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Thursday, March 31, 2016

First US community receives autonomous drone delivery

by Mark Ollig

Soon, we’ll be looking towards the sky during suppertime; anticipating when the pizza delivery drone will arrive.

On a more serious note, I learned unmanned aircraft (UA) commonly called drones, have, and will be used more during humanitarian situations.

These “rescue drones” will deliver food to people in need, and first aid supplies for locations unreachable on the ground during times of natural or man-made disasters.

The venue for the first-time delivery of a package sent via an autonomous airborne drone, using a fully-automated navigational processing system, took place in Hawthorne, which is southeast of Reno, NV.

Hawthorne has a population of around 3,200.

The contents of the delivery package included: bottled water, emergency food, and a first aid kit.

The drone used was a six-rotor, unmanned aircraft.

Flirtey, based in the US, recently accomplished this first successful, fully-autonomous, delivery using Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), and a UA.

This test was made with the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Flirtey is an independent, drone delivery service company.

During this autonomous, computer-controlled delivery, a Flirtey pilot was on standby in the event the drone’s autonomous system failed, and human intervention would be required; however, the standby pilot was not needed, as the drone’s delivery was a complete success.

The drone flew along a pre-determined delivery route; stopped, and then hovered over the exact drop-off point.

It then slowly lowered the package it carried via what looked to be a synthetic rope, attached to a winched line.

Flirtey worked with the Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center, located at the University of Nevada, Reno.

The University’s engineers, along with personnel from Flirtey, worked together in designing the technology used for an autonomous drone delivery.

Flirtey’s Twitter profile states: “Real-time delivery by flying robots. Anytime. Anywhere.”

I chuckled while reading one of the frequently asked questions on Flirtey’s website: “You guys are kidding, right?”

Flirtey responded, saying the idea of flying delivery drones are not for the future anymore, as the technology now exists for providing real-time services using drones.

They hope to reinvent the delivery process not only for humanitarian needs, but also for the online retail and food delivery industries.

In fact, they boldly said; “Flirteys [drones] in the sky will look as normal as delivery trucks on the road.”

I contacted Molly Livingston, who is a member of Flirtey’s communications team.

She sent me detailed information about the March 25 autonomous drone delivery in Hawthorne.

What’s so amazing for me is the fact this delivery was accomplished without human pilot involvement – from liftoff, to delivery.

The Hawthorne delivery thus demonstrated cutting-edge, autonomous computing systems will permit aerial vehicles (drones) to safely navigate around buildings, and deliver packages to specific locations within a populated area.

Nevada’s Governor Brian Sandoval congratulated Flirtey on “successfully completing the nation’s first fully autonomous urban package delivery.”

“Conducting the first drone delivery in an urban setting is a major achievement, taking us closer to the day that drones make regular deliveries to your front doorstep,” said Matt Sweeny, CEO of Flirtey.

He added; “Drone delivery by Flirtey is set to save lives and change lifestyles.”

Indeed. On July 17, 2015, Flirtey used drone delivery for 24 packages of much-needed medical supplies in Wise, VA.

You can watch the six-minute, drone-cam video of this special delivery at:

In addition to working with the University of Nevada, Reno, Flirtey worked with NASA and Virginia Tech University in developing the technology and logistics systems for a mass-market drone delivery network.

An FAA webpage describes Unmanned Aircraft Systems as; “the unmanned aircraft and all of the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc., necessary to operate the unmanned aircraft.”

An unmanned aircraft was also defined as being flown “autonomously through use of an on-board computer, communication links and any additional equipment that is necessary for the UA to operate safely,” according to the FAA.

“The FAA’s role is to ensure each operator sets up a safe testing environment, and to provide oversight that guarantees each site operates under strict safety standards,” they stated.

The FAA selected the following sites for unmanned aircraft systems research and testing:

• Nevada: The state of Nevada.

• New York: Griffiss International Airport (includes test ranges in Massachusetts and Michigan).

• Virginia: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (includes test ranges in New Jersey and Maryland).

• Texas: Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi.

• Alaska: University of Alaska Fairbanks (includes test ranges in Hawaii, Oregon, Kansas, and Tennessee).

• North Dakota: North Dakota Department of Commerce.

Flirtey’s historic Hawthorne delivery was filmed for the 30- minute ABC-TV documentary program “Foreign Correspondent,” and will air in mid-April.

