Archive for November, 2013:

iPhoneys: Latest, greatest iPhone 6 concepts

Moving beyond iPhone 5S and 5C, new designs feature bigger screens and more magic

The newfangled iPhone 6 models envisioned by creative designers around the world probably won’t find their way into products for the holidays this year, but at least you have the new iPhone 5S and 5C to satisfy you for now.

Here’s a rundown of the latest:
*This concept from Iskander Utebayev (video by Ran Avni) shows a smartphone with a wrap-around screen — perhaps not far-fetched since Samsung reportedly has something along these lines in the works for 2014. Questions remain about how such a device would work, such as how a user would avoid accidentally cranking the volume up while grasping the sides of the phone, but we have a feeling there’s plenty of time to work out such kinks.

*Fuse Chicken, a smartphone accessories company, let fly an iPhone 6 design concept as part of a successfully funded Kickstarter marketing campaign for an all-in-one charger/syncer/stand/dock cable for iPhone 5/C/S. Their vision: An iPad Air-like iPhone with a 4.9-inch touchscreen, 40% thinner body than the iPhone 5S, a 64-bit A8 processor, an ultra-thin 1mm screen bezel, a 5mp Facetime camera and more.

*Not all concepts are about bigger-screened iPhone 6 models: This version from designer Arthur Reis and videographer Ran Avni shows a 4.2-inch screen with full HD display, a 12mp rear camera, a speedier A7X processor and a 2X faster GPU, and better speakers. This design shows a phone 1.1mm thinner than the iPhone 5S and 20% lighter. And yes, it would come in gold!

*This design from Set Solution boasts a 3D camera, wireless charging, 4.8mm thin body, 4.7-inch screen, plus a creepy animal/person at the end of the video.

*New gold standard from designers Martin Hajek and Steve Hemmerstoffer (of French blog This model boasts a 4.8-inch screen in a tighter package than the iPhone 5S.

iPhone 6
*This big but thin (5.3mm) iPhone 6 design from Nikola Cirkovic (out of Serbia) was posted on the site GrabCad.

* This sleek black design from Adrian Valenzuela at conjures up thoughts of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone. The designer describes the phone as having a clean slate of glass, no physical buttons and a smooth edge all around. The phone would always be “juicing up energy in your hand” for wireless charging simplicity.

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12 jobs getting the biggest raises in 2014

The average salary for newly hired IT pros is expected to increase 5.6% in the coming year

Looking to make your next career move? Staffing firm Robert Half analyzed 70 tech positions and found certain titles will be getting particularly big salary hikes in 2014. Read on to learn more about the 12 positions with the biggest raise potential. (Only base salaries are calculated; totals don’t include bonuses, perks or other compensation elements.)

U.S. starting salaries for professional occupations are projected to increase an average of 3.7% next year, according to data from Robert Half. That number jumps to 5.6% in the tech industry, which is expected to see the largest gains among all the fields researched.

Pre-sales/technical engineer
At the top of the heap, based on percentage gains, are pre-sales/technical engineers, who can expect an 8.4% increase in starting salaries, Robert Half reports. Typical duties for this position include: participating in customer presentations as the technical expert; determining technical requirements to meet client goals and acting as the liaison between the firm’s sales/business development and engineering groups; responding to RFIs or RFPs from current or potential customers with technical details of proposed solutions; coordinating the transition between pre-sales specifications and implementation engineering upon the awarding of contracts.

Mobile applications developer
Demand for people who can develop mobile apps remains strong, and companies are willing to pay a premium. Typical duties, as defined by Robert Half, include: coding, testing, debugging, documenting and monitoring mobile applications; interacting with different departments within the organization regarding new deployments; contributing to the development of project schedules and workflow; and recommending changes and enhancements to applications.

Software developer
Wanted: detail-oriented professionals with strong problem-solving capabilities, analytical expertise and communication skills. Software developers typically perform these duties: coding, testing and debugging programs according to computer engineering specifications; modifying, expanding and updating applications; communicating with a team that includes analysts, engineers and quality assurance testers in order to coordinate and document application development and testing; and developing software prototypes.

