Thursday, August 28, 2008

Empowering youth with computers

This is a project BDPA should lead in here in the USA. BDPA has the Sites Program but no inclusion of Senior citizens as of yet.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

20 ways to survive a layoff

20 ways to survive a layoff

Tips for getting back on your feet and into the IT job market from someone who's been there and back By Ron Nutter

On Feb. 20, IT manager and Network World columnist Ron Nutter was called into his boss's office and told he was being let go — that day. Once the initial shock wore off, Nutter launched an aggressive search for employment in the Kansas City area. Over the next 76 days, Nutter applied for 85 jobs, and had 16 interviews before landing a new position. He chronicled the job search in a daily blog. Now that he has had some time to reflect on the experience, Nutter offers these 20 tips for surviving a layoff.

1. As you're being laid off, take notes

This can be difficult to do, because losing a job can be a very emotional experience. Nevertheless, while everything is still fresh in your mind, write down all the details you can remember. For example, I was told I would be paid for the full two-week pay period plus my remaining vacation and sick time. When my last check arrived, there were discrepancies. Having written notes helped me when I went back and reminded my former boss and the Human Resources folks of their commitment.

2. Take some time for yourself
Take a few days for yourself. A traumatic event has just happened to you, and you need to get over the initial shock before you jump into the fray to search for a new job.

3. Review the paperwork from the company that laid you off
You need to attend to several important things rather quickly. One is finding out how to file for unemployment. Another is determining how long your company-paid health insurance will be in force before you have to consider paying for COBRA insurance.

4. Update your résumé
This is something we should all do, but it doesn't always get the attention it should. I was told a long time ago that a résumé should be more than two pages with a maximum of three bullet points per employer. That may work in some cases, but not in all.

I have found that some recruiters and employers use software that counts how many times a particular word, such as Cisco, or a word describing a certain type of experience appears in a résumé. I can attest this is happening to a degree. During a previous job search, a recruiter had me rewrite my résumé just about completely to list specifically all the different types of Cisco hardware I had worked with. It was interesting to note how the callbacks increased after I did that.

You may find it necessary to keep more than one type of résumé, each tailored to the type of job you are pursuing.

5. Get a handle on monthly bills
Although I had a little money put by for a rainy day, I went through my recurring bills to see if there was any room for saving more. I found that by shopping around for automobile and homeowners insurance, I could keep the same coverage and reduce both bills. I had been thinking about doing this for a variety of reasons, but being unemployed helped push it to the top of the list.

6. Cut food costs
If you live by yourself, this will be easier to do. If you have a family, everyone will need to sit down and understand they will all have to help out until you can get another job. Not that I ate out a lot while I had a job, but I did eat out sometimes. When I was laid off, that stopped. The one treat I allowed myself each week was to stop by a local pizza place that made the pizza but you took it home to cook in your own oven. I made sure to take a coupon with me each week to take a couple dollars off the cost of the pizza.

I also shopped at my local Costco and bought the food I needed in bulk so I had to shop only once a month. Having a freezer make this easier to do. For example, I would buy a 3 to 5 pound tray of fish, which I would portion out into individual meals using a vacuum-sealing machine. Another suggestion: Buy several gallons of milk at one time and put them in the freezer. Pull one gallon out at a time, and it will still be good. I have been doing this for more than a year and have yet to notice a difference in the taste.

7. Look at health insurance options
Your company-supplied health insurance will come to an end. My former employer's health insurance ended a few days after I was separated from the company. Worse yet, I wasn't due to receive COBRA information until after my company health insurance had lapsed. Because my previous employer also had been processing my claims, I wasn't comfortable with it having any further access to my medical records. Doing a little research on the Internet, I found a single health-insurance policy from Blue Cross Blue Shield for half the price of the COBRA policy my former employer was going to offer me and with better coverage.

8. Check with your financial adviser
I have worked with an excellent person at Smith Barney for several years. Because I knew I might need to access my credit line to help pay bills, I wanted to give him a heads-up on my situation so he could be looking at other options to keep the use of the credit line as a last resort.

