Monday, November 28, 2011

Chattanooga Builds a Smart City

Smart technology permeates the streets and parks of Chattanooga.What started out as a project to improve the electric grid has grown into a high-tech solution that brings Gigabit Ethernet to the residents and businesses of Chattanooga. EPB, Chattanooga's community-owned electric utility, began installing a 100 percent fiber-optic network some time ago to meet smart-grid initiatives and bring better control to the electrical grid.
Now completed, EPB's fiber-optic network has brought with it several other benefits, including helping the city build a high-speed Internet-connected management and control system, which incorporates everything from street-light control, to IP surveillance cameras, to a city-wide symmetrical WiFi grid.

Chattanooga’s riverfront  

Today, fiber permeates the city and county of Chattanooga, delivering what may be the most impressive benefit of all--Gigabit Ethernet to homes and businesses, which can now leverage voice over IP technologies, telepresence systems, cloud services and other bandwidth-consuming technologies.
EPB claims that it has built America's first true Smart Grid--a grid that offers residential high-speed Internet, video and telephone services. EPB's Gigabit Ethernet service has also created a type of a renaissance for technology startups, entrepreneurs, and other tech-savvy businesses--something that the city has taken to heart with the announcement of an application competition, called the Gig Prize. The competition is backed with $350,000 in prize money from Alcatel-Lucent.
“Last year, Chattanooga became America’s first and only city to complete a community-wide network capable of delivering up to 1G bps Internet speeds to every home and business in EPB’s 600-square-mile service area,” said Robert Vrij, president of Alcatel-Lucent’s Americas Region. “We’re proud to partner with Chattanooga as this extraordinary city establishes a groundbreaking model for demonstrating the direct linkage between investment in telecommunications infrastructure and economic growth.”
Vrij made his announcement as part of his keynote address during the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s Spirit of Innovation luncheon where community leaders announced an initiative to position Chattanooga as the Gig City and unveiled the Gig Prize, a competition in which students and entrepreneurs will create and test next-generation Internet applications and launch businesses using Chattanooga’s Internet services.
Chattanooga, the city and county, has benefited greatly from the fiber backbone and city-wide WiFi implementation. The city has seen reductions in crime, improved public safety, reduced operational costs (thanks to LED lighting and controls), and brought high-tech solutions into patrol cars, city service vehicles and other agency assets.
For example, police can now access security cameras in public places, and even increase lighting levels in parks or on roads where they may anticipate trouble. Add to that automated power-grid monitoring and controls, and blackouts and brownouts are becoming a thing of the past, further improving public safety.
Chattanooga is proving to be a perfect example of how a city can leverage technology to improve quality of life, meet public safety needs and serve a technology-hungry market, all while bringing high-speed Internet and services right into the home or business at competitive prices. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cisco User group meeting

Great Lakes Cisco Users Group - LogoGreetings from the Great Lakes Cisco Users Group!

Following is a link to download this month's GLCUG flyer:  flyer-11-2011
Please be advised of the location that we will meet in for this month.
Computer Data
29299 Franklin Road
Southfield, MI 48034

Click here for a map and directions to this location.

This month's presentation will be :

NetScout: nGenius Enterprise Intelligence and Voice Video Manager

Presented by:
Sean Snyder; Sales Engineer, NetScout Systems, Inc.

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011
6:30 PM

Hope to see you there!

Chris Gierula - CCNP +voice, CCNA
Hewlett Packard Technologogy Consultant II
Public Relations Chair: Great Lakes Cisco Users Group

Great Lakes Cisco Users Group -

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

NASA launching 'dream machine' to explore Mars

— As big as a car and as well-equipped as a laboratory, NASA's newest Mars rover blows away its predecessors in size and skill.
Nicknamed Curiosity and scheduled for launch on Saturday, the rover has a 7-foot arm tipped with a jackhammer and a laser to break through the Martian red rock. What really makes it stand out: It can analyze rocks and soil with unprecedented accuracy.
"This is a Mars scientist's dream machine," said NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Ashwin Vasavada, the deputy project scientist.
Once on the red planet, Curiosity will be on the lookout for organic, carbon-containing compounds. While the rover can't actually detect the presence of living organisms, scientists hope to learn from the $2.5 billion, nuclear-powered mission whether Mars has — or ever had — what it takes to nurture microbial life.
Curiosity will be "the largest and most complex piece of equipment ever placed on the surface of another planet," said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars exploration program.
Ten feet long, 9 feet wide and 7 feet tall at its mast, Curiosity is about twice the size of previous rovers Spirit and Opportunity, weighs 1 ton and is loaded with 10 science instruments. Its formal name: Mars Science Laboratory, or MSL.
In a spacecraft first, Curiosity will be lowered to Mars' surface via a jet pack and a tether system similar to the sky cranes used by helicopters to insert heavy equipment in inaccessible spots on Earth. No bouncing air bags like those used for the Mars Pathfinder lander and rover in 1997 and for Spirit and Opportunity in 2004 — Curiosity is too heavy for that.
It is the kind of precision landing that officials said will benefit future human explorers on Mars.
The rover is scheduled to arrive at the mineral-rich Gale Crater next August, 8½ months after embarking on the 354-million-mile voyage aboard an Atlas V rocket.
It's a treacherous journey to Mars, and the road is littered with failures. In all, more than three dozen missions have aimed over the decades at the most Earth-like planet known, and fewer than half have succeeded. Of this flotilla, only one lander is still working on the dry, barren, cold surface — Opportunity — and only three craft still are observing the planet from orbit.
In fact, Russia's latest Mars probe remains stuck in orbit around Earth two weeks after its botched launch. NASA has had better luck at Mars, although it has lost a few spacecraft there.
"Mars is difficult, and so many things have to go right for a mission to work," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars exploration program.
Curiosity is the capstone of what NASA calls the year of the solar system. A spacecraft is en route to Jupiter after lifting off last August from Cape Canaveral, and twin lunar probes launched in September will arrive at the moon New Year's weekend.
A huge crowd — 13,500 invited guests — is expected for Curiosity's Thanksgiving weekend send-off.
There will be more anxiety than usual over the launch. Curiosity holds 10.6 pounds of plutonium, more than enough to power the rover on the Martian surface for two years. A nuclear generator won out over solar energy because it allows for a bigger workload and more flexibility. The plutonium is encased in several protective layers in case of a launch accident.
Once safely down on Mars, the rover will survey the landscape with high-definition and laser cameras mounted like eyes atop its mast. The laser will aim at soil and rocks as far as 23 feet away to gauge their chemical composition.
The rover also has a weather station for updates on Martian temperature, humidity and wind, as well as a radiation detector that will be especially useful for planning human expeditions.
Despite all its fancy upgrades, Curiosity will go no faster than the one-tenth-mile-per-hour logged by past Martian rovers. But it is expected to venture more than 12 miles during its two-year mission. If it's still working after that, it will keep on trucking, possibly all the way up the crater's 3-mile peak.
This mountain is composed of geologic layers similar to what one might find in the Grand Canyon, said project scientist John Grotzinger, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology.
"Our rover is going to be like John Wesley Powell going down the Grand Canyon," Grotzinger said, referring to the 19th-century explorer who led an expedition down the Colorado River.
The next logical step in Mars exploration, said Cornell University's Steve Squyres, who led the science team for Spirit and Opportunity, would be a robotic mission to deliver Mars samples to Earth for analysis. NASA hopes to pull that off later this decade, but the project is on Congress' chopping block.
Squyres warned that without such missions, U.S. leadership in science won't just be challenged — "it's going to go away."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hooray, the supercommittee failed! Commentary: Failure no help, but greater harm averted

