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Friday, December 29, 2017

Crossing the bridge into 2018

©Mark Ollig

We’ve survived another fast-paced year, consumed with technology, political changes, and lots of online social media drama; notably, the presidential tweets.

One of the things many of us do at the end of each year is to look back at our achievements and memorable experiences.

I recall hearing my father say, “It’s nice to look back on your accomplishments, but then you need to turn and look forward, so that you can create new accomplishments.”

What you are reading is the 53rd and final column for 2017, and the 608th column since Dec. 15, 1997; not that I am keeping track of them . . . well, maybe I am.

The complete list of Bits & Bytes columns are on my Facebook page; in case any friends or family members are interested.

I’ll now take Dad’s sage advice and turn myself forward and get back to today’s topic.

A US government census website guesstimates the world’s population at the start of the year was 7.36 billion, and has now risen to 7.44 billion.

It’s a matter of days before 2018; and yet nearly half the world’s population is unable to access the internet due to economic, geographical, or technological reasons.

Visit the US government’s population census website at

Back in the day, we addressed personal computer memory mostly using terms like megabytes.

Today, computing data storage is spoken using gigabytes and terabytes.

I foresee in the not-too-distant future, when a petabyte (one-thousand terabytes, or one-million gigabytes) worth of computing data will be commonly accessible on personal internal/portable data storage drives, or through externally-hosted cloud storage.

According to Scientific American, the human brain, using all of its neuron connections, can store 2.5 petabytes, which is equivalent to remembering 3 million hours of television, or 2.2 trillion of those cute kitty pictures seen on Instagram and Facebook.

I won’t even guess the year when we will be routinely using exabyte and zettabyte memory capacity.

It’s difficult for us to wrap our minds around such large numbers, but our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will probably be using these virtually limitless, computing-storage terms.

In January, I wrote about the conversion from Frequency Modulated (FM) radio to Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) in Norway, which resulted in the shutdown of all their FM radio transmitters.

DAB provides greater regional reception coverage, lower operating costs when compared to FM, and superior listening quality.

Norway’s FM spectrum allowed five national stations to be operating on the air, whereas 22 are currently being supported using DAB technology.

Their conversion reminds me of when all US television broadcast stations were ordered to stop transmitting analog signals over-the-air, and switch to all-digital television signal broadcasting, June 12, 2009.

This past year, we also learned about Emma, the robotic masseuse.

The Expert Manipulative Massage Automation (Emma) is a technologically-advanced robotic arm equipped with a soft silicone, human-mimicking palm and thumb, used for giving massages.

Emma practices the traditional Chinese therapeutic massage called Tuina.

This robotic massaging system uses proprietary cloud software intelligence supported by Microsoft and developed by Albert Zhang, founder of AiTreat and NovaHealth Clinic.

Emma’s advanced electronic sensors and diagnostic functions precisely measure the exact stiffness of a particular muscle or tendon.

The robotic arm’s hand palm and thumb are warmed; so you needn’t worry about any cold hands on your back.

A computer server located inside the internet cloud receives the massage patient’s data. There, an artificial intelligence (AI) software program quickly computes the exact pressure to be delivered by Emma during the massage session.

The AI program continuously tracks and analyzes the progress of the patient’s robotic massage.

Some folks were surprised when I wrote in a May column, that after five years, I was abandoning Apple’s iOS, and returning to the Microsoft Windows operating system, with the purchase of a new HP notebook computer installed with Windows 10.

The one anecdote I recall from the column is talking computers with the youthful-looking computer sales clerk, Robert.

“You talk a lot like my dad did when I was growing up. Many years ago, he worked in the computer department at his office,” Robert smilingly said to me.

I smiled back at him and nodded; feeling a bit unsure of how to reply.

Of course, Robert meant it as a compliment. It was the “many years ago” which caught my attention and gave me pause for thought.

I began the Aug. 25 column with “Greetings from the Coco Moon Coffee Bar, located in the heart of downtown Brainerd.”

Columnists need to write; even while on vacation in the relaxing Brainerd Lakes area.

I enjoyed revisiting the Coco Moon Coffee Bar, where I had written my Oct. 2, 2006, column, while seated in a comfortable wooden booth next to the large window facing 6th Street and Laurel.

It was a satisfying and memorable day in Brainerd; and, for the most part, so was 2017.

