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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Global Internet approaching 50 percent

©Mark Ollig

Would it surprise you to learn more than half of the world’s population has no direct access to the internet?

A recent estimate of the planet’s population is 7.5 billion . . . and growing.

As of March 31, there were 3.7 billion internet users, according to a global statistical study provided by Nielson Online, International Telecommunications Union, and the German global research firm GfK.

For those of you wondering what GfK means, it’s the German abbreviation for: Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung (Society for Consumer Research).

A side note: GfK released its February study of Americans who have “cut the cord” and get their phone, television, and internet social media content wirelessly.

This study reported 68 percent of millennials averaging 34 years of age, are among these “Cordless Americans.”

I do believe it’s inevitable; the future will be one of cordless, wireless consumer electronic devices; although the supportive, physical switching platform running over a fiber-optic network will be around for a long time.

The study reported half of those ages 50 and over, said they will never cut the cord on their television, telephone, or internet services.

Of the 41 percent within this age group who did cut the cord, 9 percent realized they had become “cord-cutting regretters.”

I assume those 9 percenters most likely returned to a physically wired connection for services.

The English website for GfK is

Yes, I’m digressing, so let’s get back to today’s main topic.

The global statistical study showed North America, which includes Bermuda, Canada, Greenland, St. Pierre & Miquelon, and the US, with 4.9 percent of the world’s population, and having the highest global internet penetration rate of 88.1 percent.

Citizen’s internet access within the US is 287 million, or 88 percent of the estimated 325 million folks living here.

The North American region with the highest internet usage is Bermuda, with 96.3 percent of its 70,537 citizens being internet users.

For my Canadian readers; 93.2 percent or 33 million of your 35.4 million fellow citizens are internet users.

China, the largest Asian country with 1.4 billion people, more than doubles the number of US internet users with 731.4 million.

India, the second largest-populated Asian country with 1.3 billion citizens, has 462.1 million internet users.

South Korea, with nearly 51 million people, has 45.3 million internet users, while their northerly neighboring country;,North Korea, with a population estimated at 25.4 million citizens, shows only 14,000 having internet access.

The Asian country with the largest percentage of its population using the internet is Japan.

Of the 126 million residents of Japan, 118.4 million are internet users, which is 94 percent of the country’s population.

The countries making up Asia have a combined population of 4.1 billion, and have approximately 2 billion internet users.

Europe, with 822.7 million people, has nearly 637 million or 77.4 percent of its population using the internet.

Internet World Stats (IWS) website’s numbers for Cuba from June 30, 2016 shows 33.6 percent of their 11 million citizens, approximately 3.7 million, having internet access. This number is expected to increase as Cuba strengthens its ties with the US, and provides improved internet connectivity and availability to its people.

IWS also reported the languages most used by internet users.

English is used by 952.1 million people, 763.3 million use Chinese, 293.8 million use Spanish, and 173.5 million uses Arabic.

As of March 25, the global internet user saturation rate stood at 49.6 percent of the world’s population.

Folks, we’re practically halfway to a globally-connected internet.

Let’s not stop now.

Eventually, everyone living on this planet will benefit by using the internet in one way or another to improve their lives, whether it’s through education or their work.

Additionally, much of this planet’s transportation, robotics, drones, artificial intelligence processors, smartdevices, sensors, and other gadgets yet-to-come, will ultimately be linked and networked via the internet grid.

An inter-planetary internet system will someday network future robotic and human-populated bases on the moon, Mars, and beyond – so stay tuned for that.

Be sure to follow your Bits & Bytes columnist on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

(Above image royalty license-to-use paid for by Mark Ollig)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Massive cyberattack made us 'WannaCry'

©Mark Ollig

An email from what appears to be a legitimate source requests you to click the enclosed file attachment for more information.

Somewhat hesitantly, you click the attachment.

Once the attachment file opens and executes its program, you sense something strange happening with your computer.

Your computer has just been infected with a malicious ransomware virus.

Ransomware is a type of software which, after infecting a computer, restricts the owner/user from accessing its files until a ransom is paid to obtain the key required for unlocking the encrypted files.

The ransomware program then takes you to a webpage with this ominous message appearing on your display screen:

“Your documents, photos, databases and other important files have been encrypted with the strongest encryption and a unique key code generated for this computer. This private decryption key is stored on a secret Internet server, and nobody can decrypt your files until you pay the full amount asked.”

Oh, it gets worse, folks.

