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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Coping with middle-age downsizing

©Mark Ollig

This week, yours truly is straying from the normal internet and gadgets technology column to a topic which will be of interest to many.

I’m talking about those of us who have reached middle-age with grown-up kids.

Many of us still store boxes of the possessions from their youth in our basements, garages, closets, attics, and inside cardboard boxes and large plastic baskets, bins, and containers in rooms throughout our homes.

The things not in boxes are displayed on shelves and tables.

Of course, we store a lot of our own personal memorable items, too.

Some of us have come to the realization we have accumulated too much “stuff” and it’s taken over our living space area.

My kids are all adults and moved out of the house years ago; I am closer to 60 than I am to 50.

After looking around my domicile, I experienced a rare moment of clarity and this sobering thought, “Why am I keeping all this stuff?”

I reasoned it was because of the sentimental value and the memories it brings back when I take an item out and look at it.

Being honest with myself, I concluded there were just too many rows of stacked cardboard boxes and plastic storage bins in my closets and lined up against the walls.

I rarely open a sealed box to look at the items inside. I just read its contents and recall the memory.

Granted, the boxes are all neatly stored and their contents clearly identified, but there are just too many boxes and too much stuff.

I need to do some serious de-cluttering.

Yes folks, yours truly is currently in the process of what I call de-clutterization.

My plan had always been to give these stored-away items to my kids when they became adults.

The sentimental value they had for an item in their youth, would still be there as an adult, I assumed.

Yours truly has boxes filled with the kids’ old toys, model cars, books, crayon drawings, completed school assignment papers, board games, and parts from electronic video games and radio-controlled cars.

There are boxes containing photo albums with hundreds (if not thousands) of pictures of birthdays, school activities, holidays, and other family get-togethers.

Other boxes contain items too numerous to mention.

After contacting the kids about coming over and picking up some of these boxes, guess what I learned?

They really don’t want any of those boxes.

I was shocked.

“I have no place to keep all that stuff,” two sons adamantly told me.

I persisted about the items having sentimental value, and how they’ll appreciate having them to look back on when they reach my age.

That line of reasoning didn’t work very well, although they did end up taking a few items just to keep me happy.

Regarding some of the silver coins I have collected and saved over the years; my adult children had no problem taking those off my hands.

I, too, have many boxes filled with items from my own youth which bring back memories; such as a practice football jersey I wore in high school.

Memories of the practices, games, coaches, and players come flooding back when I see that jersey.

Throwing it away would feel like I was discarding memories.

It’s true. I am going through the personal pain and heartache of parting with years’ worth of items no longer used, rarely looked at, and taking up floor space.

I’ve been told it’s called “middle-age downsizing syndrome.”

As difficult as it may be, I’ve decided it’s time to sort, sell, and donate what I no longer need stored in all those cardboard boxes and plastic containers.

Through my online social media groups, I discovered downsizing is the subject of much discussion; especially among the middle- and upper-age folks.

Some people downsize because they no longer need to be living in a large house and want to move into a smaller one that is easier to manage and move around in.

Singles and couples are selling their house, or moving out of their rented loft or condo and taking to the road; living fulltime in an RV or travel trailer, desiring to experience new adventures in different parts of the country.

Others just can’t part with all their boxes full of stuff, so they decide to keep them in a commercial rental warehouse storage unit.

These folks are paying a monthly fee for securely storing boxes they probably have not opened in years.

An article I read provides another solution for dealing with the emotional separation from our beloved boxed items.

A field study on how to successfully part with and de-clutter stored items was performed by students from Penn State University.

Their research showed people were willing to separate themselves with personal items holding sentimental value if they took a photo of the items before parting with them.

“We found that people are more willing to give up these possessions if we offer them a way to keep the memory and the identity associated with that memory,” explained Rebecca Reczek, co-author of the field study.

“Don’t Pack up Your Sentimental Clutter . . . Just Keep a Photo of It, Then Donate,” reads a sign hanging on a wall at Penn State.

So, I’ll be taking a lot of photos (digitally stored in The Cloud) before selling, donating, and parting with the personal items I no longer have any real need to physically keep.