By Darrell Delamaide

 — The supercommittee to cut the deficit was a bad idea, and its failure is a good thing for America.
Pundits are having a good time picking winners and losers after this latest chapter in the ongoing debt debacle, but it’s fairly obvious.
Congress — not just the congressional leaders, but each and every lawmaker — loses again, for trying to kick the can down the road and abdicating their responsibilities by creating the supercommittee in the first place. Voters should remember this next November.
Winners in this case are the American people and the democratic process, because the attempt of a small minority with unlimited funds to foist on the nation an anti-tax agenda that is inimical to the interests of the middle class was foiled.
Given that the supercommittee was never going to agree on something truly reasonable and helpful, like letting the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush expire, no agreement is the best result we could hope for.
The supercommittee has failed and the sky didn’t fall, Treasury yields are not skyrocketing, and inflation continues to be nonexistent. Imagine that.
There are real problems in the world — the collapse of the euro, the all-but-certain prospect of recession in Europe, sluggish growth and high unemployment in the U.S. — but the deficit isn’t one of them.
What about jobs?

The urgency to cut the deficit was an artificial crisis fomented for ideological reasons that have nothing to do with fiscal responsibility and everything to do with reducing taxes on the wealthy. Deficits aren’t the problem, jobs are, and what we needed was a supercommittee on stimulating job creation.
Sadly, the failure of the panel chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R., Texas) to cut the deficit won’t do anything to help the economy, but at least we have been spared the harm that would have surely resulted from any “compromise.”
Another recent failure — that of a House Republican leadership increasingly out of touch both with reality and the electorate — to get a balanced-budget amendment passed should also be celebrated. Even though it was just more political theater from that same ideological minority, every triumph of reason in this disreputable Congress should be welcomed.
The amendment garnered only 261 votes in the House on Friday, well short of the 290 needed to pass it with a two-thirds majority and down dramatically from the 300 votes a similar proposal obtained in 1995. A balanced-budget amendment is always a bad idea, and more legislators are coming to realize this.
Look to Europe

Why these failures should be celebrated is clear from the euro’s death spiral. Fiscal hardliners in Europe have the upper hand and are undoing 50 years of European integration by blindly following this benighted ideology.
Greece, Italy, Spain and Ireland face a much tougher constraint than a balanced-budget amendment through being shackled to a common currency that’s designed to favor Germany. The insistence by Berlin that these countries impose draconian fiscal austerity to pay for Germany’s prosperity is driving the Continent into recession — including, of course, Germany.
Voters are coming to realize how misguided their elected leaders are. Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are seeing their poll numbers drop, but somehow the bulb doesn’t go on in their heads.
Instead, in Europe, they have abdicated political responsibility and put “technocrats” — the same bloodless technicians who crafted the disastrous euro scheme in the first place — in charge of sorting out the mess. They will have as much success as our supercommittee.
It’s a sad state of affairs. Europe and the U.S. are now looking at a new recession, continued high unemployment, and increasing political turmoil as restive voters make their frustration known.
How all this will play out now in the 2012 electoral campaign remains to be seen. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is getting high-level endorsements that would seem to make him the Republicans’ frontrunner, even though polls say otherwise.
President Barack Obama’s completed a successful Asian trip notable for his tough stance on China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea. It would still seem that the presidential race is taking shape as a contest between these two men.
What impact the dramatic failures of Congress will have is another question. Despite the efforts of the Republican leadership to kowtow to the aggressive tea-party minority, the GOP is riven still between extremists and conservatives, leaving moderate Republicans and independents wondering whom to vote for.
It would seem to offer an opening to Democratic candidates, but with the media narrative being dominated by Republicans, that’s difficult to discern.
In the meantime, no champagne, but a quiet celebration is in order over a couple of bullets dodged.

IT's age problem

By Tam Harbert
Age bias: Some consider it IT's dirty little secret, or even IT's big open secret.
Most high-tech employers would likely deny that age discrimination is an issue at their companies. But many IT workers over 50 beg to differ, saying they have experienced age bias or know someone who has.
The bias can take several forms, they say. Their salaries might stagnate. They might have few or no opportunities for advancement. They might not be included in training and professional development programs. And they might be the first to be laid off and the last to be hired.
As a result, they may be hit harder by the recession. According to recent U.S. government data, unemployment rates for older IT professionals have increased more quickly than the rates for younger tech workers since the recession began some three years ago.

