Archive for December, 2014

In Silicon Valley, do the jerks always win?

We’ve seen a lot of bad-boy behavior out of Silicon Valley, but investors and customers just might say enough already

Do you need to be a jerk to succeed in Silicon Valley? The frequency with which bad-boy behavior crops up in the epicenter of tech culture can certainly make it seem that way.

The latest dustup involves the ride-sharing service Uber, whose senior vice president for business, Emil Michael, said he planned to hire private investigators to dig up dirt on journalists who he felt criticized the company. It sounded like a contemporary take on Nixon’s enemies list.

Michael is still with Uber. Company founder and CEO Travis Kalanick didn’t demote or fire him, opting to merely disavow the idea. And Michael’s transgression was hardly an isolated case of jerk behavior at Uber. A writer for San Francisco magazine has charged that she was told by people inside Uber that the company might monitor her rides on the service. There have been allegations that Uber has played dirty tricks on its competitor Lyft, it was revealed that Kalanick has privately called the service Boober because its success has made it easier for him to pick up women, the company has come out with blatantly sexist promotions, and more.

If you think all of that sounds like a company that is imploding, I have to inform you that Uber is valued at $18 billion.
And Uber is not an isolated case, but merely the latest manifestation of well-documented jerk culture among tech startups. The game company Zynga, for example, has faced lawsuits for illegally copying games of its competitors, has been charged with working with scam advertisers, and at one point forced four senior employees to either give up some of their non-vested stock or be fired. Zynga founder and one-time CEO Mark Pincus admitted in a speech at Startup@Berkeley, “I funded the company myself, but I did every horrible thing in the book to, just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this zwinky toolbar which was like, I don’t know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it.”

Even established companies in Silicon Valley have exhibited jerk behavior. Apple founder Steve Jobs, thought by some to be almost saintlike, was not exactly a warm and fuzzy human being. Biographer Walter Isaacson said Jobs was both “Good Steve” and “Bad Steve,” and he included a variety of “Bad Steve” anecdotes in his biography of him: He denied paternity of his daughter for years (he ultimately accepted it), short-changed Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on a bonus, and more.

Do we have to just accept this as the way things work? No. In fact, it’s not uncommon for bad behavior to come back and bite the founders and their companies.

Take Zynga. It was a high-flying startup, whose stock price in the early days was near $15. Today it’s trading at about $2. Pincus had to step down as CEO and chief product officer in April of this year.

Uber still seems to be riding high, but bad publicity may well take its toll, with numerous high-profile people abandoning the service and deleting the app, according to The New York Times. Kelly Hoey, a New York-based angel investor, deleted her Uber account because of privacy concerns, telling the Times, “I don’t want them to have my information, my credit card or my name.” Lisa Abeyta, founder and CEO of the tech startup APPCityLife, did the same, adding, “There is a difference between being competitive and being dirty. It is bad-boy, jerk culture. And I can’t celebrate that.” And Minnesota Senator Al Franken has written a scathing letter to Kalanick saying that Uber’s actions “suggest a troubling disregard for customers’ privacy, including the need to protect their sensitive geolocation data.”

One of Silicon Valley’s most prominent investors, Paul Graham, believes that investing in jerks (his term) is not just a kind of bad karma, but bad for business as well. Graham heads the prominent startup accelerator Y Combinator, which has helped launch countless successful startups, including Dropbox and Airbnb, and he won’t invest in companies run by people he considers jerks.

He told Business Insider, “The reason we tried not to invest in jerks initially was sheer self-indulgence. We were going to have to spend a lot of time with whoever we funded, and we didn’t want to have to spend time with people we couldn’t stand. Later we realized it had been a clever move to filter out jerks, because it made the alumni network really tight … based on what I’ve seen so far, the good people have the advantage over the jerks. Probably because to get really big, a company has to have a sense of mission, and the good people are more likely to have an authentic one, rather than just being motivated by money or power.”

So don’t think the bad buys always win. Sometimes they do get their comeuppance.


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Cool Yule Tools: Best techie gifts for 2014

The National Santa Agency has a handle on what everyone wants.

Our motto: “He Sees You When You’re Sleeping, He Knows When You’re Awake…”
After months of investigations, cups of coffee and several arm-twisting interrogation tactics, the Cool Yule Tools staff of writers and editors has discovered a shocking truth. The government group that has allegedly been spying on us, known as the “NSA”, is actually a cover group for a little-known organization with headquarters near the North Pole. Yes, we are speaking of the National Santa Agency. (See full writeups on these products.)

Thanks to our “Special Agents” who contributed reviews: Keith Shaw, Craig Mathias, Neal Weinberg, Abigail Weinberg, Ken Mingis and Tom Lupien.

Phones, computers and other mobile goodies
A large majority of the subjects we were monitoring were VERY interested in acquiring a new mobile device, whether it was a new laptop, phone or tablet. But we think they’ll be quite happy with these reviewed devices.

Apple iPhone 6 Plus
$299 for the 16GB model with 2-year contract; $749, contract-free

The iPhone 6 Plus represents the epitome of Apple’s phone line, but if you’re thinking of getting one as a gift, make sure your gift recipient can handle it. Literally. With a 5.5-in. “Retina HD” screen, this is one big phone — the biggest Apple’s ever made and its first foray into the phablet market.

