Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Alec Jeffreys: The Father of the DNA Evidence warns of Database usage

It's 25 years since Alec Jeffreys made the accidental discovery of the first DNA fingerprint, which transformed forensics – and his life.

The first DNA "fingerprint" was a murky pattern on X-ray film. Did you realise the potential of what you had stumbled upon?

On that Monday morning 25 years ago I remember putting the light on, looking at the patterns and thinking "what a horrible mess". Then the penny dropped. We realised the potential for DNA identification within about a minute and then the possible applications came flooding in. By evening we had a pretty good shopping list of the stuff that DNA could, theoretically, be applied to.

DNA fingerprinting has enabled so much, from solving crimes and paternity disputes to freeing innocent prisoners from death row. Is there one story that stands out for you?

The first case we ever did. It was an immigration dispute involving a young lad threatened with deportation from the UK. We did a DNA test, showed he was a full member of his family, and the immigration tribunal dropped the case. I was there when his mother was told. That was the magic moment for me, when I saw the science move into a very different realm.

DNA databases attract controversy, especially in the UK where DNA profiles gathered by police are retained regardless of guilt. How should we deal with that?

Databases should be governed through proper legislation that prohibits the taking and retention of entirely innocent people's DNA. That's a major violation of the Human Rights Act.

Is it really such a problem to be on a database?

Having your DNA on a database - to be branded the same as a criminal - is painful for a considerable number of people. And I've not heard those people have a voice in this debate.

What are the biggest issues for DNA technology in the future?

Not so far down the track, you'll be able to send a mouth swab off and get a complete genome sequence back - all 3000 million bases. Then there will be a million-and-one issues. Who stores the data? Who owns it? The idea that I can plough around my genome willy-nilly finding out fun things about me - that could have a very big impact on family members too. Because my genome is mine, but really it's not - I share it.

What mind-boggling future applications of DNA sequencing do you foresee?

The idea of finding out someone's surname from their DNA might sound completely bonkers, but it's not. Also miniaturisation: getting a lab-on-a-chip you can take out to a crime scene. But the Holy Grail for the field is to get instant DNA typing, to get it in 1 second flat. Then you have DNA entering the world of real-time security.

What does that mean in practice?

Imagine going to the supermarket 20 years from now. To use your credit card, you don't have a PIN that everyone can see. Instead, you spit on something, and there's a little DNA detector that says "yeah, that's right". And away you go.

Profile
Alec Jeffreys is a geneticist at the University of Leicester, UK. In 1984 he invented genetic fingerprinting, which identifies individuals based on their DNA. He was knighted in 1994

Economic Indocators


The signs are everywhere. You know the economy is struggling big time when your underwear is old, the armed forces don't need recruits, there's a hot resale market for cemetery plots, you can't find the local pro football game on TV, your rich neighbors are clipping coupons, and your waitress looks like Megan Fox. That is, if you're eating out at restaurants at all.

New Google Wave Beta Testing - Released to 100,000 Users



Here are some of the Google Wave features and add-ons that could drive real benefits for organizations:

Ribbit (currently in beta) brings in audio with its conference call gadget and message gadget, incorporating real-time audio streaming and recorded messages (including a transcript) in the associated wave. No means of communication left behind!

Salesforce.com is working on a prototype extension to Google Wave that could help its customers provide customized, documented support in their own businesses — leveraging the cloud-based platforms and interactive capabilities. Support cases are maintained and updated, from initial point of contact to resolution within the wave. Google Wave, with the ability to interact with other cloud platforms, could change the way customer support is handled.

SAP is working on a prototype for business process modeling called Gravity. Using the communication integration capabilities of Wave, users collaborate on business process modeling activities in near real time — working together to approve models, find windows of opportunity for business process automation and help build a strategy for execution and refinement of the processes.

It’s still early days for the Wave technology (some bugs and kinks need to be worked out) but it all looks promising and a tool for CIOs to embrace

China Celebrates 60 Years from Mao to Now

China's achievements in the last 60 years have come in zigs and zags. The best place to look back at what China went through in the past six decades is Tiananmen, or the Gate of Heavenly Peace.

Behind it lies the Imperial Palace, or Forbidden City, where China's Emperors used to live.

The emperor is now history, but Tiananmen remains Beijing's political center.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In Liquid and Air, Scientists Find Order Among the Chaos - NYTimes.com

In Liquid and Air, Scientists Find Order Among the Chaos - NYTimes.com

Assisted by instruments that can track in fine detail how parcels of fluid move, and by low-cost computers that can crunch vast amounts of data quickly, researchers have found hidden structures beyond Monterey Bay, structures that explain why aircraft meet unexpected turbulence, why the air flow around a car causes drag and how blood pumps from the heart's ventricles. In December, the journal Chaos will highlight the research under way to track the moving skeletons embedded in complex flows, known as Lagrangian coherent structures.

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Market Place - Looking at 5 Digits, Again, for the Dow - NYTimes.com

Market Place - Looking at 5 Digits, Again, for the Dow - NYTimes.com

The Dow, which closed up 124.17 points, at 9,789.36, on Monday, is within reach of 10,000. Who would have thought?

At the depths of Wall Street's crisis, when traders were despairing and shares of Citigroup were trading for just over a dollar, Dow 5,000 seemed a likelier prospect than this.

But now, one of the most-watched measures of the financial world is on the cusp of jumping back to five-digit territory.

That does not mean the economy's problems are over, or that 401(k)'s are going to be made whole anytime soon. In fact, this milestone could even stall the rally if enough investors use it as an opportunity to cash in their gains, analysts say.

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Fighting Conficker Update - Network World

Fighting Conficker - Network World

Before you tear all of your hair out, you do some more research and realize that running your anti-virus software alone may not clean the virus. Conficker has five known variants and can utilize the various versions to help itself spread fast and via different vectors. Looking at the research done by the Conficker Work Group, you find that the major anti-virus vendors have published a variety of repair tools that may clean the virus better than anti-virus alone. Furthermore, you start reading the fine print in the Microsoft Knowledge Base article on Conficker and you see that there is a Group Policy Object (GPO) that can be used to help stop the propagation of the worm.

Now what? First up: get the GPO in place as soon as possible and make sure you enforce it to all Organizational Units. This is not the right time to block inheritance of a policy! Next, you need to test how best to clean an infected machine. Typically, running a couple of tools (one being a full scan of the anti-virus) to find and clean the infection, then rebooting, then running the anti-virus again (full scan), along with having the GPO in place, will help clean and stop the spreading. Start with systems that are showing the account lockout traffic in your logs to focus efforts on known infected machines.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Flocking behaviour lands on social networking sites - USATODAY.com

'Flocking' behaviour lands on social networking sites - USATODAY.com

The interconnected web of our friends, family, neighbours and acquaintances may dominate our lives more than we know.

They've always been there, making up our social support systems but now, largely thanks to the burgeoning popularity of online social networks like Facebook, researchers are discovering what a powerful influence our connections - both online and off - really have over our lives.

"Those of us who study social networks believe they matter and that things do spread along social networks," says Claude Fischer, a sociology professor at the University of California-Berkeley.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Second Wave Swine Flu Hits Mexico - ABC News

Second Wave Swine Flu Hits Mexico - ABC News

The second wave of swine flu has arrived in Mexico, and they are bracing themeselves for an outbreak that may be even larger and more severe, than last spring, the first phase of the pandemic.

Daily diagnoses reached higher levels in September than the H1N1 peak in April, with 483 new cases in just one day this month alone.

It's unlikely there will be large-scale closings of schools and stadiums, however, because health officials know the virus is usually mild if treated early.

"We know the situation is not as serious" as officials feared last spring, said Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova.

