1969, 1979, 1989, 1999, 2009, 2019

Christmas holidays and I realized that time passes by. Everyone else is getting older and older, while I stay young and alert. The year 1969 is soon 50 years ago. 1969 is not my year of birth, but a picture caught my eye and triggered me to make a short decade-jumping journey from 1969 to 2019.

As usual, some of these pictures might be associated with a copyright or so. I have done my best (?) to note the source of the picture to the best of my (google’s) knowledge.


While dry-browsing away a few hours in the morning in my cottage looking out over the Baltic Sea I came across this picture from the Woodstock festival. Obviously taken back in the days.

Information hub at the Woodstock festival, 1969.

The picture shows the communication method to and from the Woodstock festival area. Preliminary phone “boots” and desks for journalists, and others, to compose messages. Look at the guy in the foreground writing up a tweet. To the right some people working on their laptops and the guys standing behind, probably trying to help solving a software issue. By the phones, one lady is trying to get good 4G coverage. Or maybe not at all. In the background two guys chill out, or maybe they’re governmental agents. After all, this is during the Vietnam war.

Seeing the picture above, I still wonder how they pulled things off back in those days? How were you able to organize a 400.000-attendee rock concert? Without e-mail and web pages?

On the other hand, this picture is snapped pretty exactly 20 days after the first humans danced on the moon which turned out pretty well too.


During 1979 I was alive (yes, I had a home computer). During 1969 I was not even considered. In 1979 the famous Sony Walkman was released and was more or less an instant success. Close to 350 Million units were sold worldwide. The picture below, though, is from 1980 (April). I borrowed the picture from this blog (Modern Mechanix): http://blog.modernmechanix.com/whats-new-in-electronics-sony-walkman/ and the picture is URL-referred to its source. It is not hard to see the connection between the 1979 Sony Walkman and the iPods of the 2010s. A new way, not just physically, to listen to music was offered. Also check the elegant TV set with the not-so-elegant VCR on top. Design was not the key thing here. Why wasn’t the VCR integrated with the rest of the furniture.

In 1979, the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes reached Jupiter.


1989 is an important date as it sort of marks the end of the cold war. If one wants to, one could also argue that it is the end of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. But that’s just my playman observation. The more time that passes, it is hard to see the two great wars on European soil in the 20th century to be two separate conflicts. Nevertheless, in 1989 Voyager 2 reached Neptune.

In 1989 the Game Boy was released and rocketed into most children’s hands. (Well, they sold approximately 120 million units and I guess there are more children in the world, but anyway…) So, it was shown that small, handheld electronical devices were sort of popular. Especially when they also could offer games. Sounds almost like it would make sense to merge games (1989), communication units (1969), and music (1979) into one single unit… hmm? The picture (which is from 1990) below is found on several places on the internet.


Wikipedia compiles 1999 as the International Year of Older Persons (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Year_of_Older_Persons) and that sets the pace of what happened that year. Voyager 1 becomes in 1999 the human-made object that has reached farthest away from Earth. Bill Gates becomes the richest person on Earth indicating that one can make money on computers.

In February 1999, the Japanese company NTT Docomo offered their customers i-Mode, i.e., the first commercially availabe mobile internet. Within a year’s time they had 20 Million subscribers using i-Mode for e-mail, surf, etc. Obviously, a starting point for the wireless internet. Back in Sweden we had to fiddle around with WAP on Ericsson R380s (which, by the way, was a pretty cool phone back then, I’ve kept mine…) and similar phones. Who remembers the Nokia Communicator?

Godzilla 2000 : Milennium. From IMDB. Wireless Internet – here we come!


2009 is only 10 years ago, sounds like yesterday. Could anything have happened since then? In such a short period of time?

Voyager 2 passes the heliosheath, the solar bubble, and sort of leaves our solar system. In Christmas time 2009, the LTE communication standard is commercially launched in Sweden and decent data rates can now be obtained. The standard enables the arrival of smarter phones that can be used to eat up all the bandwidth you didn’t know you needed.