All of that can add up to a tough road for older people in high tech.
Age bias is "something that no [employer] talks about. But it's a reality in tech that if you're 45 years of age and still writing C code or Cobol code and making $150,000 a year, the likelihood is that you won't be employed very long," says Vivek Wadhwa, who currently holds academic positions at several universities, including UC Berkeley, Duke and Harvard.
As Wadhwa's observation indicates, "age bias" is a simplistic label for a complicated set of factors that influence the job prospects for senior tech employees. When considering workers over the age of 50, employers take the following factors into account:
The relevance, applicability and currency of their skills, which may or may not be up to par with those of younger employees.
The level of compensation they expect, which is typically higher than the salaries younger people seek.
Their behaviors and attitudes, which can become rigid and narrow-minded with age.
Their energy level, which is presumed to be lower than that of a 25-year-old.
While none of these generalizations is necessarily true for any particular candidate, each is a stereotypical assumption about older workers. What's more, they are all logical and legal reasons for an employer to fire, or not hire, someone.

Aging gracefully in IT
Dos and don'ts
You may not be able to turn back the clock, but there are a few things you can do to increase the likelihood of getting a job and staying employed as you age. Step 1 is recognizing that your skills have a certain shelf life. Rather than fight it, IT professionals should consider that when planning their careers.
In fact, Vivek Wadhwa believes that colleges should tell computer science and engineering students that "between age 40 and 45 you'll hit your peak, so plan for it." That could mean saving a substantial part of your salary when you're young, so you'll be able to earn less and still get by in IT as you age or use the savings as a cushion if you change careers, says Wadhwa, who started his career as a programmer and then went on to be an entrepreneur and later entered academia.
Here is a list of things you should and shouldn't do if you hope to stay in IT:
Keep your skills up to date, even if your employer doesn't pay for professional development.
Consider moving into IT management, where longevity and experience are more likely to be seen as positives rather than negatives.
Take advantage of a technical career path, if your company offers one. Some corporations have a dual-track system that allows technical folks to move up a ladder that's comparable to the one managers climb, says Paul Ingevaldson, who spent 40 years in IT and retired from his job as CIO of Ace Hardware in 2004.
Build and maintain a professional network independent of your current position so you have lots of contacts to tap if you are laid off or decide to start a consulting business.
Learn how to use social media to promote yourself, research potential employers and find current employees to refer you for jobs.
Dress like your co-workers. Dress codes vary widely from company to company and from job function to job function, but in general you should aim to dress like your colleagues. If they're wearing shirtsleeves, your Dr. Who T-shirt probably isn't appropriate.
Act bored or tired either at your job or during an interview. That feeds into stereotypical assumptions about age.
Come off as a know-it-all. While decades of experience are valuable, employers are wary of narrow-mindedness in candidates who think they know exactly how things should be done. "You must be flexible to new ways of working and to a new culture," says Steve B. Watson, a managing director at executive recruiting firm Stanton Chase.
"If you can hire someone fresh out of college for $60,000 who is likely to know the latest technology, or you can hire someone 45 years old who's making $140,000, who are you going to hire? That's the harsh reality, whether we like it or not," says Wadhwa, 53, who started his career in IT as a programmer and then went on to be an entrepreneur before entering academia.
Robert Ayr hears that message loud and clear. At 57, he's fully and happily employed in IT as the manager of production services at Irving, Texas-based VHA Inc., a national network of not-for-profit healthcare organizations. He gives himself credit for managing his career well through turbulent times, but at the same time, he can't help but look over his shoulder.
By his own estimate, since graduating college in 1977, Ayr has held nine or 10 technology positions all over the country -- in California, Massachusetts, Texas and New York. "Especially in the beginning, I was moving all over the place -- to expand my knowledge base and to further my career," he says.
As he got older, he moved less and stayed in positions longer, but always took care to keep his skills fresh, moving from mainframes to VMS to his current specialty -- servers. "I say every 10 years it's time to retool," he explains. "I keep trying to learn as much as I can, otherwise you become a dinosaur."
Even so, Ayr acknowledges that the climate begins to change as the years of experience add up. He recalls when he was passed over for a job years ago in favor of a candidate who had nearly the same credentials as he did but was 20 years younger.
"I ran into the guy a couple months later at a users' group meeting, and I asked him right up front what kind of money they were paying him. The bottom line is, he was willing to work for less. That's what happens."
"I was always the youngest person wherever I went; now I'm one of the oldest," Ayr says. "You still picture yourself as the 30-year-old hotshot, but the reality is you're not that guy anymore."
Older workers by the numbers
What do we know about the aging workforce in the U.S., and about older tech workers in particular?
For starters, more older Americans are remaining in the overall workforce. Last year, the percentage of people aged 55 and older in the workforce reached 40%, its highest level in 35 years, according to a study published in February 2011 by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. And that's after the 2008-2009 recession, when many older workers lost their jobs.
But are older IT professionals remaining in the workforce? Solid numbers are difficult to find; the data that is available is sparse and sometimes inconsistent. Studies of older workers rarely break down results by profession. Recruiting firms offer data on hiring, and sometimes on salaries, by profession, but they typically don't break it down by age.
Other studies track unemployment, but not by age or profession -- so it's difficult to know how many older IT professionals want work but can't find it. The picture is further blurred when companies outsource and offshore IT jobs, or import workers through the H-1B and other visa programs -- potentially displacing U.S. workers, including older employees.
Add the fact that some IT professionals voluntarily bail out at a certain age, either to pursue new careers or to start their own businesses, and you can see why researchers find it difficult to quantify trends.
One set of data that does bring several of these factors together comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The agency released numbers in early 2011 that show that older IT workers have higher rates of unemployment than both younger IT workers and older workers in other professions.
In the category of "computer and mathematical occupations," the overall unemployment rate for people aged 55 and older jumped from 6% to 8.4% from 2009 to 2010, according to the data. For people 25 to 54 years old in that job category, the unemployment rate fell from 5.1% in 2009 to 4.5% in 2010.
Those figures are particularly striking when compared to the overall population, where 55-plus workers had lower unemployment rates (7%) than the 25-to-54-year-olds (8.5%) in 2010.
That trend seems to be reflected in the level of anxiety among older IT workers who still have jobs. According to Computerworld's 2011 Salary Survey, the number of IT people feeling somewhat or very insecure in their jobs rises steadily with age.
As to the flat-lining of wages that's rumored to sometimes happen in the second half of a high-tech career, Computerworld's survey didn't turn up evidence of age bias in actual salaries, but employees aged 55 and older were the most likely to report that they had generally "lost ground financially" in the past two years.
An academic study of IT salaries published in 2008 did show interesting disparities in compensation by age in three specific industry segments -- finance, IT and medical. Although the report is now out of date -- it was based on data from 2001 -- at least one of the original researchers believes its findings still hold true.
"The slow economic recovery and the stubborn high unemployment rate we have right now only make age discrimination even more pronounced," says Jing Quan, an associate professor at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Md. "IT companies are more likely to value IT workers who have the most updated skill sets and can get the job done," he says. "And those are more likely younger IT workers."
