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Sunday, September 30, 2007

U.S. Tech Employment Hits Its Highest Point In Seven Years

U.S. Tech Employment Hits Its Highest Point In Seven Years

The 2% unemployment rate matches other professional categories and is a big improvement from 5% in 2004.

The unemployment rate for IT occupations fell to 2%, and total IT employment has reached nearly 3.6 million, better than it has been the past seven years, according to the most recent household employment survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The results paint a much better picture for the health of the IT profession than during the recession of 2003 and 2004, when the IT unemployment rate hit 5.3%. But a shift in the type of work U.S. tech workers do also is continuing. The biggest job gains the past year come for software engineers, IT managers, and network systems analysts. Programmers and support specialists continue to lose jobs.

Total IT employment of 3.58 million and the size of the available IT workforce -- 3.65 million working or unemployed -- are at their highest levels since the BLS started using these eight computer-related job categories in 2000. At 2%, the tech unemployment rate matches that of the larger management and professional class measured by BLS. Employers added about 93,000 computer-related jobs from a year ago.

The figures are based on an InformationWeek analysis averaging quarterly BLS household surveys for the past 12 months, as of June.

Programmers remain the third largest IT job category, employing more than a half million people and providing 15% of computer-related jobs. Programmer employment is down 26% from 2001, and 3% from a year ago. Support specialist jobs slipped 4%, and make up 9% of the tech workforce.

IT management jobs continue to grow, providing 12% (423,000) of computer-related jobs. Manager jobs are up more than 50% since 2001 and 22% since 2004, as more IT pros take a bigger role leading projects, managing systems, and coordinating outsourcers and others vendors.

Twenty-five percent of tech pros are employed as software engineers, and 21% as computer scientists and system analysts. Engineer jobs grew 3%, computer scientist and analyst jobs dipped 1%.

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50 years on, Sputnik achievement remains undimmed

Wavery and high-pitched, the beep-beep signal picked up on Earth signalled the dawn of a new era.

Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union's launch, on October 4, 1957, of Sputnik 1, the starting signal for the Space Race and a propaganda coup that Russia's present leaders can only envy.

The launch of the world's first man-made satellite, a silvery orb with four frond-like antennae and two radio transmitters, was at first obscure.

The official announcement was buried in leaden prose in the corner of a Pravda newspaper front page, the identity of Sputnik's creator kept a state secret.

But soon awed headlines in Western newspapers alerted Moscow to the true propaganda potential of Sputnik and as more space launches took place, carrying dogs and then the first spaceman, Yury Gagarin, the world was captivated by the achievement.

"The sense of pride was huge," recalled Olga Zenkova, leader of a children's group touring Russia's current cosmonaut training centre near Moscow, Star City, ready with carnations to lay at a statue of Gagarin.

"We felt we had to be first in everything."

The United States was caught badly off balance, flailing in its response as the Soviets launched a second satellite less than a month later, carrying Laika the dog, who was to die within hours.

The United States' hurried launch of the Vanguard satellite on December 6 that year was a flop, or "flopnik," as the London Daily Herald observed in a headline, barely getting off the ground before it burst into flames.

Some in the West immediately detected a threat: Britain's Manchester Guardian warned that Sputnik necessitated "a psychological adjustment" not only towards the Soviet Union but towards its military capabilities.

But in the early years, the space race, at least from Moscow's point of view, was less of a hostile affair than it was to become.

Sputnik's launch gave a psychological lift to Soviet society, marking a break from life under wartime dictator Joseph Stalin, who had died in 1953, and a sense of optimism in the new, easier era of Nikita Khrushchev.

"Society itself was very upbeat in the 1950s.... Space was associated with going beyond limits. In this case it was physics but it could be associated with going beyond tradition," said Boris Kagarlitsky, a writer on the period and director of the Moscow-based Institute of Globalisation.

"Although there was a military element in space projects... they were presented with a humanitarian aspect. The aspect of rivalry with the United States was not much evident in the beginning especially because the Soviets were leading."

As for Sputnik's creator, Sergei Korolyov -- dubbed "the chief designer" as his identity was kept from the public throughout his life -- he seems to have put behind him a painful past and thought only of work.