The HTC Dream, the first phone with the android operating system, was launched in late 2008 and was globally available in 2009. I guess, back then more important, was the release of the iPhone 3GS in Q3 2008 reaching large volumes in 2009. Somehow we had released all those functions from above: games, surf, communication, Yo!-apps, etc.

Apple 3GS commercial from CNN business. https://money.cnn.com/gallery/technology/2015/05/14/history-of-apple-com/22.html


2019 hasn’t happened yet (as far as I know). What is promised, however, is that 5G will be launched. 5G will be commercially available for customers in South Korea. In fact, it is already available since December 1, 2018. But the large impact will happen next year. Higher data rates and more apps that will eat up that budget, etc. Self-driving cars, smart homes, wireless sensor networks, energy harvesting, etc. Loads of buzz words. It will be interesting to see.

The Voyager 2 probe has now completely left our solar system and entered interstellar space. In another 40000 years it will have left the Oort cloud. Interestingly, we still receive daily messages from them. From some 20 billion kms away….

And thinking about it – where will we be 2069? What will happen 2029? 2039? 2049? 2059?

Radio och Television (Feb 1962, Nr 2)

A friendly soul has left a magazine in my university mail box. Yet to find out who. But it is a 56 year old magazine called “Radio och Television”, issue number 2 from February 1962.

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Pleasant reading! Remember that this is the beginning of the transistor revolution (arguably it started some years earlier, maybe in 1957 when the traitorous eight left Shockley in his lab and started with Fairchild Semiconductor. Nevertheless, in the magazine we find an interesting article on a home-made transistor amplifier for high-fidelity music. Stereo, even.

There are a lot of different ads offering you to buy the latest available silicon-based diode and transistor.

There is also an interesting article on “Project echo“. This is back in 1962. Sputnik was launched some years before that and some dozen of satellites were back then circulating the earth. But none of them were used for telecommunications.


Now, you could of course read the wikipedia page, but that was written after the project was done (it lasted from 1960 to 1964). The above article was written at the middle of the project. The Americans launched aluminum-coated balloons that would act as reflectors high up in the sky (1600 km !), like a satellite. Using the reflector they could hurl 960.05-MHz radiowaves in one direction and 2.39 GHz in the other. The transmit power was up to 10 kW for the FM modulated signals. The balloon was located using an overlayered radar beacon and a precalculated assumed trajectory (stored on punch tape). The punch tapes gave the radar a first position where to search for the balloon and then it was fine tuned using the radar beacons.

Then, later that year, the R2-D2-inspiring Telstar satellite was launched and even though it only orbited for half a year and only produced a 2-W output signal, it could still convince humanity of the possibilities and importance of telecommunications.

… Text … Esc-mm … Esc-mp … Text …

Over lunch the other day, I promised to write a post on this rather quiet forum… so what to write about? Weather? Politics? Illnesses? Trump? Maybe something more important: word processing software.

The other month I had to go back to some old files we created some 20 years ago (like a Ph.D. dissertation, a text book, and a course text book, and other things). It was time to revisit a dear old friend of mine: FrameMaker.  We used FrameMaker a lot at the University back then and then later also at Ericsson and Infineon.

FrameMaker is nowadays owned and developed by Adobe (well since 1995, but it feels like yesterday :o). It was initally created by the Frame Technology Corporation, but is now revamped, quite a lot.

And with this revisit, I have mixed feelings…

  • First, I used to work – a lot – with FrameMaker on unix back in the old days with a slightly different look-and-feel. The Windows version was – and still is – not really the same experience. The pods, for example, cannot be resized. For example, the equation pod could in the unix environment be maximized which allows you to see all panels at the same time. Perfect for fast maths typing. See below.