Still, 3,000 schools across Mexico were closed earlier this week as a result of the virus. That number has dropped to 128, Education Secretary Alonso Lujambio told senators Wednesday, as he said officials are still developing the criteria they will use to shut down schools in the future.

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Michelle Singletary - The Color of Money: Overdraft 'Protection' Is Anything But - washingtonpost.com

Michelle Singletary - The Color of Money: Overdraft 'Protection' Is Anything But - washingtonpost.com

Who's the greater villain: the guy at a bar who has one drink too many or the bartender who sold him that drink?

If you think there's enough blame to go around, you'll agree there are two wrongs and two rights on the controversy surrounding bank overdraft protection fees.

It's wrong for financial institutions to prey -- and that is what they are doing -- on the carelessness of their customers.

It's also wrong for customers to complain about overdraft fees that they can largely avoid -- by keeping track of what's in their accounts and not overspending.

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Q&A: Why Michael Moore Hates Capitalism - TIME

Q&A: Why Michael Moore Hates Capitalism - TIME

I've been thinking about this for about the entire 20 years I've been making movies. Most of the subject matter all comes back to the simple theme of an economic system that is unfair and unjust, in which a few people with a lot of money are making decisions that cause a lot misery and heartache for millions of people.

So it wasn't a specific incident?
The Republicans and the Right Wing gave permission for all of us to use words we haven't used before: capitalism and socialism. So let's have a discourse. They called Obama a socialist because he told Joe the plumber he wanted to spread the wealth around. Then we had the crash and a month later Bush is talking about the glories of capitalism. I don't' remember in my lifetime where the President starts off a speech says, "And now class, today's topic is capitalism." They started using these words, so now it's on the table. Let's talk about it.

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An Emerging Threat to Oracle and SAP - Barrons.com

An Emerging Threat to Oracle and SAP - Barrons.com

ENTERPRISE SOFTWARE BEHEMOTHS ORACLE AND SAP face a small but potentially dangerous threat that could hurt their profitability over time. But you wouldn't know it from their shares, which have rallied smartly this year.

Since the advent of business-process software, maintenance fees charged by the software companies for fixing and upgrading clients' computing systems have been a lifeblood. These recurring fees provide a steady stream of revenue that often proves more lucrative than software sales. Maintenance fees account for more than 51% of Oracle's total revenue of $23.49 billion and boasts gross margins, including support, north of 90%.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Saving the World, Without U.S. Consumers - Room for Debate Blog - NYTimes.com

Saving the World, Without U.S. Consumers - Room for Debate Blog - NYTimes.com

If Americans don't start buying a lot of stuff again, can the world economy be saved? What's the global Plan B? What's China's role in all this?

These are fundamental questions at the summit of the Group of 20 industrialized and developing nations in Pittsburgh.


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Malware, Worms, Viruses - Clampi Trojan Renews Assault on Bank Accounts

Secure Channel - Malware, Worms, Viruses - Clampi Trojan Renews Assault on Bank Accounts

Sporadic reports are surfacing that the authentication credential stealing Trojan Clampi is regaining momentum and poised to begin a new round of stealthily siphoning cash from the bank accounts belonging to compromised users.

Clampi - also known as Ligats, Ilomo and Rscan - was first discovered in January 2008. The Trojan targets machines running nearly all versions of Windows and spreads as a drive-by download through Websites with compromised vulnerabilities in Flash and ActiveX. It sits in the background monitoring Web browsing activity, specifically log-ins to accounts with financial activity. Without impeding connections or PC performance, Clampi stealthily captures users' account IDs and authentication credentials and passes them to its master.

In recent months, Clampi has started spreading like a worm across networks with infected PCs. In a CNET report, SecureWorks' Joe Stewart explained that Clampi uses capture domain registration credentials to leverage the Windows SysInternals tool "psexec" to copy itself across all connected computers within a domain.

What makes Clampi different, according to published reports, is that it's monitoring a vast number of financially sensitive accounts. Banks and financial institutions are its prime target, but it's also monitoring retail sites, utilities, ad networks, government agencies, online casinos and military portals.

The threat is not contained to individual home users. The Washington Post previously reported Clampi is responsible for several large, unauthorized bank transfers. A Kentucky county lost more than $415,000 to cyber-criminals after a treasurer's PC was compromised. A Pennsylvania school district was hit to the tune of $700,000 and an auto parts store in Georgia lost $75,000, the newspaper reported.

The conventional advice for dealing with Clampi is much the same as with all malware in the wild: Update antivirus signatures, monitor inbound and outbound traffic, block traffic from suspicious or known malicious domains, and patch vulnerability applications and services. In his interview with CNET, Stewart went a step further to say that businesses should isolate PCs used for high-value activities such as managing financial transactions and that those same machines should never be used for browsing the Web or accessing e-mail.


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Thursday, September 24, 2009

It Takes the 'Right Stuff' to be a Good Leader. Do you have it?

You see here the Fantasy character Buzz Lightyear, recently returned from a tour of duty in the ISS. Carried there and back by one of the NASA astronauts, in the Shuttle Discovery. Science Fiction Fantasy meets Science Reality. The one a parody of the other.

We all know that there are many paths to follow that lead from Fantasy to Reality. The story of science fiction evolving into science fact can only happen when dedicated visionaries lead the way.

What do we look for in our leaders and how often do we find the 'right stuff'.


In depth knowledge, self confident and self-awareness has always been necessary to build good leaders but it was never enough. You also had to have the 'right stuff'. You need the ability and character to inspire, support and motivate before you can ultimately lead.

It may not be fashionable and it may not be 'the new, new thing' but the adage that the Leadership Model follows a hierarchy similar to that of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, is still relevant and very pertinent today.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs starts at the lowest level, with meeting basic neeeds before moving on to addressing issues with Safety and Security. Once that has been achieved, you can take into consideration the higher goal of finding and sharing Love, Affection and the sense of Belonging. The next step is to achieve Status and Esteem before finally climbing up to and sitting on the top of the world, brim full of Self Awareness, sometimes known as Actualisation.

Organisations still need Self-Aware leaders but there are no shortcuts. We need leaders who are able to progress through all the stages and completely fulfill the lower level needs. It's not acceptable to be a self confessed leader if you do not fully understand and accept the 3 dimensional nature of leadership and the voyage to the top that took you there.

Let's look back at the precipitous journey you are on or possibly, you have already completed.

1) Basic Wants/ Physiological Needs
At the base root of all organisation some core wants have to be addressed. They include the tools needed to survive and thrive. This is the core technical skills, in the leadership model. Clearly, if you want to be a Finance Manager, you need to know how to perform accounting tasks and understand the associated practices. Many skills are needed to sel but the main one will be the ability to be erudite.

All one needs to demonstrate, to future employers is that you have the core skills to do the job. Most leaders get promoted to successive levels of leadership through technical mastery but by being technically competent alone does not give them the skills or ability to be exceptional and charismatic leaders.

2) Safety & Security
Leaders need to provide their organisational units with structure and a competent framework to operate in. They need to develop the hierarchy, roles and responsibilities and, most importantly they need to provide the organisational employees with the criteria and opportunity to be successful.

To clamber up to the second level of leadership, a good leader must provide his team with the precise operational model that will make them not only feel secure but also instil a philosophy of positive attitude and how to approach success.

Poor leaders rely heavily on their ego to direct them. They believe that they can be the all powerful king in the midst of disarray and chaos. They think they are controlling and directing the masses but in reality they are burning valuable resources, whilst lurching from crisis to crisis.

A good leader creates the framework where every employee not only feels secure operating in and focusing on his job but also has a repeatable chance of being creative and successful. They have the chance to stretch themselves and not fear the consequences of loss or failure because their leader is there to guide and support them, throughout. They do their job well and the organisation benefits.