As you’d expect from an Apple device, the design and engineering are top rate, and the screen is pixel packed, with 401 pixels per inch. That means everything is razor sharp, colorful and bright. It’s easily the best iPhone display Apple has produced.

Kyocera Brigadier smartphone
Price: $49.99 with two-year agreement, plus data plan

The Brigadier by Kyocera runs on Verizon’s 4G LTE network, and can take any kind of abuse you can dish out. We dunked it in water, dropped it on a hardwood floor, scraped the screen with a sharp knife. And nothing, not even a scratch.

Lenovo Horizon 2 Tabletop PC
$1,500 (our test unit, available via Best Buy)
When you lay this giant 27-inch computer flat on a table, the first thing people may think is that you somehow got your hands on the iPhone 7 Plus (a really really really big phablet). But in reality, it’s still a Windows 8.1 PC, but one with a touchscreen that multiple people can interact with. The Aura interface that overlays the Windows PC to provide the tabletop mode lets multiple people pinch, expand, shrink and move objects around on the touchscreen. While you can collaborate with co-workers via this method (looking at photos, or watching videos, for example), the majority of your time spent with this machine will be spent playing games.

Logitech k480 Multi-Device Keyboard
$49.99
You’re most likely to need/want a Bluetooth external keyboard when you acquire a tablet, but plenty of other devices (such as your smartphone and notebook) have Bluetooth as well, so it’s nice to have a single keyboard that can connect to multiple devices.

Logitech achieves this with its k480, a small, portable keyboard that includes a dial that switches between up to three devices, across multiple operating systems. If you want to connect a Windows PC, Android smartphone and Apple iPad, just turn the dial associated with each of those devices (it’s up to you to remember which device goes with each setting on your dial). The keyboard quickly and easily makes the Bluetooth connection to those devices. (See full review here).

Lenovo Y50
Starts at $1,089
I’ve been in the Mac camp for about three years now, about the same amount of time that Windows 8 has been out. But if I were ever considering coming back to the world of Windows, it would definitely be with this machine – the Lenovo Y50. The latest systems include fourth-generation Intel Core processors, a brilliant 15.6-inch full HD displays (touch-enabled, too), JBL speakers and a very cool backlit keyboard. I’m even coming around on Windows 8.1, if only a little bit (the return of the Start menu and easier access to the desktop definitely helps). (See full review here).

Lenovo N20p Chromebook
$329.99 (as tested)
Chromebooks have been out for a few years now, so the rough edges from earlier models have smoothed out, and Google seems to be doing a pretty good job at filling in the blanks of things that were missing from the operating system (remember, Chromebooks don’t use a traditional operating system like Windows or MacOS). You have to be invested in the Google universe, which means email will be done through Gmail, your browser will be Google Chrome, your productivity applications will be done through Google Drive (Docs, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.), and your music will be located on Google Play Music, etc. In fact, you might want to ask your friend, family or co-worker how comfortable they are with all of these Google offerings – if so, then it’s a definite recommend. (See full review here.)

Macally Quick Switch Bluetooth Keyboard
$69.99
It may seem like overkill to think that you would need one keyboard that quickly switches for use with five different devices, but you could find yourself in a scenario with two computers, a phone, a tablet and then you’re already up to four right there. Even if you don’t need five devices, it’s still a very cool option to have this functionality. In fact, you can connect a sixth device via the included USB cable, which is like Spinal Tap going to 11.

The keyboard itself is a full-sized keyboard with a very light touch and feel – it’s so light that you could carry it with you if you had a big enough laptop bag (it’s the width, not the weight that would be limiting).

REPORT #2: Audio Entertainment (Headphones, Music, Speakers)
After mobile devices, the next most popular item on holiday wish lists focus around musical entertainment. Whether speakers or headphones, we think these items will look great under the tree (or on your head).

Blue Mo-Fi headphones
$350
At first glance, the Mo-Fi headphones from Blue appear to be so large you’d never want to be seen in public with them. The headphones are big – very big compared with other headphones we’ve seen. They’re heavier, too. But the reasons for that will likely cause you to veto any concerns you may have. The extra weight and design are due to a built in audiophile amplifier and “ultra-premium drivers”, which give high-fidelity sounds to multiple devices – whether you’re listening on your phone, tablet, computer or even higher end A/V systems. Sure, this adds some extra weight, and you might get some odd looks while wearing these on your flight. But deal with it, you’ll enjoy the awesome sound compared to your seatmates listening on other headphones.
(See a full writeup of this product.)


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2015 to test Microsoft’s resolve and execution

It’s put-up or shut-up time for Windows, devices and mobile, say analysts

Microsoft faces not only its 40th anniversary in 2015, but a host of challenges that will define it for years to come, analysts said today.