Software engineer
Candidates for a software engineer position should have broad information systems experience, says Robert Half. The firm describes these typical duties: designing and creating engineering specifications for software programs and applications; working with quality assurance to develop software test plans; collaborating with hardware engineers to assess and test hardware and software interaction; implementing a specific development methodology; and documenting software specifications.

Business intelligence analyst
In the era of big data, analytic talent is coveted. A business intelligence analyst is expected to perform these typical duties: designing and developing enterprise-wide data analysis and reporting solutions; reviewing and analyzing data from multiple internal and external sources; communicating analysis results and making recommendations to senior management; and developing data cleansing rules.

Data architect
A data architect brings analytical and creative skills to the table, along with in-depth knowledge of data systems and database methodology, design and modeling, says Robert Half. Typical duties include: understanding and evaluating business requirements and translating them into specific database solutions; creating data design models, database architecture and data repository design; working with the systems and database administration staff to implement, coordinate and maintain enterprise-wide data architecture; providing leadership in establishing and documenting data standards; and creating and testing database prototypes.

Developer/programmer analyst
According to Robert Half, the ability to understand applications from both a technical perspective and a business point of view is essential for a developer/programmer analyst. Typical duties include: analyzing business application requirements for functional areas such as finance, manufacturing, marketing or human resources; writing code, testing and debugging software applications; recommending system changes and enhancements; and documenting software specifications and training users.

Wireless network engineer
Among the network specialties, the position expected to get the largest percentage raise (7%) is wireless network engineer. Typical duties include: researching, designing and implementing wireless networks, including all engineering specifications and resource requirements for network hardware and software; making recommendations for wireless network optimization, additions and upgrades to meet business requirements; conducting and documenting RF coverage and site surveys; and documenting network infrastructure and design.

Network engineer
Robert Half also expects network engineers to receive sizable raises in the 6.9% range. Typical duties include: engineering enterprise data, voice and video networks; establishing and operating network test facilities; maintaining a secure transfer of data to multiple locations via internal and external networks; working with vendors, clients, carriers and technical staff on network implementation, optimization and ongoing management; providing high-level support and technical expertise in networking technology, including LAN/WAN hardware, hubs, bridges and routers.

ERP technical developer
ERP technical developers need to quickly identify technical problems in ERP applications, assess their potential impacts, and help design solutions, says Robert Half. Typical duties include: performing analysis, design, coding, data migration and testing for ERP production and development environments; implementing ERP enhancements to support changes in business processes; providing ERP application support; and working with various business teams to gather requirements and support business processes.

Network architect
Another network-related position in line for a sizable raise is network architect. As defined by Robert Half, the role is responsible for: assessing business and applications requirements for corporate data and voice networks; planning, designing and upgrading network installation projects; establishing and maintaining backup, version-control and viral defense systems; troubleshooting network architecture and making recommendations for system fixes and enhancements; and making recommendations for leveraging network installations and reducing operational costs.

Information systems security manager
One security-focused title showed up among the 12 IT jobs getting the biggest raises: information systems security manager. Expected to command a 6.8% raise in 2014, the position call for: providing leadership, guidance and training to information systems security personnel; reviewing, implementing, updating and documenting companywide information security policies and procedures; managing security audits, vulnerability and threat assessments and directing responses to network or system intrusions; ensuring fulfillment of legal and contractual information security and privacy mandates, including providing executive management with compliance reports and audit findings; and preventing and detecting intrusion.


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Scroogy Microsoft launches anti-Google ‘Scroogled’ store for holidays

Mugs, hats, shirts for those who think Google is doing evil

Microsoft is coming off looking a lot like Scrooge in launching an anti-Google “Scroogled” merchandise store just in time for the holidays.

The store extends Microsoft’s Scroogled campaign that criticizes Google for invading your privacy via scanning Gmail messages and grabbing other info about you via everything from its search engint to Chrome to Google Chat. Featured are mugs playing off the tired “Keep Calm” phrase, as in “Keep Calm While We Steal Your Data” along with a Google Chrome logo (that Microsoft might be asking for trouble by using). T-shirts boast a word cloud (shown here) consisting of “Gulled. Humbugged. Buffaloed. Wire-tapped. Extorted. Sold out. Chicaned. Fleeced. Scammed. Conned. Surveilled. Double-dealt. Ensnared. Suckered. Sandbagged. Gossiped. Scandalmongered. Flimflammed. Skullduggered. Bamboozled. Hornswoggled. Beguiled. Cheated. Fooled. Double-crossed. Defrauded. Hoodwinked. Swindled. Duped. They’re all just synonyms for being Scroogled,” according to the store promotional copy.