9. File for your income-tax return refund
Another thing to consider, depending on the time of year you are laid off, is to use your income-tax return as a one source of money for paying bills. I haven't been a fan of paying for electronic filing, but this year I did spend the money so I would get the tax refund a little sooner.

10. File for unemployment compensation
This is something I delayed doing a little bit — partially because of pride and partially because I didn't anticipate job-hunting to take more than three months. As someone pointed out to me, you have earned this money and you should take advantage of it. In my case, filing was complicated because I had moved from another state in the previous 18 months. The unemployment folks go back that far in figuring out where someone should file for unemployment. That potentially had me talking with three states' unemployment departments. I spent several days on the phone with the two states that would be involved in my situation. As painful as it may be to deal with this part of your unemployment, the sooner you start, the sooner the money will come in in to help pay the bills until you get another job.

11. Check the job boards
During my job search, I looked at CareerBuilder, Craigslist, Dice and Monster. I found no job leads from Monster in my career area. Several of the HR folks I talked to during the process told me they used Monster very little, in part because of the higher fees the site charged for posting a job compared with other job boards, and in part because of the generally poorer quality of applications they received from Monster. I found some new job-postings on Dice, but with a significant number of jobs cross-posted on other boards, I didn't find Dice to be a significant source of potential job leads. One source I wouldn't have thought to check was Craigslist. More than one recruiter told me he had good results from posting jobs on Craigslist. Set aside time each day to do this.

12. Make the job boards work for you
Dice has a feature where you can make your résumé searchable by companies and recruiters with a position to fill. I got some calls from that. CareerBuilder recently followed suit. Dice lets companies and recruiters repost a job every day so that it looks new, but in some cases this makes identifying the jobs a little harder. Turn the tables in your favor by making changes to your résumé periodically so that when it is searched it will show up as new or changed; this could get you looked at by a company or recruiter that might have passed you by the day before.

13. Prepare for the interview
One thing I have done when preparing for an interview is to research the company, as well as the companies, sectors and industries it serves. If it is a publicly listed company, read some of its press releases from the the past quarter or two to see any changes that have occurred and new directions it is heading in. The responses I received from several companies indicate it makes a good impression that you are interested in finding out about the company before an interview. It may seem like a small thing or something that you should do anyway, but there seem to be quite a few people looking for a job who don't do this.

In addition, have several copies of your résumé with you at an interview. This becomes even more important once you see your résumé as the client or recruiter does after they have downloaded it or printed it out from the job-board application: The formatting is pretty much gone. To make matters worse, the résumé's paragraphs or bullet points will look like a series of poorly written, run-on sentences that may cause distinctive or unique information about you to be overlooked.

14. Deal with recruiters
I encountered a couple of recruiters who would give used-car salesmen a bad name, but as a general rule, I found them pretty decent to work with. Several positions I was approached about were not on the job boards and sometimes were from only a single recruiter. The trick I learned was to identify the same end-job when it came from different recruiters. One situation you want to avoid is having more than one recruiter pitching you to the same client for the same job. Most recruiters usually will tell you early on who the actual end-client is.

15. Accept help from family
Your pride may make it hard for you to accept help, but keep in mind that your unemployment affects them to a degree as well. Depending on their ages, your unemployment may be a new thing to them. There was a time — unfortunately long-gone now — when the company you first worked for was the only company you worked for in your entire career. How much help you accept from family is something you will have to decide. Look at it this way: Whatever help they do give you is that much less you will have to spend for food.

16. Keep good records
This suggestion came from a letter from the unemployment department telling me I would need to provide some basic information. I set up a spreadsheet in OpenOffice with three tabs. At the first tab I kept track of the jobs I had applied for by date, source of the job, how the job was applied for, company name if known, job name, contact name and job number if provided. At the second tab I kept track of the recruiters I talked to; HR folks I had contacted for the jobs to which I had applied directly; and anything else, such as job fairs I attended. This information was helpful when I was audited by the unemployment folks to make sure I was looking for another job. At the third tab I recorded when I filed my unemployment claim each week, when I received the check, and the check number and when it was deposited.