Keep up or keep out
The hyper-accelerated pace of change in high technology makes it a challenging field to keep up with. Quan puts it bluntly: "The special characteristics of the IT industry -- highly competitive, fast-paced, short skill update cycle -- do not favor older workers."
Julie McMullin, a professor at Canada's University of Western Ontario, elaborates. "Perceptions of 'older,' in this particular industry, have a lot to do with competing demands," says McMullin, who leads an international project called Workforce Aging in the New Economy (WANE) that studies aging and workforce restructuring in the IT industry.
"If you're an unencumbered worker" -- that is, single with lots of time to work extra hours and attend training to update your skills -- "then you're 'young,' " she says.
By those standards, Ronda Henning could pass for a spring chicken. In real-life years, she's 53, but by her own estimate, she has logged enough extra hours and obtained enough degrees to give younger workers a run for their money.
A senior scientist specializing in security at Harris Corp., a communications and IT company based in Melbourne, Fla., Henning has earned several graduate degrees to supplement her undergraduate degree (a B.A. in English and political science from the University of Pittsburgh). She holds an MBA from the Florida Institute of Technology and an M.S. in computer science from Johns Hopkins University, and she's currently working toward a Ph.D. in information systems.
Beyond that, Henning has taken care to invest in her career on her own time -- publishing and presenting papers at conferences and identifying and pursuing new business initiatives within her organization. "Often, that has to happen on your own time, in addition to your standard assignments," she warns.
And then there's the constant influx of the new, and the challenge of separating signal from noise. "I make a conscious effort to stay current, but these days, it's very hard to absorb everything and figure out what's truly important," Henning acknowledges. "It can become a 24-hour-a-day job to try and do that."
To be sure, IT isn't the only profession in which older workers are vulnerable if they haven't kept their skills up to date. Administrative assistants who don't know the latest office productivity software, or journalists who don't have multimedia skills, for example, are in the same boat.
In fact, as technology pervades more and more professions, the pressure to keep up with the pace of change is affecting a wider swath of the population, especially baby boomers who are reluctant, or unable, to retire.
"It's the same thing everywhere, except in IT it happens faster," says Wadhwa. "In IT, you're at the epicenter of the earthquake in technologies."
Hot jobs vs. no jobs
Certain types of IT jobs appear less susceptible to ageism than others. Systems architects and project managers, for example, are relatively safe, observers agree, as are IT employees with highly specialized skills such as scientific programming or mobile application development, provided those skills remain in demand.
And management can be a haven for aging IT folks who have people skills. Salisbury University researcher Quan's report showed that in management, if not elsewhere, older IT workers made higher salaries than the under-40 set.
These days, companies seem more willing to hire older IT executives than they were five to 10 years ago, says Steve B. Watson, a managing director at executive recruiting firm Stanton Chase. Companies "need someone who can hit the ground running," he says. "There's less interest in giving a honeymoon period to a newcomer, less time for training than there was in the past." In addition, he sees a talent gap in management, probably created by the fact that baby boomers are starting to retire.
Likewise, companies are willing to look at older workers who have the skills the organization needs. For example, Axcelis Technologies, a maker of semiconductor capital equipment, needs professionals with highly specific skills -- including physicists, experts in robotics and programmers with FORTH experience -- says Lynnette Fallon, executive vice president of human resources and legal at the Beverly, Mass.-based company. "Sometimes it's hard for us to find people who are good at this software," she says.
Fallon doesn't see any negatives to hiring older people. Because they are mature and experienced, they can mentor younger staffers, and mentoring is "the best kind of training," she says. Experienced professionals do cost more, she acknowledges, which means the company must weigh the cost of hiring veteran workers against the benefits they offer. "You obviously need a balance in the workforce," she says.
Too old to code?
In contrast, programmers who are over 40 can face a bleak future -- particularly if they didn't get on the management track or didn't keep their skills up to date. "In some IT departments, you could hang on until the company gets into trouble," says Wadhwa, "but when it does, you'll be the first to go."
When McMullin has interviewed people for the WANE project, some respondents have talked negatively about those "too old to code," she says. "People would be giving us these descriptions of ZZ Top-looking programmers sitting in the back corner working in Cobol."
The problem for programmers is twofold: For one thing, the desired skills keep changing, requiring them to refresh their talents on a nearly continuous basis. And, unlike managers, programmers often don't have a clear career path within an organization.
Dennis O'Connor is one programmer who, through a mix of hard work and lucky breaks, has managed to hang on in high tech without taking the management track. O'Connor is 72 and still working, most currently as a programmer and analyst for the Alexandria, Va., city government.
O'Connor started out at Blue Cross of Virginia in 1965 as a computer operator on a Honeywell 400 mainframe. He moved on to programming Cobol on a 360-30 mainframe, and spent some years in banking before moving into municipal government -- a sector that high-tech industry watchers consistently identify as being more accepting of older workers than its corporate counterparts.
He was hired by the city of Alexandria 11 years ago to service a Cobol-based payroll system, with the understanding that the system was scheduled to be phased out within a year and a half (but that has yet to happen, O'Connor points out with some amusement).
During a reorganization several years into his tenure that left O'Connor without a clear next step, a higher-up put him in a management position, but it wasn't to O'Connor's liking. "Supervision is not my thing. Over the course of my career, I have not been happy with it," he says. "Any time I could get out of it, I did. I do so much better as a programmer/analyst."
So he talked his way into a job on the Windows client-server side of the house, supporting the city's Tidemark Permit Plan system for people in various departments using SQL Server and Crystal Reports -- a job he now loves. "It was totally alien to me. I had to figure out what in the world I was doing," O'Connor recalls.
"I'm sure there was some apprehension on the part of my manager that I was being dumped on them, but as it turns out, he has been more or less pleased," he says.
Loyal no more
If high-tech watchers and older workers agree on anything, it's that the onus is squarely on IT employees to keep themselves current and capable. They shouldn't expect the industry to behave as if it owes them anything.
Traditional loyalty has disappeared on both sides over the past 30 years -- companies in general are no longer paternalistic, and workers don't think twice about jumping ship when they get a better offer. Still, there are some glimmers of hope for an understanding between older workers and hiring companies. Michael T. Abbene, who in 2009 retired as CIO from St. Louis-based Arch Coal, says "companies still have a responsibility to make training available and encourage people to update their skills."
And on the corporate side, there are operational reasons for companies to consider retaining their older workers. "There is a need for institutional memory, even in a fast-moving field," Abbene argues.
As a founder of two software companies, Wadhwa says he had no problem hiring older workers -- albeit at salaries that were 20% lower than they had made in previous positions. "For the price, they were a much better value," he says.
He recommends that approach to other employers. "It makes economic sense. They have more experience and they are more steady -- they won't leave you," he says.
Wadhwa, like many others, says there is value in the maturity, experience and even keel that many older workers possess. If it's just not as high a value as employers would like, then, well, that's the state of the market circa 2011.