“You only have 24 hours to submit payment. If you do not send the money within the provided time, all your files will be permanently crypted and no one will be able to recover them.”

At this point, you are presented with the list of all your personal files from your computer the ransomware attackers are holding hostage.

Lastly, you are instructed to click the dollar icon to pay a ransom in the amount of hundreds – if not thousands of dollars (or bitcoins) in order to get your personal files back.

You silently sit in your computer chair after reading these messages and feel a sickening nauseousness in the pit of your stomach.

Understandably, some folks would “wanna cry,” which happens to be one of the names for this particular ransomware software virus.

WannaCrypt Ransomware; also known as: WannaCry, WanaCrypt0r, or Wcrypt is the source of a recent global computer, ransomware cyber-attack.

It infected some 250,000 computing systems in over 150 countries.

WannaCry is an illegally obtained software program originally kept by our country’s National Security Agency, and called EternalBlue.

EternalBlue remotely invades and takes control of a Microsoft Windows operating system.

The Department of Homeland Security has been involved with monitoring and issuing warnings regarding the WannaCry ransomware virus, and offers advice on its website:

“We aim to secure the federal civilian networks, cyberspace and critical infrastructure that are essential to our lives and work,” reads a statement on The Department of Homeland Security website.

Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security needs to have a meeting with the folks at the National Security Agency.

Being a victim of an email “phishing” scheme occurs when what you believe to be an email from a reputable source, turns out to be fraudulently sent by unscrupulous sources in order to obtain your private information; such as credit card, social security, or bank account numbers.

Ransomware such as WannaCry can also be hidden as a cleverly disguised email attachment.

Never click on hyperlinks or file attachments in an email if you are unsure of the emails’ legitimacy.

Protect your email accounts by using secure passwords. Avoid using common words, phrases, or personal information, and update your passwords regularly.

If you are asked to provide personal information via email, you can independently contact the company by phone to verify the request.

Be cautious when seeing a “click here” link for confirming information.

Everyone needs to be attentive when it comes to email attachments and web links:

• Do you know who sent you the email? An unknown sender or unfamiliar internet domain address could indicate a malicious email.

• Don’t be in a rush when opening email attachments saying “time sensitive” or labeled “final notice statement.”

• Check the actual originating web link address name by hovering your cursor over the link inside the email message before clicking it.

• Poor spelling and bad grammar in an email are sometimes signs of a phishing attempt.

• Check for suspicious file attachments. Malicious email attachments sometimes use randomly-named .pdf, .doc, .jpg, .txt, or .exe file extensions.

• Be cautious of emails from unknown senders instructing you to “click this link for turning off automatically downloaded email attachments.”

If you question opening an email attachment or clicking an enclosed link, do what I do . . .delete the entire email.

We also need to be careful with Instant Messages sent to our smartdevices containing web links or attachments.

Windows XP, Windows 8, and Windows Server 2003 software security patch: KB4012598, for the WannaCrypt/WannaCry ransomware program from Microsoft is available here:

Keep your computer’s Microsoft operating system (OS), web browser, anti-virus, and other critical software up to date, and activate your OS for auto-patching and auto-updates.

By observing email safety precautions and following this sage advice, “consider the source,” we won’t WannaCry later.

Keep smiling by reading my Twitter messages at @bitsandbytes.

(Above image royalty license-to-use paid for by Mark Ollig)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

20th anniversary: Chess Match of the Century

©Mark Ollig

Mathematician Alan Turing created a computational algorithm for playing chess, called Turochamp, in 1948.

Turing’s chess program was written on slips of paper, and could “think” two moves in advance.

His program used logical-searching decision trees for making the best chess moves.

Amazingly, the computer required to fully execute Turing’s chess program did not yet exist in 1948.

Moving forward to June 6, 1985, a 22-year-old Russian chess player named Garry Kasparov was participating in a chess exhibition located in a small auditorium.

He was encircled by 32 tables with a chessboard atop each table.

Kasparov was partaking in a simultaneous chess exhibition.

Walking in a circular pattern, he stopped for a brief period at each table to play his chess move, and then continued on to the next table.

It should be noted the competition he was playing against wasn’t human.

On each of the 32 tables sat a chess-playing, computerized machine.

Kasparov was playing 32 simultaneous games against 32 chess-playing computer models made by various manufacturers.

Over the course of five hours, Kasparov won 32 games; defeating all 32 computer model chess boards; thus proving the human brain was superior to a computer’s programming: insofar as playing chess goes.