17. Get your personal records in order
When you accept a job offer, one of the things you will have to deal with is the I-9 form that proves you are allowed to work in this country. If you haven't seen the I-9 form lately, get a copy so you can see what documents you will need. If you can't find your Social Security card, now would be an excellent time to order a replacement. This will take several weeks to process. The sooner you receive it, the sooner you will have it ready to produce when you start your new job. Another document you want make sure you have, even if you don't need it for the I-9, is a copy of your birth certificate. This might take a little while to get. I didn't know until recently that, depending on when and/or where you were born, there are two types of birth certificates — one the hospital does and one that's done when the birth is registered with the local authorities. You will want to get a copy of the certificate on file with the local authorities.

18. Don't wait for the phone to ring
This may be one of the harder things to do. Keep in mind that recruiters and HR types move at their own pace, which can be very slow. When you first apply for a job, it could be several days or more before you get the first contact. Waiting for the phone to ring will have you climbing the walls in short order. Sometimes you will get a call within hours of applying for a job, but expect that to be the exception. There are always things you can do while you wait for movement on the job front, and some of them may be done at little to no cost — that little bit of touch-up painting you have never gotten around to, or the trimming around the yard that always needs to be done. You need to stay active — don't just sit around and watch the clock move forward.

19. Get out of the house at least once a day
At some point you will run out of things to do around the house or will simply need to get out. There will be the occasional job fair, but that won't take a large amount of your time. You can knock on the doors of companies that you would like to work at, but with the price of gas hovering around $4 a gallon depending on where you live, that can be an expensive trip to make for an unknown return. Do some things you enjoy, such as going to a museum or sports game. The main thing is to get out to keep from getting cabin fever.

20. Never give up
Don't leave any stone unturned. You just may find that a company that today passed you over in favor of another applicant may come back to you when that person leaves to move onto greener pastures. I never would have thought that could happen, but I have seen it happen twice in the past year.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Top technologies to watch

Top technologies to watch Report identifies 27 emerging technologies

IT Leadership Alert By Amy Schurr

What technologies are you eyeing over the next few years? According to new research from Gartner, IT leaders should be watching several for deployment in their organizations in two to five years. The report, “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2008,” identifies 27 emerging technologies. Of those, there are about eight you need to worry about in the next decade because of the potential they have to transform business. If you’re not already working with Web 2.0, you will be soon. The technology has huge cultural implications. Cloud computing and service-oriented architecture are also on the horizon of delivering value, said Jackie Fenn, vice president and Gartner fellow. Technologies expected to plateau in two to five years include the following:

* Green IT: IT will be improving the greenness of its own activities and contribute to corporate environmental initiatives.
* Cloud computing: Interest in consuming IT services such as computational power, storage or business applications from the cloud rather than on—site is growing. However, confusion will continue for at least another year until the market shakes out.
* Social computing: Success of consumer sites is driving interest in enterprise-grade equivalents for collaboration environments. Virtual worlds will represent an important means for building communities of interest, and some are giving microblogging a look.
* Video telepresence: Advanced videoconferencing systems with high-definition displays provide a strong sense of in-room presence for participants, though such systems also carry high-end price tags.
Fenn notes these technologies are making their mark in consumer computing before they hit the enterprise. Other technologies that are beginning to appeal to businesses include 3-D printing, surface computing, augmented reality and mobile robots.

Installing LINUX software packages.

Helpful LINUX tips on installing software packages.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

IDBE's First Friday Kick-Off Sept. 5th, 2008

Hello Fellow BDPA-Detroit Friends, You are cordially invited to IDBE's First Friday Kick-Off event in partnership with BDPA-Detroit on Sept. 5th. This is an opportunity to mix, mingle, and network with IT Professionals and professionals from other non-profit organizations. Submit your business card at the event, and you could be the lucky winner of a free BDPA membership.

