Saturday, October 24, 2009

Universal phone charger approved

A new mobile phone charger that will work with any handset has been approved by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations body.

Industry body the GSMA predicts that 51,000 tonnes of redundant chargers are generated each year.

Currently most chargers are product or brand specific, so people tend to change them when they upgrade to a new phone.

However, the new energy-efficient chargers can be kept for much longer.

The GSMA also estimates that they will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 13.6m tonnes.

"This is a significant step in reducing the environmental impact of mobile charging," said Malcolm Johnson, director of ITU's Telecommunication Standardisation Bureau.

"Universal chargers are a common-sense solution that I look forward to seeing in other areas."

The charger has a micro-USB port at the connecting end, using similar technology to digital cameras.

It is not compulsory for manufacturers to adopt the new chargers but the ITU says that some have already signed up to it.

"We are planning to launch the universal charger internationally during the first half of 2010," Aldo Liguori, spokesperson for Sony Ericsson told the BBC.

"We will roll it out with new products as they launch."

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Amazon will be king of the cloud: Mark Shuttleworth

Canonical chief Mark Shuttleworth has said Amazon will emerge as triumphant in the battle for the cloud.

Shuttleworth told a BT open source event yesterday that Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud, or a closely related platform, will become the cloud standard.

If alternative clouds are to compete, he said, they must offer open source implementations and be compatible with the Amazon EC2 platform.

For more, see Shuttleworth: Amazon will win cloud battle on ZDNet UK.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Mobile is the New Mass Medium

Mobile connected devices clearly are the universal screen of choice – and not just because of this week’s big news that Dell will brand its first smart phone, Verizon Wireless will offer customers Google’s Android operating system and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile apps will be loaded into 30 new smart phones by year’s end.

While tech and telecom giants slug it out on the retail front, the real story is consumers’ 24/7 love affair with wireless mobile devices.

Nearly half of all Americans admit to sleeping with their mobile phones and four in ten admit they “can’t live” without them, according to a survey by Synovate, a global marketing and research firm. Worldwide, the June survey of 8,000 mobile phone users in 11 global markets found that smart phones and other mobile devices are becoming consumers’ universal “remote control for life.” For instance:

  • Three-fourths of global survey respondents — including 82 percent of Americans — never leave home without their phone.
  • One fourth of respondents across 11 markets own more than two mobile phones. One third of Americans most likely own at least two mobile phones and at least 20 percent own a smart phone.
  • The most popular activities on mobile devices — aside from ubiquitous voice calls and texting — are the alarm clock, the camera and games. Americans generally concede they don’t know how to use other features on their mobile phones.
  • U.S. and U.K. 3G access is exploding because of increased Internet browsing and social networking.
  • Text messaging, now as important as voice calling, is changing the way people manage their relationships (from flirting to lying to breaking up). In fact a U.S. study by AT&T Wireless earlier this year determined that texting plays a significant role in romance.
The down side of this infatuation is consumers’ insistence on texting and talking on their mobile devices while driving. The problem has become so acute — and lethal — that the Senate is working to pass legislation that would ban texting while driving. President Obama last week signed an executive order prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving.

Although the latest Virginia Tech survey found that texting drivers are 23 percent more likely to be involved in a collision, many consumers admit they just can’t help themselves. Unrelenting texters — most especially teens — are being targeted with a persuasive if not frightening YouTube video as well as a free mobile video game designed to demonstrate the often deadly results.

Evidence of the mobile craze is everywhere. Pew’s Internet & American Life Project reports that 70 percent of Americans use their hand held mobile devices for non-voice data applications and one-third use them to access the Internet.

The number of Americans using mobile devices to access news and other information doubled from 2008 to 22.4 million as enterprise workers perform functions on mobile devices that were formerly reserved for laptops, according to comScore. A survey of 300 Bostonians conducted for Samsung reveals that one-third would rather forgo sex for an entire year than give up their cell phones for that amount of time.

This all adds up to plenty of new opportunities for tech and media companies to join forces to provide more hands-free as well as overall mobile interactive apps and programs for just about anything that tickles a consumer’s fancy. Mobile is the new mass medium.
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Friday, October 2, 2009

Israeli Entrepreneur Plans a Free Global Online Only University

An Israeli entrepreneur with decades of experience in international education plans to start the first global, tuition-free Internet university, a nonprofit venture he has named the University of the People.

“The idea is to take social networking and apply it to academia,” said the entrepreneur, Shai Reshef, founder of several Internet-based educational businesses.

“The open-source courseware is there, from universities that have put their courses online, available to the public, free,” Mr. Reshef said. “We know that online peer-to-peer teaching works. Putting it all together, we can make a free university for students all over the world, anyone who speaks English and has an Internet connection.”

About four million students in the United States took at least one online course in 2007, according to a survey by the Sloan Consortium, a nonprofit group devoted to integrating online learning into mainstream higher education.

Online learning is growing in many different contexts. Through the Open Courseware Consortium, started in 2001 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, universities around the world have posted materials for thousands of courses — as varied as Lambing and Sheep Management at Utah State and Relativistic Quantum Field Theory at M.I.T. — all free to the public. Many universities now post their lectures on iTunes.

For-profit universities like the University of Phoenix and Kaplan University have extensive online offerings. And increasingly, both public and private universities offer at least some classes online.

