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Friday, December 23, 2016

Time does go by faster as we age

By Mark Ollig

Yours truly awoke this morning (last Tuesday) and began thinking about what to write in the final Bits & Bytes column for 2016.

By “this morning” I mean around 1:30 a.m.

As most of my readers know, I am guilty of reaching for my smartphone during the times I do wake up this early in the morning.

Out of habit, I checked my social media for anything I may have missed while asleep; because, after all, I need to be on top of this social media thing – which appears to have become a venue we will be living with for long time.

The National Geographic Facebook channel notified me of a newly-uploaded video.

Astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of National Geographic’s “Star Talk,” was sitting down and chatting with William Shatner – yes, the original Captain James T. Kirk from “Star Trek.”

“Ok, I need to watch this,” I thought to myself.

Shatner began by inquisitively asking, “What is space-time?”

Tyson slowly answered; “You already know. You have never met someone at a place, unless it was also at a time. You have never met someone at a time unless it was . . . ”

“Well, wait a minute!” interrupted Shatner.

“What happens to a photon from 13.8 hundred million years [ago] that comes this way and enters my eye so I can see it. Where is space involved in that?” Shatner asked.

“Umm, it entered your eye at a time and at a place; right here, that’s all that matters,” said Tyson.

After a brief exchange of each other’s thoughts on universal theory, and how space-time exists and is conjoined, and using the analogy of walking and meeting trains on time, Shatner finally exclaimed, “That’s confusing!”

Tyson humorously replied, “So? The universe is under no obligation to make sense to William Shatner!”

Shatner laughed and countered with, “No, but William Shatner is under the obligation to make sense to the universe! And why do I slow down as I approach the speed of light? It doesn’t apply to a photon?”

No question about it, William Shatner, even at age 85, still has full control of his mental faculties.

It’s dark outside my bedroom window and I see a few stars in the night sky. It’s also very quiet; no cars are traveling up and down the usually busy streets.

The conversation between Tyson and Shatner, along with being awake in the early morning hours, began to nostalgically remind me of listening to Art Bell’s “Coast to Coast AM” radio broadcasts during the 1990s, which lasted well past midnight.

“You want to freak out?” asked Tyson to Shatner whose attention was totally absorbed with this space-time conversation.

“I’m ready, I’m ready,” Shatner excitedly replied.

“The faster you go, the slower time takes . . . as seen by others. As you approach the speed of light, time continues to slow down. At the speed of light, time stops. Which means; for a photon moving at the speed of light, when it is absorbed in your retina, it is the same instant it was emitted at the Big Bang, 14 billion years ago,” Tyson explained to the very attentive Shatner.

“That’s what I thought!” excitedly exclaimed Shatner. “Can we measure that photon, and observe the Big Bang?” he asked.

“Yes! I know that that came from the Big Bang, and I’m watching it and it’s taken 13.8 billion years to reach you, but if you are that photon, it does not experience that time delay,” Tyson explained.

Shatner paused, and mused; “What a great science fiction story that is.”

“Instantaneous,” Tyson knowingly added as the video ended.

After pondering space-time for a brief time, I wondered if Shatner has now figured out a way to bring back the original Captain Kirk in the next “Star Trek” movie.

“When I look up at the night sky and I know that yes, we are part of this universe; we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts, is that the universe is in us,” I heard Tyson say in another video.

I looked at the clock and could not believe it was already 2:30 a.m. I thought about how fast the time went; I then realized my mom was right when she once told me about the passage of time; especially how the years go by faster as we age.

After having grasped some understanding of what Tyson and Shatner discussed, I fell back to sleep.

National Geographic uploaded the complete video of Tyson and Shatner’s conversation here:

You can follow me as space-time instantaneously arrives into 2017, via the online continuum we call the internet at @bitsandbytes on the Twitter social network.

Copyright © 2016 Mark Ollig

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Bots using loT as backdoor for hack attacks

Copyright © 2016 Mark Ollig

by Mark Ollig

A bot can be defined as a software application automatically executing a scripted file containing coded instructions.

Or, just think of it as a “web robot” traversing throughout the Internet.

