GT Spectrum

Reports from the IT horizon.

by / July 31, 2001
Tech Wizards Flock to Public Sector
While the supersonic slide of the New Economy has left plenty of people unhappy, CIOs from the public sector are smiling.

Rod Massey, CIO of Palo Alto, Calif., said he now gets three to four times as many resumes as he used to. "We have definitely noticed a change in the market, especially in the last six months," he said. "Given all of the changes in the economy, there seems to be a much greater availability of IT professionals in the market - especially those who are looking at and are interested in local government."

In San Francisco, Liza Lowery, executive director of the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services, oversees an IT staff of 450. She said her vacancy rate previously hovered around 25 percent, but she saw the number of applicants available for IT jobs spike in February and March.

Nine months ago, when she recruited for a management position, she received 30 resumes and wound up with three or four worthy candidates. "I recruited for that exact same position earlier this year and we had about 200 resumes," she said.

This scenario is also being played out in a county that neighbors San Francisco. Steven Steinbrecher, Contra Costa Countys CIO, said the dot-com doldrums translate into "pure heaven" for him.

"For the first time in two and a half years, I have a full staff. A year ago, I couldnt beg people to come work here," he said, adding that he had a vacancy rate of 25 percent at one time. "In the last five months, we have gotten more stuff done than we would have accomplished in eight or nine months because we have enough people to get the work done."

The other big impact, Steinbrecher said, is the amount of money the county has been able to save on consulting fees with the addition of the new staff.

Barry Smith, CIO of Gaithersburg, Md., believes that the public sector offers its own reward.

"The people who left have made more money," Smith said. "But they all said [here] was a better place to work. And its not just our team; its the whole city government thing. Its a nice place to be and you feel very connected to doing the right thing."

Entrepreneur Has Fiber Optic Plan
NEW YORK - More than 100 years ago, the U.S. Post Office built pneumatic tubes under the streets of the Big Apple, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Louis that shot canisters full of mail along at 30 miles per hour.

According to The New York Times, a New Yorker, Randolph Stark, has become fascinated with the idea of using the forgotten tubes as fiber-optic-cable conduits to connect buildings to already existing conduits of telecommunications companies. The man has filed a patent application for converting the tubes but is still seeking permission from the city to inspect the tubes.

The city is unsure of who actually owns the tubes, but, according to the Times, Starks research has led him to believe that the city was given ownership of the tubes in 1954.

The tubes extend under the streets of Manhattan for 27 miles. To build such conduits today would cost $100 million per mile, Stark told the paper.

Originally, the Times reported, mail was put into canisters that resembled two-foot long artillery shells, and those canisters were "shot" through the tubes to deliver the mail between post offices.

Starks plans may or may not dovetail into New Yorks plan to make use of an abandoned system of water mains used to deliver high-pressure water to firefighters. Those water mains comprise 125 miles of potential conduit, and the city released an RFP in April for interested companies.

The citys Department of Information Technology told the Times that Stark would have to submit a response to any RFP the city put out soliciting the use of the pneumatic tubes for fiber-optic cables.

Swedes Smart Lives
STOCKHOLM, Sweden - As the country with the worlds highest penetration of Internet access and mobile phone usage (more than 70 percent of the population enjoy both) its no wonder that Swedes have become the prototype citizen of the future.

Grocery shoppers at the B+W supermarket chain simply stroll down the aisles and use handheld scanners about the size of a cell phone to scan the bar codes of the items they wish to purchase as they shop, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

The bill is paid automatically by the shoppers credit card, and nobody has to wait in line.

High tech households are also common, the Times reported, as sales opened in March for individual units of a 155-unit apartment complex equipped with refrigerated lockboxes at residents carports for the delivery of Internet-ordered groceries.

A bedroom community known as Varmdo features smart homes that sport computer-operated geothermal heating and cooling systems; security systems that track every window and door of the home; cell-phone remote control of household appliances; and self-propelled lawn mowers that pop out of storage sheds at preset times and mow the grass by following sensors embedded in the ground.

One reason for Swedens high IT IQ is the amount of money the country devotes to IT-related research and development, the Times reported - Sweden spends 4 percent of their GDP on tech-related research and development, the worlds highest percentage.

Europes Net Economy Strong
COPENHAGEN, Denmark - Recent research confirms the suspicions of many Internet analysts that the European Internet market is more resistant to the dot-com crash.

Daniel OBoyle Kelly, program manager of IDCs European Internet Economy research operation - and the principal author of a just-issued report comparing the two regions - said the European Internet market is different from that of the United States because of a number of key issues.

"The old adage that, When the United States sneezes, Europe catches a cold has been turned around," he said in late May, noting that the European Internet market appeared stronger than the U.S. market.

The smoother market has meant that European Internet use has been growing steadily. IDC said its research found that 117 million Europeans - around 30 percent of the entire population - were using the Internet at the end of 2000, a figure that is expected to increase to 233 million by the end of 2004, representing almost 60 percent of the entire population.

OBoyle Kelly said that while the dot-com shakeout has done nothing for the reputation of the Internet and e-business as a whole, it has allowed both consumers and companies to develop more realistic expectations of what can be accomplished using the Internet.