The company, which is in the midst of a strategic do-over after switching CEOs and admitting that its earlier approach to the explosion of mobile wasn’t working, has a hard row to hoe, experts said.
MORE ON NETWORK WORLD: 10 (FREE!) Microsoft tools to make admins happier

“Next year is also the 20th anniversary of Windows 95,” noted Wes Miller of Directions on Microsoft. “Remember that? People stood in line to get Windows 95. Everyone was excited. That’s the big deal for 2015, whether Microsoft can reinvigorate the consumer ecosystem.”

Mobile matters

Because “consumer” is now synonymous with mobile, and because Microsoft has thus far failed to make meaningful inroads into the mobile device market — its Windows Phone powered an estimated 3% of the smartphones shipped this year, while Windows tablets accounted for 5% of 2014’s total, said IDC — Microsoft’s reinvigoration will be difficult.

forecast 2015

“They’re the canary in the coal mine,” said Miller of Windows smartphones and tablets. Without a play in mobile devices, Microsoft’s Windows operating system risks, if not irrelevance, then at least diminished importance for consumers. “Windows as an end-point [OS] then gets shoved into the background,” Miller added.

And that’s not good.
Microsoft has touted the next iteration, Windows 10, which is slated to ship in the fall of 2015, as the answer to its mobile problems. More than anything else, it’s stressing what it calls “Universal” apps, which thanks to a continued merging of the code base, will let developers recycle an application’s core, wrapping it with the user interface (UI) appropriate to each device.

Universal apps, Microsoft has argued, will boost the number of apps available to Windows on mobile, including phones and tablets, energize the developer community and put Windows back on firmer footing to take on the two mobile monsters, Android and iOS.

“I’m not sure that’s the answer [to Microsoft’s problems], but it is their answer,” said Miller. “I’m just not sure it will work out.”

Windows 10, front and center
To Jan Dawson, principal analyst at Jackdaw Research, Windows 10 is the biggest challenge Microsoft faces for 2015. “The single greatest test [in 2015] may be whether Microsoft can successfully charge large amounts of money for a new operating system to consumers and still see significant uptake,” said Dawson in a piece published Monday on Tech.pinions (subscription required).

In an interview, Dawson expanded on his thinking.
“Microsoft has a huge installed base on Windows,” Dawson said, “and the test will be upgrading this installed base to Windows 10.” At least on the consumer side; nothing will dislodge Windows specifically, and Microsoft generally, from the enterprise. “Microsoft’s enterprise business is harder to disrupt in the long term. They’re ultimately going to upgrade, so Microsoft will retain those customers.”

Microsoft’s ability to keep consumers in its fold will be iffier, Dawson said, agreeing with Miller that mobile will be a crucial challenge for the Redmond, Wash. company in 2015. “The reality is that consumers are not choosing Microsoft for mobile. They’re not choosing what Microsoft is making or its OEMs are making,” Dawson said. And that has had, and will continue to have, a knock-on effect for consumers and Windows PCs, as it makes moot going all-in on Microsoft.

“Why would I choose an all-Microsoft portfolio?” Dawson asked rhetorically.

But Dawson returned to Windows 10 as a touchstone for 2015, calling it and Microsoft’s pricing and upgrade decisions “symbolic of all the challenges facing Microsoft.”

Microsoft is the one major operating system maker that continues to charge for its OS. While it has discarded fees for all smartphones, many tablets and some notebooks, there’s no intention to expand that across the board, the firm’s chief operating officer said earlier this month.

Perhaps. But Dawson said Microsoft faces a decision this year. “Can they maintain Windows as a source of profit and revenue?” Dawson wondered. He didn’t think so, not for consumers, and expected Microsoft to take additional steps in 2015 to lower or eliminate the price of the OS to OEMs and users alike.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, went a different direction than Miller or Dawson when asked to tap Microsoft’s biggest challenge in 2015.

Enterprise, enterprise, enterprise
Rather than worry about consumers, Microsoft should instead focus on the enterprise, where it’s more or less guaranteed revenue, said Moorhead. “What’s their play in the public-private cloud?” asked Moorhead. “They’ve made good strides to move Microsoft code from on-premises to the public cloud, but they haven’t made much progress on Open Stack.”

Open Stack is an open-source cloud computing platform that many enterprises have adopted to create private cloud services or run hybrid implementations blending both public and private. Microsoft’s answer to Open Stack is its Azure platform.

Next year will be important, the analysts agreed. How important, though, remains unclear. This won’t be the first time outsiders have called the coming months critical for the company: In 2011 and 2012, much of the same commentary focused on Windows 8. And even though that OS failed to meet Microsoft’s expectations, the firm survived, even thrived.

“These companies are far more resilient than most people give them credit for,” said Dawson. “In a devices-based business, it’s possible to have a rapid implosion of a company, as happened to Nokia, Motorola, and now maybe Samsung. But this is not the devices business.”

Still, Microsoft will be on the spot in 2015. “This year, [Satya] Nadella laid out in words Microsoft’s strategy,” Dawson said. “But those words were very general words. What do they actually mean? Next year must be much more about execution from Nadella.”

Miller had high hopes for that execution, in large part because Microsoft will upgrade not only Windows and another of its big money makers, Office, but will refresh most of the rest of its on-premises portfolio.

“Look at how many products they’re going to ship in 2015,” Miller pointed out. “That will pique people’s interest.”