  • Secondly, it tends to crash quite frequently on Windows 10. If that relates to the software or the operating system…

Getting back to the maths typing: quite soon, though, one adapts the keyboard short-cuts: esc-mm for a new medium equation, esc-mp to shrink that equation to minimum size, esc-me to expand it to modify the equation, etc. Annoyingly, however, they have removed the shortcut for, arguably, the most important notation: subindex. Rather than typing the equation in one-flow, you have to interrupt and bring the mouse pointer over to the pod and press on the subindex operator. And with Windows’ strange mouse-over-window focusing it quickly becomes a bit frustrating.  (Well, there are other things in the world to worry about… but yet for its intended purpose…)


There are perks, however, with the equation editor: it can do calculations for you, simplify your equations, sort, and reshape, etc. It requires a bit of training and thinking, but once you have it up and running, you can quickly type an equation and then do the manipulations and go towards a resulting, compressed equation demonstrating your results.

A benefit is that FrameMaker also schooled us in using paragraph and character designers and styles. Like latex it made it very easy to change the whole layout of your document if you had to change from one format to another. A few clicks and done. Based on the horrific (well…) Word documents I see and get sent to me, I realize that the art of typesetting a document is sort of lost. “… Did you just press the ‘B’ button to make the text bold? …”

In short, I think FrameMaker is a really good alternative to LaTeX of any kind. It is a good wysiwyg and allows you to compile large, complex documents, and I will give it some more days here now and see where it can bring me. But it is expensive …

There are discounted subscriptions to use the tool on a monthly basis and if you have the opportunity ask your employer to give you access and give it a try. There are interchange formats to bring back and forth from and to other commercially available tools.

The title of this post? Short-cuts. For me FrameMaker is shortcuts. Tragically, the keystrokes and four-key short-cuts are still in the fingertips. After 20 years…

Ok, back to writing … esc-vB … ctrl+9 Eq … esc-me … esc fs

Anyone else using FrameMaker out there?

Revisiting the transmission speed

A while ago (several years, in fact) I published a post on the speed of modems, i.e., digital communication. And since I am currently involved in two fiber-to-the-home projects I felt it was time to revisit the chart. I also notice that I could not find too many graphs that have been updated the last few years.

So, the story was to understand what kinds of speed that are offered to the user (and the backbone to distinguish them). In the previous post it was briefly pointed out why the speed increased, i.e., evolution accelerated, the last twenty years. If one plots the transmission speed for a subscriber line, it does not fit to an exponential trend line, nor any good polynomial interpolations either.

Let’s get (to) the picture first. [Click on the image to get to the google spreadsheet’s chart – there might be some more points added as time passes by. WordPress does not allow embedding google charts]. All transmission speeds are in bits per second. For the sake of clarity (?) I also added the population growth (blue line) where the numbers are in Millions. (Since it is a logarithmic scale it is just a matter of moving the blue curve up and down – it looks rather flat anyway).




  • Red stars: telephone lines, teleprinters, wireline modems (POTS, ADSL, ISDN), as well as optofibres (the right-most, top-most red stars).  One could argue about the use of optofibres here, but I go by the connected-via-a-cable concept.
  • Green pyramids: Radio (and optical systems). We see the development of radio standards for subscribers: 1G through 5G, Wifi. Notice the two green dots on the left-hand side! These are the early telegraphs. One of them being the Chappe telegraph system and the other being the Swedish system developed by Edelcrantz. Fascinating stories themselves.
  • Pink bullets: Backbone speeds. Here I have bundled radio, optical, fibres, telephone lines. I have also added some of the more experimental recent results – some claiming to have reached speeds at 1.5 Pbps, i.e., 1.500. bits per second. That’s ridiculously fast – about 30000 movies … per second.
  • One could argue that some telegraph systems should be treated as backbone (pink) rather than subscriber (red). However, as long as there was no concept of frequency-division multiplexing or similar coding formats, only time-domain multiplexing, i.e., only one message sent at the time over the line, I count them as subscriber lines instead.