Hope to see you there! Anquanette Clegg, PMP President, BDPA-Detroit

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Lightweight GNOME LINUX Desktop

Lightweight GNOME alternative emerges
Aug. 06, 2008

A fast, fast-booting, implementation of GNOME aimed at netbooks and older hardware has emerged, and shows "a lot of promise." LXDE has already stacked up a heap of distribution partners.

The LXDE project has released its lightweight Linux desktop for general use. Built into the latest gOS 3 Gadget distro, LXDE is touted as being fast, fast-booting, compatible with old computers, and designed so that "every component can be used without LXDE," say the developers.

The GTK+ 2-based LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) first emerged in late 2006 when two Taiwanese Linux distributions adopted an early version. First came B2D Linux, which apparently no longer uses LXDE, and then came the Ubuntu-based PUD GNU/Linux, which does. Since then, the group, which appears to also be based in Taiwan, has been pretty quiet, but behind the scenes, they have been racking up bundling deals with a number of small Linux distributions that use all or parts of the LXDE code.

LXDE was catapulted into the spotlight in the latest gOS release, announced this week at LinuxWorld. gOS 3 Gadget swapped out Enlightenment E17 in favor of the LXDE desktop. It is not clear that the release will see commercial use, as LXDE is a young project that is not yet complete. However, gOS Founder David Liu said he believes the project has "a lot of promise," describing it as a "scaled-down version of GNOME."

The full list of distro partners includes:
  • PUD GNU/Linux -- Installable Live CD includes full LXDE
  • TinyMe -- PCLinuxOS-based distro uses some components
  • Slitaz -- Minimalist Live CD distro uses most components
  • Greenie -- Slovakian Ubuntu-based OS uses both LXDE and GNOME
  • Ubuntulite -- Member of Ubuntu Derivatives features full LXDE
  • Vectorlinux LITE -- LITE edition uses complete package
  • Myah OS 3.0 Box Edition -- Uses customized version
  • gOS 3 Gadget -- Latest version of distro in Everex's popular Linux netbooks uses full release
Aside from its lightweight characteristics, one reason LXDE appears to be so popular with Linux distribution makers is that it's highly modular. Explains a LXDE web page: "We don't tightly integrate every component. Instead, we tried to make all components independent, and each of them can be used independently with few dependencies."

The LXDE components include:
  • PCManFM -- File manager with tabbed-browsing and desktop icons

  • LXPanel -- Desktop panel with configuration done via GUI

  • LXSession -- This standards-compliant X11 session manager offers
    shutdown/reboot/suspend support via HAL and gdm. An LXSession Lite version skips on the X11 support, but is "more stable."

  • LXAppearance -- This GTK+ theme switcher can change themes, icon themes, and fonts.

  • Openbox -- This third-party window manager can be swapped out.

  • GPicView -- Image viewer featuring immediate startup

  • Leafpad -- Third-party text editor

  • LXTerminal -- Desktop-independent VTE-based terminal emulator

  • XArchiver -- Third-party desktop-independent file archiver based on GTK+

  • LXNM -- Still under construction, this network connection helper daemon supports wireless connections

Finally, here are some choice quotes from the LXDE FAQ:
  • On why they went with good 'ol GTK+: "The only toolkits with really good i18n supports are gtk+ 2 and Qt, among which gtk+ 2 is lighter. gtk+ is a better choice if portability is important. Writing programs with gtk+ is really a pain, though."

  • "If Windows 98 and xp work quite well on old machines, why my Linux desktop needs a 1.0 GHz CPU + 1GB RAM?"

  • "Not everyone on this earth is rich. There must be a nice desktop environment for those who can't afford new fancy hardware, and we have the ability to help them."

  • "Reinventing the wheel is cool, and we love it!"

LXDE (version unspecified except for build date) is available now for free from the LXDE site.

-- Eric Brown

Monday, August 04, 2008

Bridging the Literacy Divide with Open Source

Bridging the Literacy Divide with Open Source

by Darryl K. Taft

Can a $5 iPod-like device help change the world and substitute for the Internet where the Net does not exist?