Outside the United States, too, online learning is booming. Open University in Britain, for example, enrolls about 160,000 undergraduates in distance-learning courses.

The University of the People, like other Internet-based universities, would have online study communities, weekly discussion topics, homework assignments and exams. But in lieu of tuition, students would pay only nominal fees for enrollment ($15 to $50) and exams ($10 to $100), with students from poorer countries paying the lower fees and those from richer countries paying the higher ones.

Experts in online education say the idea raises many questions.

“We’ve chatted about doing something like this over the last decade but decided the time wasn’t yet right,” said John Bourne, executive director of the Sloan Consortium. “It’s true that the open courseware movement is pretty robust, so there are a lot of high-quality course materials out there, but there’s no human backup behind them. I’d be interested to know how you’d find and train faculty and ensure quality without tuition money.”

Other educators question the logistics of such a plan.

“The more you get people around the world talking to each other, great, and the more they talk about what they’re learning, just wonderful,” said Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College. “But I’m not at all sure, when you start attaching that to credits and degrees and courses, that it translates so well.

“How will they test students? How much will the professors do? How well does the American or British curriculum serve the needs of people in Mali? How do they handle students whose English is not at college level?”

Mr. Reshef said his new university would use active and retired professors — some paid, some volunteers — along with librarians, master-level students and professionals to develop and evaluate curriculums and oversee assessments.

He plans to start small, limiting enrollment at 300 students when the university goes online in the fall and offering only bachelor’s degrees in business administration and computer science. Mr. Reshef said the university would apply for accreditation as soon as possible.

Mr. Reshef hopes to build enrollment to 10,000 over five years, the level at which he said the enterprise should be self-sustaining. Startup costs would be about $5 million, Mr. Reshef said, of which he plans to provide $1 million.

For all the uncertainties, Mr. Reshef is probably as well positioned as anyone for such an enterprise.

Starting in 1989, he served as chairman of the Kidum Group, an Israeli test preparation company, which he sold in 2005 to Kaplan, one of the world’s largest education companies. While chairman of Kidum, he built an online university affiliated with the University of Liverpool, enrolling students from more than 100 countries; that business was sold to Laureate, another large for-profit education company, in 2004.

Mr. Reshef is now chairman of, an online study community offering homework help to college students.

“Cramster has thousands of students helping other students,” said Mr. Reshef, who lives in Pasadena, Calif., where both Cramster and the new university are based. “These become strong social communities. With these new social networks, where young people now like to spend their lives, we can bring college degrees to students all over the world, third-world students who would be unable to study otherwise. I haven’t found even one person who says it’s a bad idea.”

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Don't sell jobs through social networks: Students

About 70 percent of students are not in favor of the companies using social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook to offer them jobs, despite the increasing importance of social networks in corporate hiring process, according to a survey.

As per the survey conducted by hiring solutions provider TMP Worldwide and Targetjobs, 70 percent of surveyed students did not want businesses to use sites like Twitter or Facebook to sell jobs to them as they believe that employers should not exploit social media for their own benefit. However, the survey revealed that 79 percent of the respondents believe social sites were key to employers engaging with them.

In the survey, it came across that students actively use social media to research companies and confirm whether employer brand messages live up to reality and almost half of students use social media sites to chat with peers about recruitment process. In addition, about 30 percent of students chat with current employees to check if their expectations of a particular employer were met, after being taken on.

Neil Harrison, Head of Planning and Research, TMP Worldwide said, "Employers have been saying for some time that they use social networking sites to 'check up' on potential candidates, but they must now be aware that the tables have turned. Today's students use these sites as trusted places to not only communicate with friends but to also investigate potential employers; so businesses simply cannot underestimate the power of social media when it comes to brand building and engaging with undergraduates."

The report, which was based on the study of penultimate and final year students, also revealed that 42 percent of students feel social media is the ideal platform to communicate employer brand and 56 percent agree social networking sites allow candidates to get feel for company's culture.

"Employers must not however, approach social media half heartedly. They must be consistent with their brand and maintain the values they promote online throughout the recruitment, selection and ongoing retention process," said Harrison.
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Sunday, September 27, 2009

New Simple Cloud Storage API Launched

PHP/Zend, Microsoft, IBM, Rackspace, GoGrid and Nirvanix have launched a new low level cloud API for PHP called the "Simple Cloud API".

The API can best be described as low level storage focused API (An API for other API's). In a sense it's a way to create other higher level programmatic API interfaces such as REST or SOAP using an easy, yet portable PHP programming environment. The Simple API allows you to easily interact with a variety of cloud interfaces including support for File Storage, Document Storage, and Simple Queue services. The Simple Cloud API is not a web service; it is an API that exposes common operations in application services offered by different vendors, making it easier for PHP developers to build ‘cloud native’ applications.

According to the website, "The Simple Cloud API is here to bring cloud technologies to PHP and the PHP philosophy to the cloud. With it, developers can start writing scalable and highly available applications that are still *portable*. If you're looking for code to start playing around with immediately, you'll find the first file storage, document storage, and simple queue interfaces."

Interestingly the goal of API is not be a standard, but instead to foster an open source community that makes it easier for developers to use cloud application services by abstracting insignificant API differences. Another goal of this initiative is to define interfaces to be implemented as a new Zend Framework component called ‘Zend_Cloud’. The Zend Framework will provide a repository of php appplication to host code for the Zend_Cloud.

