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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Bell Labs: A history of pioneering innovations

©Mark Ollig

Founded in 1925, Bell Telephone Laboratories, better known as Bell Labs, was AT&T’s research and development department.

It was originally the Alexander Graham Bell Laboratory.

AT&T and Bell Labs are credited with inventing many telecommunication technologies and devices.

Let’s look back at some of them.

The telephotography machine was designed by AT&T scientists, and built by its subdivision, Western Electric, for transmitting pictures over telephone wires.

It took this predecessor of the fax (facsimile) machine 4.5 minutes to transmit one photograph 500 miles over telephone wires from a Cleveland sending station to a New York City receiving station May 19, 1924.

In 1925, Bell Labs used the telephotography machine for transmitting photographs to a few newspaper outlets over AT&T’s long-distance telephone network, using its copper telephone wires.

Photos of President Calvin Coolidge’s second inauguration in March 1925, were sent by facsimile using what was then called Picture Telegraphy, from Washington, DC to San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.

Transmitting photos over telephone wires totally changed the thinking of using telephone lines strictly for voice communications.

April 7, 1927, Bell Labs demonstrated publicly the first long-distance television transmission.

Live, moving television images of Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover were transmitted over telephone lines from Washington, DC to New York City.

“I am glad to welcome television as the latest product of scientific discovery,” Hoover said during the demonstration. “It promises that where the voice has led the way over the telephone wires, the eye will ultimately follow.”

Minnesota is also a part of the Bell Labs historical timeline.

In 1941, the first installation of a coaxial cable within the telephone network was placed in service between Minneapolis and Stevens Point, WI. The length of the coaxial cable was 200 miles.

This coaxial cable was invented at Bell Labs in 1929, and I consider it the first broadband transmission medium.

In 1947, a Bell Labs’ invention – the transistor – greatly improved the way we use our computers and modern electronics.

Built as a replacement for vacuum tubes and mechanical relays, the transistor revolutionized the entire electronics world. Scientists John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley invented the transistor.

Bell Labs also put out the first concept paper on cellular network technology in 1947; however, the actual technology needed to build it did not yet exist.

The unique thing about this concept was the idea of a wireless telephone network consisting of overlapping radio cell sites supported by a call-switching infrastructure.

The geographical cellular network would “follow” telephone users while they moved throughout the network topology.

This networking arrangement would hand off voice calls from one radio cell site to another without dropping the call in progress.

The wireless cellular network design resembled interconnected honeycombs.

AT&T activated the first working commercial cellular telephone system in the US when it began service in Chicago, IL in 1983.

The solar battery cell, which converts sunlight into electricity, was invented at Bell Labs in 1954.

In 1956, AT&T completed installation of the first trans-Atlantic telephone cable called TAT-1 (trans-Atlantic No. 1). The initial cable capacity was 36 simultaneous calls.

The cost per call over the TAT-1 was $12 for the first three minutes.

In 1963, the TAT-1 cable was used for the famous White House direct telephone hotline connection between Washington, DC and Moscow.

Modems were first used by Bell Labs in 1958, for the North American Air Defense (now called NORAD), in order to transmit digital computer data over analog signaling telephone wires.

The year 1958 also saw Bell Lab’s invention of the laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation).

Today, a laser is used as the transmission carrier in fiber-optic communications networks, as a cutting tool in hospital surgeries, and for commercial industrial applications.

A 1960 Bell System technical journal described their dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) keypad for pushbutton “touch-tone” dialing, which would replace the rotary dial used in a standard telephone.

AT&T demonstrated touch-tone dialing to the public at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

The first DTMF touch-tone keypad dialers installed in telephones for public use were in the Greensburg and Carnegie, PA telephone exchanges, in 1963.

My hometown of Winsted first provided DTMF touch-tone dialing service for the local hospital with the installation of its new digital telephone system in 1979.

In 1980, Winsted Telephone Company subscribers were able to use touch-tone telephones when the local telephone exchange made major modifications to their central dial office system by installing dual-tone multi-frequency converter equipment.

A Spanish-English voice translator was designed by Bell Labs in 1989, and publicly demonstrated in 1992.

Bell Labs was acquired in 2006, by the French company, Alcatel, which operated it until 2016.

Today, the Finnish communications and technology company, NOKIA owns Bell Labs and retains its Murray Hill, NJ headquarters.

Visit Bell Labs at

Follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes, and check out my online blog:

(Credit: Bell Labs)

(This column, originally written Oct. 8, 2007, was recently modified by the writer.)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month

©Mark Ollig

As we enter October, we’re feeling cooler temperatures, along with seeing the autumn leaves changing into their beautiful red, orange, yellow, brown, and purple colors.

The month ends with Halloween and its lighted pumpkins, ghostly decorations, and the sights and sounds of costumed children happily trick-or-treating.

October is also when the folks at the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) call our attention to National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM).

Cyber is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “of, relating to, or involving computers or computer networks (such as the internet).”

To me, cybersecurity is protection of computing devices, websites, and the internet from those attempting unauthorized acquisition of their secured and personal data.

