Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gigonomics: The New Workforce Model?

Newsweek published an interesting piece today titled The New American Job: Are freelance and part-time gigs the future? The piece discusses how, in the current economy, a job is not a job using the traditional definition. Work for many has become a pastiche of part-time gigs, project contracts and fill-in freelance work. Here's an interesting quote from Newsweek:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment was up in December across all fifty states from the previous month and the prior year. Some 2.5 million full-time jobs have evaporated in the last 13 months, contributing to what's being called the "gig economy." But there is a convergence of other, more developed trends at play as well. Tight-budgeted company managers long ago embraced outsourcing to only pay for what they can use. A new generation of workers has 24/7 connectivity, lacks corporate loyalty, and thinks like (if the McCain/Palin contingent will give us back the word) mavericks. Put them together and you get gigonomics.

New York is a good example of what's being seen around the country where (from Newsweek) two thirds of the opportunities created last year were either part-time, temporary or contract based, according to Sara Horowitz of the Freelancers Union, a group which does advocacy work and provides benefits for independent workers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed giving tax relief to the thousands who actually pay more in taxes because they are self-employed.

Will self-employment stick or is this just the result of our current economic meltdown? Should we be teaching business/self-employment survival skills in our science, technology and engineering classes?

My final question is do we have the broadband infrastructure in place in our country as we shift to this model and compete with the rest of the world? I think most of us realize the answer to this question is no.

Be sure to read the entire Newsweek piece linked here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Can Seagrass Health Indicate Environmental Stress?

Del Mar College’s Natural Sciences Department has made providing research opportunities to students a priority through the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP), funded by the U.S Department of Education, and has partnered with Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) and other area institutions to give participants hands-on experiences by working with researchers and graduate students.

In this interview, done at the 2008 National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education conference held last October in Washington, DC, Del Mar College student Nicolas Perez discusses work he did in the summer of 2008 related to research conducted by TAMU-CC associate professor of molecular and plant sciences, Dr. Kirk Cammarata. Under the supervision of Dr. Kirk Cammarata, three Del Mar College students were paired with TAMUCC- graduate student mentors and focused on separate research projects related to the study of sea grass health.

You can get more information on Delmar College, TAMU-CC and Nicolas' project here.

I enjoyed talking with Nicolas and all of the other students that attended the conference. I had the opportunity to interview a few more of them and will be posting those interviews here on occasion. If you want, you can see them all now on our Center YouTube channel linked here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Presentation to STCC School of Engineering Technologies

Today I had the opportunity to present at our Springfield Technical Community College School of Engineering Technologies opening semester meeting. My Technology Update presentation is displayed below.

Don't Forget To Submit Your HI-TEC Conference Proposal!

On July 19-22 our National Center for Information and Communications Technologies (ICT Center) will be participating in the first HI-TEC (High Impact Technology Exchange Conference).

HI-TEC is a
national conference in partnership with a consortium of National Science Foundation (NSF)Advanced Technological Education centers and projects.

HI-TEC is the first national conference on advanced technological education where both faculty who teach technicians and technicians themselves can go to update skills and knowledge. The conference is the
result of the collaborative efforts of ATE centers and projects across the nation and represents the evolution of the long-standing and highly-successful SAME-TEC Conference. Many of you joined us at SAME-TEC last year in Austin and we hope that you will join us again this year at HI-TEC in Scottsdale!

Charged with Educating America's Technical Workforce, HI-TEC will consist of one and a half days of pre-conference workshops and two days of conference sessions and keynote speakers. Attendees will have the opportunity to choose from a larger number of workshops and sessions.

HI-TEC workshops and sessions will cover the following areas:

  • Advanced Manufacturing Technologies,
  • Agricultural, Environmental and Energy Technologies,
  • Biotechnology, Chemical and Process Technologies,
  • Engineering Technologies,
  • Information & Security Technologies,
  • Learning and Evaluation, and
  • Micro- and Nanotechnologies
In addition, HI-TEC will uniquely explore the convergence of these areas!