I know the memories will still be there.

Follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

China hosts Asia Consumer Electronics Show

©Mark Ollig

The premier event for showcasing consumer technology for the planet’s most populated continent recently took place in Shanghai, China.

The Consumer Technology Association, which owns and produces the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the US, also manages CES Asia.

The CES Asia technology event focuses primarily on the large Asia-Pacific market.

Asia is the highest populated and the biggest continent on this planet, with 4.4 billion people covering some 17.2 million square miles of the Earth’s surface.

As with the CES event this year in Las Vegas, NV, this year’s CES Asia event showcased the latest in consumer technology and products.

More than 450 technology companies exhibited their products at the Shanghai New International Expo Center and Kerry Hotel, which were the venues for the three-day event.

Floor space used for exhibits and displaying of technology covered more than 484,000 square feet.

Total attendance exceeded 30,000; including more than 1,100 members of the press and media.

Technology categories featured during this year’s CES Asia event included:

• 3D Printing

• Augmented Reality (AR)

• Drones

• Robotics

• Smart Home

• Vehicle Technology

• Virtual Reality (VR)

• Internet of Things (IoT)

• Green Technology

• Wearables

• Video Gaming

More than 50 technology companies showcased their newest robotic designs.

Robots designed for use as shopping mall attendants, restaurant helpers, coffee shop servers, medical assistants, educators, and home companions were displayed.

Rokid Corp., an innovative leading-edge technology company with headquarters in China, Beijing, and San Francisco, manufactures artificial intelligence (AI) robots.

They showcased their AI robotic mobile home companion called Pebble, which was released to the public in May.

Visually, Pebble’s metallic oval-shaped appearance is slightly larger than a Roomba robotic vacuum.

This AI robot is designed for assisting children with learning, helping senior citizens with household tasks, and providing entertainment.

Pebble comes equipped with 2GB/16GB of memory/storage, and a quad-core processor.

It also includes WiFi for internet access, a microphone and speaker, 12 light-emitting diodes or LEDs, wireless Bluetooth enhanced data-rate technology, and the Android 6.0 software operating system.

Mandarin is listed as Pebble’s official language, which makes sense, since Mandarin is commonly spoken in China.

Rokid has robots capable of simultaneous Chinese and English translations.

Pebble’s internal lithium-ion rechargeable battery will last for eight hours when not plugged into its AC power adapter.

The robot is manufactured using liquid aluminum which undergoes a “compression molding process.”

Pebble is comprised of the same high-strength aluminum used in manufacturing aircraft, along with a number of stainless steel parts.

This pleasant-looking, eye-appealing AI robotic assistant was repeatedly polished during its manufacturing, is scratch-resistant, and gives off a bright chrome-like shine.

“AI makes our life simpler. AI is replacing human beings in more fields. It saves humans’ labor, so we can do more creative work,” said Li Yuanpeng, Rokid Corp. product manager.

I uploaded a picture of the Pebble AI robot to my photobucket website:

“Chinese companies continue to grow more and more in importance. They are creating partnerships with Western partners to really further their technology. So, we are seeing development of technology advancing rapidly,” said Tom T. Kelly, senior director of CES Asia.

The US Department of Commerce granted CES Asia 2017 an Official Trade Event (OTE) designation status. This allows companies in the US to display their technology and products during CES Asia.

OTE status also provides US companies access to foreign country distribution, trade counseling, and other assistance for expanding and growing their business presence in the Asian marketplace.

The 2018 CES Asia event will take place June 13-15 in Shanghai, China.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

‘Cyborg dragonfly’ equipped with sophisticated electronics

©Mark Ollig

The next time you see a dragonfly hovering in the air, look closely; it might have advanced technology attached to its back.

Creating artificial robotic flying insects or “micro-aerial drones” for completing secret covert airborne operations has proven to be a challenging endeavor.

One alternative is attaching technology onto (and into) a living insect that already has the quick, agile, stealthy flying thing figured out.

Prepare yourselves for hybrid drone insects; specifically, cyborg dragonflies.

You’re right; this is starting to sound like a futuristic science fiction movie – except it’s happening today.