Cybersecurity is also applicable for the prevention of intentional disruption of the internet, and its connected devices and websites.

You may find it interesting to know the word “cybersecurity” was first used in 1989, as were latte, air quotes, hypertext markup language, hot link, minidisc, bioplastic, and Generation X.

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

The DHS NCSAM webpage recognizes the internet is woven into much of our daily lives.

Its webpage provides resources for staying vigilant against national cyber incidents, and information for protecting personal data residing on our computing devices from being compromised.

Cybercriminals will attempt illegal entry into computer systems and websites belonging to anyone; whether it’s government agencies, Fortune 500 corporations, or the businesses in our local community.

They will also target the personal computer in our home, or the wireless smartdevice we use on the go.

Every country, community, and citizen is susceptible to a cyber-attack resulting in a privacy breach of sensitive information.

The DHS suggests the following ways to protect our online information from being compromised:

• Set strong passwords, change them regularly, and don’t share them with anyone.

• Keep your computer’s operating system, browser, and other critical software optimized by installing updates.

• Maintain an open dialogue with your friends, family, and colleagues about internet safety.

• Use privacy settings and limit the amount of personal information you post online.

• Be cautious about offers online – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Other precautions include having anti-virus security software actively monitoring your computer’s interactions with online websites.

Perform scheduled backups of your computer’s data to a physical drive or storage server in the cloud. This ensures accessibility to your data in the event your computer crashes, or becomes compromised by a malicious software (malware), or computer hacker.

When not using your home computer, unplug or disconnect any physically-cabled internet connection; this will prevent an online virus, malware program, or hacker from accessing your computer’s files and personal information.

Of course, our mobile devices have wireless internet connections using cellular data, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

DHS has a separate mobile device security (MDS) program for addressing the cybersecurity issues for protecting our wireless computing devices.

Learn more about the DHS MDS Project at

Remember: there is no absolute “delete button” for removing content once it’s posted on the internet.

Deleting a text comment, photo, or video you posted on a blog or social media network doesn’t mean it’s gone. Someone might have downloaded or taken a screenshot of the data and saved it. The social media site you posted on may have archived it.

The DHS suggests we ask ourselves this question before posting information viewable by the public, “Am I comfortable sharing this information with the whole world?”

To receive the regularly updated DHS cybersecurity newsletter, sign up at

Follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes. Also, check out my online blog at

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

‘Traveling companion’ orbits Earth 60 years ago

©Mark Ollig

In 1952, the International Council of Scientific Unions proposed the Internal Geophysical Year (IGY) to be recognized, from July 1957 to December 1958.

Scientists worldwide planned on observing geophysical phenomena, and its effects on earth.

Two countries had much bolder IGY plans, which were “out of this world.”

The US announced in 1955, it would place a scientific satellite into Earth’s orbit during the IGY.

The Soviet Union also announced its plans for launching an Earth-orbiting artificial satellite.

An historic event occurred Friday, Oct. 4, 1957, which caused the world to take a collective breath and look upward at the night sky.

At 10:29 p.m. Moscow Standard Time (2:29 p.m. Central Time), a Soviet R-7 two-stage rocket weighing 267 tons, lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch complex in the remote Russian region of Tyuratam, inside the Kazakhstan Republic.

The R-7 was a Russian/Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile without the military warhead attachment.

Instead of a warhead, the rocket carried a 184-pound satellite payload called PS-1, better known as Sputnik 1.

Sputnik 1 was a highly polished 23-inch diameter metallic beach ball-sized sphere made of an aluminum-magnesium-titanium combination.

According to the English Oxford dictionary, “In Russian, the word sputnik means a ‘traveling companion.’”

Sputnik was jettisoned from the R-7 while in the weightlessness of space; some 142 miles above the Earth.

Sputnik 1 then settled into an elliptical orbit; circling Earth once every 98 minutes at a speed of 18,000 mph.

Sputnik’s 1-watt radio transmitter was powered from two of three on-board silver-zinc batteries. The third battery was used to power Sputnik’s internal temperature and other instrument systems.

The first artificially-made, Earth-orbiting satellite was sending out a curious radio signal from its four “cat-whisker” antennas extending 7.9 and 9.5 feet, respectively.

For the next three weeks, people all over the world became fixated, listening to the steady radio signal audio pattern of “beep-beep-beep-beep” being transmitted down through the Earth’s atmosphere by Sputnik 1.

Those beeps were being heard on the 20.005 and 40.002 MHz frequency radio bands.

Sputnik’s transmissions were closely listened to by American scientists, amateur shortwave radio operators, and others through their radios and televisions.

Ground-based telescopes could see the small, shining metallic sphere as it speedily flew across the night sky.

People peering up into the star-filled night sky saw a small, bright sunlit ball, Sputnik 1, majestically passing by.

While Sputnik 1 orbited the planet and sent its radio beeps, American emotions ranged from shock and amazement, to feelings of inspiration by witnessing the start of space exploration.

However, many people also feared Soviet satellites would be turned into space weapons.

