Friday, July 25, 2014

IBM Wins Deal to Supply Cloud Computing to California Agencies

Business Week

Bloomberg News
By Alex Barinka July 24, 2014

International Business Machines Corp. (IBM:US) will supply cloud services to the government of California, letting more than 400 state and local agencies save money by pooling their computing resources.

IBM will store data and software on remote servers in a service called CalCloud, available to all state and local government bodies, the company said today in a statement. The arrangement lets agencies pay only for the computing workload they need.

IBM is counting on cloud computing for growth after nine straight quarters of declining revenue, dragged down by weak demand for hardware and falling sales in markets like China. Cloud technology has been a conundrum for the Armonk, New York-based company because it can reduce demand for hardware, since companies rent computing power rather than assembling their own data centers.
The company competes for cloud-computing clients with Oracle Corp. (ORCL:US), Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc., to which IBM lost a $600 million contract with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency last year.

Because government customers have additional data-security needs, they’ve been slower than corporations in moving to the cloud because it means surrendering some control over managing the technology. IBM said it designed CalCloud to comply with the requirements of the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

“CalCloud is an important step towards providing faster and more cost-effective IT services to California state departments and ultimately to the citizens of California,” Marybel Batjer, secretary of the Government Operations Agency, said in the statement.
To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Barinka in New York at abarinka2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Rabil at srabil@bloomberg.net Crayton Harrison, John Lear

Never stop learning, CIOs advise new IT grads


Credit: Thinkstock

Keeping skills sharp is critical if new graduates want to find success in the volatile world of tech.


By Ann Bednarz
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NetworkWorld | Jul 24, 2014 8:50 AM

While the job market is healthy for IT pros, certain talents are more valuable than others, and it’s wise to keep adding to your skills arsenal.

That’s the advice of IT veterans to newcomers in the field.

Among 2,400 U.S. CIOs surveyed by Robert Half Technology, 50% said their best career advice for new grads entering the tech industry is to keep learning new skills and stay current in their field. Another 17% of respondents said they’d tell first-time job seekers to take any opportunity that will help them get a foot in the door with an employer.

Other career advice that’s popular among CIOs includes: be ready and willing to work long hours (13%), join industry networking groups (8%), and find a mentor (8%).

“Employers want to hire people current with the latest software, tools and trends -- and these are continually evolving. Employees who can hit the ground running with minimal training are highly sought at any level,” said John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, in a statement.

In the bigger picture, the hiring scene is healthy for tech pros. IT employment numbers are rising, and CIOs are confident about hiring budgets. On a year-over-year basis, IT employment has grown by 3.2% since June 2013, adding 144,200 IT workers, according to TechServe Alliance, a collaboration of IT and engineering businesses.

When Robert Half Technology asked CIOs about their hiring plans for the next six months, 14% said they plan expand their teams in the last half of 2014. (When the firm asked the same question at the beginning of 2014, 16% were planning to add more staff to their departments.)

Another 76% of CIOs expect to hire only for open IT roles, compared to 67% in the first six months of the year. Meanwhile, the number of CIOs who plan to put a hold on hiring is declining -- 8%, compared to 15% in the previous survey. Just 1% expect to reduce their IT staffing levels (compared to 2% at the start of 2014).

On the talent front, 61% of CIOs told Robert Half Technology that it’s somewhat or very challenging to find skilled IT professionals. The areas where it’s hardest to find skilled talent are applications development (cited by 17%), networking (17%) and security (12%). When asked which skills sets are in greatest demand within their IT departments, CIOs called out network administration (57%), database management (52%), and desktop support (52%).




Ann Bednarz — Assistant Managing Editor, Features

Ann Bednarz covers IT careers, outsourcing and Internet culture for Network World. Follow Ann on Twitter at @annbednarz and reach her via email at abednarz@nww.com.

Comcast’s Internet for the poor too hard to sign up for, advocates say


FCC urged to boost Comcast's commitments in Time Warner Cable merger.

by Jon Brodkin - July 23 2014, 1:00pm CDT  Ars Technica


Comcast

A California nonprofit says that a Comcast Internet service program for poor people is too difficult to sign up for, resulting in just 11 percent of eligible households in the state getting service.

Comcast had to create the $10-per-month Internet Essentials program in order to secure approval of its acquisition of NBCUniversal in 2011. About 300,000 households containing 1.2 million people nationwide have gotten cheap Internet service as a result, but the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) complains that the signup process is riddled with problems, a charge Comcast denies.