3) Love, Affection and Belonging
This builds on from the creation of a safe and secure environment and leads us into the need and ability to foster cohesive teamwork. The basic requirements here is that the leader needs to ensure that his team players are working well together but he also has to ensure that his team plays well within the whole organisation and can work well with 'others'.

You are not provided with the chance to model a team from a single piece of clay. you have to build this team from the wide assortment of characters and personalities that this world provides. Even after the skilled HR department has carefully filtered,selected and processed the candidates.

You have a team of disparate (or desperate) people from different backgrounds, brought together for a common purpose and it is your challenge to make them interact in a positive, productive and interactive way by building good, strong relationships.

Poor or weak leadership can easily create divisions, within and without your locality. It is so easy to create a self-protective silo mentality that spends too much energy and time defending itself from outside 'influences' and gets caught up in 'power' struggles. What you don't want is to be a stressed out head of a dysfunctional family unit that is feuding with it's neighbours. You need to actively create a common sense of purpose that transcends boundaries and divisions.

4) Esteem
As we mature in our organisational interactions with others, professional respect and appropriate response, may be all that really matters. For a leader to be considered a good leader, this respect has to be born of an independent outlook and a strong vision. Discard fear and intrepidation, actively and sincerely appreciate what every person is bringing to the table.

A good leader will not give respect lightly. You will need to prove your worth through your commitment and your actions. Talk alone does not do it. A good leader looks at the role you play in the organisation and will treat you with the respect the role commands, unless or until, you prove unworthy of it.

5) Self-Awareness
Do you consider yourself to be a 'good well balanced, human being'. Self Awareness is 'presence', 'authority', 'charisma', 'qudos', etc. The ability a leader possess, by the sheer power of his positive presence. One in which he is able to hold a clear vision, taking a higher road that puts the interests of his organisation to the fore.

The self-aware leader never takes credit for the actions of their team, there is no 'gray area of interpretation' on morals or ethics. A self-aware leader is in the spotlight 24x7, laid bare before the organisation, always on call for their people.

A good leader is inspiring and consistent in their judgement. They are fair, balanced and trustworthy. People are driven and motivated by a good leader. They respect them but are not diminished or intimidated by them.

If you know a good organisations that is looking for good leaders. Tell them to clearly and honestly, examine their true requirements and goals. The 3 dimensional levels of needs that they want to meet and satisfy.

Remember that truly successful organisations must be led by thoroughly 'good human beings', people of good character. These are the only people who will lead us from deception and fantasy into the harsh reality of the future, and they will deal with it appropriately, when we get there.

The Rising Cost of Money: The Pound (GBP)

A photo taken at the charity auction held by Clydesdale Bank in Glasgow, of a historic 1836 Scottish £1 note which has sold for what is thought to be a world record £9,000

A photo taken at the charity auction held by Clydesdale Bank in Glasgow, of a historic 1836 Scottish £1 note which has sold for what is thought to be a world record £9,000

New York Wall Street: Unemployment is over 10% and rising

A crowd appears outside Federal Hall on Wall Street where President Obama was promoting regulatory reform.
The growing unemployment rates in New York is reaching record proportions and empty rhetoric is not solving the problem.
Are the New Yorkers waking up and becoming restless over the growing reality? How long will they wait patiently for definitive action?
The American people have high expectations that President Obama is their saviour and that he alone can lead them out of this wilderness but there are signs that the honeymoon is almost over and they want to see some real progress, now.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Economic Budget Savings: Maintenance Cuts

To help save money, IT groups are being asked to cut back -- in some cases, dramatically -- on their maintenance contracts with vendors. So instead of paying a premium for vendors to, say, fix any problems in key software and hardware within four hours, a 24-hour turnaround might have to suffice instead. Sometimes things stay broken until IT staffers can figure out the fixes themselves. And in the meantime, ITers involved say, they just hope that their business users will not notice any ill effects.

Jim Milde, executive vice president of global services for Boston-based IT services company Keane Inc., estimated that of his largest customers -- in pharmaceuticals, insurance, finance, government and transportation -- around 10% are cutting maintenance costs in various ways.

pennies

This trend is being seen in pockets all over the industry, IT staffers and industry analysts agree. But given the sensitivity of the issue, and often the politics involved, most ITers would speak about it only on the condition that they not be identified.

Why cut?

Lauren Whitehouse of Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass., said companies "have to do what they have to do" to get by today. By cutting or renegotiating maintenance pacts, companies trim costs so that they can perhaps avoid or reduce layoffs or still have money to spend on innovative new projects that will help grow the business when the economy does rebound, Whitehouse said.

"Hypothetically, 70% of your budget is for keeping the lights on and 30% is for moving the business forward" strategically in the future, she said. "So you look at the 70% to see what you can squeeze out there so you can keep the strategic stuff going."

For many clients, service-level cuts are "the last straw," Keane's Milde said. "We've seen clients go at rate reductions or cutting baseline support, but it's always with the caveat that they want to keep the trains running."

One IT staffer, a software engineer for a $1.5 billion Midwestern sporting goods manufacturer, said maintenance cuts came to his company after lots of other paring was done, including layoffs of about 20% of the IT staff.

What's being cut

In the past, the sporting-goods IT staffer said, a typical IT maintenance contract purchased by his company specified that if a piece of equipment failed, the vendor would have someone on site within four hours to replace or repair it, he said. "Now, our philosophy is that if it breaks, we'll just go to the store" and buy a replacement.

"As recently as two years ago, whenever you bought anything -- software or hardware -- whatever the maintenance agreement was, you bought it all," the engineer said. "That is totally seen as a luxury now that can no longer be afforded."

Savings can be substantial. The sporting-goods maker paid $30,000 for one application and another $16,000 for an annual maintenance agreement on the application, but now maintenance has been cut altogether. And, he said, "We're cutting those kinds of things across the board."

Another user, an IT manager in the financial services industry and a board member of The Computer Measurement Group, said that while maintenance cuts are being made at his firm, they are occurring only in less important areas -- in human-resources systems, for instance, or Internet access for employees.

One CIO, Jim Prevo of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. in Waterbury, Vt., said he's not cutting maintenance contracts at this point, but that he can see the wisdom in it as an approach for some.

"It could make sense," Prevo said in an e-mail reply to a query. In general, maintenance contracts "should be based on business requirements. If the cost of downtime is reduced due to business decline, then it might make sense to spend less for uptime. Also, if you drop second shift [work], for example, you wouldn't necessarily need certain coverage for that shift in terms of help desk or assurances the systems are all working at night."

Halfway measures

The sporting-goods firm has also cut maintenance contracts on the network side. In the past, two providers were paid to maintain network redundancy and zero tolerance for failure. That's been cut to one, and now the company accepts outages of up to four hours under the new, cheaper contract.

The sporting-goods maker also used to have a policy that when an IT manufacturer declared a product had reached the end of its life cycle, maintenance contracts might be continued until a replacement plan was created. "Now the plan is to just run it until it breaks," then decide whether to replace it, the engineer said.

Jack Santos, a CIO executive strategist with the Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, said that he's not seeing a lot of his clients taking these actions yet. "That's more the exception than the rule" so far, Santos said. "That's not to say it's a bad idea."

He has, however, seen small to midsize firms reduce third-party help desk services for nights and weekends. "Often times employees aren't happy about it, but given the economic conditions if it's the difference between a workforce reduction and an inconvenience, they'll take the latter."

Where cuts are not being made

The only places where the sporting-goods firm avoided maintenance cuts altogether were in customer-facing applications, including customer Web portals, which generate revenue for the business. If the Web portals go down, "then our U.S. dealers can't order parts for our products," which cuts revenue, the engineer explained.