Science had literally saved Korolyov, securing his return from the Siberian Gulag prison system where he had been forced to work as a miner on trumped up subversion charges and where he lost most of his teeth and nearly 50 kilogrammes (110 pounds) in weight.

He was brought to work alongside other scientists and in a letter to his wife in 1953 mourned the death of Stalin, the man behind the Gulag, writing: "How this pains the heart, brings a lump to the throat. This really is a nationwide immense sorrow."

It was with iron determination that Korolyov went on to build Sputnik, jettisoning a more ambitious design when he heard of rival US plans and taking obsessive care to ensure its aluminium surface was spotlessly polished.

Contemporary accounts report that the day the carrier rocket was rolled from its hangar in Kazakhstan, Korolyov led the other designers in absolute silence for the whole 1.5 kilometre (one mile) walk to the launch pad.

Today Moscow appears to have lost the initiative, as the West ploughs unprecedented sums into space exploration and Washington deliberates on how long to maintain the International Space Station (ISS), a joint project with Russia.

At the Moscow house where Korolyov lived until his death aged 59, a tour guide, Valentina Golovkina, suggests he would have been "a bit sad" to see how Russia fell behind and failed to put a man on the Moon.

President Vladimir Putin has pressed into service the image of Korolyov as he exhorts Russia's scientists to up their game. There are plans afoot to send a probe to Mars and for a manned Moon mission by 2025.

In March he voiced pride that Russia had "paved the way for space exploration" but added: "We must... acknowledge that a whole decade, perhaps even more, of economic difficulties has had a negative impact on the development of our space sector."

In the last months of his life, as Korolyov laboured in the face of numerous health problems, he might have been surprised to learn that Russia would one day transport paying "tourists" to the ISS.

The next short-term visitor, Malaysian Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, who is to blast off in October under an intergovernmental agreement, recently paid his respects to Russia's space achievements.

And Peggy Whitson, a US astronaut scheduled to blast off to the ISS next month, also paid tribute to "chief designer" and his Sputnik programme.

"It's why were going to space. I really recognize that the 50 year Sputnik anniversary is important to the whole world, not just to Russia."

That perhaps would have been enough for Korolyov as he pondered the future from the comfortable Moscow town house with which he was rewarded and where he tried to keep fit with morning gymnastics in his study.

"He did say people would one day go to space on trade union holidays," recalled the museum guide Golovkina.

Microsoft Excel does some fuzzy math

Microsoft's Excel 2007 spreadsheet program is going to have to relearn part of its multiplication table.
In a blog post, Microsoft employee David Gainer said that when computer users tried to get Excel 2007 to multiply some pairs of numbers and the result was 65,535, Excel would incorrectly display 100,000 as the answer.

Gainer said Excel makes mistakes multiplying 77.1 by 850, 10.2 by 6,425 and 20.4 by 3,212.5, but the program appears to be able to handle 16,383.75 times 4.

"Further testing showed a similar phenomenon with 65,536 as well," Gainer wrote Tuesday.

He said Excel was actually performing the calculations correctly, but when it comes time to show the answer on the screen, it messes up.

Gainer said the bug is limited to six numbers from 65,534.99999999995 to 65,535, and six numbers from 65,535.99999999995 to 65,536, and that Microsoft is working hard to fix the problem.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Microsoft | Excel | David Gainer

Excel (Electronic) Assemblies Ltd

The Business

Excel Assemblies (EA) was established in 1987 in a small industrial unit, making cable harnesses to customer specifications. The company has a turnover of £3m and employs 95 people. EA has a blue chip customer base within the UK, which covers a range of industry sectors, from vending machines to weighing scales. EA is a customer focussed and quality driven business and this is reflected in its operational culture.

The company's business objectives are to:

Grow its blue chip customer base across the UK;
Expand the business by offering value added services and by providing higher-level assembly facilities;
Improve market intelligence and promotion of the business;
Minimise expensive on-site customer support to resolve minor problems;
Increase exchange of information between customers, such as data transfer of CAD files, and other trading information.

Use of eCommerce

An earlier project, to adopt EDI between EA and one of its major customers had failed, with both partners expressing disappointment. However, the sales and marketing director was benefiting from improved communications with customers through his use of an Internet account.