Hoodies, hats and other T-shirts can also be had. (On the plus side, prices range from $8 to $26… pretty cheap for Microsoft products.)

Google responded to the Scroogled store by tweaking Microsoft’s late arrival to the wearable computing game, according to the LA Times. “”Microsoft’s latest venture comes as no surprise; competition in the wearables space really is heating up,” Google said.

Microsoft’s campaign against Google has been called hypocritical by some observers, who note that the Redmond company has plenty of its own questionable privacy issues, including corporate keyword scanning in Office 365 and Exchange 2013.

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Microsoft: Fuel-cell powered data centers cost less, improve reliability

Microsoft researchers say fuel cell-based data centers could go where no data centers have gone before

Data centers powered by fuel cells, not the public power grid, could cut both capital and operational costs, improve reliability, pollute less and take up less space, according to Microsoft researchers.

This technology could make data center expansion possible in regions where utility-supplied power is tapped out but natural gas is abundant, according to a paper posted by Microsoft Research. Also, since the reliability of gas supply is better than that of electrical power, these data centers would suffer less downtime.

The researchers say there are many variables that need to be taken into account in engineering these facilities, but overall they hold potential for greener data centers.

The researchers looked at distributing relatively small fuel cells – similar to those used on propane-powered buses – around data centers to power a rack or two of servers each and found several potential benefits. It eliminates the need for the wired electrical distribution system in a traditional data center. If a fuel cell were to fail it would affect a limited number of servers, which data center management software could handle. Since the power is DC, the AC to DC converters in the servers could be eliminated.

In that configuration the power supply would be nearby each rack so there would be no need for a data center-wide electricity distribution system with its attendant transformers, high-voltage switching gear and distribution cabling. Pipes to distribute natural gas and leak sensors cost less. The tradeoff in the amount of space the gear occupies means a 30% reduction in the required square footage for a data center as a whole, the researchers say.

The fuel cells emit 49% less carbon dioxide, 68% less carbon monoxide emissions and 91% less nitrogen oxide, than traditional power methods, the researchers say.

Fuel cells do require specialized equipment that is not needed in traditional data centers such as reformers that pull hydrogen from methane, batteries and startup systems and auxiliary circuits.

Design of a fuel cell powered data center would have to take into account the spikes in server usage that require instantaneous power supply increases. Fuel cells, which perform best under constant load, can lag seconds behind changes in demand. “Some of the spikes can be absorbed by the server power supply with its internal capacitors. But large changes like flash crowd and hardware failures must be handled by an external energy storage (batteries or super-caps) or load banks,” the paper says.

The researchers figured use of rack-level power cells at $3-$5 per Watt, and planned for a five-year replacement cycle for them. The entire system life was set at 10 years. They eliminated the cost of diesel generators and uninterruptible power supplies because the natural gas supply is so reliable. Distribution at the rack level eliminates the need for transformers, high voltage switching gear and distribution cabling. Pipes to distribute natural gas and leak sensors cost less. The tradeoff in the amount of space the gear occupies means a 30% reduction in the required square footage for a data center as a whole.

This issue could be addressed by installing server-sized batteries that could jump in with extra power when server hardware is starting up or shutting down, the times of greatest change in power draw. Fuel cells give off heat, so these data centers would need greater fan capacity to cool them.

The capital cost of a traditional data center is $313.43 per rack per month. A rack-level fuel cell data center is between $50.72 and $63.36 less than that, researchers say. Operating expenses per rack per month for a traditional data center are $223.51 vs $214.06 for one powered by polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells. The savings would be greater with a different type of technology called a solid oxide fuel cell. Savings would also fluctuate depending on the price of electricity where the data center is located.