 

 


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How to get the most out of your IT talent

Finding ways to make your staff more efficient.

As the spotlight on cost reduction has dimmed, IT has picked up plenty of new directives: to deliver business agility, drive innovation, and increase its value to the business, to name a few. Yet at the same time, IT remains responsible for all the tactical and operational activities it has always performed, such as keeping systems running, delivering new capabilities, and securing intellectual property and corporate data.

For CIOs and IT leaders, the management challenge is how to help IT employees break the tactical habit and use their strategic skills more effectively. We asked for advice from three tech professionals with different perspectives on IT talent. Their expertise can help IT leaders who want their teams to work smarter and be more engaged. Some of the tactics can be adopted without a lot of investment, while others require outside help or more significant cultural overhauls.

Before/after coffee tasks

Time management is a logical place to start. A capable leader can help his team make time for higher-level tasks that will increase the value of IT to the business. But good IT leaders require cultivation.

“Most IT professionals are what I call accidental managers,” says Eric Bloom, a former CIO and current president of Manager Mechanics, which specializes in helping companies develop IT leadership talent. Many IT managers were promoted because they were good at their former jobs – even though their new jobs might have little to do with their past experience.
“Most IT professionals are what I call accidental managers.”

Eric Bloom, a former CIO and current president of Manager Mechanics
“Hey, you’re the best techie, congratulations,” Bloom says. “You didn’t go to school to learn what we’re going to ask you to do. All of the things you did that made you such a star employee and made us want to promote you — none of that is applicable to what we’re going to ask you to do. And, the job opened because we promoted someone into the job last year, with a skill set somewhat like yours, but they failed miserably and we had to fire them. Welcome to management.”

New IT managers have to adjust to a role of delegating vs. building. “Your creativity comes in maximizing the efficiency of those working for you,” Bloom says.

One delegation technique Bloom has devised is what he calls zone-based staff prioritization. It’s built around the idea of being in the zone – when people know what needs to be done, aren’t distracted, and are motivated to complete a task, they can be more productive, more innovative, and do a better job. “Sometimes people are at their best. Sometimes they’re alert but not creative. Sometimes they can do things but they’re not really open to challenge. And sometimes, there are things they can do as long as they’re not asleep or semi-comatose,” Bloom says.

Bloom’s technique aims to prioritize people’s to-do lists by zone levels, with the most strategic tasks being tackled when people are performing at their highest.

“When they’re at the top of their game, they should be doing software development, writing business cases, developing project plans, and things like that. If they’re alert but not really creative, they could be doing project plan vs. actual tracking, or writing status reports,” Bloom says. “If they’re not really up for a mental challenge, they can be returning routine emails, reviewing their spam folder, completing expense reports. If they’re basically not sleeping, then they can clean their office, file things, delete old email.”

If managers can give their staff a range of assignments, and teach them this technique, then people can figure out how to plan their day, based on what zone they’re in. “IT people can be more efficient if they use zone-based priorities,” Bloom says.
Cross-training and speed dating

Keeping up with the pace of change in tech is an ongoing challenge.
Chad Cardenas, chief innovation officer at Trace3, talks about the need to cross-train tech talent in multiple disciplines so companies can better handle shifting business requirements. Cross-training can shake up the status quo and also help with retention of employees who appreciate the chance to learn new skills.

“Engineers come from different backgrounds, have different skill sets and areas of expertise. Typically, they will get trained up and inserted within that particular wheelhouse of expertise that they already have,” Cardenas says. “That’s a challenge for a lot of companies: to break down those silos of engineering prowess and get their engineers cross-trained across multiple disciplines, so they can be more efficient, more powerful, and more valuable to the organization.”

Trace3 offers a training program called ScaleThem that helps clients pinpoint their business challenges and then develops a customized education program, including road maps for each team member.

Like many of its offerings, Trace3’s training programs grew out of the firm’s own transformation, over the past several years, from a traditional value-added reseller and systems integrator to a professional services firm with an emphasis on business transformation. As the company morphed, it found it had a surplus of storage engineers and not enough big data talent. Instead of recruiting outside the firm, Trace3 gave its storage gurus the chance to train to become data scientists. The engineers were happy, and the business was growing in the right direction.

“You can get way more out of that investment than you could out of consolidating a server environment or buying a cheaper storage solution,” Cardenas says of cross-training technologists. “You’re going to have happier engineers who are more engaged, more aligned to the business.”

Another Trace3 offering aims to help IT leaders stay up to date on the latest technology developments. Through its VC briefing program, Trace3 works with venture capital firms to set up a day of meetings in Silicon Valley, tailored for a CIO or CTO. “We curate and customize the entire agenda for the day, full of venture capital companies, entrepreneurs, and founders of early-stage startups,” Cardenas says. “All of the content and the speakers for the session are selected based on the areas of interest and the business needs of our particular client.”

This “speed dating” approach to innovation can expose IT leaders to players outside the familiar vendor landscape.