Just five months later, Garry Kasparov became the World Chess Champion.

In the following years, computational programming and technology platforms kept improving, and Kasparov would eventually find himself competing against another chess-playing computer.

“Deep Thought” was an enhanced chess-playing computer created in 1988, by computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon University.

It had proved to be a superior chess-playing computer; defeating a host of human players, even chess Grandmaster, Bent Larsen, in a 1988 tournament.

In 1989, Garry Kasparov was still the undisputed World Chess Champion.

Oct. 22, 1989, Kasparov agreed to play a two-game chess match against Deep Thought.

Deep Thought could analyze about 500,000 chess positions per second; Kasparov could think 15 chess moves in advance.

Kasparov easily won both games, defeating the computer whom many had thought would provide some real competition for the World Chess Champion.

During the next eight years, IBM worked with the computer scientists who created Deep Thought with their next version of a chess-playing computer they hoped would have enough processing power to defeat a World Chess champion.

In May 1997, Kasparov found himself competing in a six-game chess match against the new and improved Deep Thought, which had evolved into the $10 million IBM supercomputer named “Deep Blue.”

Public interest was high, and Newsweek magazine cover called this man-versus- machine contest: “The Brain’s Last Stand.”

Being a chess player myself, I considered it the chess match of the century.

This truly would be the ultimate chess challenge for Kasparov, as Deep Blue used memory-manager programming “tablebases,” and was capable of analyzing an incredible 200 million chess positions per second, or 50 billion positions within the three minutes allotted each player for a single move during a chess game.

The match began, and after 45 moves, Kasparov won the first game and I thought, “Here we go; the human is going to defeat the computer again.”

However, Deep Blue rebounded, and Garry Kasparov resigned the second game.

The third, fourth, and fifth games ended in a draw. I note here, Deep Blue did “crash” during some of the games and needed to be “rebooted.”

Suspense set in, as the sixth game would determine the winner of the chess match.

This final chess game of machine-versus-human took less than an hour to play, and was broadcast live on television May 11, 1997.

Shockingly, after 18 moves, Deep Blue took Kasparov’s queen.

After the 19th move, chess history was made when Kasparov resigned, giving Deep Blue the game and the match.

A computer – a machine – using software and powerful massively-parallel processing system defeated the reigning human World Chess Champion and Grandmaster.

During the post-match press conference, Kasparov appeared to be physically drained, and extremely disappointed.

Understandably, Garry Kasparov wanted a rematch with the computer; IBM quickly refused.

Deep Blue would never compete in a chess match again, and was turned off in 2001.

There was still one notable chess computing program waiting out there for Mr. Kasparov to play.

June 23, 2012 was the 100th anniversary of Alan Turing’s birth, and a celebration took place at the University of Manchester.

In addition to computer scientists and Internet pioneers such as Vinton Cerf, was Russian chess grandmaster and former World Chess Champion, Garry Kasparov.

Kasparov took to the podium and commented on Turing’s important contributions to computer technology.

The audience applauded, and then waited in anticipation for him to play one game against Turing’s 1948 Turochamp computer chess program, which had been loaded into a modern-day computer.

The audience watched the large display screen as Turochamp, playing the white chess pieces, opened the game against Kasparov with the Queen’s pawn, or e3.

Kasparov smiled.

Throughout the course of the game, he swiftly moved his chess pieces in a precise and calculating manner.

Taking mere seconds in-between moves, the former chess champion methodically and quickly took control of the chess game.

“I’m sorry!” Kasparov smilingly said, while capturing white’s chess pieces with regularity.

Kasparov checkmated white’s king in just 16 moves.

After the game, Kasparov complimented Turing’s chess program saying, “It was a start . . . it was something that definitely changed our lives.”

“Although it’s only thinking two moves ahead, I thought it would give the amateur player some serious problems,” he said of Turing’s chess program, “It was an outstanding accomplishment.”

Video of Kasparov playing Turing’s Turochamp chess program is at

Regarding his famous computer match in 1997; “Deep Blue was intelligent the way your programmable alarm clock is intelligent. Not that losing to a $10 million alarm clock made me feel any better,” Kasparov wrote in his new book, published this year.

Learn more about Garry Kasparov, his thoughts on chess, chess-playing computers, computing technology, artificial intelligence; machine learning, and more in his book, “Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins,” available on Amazon and in book stores.

Be sure to follow this above- average chess-playing human on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

(Above 3D chess image license-to-use paid for by Mark Ollig)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Are outer space particles damaging our smartdevices?