Reliability of natural gas distribution systems is better than that of the electrical grid, and that would on average cut annual downtime from 8 hours, 45 minutes to 2 hours, 6 minutes, the researchers say.

The researchers considered using large fuel cells to plug into a traditional data center design as a direct replacement for a utility-provided electric service, but they decided that the larger the fuel cell the greater the chance of failure. Plus the cost was high.

They also considered tiny fuel cells to power individual servers. A failure would affect just one server, and because the cell is integrated there is no DC transmission loss. However, lots of tiny cells may add up to a less efficient and less cost effective use of energy than the slightly larger ones needed for racks.

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Windows 8.1: Update or upgrade?

Two out of three of my machines upgraded easily.

By now, if you are a Windows 8 user, you probably upgraded or at least tried to upgrade to Windows 8.1. Of my three machines that ran Windows 8, two of them upgraded rather uneventfully, if slowly. The third, an old Celeron desktop machine, failed because evidently there wasn’t enough free memory to create a RamDisk. I tried a few things to remedy this but frankly after seeing 8.1 run on my other machines, I decided it wasn’t worth moving heaven and earth to accomplish. Overall, that is my impression of 8.1 – nice to have, not a must-have.

As I said, the upgrades went pretty slowly. The first machine that I upgraded, my VAIO Duo, was upgraded the first day the 8.1 upgrade was available. It was about as hard to download the upgrade file as it was to download a new iOS version from Apple on the first day it was available. That is, I guess, the measuring stick today. So by that measure I guess it was about normal. What I was surprised about was how long it took to install on my machine. But, again, it was not terribly out of reason.

Once my machine upgraded, I rushed over to the desktop to see my old friend, the Start button. To my chagrin, it really wasn’t a start button. There was a button where the Start button would go, and it was the Windows logo. Pressing that button brought me to the Windows 8 Metro interface. It’s not really what those clamoring for the return of the Start button were looking for.

Of course, when I right clicked the Windows button I saw the familiar Start button options, albeit in a different sort of fly out menu. But I guess if you really need those old start options, right clicking did give you what you needed.

OK, so less than overwhelmed I headed over to see the shiny new, improved Windows Store. I liked the look of the featured apps. I downloaded the Facebook app finally and a few of the other suggestions. However, I was kind of bummed when I realized that they no longer had apps broken down by category. Now they had popular free, popular paid and recommended for me. Again, more like iTunes or Google Play I guess. But I liked the old categories better.

I am just not that familiar with Windows 8 applications, and I used to enjoy browsing the different categories for apps that I considered interesting. I just don’t browse as well under this new format. I hope Microsoft will restore the categories soon.

Beyond that, I do think Windows 8.1 was snappier on my machine. I wouldn’t say it was a game changer overall, but a solid upgrade.

I upgraded my other laptop a few days after the rush was over. That upgrade went much faster on the download and about the same on the install. Again, same type of results. One thing I did notice is that since my other laptop is not a touchscreen, having the Start button was more useful with a mouse. I didn’t have to mouse in from the corner or side and go to another screen and all of that.

I was speaking with Mark Laymon, founder of the co-working Caffeine Spaces here at the FAU R&D Park. Mark is a mouse user for 20 years. He doesn’t have a touchscreen. He thinks while overall Windows 8.1 was “all right,” it was no big deal. The biggest thing for him is when he has to shut down, he no longer has to try and drag the mouse over from the right edge and find the power button and all of that. He just goes to the familiar start button menu. Also, reaching stuff like the control panel and other places from the Start button is a lot easier for him.

That just confirms for me what I already knew. Windows 8 is really made for a touch interface. While you can get by with just a mouse, it loses some of its power without touch. Even now, when I am on my old laptop or other machines, I find myself touching the screen to move things around or scroll down. It is only when nothing happens that I realize I am not in touchscreen Kansas anymore.

So overall if you use a mouse, Windows 8.1 is a decent upgrade and offers some help. If not and you haven’t upgraded yet, it probably doesn’t rise to the top of your list. One thing to keep in mind though is that Microsoft made a big deal about Windows 8.1 being a free upgrade. I don’t know what their plans are, but maybe it doesn’t stay free forever? Just a thought.


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