CETF itself was created by the California Public Utilities Commission when approving the mergers of SBC-AT&T and Verizon-MCI, and its purpose was to accelerate broadband deployment for unserved or underserved populations. The group says additional requirements should be imposed on Comcast as part of its pending acquisition of Time Warner Cable.

In comments filed with the FCC, CETF said Comcast has signed up 35,205 households out of more than 313,000 eligible ones in California. Nationwide, 300,000 families out of 2.6 million eligible have signed up, Comcast said in March. The service offers 5Mbps download and 1Mbps upload speeds and a computer for $150, of which 23,000 have been sold.

"Comcast makes the sign-up process long and cumbersome," CETF claimed. "The application process often takes 2-3 months, far too long for customers who are skeptical about the product in the first place, and have other pressing demands on their budgets. The waiting period between the initial call to Comcast and the CIE [Comcast Internet Essentials] application arriving in the mail can stretch 8-12 weeks, if it comes at all. After submitting the application, another 2-4 weeks elapse before the equipment arrives. Many low-income residents do not have Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and are required to travel long distances to verify their identities because Comcast has closed many of its regional offices. Recently, some potential subscribers with SSNs were rejected over the phone and told they had to visit a Comcast office. Comcast has a pilot effort in Florida that should be expanded to allow customers to fax or e-mail photocopied IDs as proof of identification."

This is false, Comcast spokesperson Charlie Douglas told Ars today. "Once we receive a fully executed application we can provision service in about three to five days," he said. CETF has "brought us customers in the past, and we diligently look through every single one and try to resolve it to the best of our ability and will continue to do that if there are additional customers they haven't brought to our attention," Douglas said.

CETF also wrote that Comcast has violated program rules by conducting credit checks. "Comcast conducts credit checks for some customers, contrary to CIE rules," the CETF filing said. "Dozens of clients are receiving letters from Comcast saying that they have failed a credit check. Comcast specifically states and advertises no credit check is needed for CIE. This has repercussions beyond obtaining broadband service. The act of performing a credit check can negatively impact the consumer’s credit worthiness. Initially, some CIE service representatives told customers they could pay $150 deposit to avoid a credit check, also contrary to program rules."

Douglas acknowledged that problem, chalking it up to a "technical error" in which a credit check was incorrectly triggered by an automated process. "That was an error we made, and we have tried to make right with any customer who was impacted," Douglas said. "We have reached out and apologized to customers and tried to resolve the problem in each and every instance." In cases when a credit check was performed by mistake, "we worked with the credit reporting agencies to have it removed from the applicant's record, and we worked with the partner organization to communicate that back to the applicant."

CETF also claimed that the CIE online application "has never worked properly… The site is often unable to complete address eligibility searches and simply redirects the customer to the 1-855 number again. This situation has been a major barrier at technology fairs, where families are told they cannot sign up online and must make a separate trip to a Comcast office. Comcast continues to ignore consumer feedback about the poor website operations."

Douglas said the online application does work. "We process thousands of applications online," he said. Applicants may be prompted to call if Comcast records indicate they have an unpaid bill or are at an address not in the company's service territory, he said.
Internet Essentials to play role in Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger

Comcast's annual report on its NBC commitments said that it "has distributed 27 million brochures in 14 different languages to school districts and community partners, fielded more than 1.5 million phone calls at the Internet Essentials call center, had 1.2 million visits to the websites, and broadcast more than two million PSAs about the program. The company has offered Internet Essentials in more than 30,000 schools in 4,000 school districts and provided tens of thousands of individuals with digital literacy training."

Comcast originally promised to keep the program running through June 2014, but "in March we announced voluntarily that we are going to extend the program indefinitely," Douglas said.

"This is an extremely hard group to market to," Comcast VP of Government Communications Sena Fitzmaurice told Ars today. "After 15+ years of marketing broadband everywhere we can, spending hundreds of millions of dollars doing so, our overall broadband penetration is only 39 percent in our markets (that was from our earnings call just yesterday). That we’ve gotten as many people as we have signed up via this program in this short a time is great."

Comcast has touted Internet Essentials while trying to win approval of its Time Warner Cable acquisition, pledging to bring the program to "millions of additional families in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Kansas City, and Charlotte," which are in TWC service areas.

The CETF urged the FCC to increase Comcast's commitments if the TWC merger is approved, asking for conditions including the following:

Include All Low-Income Households: Extend Comcast Internet Essentials to all low-income households, not just those with school children. For example, low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and recently returned veterans are not covered today.
Set Performance Goals: Set a national goal for Comcast to increase Internet Essentials subscribership for eligible households (now at about 11% in California and the nation) to reach 45% in 2 years and to continue the program until 80% adoption is achieved in low-income neighborhoods in each major Comcast market.
Capitalize an Independent Fund and Coordinate with States: Collaborate with states such as California that are major Comcast-TWC markets and have a strategic plan to close the Digital Divide and require Comcast to dedicate a sufficient amount to an independently managed fund to engage experienced community-based organizations to assist in achieving subscriber goals.