Assistance in creating customized bots is available on many websites.

One such website boasts “Anything you do online [over the Internet] can be automated using a bot, such as account registering, online bidding and purchasing, and content gleaning. Your bot will help you to collect and analyze information, synchronize online accounts, and upload and download data.”

Bots can execute their scripted set of software instructions quickly. A shopping bot script (a bot which automatically makes purchases over the Internet) can complete a transaction in less than a second.

Sounds harmless so far, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, there have been some very naughty bots out on the Internet causing a lot of mayhem.

Malicious botnet (bot network) attacks will target and disrupt computing servers on the Internet.

Bots are able to obtain information or cause harm by accessing IoT (Internet of Things) devices.

The IoT are those physical smartdevices with sensors and electronics running a computer program with wireless connectivity to the Internet.

There are a couple overlooked IoT devices now being used as part of the arsenal for these bot attacks.

Yes, dear readers, it’s electronic toys and games.

Many of them wirelessly connect to the Internet, which means they are susceptible to being hacked into and used as an entry point by bots.

Once the bot gains access into the IoT toy device, it can attempt to hack into computers on the network the IoT device is on.

Internet-connected toys being infiltrated had one Hong Kong toymaker telling the BBC, “No company that operates online can provide a 100 percent guarantee that it won’t be hacked.”

The toymaker also said it was limiting its liability “for the acts of third parties.”

Bots programmed with evil intentions would probably fall under the “third parties” category.

I researched this overseas toymaker, and found the following statement on their website regarding toys they sell which connect to the Internet: “No method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage, is 100 percent secure. Therefore, while we strive to use commercially- acceptable means to protect your personally identifiable information, we cannot guarantee its absolute security.”

Although firewalls and cyber defense measures are being used to prevent unauthorized access and protect sensitive information located on public and private computer data servers, websites, and routers, we also need to be watchful of the electronic toys kids are connecting to the Internet.

Approximately 6.4 billion “embedded devices” or IoT devices, will have been connected to the Internet this year, according to Gartner Research.

During the next four years, Gartner predicts we could see this number increasing to 21 billion.

I’d like to think, in a perfect world, IoT devices would improve the quality and productivity of our daily lives.

We know things are not always perfect, and the best-laid plans and intentions sometimes go awry.

Some bots seek vulnerable IoT devices in order to access its connected computer data, glean its information, and sell it to third parties.

There are human influences which seek to undermine the IoT devices by using bots to attack and steal personal information, or access the IoT’s Wi-Fi router and get onto the Internet.

Once a bot attack program takes control of an IoT device, it can cause chaos with other connected devices or computers sharing the same network connection.

It’s like a science fiction movie, but instead of aliens from another planet taking over the Earth, it’s malicious software (malware) programs being spread by a computer virus or bots across devices on the Internet.

These attacks usually occur without the computer or device’s operator being aware of it.

How bad could it get?

A large DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack recently affected online users’ access to many popular social media sites. This DDoS was caused by a powerful malware virus known as the Mirai (Japanese for “future”) virus code.

Mirai can cause computer systems using the Linux operating system to become remotely controlled “cyberbots,” which carry out the bot attack’s coded instructions.

Mirai was designed to be used in large-scale botnet attacks.

In late October, the DDoS cyber-attack against the Dyn computing server left Twitter and Netflix inaccessible. This attack was caused by a Mirai botnet.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported nearly 1 million Deutsche Telekom home Internet routers crashed. The cause was said to be from a Mirai botnet.

DDoS attacks on five of the largest banks and financial institutions in Russia were blocked Dec. 5, according to CyberWire. An advanced version of a Mirai botnet is said to have committed the attack.

IoT devices have little online access protections, and are increasingly being used as an entry gateway or backdoor for bot access and hack attacks.

Manufacturers must realize IoT devices need to incorporate stronger software access authorizations, and/or network firewall protections.

I was once given this sage advice, “Always change an electronic device’s factory default passcode settings.”