As for the financial-services firm, "if it's critical and customer-facing, even in these cost-cutting times, that will not be changed," the manager said. "Anytime you have any regulatory obligations, there is no way that you ... have that luxury to save money there."

In the non-critical areas, "maybe you can cut in areas such as turnaround time" for support and repairs, the financial-services manager said. "You can still look for cheaper solutions, but you'd look for them with a guarantee for the same level of service."

Pain points: Effects on the business

A network accelerator, which compresses traffic to get more speed over the network, recently broke at the sporting-goods firm. IT couldn't call the vendor to fix it, the engineer said, because there's no longer a maintenance contract on it. So his company began looking for a used replacement on eBay. "We lived without the extra speed while it was being replaced; everything just slowed down," he said. The device has since been replaced.

For their part, end users "were noticing the cuts," he said. "The network slowed down. . . and people don't like that." That caused new trouble tickets to be generated due to speed complaints, which overloaded the IT staff with even more work.

"They're generally OK when they're told it's going to hurt," he said of cuts and their effects on company workers. "Then when it hurts, they don't like it. We spent some time in meetings where we had to remind people that they agreed to this" when the cuts were looming. "Everyone wants a fuel-efficient car, but they still want it to go fast."

"Different groups [of users] inside a company might negotiate for different service levels, and the squeaky wheel gets the grease," consultant Whitehouse said. When IT services are shifted around due to budget and maintenance cuts, the users suffering the greatest cuts are the ones who are most unhappy and most vocal. "I'm sure this goes on on a regular basis," she said. "I think it's more pronounced this year because of the general cuts."

Green Mountain's Prevo pointed out that cutting back on maintenance in areas including security could make corporate IT systems more vulnerable in some cases.

Maintenance cuts can cause noticeable performance hits for users, Keane's Milde said. "Sometimes mistakes happen and sometimes balls are dropped. We definitely have had that happen at a couple of customer accounts," he explained. "It's fairly clear, it takes a certain amount of resources to support a certain number of applications."

In the end, maintenance cuts mean that end users will have to solve many of their own IT problems, including finding answers to questions online rather than dialing a help desk, Milde said.

Going forward

The engineer's guess is that in the future, killing maintenance on software won't happen as much inside his sporting-goods company. "Vendors have been lobbying us really hard" to reinstitute the maintenance contracts, "giving us discounts, and are starting to soften policies and prices to try to get us back." In the future, maintenance contracts will once again become the norm in his company as new gear is purchased, he believes. "For the old stuff that's already in place, [though,] I don't see it coming back."

At the same time, there's a bad precedent for IT departments in getting adequate performance out of a lowered budget, Whitehouse said. "Companies don't want to show they can do the same with less because they'll get less next year." The biggest risk is not ever getting back to the pre-cut levels.

Burton Group's Santos said he's also seen changes driven by the tough economy in server virtualization popularity, "since consolidation of servers directly impacts hardware maintenance costs, as well as floor space and energy costs. That has been a very positive trend."

Another thing Santos expects to see are on-the-fly price cuts for maintenance contracts as companies reduce workers and seek corresponding reductions in the IT licenses and services they are buying now. As workers are added again, contracts can quickly be readjusted upward to cover new users, he said.

Even with the dramatic cutbacks needed to cope with the economic climate, however, there might be a silver lining, Santos says.

Companies don't want to show they can do the same with less because they'll get less next year.
Lauren Whitehouse, consultant, the Enterprise Strategy Group

"Some companies are probably overcutting -- they're going to lose staff, they're going to lose the commitment from their vendors," Santos said. "There's no question about that. But I think the large majority are doing the right thing and doing what they should have been doing in the good times. From 2003 to 2006, when times were easier, they were not being as observant and conservative. They should have paid more attention."

Parallel Strategic Risk Profile of omnipotent Bankers versus omnipresent Bacteria

WHETHER you call the current financial situation a setback, a crisis or a meltdown, it has had at least one positive effect: financiers are searching for new ways to deal with complex risk.
Let's examine a new suggestion for them. Look to again at nature, where analogous problems have already been solved by engineers and computer scientists.

Bacteria, for example, have a robust, adaptive regulatory system that optimises the growth of the colony under any set of conditions. They adapt to the composition of their growth medium, the acidity, temperature and salinity of their environment, attack by other organisms and many other threats.
Adaptation and survival, depends on regulatory systems built into the system itself, and yet this regulation does not constrain growth or innovation.

What does this have to do with finance?
Clearly, there are formal similarities and parallel comparisons can be made from the architectures of financial systems and biological systems. Financial systems are composed of institutions - banks, pension funds, finance houses, insurance companies and the like.
These create credible packaged products; mortgages, mutual funds, insurance policies and credit default swaps. Consumers, by their nature, have confidence in these institutions and buy and sell these 'products', funds flow throughout the system and, in normal circumstances, growth follows.
In a bacterial colony, the equivalent of institutions are interactive chemical pathways - families of enzymes and metabolic reactions that are linked together to perform necessary functions. These create products in the form of molecules such as DNA, ATP, proteins and lipids.
These products are then used or consumed, by the bacteria and normally growth occurs. The most succesful of these reactions have risen to the top through an evolutionary process that rewards success.

In both financial and bacterial systems, commitment to growth does not come without risks. In financial systems, a party to a contract may not be able to meet its' obligations. In bacterial systems, molecules and organic elements that are necessary for growth may be missing or depleted.
Financial instruments may lose value because of price fluctuations and diverse market trends. A bacterial colony's external media may literally dry up or be excessively consumed. Financial markets may lack liquidity. Micro-organisms may lose their ability to generate their central energy molecule, ATP.

Bacteria have remarkable arrays of response mechanisms that protect them against these and other threats. While some regulatory mechanisms are engaged to counter specific threats, others operate in a more general way to protect against threats that the organism has not yet encountered. Bacteria also optimise growth for any external and internal conditions. That is why they represent an excellent system on which to base a model financial system.

Finance and biology are distant fields, of course, but there is a way to bridge them: engineering. Recently, my research group and others have found that biological systems such as bacterial colonies can be analysed and modelled using tools developed to study "hybrid systems", which are characterised by a combination of both continuous and discrete dynamic behaviour.
The classic example is a bouncing ball; other examples are air traffic control, production plants and wireless networks. This leads me to believe that we can use those same tools to analyse financial systems and make them more resilient.

As another example, consider two cars approaching an intersection. This is a hybrid system because the cars move smoothly forward but also stop, start and change direction. How do you ensure that the cars pass without crashing? How do you get them through in the fastest time possible? Can a system of regulators be designed to optimise both safety and speed? Where will the cars be at some specified time after they pass?

Now multiply the number of cars by 1000 and add many more intersections. The problems become very difficult to solve, but not impossible. I suggest that the corresponding problems in the financial world - to avoid crashes, maximise productivity, design a regulatory system and predict the future - are equally accessible to our analytical tools.

First, though, we need to analyse finance as a hybrid system. I'm confident we can do that because of recent work showing that the tools we use to analyse such systems are applicable to biology.

Two results in particular will resonate with the financial sector. One predicts which bacterial genes are essential and which can be knocked out without killing the organism. This is the bacterial version of asking "is this bank too big to fail; if I get rid of it, will the whole system crash?"
The second models how flocks of birds or schools of fish perform collective tasks without centralised coordination. It is not a big stretch to propose that financial group behaviour, like panic selling, may be analysed using these tools.

More complex questions about the growth of bacterial colonies can be answered if more complete information is known, such as the individual biological properties of each cell. Similarly, more complete information about financial institutions will allow more complex questions about financial systems to be answered.

This proposal raises several practical questions. Will the relevant parties make the information available? Where should the information reside, who will have access to it and how will confidentiality be guaranteed?