Check out the project at
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Enterprise mashup market to increase tenfold over next five years

A new report from Business Insights predicts that the enterprise mashup market, worth around $161 million in 2008, will expand more than tenfold to $1.74 billion by 2013.

About 33% of companies now use enterprise mashups, Business Insights says.

The catalyst for the enterprise mashup market will be SOA — Business Insights puts the SOA platform market at about $1.4 billion in 2008, which will double in size, to about $2.77 billion by 2014.

It’s interesting that the enterprise mashup market, which currently is about 11% the size of the overall SOA platform market, will soon be 63% the size, or getting close to comparable. This is huge for the front-end part of the equation, if these numbers pan out. But does it make sense?

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Researchers find a new way to attack the cloud

From: Researchers find a new way to attack the cloud

Amazon and Microsoft have been pushing cloud-computing services as a low-cost way to outsource raw computing power, but the products may introduce new security problems that have yet to be fully explored, according to researchers at the University of California, San Diego, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Cloud services can save companies money by allowing them to run new applications without having to buy new hardware. Services like Amazon’s Elastic Computer Cloud (EC2) host several different operating environments in virtual machines that run on a single computer. This lets Amazon squeeze more computing power out of each server on its network, but it may come at a cost, the researchers say.

In experiments with Amazon’s EC2 they showed that they could pull off some very basic versions of what are known as side-channel attacks. A side-channel attacker looks at indirect information related to the computer—the electromagnetic emanations from screens or keyboards, for example—to determine what is going on in the machine.

The researchers were able to pinpoint the physical server used by programs running on the EC2 cloud and then extract small amounts of data from these programs, by placing their own software there and launching a side-channel attack. Security experts say the attacks developed by the researchers are minor, but they believe side-channel techniques could lead to more serious problems for cloud computing.

In the past, some side-channel attacks have been very successful. In 2001, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, showed how they were able to extract password information from an encrypted SSH (Secure Shell) data stream by performing a statistical analysis of the way keyboard strokes generated traffic on the network.

The UC and MIT researchers weren’t able to achieve anything that sophisticated, but they think their work may open the door to future research in this area. “A virtual machine is not proof against all of the kinds of side-channel attacks that we’ve been hearing about for years,” said Stefan Savage, associate professor with UC San Diego, and one of the authors of the paper.

By looking at the computer’s memory cache, the researchers were able to glean some basic information about when other users on the same machine were using a keyboard, for example to access the computer using an SSH terminal. They believe that by measuring the time between keystrokes they could eventually figure out what is being typed on the machine using the same techniques as the Berkeley researchers.

Virtual machines may do a good job of isolating operating systems and programs from each other, but there is always an opening for these side-channel attacks on systems that share resources, said Alex Stamos, a partner with security consultancy iSEC Partners. “It’s going to be a whole new class of bugs that people are going to have to fix in the next five years.”

His company has worked with a number of clients interested in cloud computing, but only if they can be assured that no one else is sharing the same machine. “I’m guessing the cloud-computing providers are going to be pushed by their clients to be able to provide physical machines.”

Amazon wasn’t quite ready to talk about side-channel attacks Thursday. “We take all security claims very seriously and are aware of this research,” a spokeswoman said. “We are investigating and will post updates to our security center.”

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Pakistan illegally modified Harpoon missile and P-3C aircraft

The Obama administration has accused Pakistan of illegally modifying the Harpoon anti-ship missile and maritime surveillance aircraft P-3C for land attacks for potential use against India, validating New Delhi's fears that Islamabad was using US security aid to beef up its military against it.

The Obama administration, reported The New York Times in a front-page story, lodged its protest in this regard with Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in June, adding to the tension between the two countries.

Quoting unnamed officials from the administration and the US Congress, the daily said Washington has also accused Pakistan of modifying American-made P-3C aircraft for land-attack missions, another violation of United States law.

The Obama administration's accusation confirms New Delhi's stand that the US military aid is primarily used by Pakistan to strengthen and build up its army against India.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna earlier this month said that India has conveyed to the US that all forms of aid provided to Pakistan is "invariably directed" against New Delhi and providing more arms to Islamabad will not help the peace process in the region.

"We have told the US that particularly in case of Pakistan, whatever aid in whatever form has been given to them is invariably directed against India and this has been emphatically registered with the US government," Krisha had said, reacting to the US' plans to provide more military aid to Pakistan.
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Sunday, August 30, 2009

10 things you should know about virtualization

Virtualization has been a major buzzword in the IT world for a few years. Microsoft already has Virtual Server and Virtual PC, as well as stiff competition on the virtualization front from VMWare and Citrix/XenSource.

With all these options, taking the plunge into virtualization can be a big and confusing step. Here are a few things you should know about virtualization and virtualization software before you start to plan a deployment.

#1: Virtualization is a broad term with many meanings

Virtualization software can be used for a number of purposes. Server consolidation (running multiple logical servers on a single physical machine) is a popular way to save money on hardware costs and make backup and administration easier, and that’s what we’re primarily focused on in this article. However, other uses include:

  • Desktop virtualization, for running client operating systems in a VM for training purposes or for support of legacy software or hardware.
  • Virtual testing environments, which provide a cost-effective way to test new software, patches, etc., before rolling them out on your production network.
  • Presentation virtualization, by which you can run an application in one location and control it from another, with processing being done on a server and only graphics and end-user I/O handled at the client end.
  • Application virtualization, which separates the application configuration layer from the operating system so that applications can be run on client machines without being installed.
  • Storage virtualization, whereby a SAN solution is used to provide storage for virtual servers, rather than depending on the hard disks in the physical server.