©Mark Ollig

According to NASA, our atmosphere protects us against the cosmic rays colliding with Earth as efficiently as a 13-foot layer of concrete.

However, some of the cosmic rays particles (which originate outside our galaxy) traveling at fractions of the speed of light, will penetrate through this “concrete barrier.”

Space weather, containing high-energy cosmic ray ion particles, includes atmospheric showers consisting of millions of cosmic particle fragments, and blanket parts of our planet’s surface.

Luckily, we humans on the ground are not exposed to the full force of the primary cosmic rays.

We are exposed only to the secondary particles of fast-moving fragments; energetic neutrons, muons, alpha particles, and pions made up of quarks and antiquarks.

Fortunately, these fragments are at the subatomic level and have no known detrimental consequences on living organisms.

“Cloudy with a Chance of Solar Flares: Quantifying the Risk of Space Weather,” a presentation by Bharat Bhuva, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Vanderbilt University, was recently shown during the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston, MA.

His presentation provided insight on the effects these cosmic particles can have on computer system components and our smartdevices.

While these cosmic ray particles do contain energy, they have no ill effects on us; however, they can have a direct effect on computing components or chipsets.

In fact, some of the cosmic subatomic particles contain enough energy to drastically alter or affect the intended designed operation of an electronic components’ integrated circuitry.

This type of interruption is called a single-event upset (SEU).

We know computing devices use binary bits to process information.

What would happen if a single binary bit input unexpectedly changed state from a one to a zero when it entered into a universal digital logic gate, such as a NOR Boolean operator?

If the NOR was expecting a “0 1” input to produce a “0” output to the next logic gate in the circuitry, and the “1” input was changed, or “bit-flipped,” to a “0” sending a “0 0” input, this would cause the NOR gate output to be a “1.”

This would modify the data or specific computational processing taking place.

An example of SEU effects include an electronic voting machine adding 4,096 extra votes to a candidate because of a bit-flip in the machine’s digital register during a 2003 Belgium election; caused possibly by cosmic particle penetration of the voting machine’s digital components.

Reports of a passenger jet’s autopilot disengaging, and other “unexplained glitches” in aircraft operation, have been blamed on cosmic ray particles penetrating sensitive electronic computing devices.

These SEU events may have been caused by the infiltration of subatomic torrent of cosmic ray particles originating from – wait for it: galaxies in outer space.

“When you have a single bit-flip, it could have any number of causes. It could be a software bug or a hardware flaw, for example. The only way you can determine that it is a single-event upset [SEU] is by eliminating all the other possible causes,” said Bhuva.

Cisco Systems, AMD, Qualcomm, Broadcom, and other high-tech companies, have funded studies regarding the effect of cosmic radiation particles on computing chips. There is concern about maintaining computing chips’ logic stability; especially as these chips become smaller using advanced nanotechnology processes.

Vanderbilt researchers are testing 16-nanometer chips by exposing them to a neutron beam and determining the number of SEUs encountered.

“Our study confirms that this [SEU] is a serious and growing problem,” said Bhuva, of the researcher’s testing results.

As the size of computing chipsets shrink, the smaller the electrical charge to create a “1” or a “0” logical bit for a logic gate; thus increasing the likelihood of an electrically-charged particle from cosmic rays causing SEU bit-flips.

Of course, the smaller these computing chips become, the smaller a target they will also become for being repeatedly struck by neutron radiation particles.

“Why not use some sort of protective layering on electronic computing chips?” you might be asking.

According to Vanderbilt, it would take 10 feet of concrete to stop the neutrons from getting at the computing chipsets.

Designing chip processors to operate “in triplicate” was one possible solution suggested.

NASA uses this method for maintaining the reliability of the computer systems aboard satellites and spacecraft in outer space.

They are also studying the use of self-reconfigurable digital circuits for automatically rerouting/bypassing damaged circuit components caused by high-energy cosmic particle impacts.

Power companies, medical equipment manufacturers, information technology, the communication, aviation, and transportation sectors know about this cosmic particle problem, and are addressing it, Bhuva confirmed.

“It is only the consumer electronics sector that has been lagging behind in addressing this problem,” he added.

So, the next time your smartphone or computer is acting strangely, you may want to place the blame on some very small cosmic particles originating from an unknown galaxy far, far away.

Follow my binary bits and bytes as they carefully flow through various digital logic gates via the Twitter pipeline at @bitsandbytes.