Instead of a harmless beeping satellite passing over the US, some folks felt the next Sputnik would be carrying a nuclear warhead that could be dropped on them.

There was real fear, confusion, and much anxiety being experienced by many Americans at this time.

Recently, I asked my 87-year-old mother about Oct. 4, 1957, and Sputnik 1.

“I remember people were frightened; we didn’t know whether the Russians were going to attack us with their satellites passing over our heads,” she told me.

In an attempt to ease public anxiety, Oct. 9, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower said during a news conference, “Now, so far as the satellite itself is concerned, that does not raise my apprehensions, not one iota. I see nothing at this moment, at this stage of development that is significant in that development as far as security is concerned.”

However, the Soviet Union had clearly taken the technological lead in this “space race” with the US.

What did the Russian people feel about the launch of Sputnik 1?

Semyon Reznik is a Russian writer and journalist, who was a Russian college student Oct. 4, 1957.

In Peter Jennings’ 1998 second volume of a three-volume series of books, titled “The Century for Young People: 1936-1961: Defining America,” he quotes Reznik recalling a special Russian radio broadcast after Sputnik 1 obtained Earth orbit.

“On an October morning in 1957, we heard one of those [radio] voices announce, ‘Attention. All radio stations of the Soviet Union are broadcasting . . . Our satellite Sputnik is in space.’”

“I felt so proud. Who did it? We did it! The Soviet Union is first in space!” Reznik added.

Sputnik 1 continued to broadcast beeps until its radio batteries became drained of power Oct. 26, 1957.

The flight of the first Earth-orbiting satellite ended Jan. 4, 1958, when Sputnik 1 burned up as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.

The US launched its first satellite into Earth orbit with Explorer 1, Jan. 31, 1958, at 9:48 p.m. Central Time.

Explorer 1 used a modified US Redstone ballistic missile to obtain the altitude needed for orbit.

March 31, 1970, Explorer 1 descended into Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated in the heat of re-entry.

One minute of recorded radio signal beeps from Sputnik 1 can be listened to at

Ten seconds of telemetry transmission from Sputnik 1 can be heard at

Become an online traveling companion with me by following my Twitter transmissions at @bitsandbytes.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Contributors recognized by Internet Hall of Fame

©Mark Ollig

For 25 years, The Internet Society has supported the internet’s worldwide public availability and unrestricted access to its rich content resources.

The Internet Hall of Fame, started by The Internet Society, recognizes those who have made substantial contributions to the internet over the years.

Monday evening, I watched the live-stream internet broadcast of the 2017 Internet Hall of Fame.

Vinton Cerf is one of the hall’s members.

Many consider Cerf the “Father of the Internet,” because of his work during the late 1970s creating the internet’s unique addressing system called IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4).

IPv4 works within the internet’s TCP/IP (transmission control protocol/internet protocol) created by Cerf and Robert Khan in the early 1970s.

Using 32-bit addressing, IPv4 provides almost 4.3 billion unique addresses for the devices connected to the internet.

A good analogy I use is to think of the unique address for an internet-connected device as equivalent to the specific telephone number assigned to a phone.

According to Cerf, 4.3 billion unique addresses seemed like more than enough when IPv4 was designed in 1977.

As we now know, 4.3 billion were not nearly enough, and so an improved addressing system was developed.

The new (and currently being deployed) IPv6 uses 128-bit address allocation, providing more than 340 undecillion unique addresses.

Just think; a billion is a 1 followed by nine zeros, and an undecillion is a 1 followed by 36 zeros.

IPv6 is essentially an unlimited internet addressing schema. It will provide a unique internet address for any type of device imaginable for decades to come.

Let us just say I do not foresee exhaustion of unique internet addresses using IPv6 anytime soon.

This year, the Internet Hall of Fame honored 14 individuals who contributed to the engineering, development, education, and continued evolution of the internet.

The success of the internet not only came about because of the people who have contributed to its history, but also to those who maintain it and create the new technology for improving how it operates, and what it can be used for.

We know benefits of the internet include its ability to reach isolated parts of the world and connect those living there with education, commerce opportunities, and ways to improve their lives.

The Internet Hall of Fame’s inductees selected this year have each made noteworthy contributions.

“Ultimately, the success of the internet depends on the people behind it,” said Kathy Brown, Internet Society president and CEO.

The internet, as we know it today, uses a suite of communication protocols for linking computers, various electronic components, software applications, voice, video, data, and local and wide-area networks.

Today’s internet originated 50 years ago, because of the US Government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network using data packet-switching. It was called the ARPANET.

In 1967, ARPANET published an engineering design paper titled “Multiple Computer Networks and Intercomputer Communication.”

This paper showed how a computer could communicate with another computer within a network by having an Interface Message Processor (IMP) device (about the size of a refrigerator) wired into each networked computer.

Remember, the computers in 1967 were a lot larger than the ones we carry around with us now.

Today, we know the IMP as a computer-networking router, and it is much smaller than a refrigerator.