#2: Not all VM software is created equal

An array of virtualization programs are available, and the one(s) you need depends on exactly what you need to do. You might want to run a virtual machine on top of your desktop operating system, running a different OS, either to try out a new OS or because you have some applications that won’t run in one of the operating systems.

For example, if you’re using Windows XP as your desktop OS, you could install Vista in a VM to get to know its features. Or if you’re running Vista but you have an application you occasionally need to use that isn’t compatible with it, you could run XP in a VM with that application installed. For simple uses like this, a low-cost or free VM program, such as VMWare Workstation or Microsoft’s Virtual PC, will work fine.

On the other hand, if you need to consolidate several servers and thus need maximum scalability and security, along with sophisticated management features, you should use a more robust VM solution, such as VMWare’s ESX Servers, Microsoft’s Virtual Server or (when it’s available) the Hyper-V role in Windows Server 2008. For relatively simple server virtualization scenarios, you can use the free VMWare Server.

#3: Check licensing requirements first!

As far as licensing is concerned, most software vendors consider a VM to be no different from a physical computer. In other words, you’ll still need a software license for every instance of the operating system or application you install, whether on a separate physical machine or in a VM on the same machine.

There may also be restrictions in the EULA of either the guest or host OS regarding virtualization. For example, when Windows Vista was released, the licensing agreements for the Home Basic and Home Premium versions prohibited running those operating systems in VMs, but Microsoft has since changed those licensing terms in response to customer input.

Windows Server 2008’s EULA provides for a certain number of virtual images that can be run on the OS, depending on the edition. This ranges from none on Web edition to one on Standard, four on Enterprise, and an unlimited number on Datacenter and Itanium editions.

#4: Be sure your applications are supported

Another issue that needs to be addressed up front is whether the application vendor will support running its software in a virtual machine. Because VMs use emulated generic hardware and don’t provide access to the real hardware, applications running in VMs may not be able to utilize the full power of the installed video card, for example, or may not be able to connect to some of the peripherals connected to the host OS.

#5: Virtualization goes beyond Windows

There are many virtualization technologies and some of them run on operating systems other than Windows. You can also run non-Windows guest operating systems in a VM on a Windows host machine. VMWare can run on Linux, and Microsoft previously made a version of Virtual PC for Macintosh (but did not port it to the Intel-based Macs). Parallels Desktop provides support for running Windows VMs on Mac OS X. Parallels Workstation supports many versions of Windows and Linux as both host and guest. Parallels Virtuozzo is a server virtualization option available in both Linux and Windows versions. Other virtualization solutions include:

  • Xen (now owned by Citrix), which is one of the most popular hypervisor solutions for Linux.
  • Q, an open source program based on the QEMU open source emulation software, for running Windows or Linux on a Mac.
  • Open VZ, for creating virtual servers in the Linux environment.

#6: Virtualization can increase security

Isolating server roles in separate virtual machines instead of running many server applications on the same operating system instance can provide added security. You can also set up a VM to create an isolated environment (a “sandbox”), where you can run applications that might pose a security risk.

Virtual machines are also commonly used for creating “honeypots” or “honeynets.” These are systems or entire networks set up to emulate a production environment with the intention of attracting attackers (and at the same time, diverting them away from the real production resources).

#7: Virtualization can increase availability and aid in disaster recovery

Backing up virtual machine images and restoring them is much easier and faster than traditional disaster recovery methods that require reinstalling the operating system and applications and then restoring data. The VM can be restored to the same physical machine or to a different one in case of hardware failure. Less downtime means higher availability and greater worker productivity.

#8: VMs need more resources

It may seem obvious, but the more virtual machines you want to run simultaneously, the more hardware resources you’ll need on that machine. Each running VM and its guest OS and applications will use RAM and processor cycles, so you’ll need large amounts of memory and one or more fast processors to be able to allocate the proper resources to each VM.

To run multiple resource-hungry servers on one machine, you’ll need a machine with hardware that’s capable of supporting multiple processors and large amounts of RAM and you must be running a host OS that can handle these.

#9: 64 bits are better than 32

For server virtualization, consider deploying a 64-bit host operating system. 64-bit processors support a larger memory address space, and Windows 64-bit operating systems support much larger amounts of RAM (and in some cases, more processors) than their 32-bit counterparts. If you plan to use Windows Server 2008’s Hyper-V role for virtualization, you have no choice. It will be available only in the x64 versions of the OS.

#10: Many resources are available for planning your virtualization deployment

Virtualization is a huge topic, and this article is only meant to provide an overview of your options. Luckily, there are many resources on the Web that can help you understand virtualization concepts and provide more information about specific virtualization products. The following list should get you started:

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Resume Tip: Show it to prove it

When writing resumes, it is easy to simply list our job titles, dates of employment and provide happy talk about our soft skills. Whenever I got one of these types of resumes as a hiring manager — if it ever got to me in the first place — my first thought was “prove it.”

If your resume said “works well on a team,” it was “prove it.” If your resume said “technical manager,” my thought was “prove it.” If I got too many of those kinds of statements in a resume, I casually tossed it aside and went on to the next possible candidate.