Far too often, there’s little time for researching what’s on the horizon amid the day-to-day requirements of IT, Cardenas says. “It’s still shocking to me how, to this day, large IT organizations with thousands of people and a billion-dollar IT budget still don’t have a single person — let alone a dedicated team — responsible for researching new technology and then vetting it and integrating it. It blows my mind.”

Schedule time for creativity

Cambridge Consultants depends on the creativity of its engineers to solve problems for its clients.

“Clients tell us about a problem they’re facing in the marketplace. That might be a competitive threat that they want to respond to, it might be some IP protection that they need to build, or they might be worrying about an expiring patent. We apply technology to solve that problem for them,” says David Bradshaw, a director in the Boston office of the UK-based product development and technology consultancy firm.

One way the firm works to keep its employees energized is through its corporate development program, which allows engineers and scientists to pursue their own project ideas.

“Being a consulting company, we sell our hours to our clients. Obviously we carry a surplus of those hours, and we need to find a productive way of using them. What better way than to let the staff be creative on their own ideas? This gives them an outlet to develop in an area that interests them,” Bradshaw says. “It leads to better retention, because people are working on things that they’re genuinely passionate about. That’s the whole idea of the program.”

The parameters aren’t completely open-ended; the firm tries to find some correlation to what the business is trying to achieve, he says.

“That teaches our people to take some corporate responsibility in these things as well,” Bradshaw says. “So we don’t just get a crazy array of things that we would never be interested in. We tend to get things that are well thought through and are strategically aligned to what we’re trying to do as a business.”

To ensure that people have time to pursue these side projects, it’s built into the company’s annual planning process. The leadership team reserves 5% to 10% of the firm’s overall engineering hours for these activities, even without knowing the focus of the projects.

Over the years, the program has results in more than 20 corporate spinouts. Most recently, a side project resulted in the creation of Aveillant, which was spun out from Cambridge Consultants in 2011. Aveillant’s holographic radar technology — which is being used to control radar inference in the wind energy industry – grew out of work a team was doing to prevent auto collisions. An engineer had an idea for applying the technology in a new area and ran with it.

In addition to boosting employee satisfaction, there are other efficiencies as well, Bradshaw says. “These people are training themselves as they’re doing this work. They’re educating themselves, often going out and finding out about new areas and actually indirectly contributing to the company strategy as these programs are undertaken.”

He credits the firm’s corporate culture with making the program work.

“We have a corporate culture of empowering individuals very early on in their careers. We take great people on, we trust them, and we empower them. That gives people the confidence to have these discussions, to believe they can achieve something, to not be afraid to bring their ideas to a manager or somebody who’s actually then able to make an investment decision based on that. It’s very much an accepted and encouraged part of what we do.”


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Weird science: The 10 oddest tech stories of 2014

Online telepaths, culinary AI, criminal drones — the tech world was full of offbeat surprises this year

Weird science: The 10 oddest tech stories of 2014
Every now and again, strange events from the world of high tech bubble over to the general news cycle and make headlines for a day or two. No doubt these crossover hits favor reports that enforce the general populace’s sentiment that technologists are fringe lunatics with their eyes on our collective future demise. This phenomenon has become more common in recent years as the intersections of technology and pop culture have become busier and more crowded. In 2014, plenty of technology weirdness cycled through the “odd news” section of mainstream media outlets. But for the real connoisseur of weird tech news, there’s a very specific sweet spot.

It concerns those instances in which emerging technology seems to misbehave, wandering to places we don’t anticipate, thereby generating a moment of cognitive dissonance. Here we take a look at 10 of the weirder tech stories of 2014, featuring online telepaths, moonlighting artificial intelligences, and criminal drones. And now, here’s the news….

IBM creates AI foodie chef
Advances in artificial intelligence and cognitive computing continued to make headlines in 2014, with Johnny Depp getting all transcendent and ex-“Jeopardy” champ AI Watson doing on-the-fly Twitter translations and demonstrating its first machine learning API. IBM launched another cognitive computing initiative earlier this year, partnering with the Institute of Culinary Education to create what is essentially a hipster foodie AI chef.

Designed to think, experiment, and learn, the computer chef has generated recipes like Belgian Bacon Pudding, Swiss-Thai Asparagus Quiche, and the deeply disturbing Austrian Chocolate Burrito. The foods, prepared by a team of carbon-based chefs, have been touring around to industry events in the IBM Food Truck — three words that really should never appear in sequence.

3D printer hacked into tattoo machine
“Trypanophobia” is the medical term for fear of needles, and for us dedicated tryanophobes, this may be the scariest tech story of the year. Back in April, a group of psychotic French design students hacked a commercial 3D-printing machine and added, yes, an actual tattoo gun.

Check out the accompanying video and you’ll see that the machine pretty much works how you think it might. A young insane person volunteer sticks his arm into the tattoo machine, whereupon his flesh is inked automatically by the computer-controlled needle, in place of the printer’s original extruder. In case you’re interested in making your own tattoo machine, the team has posted full instructions on the hack at Instructables.

Fans of Franz Kafka will note that “In the Penal Colony” got a little less metaphoric

Robot hitchhikes across Canada
Then there’s the curious case of the Canadian hitchhiking robot. In July, researchers from a pair of Canadian universities deployed hitchBOT onto the highways of the Great White North, where the experimental ‘bot ultimately traveled from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Victoria, British Columbia — hitchhiking the entire way.