Let’s turn and look forward as we cross the bridge, with hope and optimism, into 2018.

(Above image is from Clipart Of LLC based in Southern Oregon, USA. Royalty
user-fee paid for by Mark Ollig)

Friday, December 22, 2017

Why NORAD tracks Santa’s journey

©Mark Ollig

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, better known as NORAD, will be using its advanced technology to track Santa and his reindeer team as they travel around the world bringing gifts to all the good boys and girls.

For the record, I’ve been a very good boy this year.

The story of NORAD tracking Santa began in 1955, when NORAD was CONAD (Continental Air Defense Command), with its headquarters located in El Paso County, near Colorado Springs, CO.

CONAD’s confidential, air-defense telephone hotline was used for national emergencies; such as alerting CONAD personnel of any imminent military attacks against the US.

A December 1955 Colorado Springs department store newspaper advertisement mistakenly printed the wrong telephone number for children to call and talk with Santa on Christmas Eve.

Yes, the telephone number in the ad was the hotline which rang the red desk phone of the central operations center at CONAD.

Christmas Eve 1955, the red phone began ringing.

The director of operations, Colonel Harry Shoup, immediately picked up the handset.

“The red phone ringing; it’s either the Pentagon calling or the four-star General Partridge. I was all shook up,” Col. Shoup recalled years later while telling the story.

“So, I picked it up and said, Sir, this is Col. Shoup.”

He heard silence from the phone’s receiver.

“Sir, this is Col. Shoup,” he repeated.

“Sir, can you read me alright?” asked Col. Shoup, who believed a military general was calling the hotline telephone.

Imagine Col. Shoup’s surprise when he hears a little girl’s voice ask, “Are you really Santa Claus?”

Col. Shoup recalls looking around the room at the faces of his office personnel and sternly saying, “Somebody’s playing a joke on me, and this isn’t funny!”

“Would you repeat that?” demanded Col. Shoup into the phone, believing it was some prankster randomly dialing telephone numbers.

“Are you really Santa Claus?” the small voice on the other end of the telephone line sincerely asked.

While Col. Shoup was on the phone, he learned of the local newspaper’s advertisement mistake.

Upon hearing this, Col. Shoup’s behavior quickly changed.

Instead of disappointing the little girl calling for Santa, he decided to answer her as Santa would, asking, “Have you been a good little girl?”

The now happy little girl’s voice on the phone said she knew Santa would be coming down the fireplace at her house, and she would be leaving some food there for him and the reindeer.

“Oh, boy! They sure will appreciate that!” Col. Shoup told her.

Col. Shoup listened as the little girl read off the items on her Christmas list she hoped Santa would bring her.

He then asked to talk with her mother so that he could inform her of the items on her daughter’s Christmas list.

After saying goodbye to the little girl and replacing the handset back on the red phone, Col. Shoup instructed his defense operations center to act as Santa’s helpers whenever a child called the hotline.

Children calling were provided radar updates by CONAD defense operation team members regarding the location of Santa Claus, and his globe-circling reindeer sleigh team.

Santa’s sleigh travels faster than starlight, “but this is nothing that our technologies can’t handle,” a commander at CONAD reportedly said.

In recent years, because of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’s brightly-shining red nose, NORAD can easily track the speed, direction, and location of Santa’s sleigh as it journeys through the sky.

NORAD monitors Santa’s trip with the same advanced space satellite technology used for following any airborne object approaching the Northern Hemisphere.

Santa Claus was issued an official clearance to fly throughout the skies inside the Northern Hemisphere.

Christmas Eve, NORAD will be using its classified radar tracking command station to monitor Santa and his reindeer sleigh team, as they make their journey around the world.

Follow the official NORAD Tracks Santa website at There, you’ll find the Santa Tracker Countdown clock, videos of Santa’s North Pole headquarters, interactive games, movies, a library, holiday musical tunes, and the history of NORAD’s involvement in Santa’s annual holiday journey.

Visit the official NORAD Tracks Santa YouTube channel at

Follow the official Twitter page of NORAD Tracks Santa for up-to-the-minute information on Santa’s journey using @NoradSanta.

Col. Harry Shoup became known as “The Santa Colonel,” a nickname he cherished until his passing March 14, 2009.

A special "Merry Christmas" to my mother, family, friends, and those of you who read my column.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Let’s go see and smell a movie

©Mark Ollig

People attending the 1981 movie premiere of “Polyester” received a numbered scratch-and-sniff card.

