Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Antiterror Gizmos
  2. Grayer Days Ahead
  3. Take Your Receipt
  4. Gramr CWOT?
  5. Dot.con
  6. Work Free on Free Time
  7. Cyber Arches
  8. Author

The Technical Support Working Group (TSWG), a humble U.S. agency that until recently was little known even within Washington circles, is growing in size and stature as a seeker of antiterrorism gizmos. The Wall Street Journal calls the group the U.S.’s talent scouts for finding and funding novel devices to combat terrorism on behalf of homeland security. The goal is to promote rapid prototyping of products by making grants available to companies, labs, and universities working on potentially viable gadgets; thus speeding the way to the marketplace. A decade ago, it had barely $8 million to offer; today (with generous agencies kicking in) it could have over $200 million. Among the gadgets getting TSWG funding is a sturdy wireless laptop with wireless communications capability and digital camera that can collect information from disaster sites. The device is so rugged it can be run through a dishwasher should contamination be suspected. A $3 sensor the size of a credit card shows whether the carrier has been exposed to radioactivity. An air-conditioned undershirt to be worn up to eight hours under body armor will stay cool by loading a chunk of ice into a backpack. And a sniper-detection system can identify a potential sniper before a shot is fired.

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Grayer Days Ahead

The U.S. government is looking for new (read: younger) blood prompted by the realization that half its IT workforce will soon reach retirement age. Of the nearly 60,000 federal IT workers accounted for in 2000 by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), 70% were over 40 years old and almost 30% were over 51. The Dallas Morning News reports that NAPA expects 30,000 of those workers to retire by 2010. Cyber security, programming project management, and enterprise architectures are some of the most sought-after skills. The U.S. government is actually ranked the third most popular IT employer, behind Microsoft and IBM, and is often lauded for its cutting-edge projects. However, its archaic hiring process continues to be a serious turnoff to potential employees.

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Take Your Receipt

Santa Clara, Calif., recently became the first county in the U.S. to purchase voting machines that produce paper receipts, a move that reflects the concern over the trend toward e-voting machines, reports the Associated Press. Civic and political leaders, as well as groups representing computer scientists, have formally complained about e-voting strategies, with some groups calling for a halt to this growing trend unless or until such machines offer a paper record of each vote. Putting faith in voting machines with no paper records, some say, is a recipe for fraud of unprecedented proportions. Santa Clara’s Board of Supervisors agreed to invest $20 million for 5,000 voting machines from Sequoia Voting Systems, Oakland, Calif., which provide voter-verified paper backup.

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Gramr CWOT?

The text messaging craze among teens is causing great concern to teachers and parents in Britain who fear the technology stimulates a decline in literacy. London’s Daily Telegraph recently reported an essay written by a 13-year-old in text messaging shorthand was indecipherable by her teacher. It began: "My smmr hols wr CWOT, B4, we used 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kids FTF. ILNY, it’s a gr8 plc." Translation: "My summer holidays were a complete waste of time. Before, we used to go to New York to see my brother, his girlfriend, and their three screaming kids face to face. I love New York. It’s a great place." The confused teacher told the newspaper the student’s paper was "riddled with hieroglyphics." A representative of the Scottish Teacher Council linked text messaging to a noticeable decline in grammar and written English. "Pupils think orally and write phonetically," she said.

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The U.S. Justice Department recently extended the long arm of the law to include Internet domain names; a move that civil libertarians and legal scholars find alarming. The department routinely confiscates property allegedly used in the commission of a crime; this latest tactic has the government taking control of Web sites that allegedly violate the law. The Associated Press reports the DOJ recently seized a site that allegedly peddled illegal drug paraphernalia and a site charged with selling special chips that allowed pirated titles to run on video-game consoles. Civil libertarians contend the practice would allow the government to spy on Web surfers who unwittingly visit confiscated sites.

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Work Free on Free Time

A growing number of laid-off IT workers in Silicon Valley have found a new way to keep their skills honed and keep abreast of potential employment opportunities—working for free. Recruiters and employers in the area are being inundated with requests from unemployed techies willing to work without pay, reports USA Today. Many hope a free placement eventually turns into a paid one. Others find a payless position offers additional training opportunities while filling in some resume gaps. "The last thing you want to show a prospective employer is a resume with a two-year gap between jobs," said one free-for-hire IT worker.

"What good is offering users a free hour of wireless Internet access in a place where the seating is designed to initiate scoliosis after more than 20 minutes?"
Ross Rubin, Editor,
Wireless Supersite, on WLANS coming to McDonald’s

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Cyber Arches

One of the bastions of link-freeness has joined the Wi-Fi wagon train. McDonald’s is equipping 10 of its Manhattan-based restaurants to provide one hour of free 802.11b wireless LAN access to customers who buy an Extra Value meal. (There will be a $3.00 charge for each additional hour). The supersized hamburger franchise will eventually extend the same cyber options to 300 McDonald’s restaurants in New York, Chicago, and an unannounced spot in California. Micky D’s joins hundreds of Borders Books, Starbucks, and hotels promising to make Wi-Fi access available by this summer.

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