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Cliff Schmidt is a man on a mission -- a mission to help stamp out illiteracy. And his weapon of choice in this battle is a $5 iPod-like device that he says can substitute for the Internet in places that have little to no electricity, where the poorest of the poor live.

Schmidt is the president of Literacy Bridge, a nonprofit whose "mission is to empower children and adults with tools for knowledge sharing and literacy learning, as an effective means towards advancing education, health, economic development, democracy and human rights," according to the mission statement on the organization's Web site.

The Literacy Bridge's core tool is called the Talking Book device and it looks like an elaborate remote control device of some sort. According to the organization, the Talking Book device "offers children and adults a versatile and interactive tool designed for use with locally recorded readings of existing and newly created reading books. As an information system, the Talking Book System offers inexpensive distribution to large numbers of people, enabling individuals to determine what information they want and when they want it."

Schmidt, who has been a consultant in the open-source community -- helping large companies adopt open-source strategies -- is attending OSCON (the O'Reilly Open Source Convention) here to talk about the use of open-source technology in education and to look into open-source software components for the Talking Book Device.

"The idea for this came up about a year ago and has evolved from there," Schmidt said. "I was working with One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and I was looking at how we could use laptops to help improve literacy. And when I left to go to Ghana I took a few laptops, but I realized then that laptops weren't the solution because of their price point. They are a solution for a specific set of problems, and can be a strategic bet for a developing country over the long term. But for an individual to be able to buy a device that could help them improve the quality of their life ... I said, Could a $5 device be built to help instead of a $200 or $100 laptop?"

So Schmidt set out to see that device built, and the Upper West Region of Ghana will be the first location to get the devices when they are ready. Schmidt said the devices right now cost more like $10 the way they are built today, but he said by the time they become widely available he is certain they will be built more efficiently and could be sold for $5. The goal is to make the device as affordable as possible because in the areas targeted for its use, people live on less than $1 a day, Schmidt said.

Thus far, "We've locked in on the mechanical engineering and the electrical engineering for the device, but we haven't really done the software; that's why I'm at OSCON," Schmidt said.

He said the team has built a layer of software to prove out the features of the device, "but we have to build an operating system. We have a design and we think the open-source world is the right place for us."

Indeed, open-source software plays into one of the three legs of Literacy Bridge's "sustainability stool," Schmidt said. That stool's three legs are environmental sustainability, business sustainability and engineering sustainability, he said.

"We want our code base to live beyond us, so we're working with engineering schools in Ghana and will be working with engineering schools in other developing countries," so there will be engineers knowledgeable about the project and the device, he said.

Moreover, "we'd like to find some embedded C programmers who could build some software for the device," Schmidt added.

The business and engineering legs sort of speak for themselves, but on the environmental sustainability leg of the project, Schmidt said:

Although we will introduce the device as powered by locally available batteries, we are developing a rechargeable battery program for the device. Small businesses and local organizations can get microcredit loans to purchase solar panels to charge rechargeable batteries. These batteries will be rented out to the Talking Book users for a price that is less than what they pay for disposable batteries -- about US$0.25. This will progressively shift users to a more environmentally sustainable option than disposable batteries.

Through this approach, we introduce the system by leveraging existing, available and familiar power sources and then give users an incentive to move toward less familiar but greener energy. Kiosks will be powered by solar energy when grid power is not available. The device is designed to allow local assembly and replacement of parts, rather than throwing out the entire unit when one part is damaged. We are also looking into ways to encourage broken materials[or] units to be returned to kiosks, service centers, and/or points of sale, rather than just thrown out.

The Talking Book device will be showcased at the upcoming LinuxWorld Conference & Expo 's Linux Garage showcase area. "The Linux Garage is a themed area of the show floor that pays homage to the tinkering spirit inside every successful Linux developer," said a description on the LinuxWorld site. However, while the Talking Book device may not necessarily run Linux as its core operating system, the kiosks associated with the devices will, Schmidt said.