The movie watcher smelled what was being shown on the screen of this “Odorama”-promoted movie when prompted to scratch and sniff a specific card number.

The history of dispensing theater movie and stage-play related aromas before an audience goes back to the beginnings of the 20th century.

In 1906, Samuel Lionel Rothafel, who worked at The Family Theater in Forest City, PA, came up with an idea.

While a motion picture newsreel film of the 1906 Rose Bowl parade played inside the theater, Rothafel took a wad of cotton wool, soaked it with rose oil and placed it in front of an electric fan directed towards the seated audience.

The fruity fragrance of roses wafted throughout the theater amid the now delighted seated patrons.

It seems as if Rothafel used good-old Minnesota ingenuity – in fact, he did. Samuel Lionel Rothafel was born in Stillwater in 1882.

By 1933, Paramount’s Rialto Theater on Broadway had installed an in-theater “smell system” using fan blowers which released various aromas during a movie.

After the movie was over, it took hours (sometimes days) for the odors to disappear from inside the theater building. This particular smell-system eventually proved unpopular.

During the late 1950s, Hans Laube invented a scent-dispensing machine.

Laube’s machine discharged a variety of smells coinciding with the events occurring during a theater movie or theatrical play.

Various mixtures and dilutions of liquid scented perfumes; including a scent neutralizer, were also dispensed.

Nov. 19, 1957, US Patent number 2,813,452, titled Motion Pictures With Synchronized Odor Emission, was awarded to Hans Laube’s odor-dispensing device named Smell-O-Vision.

“Scent of Mystery” is a 1960 movie using Laube’s new Scentorama machine with an updated version of Smell-O-Vision.

The Scentorama machine could circulate up to 30 different smells towards theater seats using scent emitters activated by signal code markers on the movie’s film.

Unfortunately, the results audiences experienced were not well received, and no future movies were shown using Smell-O-Vision.

I uploaded a photo of the Scentorama machine at

Not long ago, the successful mixing of smells with your favorite movies, gaming, and television programs became a reality through a French company called Olf-Action.

The company name is no doubt a play on the word “olfactory,” referencing the sensory system used for smelling.

Olf-Action uses Odoravision for the delivery of odors or particular scents to an audience throughout their viewing of a motion picture film.

This method of scent-delivery is called smell-synchronization.

An in-home version of Olf-Action’s Odoravision System is capable of administering 128 unique scents and up to three simultaneous scents over the course of one motion picture film.

A movie player’s video output connects to an Olfahome model 4045 scent-dispensing rectangular box unit weighing 44 pounds.

The box unit is attached to the ceiling approximately 10 feet in front of, and above the movie viewers, and has 40 individual, open-air nozzles, with individual scents stored inside cartridges.

Some of the scents listed included cakes, gasoline, flowers, roses, wood, sea water, smoke, candies, fabrics, trees, and one I like; the smell of freshly-cut grass.

Olf-Action listed several movie film titles available in Odoravision, including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

The human nose can differentiate a large number of unique scents.

Ernest Crocker, a chemical engineer, and MIT graduate, used a mathematical rating system and came up with 10,000 as being the number of recognizable smells a human can detect.

It might be surprising to learn scent marketing is an industry unto itself, and is used by stores, restaurants, and hotels to promote customer satisfaction and increase revenues.

Statistics show carefully selected scents will attract and influence consumer spending, and make a product more easily remembered.

Possibly, Smell-O-Vision will make a comeback.

So, the next time we watch a movie and tell people it stinks, they won’t know whether we meant the acting or the smells in it.

Do I hear laughter from some of my readers?

Nostalgically speaking, one unforgettable scent I do fondly recall while seated in my hometown’s movie theater, was the enticing popcorn aroma floating in from the front lobby’s popcorn machine.

Sometimes, I wonder if a fan was purposely used to send those freshly-made popcorn smells into the theater seating area to tempt us to buy more popcorn. If so, it worked for me.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Pre-web: The BBS online community thrived

©Mark Ollig

Years before web browsers redefined how the internet is used, many of my generation were going online locally by way of a dialup computer Bulletin Board System or BBS.

In the late 1980s, computer hobbyists (such as this writer) were avidly reading Boardwatch magazine, which contained articles dedicated to BBSs and their human system operators, known as SysOps.