Digressing back to today’s topic, I found interesting how one Internet Hall of Fame inductee used the internet to further learning opportunities for educators and students throughout the world.

In 1984, years before folks were using a web browser or had heard of websites, Dr. Yvonne Marie Andrés recognized the internet’s potential for advancing the cause of global learning.

The same year, she began an international organization called Global SchoolNet for advancing internet-shared educational projects amongst students worldwide.

By 1992, Dr. Andrés began Global Schoolhouse. This effort connected young people all over the world with scientists, authors, explorers, and community leaders for their assistance and correspondence on projects benefiting the world.

It is also important to recognize her work in conducting the very first live-streaming, television-internet broadcast in 1995, over the still-in-its-infancy World Wide Web, in collaboration with “World News Now.”

In 2001, President George W. Bush honored Dr. Andrés by having her announce the US Department of Education’s online Friendship Through Education initiative.

This internet initiative fostered mutual understanding of various cultures worldwide, along with establishing collaboration and friendship between people living in other countries with students in the US.

Dr. Andrés began her teaching and technology-mentoring career at the Oceanside Unified School District in Oceanside, CA.

The complete list and detailed information for all fourteen inductees is at

Follow me on Twitter as I express my humble opinions about the internet and other interesting topics at @bitsandbytes.

About Mark Ollig:
Telecommunications and all things tech has been a well-traveled road for me. I enjoy learning what is new in technology and sharing it with others who enjoy reading my particular slant on it via this blog. I am also a freelance columnist for my hometown's print and digital newspaper.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

California hosts mobile technology conference

©Mark Ollig

An estimated 40,000 people attended this week’s Mobile World Conference Americas (MWCA) program at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

“The Tech Element” was this year’s theme.

MWCA keynote speeches were given by leaders in the mobile and computing industry.

Ajit V. Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, gave an address to the conference attendees.

Improving mobile broadband internet access availability and enhancing mobile internet deployment were two topics he addressed.

Pai stated there are efforts underway to bridge the mobile digital divide; including an initiative called Mobility Fund Phase I, which provides $4.5 billion in federal government funding assistance.

Low-, mid-, and high-band mobile radio spectrum for licensed and unlicensed use is to be made available by the end of the year, he said.

The FCC currently defines fixed-broadband internet data download speed at a minimum of 25Mbps, and uploading of data at 3Mbps.

A mobile-broadband internet speed has not been established; however, 5 and 10Mbps has been discussed as possible minimum mobile internet download speeds by the FCC in Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act report, recently given to Congress.

Pai said he wants “to make sure the US continues to lead in 5G, and to enable wireless consumers to benefit from these technologies sooner rather than later.”

Personally, I look for a 5G LTE industry standard in late 2019, with the service becoming available to the public in 2020.

It was acknowledged nearly 5 billion people worldwide, including 700 million in the northern and southern American hemispheres, are using some form of mobile communications.

Mobile wireless technology and high-tech mobile devices were being exhibited throughout the nearly 300,000-square-foot Moscone Center, by some 1,100 venders.

Contributing to the growing wireless “cloud ecosystem,” Nokia discussed Cloud RAN (radio access networking), one of its cloud-based technologies.

The Smart City panel talk for using mobile solutions to improve accessibility to public services was just one of many MWCA dialogues taking place.

At the Moscone West venue, Microsoft headed a mobile-enabling conference.

The M-Enabling Forum conference highlighted technological improvements empowering seniors and persons with disabilities, improved access to mobile digital technology, and the content, and services offered by city government organizations.

Improvements consist of better-quality mobile connections, and easier-to-use apps (software applications) on mobile devices.

The use of advanced mobile technologies for quickly connecting those in need to online assistance is essential.

MWCA’s Woman4Tech conference addressed the need to reduce the gender gap existing within the mobile industry.

Discussion involved mentoring youth in career development, and addressing women entrepreneurs and visionaries.

Woman4Tech also spoke of ways in which to strengthen the overall “mobile ecosystem” by means of gender equality.

Other conference topics covered artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, content and media, and innovative mobile technology.

As we all know, the IoT (Internet of Things), and the high-tech wireless sensors embedded within mobile devices, are generating massive amounts of information about what we buy, where we travel, and much more.

Information gleaned from IoT sensors is shaping an overall illustration of our personal and professional lifestyles.

We have a right to be concerned about whose eyes are accessing this information, and for the exact purpose it is being used.

Controversy exists on whether outside entities should be recording, selling, or providing others information about our lifestyle without us being aware of it.

What are they doing with all our information?

Of course, IoT information is analyzed and used by companies to entice (target) us to purchase the products and services we have been systematically deemed to have a need or desire for.

Sensors in our smart mobile and wearable medical/fitness devices can track how fast we drive our cars on the road, our buying habits, what businesses we patronage, where we ate lunch, and who we called or texted.

Medical sensors track our blood pressure, heart rate, calories burned, and even the number of hours we sleep.

When one thinks about it, the IoT is essentially morphing into the internet of you and me.

Yours truly did find the “word cloud” tag collection on the MWCA website somewhat revealing.