The company has implemented two ISDN lines for general eMail and using the Net to look for suppliers. EA also created a basic Web site. Experimentation with Internet based video conferencing was unsuccessful, due to lack of bandwidth. A fall-back position was to use a small Web cam, and to send still pictures as attachments to eMail. EA intend to use a digital camera to improve image quality.

One of their major supplies is sending them daily sales and manufacturing forecasts, using eMail with an attached spreadsheet, saving two days of a clerk's time per week, which equates to a saving of £4,600 per annum. The customer has also benefited by reducing EA's stock-holding of looms by 50%. In return EA has become the sole supplier and increased overall turnover by 10%.

Benefits & Issues

Real business benefits, and a clear return on investment in eCommerce, have been won by EA in the areas of operations and logistics. A stonger and more mutually profitable business relationship has also been developed, with one of EA's major customers.

The main areas to address for the future use of eCommerce are:

The use of their web site for marketing and business development;
To resolve the customer service and technical support inefficiencies;
Explore the benefits of eBanking for financial transactions between their customers and suppliers;
To provide Internet access for all employees that use a PC.

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2007 Laptop Buyer’s Guide

2007 Laptop Buyer’s GuideIt's been a long time coming and we're proud to announce that's Laptop Buyer's Guide has finally been updated. The last time we released a version of this the Pentium 4 Mobile was the hottest thing going, 512 MB of RAM was more than enough, and Vista was still a long way off.

The updated guide goes through a notebook piece by piece so you can find what you are looking for and then customize it so you get just what you want. By using the recommended gear, you can ensure your notebook won't be outdated any time soon, though the minimum guidelines will be great for a basic system, such as for work or for a student.

The last part of the guide ties into's real-time pricing engine to get you up-to-date prices on all sorts of hardware. While you will probably be interested in buying a notebook and not building one, these links can help you see how much individual components are selling for, which can be helpful for comparing to the upgrade price of laptop manufacturer, or even for upgrading a laptop that you already own.

Laptop Buyer's Guid

Thinking of buying a laptop? Make sure you know what you're getting. Below, you'll find our recommendations to keep in mind when buying a PC laptop and detailed information on each component found both inside and outside of your laptop.

If you want to dive right in and configure your own laptop, check out our Laptop Buying Engine where you can choose by manufacturer, processor type, screen size, and more.

Also, read through our PC Laptop Buyer FAQ and if you have comments on our recommendations, bring them to our Forums.

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Cell phones double as electronic wallets in Philippines

Cell phones double as electronic wallets in Philippines

It's Thursday, so 18-year-old Dennis Tiangco is off to a bank to collect his weekly allowance, zapped by his mother - who's working in Hong Kong - to his electronic wallet: his cellphone.

Sauntering into a branch of GM Bank in the town of San Miguel, Dennis fills out a form, sends a text message via his phone to a bank line dedicated to the service.

In a matter of seconds, the transaction is approved and the teller gives him $54, minus a 1% fee. He doesn't need a bank account to retrieve the money.

More than 5.5 million Filipinos now use their cellphones as virtual wallets, making the Philippines a leader among developing nations in providing financial transactions over mobile networks.

Mobile banking services, which are also catching on in Kenya and South Africa, enable people who don't have bank accounts to transfer money easily, quickly and safely. It's spreading in the developing world because mobile phones are much more common than bank accounts.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Hong Kong | Philippines | Dennis | Telecom | Filipinos

The system is particularly useful for the 8 million Filipinos - 10% of the country's citizens - who work overseas and send money home, like Dennis' mother, Anna Tiangco. Previously, she sent money via a bank wire transfer, which costs $2.50 and takes two days to clear. The cellphone method costs only 13 cents, and is nearly instantaneous.

"The good thing here is, wherever my children are, they can text me and I can send money immediately," she said by telephone from Hong Kong.

Consumers also can store limited amounts of money on their cellphones to buy things at stores that participate in the network - although this practice isn't yet widespread in the Philippines.

Many more Filipinos use their phones to send airtime values called "loads" to prepaid subscribers. A parent, for example, can send a 60-peso load to replenish a child's cellphone, charged to the parent's account.