Computer hobbyists were spending many hours (and dollars) installing BBS software and hardware onto their computers to communicate and exchange information with other computers over modems and traditional analog telephone lines.

I began with a text-only interface BBS software program developed by Galacticom, Inc.

It was not a simple “plug and play” process installing and programming BBS software and the additional components and hardware on a computer.

The name of my bulletin board system was WBBS: OnLine!

WBBS (Winsted Bulletin Board System) sounded like a radio or TV station; making it easily remembered – besides, yours truly thought it was pretty cool.

I placed local newspaper ads, wrote an article describing the features of a BBS and how to log in, and created paper flyers advertising WBBS and posted them all around town.

My car’s vanity plates read WBBS, which got a few stares while driving down the road.

ProComm was a telecommunications software terminal program commonly used for accessing a BBS, as were Kermit, PC-Talk, and Qmodem.

Personal computer users began getting the BBS bug and soon were participating in the WBBS online community.

I discovered being a BBS SysOp was keeping me busy.

WBBS user members could send and receive BBS email messages with other members, text-message with each other in real-time in the discussion (chat) rooms, play games, and send and receive software files shared within the BBS community.

Internet address emails were sent and received to WBBS members via a UUCP (Unix-to-Unix Copy) remote connection program through a telecom carrier I knew.

Some hobbyist BBSs had many telephone modem lines, which allowed a larger number of simultaneous users.

WBBS used six telephone lines connected to six modems, so six dialup users, plus your humble SysOp controlling the central computer BBS console, could be online at the same time.

Many of the WBBS members were from the Winsted and Lester Prairie areas, where the telephone number to reach the BBS was a free, local call.

I later updated WBBS with a GUI (Graphical User Interface) for a more visually-friendly, easily-maneuverable point-and-click experience for its members who downloaded the GUI client software.

Regular members of the BBS might stay logged in for hours chatting with others, and some would stop by to play games, check their messages, or just to say “hello” and “what’s new?” to folks in the virtual community’s chat room.

In addition to the enjoyment of being on the BBS, many also discovered the camaraderie taking place in the BBS community’s chat rooms.

In early 1993, I gave a presentation of a BBS during the Winsted Civic and Commerce Association lunch-in, below the American Legion Club in Winsted.

I used my new OmniBook laptop computer and a desktop computer which hosted a BBS program for the demo.

The desktop computer was set up to represent a business BBS, and the laptop as a customer’s home computer.

Each computer connected to a dedicated telephone line, which I installed for the presentation.

While the local business people ate lunch, I explained what a BBS was, and then demonstrated how a person could use their home computer to call a telephone number and connect with another computer operating a BBS software program.

I showed how a BBS menu program could be specifically designed to enhance their business with an online presence for communicating, selling, and providing product and service information to their customers.

This working demonstration must have made a good impression, because I was asked a lot of questions. Many business people also came up to the presentation table to see how I had the computers set up, and to get a closer look at what was displayed on the monitors.

The local business people reacted very favorably to the idea of online consumerism and the benefits it could provide for interacting with customers. Remember, this was nearly 25 years ago.

By the late 1990s, BBS users wanted internet web access.

Some BBSs obtained direct access to the internet by leasing a dedicated 1.54 Mbps T1 facility connection from their local telephone company.

A member could then access the internet through the BBS, which acted as an internet gateway.

BBSs were becoming ISPs (Internet Service Provider), and thus needed to charge its users an internet access fee to pay for the expensive monthly T1 internet connection charges.

Eventually, people began leaving the dial-up BBS world, preferring to traverse internet web content through commercial dial-up computing servers providing internet access.

Popular online servers included CompuServe, Prodigy, and AOL (America Online), who charged hourly or monthly rates for online access.

Sadly, many of the local dialup BBSs (including WBBS: OnLine!) shut down and went offline, while others relocated their BBS community to an internet website.

Visit Bits & Bytes online at

Above is a "cut and paste" of of flyers I used in
1992 for the Bulletin Board System.
(submitted photo by Mark Ollig)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Upsurge in holiday shopping spending

©Mark Ollig

Thanksgiving is over, and that can mean only one thing: it’s time for the holiday shopping season.

The National Retail Foundation (NRF) reports consumers will be spending, on average, $967 during this holiday season.