The project was part of a larger research study concerning the utility of social robots and the psychology of human kindness. Using its LED-screen face to petition for rides, hitchBOT made the coast-to-coast trip in 21 days, plugging into cars’ cigarette lighters to recharge, posting videos on social media, and relying on the kindness of strangers. Canada, generally regarded as the planet’s nicest nation-state, may be the only country where this could have worked.

University builds city of robot cars
More from the robotics desk: Back in May, an odd little news story started making the rounds about a fake city sprouting up in southern Michigan. Designed by engineers and robotics researchers at the University of Michigan, the 32-acre simulated city center is intended to be a future home for hundreds of autonomous robots.

Well, sort of. The Mobility Transformation Facility is a test site for the future of automated vehicles and self-driving cars and trucks. Situated only a few dozen miles from the original Motor City of Detroit, the ersatz metropolis will eventually include a four-lane freeway, merge lanes, stoplights, a railroad crossing, and even mechanical bicyclists and pedestrians.

Drug-smuggling drone crashes outside of prison
Probably the single most prevalent tech topic in 2014, drones made for weird news throughout the year — from controversial FAA decisions to eerie footage of Chernobyl to insanely great Halloween projects.

In July, authorities at the maximum security Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina reported on a new and potentially problematic drone development. It seems someone attempted to fly a small drone loaded with contraband — marijuana, tobacco, and mobile phones — over the walls and into the prison yard. The scheme didn’t work, though. The drone crashed short of the prison walls.

Smartphones are the new plumage
Sometimes the worlds of hard science and social science converge to make news in a weirdo, Venn diagram kind of way. Such was the case in October when researchers at the University of Würzburg in Germany released a report that was both intriguing and entirely predictable. According to the study, men who are single or in uncommitted relationships are more likely to purchase high-end smartphones than other men.

The phones are a mating signal of sorts, the researchers conjecture, intended to communicate that the bearer of the phone has sufficient resources to provide for potential partners. “Studies have suggested that, as part of short-term mating strategies, men are particularly willing to engage in conspicuous consumption to attract mates,” according to the research abstract. The full report will be published early next year in the prestigious quarterly journal Incredibly Obvious Things We Get Paid to Quantify.

Scientists test Internet telepathy
Another odd trend in 2014 involved news stories about an emerging kind of online telepathy — really. In November, researchers at the University of Washington sent direct brain-to-brain transmissions over the Internet in which one test subject was able to move the hand of another, simply by thinking about it.

In a similar study back in August, scientists from several different countries employed Internet-linked neural devices to essentially broadcast one person’s thoughts to other people around the world. The single-word thoughts (like “hola” and “ciao”) were detected by electroencephalogram units, translated into binary code, then reassembled in the receivers’ brains by way of transcranial magnetic stimulation technology.

Google Glass app promises brainwave control
In yet another variation on the theme, an intriguing open source app surfaced over the summer that — in terms of strict dictionary definition — appears to give users telekinetic powers. The MindRDR system uses Google Glass plus a commercially available EEG headset to let users take pictures and post social media — using brainwaves.

The dermal patch on the headset can be positioned to detect when you’re concentrating hard on a particular image in your field of view. When the displayed indicator reaches a threshold, MindRDR snaps a pic via the Glass camera and uploads it automatically to whatever online destination you’ve previously chosen. When news broke about MindRDR in July, nerdier observers noted that the effect is arguably telekinetic — you’re effecting change in the material world by the power of thought. Jean Grey would be proud.

Smartphone chip beams real hologram
Speaking of nerdy, the new “Star Wars” trailer has fans geeking out yet again, nearly 40 (!) years after the first film’s debut. That movie featured one of the most iconic images in all of science fiction: R2-D2 projecting a free-floating hologram of Princess Leia imploring Obi Wan Kenobi, “You’re my only hope.”

Hope for actual free-floating holograms has waned in the years since — the technology is further away than the Death Star, it seems. Or maybe not. In June, the Wall Street Journal reported on a low-profile but impressively funded project to create a hologram projector chip small enough to fit into a smartphone. The report even featured video evidence — a short clip of the technology generating a 3D hologram of floating dice.

Letterman hosts hologram musical guest
In the absence of actual free-floating holograms, you can always rely on show business to bring you the next best thing. In October, the indefatigable David Letterman welcomed his first hologram musical guest: the Japanese pop star sensation known as Hatsune Miku.

The technology behind this particular brand of hologram is similar to that used for famous previous appearances by, for example, hologram Tupac. The image appears to be free-floating, but it’s actually projected onto a transparent 2D surface. Hatsune Miku’s “voice,” meanwhile, is synthesized from vocal samples. Nevertheless, the virtual pop star is regularly booked in theaters and arenas. Hatsune Miku’s name, by the way, translates roughly to “First Sound From the Future.” There you go.



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5 top-paying IT jobs for every stage of tech careers

Whether you’re entry level, mid-level or C-level, CIO.com has you covered as we identify the highest-paying IT roles in each of those three categories.