You can follow Flirtey via the @Fly_Flirtey Twitter user handle. Their website is:

As always, yours truly can be found at: @bitsandbytes.

(Photo kindly provided by Flirtey)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Cuba and the Internet

by Mark Ollig

Havana, Cuba will have 30 new public Internet WiFi zones this year, according to Odalys Rodriguez del Toro, director of Havana’s Division of ETECSA.

ETECSA (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba), or Telecommunications Company of Cuba, provides the islands’ telecom and Internet services.

This information comes from a Feb. 2 article on the Cuban website: – its English version is:

By the way, “.cu” is Cuba’s Internet country code top-level domain name.

As of 2014, a little over 3 million Cubans are “users of Internet services,” according to the 2015 National Bureau of Statistics and Information report, provided by the Council of Ministers in Cuba.

This same report disclosed Cuba had 1.1 million computers in 2014.

I read a recent BBC News article that said just 5 percent of Cubans have Internet access in their homes.

The Cuban “Oficina Nacional De Estadistica E Informacion” (National Bureau of Statistics and Information) webpage is translated into English here:

Another article described how Cuba will be overseeing a project for bringing the Internet into citizen’s homes this year in historic Old Havana, which is a popular tourist municipality in Havana.

The connections, the article said, will be through fiber-optics; “thanks to an agreement with Chinese company Huawei.”

“ETECSA described the new service as a pilot project and said prices would be announced in the future,” according to a related CBS News report from Jan. 31.

Most Cuban workers earn an average state salary of 28 CUC (Cuban Convertible - Peso) which is equivalent to $28 USD per month.

A temporary Internet access account, via a prepaid card, is commonly used by tourists and others visiting Cuba.

ETECSA’s public Internet service provider is called Nauta.

By using an account card containing a login and password, people in Cuba are able to access government hotspot WiFi signals, and connect to the Internet using their smartphones, laptops, and tablet computing devices.

Internet connection time using these cards can be purchased from 30 minutes to one hour, and from 30 to 330 days.

Here’s what a 30-minute Nauta card looks like:

A person’s email account is created for them with a: email address.

From the Internet, users check their email by going to:

This reminds me of the early days of CompuServe, Prodigy, and AOL dial-up access over a regular telephone line.

Actually, I still have (and regularly use) my original AOL email address.

ETECSA’s website says Internet connection speeds from 64Kbps to 166Mbps are available.

Some of you may not be aware, but Cuba does have a very modern means of connection with the rest of the world.

One dedicated, fiber-optic submarine cable crosses the Caribbean Sea, and terminates directly to Cuba.

“Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de nuestra America” known as ALBA-1, is a 1,156 mile fiber-optic cable which began providing international voice services to Cuba in August 2012.

In January 2013, ETECSA confirmed this fiber-optic cable was also carrying Internet traffic.

Its Caribbean Sea route runs from a landing point located in La Guairá, Venezuela, to Siboney, Cuba.

This fiber-optic cable then continues it path from Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, to the Ocho Rios, Jamaica landing point.

I’ve read the ALBA-1 fiber-optic cable is largely used by the government; although, some bandwidth is now being used for public Internet connections.

Before this fiber-optic cable was activated, Cuba accessed the Internet via satellite links.

The Interactive Submarine Cable Map is located on the TeleGeography Data webpage.

This webpage shows every non-classified, underwater fiber optic cable route on the planet:

Here is a screen capture I made of Cuba’s ALBA-1 submarine cable route:

The ETECSA website is:

Havana Times, an English website, was started in 2008, and averages 3,000 visits per day.

This website provides a broad range of articles and discussions on topics related to Cuba, and its people.

Some of its writers and photographers live in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo, and in the US.

You can read the Havana Times at:

Vinton G. Cerf, whom many consider the “father of the modern Internet,” spoke March 16 at the International Computer Sciences Symposium, in Cuba.

“There is a lot of creative energy in Cuba,” Cerf was quoted as saying.

President Obama’s and Vinton Cerf’s recent visits are written about on the Cuban communist party central committee website: (this link is their English version).

I read a March 21 Reuters article reporting that Google, per President Obama’s comments to ABC News, has negotiated a deal to “expand Internet access in Cuba.”

This expansion will come in the form of more WiFi and broadband public access centers in Cuba.

The U.S Department of the Treasury updated their “Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba” document March 16.