The dollar amount breaks down as follows:

• $608 on presents for family, friends, and coworkers;

• $218 on holiday purchases such as decorations, food, and candy; and

• $141 on other “non-gift” purchases for their families and themselves.

With its headquarters in Washington, DC, the latest NRF survey revealed 164 million Americans shopped during this year’s Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Sunday, and Thanksgiving Day.

This week’s Cyber Monday online shopping revenue was estimated to have been $6.6 billion.

Anticipated total holiday retail sales revenue this year is predicted to be nearly $679 billion, which is $23 billion more than last year.

NRF states 73 percent of the shoppers will partake in charitable giving during this holiday season.

Individual state retail associations, such as the Minnesota Retailers Association, are a branch of the NRF; its website is

“Retail in Minnesota is so much more than inventory and cash registers. Minnesota retailers don’t just sell a product, they sell a whole experience,” states a message on their website.

In Minnesota, 69,575 retail establishments support 782,000 jobs. Our home-state retail business revenues provided nearly 16 percent of Minnesota’s overall 2016 gross domestic product (GDP), which was $296 billion.

Minnesota provided 1.81 percent of the 2016 US GDP, ranking it 17th out of all state economies.

Here’s an NRF fun fact: All 20,000 Mall of America parking spaces could fill with Minnesotans supported by our state’s retail businesses.

A brief video from the National Retailers Association regarding retail business in Minnesota is available at

In the US, 3.8 million retail establishments provide 42 million jobs, with combined GDP revenues of $2.6 trillion.

The NRF November survey reports 46 percent of younger consumers, age 18 to 24, said they plan to spend more this holiday season.

Out of all consumer age groups, 54 percent said they would spend the same, while 16.6 percent said less.

One often-purchased holiday gift is the ever-reliable gift card; for when you just can’t come up with a gift idea for that hard-to-buy-for person.

Most holiday shoppers will end up buying four gift cards, averaging $45 each.

I was surprised to learn the total spending on this year’s holiday gift cards is estimated to be $27.6 billion.

NRF’s November survey breaks down the percentages of the type of retail holiday gift cards consumers will be purchasing this year:

• restaurant – 36 percent;

• department store – 33 percent;

• various dollar amount credit cards – 24 percent;

• coffeehouse shops – 21 percent;

• movies/music/entertainment – 18 percent;

• online retail business – 14 percent;

• electronics store – 14 percent;

• bookstore – 12 percent;

• grocery/gasoline – 11 percent; and

• individual gas station – 9 percent.

I learned the NRF has the most members of any retail trade association on the planet.

Follow the National Retailers Association on Twitter at @nrfnews.

Be sure to visit my Bits & Bytes online webpage at

(Below Clipart Of LLC royalty user fee paid for by Mark Ollig)

Friday, November 24, 2017

Serious gaming started 45 years ago, with Pong

©Mark Ollig

How many of you recall playing the challenging table tennis (ping-pong) game called Pong on your television back in the mid-1970s?

Ah yes, I, too, was addicted to playing Pong.

Allan Alcorn, who worked for Atari Inc. as an engineer, designed Pong when he was 24 years old.

A standing cabinet version of his video arcade game was first installed in September 1972, at an establishment called Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, CA.

Pong was an instant success, and was being regularly played by the bar patrons.

However, a couple of weeks after its installation, the Pong video arcade machine began having problems and stopped accepting quarters.

Much to the dissatisfaction of the bar patrons (and I imagine the tavern owner), the Pong game stood inoperative, and so the bar manager called Atari and said, “The machine is broken,” and asked to have someone come out and fix it.

When Alcorn, himself, came out to investigate, he may have smiled after discovering why the Pong machine was not working.

The cause of the trouble was too many quarters had become jammed inside the cabinet’s coin-catcher.

This story takes me back to the days when I was out repairing public payphones (What’s a payphone, Grandpa?).

Sometimes I’d find quarters, dimes, and nickels had become lodged inside the payphone’s coin chute assembly, causing the phone to become “out of order.”

But, I digress back to today’s topic.

Atari had obtained enough funding to announce, Nov. 29, 1972, that Pong video arcade cabinet games would be mass-produced on an assembly line and sold commercially.

Three years later, Atari released the consumer version, called Home Pong, using a game console.

The Atari Home Pong console connected to a television and sold for $98.95, which in 2017, would be nearly $580.