Our conferences have always offered opportunities to participate in and learn about leading efforts to advance ICT technical training in the US - this summer it will be even better.

The HI-TEC Program Committee is currently accepting proposals for workshops, sessions and keynote speakers. Proposals must be submitted by January 30, 2009. To review proposal guidelines and to submit your proposal online, please visit

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Polka Long Tail And The Pittsburgh Steelers

It looks like the Steelers are going to the Super Bowl again but that's not why I'm writing this.

Back in October 2004 Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired Magazine, published an article and referred to something he called The Long Tail. In 2006, Chris expanded on his article and published the book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. In both the article and the book Chris explains how the Internet enables businesses to sell a large selection of goods in small quantities to a large population of customers at minimum cost.

Selling online extends the life of digital content almost infinitely. This makes sense - think about your favorite song or television show when you were a kid. The next time you're at your local WalMart look around - think you'll find that song or every (or even any) episode of you favorite show? Probably not. Chances are you'll find it and will always be able to purchase it somewhere (iTunes, Amazon, etc) on the web - that's the Long Tail.

So back to my title..... what do the Pittsburgh Steelers and Polka music have to do with Chris Anderson and the Long Tail?

In the 1970's my in-laws, polka musicians Happy Louie and Julcia, recorded a song titled The Pittsburgh Steelers Polka. It pretty much sat on the shelf for the past 30 years or so - they'd sell a few albums here and there with the song on it. A little over a year ago Louie and Julcia began putting their songs up on iTunes and more recently Amazon.

Fast forward to today - the Steelers song has gone viral. A search of the Pittsburgh Steelers on iTunes brings The Pittsburgh Steelers Polka up as number one on the songs list. Another search of the "World Genre" Top Ten in iTunes brings The Pittsburgh Steelers Polka up as number 6.

You can listen to a portion of the song on YouTube here.

If you want the whole song you can get it on iTunes here or on Amazon here.

Go Steelers!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Digital TV - Maybe Not Next Month?

I've been writing about the transition from analog to digital television, referred to as DTV, for the last year and a half or so. Here's a refresher.....

Way back in 2005 Congress decided to move to all digital over-air broadcasting to free up spectrum for public safety and make some money by auctioning off the space. Auctions for the spectrum held last year brought in $19.6 billion to the federal government. Congress allocated a little less than $2 billion to provide $40 coupons for digital to analog converter boxes and get the word out to consumers about the change - if you have an analog television and watch over the air your television will not work after February 17 without a converter box.

So far so good - better public safety, some money for the federal government, higher quality digital television and a coupon program for the converter boxes, all with good up front planning.......

Fast forward to last week - on Monday the organization handling the conversion, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said the program had no money left and a waiting list of 1.1 million converter box coupon requests. They also said approximately 13 million of the 41 million coupons mailed out to consumers had expired after 90 days.

Want more? Here's a quote from a piece in the Los Angeles Times:

In a letter Thursday to key members of Congress, John Podesta, co-chairman of Obama's presidential transition team, said the Feb. 17 conversion should be delayed, though he did not specify for how long. But with the incoming administration facing economic and foreign policy crises, it does not want to add a major problem with TV viewing in its first weeks in office.

Podesta cited troubles with the converter box coupon program as well as inadequate efforts to educate the public about the switch, and the need to help elderly, poor and rural Americans prepare for it.

"With coupons unavailable, support and education insufficient and the most vulnerable Americans exposed, I urge you to consider a change to the legislatively mandated analog cutoff date," Podesta wrote.

Podesta said the waiting list for coupons could climb to more than 5 million by early February.

Also..... Obama's economic stimulus package is rumored to include some money for the analog to digital transition.....