In this economy, you can’t get casually tossed aside

So how do you turn a flat statement into one that makes the hiring manager want to interview you? For that, we turn to the first rule of novel writing: you can’t tell it, you must show it.

Showing it means you have to write about actions the character (you) takes to prove what they are doing for believability. You can’t say “John was a tender person.” You have to write about when John showed tenderness to other people as part of his actions.

Are you showing it to prove it on your resume?

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Nokia Booklet 3G Netbook Packs GPS, 3G, HDMI and...Windows

Nokia has finally confirmed its little laptop. Features include an HD-ready 10-inch display, Atom processor, built-in A-GPS (which works with Ovi Maps), Wi-Fi (plus 3G/HSPA option), HDMI, an SD card reader, and 12 hour battery.

The netbook will weigh about 2.75 pounds, and measure slightly more than two centimeters thin. Further details, including the flavor of Windows, specs, and pricing/availability won't be discussed until Nokia World on September 2

The mini-laptop also comes with an HDMI port for HD video out, a front facing camera for video calling, integrated Bluetooth and an easily accessible SD card reader.

Other premium features include the 10-inch glass HD ready display and integrated A-GPS which, working with the Ovi Maps gadget, can pinpoint your position in seconds and open up access for a truly personal maps experience.

The Nokia Booklet 3G also brings a number of other rich Ovi experiences to life, whether its access and playback of millions of tracks through the Nokia Music Store, or using Ovi Suite to sync seamlessly from your Nokia smartphone, to your mini-laptop, to the cloud.

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PIL challenges ban on Jaswant book

Five days after the state government banned Jaswant Singh’s controversial book ‘Jinnah-India, Partition, Independence’, a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in Gujarat High Court on Monday, challenging it. This PIL may come up for hearing before a larger Bench headed by the chief justice later this week.

Raising the issue of fundamental rights of citizens to access the book, citybased activists Prakash Shah and Manishi Jani have challenged the notification issued by the government forfeiting and prohibiting publication, sale and circulation of the book under section 95 of the CrPC.

They have termed this as a “colourable exercise by Narendra Modi government with political considerations in view of the approaching by-elections.” They have dubbed this as “an example of defective exercise of power” as the notification does not provide concrete grounds for banning the book.

In fact, the petitioners have argued that the reason that government fears communal instigation with denigration of Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru doesn’t stand at all because the two leaders do not form a class that could be incited for rioting as per section 153 B of IPC.

Maintaining that they do not share the political ideology of expelled BJP leader, the petitioners have demanded revocation of ban on Singh’s book by stating that it’s a historical work and Singh has dealt with the subject purely from historical point of view and avoided offensive and abusive language. The petition demands an immediate stay on the government’s decision and urges the court to allow the book to be made available for reading in Gujarat.
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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Methods of Sales Forecasting

Sales Forecasting is the process of estimating what your business’s sales are going to be in the future.

Sales forecasting is an integral part of business management. Without a solid idea of what your future sales are going to be, you can’t manage your inventory or your cash flow or plan for growth. The purpose of sales forecasting is to provide information that you can use to make intelligent business decisions.

Sales forecasting for an established business is easier than sales forecasting for a new business; the established business already has a sales forecast baseline of past sales. A business’s sales revenues from the same month in a previous year, combined with knowledge of general economic and industry trends, work well for predicting a business’s sales in a particular future month.

Sales forecasting for a new business is more problematical as there is no baseline of past sales. The process of preparing a sales forecast for a new business involves researching your target market, your trading area and your competition and analyzing your research to guesstimate your future sales.

Sales forecasting is especially difficult when you don’t have any previous sales history to guide you, as is the case when you’re working on preparing cash flow projections as part of writing a business plan. Here is a detailed explanation of how to do sales forecasting.

There are all sorts of ways to estimate sales revenues for the purposes of sales forecasting.

One point to remember when sales forecasting is that if you plan to work with a bank for financing, you will want to do multiple estimates so as to have more confidence in the sales forecast. How do you do this?

Sales Forecasting Method #1

For your type of business, what is the average sales volume per square foot for similar stores in similar locations and similar size? This isn't the final answer for adequate sales forecasting, since a new business won't hit that target for perhaps a year. But this approach is far more scientific than a general 2 percent figure based on household incomes.

Sales Forecasting Method #2

For your specific location, how many households needing your goods live within say, one mile? How much will they spend on these items annually, and what percentage of their spending will you get, compared to competitors? Do the same for within five miles (with lower sales forecast figures). (Use distances that make sense for your location.)

Sales Forecasting Method #3

If you offer say, three types of goods plus two types of extra cost services, estimate sales revenues for each of the five product/service lines. Make an estimate of where you think you'll be in six months (such as "we should be selling five of these items a day, plus three of these, plus two of these.") and calculate the gross sales per day. Then multiply by 30 for the month.

Now scale proportionately from month one to month six; that is, build up from no sales (or few sales) to your six month sales level. Now carry it out from months six through 12 for a complete annual sales forecast.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How IT leaders are modernizing their business intelligence systems

Here's what a state-of-the-art business intelligence (BI) system looks like: A customer service rep takes a call from a customer looking for an explanation of a medical bill. The rep taps some keys and data quickly flows into her screen. The customer gets a thorough answer and hangs up, satisfied.