Before Pong was on the scene, Ralph Baer had invented a simple “dot chasing” video game, called Chase, in 1967.

This game is played by connecting a brown controller box to a television.

By 1972, Baer’s design developed into what became the Magnavox Odyssey home video game console.

The Magnavox Odyssey game console was manufactured by the television maker of the same name, Magnavox, so consumers reasoned the Odyssey console would only work on a Magnavox television, when, in fact, it could be connected to any television.

The attentive folks at Atari picked up on this false belief and began printing “Works on any television set, black-and-white, or color” on all of its Pong game boxes in what I consider a brilliant advertising strategy. The result was increased sales of Pong game consoles among Magnavox television users.

Going back to 1958, William Higginbotham, instrumentation division head at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, NY, created a game played using an oscilloscope connected to an analog computer as a way of entertaining visitors to the laboratory.

Higginbotham called this game Tennis for Two.

The year 1952 saw the first computerized digital graphical game called OXO, in which an individual played the tic-tac-toe game against a computer.

A person used a rotary phone dial as the game controller when playing OXO.

Dialing a digit from 1 to 9 represented the location of where to place an X or O on the tic-tac-toe board displayed on the computer’s cathode ray tube (CRT) display screen.

Alexander S. Douglas wrote the programming code for OXO at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

The OXO game was played using the processing power of a 1949 British computer called Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator.

Going back further, we find World War II radar images to be the inspiration for a game played using a CRT.

Inventors Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann filed for a US Patent Jan. 25, 1947.

Dec. 14, 1948, both were granted US Patent 2,455,992 for Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device.

“In carrying out the invention, a cathode-ray tube is used upon the face of which the trace of the ray or electron beam can be seen. One or more targets, such as pictures of airplanes, for example, are placed upon the face of the tube. Controls are available to the player so that he can manipulate the trace or position of the beam, which is automatically caused to move across the face of the tube,” reads the text from their patent.

A player’s manipulating “the trace of the ray or electron beam” on the CRT of their device has been likened to how an Etch A Sketch game creates the solid lines on its gray screen.

Check out this informative YouTube interview with Pong’s Allan Alcorn at

Be sure to visit my Bits & Bytes online webpage at

(Pong video arcade game cabinet)

This column originally published Feb. 14, 2011, and was recently updated by the writer.

Friday, November 17, 2017

North Korea’s internet is a ‘walled garden’

©Mark Ollig

Granted, it’s not the global internet you and I access; quite the opposite. It’s a tightly-controlled network within the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

I can best describe the DPRK/North Korean version of their country’s “in-house internet” as similar to a company or organization’s private network or intranet system.

An intranet or (internal network) is a communications/computer network with software programs and services used by the computing devices of specific users with authorized access.

The North Korean name for their internet system is “Kwangmyong,” meaning “walled garden.”

Kwangmyong connects with the country’s educational and governmental research institutes, its libraries, and higher learning (universities) webpages.

The official media source for DPRK is the Korean Central Television/News Agency, which is also accessible on Kwangmyong.

Other content available includes the state insurance corporation, official government web portal, and the Pyongyang Broadcasting Agency’s webpage.

There are also webpages for the Pyongyang International Film Festival, the Korean Tourist Board, and the state-owned airline of North Korea; Air Koryo.

Kwangmyong connects with the North Hwanghae Provincial People’s Study House, which is equipped with spacious computer rooms for use by university students and military officers.

Pyongyang is the largest city and capital of the DPRK, and contains several internet cafes available with Kwangmyong.

Kwangmyong’s resources are normally accessed via computer modems and dial-up telephone lines.

This type of access – including the webpages I saw – was reminiscent of the modest graphical user interfaces found on CompuServe, America Online, Prodigy, and hobbyist computer BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) during the early 1990s.

North Koreans have no connection from Kwangmyong for accessing the global internet.

In order to own a computer, a North Korean needs the permission of their government, and they must register it with their local policing agency.

A demonstration of how Kwangmyong is used was the theme of a recent video I located.

This video included some English translation by Finland foreign news correspondent Mika Mäkeläinen.

Mäkeläinen was in the company of a North Korean presenter who explained and navigated through the information hyperlinks on Kwangmyong from a North Korean university classroom computer.

University students were seated at other desks and could be seen and heard using their computers.