Will the February 17 deadline end up being extended? Right now it sure looks like it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Shoulder Injury = Slow Blog Output

I've had a nasty shoulder injury and it is keeping me from blogging at my usual pace. Most of my writing is done after I get home from work in the evenings. With this injury I'm still working during the day but usually get home, eat dinner and end up crashing. It has really slowed my writing.

I'm working on a piece about President Elect Obama's pick for Kevin Martin's successor at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - Julius Genachowski. Give me a day or two to finish it up. Hopefully by then I'll be back closer to my normal output.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Tamar Weinberg on Facebook Etiquette

Tamar Weinberg has an excellent post over at Techipedia titled The Ultimate Social Media Etiquette Handbook. In her post Tamar discusses a number of social media utilities including a couple of my favorites - Facebook and Twitter. Here's are some Facebook egregious sins that you must not perform on social media sites. Tamar says avoiding these violations will help you learn how to manage and maintain online relationships on a variety of popular social media sites.

  • Adding users as friends without proper introductions. If you’re looking to make friends, tell people who you are. Don’t assume they know you — especially if they, well, don’t.
  • Abuse application invites and consistently invite friends to participate in vampire games. Many call this spam.
  • Abusing group invites. If your friends are interested, they’ll likely join without your “encouragement.” And if they don’t accept, don’t send the group request more than once by asking them to join via email, wall post, or Facebook message.
  • Turning your Facebook profile photo into a pitch so that you can gather leads through your Facebook connections. Thanks, but no thanks. Facebook is about real friendships and not about business — at least not to me.
  • Using a fake name as your Facebook name. I can’t tell you how many people have added me and their last name is “Com” or “Seo.” I’m not adding you unless you can be honest about who you are. Once upon a time, Facebook deleted all of the accounts that portrayed people as business entities or things. I wish Facebook would employ the same tactics yet again, because I’m not adding a fake identity as a friend.
  • Publicizing a private conversation on a wall post. In case it isn’t obvious, Facebook wall posts are completely public to all your friends (unless you tweak your privacy settings). Private matters should be handled privately: via email or even in Facebook private messages.
  • Tagging individuals in unflattering pictures that may end up costing your friends their jobs. Avoid the unnecessary commentary also, especially on your childhood pictures that portray your tagged friends as chubby and not so popular. Further, if your friends request to be untagged, don’t make a stink of it.
Good advice, especially to those just starting out with Facebook. Be sure to read Tamar's entire post linked here.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

AT&T 2G Network Services Changing?

Timothy Butler has an interesting post over at Open for Business (OFB) titled Fewer Bars in More Places: AT&T Network Upgrades Degrade Service for 2G Phones. Here's a couple of quotes from Butler:

In an act affecting owners of 2G cell phones on AT&T Mobility’s network, including the highly visible, and originally highly expensive first generation iPhone, Open for Business has learned that AT&T has been quietly sacrificing 2G signal strength in an effort to speed up the build out of its next generation 3G network. The first generation iPhone was trumpeted by the company as recently as seven months ago; many 2G phones continue to be sold by the Dallas-based company today.

According to Butler, until recently AT&T has primarily relied on the 850 MHz frequency band that offers better indoor reception for their 2G EDGE service. He says AT&T technicians confirmed to OFB that transmitters for the 2G signal used by the original iPhone and most other handsets, including most AT&T offered BlackBerry and RAZR models, have been shifted to the weaker 1900 MHz band in some areas. has a good frequency FAQ that describes the difference between the 850 and 1900 MHz bands:

What is the difference between the 850 and 1900 bands? They are the two
different wireless bands available to North America. 850 was the original cellular band, and it was split into two, the "A" band and the "B" band. The "B" band was for the wireline phone company and the "A" band was for a non-wireline provider. The 850 band has been around for 15+ years, and the systems are very well built out. The FCC mandated that a certain amount of land be covered by a signal. The 1900 band was placed in operation several years after 850. The 1900 band is also known as PCS, and the two terms are used interchangeably, which can be confusing when trying to follow a conversation. There are 6 bands A through F, and some of those can be split into others. The requirements for the 1900 were not as strict as 850. Only a certain percentage of the population needed coverage (67% IIRC). Than means building the urban areas pretty much met the entire FCC buildout requirement for a given area. From what I can gather, there rules have been relaxed even further.