Merry Christmas everyone, and be mindful of those Wi-Fi-connected smart toys.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Forrester's 'Whirlwind' televised 65 years ago this week

by Mark Ollig
Copyright © 2016 Mark Ollig

In 1951, CBS television in New York was broadcasting its new documentary series, “See It Now,” hosted by famed journalist and news reporter, Edward R. Murrow.
Approximately 13 million television sets were being used in this country at that time, with most having access to three or four channels.
“These are the days of mechanical and electronic marvels. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a new one for the Navy. It’s a Whirlwind electronic computer,” said Murrow at the start of the Sunday, Dec. 16, 1951 “See It Now” episode.
I recently watched this archived episode over the Internet.
Murrow, seated at his desk, picked up a telephone handset to speak with Jay Forrester, who was in charge of the Whirlwind computer project, located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Digital Computer Lab in Cambridge, MA.
Forrester could be seen on the studio’s Line Monitor 2 television screen located on the wall, behind Murrow.
“Hello New York. Hello New York. This is Cambridge, and this is the oscilloscope [display screen] of the Whirlwind electronic computer,” said Forrester.
Television viewers saw the Whirlwind’s display screen create a continuously flashing white text message on a black background saying: HELLO MR. MURROW.
A remote television camera provided viewers with a look at the computer components presented by Forrester, who was seated next to tall, metal frames containing the electronic components which was the Whirlwind computer.
He described electronic “storage tubes” as being used for the Whirlwind’s memory.
Forrester stated the computer could access information inside a storage tube within 25 microseconds.
Whirlwind was also the first computer which could process data in real-time.
Programming information into the computer was by means of adjusting mechanical switches, and feeding strips of “punched” or perforated paper tape with precisely-placed holes representing binary data, into the computer.
Whirlwind was connected to a round, 16-inch graphic display screen, and an electric typewriter which acted as a paper printer for reading the computer’s output information.
Admiral Calvin Bolster, chief of Naval Research for the US Navy, who could be seen on the Line Monitor 1 television screen, asked a question of the Whirlwind computer regarding a Viking rocket launch.
Based on the rate of standard fuel consumption, Admiral Bolster wanted to see the Whirlwind computer trace the rocket’s flight path from liftoff.
He also wanted the Whirlwind to determine after 40 seconds had elapsed, the amount of fuel remaining, and the rocket’s velocity.
The Viking rocket at lift-off weighed 1,100 pounds, held 8,500 pounds of fuel, and would reach a maximum altitude of 135 miles.
This problem was setup in the Whirlwind computer, and the results were graphically presented on its display screen using white dots.
The far-left side of the Whirlwind’s screen showed television viewers a vertical line of white dots representing fuel.
At liftoff we see a single white dot (representing the Viking rocket) rising on the immediate right-side of the fuel representation dots.
A vertical scale of white dots on the far-right-hand side of the screen, represented the rocket’s velocity.
As the dots symbolizing the rocket rises, the vertical dots representing fuel consumption lowers.
The velocity line drops as the rocket reaches the height of its trajectory.
The velocity line then rises up again as the rocket speedily falls to the ground.
“How’s that?” asked a smiling Forrester.
“It looks very good to me,” replied Admiral Bolster.
For me, it was like watching the original Pong video game being played on a black and white television set.
A smiling Edward R. Murrow then challenged the Whirlwind to calculate what $24 deposited in the year 1626 would be worth “today” if it was earning a 6 percent interest rate.
Forrester entered the data to calculate into the Whirlwind’s memory via the “control tape” (perforated paper tape).
The computer then began to solve the problem, and within a few seconds the answer was automatically printed onto the paper of the electric typewriter.
Forrester told Murrow the Whirlwind computer calculated the $24 would be worth, at the end of 325 years (1626 – 1951), “Four-billion, twenty-seven million, seven-hundred and twenty-thousand dollars . . . and some odd cents.”
Yours truly, using a calculator accessible via the Internet, computed the base amount of $24 compounded yearly for 325 years, to be worth $4,023,626,581.92.
Of course, where today will I find a bank with a 6 percent annually compounded interest rate.
More importantly, where do I find a longevity potion to keep me around for 325 years.
Forrester ended the interview with Murrow by having the Whirlwind computer electronically play the song, “Jingle Bells.”
Not too long ago, Forrester addressed the modern era of digital computers, saying, “I might not have envisioned how much smaller and faster they’d be, but the fundamental logic hasn’t changed.”
In a 2011 New York Times interview, Forrester recalled speaking before an MIT engineering class, questioning whether they understood how a toilet’s water tank maintained the water level using the mechanical apparatus inside of it.
“How many of you have ever taken the lid off a toilet water tank to see how it works?” he recalls asking the class.
None of the engineering students could say they had.
“How do you get to MIT without having ever looked inside a toilet tank?” Forrester said in the interview.
Jay Wright Forrester was born July 14, 1918 near Anselmo, NE, and passed away Nov. 16, in Concord, MA, at the age of 98.
The Dec. 16, 1951 “See It Now” episode can be watched here:
Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Reducing unsolicited telemarketing robocalls