"We also plan to build kiosks that act as your local library," for people in villages where the devices will be made available, Schmidt said. "It makes sense to build on Linux because we want the cheapest hardware and no software licenses."

In addition, one of the open-source projects Schmidt's organization plans to build is a Windows-based authoring tool for content for the device.

According to the Literacy Bridge's Web site, the Talking Bridge device includes the following features:

Users can store and play multiple audio programs; Users can record new audio programs (to reduce costs for most users, this feature may not be available on the most basic version of the device); Users can copy the audio content to/from the device; Users can play back the audio at slow speeds for reading practice of an associated text document; Users can audio-hyperlink to another portion of the program for more detail or a related piece of information; Users can answer multiple-choice questions, enabling interactive learning; The audio program can optionally contain another file containing the content in text form -- this enables future transfer of the textual information to another computer for display, processing, or printing; The device can redirect the sound to an external, loud speaker (uses FM transmission to a nearby radio; The device accepts power from standard, locally available batteries, but also accepts new batteries that can be recharged with solar power at local kiosks; and the device interoperates with the XO computer (also known as the $100 Laptop).

Schmidt said he thinks the devices "can revolutionize the way knowledge is disseminated in the very poorest parts of the world and can drastically improve literacy skills ... I think it's going to be used similarly to the way we use the Internet but applied to the user's world. We're trying to leverage local organizations to provide health care information -- such as how to prevent the spread of HIV and malaria, agricultural information, and economic information, such as how to run a small business."

Schmidt cited studies that say more than 40 percent of adults in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa cannot meet the United Nations' basic definition of literacy, which is to be able to read and write a simple sentence about themselves.

"A device like ours has the power to address illiteracy from another side -- you don't wait until a person is literate to give them help," Schmidt said.

Meanwhile, Schmidt said he took a prototype of the device with him on a recent trip to Ghana to get feedback from the people who will use it. Upon his return his team came up with a new prototype that comes in three colors, bright orange, blue and green, because "in areas where there is no electricity, the bright colors will help people see [the devices] better," he said.

The next step is to do a pilot test with the latest version of the device and take 50 to 100 devices to the Ghanaian villagers who will be using them, Schmidt said.

Moreover, Schmidt said on his last trip to Ghana he took a bunch of digital voice recorders and distributed them to local universities so that they could record content useful for the villagers.

For its part, Literacy Bridge chose Ghana as its first target because it "had the right balance of need versus support" for literacy learning and knowledge sharing, Schmidt said. He acknowledged that the need is probably greater in places like Afghanistan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, "but there is less support and also more challenges" in those locations. Schmidt said India is the next country Literacy Bridge will go to, followed by Kenya.

Showing his conviction, Schmidt cited former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan as stating in 2003 that the U.N. was kicking off the literacy decade. Back then studies showed there were more than 880 million illiterate people in the world, and yet more recent studies say by 2015 there will still be more than 600 million illiterate people.

"That's two years after the U.N. literacy decade is to end," Schmidt said. "And that's not fast enough for me."

Cliff Schmidt is a determined man. He is certainly a man capable of making this effort a success. I count him among my actual friends in the industry. He is a multifaceted guy -- an MIT graduate who later put in time protecting the free world by serving as an officer on nuclear submarines on missions bordering hostile waters. Or maybe, in fact more likely, he even entered hostile waters. He doesn't give a lot of information about those days. However, Schmidt is not one of those fake-ass "If I told you I'd have to kill you" types who have worked in mostly innocuous military and intelligence situations. He's the real deal. The tall, slight, soft-spoken Schmidt is no softie. Well, he did formerly work at Microsoft on some of its more illustrious projects, and also at BEA Systems. Schmidt has also done a stint in film making.

Maybe we'll even see a movie about this some day if Literacy Bridge achieves the success it envisions. Just who will play Schmidt? Take Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, make him a geek and put him in charge of a nonprofit aiming to help the world ... and you'll have Cliff Schmidt.

Friday, August 01, 2008

No Free Wireless Broadband for You

Wireless Carriers: No Free Wireless Broadband for You

By Roy Mark