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Is There or Is There Not an IT Labor Shortage?


Over at Baseline magazine, there is a lengthy article that is drawing a lot of heated discussion on whether there is a shortage of IT workers in the US or not. The article says that claims of an IT shortage are nothing more than a well-publicized myth. In fact, there may even be a slight surplus.

Furthermore, the article points out, if there was a true shortage, IT worker wages would be going up, which they haven't.

The article quotes different folks like Dr. Ron Hira, professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, a fellow at the Economic Policy Institute and co-author of the book Outsourcing America (bits on-line here), who believe that the claims of an IT shortage is to further certain high tech business interests: "the motive is to get the Feds to loosen immigration restrictions for cheap foreign labor, to increase supply of workers in order to reduce labor costs and to justify offshore outsourcing efforts."

You can check out Hira's views expressed before Congress when he was representing the IEEE-USA on the issue of outsourcing high-tech jobs here.

My previous IT job related posts and discussions can be found here, here, here and here.

Grab the Bug Juice: Robot Swarms Approaching


Today's London Telegraph has a story on the new European Union funded open-source, open-hardware Symbrion project that aims to create, according to the website, "super-large-scale swarms of robots, which can dock with each other and symbiotically share energy and computational resources within a single artificial-life-form."

"When it is advantageous to do so, these swarm robots can dynamically aggregate into one or many symbiotic organisms and collectively interact with the physical world via a variety of sensors and actuators."

The project, which involves researchers from a "swarm" of ten universities, hopes to develop applications that support search and rescue missions, space exploration and medicine.

Prof. Alan Winfield from the University of the West of England, Bristol, is quoted in the Telegraph story as saying:

"A swarm could be released into a collapsed building following an earthquake. They could form themselves into teams searching for survivors or to lift rubble off stranded people. Some robots might form a chain allowing rescue workers to communicate with survivors while others assemble themselves into a â''medicine bot' to give first aid. The robots have functionality on their own, but they can also combine together or adapt and change as the situation requires. The individual robots won't change physically, but they will adapt and evolve their functionally."

Shades of transformers!

The project is set to complete in 2013.

Speaking of transformers, check out this Toshiba-Softbank model 815T PB transformer cell phone.

Maybe the Symbrion folks and they can get together and create a cell phone swarm for who knows what - any suggestions out there?

36% of Scientists at NASA are Indian

There was a small item over at NASA Watch that references a Times of India story that states that "12% [of the] scientists and 38% [of the] doctors in the US are Indians, and in NASA, 36% or almost 4 out of 10 scientists are Indians."

The story goes on to say, "If that's not proof enough of Indian scientific and corporate prowess, digest this: 34% employees at Microsoft, 28% at IBM, 17% at Intel and 13% at Xerox are Indians."

These statistics were presented by Indian government minister D Purandeshwari, Minister of State for Human Resource Development on Monday to the Rajya Sabha or Parliament of India.

No stats on the percentage that are in the information technology & systems business, but according to Bill Gates, probably not enough. Gates warned Congress today that the U.S. needs to raise the cap on H-1B visas for skilled foreign nationals.

If not, Gates said, then "U.S. companies simply will not have the talent they need to innovate and compete," and all those foreign students receiving their education at U.S. universities will have to leave, to the detriment of US high tech companies.

Losing Your Heart May Have a Whole New Meaning


In a disturbing article in today's Boston Globe, it appears that there are large security gaps in "implanted devices that help regulate heartbeats and use wireless technology."

Dr. William H. Maisel, director of the Medical Device Safety Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who led a research project into medical device security risks, says in the story:

"With some technical expertise, we were able to retrieve information from the device in an unauthorized fashion. We were able to send commands to the device in an unauthorized fashion and could reprogram settings and even tell the device to deliver a high-voltage shock."

Maisel goes on to say that patients with pacemakers and cardiac defibrillators that have wireless capability shouldn't be concerned because of the high level of technical skill needed to conduct such an attack.

Maisel suggests that device manufacturers and maybe regulators may need to consider adding an audible tone or a vibration that "could let a patient know whenever someone is communicating with an implanted heart device."

While the risk may be remote, I can see all sorts of new television murder mystery plots developing. A person wanting to bump off their spouse or relative who has a pacemaker hires some mysterious hacker to do the job, or a group of young people, fed up with seeing their Social Security and Medicare taxes going up or worried that there won't be any left for them as they grow older deciding to knock off seniors en mass by driving by nursing homes and fooling with implanted medical devices. Tech savvy lawyer, doctor, private investigator, neighbor sets out to solve the case, blah, blah, blah.

TV plots aside, I do wonder, though, how soon we'll see hackers in the near future offering software to destabilize medical devices for the right price.

Microsoft's Vista $2,100 e-mail machine

The Sunday New York Times has an interesting story on the continuing saga of the lawsuit against Microsoft by two plaintiffs contending, according to the Times, that "Microsoftâ''s 'Windows Vista Capable' stickers were misleading when affixed to machines that turned out to be incapable of running the versions of Vista that offered the features Microsoft was marketing as distinctive Vista benefits." The complaint can be found here.

A judge last month granted class-action lawsuit status to the suit, which is scheduled to go to trial in October.

Microsoft, of course, says that this complaint is hokum, as its response explains here.

Unfortunately, 158 pages of internal Microsoft emails by employees like Michael Nash, a Microsoft vice president who oversees Windows product management, tends to undercut Microsoft's insistence that there was nothing misleading with Vista. Nash wrote that he "personally got burned" by buying a laptop that was labeled as Windows Vista Capable: "I now have a $2,100 e-mail machine."