The Silicon Valley of Shit: Nairobi Is Ground Zero for Sanitation Innovation


A Sanergy toilet in Nairobi. See more pictures of toilet technology in Kenya. 

A “flying toilet” is a particularly Kenyan device: a small grocery bag used as a toilet and then tossed out the window onto the street. The first encounter is both fascinating and grotesque—was that seriously what I just stepped on?
Granted, finding a decent bathroom facility in a big city is never a fun endeavor. Even in the developed world, you can face an endless search for a public bathroom, perhaps ending with a dip into a Starbucks or McDonalds to purchase a latté and the privilege of a (relatively) clean bathroom for $2.
In Nairobi, $2 is half of many people’s daily income, and nearly half of Kenya’s population lacks access to proper sanitation. Almost 70 percent of everyone else uses the crudest form of “toilet” available—a hole in the ground. There are certainly no Starbucks, and only a handful of overcrowded, unhygienic, and sometimes unsafe public toilets are scattered around the center of the city—most of which have fallen into disrepair and cannot be used.
In the slums, where the majority of residents don’t have toilets in their dwellings, the solution is a small row of wooden shacks (pit latrines) with holes in the floor, built on raised platforms and shared by as many as 400 households. When it rains, there is nothing more than a few pieces of eroded wood stopping disease from floating around the rest of the neighborhood.
It’s been more than 30 years since the Kenyan government invested in urban public sanitation facilities, and what little infrastructure remained from the early era of independence has fallen into horrendous disrepair.
Yet while the government lacks funds, initiative, and directive for innovation in sanitation, a unique blend of social entrepreneurs have flocked to Nairobi, all seeking one noble goal: Profiting from peoples’ excrement.
Sanergy: Poo, Energy, and Fertilizer
“Nairobi’s become the Silicon Valley of shit,” says Ani Vallabhaneni, co-founder of Sanergy, a company recently launched by young graduates from MIT's Sloan School of Business that is one of several trying to revolutionize, and profit from, the flailing Kenyan sanitation industry.
Sanergy ("sanitation" plus "energy") began in a Massachusetts classroom as an idea to decentralize waste collection and processing, then blossomed into a practical way of bringing toilets to Kenya’s slums while improving sanitation, energy, and even the agriculture industry across Kenya. The company recently won $100,000 in a business plan competition at MIT, and is now piloting their model of pay-per-use toilets, branded “Fresh Life,” around the slums of Nairobi. The founders' goal is to create a network of franchised low-cost toilets in slums, owned and operated by local entrepreneurs, while also providing an affordable option for residential toilets.