The word cloud showed the most frequently searched technology and subject words/terms regarding this year’s MWCA event:

• App/Software Development.

• Connected Living – Smart Cities.

• IoT.

• Big Data & Analytics.

• Devices.

• Gaming/Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality.

• Location Based Services.

• Media/Content/Entertainment.

• Information Technology.

• User Experience.

• Marketing/Advertising.

• 5G.

MWCA’s website is Its Twitter hashtag for this year’s conference is #MWCA17.

MCWA 2018 will take place in Los Angeles, CA.

Follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes using your mobile or landline computing device.

(Image royalty license-to-use paid)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Anniversary of the first computer 'bug'

©Mark Ollig

Computer programmer Grace Murray Hopper wrote the following in her operations logbook Sept. 9, 1947, “Relay #70 Panel F (moth) in relay.”

She had just finished tracing out a problem with electrical current flowing through a circuit on an IBM Mark II electromechanical computer, owned by the US Navy.

Hopper discovered the peculiar cause of the current-flow interruption between the metal conducting points on one electromagnetic mechanical relay.

The disruption was a moth, which had somehow become stuck in the relay.

She removed the moth, taped it on a page in her logbook and wrote, “First actual case of bug being found.”

Hopper has since laid claim to the commonly used phrase, “a bug in the computer.”

We celebrate the 70th anniversary of the first real bug being found in a computer Saturday, Sept. 9.

I still haven’t decided exactly how I will be celebrating this historical event.

For the last 70 years, folks have been debating whether a moth should be considered a bug or an insect.

One encyclopedia says moths are in the butterfly family; belonging to the order of Lepidoptera, which are nocturnal flying insects.

I remember from 10th grade biology class; insects are in the Insecta group, and bugs belong in the Hemiptera order.

After 70 years, we are too used to saying, “I found a bug in my computer,” rather than, “I found an insect in my computer,” which I admit, does sound a bit odd.

Hopper’s opened logbook page (with the moth still taped to it) is kept in the History of American Technology Museum of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. You can see this page at

A photo of her working on the IBM Mark I computer can be seen at

Hopper was also involved in the development of the Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC), which was the world’s first commercially-used computer.

Grace Murray Hopper was born Dec. 9, 1906, in New York City, NY, and died Jan. 1, 1992, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Of course, there are very few of the old-fashioned electromechanical relays being used these days.

However, more than 30 years ago, this columnist worked with them on a regular basis.

From 1960 until the end of 1986, the telephone company I worked for in Winsted provided dial telephone service using a GTE-Leich Electric TPS (terminal per station) electromechanical relay telephone switching system.

Perhaps you recall touring through the telephone company’s central office as part of a class trip when you were in school.

The telephone central switching office was filled with rows of 11-foot-high-by-4-foot-wide bay equipment frames containing hundreds of vertical 3-foot-tall-by-4-inch-deep-by-3-inch-wide electromechanical relay bars.

Many of these bars were equipped with up to 20 individual electromechanical relays, and were protected by clear, solid-plastic metal-framed covers.

Inside the telephone central office, one could determine how busy the call processing was by the sound of the relay’s clicking.

We never found any moths between the relays, but over time, a carbon-like oxidation would build up on the relay contact points; acting as an insulating agent, and thus preventing electrical current flow.

To remove this oxidation, we used a burnishing tool with a very fine sandpaper-like abrasive on a thin metal strip.

While moving the burnishing tool in a back-and-forth, filing-like motion, we would lightly sand off the oxidation (not the metal) on the contacts of the relays and switching components.

Dust also caused interference with a relay’s operation.

Part of our central office preventive maintenance included scheduled dust-removal cleaning of individual relay bars.

Outside (usually on the sidewalk in front of the telephone office), we’d blow the dust off the relays using high-pressured air from a spray hose connected to a portable air-generator.

Here’s hoping you’ll find no bugs in your computer, mechanical relays, and especially in your bed.

Follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

Photo of what Grace Murray Hopper wrote
in her operations logbook Sept. 9, 1947,
“Relay #70 Panel F (moth) in relay.”
(The actual moth is taped to the page)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

IBM's '5-in-5' predictions for 2020

©Mark Ollig

What technological advances have been forecast for the next five years?

Technology titan IBM just released its quinquennial “5-in-5” future forecasts for our consideration.

Every five years, IBM proposes five technology advances they feel will transform our lives during the next five years.

• This year’s first prediction will have us paying attention to what we say, and the words we write.

IBM suggests our verbal and written communication “will be a window into our mental health” by means of artificial intelligence (AI) analysis.

The words we write and speak will be analyzed by artificial cognitive computing systems.

These systems will formulate a diagnosis about our mental health and physical well-being.

Cognitive, autonomous systems will uncover early-stage developmental disorders, and degenerative neurological diseases.

An early diagnosis will provide doctors with improved disease identification, monitoring, and tracking so a correct treatment can be prescribed.

IBM predicts the global cost for treating health conditions is projected to reach $6 trillion by 2030.