In conversations with financiers, there is an appetite for making the information available if confidentiality and anonymity are guaranteed. There is also acceptance that a government agency should be the repository of the information.
All we need now is the political and corporate will to gather the information, engage the right team and apply these tools to help solve a really important problem.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

China Bans Foreign Travel to Tibet

China has stopped issuing travel documents to foreigners seeking to visit Tibet, according to local tour operators, another indicator of the government’s skittishness over the coming anniversary of the Communist victory in 1949.

The ban on new permits, which took effect on Monday, will last at least three weeks, travel agents say.

This is the third time foreign travel to Tibet has been halted since March 2008, when rioting killed at least 22 people in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and left a swath of its central business district in flames.

Tour operators who arrange the paperwork said the new regulations were issued on Sunday by the region’s tourism bureau without explanation. They said that foreigners already holding permits would be allowed to travel to Tibet but that restrictions would be placed on their movement, including requirements that they travel only with guides and stay in government-approved hotels. Tour operators said they were told the ban on new permits would remain in effect until at least Oct. 8.

Yong Hong, deputy sales manager at Xigaze China International Travel Service in Lhasa, said the new rules were unexpected and not particularly welcome. “It was a sudden thing, but this year is unusual,” he said, referring to the Oct. 1 National Day celebrations marking the founding of the People’s Republic.

Tourism, which makes up nearly 20 percent of the region’s economy, was battered by the rioting last year but has more than recovered, officials say. Nearly 1.4 million tourists visited the Tibet Autonomous Region in August, a monthly record, according to figures cited by Xinhua, the state news agency.

Foreign passport holders were barred from visiting Tibet in the months following the riots and again last spring, just before the 50th anniversary of a failed revolt that led to the exile of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who has long sought greater autonomy for Tibetans living under Chinese rule.

Foreign journalists are also barred from traveling to Tibet except those invited to attend a rare, tightly scripted official tour.

Security has been stepped up across the country in the weeks leading up to National Day events, and has become especially tight in Beijing, which will be the scene of a vast military parade, a fireworks display and a speech by President Hu Jintao.

Yang Zhen, a Lhasa tour guide reached by phone on Tuesday, did not seem overly concerned by the temporary restrictions on foreigners. She noted that Chinese tourists, who make up most of the visitors to Tibet, do not require a permit. “

This has happened before holidays in the past,” she said of the limitations. “Either way, we have plenty of domestic tourists."

HR: Dress Well and Look Clean Cut for Job Interviews

When seriously looking for a new and challenging position, have you considered the fact that not only your CV is a little scruffy but that your appearance may also need a bit of polishing, too.

Well, you could be right, because that is just the conclusion of a recent survey of 514 HR professionals.


The survey results emphasise the role personal grooming plays in one's career growth and job search success. 90% of the HR professionals surveyed said that a job seeker's visual appearance i.e. whether he or she looks presentable, neat and clean, is the most important factor to making a good first impression prior to a job interview.


Your appearance is more important than eye contact and a firm handshake. It's an arguable point, that well-groomed candidates project more confidence than candidates who don't pay close attention to their appearance. This is certainly backed up by more than 90 percent of the HR respondents.

Candidates who show up for job interviews with a five-o'clock shadow, grit under their fingernails, wearing wrinkled or dirty clothes, or with their hair in disarray, come off as unprofessional and put themselves at a serious disadvantage, allegedly.

More than 50 percent of HR professionals surveyed said that candidates who show up for job interviews looking slovenly or unkempt give them the impression that they are not fully committed to the situation and may not even want the job.

What's more, well-groomed employees tend to be more successful than slovenly employees: 84% of HR professionals said that neat, clean employees climb the corporate ladder faster than employees who aren't well-groomed. HR professionals estimated that 20% of their employees are 'slobs'. How very judgemental!

Lest you dismiss these HR professionals as shallow and superficial, you should consider the fact that many of the non-HR IT executives interviewed, say that candidates should always show up for job interviews looking well-groomed.

Some more enlightened IT executives and professionals believe that 'substance' should always trump 'style' in a job interview i.e. that an individual's personal appearance shouldn't matter so long as he or she possesses the knowledge, skills and experience required to do the job.

The HR Response to this is that those IT professionals who prefer 'substance' need to accept that 'substance' and 'style' are not mutually exclusive and that the best candidates can house both.

China: Exim Bank provides Financial Aid with Stringent Conditions

China's Axim Bank in Namibia

It is not every day that global leaders set foot in this southern African nation of gravel roads, towering sand dunes and a mere two million people.

So when President Hu Jintao of China touched down here in February 2007 with a 130-person delegation in tow, it clearly was not just a courtesy call.

But In fact, China soon granted Namibia a big low-interest loan, which Namibia tapped to buy $55.3 million worth of Chinese-made cargo scanners to deter smugglers. It was a neat illustration, Chinese officials said, of how doing good in Namibia could do well for China, too.

Or so it seemed until Namibia charged that the state-controlled company selected by China to provide the scanners — a company until recently run by President Hu’s son — had facilitated the deal with millions of dollars in illegal kickbacks and until China threw up barriers when Namibian investigators asked for help looking into the matter.

Backroom Dealing
Now the scanners seem to illustrate something else: the aura of boosterism, secrecy and back-room deals that has clouded China’s use of billions of dollars in foreign aid to court the developing world.

Global Issue
From Pakistan to Angola to Kyrgyzstan, China is using its enormous pool of foreign currency savings to cement diplomatic alliances, secure access to natural resources and drum up business for its flagship companies. Foreign aid — typically cut-rate loans, sometimes bundled with more commercial lines of credit — is central to this effort.

Targetting Developing Nations
Leaders of developing nations have embraced China’s sales pitch of easy credit, without Western-style demands for political or economic reform, for a host of unmet needs. The results can be clearly seen in new roads, power plants, and telecommunications networks across the African continent — more than 200 projects since 2001, many financed with preferential loans from the Chinese government’s Exim Bank.

What's the Catch?
Increasingly, though, experts argue that China’s aid comes with a major catch: It must be used to buy goods or services from companies, many of them state-controlled, that Chinese officials select themselves. Competitive bidding by the borrowing nation is discouraged, and China pulls a veil over vital data like project costs, loan terms and repayment conditions. Even the dollar amount of loans offered as foreign aid is treated as a state secret.

Anticorruption crusaders complain that secrecy invites corruption, and that corruption debases foreign assistance.

Tekla Lameck, right, a Namibian public service commissioner, in court in the capital, Windhoek, was arrested after a Chinese company deposited $4.2 million in the account of a consulting company she set up.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Project Management Adds Real Value and Cost Savings to Organisations

Project management is certainly not overhead. Project management, if implemented and performed in a structured and professional manner, adds real value by reducing waste, controlling costs and improving performance.

Good portfolio management will reduce waste by weeding out projects that should never be started. Often we start these projects and later cancel them after wasting effort and money.

Practicing good project management in the area of initiation, planning and execution will greatly increase the success rate and performance of your project execution. Resources will be better utilised and the team will be more communicative, motivated and organised.

This will reduce duplication of effort, control costs and ensure that risks, issues and dependencies are dealt with in an optimal and effective manner, maximising effort and minimising waste.

Performing proper project closure, and learning good lessons from our past successes (and occasional mistakes), will improve the performance and effectiveness of future projects.

Finally we need to monitor, review and control our projects. We learn in six sigma that you do not improve what you do not measure.

Taking metrics during each phase of your product development process is key to learning and improving your future performance. You can start taking these measurements at any time.

As you improve your implementation of project management you will also see an improvement in the performance of your projects. These project improvements will provide a 'gearing' effect and the same amount of effort as before, will create a greater momentum and more energy in the implementation of your projects. Simply by the introduction of good, strong project management methods.