This text includes newly updated telecommunication and Internet-related services regarding Cuba, and can be read at:

ETECSA is on Twitter at: @ETECSA_Cuba, and my regularly updated anecdotes can be seen using @bitsandbytes handle.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Appreciating memorable moments online

by Mark Ollig

It was Monday, Dec. 8, 1941

“Music played from the radio while my father swept the floor and I was cleaning off a table, when unexpectedly, we began hearing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s voice,” my mother told me.

She recalled her father stopped sweeping, as they both listened to Roosevelt’s words to congress.

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan,” President Roosevelt said.

A memorable impression stayed with my mom after Roosevelt finished this address to congress.

“My father was holding the broom with the handle touching the floor; he lifted the broom and pounded it down onto the wooden floor; the echo could be heard reverberating around the room as he raised his voice saying; “My God, we’re at war!” my mother said, while raising her own voice for emphasis.

I asked if she would like to hear President Roosevelt’s speech again.

With my smartphone, I did a quick search, and within seconds, my mother was watching and listening to Roosevelt’s Dec. 8, 1941 speech from nearly 75 years ago.

Mom closed her eyes and nodded several times during the speech; remembering when she first heard these words as an 11-year-old.

Roosevelt finished his address saying; “. . . a state of war existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.” Mom paused, and then softly repeated the words her father said.

While recalling the days of World War II, and how her family lived during this period, she remembered the name of a famous US soldier; Audie Murphy.

Murphy was the most decorated US soldier during World War II, and received every military medal of valor the US Army had.

“He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery. I went there when we were touring in Washington, DC,” mom told me.

Online, I located a wealth of pictures, video, and information on Arlington National Cemetery, Audie Murphy’s biography, and photos of his white marble headstone and US flag, which I showed to her on my smartphone.

Both of us watched a YouTube video of Audie Murphy’s 1955 appearance on the TV game show “What’s My Line?”

Mom told me about the time when she and her sister, Marguerite, visited The USS Arizona Memorial, in Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, in 1994.

On my smartphone’s display screen, I showed her videos taken Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, during the Pearl Harbor attack.

We also listened to radio news bulletins from that day; some of them she remembered hearing.

I showed her video of the current memorial site over the USS Arizona, and the local surroundings she and her sister visited 22-years ago.

I could sense her satisfaction in being able to see it once again.

Not only are historical events, places, and famous individual endeavors being preserved online, our own personal memorable events can be archived, too.

I wrote a column about the Vanderbilt News Archives Library Feb. 26, 2007, located in Nashville, Tenn.
They held a collection of the nightly news programs broadcast by the national television networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC since Aug. 5, 1968.

In 2007, many of these programs were being stored on VHS (Video Home System) videotape cassettes, and could be loaned out for a modest fee.

While looking through various broadcast titles, I remembered something about one of my siblings and a CBS Evening News broadcast.

It had to do with Eugene McCarthy and his presidential campaign in Minnesota during 1971.

McCarthy had made an appearance at Mankato State College, where my brother was enrolled.

Using Vanderbilt’s search engine, I found the VHS cassette tape number describing CBS News reporter Jeff Williams’ brief interview with a young college student by the name of Tom Ollig.

This interview was recorded for the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, and was broadcast Dec. 2, 1971.

No one in my family had ever seen this interview.

Our parents usually watched the CBS Evening News; but for some reason, they were watching the NBC News broadcast that Thursday evening.

I sent my request to Vanderbilt for the recording of the Dec. 2, 1971 CBS Evening News broadcast, and it arrived two weeks later.

In 2007, yours truly was living in Buffalo, Minnesota.

After watching the tape, I drove to Winsted and showed the video to Tom (who watched it twice), and to my mother, who was very surprised upon seeing it.

Before sending the VHS tape back, I made some copies (with permission).

The video is now saved on the non-profit website: Internet Archive, where it will remain digitally preserved.

You can watch it here: Tom’s interview begins at the 3:47 time-stamp.

Mom still enjoys watching (and singing along with) the Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli versions of “New York, New York” I occasionally play for her over YouTube.

Indeed, many memorable moments are being preserved online; within the clouds of the Internet.

Follow yours truly (@bitsandbytes) on Twitter.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

'Shoebox-sized' satellites may provide free Internet

by Mark Ollig


Surprisingly, there are nearly 4 billion people living on this planet without reliable, high-speed access to the Internet.