While Japanese and South Korean consumers have been using cellphones as virtual wallets for several years, those systems use a computer chip implanted in handset that allows people to buy things by waving the phone in front of a sensor. The Philippine system relies on simple text messages, which cost just 2 cents to send.

The 41 million cellphone users in the Philippines are avid texters. The electronic connections have fostered a culture of quick greetings and forwarded jokes. Text messages also played a key role in mobilizing crowds that fueled the 2001 "people power" revolt that ousted President Joseph Estrada.

The Philippines' two biggest mobile service providers, Globe Telecom and Smart Communications, have harnessed this penchant for text messaging to enable consumers to enter the world of e-commerce.

Tapping into the cash flow from overseas Filipinos - who sent home $12.7 billion last year - Globe and Smart forged partnerships with foreign mobile providers and banks, as well as with local banks and merchants, to create a network that allows users to send and receive cash internationally.

When Anna Tiangco wants to send cash home, for example, she goes to a branch of her local provider, Hong Kong CSL Ltd., where a clerk credits her cellphone with the amount she has brought with her. She then transfers the money to family members via text messages - in essence instructing her providers to deduct money from her balance to the recipients she indicates.

If a cellphone loaded with cash values is lost or stolen, the money can't be tapped as long as the personal identification number isn't revealed. Control over the funds can be restored with a replacement SIM card from either mobile provider.

The system was "built for remote payments and for the unbanked markets," said Rizza Maniego Eala, president of G-Xchange, Globe's subsidiary in charge of its G-Cash money transfer service.

Eala said her company's 500,000 G-Cash users transfer about $100 million monthly, but she declined to say how many transactions involve remittances from overseas.

Smart offers a slightly different money transfer system, used by about 5 million Filipinos, that links cash or a debit card to a cellphone.

Users load up their phones with money via text messages. The card, which does not require a bank account, can then be used to purchase goods in establishments that accept MasterCard, or to withdraw cash from an ATM machine.

Smart Communications spokesman Ramon Isberto said each time the recipient spends the money, the sender receives a transaction message. That allows the sender to see how the funds are used.

"The added value there now is that Filipinos overseas have greater control over their funds. Believe me, that is important to them," he said.

Smart and UAE's leading telecommunications operator, Etisalat, have agreed to provide money transfer service to hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in the Middle East. Smart also will soon launch a remittance system in Bahrain in partnership with MTC-Vodafone and Ahli United Bank there, and Banco de Oro in the Philippines, Isberto said.

"The bank products remain clearly bank products. We positioned ourselves as an enabler for banks and other financial institutions to provide products and services to their customers in ways they would otherwise not have been able to," he said.

Aside from transferring cash and making purchases, both Globe and Smart also allow their users to pay bills with their phones. Anna Tiangco said she pays her family's electric bills in San Miguel from Hong Kong via text messages, just like she sends money.

"Even if we are far apart, it's like we are still together," she said. "This is like my wallet now."

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Beyond Your PC in 2008

Your PC in 2008 and Beyond

Blindingly fast chips, flexible displays, nanotube cooling, and more: Tomorrow's technologies will change everything about computing, whether you're at home, at work, or on the road.
The pace of everyday living may be hectic, but the pace of innovation is downright frenetic. Technologies barely imagined a few years ago are now poised to change the face of computing, as digital devices continue to burrow into every aspect of daily life.

The world of science fiction is rapidly becoming fact, from tabletops that charge your laptop wirelessly to wall-mounted PCs that recognize your face and gestures. Thanks to breakthroughs in miniaturization, you'll be able to tuck products into your pocket that wouldn't have fit into your briefcase a few years ago, such as projectors and photo printers. The next generation of Internet technology will change everything from TV to Coke machines. And standard computer building blocks are growing ever more powerful, as processor makers squeeze more cores onto each chip and drive makers pack more bits into each platter--guaranteeing that even ordinary PCs of the future will be anything but ordinary.

In the pages that follow, we spotlight a dozen major innovations, from ones right around the corner to a few that won't show up until at least 2012. On multiple fronts, the future you've been waiting for has almost arrived. Here's what you need to know to prepare for it.

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