With due regard for the creation of real value from dilligent effort, the Project Manager's mantra follows Vaughan's Equation: VO > EI (Value Out is greater than Effort In) You will find that strong project management follows this equation, very closely and will always be well worth your time and effort to implement.

Project management is certainly not overhead. I hesitate even to include the word in the same sentence to avoid establishing a subconscious association.

Project management, if implemented and performed, by a professional, in a structured and professional manner, adds real value by reducing waste, controlling costs and improving performance.

Project management provides better ROI, lower TCO and better TQC.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

California's Unemployment Rate Reaches Highest Point Since 1940 - NYTimes.com


California's Unemployment Rate Reaches Highest Point Since 1940 - NYTimes.com

California’s unemployment rate in August hit its highest point in nearly 70 years, starkly underscoring how the nation’s incipient economic recovery continues to elude millions of Americans looking for work.

While job losses continue to fall, the state's new unemployment rate รข€” 12.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics - is far above the national average of 9.7 percent and places California, the nation's most-populous state, fourth behind Michigan, Nevada and Rhode Island.

Statistics kept by the state show California's unemployment rate was 14.7 percent in 1940, said Kevin Callori, a spokesman for the California Employment Development Department.While California has convulsed under the same blows as the rest of the country over the last two years, its exposure to both the foreclosure crisis and the slowdown in construction - an industry that has fueled growth in much of the state over the last decade - has been outsized.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Project Management uses IT and Business Relationships to Shape Successful Projects


The Trust Factor

Good relationships between IT and business partners, project managers and IT staff, and project managers and stakeholders keep IT projects on track, say IT leaders and project management experts. Bad relationships, however, are a leading cause of project failure. We've all seen projects that should have been successful fail purely because of relationship.

The impact good and bad relationships have on projects is clear: Negative relationships make people want to avoid each other or work against each other.

On the other hand, when mutual trust exists between IT project managers and stakeholders, IT project managers are more likely to discuss problems that could threaten the project as they arise. If bad blood exists between the two groups, project managers may not be inclined to point out those issues, or they may try to cover them up.

If you look at projects that fail, invariably someone on those projects knew things were going bad. If you don't have relationships and trust, those things don't surface and when you don't do something about problems in a timely manner, those problems invariably get bigger.

In many cases, minor problems become more serious because they're not addressed in a timely manner. A culture of openness is absolutely essential to good project performance. Ot should be part of your risk planning.

Furthermore, when something does go wrong with a project, business partners are less likely to place the blame solely on IT if they have some respect. In fact, they're more likely to give IT some leeway with the project schedule.

It doesn't matter what technology you're using, how talented your technology staff is, and how knowledgeable the business partners are on process and business improvement: Every system initiative will have issues.

If you don't have a relationship, you resort to pointing fingers as opposed to being transparent and admitting 'we messed up' or 'we didn't test that as well'. If you have a good relationship, you'll sit down and find a way to make it work.

Decisions affecting the project also get made more promptly when everyone involved gets along. Fast and good decisions are crucial to keeping projects on track. The failure of senior people to make decisions means decisions are made at lower levels of the organisation.

If you have a software developer who's waiting for input on a business requirement, there's three things that can happen: He can guess what to do and guess right. He can wait for a decision and while he's waiting he's not as productive. Third, he can guess and guess wrong. If those are equal possibilities, two-thirds of the time it will be detrimental to the project. And if you stack enough of those decisions on top of each other, it will negatively impact the project.

Relationships are easily Overlooked
Despite the positive impact good relationships have on project management, IT project managers rely more heavily on software and methodologies than on building relations when they need to improve their delivery.

It's no wonder: Compared to the time it takes to build relationships, software seems like a quick fix. IT project managers are also most comfortable with tools.

As IT professionals, we're raised on technology. Almost all the training we get throughout the years is about tools and processes.

Consequently, IT professionals think process and technology is the answer to everything, including effective project management. While project management frameworks and tools certainly help, projects are fundamentally people-driven.

When things go wrong with a project, it's people who have done something that didn't work. Problems start and end with people.

Yet project management training and certification programs are only just beginning to address the people-side of projects and the importance of relationship management. Most still emphasise task management.

Thus, project management training and certification programs reinforce the idea that project management is glorified task management. That's a big mistake.

A typical project manager follows the 80/20 rule: spending 80 percent of his time on task management and 20 percent of his time on relationship management, but he should be devoting more of his time to relationships.

I would suggest that the more visible, big-budget the project, the greater the percentage of the project manager's time should be spent on relationship management.

Agile Development and Relationships Using Scrum, an agile software development practice, to improve relationships between IT and business partners and ensure project success is one good approach.

With Scrum, business partners meet with IT during a four- to eight-hour planning meeting to look at all the projects in the backlog and to jointly determine which one will bring the greatest value to the company.

IT then divides the project into sprint's 30-day increments of work. When IT completes a sprint, business partners assess IT's progress and suggest any necessary changes.

The agile development methodology, just by design, promotes better relationships. Scrum and Agile force interaction between IT and business partners on a more frequent basis. By doing so, IT delivers solutions on an incremental basis to the business, as opposed to the waterfall or cascade method, where it's a year and a half before the business sees the fruits of an initiative.

It's not necessary for IT and other business functions to get along swimmingly for Agile to work effectively. Agile can work even if there's some initial tension between the groups.

We've all had groups with troubled relationships, and certainly most initial meetings are not always effective out of the gate. But at least we all can agree that we're going to focus on 15 key items in the next 30 days, and at the end of the 30 days, we'll get back to you.

The process forces IT and business partners to prioritize projects together and agree on the 15 items IT will complete in 30 days. Scrum also then drives IT's behaviour. At the end of that 30 days, IT has to show something for its work. Scrum makes IT accountable to the business.

When business partners see IT making tangible progress every thirty days, their confidence in IT grows. If the business partner sees results more frequently than they used to, relationships can get better. Agile promotes better relationships just by forcing a process, forcing interaction.

Between the structure that Scrum imposes and the relationships that grow out of it, project delivery improves. Better collaboration results in better value for the business.

Your Leaders are in Chains: Let loose the Hounds!

Have you got the measure of your Senior staff? Well, why are you not giving your senior people the opportunity to lead and to deliver better value on their projects. Playing safe is not the same as scoring points!

Currently, modern business-driven organisations have wrapped within them (and without them), an extensive, complex and multi-layered IT Infrastructure that is expected to take-on a more defensive exo-skeletal role than it's intended 'growth enablement' and 'capability enhancement' role, for which it is greatly suited.

The energy lost in defending and maintaining the status quo, could be better spent on more effective expansion and stronger growth.

It would appear that most organisations are favouring the 'wait and see' strategy and find themselves burning precious fuel and time simply hovering above the ground instead of plotting a new course and moving ahead, albeit at a 'steady as she goes, Captain' pace.

So it's no wonder that there is some confusion of the role of the 'gung-ho!' multi-functional, assertive Project Managers and Business Analysts in this stabilising environment that 'maintains the status quo' at all costs.

PMs and BAs alike are confused about the skills and efforts required in these circumstances and are therefore equally unsure about what value they can deliver, while confined to their seemingly passive roles.

"I think our wagons have been formed into a defensive circle for so long, we have forgotten which way is forward!"

Senior people, in particular have become very frustrated and feel restricted in their implementation of new ideas and innovative projects. They know they can deliver more: more value to the clients and more value to the organisation. Certainly more value than the situation allows and they know this because they have already proved it in the past.

There is a very real risk that career advancement paths will quickly stall, especially for senior people. Once you have learned the basic skills of project management and business analysis and have had a number of opportunities to try, fail and put it into practice successfully, what next?

