Access Demonstrations Projects is:

An excellent introduction of the Wolfram Language programming code, by Stephen Wolfram, is here:

Do you want to know how far the moon or other celestial body is from Earth at the exact moment you ask?

Last Tuesday morning at 7:53 a.m., I queried Wolfram|Alpha with; “Current distance to the moon.”

Its computing algorithms reported the moon was exactly 227,399 miles away from Earth.

Interesting details on how this number was obtained were also provided.

How about the Gross Domestic Product of Minnesota? Just type “GDP Minnesota” and you will quickly see the results. For 2014, it was $316.2 billion.

Typing “GDP Minnesota Wisconsin” showed a side-by-side state comparison.

In case you’re wondering, Wisconsin’s 2014 GDP was $292.9 billion.

When Wolfram|Alpha first went online, May 15, 2009; its search engine’s servers becoming accessible over the Internet. This event was livestreamed on the Justin TV website.

After watching the event, I was inspired to write a column about it:

I invite you to explore the wealth of information, research and learning opportunities using the Wolfram|Alpha Computational Knowledge Engine:

Wolfram|Alpha’s Twitter handle is: @Wolfram_Alpha.

Follow me on Twitter at: @bitsandbytes.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Earth-orbiting space debris surrounds us

 by Mark Ollig

As I write this sentence, there are thousands of various-sized fragments, some traveling over 22,000 mph, circling around our planet.

NASA calls these fragments “space debris,” defined as: “man-made objects in orbit about the Earth which no longer serve a useful purpose.”

In other words: space junk.

Examples of orbital space debris include:

• Derelict (abandoned) spacecraft.

• Separated fuel stages from launch vehicles.

• Debris created by spacecraft or upper rocket stage explosions or collisions.

• Solid-rocket motor emission particles.

Even small flecks of paint from rockets and satellites, because of their fast orbital rate of speed, are considered space debris, and could do damage if they struck another object in space.

Of course, our planet’s atmosphere protects us, and would burn up much, if not all, space debris upon its re-entry.

While researching space debris, I was surprised to learn there’s such a large amount of it.

Currently, over 21,000 pieces of space debris, each averaging 4 inches in size, are orbiting the Earth.

The estimated amount of space debris measuring three-fourths of an inch to 4 inches, and traveling at 17,500 mph, is numbered at 500,000.

I was amazed to find out over 100 million individual space debris particles; each measuring less than three-fourths of an inch, are orbiting around our planet.

The US Space Surveillance Network monitors orbiting space debris larger than 4 inches.

Its ground radar is capable of tracking space objects as small as one-tenth of an inch.

NASA said upon a spacecraft’s return to Earth, it would be inspected for surface space debris impacts as small as 3/64 of an inch.

I viewed a photograph of a triple paned, glass windshield from a space shuttle which was damaged from an impact caused by a tiny piece of space debris.

The surface of the glass had a visible shattered area, and a small pitted crater about a quarter-inch wide.

It looked like a speeding bullet had struck bullet-proof glass – but did not get through.

Most of the space debris is located within 1,243 miles of our planet’s surface, with the largest debris clusters inside 467 to 500 miles.

While thinking of all the space debris out there, my thoughts turned to the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS).

The ISS’s orbit averages 250 miles above the Earth.

Although it’s below much of the clustered space debris, there have been occasions when the space station needed to use its thruster engines to avoid possible collisions with debris crossing its orbital path.

NASA has stated: “The ISS is the most heavily shielded spacecraft ever flown.”

The shielding protecting the crew’s livable compartments, and the high-pressure tanks of the ISS, can withstand an impact of space debris as large as nearly one-half inch.

About once a year, the ISS will maneuver away from a piece of space debris it has a problematical chance of being struck by.

To view in real-time where the ISS is presently located, its current speed, altitude, and geographical surface locations the crew would be seeing, visit:

The duration of time in which space debris will orbit around our planet, before its eventual entry into Earth’s atmosphere, varies.

NASA says objects in a higher altitude will remain in orbit longer than those in a lower altitude; this sounds logical to me.

Space debris in orbit within 373 miles above the Earth, will take several years before re-entering the planet’s atmosphere.

An object orbiting around 500 miles above the planet, will take decades before its orbit decays, and it falls back to the surface.

Space debris orbiting the Earth at 620 miles will take centuries before it drops back down to us.

Many telecommunication and weather-related satellites, orbit the Earth at distances averaging 2,200 miles.

NASA says these satellites are relatively safe from being impacted by any space debris at such a high altitude.

Operators of these satellites will normally “boost” them into a higher orbit towards the end of their useable life-cycle, sending them further away from the Earth, and thus greatly diminishing their chances of becoming a projectile which could collide with working satellites.

However, there have been incidents of Earth-orbiting satellites colliding with one another.

The most noted collision occurred Feb. 10, 2009, when a US Iridium communications satellite and an abandoned Russian Cosmos satellite crashed into each another.

So, what is NASA doing to address all this Earth-orbiting space junk?

They began the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office at the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, TX.

This program has recommended reducing the launching of too many unnecessary objects into Earth’s orbit.

They also admit cleaning up the thousands of pieces of floating space debris above our planet is a “technical and economic challenge.”

Russia, China, Japan, and the European Space Agency, have also issued guidelines for reducing orbital space debris.

Ideas have been suggested for removing the space debris.

In 2011, Japan’s space agency suggested using a “magnetic net” to capture drifting space debris.

The US Government Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices was approved in 2001.

Design enhancements in a satellite’s physical structure to better withstand small space-debris impacts was one improvement suggested.

The NASA Orbital Debris Program’s website is:

Photo source: NASA Orbital Debris Program Office.