by Mark Ollig
Copyright © 2016 Mark Ollig

It’s happened to all of us at one time or another.

The telephone is ringing and we check the caller ID display.

We don’t recognize the number and think, “Maybe it’s an important call,” so we answer and hear the following automated (but cheerfully sounding) voice.

“Congratulations! Your name has been specially selected by WXYZ Travel Adventures for an all-paid cruise to the Bahamas! Please press 1 to speak directly with our cruise director, who will provide you with all the exciting details; and again, congratulations!”

I wonder how many of us would have hung up the phone halfway through this automated telemarketing message or “robocall.”

Let me state from the onset; there are legitimate robocalls not trying to sell you anything.

For example, automated calling systems are used by schools to inform students, parents, and custodians about school closings, or other announcements.

In March, the FCC issued an “Enforcement Advisory” concerning telephone robocalls and texting messages sent to cell phones and other mobile devices.

It re-affirms many of the regulations from the FCC’s Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991.

The TCPA places limits on unsolicited, prerecorded telemarketing calls to landline home telephones, and any autodialed calls or prerecorded voice calls to wireless cell phone numbers.

Robocalls may not be dialed into emergency numbers, fire protection or law enforcement agencies, and patient rooms at health care facilities.

The last thing I want if I am in a hospital bed, is to answer the phone and hear a robocall – of course, if no one had visited me that day, and the robocall had a pleasant-sounding voice, I’d probably listen.

The National Do Not Call Registry website is a public service of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and allows us to register up to three telephone numbers, in order to prevent telemarketing companies from calling them.

You must provide a valid email address to have your telephone number(s) processed.

To complete the registration, an email will be sent to you from

This email must be opened, and its message link clicked within 72 hours to activate the do-not-call service.

Yours truly had registered some years back, but I wasn’t sure if the telephone number was still registered, so I used the National Do Not Call Registry website’s verification link to find out.

The verification process involved entering my phone number and email address.

Within seconds after completing the verification, my smartphone alerted me of an email message from

The email informed me I had successfully registered my telephone number nearly nine years ago, Dec. 29, 2007.

I learned registrations on the National Do Not Call Registry never expire.

If you want to register or verify your landline or mobile phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry, visit

The National Do Not Call Registry will never call you to sign up. Note this special alert message on their website: “Scammers have been making phone calls claiming to represent the National Do Not Call Registry. The calls claim to provide an opportunity to sign up for the Registry. These calls are not coming from the Registry or the Federal Trade Commission, and you should not respond to these calls.”

If you do not have an email address, you can register, verify, or remove a telephone number by calling 1-888-382-1222, and via TTY (Text Telephone) using 1-866-290-4236, and follow the response prompts.

If your telephone number has been registered for at least 31 days, and you are still receiving telemarketer calls, you can file a complaint with the FTC at the website, or by calling the Do Not Call Registry number listed in the previous paragraph.

You will need to provide the date of the call, and the telephone number or the name of the company who called you.

The FCC has an informative webpage with a Frequently Asked Questions link, along with additional resources for blocking unwanted calls, and more at

If any telemarketers are reading this column, you can access the National Do Not Call Registry list of telephone numbers, by registering or logging into this web portal:

Types of organizations allowed to pay for access to the registered telephone numbers are listed here:

Be sure to follow and send me your text messages at @bitsandbytes on Twitter.