That's one example of how a multi-year project to install a best-of-breed business intelligence system has unfolded at Montana State Fund, the largest provider of workers' compensation coverage in the state. "In under a minute, [the CSR] put together some parameters and pulled up a quick screen-generated report," said Al Parisian, CIO of the Helena-based company. "She had a comprehensive, authoritative answer that was compelling because it was factual."

The latest BI systems -- flexible, robust, user friendly -- are moving to tie together more data stores of more data types than ever before, even from transactional systems. They are letting business users easily query them in the course of their jobs. They are proving their value day in and day out with every business decision made, every customer satisfied.

And at many organizations, they are also far from reality.

Unlike Parisian, who basically got to start from scratch in building his BI system, many IT executives grapple with proliferating, complex BI environments. With a mix of reporting tools, data silos and technology requiring IT-built queries, these business intelligence systems can pose daunting challenges from an architectural and organizational standpoint when it comes to adding next-generation functionality.

Consider the situation at digital video recorder company TiVo Inc., where IT wants to break down information silos but isn't sure yet how to implement a cost-effective BI platform. Or Grafton School Inc., a health care nonprofit, where analysts manipulate data in Excel and await an upcoming electronic health system purchase to boost their firepower.

Their road to nirvana -- stores of clean, rich, integrated data accessed easily by those who need it -- is a journey that's barely begun.

Get the data right

Three years ago, that was also the case at Montana State Fund, where 280 employees manage insurance for some 27,000 policyholders. "We went from having literally just a few people using an old operational data store system (for which the reporting front end had broken) to having 20% of company staff using the BI system today," Parisian said.

Today's best-of-breed system, which includes components from Oracle Corp. and SAP BusinessObjects, has been in the works for 2½ years. Starting the project with a consulting firm -- Millbrook Inc., which did the company's data modeling -- was the most important decision Montana State Fund made, said Parisian, who is a member of Millbrook's Business Intelligence Executive Customer Council.

"The quality of your decisions is directly correlated to the data that goes in to them," Parisian said. "Any company around more than a couple of years has legacy data problems coming out the kazoo. You're going to have all kinds of junk."

Once it had installed a coordinated set of products as a brand-new BI suite, the team ran the bulk of its data through extract, transform and load. Now, elements of that data show up as a series of data marts that make up the BI platform. Parisian said 1,800 different elements make up the system's data, and Montana State Fund is currently adding 600 more -- for example, medical payment details for workers. "Upon completing this we think we'll have a rigorous model," he said. "It's being used every day."

Types of data vary widely in any company, as do the needs of employees using that data. But a change in data types is a key trend in business intelligence now, according to Franz Aman, vice president of intelligence platform product marketing at SAP BusinessObjects.

Aman pointed to the oft-cited statistic that 80% of an organization's information is unstructured data -- the emails, Web pages and customer phone discussions that are the lifeblood of many interactions yet not captured by BI. SAP BusinessObjects is investing in this area with what Aman calls "sentiment extraction" -- technology that mines unstructured data to enable the customer service department to gauge the mood of customers who call, for example, and from there report on their satisfaction levels.

Dyke Hensen likes to cite what he calls "high-definitional data" as driving change for business intelligence systems. Hensen, chief marketing officer at PivotLink Corp., a BI Software as a Service vendor, noted that a shoe store isn't selling just a pair of shoes, but a pair of size nine-and-a-half, blue, lace-up shoes, sold with a certain promotional code. "It's a description of an element," Hensen explained. "It's high-attributional, high-dimensional data. These problems are challenging, and they don't fit in a spreadsheet or a SQL server database. People want to report on that information."

Richard Rothschild, senior director of IT at Alviso, Calif.-based TiVo, hears that call. He said he'd like to eliminate siloed reporting and get more specific answers from customer analytics information to improve the bottom line. "I'd love to be able to see what effect a marketing plan has on revenue and retaining customers," Rothschild said, "and here's the data that says it's working."

But the hurdles, he said, are "how to get disparate pieces of data together in a more cohesive space, and technically how do you solve that and come up with a project that will get approved and implemented." Finding the right way to streamline data is a challenge under a budget, too. Rothschild said finding a project that isn't super expensive or doesn't use a lot of resources is key for TiVo, which has about 550 employees.

CIO Bill Davis at Winchester, Va.-based Grafton, which provides health care to developmentally disabled children and adults, has seen the demand for data growing, too; Grafton's analysts would like to access data about client behaviors, symptoms and goals, for instance. An electronic medical/health record system now on the boards will offer built-in reporting and BI capabilities that will take his team's capabilities beyond the Excel files now in use. "We'll have a lot more information than what we have now," Davis said. "The ideal in two to three years would be that we'd have data mapped and loaded, with a dashboard that any analyst or savvy manager could use."

But for many organizations, more systems and more data aren't what's needed.

Reduce complexity

For many, the first step to a new generation of BI is to reduce complexity. Often, that means getting all users on the same platform.
How? Parisian turned off the built-in reporting functions in the core applications at Montana State Fund. "There was a lot of screaming and howling," he acknowledged.

"But we are going to see more and more advantages to our company, as long as we show discipline not to flip on those other screens," he added. Now, all reporting gets done at the BI layer, so everyone uses the same data and does his own reporting vs. seeking custom reports. "It's reduced the amount of noise and fighting over limited resources," Parisian said. A bonus: When the company needs to replace applications, "we don't have to shop for something that has management reports as part of its infrastructure."