Edutopia: The Digital Divide: Resource Roundup

The "digital divide" is still a critical issue in education and beyond. Here's a roundup of resources and organizations to help educators understand the changing landscape and find information about supporting all learners to develop digital and media literacy.

By Amy Erin Borovoy, Ashley Cronin
JANUARY 20, 2014

Should Coding be the "New Foreign Language" Requirement?


OCTOBER 30, 2013  Edutopia


Photo credit: iStockphoto

Over the decades, students have been required to take a foreign language in high school for reasons that relate to expanding communication abilities, furthering global awareness, and enhancing perspective-taking. Recently, our home state of Texas passed legislation that enables computer science to fulfill the high school foreign language requirement. Coding (defined byBusinessDictionary.com as "the process of developing and implementing various sets of instructions to enable a computer to do a certain task") is, after all, both a language and a foreign subject to many students -- and much more.
Coding, Cognition and Communication

In terms of cognitive advantages, learning a system of signs, symbols and rules used to communicate -- that is, language study -- improves thinking by challenging the brain to recognize, negotiate meaning and master different language patterns. Coding does the same thing. Students who speak English and Mandarin are better multitaskers because they're used to switching between language structures. Coding, likewise, involves understanding and working within structures.

Memorizing rules and vocabulary strengthens mental muscles and improves overall memory. That's why multilingual people are better at remembering lists or sequences. Coding similarly involves very specific rules and vocabulary.

Learning a language increases perception. Multilingual students are better at observing their surroundings. They can focus on important information and exclude information that is less relevant. They're also better at spotting misleading data. Likewise, programming necessitates being able to focus on what works while eliminating bugs. Foreign language instruction today emphasizes practical communication -- what students can do with the language. Similarly, coding is practical, empowering and critical to the daily life of everyone living in the 21st century.
Coding is Ubiquitous

Programming is the global language, more common than spoken languages like English, Chinese or Spanish. Think about all the company websites, apps for mobile devices and in-house software. McDonald's employees take orders using software developed specifically for that purpose. Your Happy Meal depends on someone who can code.

Todd Park, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, says:
Technology and computers are very much at the core of our economy going forward. To be prepared for the demands of the 21st century -- and to take advantage of its opportunities -- it is essential that more of our students today learn basic computer programming skills, no matter what field of work they want to pursue.

In fact, according to Code.org, computer programming jobs are growing at twice the national average. Yet less than 2.4 percent of college students graduate with a degree in computer science. This is not surprising, given that only 10 percent of high schools have computer programming classes, and only 30 percent of the states allow computer science to fulfill a math or science graduation requirement. So while our home state of Texas doesn't count computer science toward math and science, allowing programming to count as a foreign language is a big step in the right direction.

Because of its ubiquity, because it takes the mystery out of technology and because it allows students to control (not just consume) technology, coding should be a curriculum staple along with reading, writing and arithmetic.
Resources to Support Coding Instruction

Despite the fact that few high schools in the United States offer courses in computer programming (and even fewer middle schools and elementary schools), many resources are available for teachers and parents to help their children learn this digital foreign language. Coding apps, ebooks, websites, Pinterest boards, interest groups and opportunities to practice coding and teach coding abound, as described in our previous Edutopia blog, 7 Apps for Teaching Children Coding Skills.

Start with Code.org, a nonprofit seeking to expand the availability of programming in schools and participation of underrepresented students of color and women. Code.org offers links and resources for teaching and learning various programming languages for all ages.

Currently Code.org is launching a campaign to provide a one-hour introduction to computer science for 10 million people "ages 6 to 106" duringComputer Science Education Week. Their resources will work in web browsers, tablets or smartphones, and no experience is needed. The site will offer everything you need to get started, including tutorials, FAQs, posters and more. Non-digital options are made available for classrooms without technology, so that students can learn about this language system and what it can communicate.
Empowering Students to Bridge the Digital Divide

In the past, the digital divide described students with technology compared to those without. Today, the divide addresses students who receive instruction on how to do things with technology versus those learning how to make technology do things. Now that computer science is the highest paid career for college graduates, it is time to stop teaching students how to push the buttons and start teaching them how to make the buttons.ANNA ADAM AND HELEN MOWERS'S PROFILE