DragonflEye is the name of the project which developed the technology for controlling the flightpath of a living dragonfly.

The Draper organization, headquartered in Cambridge, MA, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute located in Ashburn, VA are working together on this new technology.

We should note other applications for DragonflEye include guided pollination, payload delivery, and aerial reconnaissance.

“The smallest aerial drones mimic insects in many ways, but none can match the efficiency and maneuverability of the dragonfly,” Draper said in a press news release.

A tiny, foldable “backpack” package containing sophisticated electronic components was attached onto and physically interfaced with a real dragonfly.

I learned Draper was founded by Professor Charles Stark “Doc” Draper, who taught students and performed research in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology laboratory during the mid-1930s.

Draper’s research grew into a leading-edge engineering organization during the 1950s, and was responsible for designing and developing the guidance systems, instrumentation, and control systems for intercontinental ballistic missiles.

His work also provided NASA with the advanced navigation system used during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon.

Additional Apollo systems developed by Draper included a computerized inertial guidance device, and a telescopic sextant used for navigation in space.

Draper’s organization became an independent not-for-profit in 1973, and expanded its technological prowess into microelectromechanical systems and electronic packaging.

Draper had a long working relationship with the US Navy and NASA.

Draper, who became known as the “father of inertial navigation” was born Oct. 2, 1901 and passed away July 25, 1987.

Today, the Draper organization and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute team are also developing technology for creating new optogenetics tools.

I admit to looking up what “optogenetics” means.

Our good friends at Merriam-Webster provided me with the following definition of optogenetics: “The use of genetic engineering and optics to selectively monitor or control nerve cell activity.”

“Scientists say optogenetics is exciting because it gives them extraordinary control over specific brain circuits,” according to a May 17, 2011 New York Times article.

I assume this “extraordinary control” would include dragonfly brain circuits, as well.

The article went on to say: “The medical value of optogenetics research can provide new insights into an array of disorders, among them anxiety and Parkinson’s disease.”

In the case of DragonflEye, optogenetics will be used to transmit neuromodulation guidance commands from the dragonfly’s attached backpack, to “steering neurons” located inside the dragonfly’s fiber nerve cord.

These steering neurons are used for controlling the direction of where the dragonfly flies.

Tiny optical structures, called optrodes, are being developed by Draper for activating the steering neurons using pulses of light transmitted into the dragonfly’s nerve cord from the attached electronics package.

The aerial flightpath of the dragonfly is controlled using light-signaling.

“DragonflEye is a totally new kind of micro-aerial vehicle that’s smaller, lighter, and stealthier than anything else that’s manmade,” said Jesse J. Wheeler, biomedical engineer at Draper and principal investigator on the program.

“This system pushes the boundaries of energy harvesting, motion sensing, algorithms, miniaturization, and optogenetics, all in a system small enough for an insect to wear,” Wheeler added.

Energy harvesting refers to solar energy.

The electronics inside the backpack package is maintained by both ambient solar, and radio frequency energy harvested from within the environment.

For example, excessive energy from wireless communications signals in the air can be harvested and used to power the electronics package attached to the dragonfly.

A living dragonfly naturally forages for food; such as mosquitoes, to maintain its own chemical energy.

Draper’s first-generation backpack was equipped with an energy harvesting system, guidance navigation, and optical stimulation umbilical attached to a scale model of a dragonfly.

Since dragonflies are extremely quick, agile, and abundant on this planet, they should make excellent covert scouting agents for the US military and intelligence agencies.

Of course, dragonflies do have natural predators, such as reptiles, fish, frogs, and other insects.

Bees regularly attack dragonflies.

I wonder if the powers that be (no pun intended) have considered the possibility of another country developing cyborg bee drones for countering our cyborg dragonfly drones.

Stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

(Above photos used with the permission of Draper)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Apple announces new software and product updates

©Mark Ollig

The San Jose McEnery Convention Center in downtown San Jose, CA played host this week for Apple’s 18th World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC).

Tim Cook, Apple CEO, announced the Apple software developer community now has 16 million registered members from around the world.

Approximately 5,300 software developers from 75 countries attended this week’s WWDC.