Advice for the young folks out there – getting into the artificial intelligence, cognitive autonomous computing field might be a good career move.

On a personal note – having 10 years’ worth of Bits & Bytes columns diagnosed by a cognitive autonomous AI system could prove interesting.

• Portable, hyperimaging smartdevices will provide us with detailed information about our food and drink choices, along with “superhero vision” within the next five years.

Enhanced hyperimaging technology, along with AI cognitive computing, will allow us to see and learn details about a physical item’s identity, properties, and condition.

I look for a future hyperimaging app on our smartphones used for scanning our food; showing whether it is safe to eat, along with its nutritional value.

Soon, we’ll see shoppers in grocery stores scanning tomatoes, lettuce, apples, steaks, and hamburger with their smartphones.

Advantages of hyperimaging technology include enhanced visualization, allowing us to see through heavy rain or fog.

While driving, this technology will determine the size, distance, and identification of threatening objects ahead of us; such as deer dashing across the road, or provide advanced warning about an upcoming pot hole.

I imagine this notification data will be audible, as well as visually observed on a vehicle’s windshield or display screen.

• By 2022, the billions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices connected all around the planet; on the satellites in space, and possibly the mechanical roving explorers on other planets, will have its data gleaned and sorted by advanced AI algorithmic supercomputing software systems.

A “macroscope” analysis of this gargantuan amount of IoT information will provide us with a greater understanding of our world and universe.

Currently, there are over six billion IoT devices producing tens of exabytes of data each month. IBM says this data is growing at an annual rate of 30 percent.

Some perspective – one exabyte of storage could hold 11 million 4k formatted movies, or the entire works contained in the Library of Congress 3,000 times over.

The digitalization of our voice, video, data, business, and social online communications is nearing completion.

The total digitalization and Internet Protocol (IP) integration of the communications network and physical devices throughout the world is currently taking place.

• By 2022, nanotechnology will support a medical “lab-on-a-chip” according to IBM’s fourth prediction.

Within five years, all the processes needed to analyze a disease normally researched in a full-sized biochemistry laboratory, will be conducted using a single silicon processing chip inside a portable, handheld device.

This processing chip will be able to interface with, and obtain data from other medical IoT devices, and run AI system analysis.

• IBM’s fifth prediction says smart sensors will instantly determine the source of pollution emissions within the environment.

Natural gas and oil pipelines, hazardous chemical, liquid, and gaseous storage systems will have advanced sensor technology installed for providing real-time detection of leaks, and will notify its findings to the proper authorities.

It was in the May 28, 2012 Bits & Bytes column where we addressed IBM’s predictions for 2017.

IBM stated, by 2017, we wouldn’t need to type in a password to access a computer.

Today, many computers are using a fingerprint scan for the password.

The employees in a certain Wisconsin company I wrote about July 28 are using a wireless-communicating microchip implanted in their hand for password access to their company computer.

IBM’s 2017 prediction of the elimination of spam email by analytical software filtering has not quite come to fruition.

I learned Minnesota’s connection with IBM began in 1956, when they opened a new computer manufacturing facility in Rochester.

Many computing systems were built there, including the System/38 computer server in 1979, and the AS/400 computing system in 1988, with a menu database I worked with for many years.

“There is no challenge too big – or too small – for us to set our sights on if we’re only bold enough to take the chance,” a quote on the IBM website proclaims.

Follow my fairly-accurate futuristic prognostications on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

A 'Blue Marble' image of the Earth taken from the VIIRS
instrument aboard NASA's Earth-observing satellite:
-Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of 
swaths of the Earth's surface taken on January 4, 2012.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Back in the Brainerd Lakes area

©Mark Ollig

Greetings from the Coco Moon Coffee Bar, located in the heart of downtown Brainerd.

Once again, your humble, vacation-traveling columnist has found himself back in the city where he graduated from high school.

People are surprised when I tell them this since all my siblings graduated from Winsted.

It has been nearly 10 years since I last visited the coffee shop on Laurel and 6th Street.

This morning, I’m writing from the same wooden booth as I had done in September 2006.

Of course, I feel somewhat nostalgic being back at the Coco Moon, here in the much-vacationed Brainerd Lakes Area.

The coffee bar still has Wi-Fi, which is now connected to my laptop computer.

My coffee preference has changed since 2006; instead of ordering a French roast, today I’m having a light roast, with a double espresso shot, and a splash of heavy cream.

While typing, a message notification from a relative suddenly popped up on the screen.

My sister was responding to the Facebook video I posted early this morning in Nisswa of two deer wandering on the edge of a wooded area.

She posted the comment, “Awe!”

A few minutes later, another relative sent a Facebook Instant Message asking where I was staying while in Brainerd. We ended up messaging back and forth for a few minutes.

It’s funny – I didn’t have online interruptions 10 years ago while seated in this booth.

I guess it’s true. We are all networked together and living in an instant-access world.

Glancing out the window, I see cars and trucks slowly traveling up and down 6th Street.

There’s also a tall pine tree swaying in the breeze across the street next to the “1922 Lively Building.”

