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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)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

FirstNet: An internet express lane

©Mark Ollig

Driving the daily commute on I-394 in and out of downtown Minneapolis, through rush-hour traffic, is slow and frustrating.

Those who endure this every workday understand it all too well.

Many drivers speed up their commute by using MnPASS.

By paying Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), drivers obtain an express lane pass (MnPASS).

Physically, MnPASS is an electronic wireless identification transponder tag which is attached on the inside of a car’s windshield.

MnPass allows one to drive in the faster moving, specially designated, far-left express lane during peak-driving times.

“Overhead antennas and readers located on structures such as bridges, detect the MnPASS tag in the windshield. The reader records the tag ID and sends the information back to MnDOT’s central system, known as IRIS, which is used to control field devices, like toll signs and ramp meters, and to collect traffic data,” according to MnDOT.

During times of heavy traffic congestion, driving down the MnPASS express lane gets you to your destination faster and without the bottlenecks.

At times, the internet highway becomes congested; causing “bottlenecks” for users receiving information over it.

On a daily basis; police, firefighters, medical first responders, and other emergency teams use technology and digital communications by way of radio, cellular, and the internet for sending and receiving information.

When they require the internet service, it needs to be available and working.

Weather disasters and other emergencies can cause overloads in a cellular network system’s ability to provide service.

When these systems are handling enormous amounts of data, they can become congested and slow down the processing of not only the publics’, but emergency services’ cellular/internet accessibility, as well.

During emergencies, wireless networks often become overloaded with increased public data usage, as folks seek information or knowledge of the condition of friends or loved ones.

Severe overloads in the network will result in slowdowns, and probable service disruptions and breakdowns within communication routing links – the same links used by emergency response personal.

Wireless mobile/internet service providers do augment their networks by adding redundancy, better-quality equipment, and updated software in order to provide reliability and improved service.

Public safety is paramount, and emergency first responders need to have priority over regular internet traffic.

There needs to be a reserved internet express-lane, if you will, in order for emergency response personal to quickly and efficiently perform their duties during times of disaster.

An ongoing US government plan called First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) is being designed for use as a national emergency responder network.

Signed into law Feb. 22, 2012, FirstNet is an independent authority within the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

“It’s the first project of this magnitude for our country, and of this capability nationwide. This is a very important infrastructure project for public safety,” explained Sue Swenson, FirstNet chair and technology executive.

Under federal law, FirstNet is required to consult with each state before beginning construction within said state.

At the end of the consultation process, FirstNet will submit a plan to each state governor for approval.

The governor will either approve the plan, thus permitting FirstNet to opt-in; or disapprove and opt-out.

FirstNet says their mission is to “ensure the building, deployment, operation, and maintenance of the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety.”

This secure network will provide first responders with abundant bandwidth data capacity, extended geographical coverage, interoperability among connected response-team devices; uninterrupted service reliability, priority and preventative maintenance, and assured quality-of-service.

FirstNet divides the country into 10 regions; Minnesota is located in Region 5, along with Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

As of this writing, states which have already approved build-out plans and opted-in for FirstNet include: Iowa, Michigan, Kentucky, Arkansas, Wyoming, Virginia, West Virginia, and New Jersey.

Check out the US government’s FirstNet website at http:/

Minnesota is also involved with the FirstNet project.

The Minnesota-FirstNet Consultation Project webpage is located on the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s website at

MnPASS webpage can be found at

Be sure to follow Bits & Bytes via Twitter at @bitsandbytes.