The youngest software developer attending is 10 years old, and currently has five applications (apps) in the Apple App Store, while the oldest published her first software app at the age of 82.

This proves a person is never too young or too old to learn how to program and build useful software apps for today and tomorrow’s smart devices.

Using Apple’s Xcode 9 software, you can build apps for the iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV.

Learn to program apps for Apple devices using Xcode here:

Another Apple programming language tool called Swift is used for writing programs to support Apple operating systems such as: iOS, macOS, and watchOS.

Swift 3 and 4 code is said to be a good introduction to modern programming for students to learn.

Its website is:

Cook introduced the new iPad Pro with its 10.5-inch screen, and Apple 64-bit A10X Fusion processor.

The iPad Pro is 20 percent larger than the standard iPad, and weighs 1 pound.

It supports an on-screen keyboard, as well as an external, full-size physical keyboard.

Apple also unveiled its new iOS 11 operating system for their iPhone and iPad devices.

Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, said using iOS 11 allows your Messages app conversations to “sync up to the iCloud,” and appear even when switching between devices.

He said a message deleted on your iPhone will also be automatically deleted across your other Apple devices.

Apple iPad users will be able to drag-and-drop text, photos, and file content between apps with iOS 11 installed.

Taking screenshots and annotating them with text notes is another added feature.

Users will also be able to perform a search of their handwritten text within Apple’s Notes app.

A free iOS 11 upgrade to Apple user’s existing devices will be available this fall.

Machine learning is also part of the new Apple iOS.

Apple is adding new Application Program Interface protocols for developers to use for influencing machine learning between working apps.

To me, this is an indication Apple is pursuing the use of artificial intelligence in its future devices . . . we’ll see.

Phil Schiller, senior vice-president of worldwide marketing at Apple, talked about the Apple App Store.

As of this date, Apple users have downloaded 180 billion apps to their devices.

Apple said it has paid $70 billion to the software developers who created them.

There’s a new iPhone safety feature called Do Not Disturb. Once activated, it detects when you’re driving, and will automatically silence itself to incoming alerts and notifications. This feature allows you to concentrate on driving.

Apple’s Live Photos app will now support “looping.”

This feature allows users to create their own animated GIF (I pronounce it “Jiff” like the peanut butter) photos which have become popular on Twitter and Facebook.

It was stated Apple iOS device owners take 1 trillion photos a year – now that’s a lot of photos.

Videos taken with new Apple devices will use the H.265 video compression standard called High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC).

HEVC reportedly captures better quality videos, and uses less storage space.

As for Apple’s personal assistant, Siri, Federighi says they’re using deep-learning technology to give its voice “more personality.”

The new female and male Siri voices will sound more human in their inflection and cadence.

Siri will also be able to translate languages in real-time; just like the “Star Trek” universal translator.

Apple’s new iMac desktop computer will feature seventh-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, more data storage, 50 percent faster SSD’s (solid-state drive), and up to 3TB (terabyte) of storage via the Fusion Drive.

Federighi confirmed the new macOS 10.13 operating system for the iMac is code-named High Sierra, which “is all about deep technology,” he said.

Apple announced its all-new iMac Pro computer equipped with an 8-, 10-, or 18-core Xeon processor, Turbo Boost processor speeds of up to 4.5GHz (gigahertz), capacity for a 42MB (megabyte) cache, and all-flash storage of up to 4TB.

It also is equipped with four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports.

The iMac Pro supports a 27-inch Retina 5k display supporting a P3 color gamut generating over a billion colors; which amazes me, since the most colors I’ve seen all at once were the 64 inside the large Crayola crayon box (with sharpener) I had in grade school.

Apple also redesigned the warm-air flow architecture of the iMac Pro with dual-blowers, a considerably larger heatsink, and additional air venting.

The redesign manages the iMac Pro’s capacity of 500 watts of power; which is 67 percent more than the previous iMac model.

This new Apple iMac Pro computer will operate extremely fast; and, I suspect, be extremely expensive.

Look for the iMac Pro to be available just in time for the December holiday gift-giving season.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes.

Tim Cook welcomes developers from 75 different countries to WWDC 2017.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

You’ve lost your cell phone – now what?