I observed some of the hyperlink pages clicked presented a “This webpage is not available” English message on the demonstration computer screen.

“Let’s see if we can get somewhere else,” a person on the video said.

Next, I viewed a list of about 40 hypertext links, each labeled in the Korean language. The presenter clicked on a link which opened the Kim Il-sung University webpage.

This university is located in Pyongyang, North Korea, and was built in 1946. It contains a large computer lab.

The presenter described the content on this webpage, including numerous achievements performed by the university, and the listing of student resource hyperlinks.

When asked by Mäkeläinen if the university’s webpages had any journalism information, or if they taught journalism, the North Korean presenter paused and then briefly conversed with another person. The presenter then clicked a hyperlink on the screen showing a news webpage containing articles and stories.

Another hyperlink was selected showing a webpage featuring movies on compact discs which could be ordered or downloaded to a computer.

It was pointed out several computer anti-virus software programs were also available for ordering.

Another hyperlink opened the webpage for a North Korean restaurant. “Cooking is science and art” was one of the articles found there.

This 11-minute video can be viewed on the Finnish webpage,

I took a screen-capture photo of the North Korean classroom showing students using computers. Framed photographs of Kim Il-sung and his son, Kim Jong-il, can also be seen on the wall at the front of the classroom.

Here is the classroom video screen-capture photo I uploaded to my blog webpage:

Of the 25 million people in North Korea, approximately 3,000 have access to Kwangmyong.

The North Korean global internet service provider is Star JV (Joint Venture) Company.

It’s been reported only high-ranking North Korean government officials, citizens with “special permissions,” and select foreign visitors have the approval to use the global internet.

Since 2010, these select few were routed to the global internet through China’s Unicom internet connection.

As of last month, Russia’s telecommunications company, TransTeleCom, activated a newly installed internet fiber-optic cable into Pyongyang, in what I assume is a backup in the event China’s internet-provided connection is interrupted.

The Twitter username for Mika Mäkeläinen is @Mikareport, and the official news feed for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is @DPRK_News.

Be sure to visit my Bits & Bytes online webpage at

Below is the classroom video screen-capture photo.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Technology captures bygone voices of indigenous Californians

©Mark Ollig

 A collection of 2,713 wax cylinders containing native voices more than 115 years old are being heard for the first time.

According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), beginning in 1901, California Native language speaker’s stories and songs were being recorded onto the surface of wax cylinders (think vinyl records).

More than 100 hours of assorted languages spoken by indigenous California Native Americans who lived in the state are stored in this collection of wax cylinders.

In all, California has more than 90 indigenous languages associated with 21 different language families, making the state linguistically more diverse than any area of its size in the western hemisphere.

Over the years, patches of mold covered the surface of the wax cylinders, making the use of standard audio mechanical playback devices and needle stylus’s ineffective.

There was a concern any playback device or stylus which came into physical contact with the wax cylinders, would further deteriorate their surface.

May 20, 2015, the NSF awarded Abstract No. 1500779 for “Linguistic and ethnographic sound recordings from early 20-century California: Optical scanning, digitization, and access.”

This grant was awarded to the University of California-Berkeley (UC), which had begun a project named “Documenting Endangered Languages.”

May 31, 2018, is the scheduled completion date for digitizing and archiving the audio contained on the wax cylinders.

Thus far, this NSF grant has awarded $200,000.

The restoration and digitalization of the wax cylinders were urgently needed, as the analog speech patterns contained within the indentations/grooves on the wax, had become practically unrecognizable.

New technology developed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, was used at UC to create non-intrusive digital transfers of the audio information contained in the wax cylinders.

Optical laser light was used to “see” through the mold and capture the audio pattern indentations on the wax surface.

The indentations were then digitally scanned and stored as files on a computer.

No equipment or devices came into direct physical contact with the wax cylinder during the process.

The optically-obtained high-resolution image of the wax cylinder was then fashioned into a three-dimensional (3D) image using a special computer software program.

The software program used algorithmic processes on the 3D image of the wax cylinder.

The program then mathematically calculated the movements of how a needle’s stylus would be following the indentations of the spinning 3D wax cylinder.

Finally, a software algorithm then comparatively extracted and authentically recreated what the audio signal would actually sound like.

Faithful audio reproduction was also retrievable using this technique from damaged or broken wax cylinders.