The Clock is Ticking!
Unfortunately from here, it can be a downward spiral. As time flies by, more and more Senior people are moved into low level positions, where they stagnate and then they don’t have the opportunity to show what they can really do. Everybody looses. Experienced PMs and BAs are marginalised, morale suffers, projects suffer, and the company don’t get the results they want from their efforts.

One option being considered, is to come up with new titles for senior people in the PM and BA roles to differentiate them from the crowd and to accentuate the increased value that they can deliver but I fear that this is just another example of 'name magic' and the acquisition of status and respect without undergoing the arduous task of earning it.

Risks or Benefits of Letting Senior People lead
Project success rates will increase if you have Senior people running your projects. People who are abley assisted by Business System Designers who can synthesise or simulate as well as analyse and calculate, to create effective system designs and applications that users like.

When Senior Project Managers have the assertive authority and sound experience to address and resolve problems and issues as they arise, with timely and focussed solutions, then ICT and development projects stay on track and deliverables will meet company expectations.

Let’s untie our Senior project managers and business analysts and see what happens. Take the brakes off! Loosen their shackles and give them more P&L responsibility. Plot a course for your next challenge and into the future growth of your organisation.

Leveraging the talents of senior people in project management and business analysis roles is going to make a huge improvement in project success rates and will take your organisation out of a hovering status quo, with an ICT exo-skeleton and into an assertive forward-thinking leadership, that is capable of creating and managing growth, innovation and business capability. Chocks away and full steam ahead!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Retro-Sexual Behavour on Facebook

As Facebook users have begun to skew older ”the website is now as popular with 30-, 40- and 50-somethings as with the college students who pioneered it”

They have found ways to reconnect with one another and who better to get in touch with than an old flame?

"Facebook makes it easier for you to take that first step of finding someone again," explains Rainer Romero-Canyas, a psychology research scientist at Columbia University. "It has finally provided a way for people to reach out to someone without fear of rejection." The Boston Phoenix even coined a term, retrosexuals, for people who are taking the plunge into recycled love.

"It was like opening a time capsule," says Drew Peterson, a 34-year-old former IT worker from Long Island, New York. Peterson's retro-sexual experience occurred a few years ago when he found his high school girlfriend on MySpace”

"You know, before it became the cyberghetto of the Internet." The two dated during junior and senior year of high school; the last time the two saw each other was on the day they graduated. Sixteen years later, they exchanged MySpace messages, and then Peterson flew from New York to San Francisco to see what had become of the woman who had once captured his teenage heart.

"I knew it wasn't going to turn out like some Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy," Peterson says. "I just wanted to see her again." The pair still got along, although this time just as friends.

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UK Employment Index: Aug 09 | Monster.co.uk

UK Employment Index: Aug 09 | Monster.co.uk

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

10 Biggest Blogging Bungles

10 Biggest Blogging Bungles

Slideshow

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How to get fired or caught up in the downsizing threshing machine

Here we are offering you five really good ways that high-tech workers could get themselves caught up in the brutal threshing machine of a downsizing exercise and book themselves a good spot in the expanding ranks of the unemployed.

1. Be invisible
Now is not the time to go unnoticed. It' not the time to shrivel and try to be invisible to management. Many people tend to default to hide-and-retreat mode when layoffs come up, but that could call more attention to you and make it appear you aren't contributing enough to be kept around.

Even those working hard could unknowingly be at risk due to their 'in-office' time. Some IT workers who operate from a home office might need to make a few extra trips into work to remind managers, in person, of their existance and importance to the company.

Being visible during downtime is a big deal. If you are always remote and people at the office don't see you as part of the team, that could cause problems. Often it can be a case of out of sight, out of mind, and remote workers could unwittingly become a target to be cut

2. Let your skills stagnate
There may be no training dollars, but that doesn't mean managers won't be considering IT pros' lack of updated skills when making layoff decisions. Regardless of the current economic trouble, high-workers should always be looking for ways to advance their knowledge.

IT staffers that don't maintain their certifications and stay trained show poor strategic thinking and will very quickly find themselves behind the curve. Turning a blind eye to new technology and thinking it can wait will wear thin in a down economy. Managers don't want staff that add to the can't do list in times like these.

The employee who uses the excuse about lack of dollars won't make points when it comes to cutting staff.

A pet annoyance of mine and many others, is people asking companies for more than they are willing to give. There has to be some level of mutual understanding about what contributions can feasibly be made on both the employer and employee. There are low- and no-cost training options if the employee is willing to make the effort.

3. Snoop into systems
It goes without saying that IT workers shouldn't abuse their access to company confidential systems, but industry watchers warn that if layoffs are going to happen, those high-tech pros with questionable practices will be the first to go.

It is really easy for an IT person to see what others are doing and to look at confidential data, without being caught but if you are suspected of some shady stuff, that would be reason enough to bring your name to the top of the layoff list.

Even if the practices aren't breaking corporate policies, IT professionals need to be on their best behaviour. Try to avoid abusing a flexible schedule with long lunches and don't use your high-tech position as a reason to spend too much time on the Internet for non-work-related activities.

If you are the person viewed as someone just logging their hours to collect a paycheck and don't plan to contribute more than the minimum, management will see that and you will become vulnerable.

4. Make plenty of demands
Pay cuts, hiring freezes, layoffs none of these factors suggest it's an appropriate time to ask for a raise. Yet experts say some will use their ongoing service to a company during a recession as a reason to demand more money and other benefits.

Now is not the time to ask for a raise; now is not the time to complain about needing more time off. In these cases, the squeaky wheel will get the shaft.

While it may seem to IT pros they are going above and beyond and deserve compensation for their efforts, those in the position to fire staff might not want to hear it.

Right now, employees should be nodding their heads a lot, not being surly or pushing back on responsibility.

5. Spew forth negativity
Employers now more than ever want positive attitudes on staff, and those spewing negativity will be weeded out.

The truth is that everybody from a technical standpoint is replaceable. I notice more than anything the negativity an employee displays. Negativity is contagious, and once an employee goes that route, it is nearly impossible to turn them back.

So now, go forth and apply what you have learned and you could soon be free to take a new challenge in a different organisation or just hang out at the local unemployment office with your new friends.

Monday, September 7, 2009

U.S. Role as Top Arms Supplier to the World Grows

WASHINGTON — Despite a recession that knocked down global arms sales last year, the United States expanded its role as the world’s leading weapons supplier, increasing its share to more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals, according to a new Congressional study.

The United States signed weapons agreements valued at $37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $25.4 billion the year before.

Italy was a distant second, with $3.7 billion in worldwide weapons sales in 2008, while Russia was third with $3.5 billion in arms sales last year — down considerably from the $10.8 billion in weapons deals signed by Moscow in 2007.

The growth in weapons sales by the United States last year was particularly noticeable against worldwide trends. The value of global arms sales in 2008 was $55.2 billion, a drop of 7.6 percent from 2007 and the lowest total for international weapons agreements since 2005.

The increase in American weapons sales around the world “was attributable not only to major new orders from clients in the Near East and in Asia, but also to the continuation of significant equipment and support services contracts with a broad-based number of U.S. clients globally,” according to the study, titled “Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations.”

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Other People Don't Work as Hard as Me or Contribute as much!

If you work with someone whom you think is lazy and not doing enough of their share of the work, you will be critical and resentful of it.

They don’t carry their load. They waste time socialising and miss important deadlines. They spend all their time at the coffee machine chatting to everybody, instead of getting their head down.

Hmm! Is this really true, or is it simply your perception that's misaligned? As with car tyres and the human eyes, check your alignment regularly.

When we compare our own work with others, we can easily overvalue ourselves and undervalue them. That’s partly because we know much more about our own work, and partly because most people have a self-serving bias. That is, they believe they have made greater contributions than they have or that others have difficulty in recognising their real value.