5 Top-Paying IT Jobs for Every Stage of Tech Careers
Demand for highly skilled IT workers isn’t slowing down – research, managed services and staffing firm Upp reports that the unemployment rate for IT careers is hovering under 4 percent in every U.S. state, well below unemployment rates for other industries. But some hot, in-demand roles pay more than others.

Using data from research and compensation benchmarking provider PayScale’s databases, we’ve put together the top five highest-paying IT roles for every career stage — whether you’re just starting your IT career, have a few years of experience under your belt or are moving into the C-suite.

Compensation data is median pay based on total cash compensation (TCC). Median pay is the 50th percentile – half of workers doing the job are paid more, half are paid less. TCC combines base annual salary or hourly wage, bonuses, profit sharing, tips, commissions and other forms of cash earnings. It does not include stock, retirement benefits or the value of healthcare benefits, for example.

5 Highest Paid Entry-Level Roles
If you’re just getting started in your IT career, consider these five IT roles. Not only are they in high demand, the compensation’s highly competitive for these entry-level positions. For our purposes, entry-level is defined as having zero to five years of experience in all applicable jobs in the field, not just the current job.

Business Intelligence Architect
The primary responsibility of the business intelligence architect is data standards and procedures; warehousing; design and development of logical and physical data models and databases; distributed data management; information management functions.

The business intelligence architect designs, develops and enforces standards and architecture for installing, configuring and using business intelligence applications for the purpose of directing and managing the organization. The role usually requires a bachelor’s degree and at least some experience in a BI role.

Median Pay: $81,200

ASIC Design Engineer
The role produces application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) designs and modifications by identifying design objectives and issues; researching and developing ASIC engineering techniques and approaches; verifying and validating designs; maintaining documentation; and mentoring team members, if applicable.

The role usually requires a bachelor’s degree and experience with general ASIC designs, concepts and usage.

Median Pay: $83,300

Solutions Architect
While the title might seem vague, a solutions architect (SA) plays a key role in the software development lifecycle: in the conversion of the product, application or solution requirements taken from the business or customer into an architecture and design that will become the blueprint for the solution being created. This conversion is based largely upon the previous design patterns that the solutions architect has been involved with in the past through reading and staying abreast of the latest techniques, or through personal experience.

The role requires a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience.

Median Pay: $91,500

Software Architect
A software architect (SA) is responsible for the initial design and development of new software or extensive software revisions. The software architect defines product requirements and creates high-level architectural specifications, ensuring feasibility, functionality and integration with existing systems/platforms for internal use or for customers.

The role requires a bachelor’s degree and, while still considered an entry level position, a solutions architect may be expected to have an advanced degree in area of specialty and may manage or guide other developers through the project to completion.

Median Pay: $94,100

Data Scientist, IT
Also known as “the sexiest job in IT,” a data scientist’s role is to use predictive analytics and machine learning experience to extract insight and actionable information from a firm’s data stores. The role is fairly new and still evolving, but requires a bachelor’s degree and at least familiarity with data mining, structured data modeling and predictive analytics.

Median Pay: $97,600

5 Highest Paid Mid-Level Roles
You’ve paid your dues in entry level jobs and you’re looking to move up the ladder. Well, hopefully one of these lucrative and high-demand roles is in your career path.

A mid-level role is defined as having five to 10 years of experience in all applicable jobs in the field, not just the current job.

Principal Software Engineer
Principal software engineers are in charge of most of the technical aspects of an organization’s software projects. Their primary function is scaling software projects efficiently while maximizing performance and minimizing costs. They also oversee development teams and coordinate strategies to make sure the technologies are interconnected and product lines are working smoothly. Principal software engineers focus on best practices and standards of design, application requirements and proper maintenance. Engineers in this role often manage teams of developers.

A bachelor’s degree in computer science is usually the minimum educational requirement, although a (CSDP) Certified Software Development Professional certification along with hands-on experience in a previous position is also generally accepted.

Median Pay: $133,000

Data Scientist, IT
The role so nice, it appears on our list twice. As stated before, a data scientist’s role is to use predictive analytics and machine learning experience to extract insight and actionable information from a firm’s data stores. In a mid-level role, data scientists could be required to have software engineering experience, as well as higher-level strategic thinking and communication skills to more accurately make the case for business action based on the results generated by machine learning algorithms and insight gained from data mining.

The role is fairly new and still evolving, but requires a bachelor’s degree and extensive experience with software development, data mining, structured data modeling and predictive analytics.

Median Pay: $134,000

Scrum Coach
The scrum coach role teaches and coaches all agile software development best practices and Scrum adoption to an IT organization or an agile development environment. Ideally, a scrum coach will have extensive experience with an agile development environment and will use his or her broad experience to help businesses adopt best practices as related to an agile framework.

Most scrum coaches have a bachelor’s degree and experience in software development, engineering or architecture. While there is a specific scrum coach certification, experience and previous demonstrable success is most often used as criteria for hiring.