Yet their business model isn’t simply building toilets. Rather than septic tanks, pit latrines, or sewer systems, Fresh Life toilets collect waste in airtight containers. The biomass will eventually feed a centralized biogas digester, converting it into methane gas to produce electricity and nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be sold on market. Sanergy projects that in 2013 the company will operate 1,000 toilets, generating enough energy to begin selling power directly back into the grid.
Sanergy could have been launched anywhere in the world, but Ani says that Nairobi made sense because when it comes to sanitation in Kenya, consumers seem to be “hacking together solutions like flying toilets.” That showcases a market opportunity for solutions. Contrary to what many people may think of when they imagine African slums, businesses are thriving. Customers are more than willing to pay for services if they are affordable and available. And with fertilizer prices in Kenya twice the global average because of a lack of domestic production and an ever-growing demand for energy, Sanergy won’t be hard-pressed to find customers for its secondary products.
PeePoople: Just A Bag?
PeePoople, a social enterprise from Sweden, is also making a (waterless) splash in Nairobi’s slums. The company recently received a 1.6 million-Euro grant to pilot the sales of small single-use hygienic bags called "PeePoos," which turn human waste into fertilizer.
The bags sanitize the waste shortly after defecation, preventing it from contaminating the surrounding environment. After just a few weeks, the bags convert the waste into a nutrient-rich fertilizer. The PeePoo bags, which sell at a PeePoople-subsidized cost of three Kenyan shillings each (about three cents) are used at home, then returned to one of two "dropoff" points where customers get a 1-shilling incentive refund for returning the bags.
While some may protest the idea of using nothing more than a chemically treated doggy bag as a "sanitation solution," consider the alternatives: The “flying toilets” and communal pit latrines leave much to be desired. Peepoople Co-founder Camilla Wirseen claims the bags have “a nice touch, nice feeling, and they don’t smell after you're done,” adding that the PeePoo is one of the few solutions that meets all of the requirements for the World Health Organization's guiding principles for "sanitation.” With no running water and little space to build proper toilets, the PeePoo is certainly an innovative, if not entirely attractive, personal option.
Ecotact: A Homegrown Solution
It’s not just international entrepreneurs hawking new toilets in Kenya. The first company to privatize the fledging sanitation sector in 2006 was Ecotact, a homegrown social enterprise that set out to bring clean, affordable, pay-per-use toilets and showers to Kenya’s urban centers.
In five years, the company has installed more than 40 “Ikotoilet” facilities across the country, all running profitably and collectively serving more than 30,000 people a day. “We invest in innovations,” says founder and CEO David Kuria, a former architect with an MBA and a passion for social solutions. When Ecotact came about, “urban public sanitation was a nightmare... so we started with the toilet because we felt it was the most complex thing.” Originally, the company intended to simply pilot innovative santiation models before letting other private companies or the government scale them, but demand was so high that they simply couldn’t abandon them
The Ikotoilet runs on a unique build-operate-transfer model that depends on participation, and ultimate ownership, of government municipalities, which must lease public land to Ecotact at no cost. Ecotact then agrees to build and run an Ikotoilet facility for five years or until the company has recouped its costs; at the end of the contract, the company gives the government the option of renewing the lease or taking over the Ikotoilet themselves. The hope is that the government takes these facilities over.
In Kuria’s view, public sanitation is about creating social equity for the poor by giving everyone the choice of a clean, private space to go to the bathroom or shower. It’s the basic right of sanitation that, in many instances, governments aren’t providing.
In Kawangware, a slum 15 kilometers outside of Nairobi, Jane Wangu is the head cashier of an Ikotoilet facility, and has worked there since it opened nearly a year ago. Wangu, a widowed mother of three, sees her job as “community work” that has a big impact on her neighbors' lives. She even cites instances of residents in surrounding neighborhoods instructing their guests to use the Ikotoilet instead of their own rudimentary facilities at home.
The Ikotoliet in the Central Business District of Nairobi, directly in front of the National Archives, even has an M-Pesa (mobile money) agent station and a shoe-shine service. The community atmosphere surrounding the Ikotoilets—along with Ecotact’s efforts to promote sanitation in schools, leverage celebrity endorsements, and produce an “eco-digest” magazine—demonstrates how the company is thinking “beyond the toilet” to pursue a shift in public attitudes toward sanitation.
More Choice Than Number One or Number Two
These projects aren’t only important to Kenyans. Some 2.6 billion people around the world lack access to proper sanitation. This Saturday, November 19, is World Toliet Day, an event meant to turn the world’s attention to a problem that isn’t talked about enough.
There is incredible potential in a toilet. Beyond offering a sense of dignity and major public health advantages to citizens, a toilet can create energy for a city, fertilizer for farms, and employment for young and disadvantaged citizens. Thanks to these three social business, Kenyans can pay just five shillings (about six cents)—the price of piece of candy on the street—for something they didn't have before: a choice in sanitation. Whether it’s a bag, a box, or a clean facility with a personal shower or bathroom, having that choice makes a big difference.

Compuware Warns Of Mainframe Skills Shortages

An IBM mainframe computer pictured in 1964. Wikimedia Commons photo.
An IBM mainframe computer pictured in 1964. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Reporting Matt Roush
 Compuware Corp. (Nasdaq:CPWR) Monday released the results of an independent research study into mainframe use in the enterprise. Key findings from the international survey indicate that a retiring mainframe workforce is exposing enterprises to rising costs and increased business risks.
In the study of 520 CIOs, 71 percent state they are concerned that the looming mainframe skills shortage will hurt their business. Specifically, CIOs are concerned this will result in increased application risk (58 percent), reduced productivity (58 percent) and more project overruns (53 percent).
“One minute of a mainframe application outage can cost nearly $14,000 in lost revenue for the average enterprise, according to this study,” said Kris Manery, senior vice president and general manager of Compuware’s mainframe solutions business unit. “The research also confirms that these already high costs — and the associated business risks — are poised to increase because of looming skills shortages. Experienced developers are business-critical assets, which is why nearly half (43 percent) of mainframe operational expenses goes toward their salaries. The loss of expertise as they retire will lead to increased costs as inexperienced developers spend more time getting to grips with their mainframe applications. Unfortunately, this steep learning curve also means that there are more chances for error and ultimately loss of revenue through application outages.”
Some 79 percent of CIOs confirm that mainframe application outages pose a significant business risk, yet 78 percent say these applications will remain a key business asset over the next decade. However, while the study identified rising costs resulting from developer shortages, 70 percent of CIOs agree that cost cutting will expose more risks than rewards.
“Businesses must act quickly to address the problem of ‘mainframe brain drain’ or suffer a cycle of spiraling costs and mainframe outages,” Manery said. “The overall challenge for CIOs here is resource management. Savvy CIOs will streamline mainframe investments by improving the productivity of the remaining experienced developers and new entrants, as well as increasing IT efficiency.”
The study was commissioned by Compuware and conducted by the independent research company Vanson Bourne. It queried 520 CIOs in large enterprise organizations with over 1,000 employees. Specifically, the study included 100 CIOs each in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the United States along with 30 CIOs each in Italy, Benelux, Japan and Australia.
Compuware’s mainframe products help the world’s leading organizations maximize developer productivity, minimize costs and deliver better service. The products are available within the Compuware Workbench, an open development environment that features an intuitive and easy-to-use graphical user interface. The Workbench makes common mainframe tasks faster and simpler to perform for both experienced mainframers as well those new to mainframe, enabling companies to develop new services faster, more efficiently and with higher quality utilizing existing resour