IDCs report, "Internet Usage and Commerce in Western Europe, 2000-2004," also predicts that the business-to-consumer market will account for a large amount of growth in the region, with European consumers spending $12.2 billion online in 2001; double that of online expenditures in 2000. - Newsbytes

Put Your PCs Where Your Servers Are
AUSTIN, Texas - Managing a gaggle of PCs across an enterprise can make a grown MIS manager cry. For starters, troubleshooting PC problems and upgrading PC components requires endless trips to users offices and cubicles, sucking valuable time from IT staffers days.

A Texas-based company has devised a way to make managing PCs more simple by scrapping the box approach in favor of a rack-mounted approach.

The company, ClearCube Technology, has created its "C3" architecture, which essentially takes the guts from a PC - the CPU, RAM, a NIC, hard drive(s) and a graphics board - and transfers them to a "CPU Blade."

Up to eight such blades can be housed in a "Cage," and the typical six-feet-tall by 19-inches-wide rack can hold 12 Cages, effectively stashing 96 PCs in one place.

On the users end, a little black box, the "C/Port," has the necessary connections for a monitor, keyboard and mouse plus a serial port for PDA-type devices. The C/Port is connected to the individuals CPU Blade back at the rack.
The racks are set up in the same room as an enterprises servers, making connecting PCs to the LAN much simpler, and the cable that used to be a users connection to the LAN is now the connection to the PC.

Such an arrangement might not be for every agency, but the company believes that call centers and customer-service/support centers are likely targets due to the space savings.

Computers Get ESP
ISPRA, Italy - Researchers at the Joint Research Centre, the European Unions scientific and technical research laboratory, have perfected an adaptive brain interface (ABI) that allows people to control their computers actions with pure brainpower.

"We have developed - the software to analyze and recognize what mental state the subject is concentrating on," said Jose del Millan, a Spanish computer scientist who coordinated the research project.

The ABI is programmed to recognize specific electrical signals generated by a persons brain to determine what the person wants the computer to do. First, however, the ABI must learn how a person thinks and a user must learn how to focus their thoughts.

Users are trained to focus their thoughts to generate three specific electrical signals, which are then recorded by a special cap that the user wears. One signal is relaxation, and the other two are mental commands to move each hand.
As a user becomes accustomed to focusing their thoughts, the ABI learns to associate particular signals with particular thoughts, though the software can only recognize a few brainwaves.

"There are technical limitations to recognizing more than a few brainwaves," del Millan said. "With more sophisticated systems - we could recognize many more brain states. There is a tradeoff between portability and ease of use, on the one hand, and resolution of the brain activity."

Researchers say that a user wearing the ABI can focus on a virtual keyboard on a computer screen and select a letter within roughly 20 seconds of thought and write a sentence in a few minutes.

The ABI was designed with people with disabilities in mind, and the researchers hope that, ultimately, the technology will allow those in wheelchairs to control the movements of the chair with their minds. In addition, people with disabilities could use the ABI to control a variety of household electronic devices.

The ABI was demonstrated at the European Information Society Technology exhibition held late last year.

Its a Cyborg!
CHICAGO - Although its not yet capable of amazing feats of strength or logic, Ferdinando Mussa-Ivaldi, Ph.D., of Northwestern Universitys Department of Physiology, has created an actual cyborg.

The brain stem and rostral spinal cord from a sea lamprey were kept alive in an oxygenated salt solution and wired to a small, mobile robot equipped with optical sensors and two wheels.

In a series of experiments, the researchers shined a light in front of the robot. Acting on impulses sent by the lamprey brain, the robot performed a variety of movements - toward the light, away from the light and circling and spiraling motions.

What has the researchers excited is that the experiments established two-directional communication between the brain stem and the robot. The commands generated by the brain stem create movement in the robot; the movement, in turn, causes a change in the input from the optical sensors passed to the brain stem since the intensity of the input depends on the robots location with respect to a light source.

Mussa-Ivaldi said the research shows great promise for helping those who suffer from Parkinsons disease and stroke victims.

Shanghai Considers 300 Story Skyscraper<\b>
SHANGHAI, China - Officials in this Chinese port city are discussing plans to build a 3,700-foot skyscraper capable of housing 100,000 people, according to the Sunday Times.

A team of architects from Spain will design the building, which resembles a giant cigar. The tower would contain 12 open levels, and each level would contain 25 floors of mixed housing, hotels, office space and parks. The levels would be separated by sealed sections that would act like fire doors, the architects told the Times.

Plans for the foundation of the tower incorporate a root-like system that would sink into the Earth to a depth of 656 feet, the architects said. The spines of the foundation would spread outward, akin to an upside-down umbrella.

In addition, the towers 3,000-foot wide, wheel-shaped concrete base would rise out of an artificial lake that the architects told the newspaper would absorb vibrations from geologic tremors.

The outer shell of the tower would be a membrane comprised of glass and aluminum, perforated with openings along concourses to allow fresh air into the building - residents would be banned from opening the windows of their apartments.

According to the Times, the tower would be the worlds tallest building, easily dwarfing Kuala Lumpurs Petronas Towers, a scant 1,483 feet tall.