Ideas have been proposed and designs tested, for providing these underserved areas of the world an entrance ramp; if you will, onto the fast lane of the Internet.

Project Loon is Google’s plan for using a network of high-altitude balloons (carrying special electronics) for providing Internet to people living in remote areas of the planet.

People in these areas could be experiencing Internet unreliability, slow data speeds, or not have access to the Internet.

According to Project Loon, they have just signed agreements with three mobile operators to begin using their balloon-powered Internet service over Indonesia this year.

Out of the 250 million people living in Indonesia, only one in three are connected to the Internet.

How do these balloons provide Internet service to the folks on the ground?

On the outside of a home or building, a special Wi-Fi Internet antenna is attached, and communicates with one of the high-altitude balloons.

Each balloon communicates with other nearby balloons, and forms a network.

One balloon is designated to wirelessly link up with a ground station having a connection to an ISP (Internet Service Provider).

In 2013, Project Loon launched 30 testing balloons from New Zealand’s South Island.

One homeowner located within the test area, had extremely slow Internet service, and was chosen to have the special Wi-Fi antenna installed on his house.

It was said the homeowner, once having his computer connected to Project Loon’s Internet network, smiled as the first webpage he clicked on quickly downloaded.

Aquila is the name of an airborne “flying wing” which is part of Facebook’s project for extending Internet access to areas of the world with limited, or no Internet access.

The Aquila has a wide wingspan (112 feet), and weighs less than 1,000 pounds.

It’s a non-piloted, solar-powered, V-shaped aircraft with four propellers; two on each wing.

Aquila will fly in a circular pattern above conventional air traffic at an altitude of 90,000 feet during the day, and 60,000 feet at night.

Facebook’s plan calls for an Internet-gateway ground station to transmit an Internet radio signal to an Aquila “mother aircraft.”

The mother aircraft will then transmit this signal via a laser beam, to a cluster of other Aquila aircraft flying in the surrounding area.

Ground coverage by each of these circling airborne, flying wings, will be some 31 square miles.

Each will then deliver Internet access to the smartdevices and computers on the ground via a Wi-Fi radio signal.

An Aquila aircraft is designed to remain in flight for three months; after which, it will glide back to Earth, be refurbished, and flown again.

“We can’t beam Internet connectivity to people if we don’t know where communities are, so we built AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology to analyze 15.6 billion satellite images to create much more accurate population maps across 21.6 million square kilometers of Earth,” said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder and CEO, last week on his Facebook profile page.

He also said the maps would be shared so other organizations can use them “with planning energy, health, and transport infrastructure, as well as assisting people who need help in disasters.”

I recently watched an interesting demonstration video by SkyFi, who calls itself: “The future of satellite communications systems.”

SkyFi wants to use its nano-satellites (about the size of a shoebox), and its unique, expandable antenna design, to provide free Wi-Fi Internet access for the entire planet.

Yes, you read that right folks – free Internet access for the entire planet.

SkyFi states positioning 60 nano-satellites in Earth-orbit, would allow blanket Internet coverage around the globe.

The engineers with SkyFi have experience working with nano-satellites, and designing antennas for use in space.

More than 20 patents have been filed by members of SkyFi, which demonstrates to me their credibility for this project.

I also learned SkyFi recently obtained $3 million in investment funding from a venture capital firm.

“The advancements in materials, together with high-end mechanics and algorithms, have enabled us to design an unprecedented communication system,” said Daniel Rockberger, co-founder and chief operations officer of SkyFi.

“The high flexibility of our nano-satellites, and the ability to provide multiple services to different customers, enables us to offer free Internet access to the whole planet, in the same manner as GPS (Global Positioning System) services are free,” said Raz Itzhaki Tamir, co-founder and CEO of SkyFi, in a recent press release.

He added, their nano-satellites will “bridge great divides” and provide for a “great global connected community.”

SkyFi’s completed satellite network reportedly will offer the capability of data service speeds of up to 1Gbps (one gigabit per second) to any location on the Earth.

Check out SkyFi’s nano-satellite plan, via their YouTube channel:

Their website is:

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Turks and Caicos Islands hold Internet Governance Workshop

by Mark Ollig

The Internet Governance Workshop (IGW) recently took place at Beaches Resort, in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The Turks and Caicos Islands are comprised of 40 islands and sandy reefs; eight of which are populated. 