Digital Cinema Killing 35mm Film

R. Colin Johnson |

Digital cinema based on inexpensive MEMS mirror-arrays has fueled a worldwide switchover to the digital cinema format from 35mm celluloid film cinemas, predicted to be complete by 2015. By the end of 2011, 35mm celluloid film use will pass the point of no return as the 50 percent mark is surpassed in digital cinema conversion.

The worldwide 35mm distribution of all major motion pictures will likely cease in 2015 when the number of traditional celluloid-film projectors will drop to less than 17 percent worldwide, relegating them to showing legacy films rather than new releases. According to IHS iSuppli's Digest Cinema Intelligence Service, the "reign of celluloid 35mm will come to an end in two short months [Jan. 2012] when the majority of cinema screens go digital."

The celluloid film industry is more than 120 years old, creating legends galore, from Hollywood to Kodak. The ability to create high intensity projectors with digital light processors (DLP)--micro-mirror chips from Texas Instruments--has enabled the digital cinema to reach into even rural theaters. IHS iSuppli predicts that by the end of 2012, 35mm film cinemas will decline to just 37 percent, the exact opposite of 2010 when digital screens were just 32 percent.

Digital remasters have been made from nearly all legacy 35mm films. And the quality of the digital video cameras has improved to the point where they rival the scans made of legacy celluloid films that now populate the world's digital archives of all Hollywood films.

"Movie theaters are undergoing a rapid transition to digital technology, spurred initially by the rising popularity of 3D films," said David Hancock, head of film and cinema research at IHS. "This is resulting in the rapid decline of 35mm, first losing its status as the dominant cinema technology in early 2012 and then causing it to dwindle to insignificance in four years."

Hancock claimed that the movie Avatar drove the stake in the heart of 35mm celluloid cinemas; every outlet wanted it, but only those that went digital could screen the movie in 3D. Since Avatar, the conversion to digital has jumped into double digit growth, at a 17 percent increase for the last two years. But by 2015, the phased transition to digital will be complete as the United States and the five largest countries in Western Europe will pass the critical 80 percent penetration mark where it is no longer economical to distribute celluloid films.

While the era of 35mm will end at that time, there will still be films circulating in print for art cinemas. Ironically, these last prints may increase in value as they circulate among a relatively small number of theaters dedicated to keeping the legacy of traditional film alive, according to IHS.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Will IT certs get you jobs and raises? Survey says yes

60% of IT professionals surveyed say a certification led to a new job, and half say it gave a salary boost. But some certs are more valuable than others.