I learned the audio quality using the above optical scanning and computer software technology, is superior to what would have been heard on a newly-recorded wax cylinder in the early 1900s.

By means of improved optical technology and program software modeling methods, investigators at UC have digitally recorded audio of the stories and songs by people in 78 indigenous languages which would otherwise have remained unheard; and thus lost forever.

The treasure-trove of the voices recovered from these wax cylinders is today being heard by the descendants of the indigenous people of California who recorded them.

These sound recordings from early 20th century California are a gift of language and culture from the past to the present.

The newly-archived digital recordings will remain available for future generations’ learning, scholarly research, and general appreciation for the rich history they bring to the present.

Speaking of recordings, Thomas Edison invented the speech recorder/cylinder phonograph in 1877.

Tin foil, instead of wax, was used as the recording surface for holding the sound vibration indentations of spoken words and music.

The tin foil he used was limited in the number of playbacks (using a hand-crank to rotate the cylinder), which could be heard before the foil’s indentations wore out.

The tin foil was later replaced with wax-coated cylinders, which could be repeatedly played, and was able to hold several minutes of audio.

The indigenous Native Californian wax cylinder collection is kept at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology on the UC campus in Berkeley, CA. Its website is

The National Science Foundation’s YouTube channel shows highlights used for obtaining the voices from the wax cylinders and digitally archiving them. I encourage my readers to view this informative video at

Follow my personal social commentary on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

(below is a screen-capture from the NSF YouTube video link)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A driverless bus, are you ready?

©Mark Ollig

Are you ready to hop aboard and take a ride in a battery-powered shuttle bus with no human driver, or even a steering wheel?

Don’t be nervous. A certified human shuttle operator will be aboard providing customer service for the passengers, as well as the human intervention of the autonomous bus ride if it’s needed.

This driverless, fare-free, 12-passenger shuttle travels at comfortable cruising speeds averaging 10 to 12 miles per hour, with a top speed of 20 miles per hour.

The city council of Arlington, TX is currently operating two self-driving electric vehicles under a lease agreement with EasyMile headquartered in Toulouse France, with offices in Denver, CO.

Arlington’s self-driving shuttle service is called Milo, meaning “mile zero” or the point at which shuttle passengers arrive or depart from an event’s location.

“Arlington is the first local government in the US to offer ongoing autonomous vehicle service to the general public,” said Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams.

These self-driving vehicles are shuttling people back-and-forth over non-public vehicular transportation roadways and trails within the city’s Entertainment District, where many events take place.

Arlington is exploring the use of autonomous transportation software and hardware technology, and is conducting a one-year pilot program which began in August.

Part of the purpose of the Milo pilot program is to familiarize the public with driverless vehicle technology, according to Bill Verkest, Arlington Transportation Advisory Committee Chair.

One of the routes Milo travels is the paved trail system connecting to AT&T Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys professional football team plays.

Information about Milo posted on the City of Arlington’s website includes the following:

• Milo shuttles are free to use, wheelchair accessible, and can hold up to 12 passengers, (or 10 passengers plus one wheelchair).

• Shuttle rides are available along select Entertainment District off-street trails during stadium and ballpark events.

• Although Milo runs autonomously, a certified operator will always be onboard.

• Milo has a maximum speed of about 20 miles per hour and can accelerate, brake, and steer by itself.

• Milo’s driverless technology comes with collision avoidance systems that detect other vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, and obstacles.

• Milo will operate by following a pre-programmed route on trails, not city streets.

• Milo includes air-conditioning and an automatically-deploying ramp for people using a wheelchair or those pushing a stroller.

“The experts are saying every day there is something new being invented in transportation. It’s a great opportunity for us to do these pilot projects, for us to actually test them in our community and for our citizens to be able to look at them and see if they work here and what their opinion of it is,” Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said about Milo during his 2017 State of the City address Oct. 18.

“We want to see how this technology performs, where it is best utilized and how it can be harnessed to potentially serve the city’s transportation needs in the future,” he added.

I encourage you to watch the City of Arlington’s video, “Arlington Unveils Milo Autonomous Shuttle Service,” at

Another video of Milo in action can be seen at

EasyMile was founded in 2014, and specializes in providing software powering autonomous vehicles and end-user smart mobility solutions. Its website is

Follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes, and visit my blog page at

(The above photograph is used with permission from the City of Arlington, TX)