©Mark Ollig

Like most of us, I take my cellphone with me practically everywhere I go.

As I type this column, I see it peacefully lying on my office table, with the battery charger cord plugged in.

Every once and awhile, I’ll hear an audible “splash tone” emanating from the cellphone informing me of an email, text message, or response from a social media posting.

My cellphone also alerts me of any “breaking news” from the online media sources I signed up with.

My phone and I are in complete harmony. It’s always within arm’s reach.

“My Life with a Cellphone” a 350-page novel by yours truly, will soon be in a book store near you.

OK, maybe I’m overdoing it a bit, but a book like that might actually sell. I’ll keep the idea on the back burner.

Here’s a frightening thought: How would you react if you went to use your cellphone, and it wasn’t where you thought you’d left it?

Oh, no! You’ve lost your cellphone. Now what?

Seriously folks you wouldn’t be the only ones experiencing a panic attack, I would be, too.

Having a stranger going through the contents of an unlocked cellphone would be a personal violation of our privacy – it would be analogous to having a burglar going through the cabinets inside our home.

To avoid not knowing what to do if I ever did lose my cellphone, I decided to research what steps I could take to not only locate it, but to protect its contents from being unscrupulously used by anyone who would find it.

I played out the scenario of losing my cellphone; a Motorola Droid Turbo using the Android operating system.

From my home laptop computer, I typed in the address of my wireless carrier’s support web page:

This web page listed the lost phone recovery links for each major cellphone operating system, including Apple.

I clicked on the Android™ link, which provided clickable options for my cellphone:

Turning Android Device Manager on or off.

Find your phone using Android Device Manager by viewing it on a map.

Remotely ring, lock, or erase a lost phone.

In order to use the Android Find My Device, your lost cellphone or other smart device must be:

• Turned on.

• Signed in to a Google Account.

• Connected to mobile data or Wi-Fi.

• Visible on Google Play.

• Have the Location settings option turned on.

• Have the Find My Device setting turned on.

Clicking the Android Device Manager option, I was instructed to open: and type in the Google Gmail account used with my cellphone.

This quickly took me to the Google Find My Device web page.

I then saw a Google city street map and a noticeable green, circular icon accurately indicating where my cellphone was located (at my office).

From my home laptop computer, I could:

·         Activate the ringer in my cellphone to ring for five minutes.

·         Lock access to the cellphone.

·         Type out a message or telephone number on the cellphone’s display screen for any Good Samaritan who finds the cellphone.

·         Erase all the content contained within the cellphone.

If I felt there was no chance of getting the cellphone back, I would choose to erase or delete all of the data content stored within the cellphone.

My cellphone’s photos, documents, and video are safe; I have this information mirrored and stored in my Google and Amazon cloud accounts.

For Apple iPhone users, you can locate your lost Apple devices using the Find My iPhone feature from Apple’s website:

Find My iPhone will locate your: iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, Apple Watch, or AirPods.

You’ll be able to see your Apple device on a map, make it ring, lock it, or erase its content.

The Find My iPhone feature on your Apple device will need to be turned on in order to use it.

So, I learned if one loses their cellphone or smart device, there are options available; there’s no need to have a panic attack.

Another option is contacting a friend over social media using your computer to help you.

A few weeks ago, my younger sister who lives in a neighboring city, had come home from shopping and could not find her cellphone.

This sibling text messaged me using the Facebook Messenger chat program from her home computer, asking for help in locating her cellphone.

Being up to the challenge, yours truly used his phone to call her cellphone; hoping she would hear the rings and thus locate it.

“Your phone should be ringing now,” I messaged back to her.

She carefully listened and then heard a faint ringing coming from the garage, where her car was parked.

A few moments later, I heard someone answering her cellphone.

“It’s me!” she quickly said with much relief.

Her cellphone had fallen in-between the front seat armrests inside her car, and was hidden from view.

My sister was very happy to have her cellphone back.

Having 40 years’ experience in the telephone industry does come in handy for me at times.

Yours truly also has nine years of social media experience on Twitter.

Follow me there at @bitsandbytes.