Your perception of how much time someone spends working, is not necessarily a valid reflection of the real effort they are expending or of the beneficial results they are achieving. They may have terrific time-management skills, stay late or work weekends and have an extensive social network that compliments and influences the work they do.

They may other circumstances that effect their behaviour or have legitimate personal reasons for what they do and how they do it. The stress of dealing with a sick partner or close relative, problems with a spouse or increasing debt that may lead to the foreclosure of the family home, are all extreme examples of external circumstances that will definitely affect how people behave.

To avoid overreacting, ask yourself why you are so disgruntled or angry. Did you miss a deadline because of this person? Did you have to stay late because they left early? Your goal is to establish their impact on your performance and to be more open and realistic about the cause and effect of your colleague's behaviour.

In these tough economic times, why would anyone put his or her job at risk by slacking off? It just doesn't make sense or stand up on its own merits. There have to be other reasons affecting their behaviour.

Although, it makes perfectly logical sense to see people make more effort and to work harder now, in a recession but this is not the case. We’re actually seeing peoples' performances dip.

Staff and managers alike, are feeling uncertain and insecure, so they spend more time dwelling on the negative aspects of their work environment i.e. talking more about the problems they are facing, rather than getting the work done. They may also want to talk about subjects that having nothing at all to do with work, as a way of taking their mind off of their job-related insecurities.

You have to consider that they may be unconsciously invoking a protective displacement behaviour, which appears frivolous and superficial to others, but is in fact a security blanket thrown over the psychologically traumatised mind, to soothe it and stop it overloading.

Some people just have different characters and simply aren’t aware of what you see as 'time-wasting tendencies'. They see themselves as friendly, sociable and outgoing, until they are confronted about it and made to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed by it. People will only change their behaviour when it is pointed out that the behaviour they repeated show, is both inappropriate and could have painful repercussions on them, career-wise.

The real, bottom line question to ask yourself is this; Is this person’s failure to get the job done affecting your productivity, and if it is, what can you do about it?

First, try dealing with it directly and approach them yourself. For the person who continually comes into your office to chat and distract you, make it clear that have to get on with your work, but offer to talk more at the coffee break or have lunch together later.

Your intruding visitor is probably in your office just to fill in their time, not to have a serious heart-to-heart conversation, but if they do need to talk seriously then the office is never the best place. Be sure to establish that boundary without being confrontational. You are not rejecting, you are simply re-scheduling.

Focusing on the need to get your work done will make it hard for your co-worker to feel personally insulted or slighted. You are staying focused on the client, the customer and the business.Who could argue with that?

Don’t stew over the problem and vent your troubles to others. You will end up spending a lot of time dwelling on the negative performance of another person. It saps your own energy and can make you appear more negative than you really are.

The best way to handle a direct discussion with your co-worker, so they don’t become defensive, is to keep it on a professional level. Your entire discussion should be a professional presentation of the facts, cause and effect. Don’t be personal, judgmental or accusing.

Look at it as an opportunity to exercise your leadership skills. It is good practice for you, because you will have to deal with people like this throughout your career, but be careful it is not your perception. Always check for misalignment first!

If all your efforts fail to deal with your co-worker and have yielded no change, you can always escalate the problem and go to your boss, but remember, this is always as your last resort because it can reflect badly on you.

The worst case is when it is your boss that is wasting your time. Then you do need to be very diplomatic. If your boss likes to talk and socialise, you will have to try and steer the conversation back to work, without offending them.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

China Web Sites Seeking Users' Names

China Web Sites Seeking Users' Names - NYTimes.com

BEIJING - News Web sites in China, complying with secret government orders, are requiring that new users log on under their true identities to post comments.

This is the latest shift in policy that the country's Internet users and media have fiercely opposed in the past.


Until recently, users could weigh in on news items on many of the affected sites more anonymously, often without registering at all, though the sites were obligated to screen all posts, and the posts could still be traced via Internet protocol addresses.

But in early August, without notification of a change, news portals like Sina, Netease, Sohu and scores of other sites began asking unregistered users to sign in under their real names and identification numbers, said top editors at two of the major portals affected. A Sina staff member also confirmed the change.

The editors said the sites were putting into effect a confidential directive issued in late July by the State Council Information Office, one of the main government bodies responsible for supervising the Internet in China.

The new step is not foolproof, the editors acknowledged. It was possible for a reporter to register successfully on several major sites under falsified names and ID and cellphone numbers.

But the requirement adds a critical new layer of surveillance to mainstream sites in China, which were already heavily policed. Further regulations of the same nature also appeared to be in the pipeline.

And while the authorities called the measure part of a drive to forge greater 'social responsibility' and 'civility' among users, they moved forward surreptitiously and suppressed reports about it, said the editors and others in the media industry familiar with the measure, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid putting their jobs at risk.

Asked why the policy was pushed through unannounced, the chief editor of one site said, 'The influence of public opinion on the Net is still too big.'

Are Twitterverse or Homo Economicus? Check it out now!

Editors at Britain's Collins English Dictionary have added these and 264 other entries to the 30th Anniversary Edition, published Sept. 3.

To qualify for inclusion in the esteemed lexicon, a word had to have, over the past two years, six quality citations in Collins' digital corpus, a computerized database that scans 2.5 billion words across a number of print and online resources.

The rise of social-networking sites led to the addition of Twitter (the noun) and twitter (the verb), while the kind of dashed-off writing that appears in posts on that site has given new permanence to words such as hmm, heh, and mwah (the sound of an exaggerated kiss) that were previously considered mere sounds.

"Had Twitter and Facebook not become so popular, there's no doubt these terms would not have been included," says Duncan Black, editor of the dictionary. "They're part of the language of microblogging."

He also credits Twitter for the resurgence of terms like heigh-ho and hey-ho — exclamations of happiness, disappointment or surprise — that had fallen into disuse. Words popular in e-mail shorthand and text-messaging such as OMG (oh my god) and WTF (what the f___) also made the cut.

Beyond digital culture, environmental concerns have helped color the dictionary green. Craggers (members of carbon reduction action groups) now have terms to describe their colleagues in the environmental movement.

They probably know more than one ecotarian (a person who only eats food that has been produced in an environmentally friendly manner) and plenty of carborexics (those obsessed with reducing their carbon footprint).

Lastly, the ongoing global financial crisis has moved once highly niche words into the mainstream. People that bandy about complex terms like quantitative easing (increasing the supply of money in order to stimulate economic activity) can now check that they are actually using them correctly.

The recession's effect on our behavior has impacted language too. Holidaymakers trying to rein in spending have popularized the term staycation (taking a holiday without going abroad). Glamping (glamorous camping) is less popular at the moment, for obvious reasons.

Expand your vocabulary with these other additions to the dictionary:

  • Avid fart: a flashy and intrusive visual-effects editing style (in film)
  • Beer o'clock: the time of day when it is acceptable or customary to start drinking alcohol
  • boomburb: a large suburb experiencing rapid population growth
  • cage fighting: a form of extreme fighting taking place in an enclosed space
  • frugalista: a person who tries to stay fashionably dressed on a budget
  • gak: slang for cocaine#
  • goon bag: the plastic bladder inside a box of (usually cheap) wine
  • homo economicus: a theoretical human being who rationally calculates the costs and benefits of every action before making a decision, used as the basis for a number of economic theories and models
  • Ponzimonium: financial turmoil in the wake of uncovering Ponzi schemes
  • space junk: objects such as artificial satellites and material discarded from space stations that remain in space after use
  • supernanny: an expert who advises parents on how to deal with badly behaved children
  • Twitterverse: the social-networking site Twitter and its users