The emails make for amusing, but not surprising, reading for anyone who has been in the software business for more than a month. They tell a story of tough design trade-offs, "hold your nose" compromises, broken promises, schedule pressure, vaporware marketing, and so on. In other words, business as usual in any large IT development shop, commercial or government.

In fact, the emails are something every high school or university student should read to understand what it is like out there in the IS&T world. Software development is like sausage making - you don't want to look too closely at what is used as filler or goes on during the process.

REAL ID Costs Hitting Starting to Bite


It looks like Virginia has decided that it will now charge residents $5 to renew their vehicle, motorcycle or trailer registrations in person at Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices. The reason is to "encourage" residents to renew on-line, by mail, or over the phone because the expected wait times at DMV offices in Virginia when REAL ID gets implemented next January are expected to climb at least 200%. The DMV is also asking the state government for an additional $7 million to hire new employees to cope with the expected increased workload.

Also, a story in Government Computing News indicates that states are quietly complying with the 1st of May REAL ID requirements, rather than fight them, at least at this time. The Department of Homeland Security says that only a handful of states have failed to either obtain waivers or comply with the requirements.

Missing White House E-Mails


IEEE Spectrum Senior Editor Harry Goldstein sent me a link to a ZATZ Publishing article titled, Where Have All the E-Mails Gone?" that discusses in detail what can only be called the appalling and absolutely amateurish IT practices at the White House in regard to its email system and its legal requirement to preserve them.

Currently, tens of thousands or more of White House e-mail messages that span a period of up to two and a half years may (or may not) be missing - no one seems, however, to be able to provide a definite answer.

The White House claims that "there is no evidence" of missing any e-mails: it just can't produce them.

If that explanation makes your head hurt, be forewarned - your logic circuits will be overloaded even more after reading the explanations in the ZATZ article as to whey they can't be produced.

Boeing To Slip 787 Dreamliner Again?


Last week, a Goldman Sachs analyst warned in a research report is likely to slip another three to even six months due to continued difficulties with getting parts. Boeing refuses to comment directly to the report, other than saying, â''Boeing is in the process of conducting an assessment of its 787 delivery schedule and will communicate it to customers around the end of first quarter, as previously indicated in January.â''

From previous Boeing comments, a slip looks more and more likely.

In addition, All Nippon Airways (ANA) is demanding clarification of Boeing's 787 delivery schedule. According to the story in today's Sydney Morning Herald, the airline is very unhappy: " 'The longer we wait, the more servicing of the 767s we will need to do,' said Mr Shinobe, an executive vice-president at All Nippon. 'Some of them may become unfit for flying.' "

The story says that in February Japan Air said that it was considering buying Airbus A350 XWB planes to help increase its fleet's fuel efficiency last month after Boeing announced the delay in the 787-3 version of the Dreamliner.

If Boeing isn't careful, the Dreamliner may start getting a new name, like Dreamloser.

Computer Science Enrollment Looking Better?


In an Ars Technica story pointed out to me by IEEE Spectrum Associate Editor Joshua Romero, there is some data that suggests that the drop in university and college student enrollment in computer science has bottomed off, at least for the moment. Information gathered from the Computing Research Association shows that for the past three years, newly declared CS majors has remained in the vicinity of around 7,500 or so. This is still about half as many as those who declared a CS major in 2000.

Computer science professor Jacob Slonim from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada blames the media instead of computer science professors for some of the decline in enrollment the past few years, at least in Canada. Slonim is quoted in ITWorldCanada as saying, â''Every time Nortel lays off employees, it makes major headlines. But when CGI says itâ''s looking for 2,500 new people, we never hear about it. The fact that Iâ''m forecasting the need for 80,000 new IT people by 2010 hasnâ''t made headlines either.â''

DoD Admits to Being Severely Hacked


Dennis Clem, the Office of the Secretary of Defenseâ''s (OSD) chief information officer, reportedly said last week at the Information Processing Interagency Conference that the June 2007 network hack into defense computers stole an â''amazing amount" of information, according to Government Executive magazine.

According to the magazine Clem said, â''We don't know when they'll use the information they stole, [which was] an amazing amount, [including] processes and procedures that will be valuable to adversaries.â''

While Clem didnâ''t say who the attackers were, the speculation has been that it was Chinese government sponsored hackers, a charge the government vigorously denies. CNN posted a story yesterday interviewing a number of Chinese hackers that suggests that the Chinese government was indeed behind the attack.

According to Government Executive, after the intrusion was discovered and the network shut down, it took OSD three weeks, $4 million, and the introduction of a boatload of new security processes before recovery was complete. The US Department of Defense gets some 70,000 intrusion attempts per day.

In a case of good timing, according to a story in yesterdayâ''s Washington Post, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is next week going to conduct a follow-on to its Cyber Storm I exercise. The Post says that Cyber Storm II is planned to be â''the largest-ever exercise designed to evaluate the mettle of information technology experts and incident response teams from 18 federal agencies, including the CIA, Department of Defense, FBI, and NSA, as well as officials from nine states, including Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In addition, more than 40 companies will be playing, including Cisco Systems, Dow Chemical, McAfee, and Microsoft.â'' Also involved will be government agencies from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

The exercise is needed none too soon, according to another Government Executive story this week that quotes National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell that the US is not prepared to deal with threats against military and civil networks and information systems.


Risk Factor

IEEE Spectrum's risk analysis blog, featuring daily news, updates and analysis on computing and IT projects, software and systems failures, successes and innovations, security threats, and more.

Willie D. Jones
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