These islands are located 550 miles southeast of Miami, FL, just below the Bahamas chain, and to the east of Cuba. 

They are home to around 30,000 full-time residents, and play host to more than 200,000 tourists visiting each year.

Last week, I found myself enchanted with Barcelona, and this week it’s the islands off the southeast coast of the US. 

Maybe I’m trying to tell myself I need to take a vacation?

But I digress. 

The IGW is a joint venture between the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The workshop focused on current global Internet governance challenges, and Internet issues facing the Caribbean Islands community. 

During the IGW, a livestreaming webcast of the speakers was broadcast online.

“The Internet is transforming every aspect of society,” said the Hon. George Lightbourne, Minister of Home Affairs, Transportation, and Communication of the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands. 

Within ICANN is the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). 

“ICANN manages and coordinates the top level of the Internet’s unique system of identifiers. This is handled through IANA functions, where we deal with the coordination of the protocol parameters, the names, and the numbers,” said Albert Daniels, ICANN Stakeholder Engagement Sr. Manager - The Caribbean.

In 1997, ICANN reserved “.tc” as the Turks and Caicos Islands Internet top-level domain country code. 

“I updated this yesterday. There are 3.4 billion users on the Internet today. That’s absolutely amazing!” said Mark Kosters, chief technical officer for the America Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN). 

He also estimated there are some 19 billion devices connected to the Internet. 

Kosters addressed the Internet’s IPV4 (Internet Protocol Version 4) uniform resource locator addresses (think telephone numbers). They are more or less exhausted.

The Internet cannot grow if there are no more unique addresses.

The initial Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) solution for dealing with the IPV4 number shortage was IPV5 protocols; however, this did not resolve the Internet addressing problem.

The final version they came up with was IPV6, which will resolve the issue.

We are currently using IPV4 and IPV6, in what Kosters’ called a “dual stack transition.” 

Eventually, IPV4 will no longer be supported; the future is with IPV6. 

As we know, IPV6 will be able to provide virtually limitless Internet addresses into the foreseeable future. 

So, hurry up Internet Service Providers and get on board with IPV6. 

Another presenter at the workshop was Raquel Gatto is a regional policy advisor with the Internet Society. 

She is based in São Paulo, Brazil, and is a lawyer and professor, per her Twitter profile. 

Gatto began her presentation addressing the military origins of the Internet, and the tremendous growth which occurred on this network once the public and business began using it.

As this growth continued, a need arose for an “Internet governance revolution,” she said. 

This growing Internet brought with it some negatives, including: spam, viruses, security breaches, and hacking.

These conditions fostered the necessity for some kind of Internet standards. 

A new “Internet Society” established safeguards to ensure Internet-affecting decisions were being properly made, and straightforward regulations were identified.

During the early days of the Internet, governments initially responded to Internet questions by saying they “were not familiar with this new Internet thing,” Gatto explained.

Governments brought their Internet concerns to the attention of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

Internet governance covers not only the technical aspects, but includes user choices, shared principles, and norms, she said.

It also includes an international environment; bringing new people on a global scale into the decision-making processes concerning the Internet. 

Gatto acknowledged all of us have a stake in governing the Internet; we have an equal voice in its deliberations, which, hopefully, lead to an agreed upon consensus.

She made clear how all of us have the freedom to create [code] our own unique software program application, put it out on the Internet, and see if people like using it.

Many schools are currently teaching computer programming (coding) to students participating in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) courses. 

Gatto spoke of the Internet’s new paradigm evolution, whereby policy discussions from a national, regional, and local viewpoint need to be discussed. 

When talking about public participation in social media, Gatto told the audience how Brazil loves to use Internet social media.

She smiled while saying, “We share everything!”

Brazilian Twitter users are sharing messages ranging from what they are having for breakfast, to the situation with their local traffic, Gatto jokingly said.

Follow Gatto on Twitter via her username (@RaquelGatto).

An archive of the Internet Governance Workshop’s individual speaker presentations can be seen at:

The IGW Twitter hashtag is: #IGinTCI.

The Turks and Caicos Islands Telecommunications Commission website is:

Thinking about a vacation? I learned the best time to visit the Turks and Caicos Islands is during April and May.

Follow me (@bitsandbytes) on Twitter.