By Julie Bort 
Debate rages among IT professionals over the value of certifications, but a survey of 700 network professionals jointly conducted by Network World and SolarWinds may help put that argument to rest. Among those who earned certifications, most saw a significant boost in their careers as a result.
Some 60% said a certification led to a new job; 50% said they earned more pay, with 40% saying their pay increased by more than 10% directly because of a certification; and 29% said a cert led to a promotion.
Respondents also offered advice on when to get certifications and which ones to get. Interestingly, they named Cisco certifications as both the most, and the least, valuable.
FULL SURVEY RESULTS: Survey: IT certifications lead to jobs, higher pay
"I have certifications, and yes they've been a big help to me," says Jeff Schoonmaker, a junior network administrator in Portland, Ore., who has a Cisco CCNA, a Microsoft MCITP (Enterprise Desktop Administrator) and the CompTIA A+. Schoonmaker has been an IT professional for a little over a year and says his CCNA helped land him his job and the MCITP has already led to a promotion. He's working on his CCNP, and when he achieves that, he'll get another promotion.
"As far as my career is concerned, certifications are huge. I will continue to chase certs from Microsoft and Cisco throughout my career," he says.
Half of respondents said they pursued certifications to get a promotion or to be eligible for a new job. "My company wanted a Microsoft-certified IT manager, so the MCSA helped me get the job I am currently in," said one respondent. "I was able to stay working for a defense contractor when one contract expired by moving to a different contract due to the certifications I held," another said.
Since three-quarters of respondents had certifications, that means one-quarter (26%) saw no value in them. "I have no certs to my name at all. I do have an MBA. I have been in IT hardware and network admin/engineer roles for over a decade now without a single piece of paper related to the field. You learn as you go, better than you learn in some stupid classroom," commented James7360 on a Spiceworks forum.
But James7360 is in the minority. Even network professionals earning the highest wages -- more than $110,000 -- had as many, or more, certs as those in lower salary brackets.
That's not to say that the certs themselves are solely responsible for these high salaries. Those earning the most money also had more years of experience (75% had more than 10 years) and more traditional education (25% had a master's degree, compared to 11% in the lower salary brackets).
But even so, among the highest-paid IT professionals who had certs, 58% said a cert led to a salary boost or bonus, 63% said it led to a promotion, and 30% to a new job. These numbers are similar to those in the lower salary brackets, who also overwhelmingly said that certs lead to a salary boost or bonus (55%), new job (62%), or promotion (27%).
Those earning the highest wages, $110,000 or more a year, were also more likely to have particularly difficult (and expensive) certifications, like the CCIE, RHCE or CISSP.
"I have had a certification lead to a new job or promotion, the CISSP, which isn't even a technical certification. It really teaches how to control and translate security into business objectives. But it is required for a lot of security jobs and has requirements like ongoing education in order to maintain it," says Lee Eddy II, a senior security analyst in Redwood City, Calif., with more than 10 years of experience as an IT professional. The CISSP helped Eddy land a job with a big salary increase, and is mandated for most of the higher-paid jobs in his field, he says.
The value of a certification clearly depends on a lot of factors. Some hiring managers want them more than others, and timing is an issue, too.
"I'd have to say certs tend to be more valuable when they are coupled with the building of experience," says Craig Norborg, a network engineer for Trowbridge & Trowbridge, Albuquerque, N.M., with more than 15 years of experience and a variety of certs, including the CCNP, CCDA, MCSE, SCP (Solarwinds Certified Professional) and others.
"If you get them too early, people think they're book certs. If you get them too late, you're just proving what you already know, which may not be required," Norborg points out. "Employers are pretty suspicious of many high-end certs from a young person, or someone just entering the field."
The difficulty of the certs and the type of technology they cover can also add value - or not. "My MCSE hasn't really done anything for me. My last two employers actually would rather I not touch servers, but instead specialize in networking," Norborg says. Note that for Windows Server 8 and beyond, Microsoft has discontinued its umbrella MCSE certification in favor of a range of technology-specific, MCITP certs.
In a survey of network professionals, it's not surprising that certifications on network technology were the most popular and deemed the most valuable. Some 67% of respondents had earned one, with Cisco certifications far and away the most popular. Forty-four percent of those making more than $110,000 had the ultra-hard (and expensive) CCIE. Among those with lower salaries, only 4% had earned it. Microsoft certs were held by 39% overall, and the CompTIA Network+ by almost one quarter.
Cisco certifications were named the most valuable - leading to more promotions, new jobs or pay raises than any other. But, oddly, Cisco certifications were also named among the least valuable.
"I do think networking certifications are the most valuable when coupled with some real-world experience. I wouldn't have gotten my last two positions without them," Norborg says. "It also depends on the cert itself. CCNA is OK. CCNP, CCDA and CCDP are better. I'm sure CCIE is even better, but once again, they'd be suspicious of a very young person with one."
Eddy adds: "The reason Cisco certs are seen as most valuable and least valuable is that it depends on the certification. The CCNA is entry-level and easy to get, but the CCIE is still hard and a lot of employers want it."
Security certifications also came in strong. Over one-third of respondents had one, with the CompTIA Security+ the most common. Among respondents making more than $110,000 annually, security certifications were held by 38%, particularly the CCSP, earned by 36% of this group. In comparison, only 9% of those making less than $110,000 had the CCSP but 32% had the CompTIA Security+.
The least popular certifications were for network management technology - only 17% of our 700 respondents had one. While network management is often categorized as a mid-level job, surprisingly, those that earned the biggest salaries, over $110,000, were far more likely to have one (40%) than those under $110,000 (22%).
Linux certifications and sysadmin/virtualization certifications came in as middle of the pack in both popularity and value.
Least popular of all were certs involving virtualization technology from Citrix or Red Hat.
Beyond jobs and promotions, some certification holders felt that certs had other value. One said, "As I'm the only member of IT staff here, people have become aware of the more complicated jobs I perform here, having seen the certifications I've passed."
Twenty-seven percent of survey respondents said they chose to get a certification simply to learn about the technology, not to pocket more dough. While no one argues that a cert is more valuable than hands-on experience, "they can be helpful when implementing a new technology," Eddy says. "One of the things I like to negotiate with a new purchase order is that the vendor throws in the certification on their product."
He also says he gets the most value out of live classroom training. In a group setting, people will experience and troubleshoot a wider variety of problems as they learn. It will also help you build a network of other users to call on when you need it.
For more details on which certifications impact jobs and pay, see the full survey results.

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Full disk encryption is too good, says US intelligence agency

Full disk encryption is too good, says US intelligence agency

By Sebastian Anthony

You might be shocked to learn this, but when a quivering-lipped Chloe from 24 cracks the encryption on a terrorist’s hard drive in 30 seconds, the TV show is faking it. “So what? It’s just a TV show.” Well, yes, but it turns out that real federal intelligence agencies, like the FBI, CIA, and NSA, also have a problem cracking
encrypted hard disks — and according to a new research paper, this is a serious risk to national security.
The study, titled “The growing impact of full disk encryption on digital forensics,” illustrates the difficulty that CSI teams have in obtaining enough digital data to build a solid case against criminals. According to the researchers, one of which is a member of US-CERT [1] — the US government’s primary defense against internet and digital threats — there are three main problems with full disk encryption (FDE): First, evidence-gathering goons can turn off a computer (for transportation) without realizing it’s encrypted, and thus can’t get back at the data (unless the arrestee gives up his password, which he doesn’t have to do); second, if the analysis team doesn’t know that the disk is encrypted, it can waste hours trying to read something that’s ultimately unreadable; and finally, in the case of hardware-level disk encryption [2], tampering with the device can trigger self-destruction of the data.
The paper does go on to suggest some ways to ameliorate these issues, though: Better awareness at the evidence-gathering stage would help, but it also suggests “on-scene forensic acquisition” of data, which involves ripping unencrypted data from volatile, live memory (with the cryogenic RAM freezing technique [3], presumably). Ultimately, though, the researchers aren’t hopeful: “Research is needed to develop new techniques and technology for breaking or bypassing full disk encryption,” concludes the paper.
It’s a tough situation: On the one hand, being able to crack full disk encryption is vital for the prosecution of white-collar criminals, child porn ringleaders, pharmaceutical spam barons [4], and the curtailment of terrorism — but on the other, it’s quite satisfying to know that, perhaps at long last, we have a way of escaping the ireful eye of Big Brother. Where do you stand on FDE?