Grafton, with 650 employees, has reduced complexity in-house with a tried-and-true BI tool: Microsoft Excel. "We have job streams that run every night and grab data from three different systems to make two big files," Davis said. "Our managers and analysts download them and then parse them through Excel in various ways." It works well, he said, because the IT team doesn't have to generate custom reports.

Even when the electronic health system is up and live, Excel will still have its place. "We'll end up using that as the end engine, but we need something else to get it there," he said. "Say what you want to, Excel can do an awful lot for the majority of our users."

Consider cost

Indeed, Excel is perennially popular for many reasons -- cost among them. New, comprehensive BI systems can be quite expensive and therefore not an option for many businesses, even when BI is a top business priority. So if system replacement (Montana State Fund) or application-based analytics (Grafton) isn't in the cards, another way to move BI ahead is through Software as a Service (SaaS) providers.

"With the ways technology has advanced over the past few years, there's still going to be a lot of BI on premise," said Hensen of SaaS provider PivotLink. He said customers often augment existing BI implementations with cloud or SaaS tools, because it gives them the ability to mash up data, use Web 2.0 tools and reduce costs. "It doesn't mean we do everything," he said. "But the majority of BI is about better operating performance and getting managers closer to data, and that's a great opportunity for SaaS-based BI players."

Aman, of SAP BusinessObjects, said he sees a lot of customers doing hybrid BI deployments -- some pieces installed on-premise, and some available on demand. While data warehouses work better on premise, applications with small amounts of data moving back and forth might work well with a cloud or on-demand model, he said. "Some customers like the cloud for accounting purposes, because you pay as you go and get some capability quickly," Aman said.

However a company procures its BI, its ROI is tied closely to business results. When measuring the effectiveness of business intelligence programs, "The No. 1 criteria is to look at bottom-line business results," said William McKnight, practice manager at Irving, Texas-based consulting firm US-Analytics Solutions Group LLC. He acknowledges that can be difficult to measure. "Short of that, I would go by user sentiment. Is the data they need made available to them in the right format in a timely manner, and structured for their analytical requirements?"

User participation in aspects of system design is a well-known best practice. The team that chose BI for Montana State Fund, for example, included two executive sponsors, two project managers and two employee teams, each divided between the business and technology sides of the house. Increasingly, organizations are moving beyond this initial team to create a group, often called a "BI competency center," to keep the discipline top of mind on a continual basis.

It's "definitely not something that every company has -- far from it," McKnight said. "It's an idea that the technology team needs to be more flexible for its user community, and intelligently look into the future, making sure they're bringing all possible methods of BI to the table."

The future of BI is about helping users get specific information quickly, whether it comes out of email, a transaction database or a data warehouse. There are many ways to get there, but keeping the big picture in mind is key.
"If your data model is a matter of taking what you used to do and putting it into a BI data model, you're putting yourself into a small box," Parisian said. "Step back and look at all the data."

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Do small businesses need BI?

From: Do small businesses need BI?

Is business intelligence too much bother for smaller organisations? Danny Bradbury looks at how analytics can work for all sizes.

When your business costs nine pounds per minute to run, it is imperative that you maximize your revenues. Luckily, David Wilkinson, the IT director at York Minster, is also the assistant to the chief accountant, so he understands how technology can help managers to find potential improvement in the business.

This is one example of a small business that is using business intelligence software - a technology that has historically been viewed as a tool for larger enterprises.

When many people think of business intelligence, they think of multidimensional data cubes, complex analytics and extensive data warehouses. But the product category spans different levels of sophistication, argues Andreas Bitterer, research vice president at Gartner.

"These are not global companies, so there's a skills difference, there are fewer users, generally, and less sophistication," he says of small businesses. "The main difference I see is that the tool set that a mid-market company would use is more reporting focused, and less involved in high-level analytics with global data warehouses."

Boris Evelson, a principal analyst at Forrester research, says that for many smaller organisations, these reporting tools can often be built directly into the line of business software that they are already using, such as an ERP or CRM package.

"If your entire business is run on a single package, then you don't really need a separate business intelligence application," he says.

For many small businesses, working with one application may even be preferable, because trying to generate a single view of data across multiple sources may be too ambitious.

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Business Mashups LLC is a software development company headquartered in the beautiful city of Chandigarh, India.

We work primarily with offshore customers. We have a global client foot print with customers in India, UK, U.S., Canada, Singapore, Australia, Dubai, South Africa etc. and our forte is developing software solutions for SMEs.

Business Mashups provides bespoke software development services using web technologies. We work in areas such as E-commerce, website development, web enablement, product development, web applications etc. Our solutions enable businesses to leverage leading-edge technology to gain sustainable competitive advantage in today's marketplace.

We build core business applications, like enterprise resource planning (ERP), human resource management (HRM), supply chain management (SCM) and customer relationship management (CRM).

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why Should Your Employees Like You?

Managing employees isn’t a popularity contest, but if your workers like and respect you as a person, your company’s bottom line is likely to show it.

Nancy Mann Jackson in a post in "Entrepreneur" writes about handling employees with kid gloves and getting along better with them.