Which is "better"? Here's more from

Which is better, 850 or 1900? In general, you are going to get more performance out of 850 than you are going to get out of 1900 for several reasons.

1. As mentioned earlier, back when the 850 licenses were issued, they had to cover a certain amount of land cover. This required deploying their system throughout many rural areas (not ALL though). 1900 licenses only need to cover up to 67% of the population, and in many cases they don't even have to meet that.

2. The higher the frequency, the shorter the usable range. You need approximately twice as many 1900 MHz towers to cover a given area than 850 MHz towers. Most 1900 MHz towers are in urban and suburban areas. A properly built 1900 system will work as well as a properly built 850 system, but it will likely cost more to deploy and operate.

Sometimes 1900 will work better in a city because 1900 MHz signals tend to work better in the middle of the city with large buildings as the shorter wavelength allows the signal to go around corners easier. Also, due to network loading, 850 towers have to be "turned down" in urban areas so as to not overload, so the playing field is leveled. 3. Leaving the technical details aside, it seems that 850 MHz signals penetrate most modern buildings better than 1900 MHz signals. There are many factors involved such as the material of the walls, the proximity of the local cell towers and various other factors. The fact that 850 MHz carriers have been in operation longer and have optimized their coverage is an important factor to consider. If there is a window nearby, chances are that either system will work, assuming that there is some sort of signal available at the window! The bottom line is this: when you try out a service, make sure you bring your phone to all the areas you'll be using to make sure it works where you need it.

Here's more from the Butler piece:

OFB was able to confirm this situation for itself using multiple devices in St. Louis, MO, and also obtained information on similar cases across the country. Reports suggested the problem started to appear as AT&T ramped up its 3G network in preparation for the iPhone 3G in early 2008. Each AT&T technician OFB talked to concerning this problem offered the same solution: that the customer should purchase new, 3G-enabled equipment at the customer’s own expense.

I'm still one of those first generation $400 iPhone users so Butler's accusation concerns me. His piece goes on:

AT&T’s executive director of analyst relations, Mark Siegel, “categorically” denied to OFB that AT&T was advising customers to dump 2G equipment such as the iPhone for 3G versions. In a follow-up message, Siegel added that the company was not requiring anyone to switch to 3G equipment. Although that is technically true, customers in affected areas are all but required to upgrade due to the dramatic signal strength drop over the last few months.

Where's Apple on this? Butler writes OFB also attempted to reach Apple for comment, but had not received a response from the company by press time.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Pew Study: The Internet In 2020

A couple of weeks ago the Pew Internet & American Life Project released their third internet evolution report titled The Future of the Internet III. To prepare the report, Pew surveyed internet leaders, activists and analysts and found most believe portable hand held devices (what we all call "phones" now) will become our primary online devices as voice-recognition improves, artificial and virtual reality become more embedded in everyday life, and the architecture of the internet itself improves.

Here's a list of the key findings from the report:

  • The mobile device will be the primary connection tool to the internet for most people in the world in 2020.
  • The transparency of people and organizations will increase, but that will not necessarily yield more personal integrity, social tolerance, or forgiveness.
  • Voice recognition and touch user-interfaces with the internet will be more prevalent and accepted by 2020.
  • Those working to enforce intellectual property law and copyright protection will remain in a continuing arms race, with the crackers who will find ways to copy and share content without payment.
  • The divisions between personal time and work time and between physical and virtual reality will be further erased for everyone who is connected, and the results will be mixed in their impact on basic social relations.
  • Next-generation engineering of the network to improve the current internet architecture is more likely than an effort to rebuild the architecture from scratch.
You can download a copy of the Pew Report summary here and full report here.