Until 2005, 6th Street used to be the stretch of Highway 371 which ran through downtown Brainerd – until the bypass; now, 371 traffic routes slightly westward and north through the city limits of Baxter.

Of course, Baxter now has many new businesses sprinkled along this route of Highway 371.

When I lived here during the 1970s, much competition took place between Brainerd and Baxter.

Brainerd citizens at that time were hotly debating whether to add fluoride to the city’s drinking water, and rumors of a state-planned downtown bypass were being discussed.

Opened in 1950, the famous Paul Bunyan Center (with the 26-foot-tall talking, arm waving Paul Bunyan statue) was advertised as being in Brainerd, but was actually located within the city limits of Baxter.

Sorry about that, Baxter.

In the late 1970s, the former owner of the Paul Bunyan Center lived in the same townhome association as my family, which was across the road from the Bar Harbor Supper Club.

It was not uncommon for us to hear loud whirling rotating blades, and look out our living room window to see an amphibious (pontoon) helicopter landing in the bay with the owner of Paul Bunyan Amusement Center, who would then get into the boat which came out to pick him up.

The free tickets to the amusement center he occasionally gave my sisters and I were much appreciated.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end.

The original Paul Bunyan Amusement Center closed in 2003.

However, it wasn’t the end of the much-loved Paul Bunyan talking statue.

Tall Paul was not yet destined to enter into Log Cabin Heaven.

He and his faithful partner from the original amusement center, Babe the Blue Ox, was moved to a new location; six miles east of Brainerd.

There, both continue to entertain and provide memories for new generations of children and adults visiting the Paul Bunyan Land amusement park.

Paul still welcomes the children by name, which once mystified this 7-year-old the first time I saw Paul wave his hand at me and say, “Hello, Mark from Winsted, Minnesota!”

But, I digress.

After heavy rainfall last night, I awoke this morning to clear blue skies and a chilly 52 degrees in the City of Lakeshore, south of Nisswa, MN.

The Oct. 2, 2006 column I wrote featured the DemoFall (DEMO) technology business conference taking place in San Diego.

I haven’t written about this conference since, and I wondered if it was still being held; so, I did some investigating.

The last DEMO conference took place, in Boston, two years ago.

Today, “unique” DEMO conferences showcasing a company’s products and services take place throughout the year in various venues for the public and the press.

After 10 years, the website remains

It was great being back in the Brainerd Lakes Area.

I won’t wait another 10 years before returning.

Follow my other nostalgic memories on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

(This Paul Bunyan photo was taken at original

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Telephone switchboard cords and ‘CORD’

©Mark Ollig

“Hello, Operator.”

“Operator, can you connect me with 2113, please?”

In the early days of a small town telephone company, it was common for the switchboard operator to be asked questions when folks heard church bells ringing; “Who died?” or, when hearing the fire siren; “Where’s the fire?”

During the 1930s and ‘40s, a store owner leaving their shop routinely asked the telephone company switchboard operator to forward their calls to where they would be located.

Dedicated operators “worked the board” day and night, connecting telephone calls.

One cord on the switchboard would connect to the originating subscriber’s circular terminal jack, while its associated cord was plugged into the correct terminating phone line, completing the circuit connection. The operator rang the called phone using a toggle ring-key.

For a call outside the local telephone exchange service area, a cord would be patched into an out-of-exchange telephone trunk line which connected to another switchboard in the next town.

Back then, the outside telephone lines commonly used galvanized steel wires separated via glass insulators. The insulators were screwed onto wooden arm brackets attached to telephone poles.

These steel wires served as the talking path to the far-end terminating telephone company central office switchboard.

The far-end switchboard operator would complete the circuit by connecting the originating caller to the desired called party.

Those switchboard cords completed the circuit connection folks used to talk with each other over the phone.

Today, many of the cord/circuit connections are using software paths inside very sophisticated VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) switching platforms operating within interconnected data servers within the cloud.

The internet’s analogy with the word “cloud,” is said to have originated during the early days of computer-to-computer networking design. As more computers became interconnected, their topology formed a cloud shape.

Being there are so many computer-server networking interconnections over the internet; a puffy cloud is used as the symbol representing the data, video, and voice flowing through it.

So, is a switchboard “cord” now a nostalgically remembered word from days gone by?

Ladies and gentleman, I can happily report: the “cord” is back!

No, we’re not going back to the days of switchboard operators.

CORD is being used as modern day, high-tech acronym.

CORD (Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter) is a combination of a Software Defined Network (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) technologies.

SDN and NFV are used to enhance telecommunications performance and reliable infrastructure within the cloud environment.

CORD, located at, is an organization promoting central telecommunication office efficiency, and states their mission is “to bring datacenter economies and cloud agility to service providers for their residential, enterprise, and mobile customers.”

CORD is an open source project wishing to become an active participant within the service provider cloud community.

One example of CORD’s involvement is with a cloud benefit called -SaaS (Software as a Service).

The image logo for CORD is telephone switchboard cords.