"Taking careful steps to build trust, respect and goodwill among employees doesn’t just make it more fun to go to work, it can also boost your bottom line" She says.

She offers five strategies for maintaining employee relations in a recession and bridging the boss -- employee gap:

Keep your company afloat through the recession--and ensure that employees will stick around when times get better--with some of the following strategies:

1. Nix double standards. Don’t expect employees to follow your instructions if you don’t follow the same instructions yourself. “You can’t just sit back and not have the same standard for yourself as you have for your employees,” Weatherwax says.

2. Share the work. Nothing widens the gap between employer and employee like doling out the “dirty work,” such as asking employees to do something unethical or simply to work an unreasonable number of hours. To earn employees’ respect, business owners, “should never ask an employee to do something that they would not be willing to do themselves,” Darby says.

3. Make them laugh. Humor is proven to reduce stress and take the edge off of a tense conversation. “As the boss, you can set the tempo or the mood for the business day,” Weatherwax says. “If you can have fun with your employees and joke with them, they’ll have more fun and they’ll joke with the customers too.”

4. Enforce consequences. Whether it’s rewarding good work or holding employees accountable for mistakes, enforcing consistent consequences helps workers know what to expect. “Sometimes in tough times we overlook bad behavior and don’t recognize the good work being done by high performers,” Murphy says.

5. Share your thought process. Especially during tough times when employees are worried about keeping their jobs, you can earn goodwill by being open about the choices you make, whether it’s to cut costs or cut personnel. “The more transparent a leader becomes with his decision making process, the more likely employees are to trust those decisions,” Murphy says. “Share the data, explain where you got that data, and why you decided what you did. What scares employees is the unknown, and if you’re not transparent, they’ll expect the worst.”

Nancy Mann Jackson is a freelance writer who writes frequently about small business issues.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

How to Answer Difficult Interview Questions

By Jessica Stillman

Last week I carried a post by Jessica Stillman "Avoid Common Interview Pitfall". In this post she shares her readers experiences with difficult interviews, as well as their best advice for how to respond to tricky situations. She covers three types of interview questions that emerged as the most vexing for readers:
  1. Questions about weaknesses or failures – these questions are framed to get you to criticize yourself or to cough up examples of past problems. Examples include the straight up “What are your greatest weaknesses?” and more round about versions such as “Tell me about an actual time when you had a disagreement with your manager” or “Describe a situation where the client was irate and how you handled it.”

  2. Questions on pay and level of ambition – no one wants to sell themselves short but how high is too high?

  3. Oddball questions — these are designed to shake up the interviewee and elicit unscripted answers. Examples abounded in the comments and included everything from “Describe your closet” to the slightly unbelievable but hugely imaginative “Imagine you’re in Antarctica, running naked wearing only a tie around your neck. Suddenly you see a gorilla chasing you. What do you do?’
Thankfully, readers also came through with suggestions –– some hilarious, some dubious, some spot on — for how to respond. Reader Yakimarv, for instance, offers a ballsy response to the question “Where do you hope to be in five years?” He reports: “I looked the interviewer right in the eye and said ‘working your job’ and I think that I shook the guy up ’cause he terminated the interview right there. I was later called by a regional manager and was hired.”

Meanwhile, majorstu suggests one way to frame a strength as a weakness without making the effort absurdly transparent and unconvincing. His solution: use a concrete real world example of how what constitutes a plus to some could be an issue for others. His answer:

I had a very good relationship with my first manager in a job, got performance reviews with comments like “takes charge, gets things done”. Then that manager retired and I got a new one, suddenly the atmosphere changed and my first review commented, “oversteps the bounds of his authority”. I use this response when asked about weaknesses, adding that the weakness is that I try to work through the problems and get the mission accomplished, but sometimes misjudge other people’s perceptions of my attitude.

Techrabbi, however, keeps his answer to the weaknesses question short and sweet: “to the question ‘what is your greatest weakness?’ i like to say, ‘i don’t often interview well.’”

Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management and marketing.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Ajax and Mashup Security

Ajax and mashups represent two new Web application development approaches that both fit under the Web 2.0 umbrella.


Asynchronous JavaScript + XML (Ajax) allows user interaction with Web pages to be decoupled from the Web browser's communication with the server. In particular, Ajax drives mashups, which integrate disparate content or services into a single user experience. However, Ajax and mashup technology introduce new types of threats because of their dynamic and multidomain nature. It is important to understand these threats and to avoid them by adhering to some best practices.


A mashup is a web application that combines content from more than one source into an integrated experience. Usually, the mashup components interact with each other. In the classic example of a mashup, a Craigslist component is combined with a mapping component (e.g., Google or Yahoo maps) such that when a user clicks on a new Craigslist entry, the mapping component updates its view to show the new address.

Mashups typically allow the end user to discover and integrate third party, Ajax-powered mashup components onto the mashup's canvas. Examples in the consumer social networking space include Facebook Widgets and MySpace Widgets, which end users can discover and insert into their pages.

From a technology perspective, mashup components represent Ajax-powered "mini applications" that are assembled into an Ajax-powered mashup container application that provides a framework for the components to communicate with each other. Sometimes the mashup container application enables cross-site communications by providing proxy services to allow server-side redirection to Web servers that are associated with a given mashup component.

Here is a whitepaper from Open Ajax Alliance on Ajax and mashup security that you may wish to peruse.

Ajax and Mashup Security

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