There is somewhat of a mess in terms of how speed is reported for all these various formats. The sources refer to measures such as: bits per second, words per minute, symbols per minute, symbols per second, baud rate, etc. For example, the Edelcrantz machinery: “A message could take 30 minutes to be sent from Stockholm to Gävle [some 200 km]”. This particular system, however, used 10 on/off shutters and we can thus translate that to 10 bits per symbol, etc.

For Morse code, there is often a words-per-minute count. In this case one has to assume an average symbol length and an average word length (in British it is 5.1 characters per word), the minute is also a bit vaguely defined since there is no standard delay between characters nor short/long beats on the key. In order to translate to bits per second, I have used what I have interpreted as best practice (various sources on the web).

Voice channels had a bandwidth of some 1 to 8 kHz in the early days and I have assumed 1 bps per Hz. Which is arguably

However, same holds for any system. Even if we say bps there might be additional overhead in terms of error correction coding, repetition, preambles, handshaking, etc.  on the line. I have reported the “raw” numbers and not cared to how much information as such is transferred. (With that said, how much information is there in a “Hi, how are you?” message?)

Notice that distances are not considered in the graph! One could argue that it is a bit unfair to compare apples and pears. I have focused a bit on the transatlantic cable as a use case. It illustrates the real challenges. The experimental Pbps optical fibres do not face the same type of challenges. Gauss first telegraphs were a couple of km. The Chappe telegraphs spanned 300 km and more. A longer cable would distort and attenuate the signal more aggressively and transmission speed would be lower. The very first transatlantic cable in the late 1850s (the notable red star at the bottom of the graph) only obtained a “few words per hour”! Horribly bad – but what an exceptional achievement?!

Curve-fitting does not work

As mentioned above – it is hard to get a polynomial interpolation to fit to the data in order to see trends. Exponential approximation do not seem to fit very well either. The R2 values are not impressive. It is quite clear that we instead should look at the graph and think in terms of distinct, paradigm-shifting scenarios. We have

  1. the arrival of the telegraph
  2. the introduction of Internet for the “masses”
  3. the arrival of the optical fibre
  4. satellite communication
  5. mobile phone
  6. etc

The telegraph (and telephony systems) shows a rather flat line from the 1820s to the 1930s. After the war, things start to roll. The launch of the SCORE satellite (1958) demonstrated communication across the globe – without cables. One could argue that Sputnik did the same, a year earlier, but it did not relay signals. The first transatlantic fiber cables were laid down in the 1980s.

Notable systems not mentioned in the graph

I did not include smoke signals nor the innovative time-coded pneumatic system used by the Greek in the fourth century.

I did not include the transmission speeds reported in the Star Trek movies (it is too far in the future and would stretch the graph too much). For the same reason I omitted the Star Wars across-the-galaxy-without-latency communication as it happened “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”.

When will we bump into a transistor everywhere?

A while ago I made a comparison between Ostrogothia (Östergötland) and a silicon wafer. I wanted to put things into a graspable scale. If a transistor compares to an everyday object – how present will they be?

Maple-Martin, while digesting some Guinness at an Irish conference, suggested to take a look at the total number of available transistors on earth. According to Intel there were some 1.2e21 transistors worldwide last year(-ish).

 Let’s take some other dimensions into the picture:

  • On earth, there are 7 000 000 000 human beings (give or take some 100 millions), 7e9 
  • The earth’s equator is 40 000 km (4e7 m)
  • The earth’s total area is 510 million square kilometres, ie. 5.1e14 sqm
  • The channel length of an average transistor is assumed to be 100 nm
  • The channel width of an average transistor is assumed to be 100 nm
  • Each human consists of some 37e12 cells  [according to http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/03014460.2013.807878 ]

Now, with these numbers at hand: Let us assume that we have too much time and we have somehow magically collect all the chips on earth and scrape off all transistors (that’s a big bag of chips). Then we decide to take a walk around the globe and put down some transistors here and there (perhaps to find our way back by picking them up on the way back?)