This logo appears to represent the bridging of past cordboard/switchboard technology with today and tomorrows telephone central office cloud-based switching.

Back in the day, yours truly worked on telephone cordboards operating in a few of the businesses in my hometown; usually I found myself replacing patch cords which had worn out.

My mother and grandmother were telephone switchboard operators, as was my father and his father, who occasionally worked the board.

The Winsted Telephone Company office and switchboard was located in the building (no longer there) which later housed the Klip & Kurl Salon (next to the Pantry Restaurant).

In 1949, Winsted Telephone Company installed a Wilcox Electric telephone switching system (dialboard). This allowed its subscribers to use a rotary dial telephone for making calls without having to signal the switchboard operator.

Plug your virtual switchboard cord into the cloud and connect with @bitsandbytes on Twitter.

Directly below is a 1941 photo of the Winsted Telephone Company switchboard.

Below the switchboard is a photo of my grandmother (operator) running the same switchboard around 1935, and a painting of my mother operating the switchboard in Silver Lake, MN as a teenager.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The 35th anniversary of the compact disc

©Mark Ollig

Aug. 17, 1982 at the Philips manufacturing plant in Langenhagen, Germany, history was being made.

Rolling down their assembly line were thousands of round, palm-sized plastic plates giving off a shiny rainbow luster.

It was the “passing of the torch” from analog vinyl records to digital plastic-coated discs.

When I was in high school, a CD was a “certificate of deposit” a person would buy at the bank and hold on to and earn some interest.

CD also stands for compact disc.

“It’s 2017; what’s a compact disc, grandpa?”

Going back to 1979, Holland’s Royal Philips Electronics and the Sony Corp. of Japan engineers formed a task force to design a revolutionary type of digital audio disc.

While Philips manufactured the compact disc and laser technology, Sony Corp. contributed their digital encoding expertise.

Not long ago, I was having lunch with my youngest son.

Our conversation found its way to discussing how my generation listened to music when I was in high school.

I told him we used cassette and 8-track tape players, 33 LP and 45 rpm vinyl records, transistor radios, the home stereo tuner, and of course, the AM car radio.

As I described how a 45 rpm record held only one song on each side, he shook his head at me in disbelief.

When I told him we played those records on our hi-fi stereo turntables, he tilted his head to one side wondering what I was talking about.

I explained hi-fi meant “high-fidelity” sound, and described why we called it a “tuner” and a record player a “turntable.”

Back in the day, yours truly would buy a single 45 rpm record just for the song recorded on the one side.

The flip-side of the record usually had a filler song we didn’t listen to – unless it was a Beatles 45 rpm record, in which case both sides were played.

For those wondering, it was March 31, 1949, when RCA introduced the 45 rpm vinyl record to the world.

A CD’s appearance reminds me of a vinyl 45 rpm record.

CD’s have a spiral of tiny pits in them where the encoded digital data bits (1s and 0s) are stored – somewhat similar to the jagged spiral grooves on a vinyl record which holds analog information.

The CD’s audio is scanned by a laser to obtain the data; somewhat analogous to how a record player’s needle in the tone-arm captures the modulated analog sound from the vinyl’s grooves, while the record spins.

The popular thing about CDs is that they don’t wear out like my old 45 rpm records; plus, they held more than two songs.

The sound quality from the CD remains constant for a long period, as there’s no physical contact of the laser to the disc medium.

Feeling nostalgic, I located a 1970s vinyl 45 rpm music record I had in storage, blew off the dust, installed the round, plastic yellow spindle adapter insert, and played it on my old turntable.

The needle was a bit worn, and I probably should have cleaned the record off with some vinyl oil; however, the analog audio off the vinyl still sounded pretty good.

I forgot how accustomed we had become to hearing the occasional “pops” and “hisses” on a record.

While browsing through some articles about the history of the CD, I learned the agreed-upon design of the CD was in fact, based on the shape of a vinyl record.

I also found one interesting explanation of how the circular circumference of the CD came about.

One story said it was made to match the size of a Dutch beer coaster.

This anecdote may have originated in the offices of Holland’s Royal Philips Electronics, where I assume they drank a lot of beer.

Interestingly, the hole in a CD is the same size as a Dutch coin.

One hour’s worth of recorded audio content storage was originally planned for a single CD.

Instead, Sony Corp. reportedly decided to design the audio length of a CD based upon a famous conductor wanting the disc large enough to hold Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

And so it came to be, one CD would hold 74 minutes’ worth of digital audio.

The very first CD player was sold by Sony Corp. in Japan Oct. 1, 1982.

By 1986, CD players were outselling record players; and by 1988, CD’s outsold all vinyl record sales.

2007 marked the production of the 200 billionth CD.

A very detailed history about the CD is available on the Philips Research webpage: “The history of the CD – The beginning” at:

Of course, these days most folks listen to digitized music directly from the cloud; but for me, the music from analog vinyl over a pair of JBL L96 speakers still sounds cool and groovy.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

This article was originally published August 27, 2007, and has been modified by the writer.

(Image royalty license-to-use paid)