Median Pay: $151,000

Principal Software Architect
A principal software architect is tasked with identifying and evaluating software product requirements and their limitations to make sure solutions will work within larger business system functions. Principal software architects solicit the input of users, solution sponsors and executives to make sure the software meets the requirements, vision and needs of the business and customers; they work to drive innovation and research into new methods and technologies and also help position overall IT department and software development strategy.

The principal software architect role requires a bachelor’s degree, as well as proven “soft skills” like business analysis, research skills, communications and negotiation skills.

Median Pay: $151,000

Chief Architect, IT
The chief architect role is one that’s highly political and complex, and the job description varies widely from company to company. That said, there are some commonalities; the chief architect of IT must understand all aspects of a business’ processes, infrastructure, applications and initiatives – in other words, the entire organization’s IT blueprint. They are then tasked with ensuring that every part of the business operates in sync with these strategic IT initiatives.

The role requires a bachelor’s degree and extensive technical and “soft skills” experience, and often reports directly to the CIO.

Median Pay: $155,000

5 Highest Paid Senior and Executive Roles
Ah, senior management – this is where all your hard work and political maneuvering pays off, literally. Senior and executive roles not only come with big responsibility, in the IT field, they also come with big paychecks.

Senior and executive roles are defined has having more than 10 years of experience in all applicable jobs, not just the current job, and include only management, senior and executive-level roles.

Project Management Director, IT
An IT project management director supervises and governs all corporate IT projects. The role is responsible for all aspects of project management direction, including reviewing proposals, determining costs, timelines, funding, identifying sponsors, setting and maintaining staffing requirements, and making sure goals and objectives are met. Professionals in this role are also likely to oversee project managers and their teams.

The role requires a bachelor’s degree and requires not only technical skills, but also a degree of creativity, problem-solving, negotiation and management skills.

Median Pay: $142,000

Business Intelligence Director
The business intelligence director is responsible for developing and maintaining an organization’s business intelligence reporting frameworks, tools and data stores. The role works cross-functionally with various business unit heads to determine their reporting and analytics needs and determines how best to meet them given constrains of time, budget and staffing. The business intelligence director is also charged with making sure that information is delivered on time and is of high quality – making sure business has the necessary data for ongoing daily operations as well as forward-looking strategy and competitive data.

A bachelor’s degree is necessary, but in some instances an advanced degree in a related field is required.

Median Pay: $143,000

Senior Computer Scientist
Computer scientists often work as part of a research team with computer programmers, mechanical or electrical engineers, and other IT professionals. Their role leans more toward the theoretical than the practical – their research often is used to design new technology in areas like artificial intelligence, robotics or virtual reality. Computer scientists are also tasked with improving performance of existing computer systems and software as well as the development of new hardware or computing techniques and materials.

Most computer scientists hold a bachelor’s degree with a major in computer science, information systems or software engineering, but at this senior level, many hold a Ph.D. in computer science, computer engineering or a similar field.

Median Pay: $145,000

Vice President, IT
The vice president of IT is responsible for strategizing and planning an organization’s IT future, as well as implementing new technology and maintaining current systems. The vice president of IT also ensures teams are effectively supporting maximum uptime and stability in the company’s computer systems and networks. The essence of the role is technology leadership, and the vice president of IT must use both technical skills and soft skills – leadership, communication, negotiation and analysis – to lead an IT focused business successfully.

In many organizations, the vice president of IT role is a stepping stone to the CIO position. Most companies require a master’s degree in computer science or IT, while some organizations require an MBA, since extensive business knowledge is critical to the role.

Median Pay: $157,000

Vice President, Ecommerce
The vice president of ecommerce is responsible for all of a business’ ecommerce activities, including channel development strategies, Web architecture and infrastructure requirements, and collaboration with IT, sales, supply chain and operations teams to successfully execute on e-commerce business strategies. The vice president of ecommerce must have extensive experience with ecommerce concepts, best practices, processes and strategies, as well as excellent communications, negotiations and strategic planning skills.

The role requires a bachelor’s degree and, at many organizations, a minimum of 15 years of experience in the field.

Median Pay: $164,000


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Top Cyber Monday tech deals

While Cyber Monday has long taken a back seat to the holiday shopping tsunami that is Black Friday, this year things may be different — especially since some sale prices on the Monday after Thanksgiving could be better than day-after-Thanksgiving deals.

“Cyber Monday brings savings that are 10% – 14% better than Black Friday,” claims “deal journalist” Matt Granite, who hosts the Ways to Save segment aired on Gannett-owned local TV stations. “That’s based on my findings from last year and the trends we expect this year. Obviously there will be exceptions, but this is my prediction for many major categories.”

One Cyber Monday drawback, though, is that specials can be harder to find. Fewer show up in TV ads and newspaper circulars, which means if you’re not subscribed to an online retailer’s email list, you may miss some of the day’s best shopping deals.

But here’s the good news: We’ve done a lot of the legwork for you. We’ve scoured the Web, signed up for email specials and monitored social media to help find you some of the best tech specials for Dec. 1 online shopping.

Ready to shop? Check out the searchable, sortable chart below to see if there’s a deal that appeals. And remember to bookmark this page, because we’ll be updating the chart as we find out about more Cyber Monday specials.


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