So if we neatly put them next to each other (think a long cascoded current source) in a long a row, we would have to walk

  • 1 200 000 000 000 000 000 000 pcs * 0.000 000 1 m/pcs = 120 000 000 000 000 m = 3 000 000 laps (!!!) around the globe.

Let’s assume we find that boring to just walk along the equator. If the transistors are 0.1 * 0.1 sq um big. They would then occupy 1e-14 = 1.2e21 * 1e-14 = 12e6 sq metres ~ 4000 * 3000 sq metres, or in non-American English: 4×3 sq km. Not that much (?)

If the transistors would be 600×600 sq um we would be able to cover the earth. 2010 – anyone?

We have 1.2e21 / 7e9 ~ 2e11 transistors per human being. That’s quite a potent processor! In an “ordinary” desktop computer there are some 5 billion transistors, i.e, 5e9 transistors. Which means that each human being is equipped, or has access to some 40 processors. (A phone, a computer, …)

Let’s bring the comparison further: Each human consists of some 37e12 cells which multiplies into a biomass of 37e12 * 7e9 = 270e21 human cells. Compare with 1.2e21 transistors – we are soon there! Soon we can assign one transistor to each human cell. 1984 – anyone?


PPT/ODP/PDF vs White/Blackboard

Following up on a facebook post and adding some more references and links as well as a poll for the fun of it . Also  noticing that there are 10 months since I posted here … other types of media have been used.

So, the question was about what we prefer to listen to. What type of performance do we prefer in the lecture hall – powerpoint or whiteboard? Personally, I do not feel very comfortable using powerpoint [PDF/ODP/beamer/whatever] to present nor listen to. The lectures I mostly enjoy are either the ones with just a few “simple” slides, or simpler annotations. For example

or why not the great lectures by

where you can find lectures by Prof. Adams or why not the great lectures by

(Yes, I admit that this is a “meta-discussion” in the sense that we watch someone lecture on a youtube channel thus making it more or less a powerpoint presentation – but I think you know what I mean).

I would also like to highlight the

that display a method that is somewhat in-between. A static “slide” (landscape?) but a detailed walk-through of the stuff on the board. Some of his “wild” [pun intended] ideas aside, it is comfortable to listen to him.

Back to powerpoint (or PDF or ODP) [copy from the facebook pages]: What especially annoys me are those presenters who read out loud the text displayed on the screen. The audience has already read the whole page twice before the presenter reaches the end of first sentence. And mostly, they have already understood the contents before presenter starts to mumble and desperately tries to remember what they’ve written three years earlier.

Too many times I have had lectures where the students have fallen asleep – more or less. It does not really matter if I distribute material in advance.  Yes, I know it is also my fault – I should probably prepare better slides and present them better. Perhaps I make the errors mentioned above.

But taking the pen and massaging the text and moving across the whiteboard is more satisfying. Making some errors now and then and erasing and rewriting after interaction from and with the audicence makes the presentation more live.

The downside is of course efficiency – which is important! – there is limited time slot in the teacher’s schedule and in the students’ schedules. Watching a professor slowly writing the formulae on the board could sometimes be as interesting as watching paint dry.

The combination of slides and board? Well, there is a risk of interupting the flow. There is no natural way of conetext-switching. Displaying some complex graphs? Equations? Well, yes, perhaps – but reproducing them line-by-line on the board is also part of the explanation procedure.

I am thinking of this graph, where yellow displays the “match” between entertainment and learning level. Doing the repetitive stuff, over and over again, is perhaps not that fun, but learning is better IMO. Think of it as a movie with Schwarzenegger vs a documentary with Attenborough vs peeling 200 kg of potatoe. (Well…) There are differences between being entertained, interacting and just performing repetitive patterns.  Can we fill the white boxes with yellow knowledge?