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May the force be with you (a lot sooner)

Mobile phones are great, aren’t they?

Sure, in all respects they are … bar one. They need recharging. This wasn’t that much of an issue when all we used our mobile devices for was to make phone calls and send texts, but now we demand so much more of our smartphones. As a result, just as we humans spend a third of our lives asleep, our smartphones seem to spend a third of their lives being charged.

And let’s not talk about the horror of forgetting to plug your phone in last thing at night, and waking in the morning to find it completely out of juice. Shudder.

The days of the hours-long charging cycle may soon be as irrelevant to smartphones as the brandname ‘Nokia’. A company called Nucleus Scientific has revealed a method of completely re-fuelling your ‘gasping for breath’ mobile device in a matter of minutes.

The company claims that its amazing battery technology system, which it has called the ‘Intelligent Energy System’ (IES), changes the way in which energy is stored in a battery, as well as the way it is transferred. IES can also greatly extend the life of any batteries it is used to charge.

Currently, most rechargeable batteries are recharged using the Constant-Current Constant-Voltage (CCCV) method. This new system uses a variable current that is constantly monitored by a micro-processor, and is so efficient that the size of a standard 100W power converter can be reduced by a factor of six.

Almost a decade ago, Nucleus Scientific put together a super-smart team of PhDs in physics, chemistry and engineering, and after eight years of toil the team appears to have come up with a super-smart solution to mobile battery recharging.

In a recent demonstration at TechCrunch Disrupt NY, the company astounded the audience by fully charging a 10,000 mAh prototype battery in fifteen minutes. Normally, charging a 10,000 mAh battery would take hours.

Additionally, Nucleus Scientific claim that under laboratory conditions, they’ve succeeded in charging a 14,000 mAh battery (equivalent to nine typical smartphone batteries) in less than two minutes. The company advised that by slowing down the charging time (in this case to a snail’s pace of … three minutes), it was possible to double the lifespan of the battery.

Uses of this new recharging technology are not limited to the smartphone batteries. Nucleus Scientific also revealed that they are working on a battery for an electric scooter. With current technology, charging a scooter battery for a 12km journey would take over four and a half hours. Nucleus Scientific claim they can cut the charging time down to ten minutes. The company say they hope to adapt their technology so that even the new breed of electronic vehicles can be re-juiced and ready to rock-n-roll in a matter of minutes, as opposed to hours.

Naturally, Nucleus Scientific are being a little guarded about their breakthrough, until at least they’ve managed to licence their patents. They claim to be in talks with a number of well-known companies about the incorporation of their technologies into suitable products.

Google’s employees : ethnic diversity still an issue?

A study of Google’s employees based in the US in 2014 has revealed the disturbing news that out of every one hundred jobs created by the tech behemoth, only two are filled by black people and only three by Hispanics. In addition, it was found that less than one in five tech jobs were held by woman.

These figures are in stark contrast to demographic employment numbers across all industries in the US. In the States, twelve percent of the workforce are black, and fourteen percent are Hispanic.

This report was issued by Google itself. The report underscores the assumption that IT companies have difficulty in attracting people who are neither white nor Asian to tech-based jobs. Apple and Facebook have also released data that reveals a similar lack of diversity.

Google say they are working to create a more diversified workforce, but that substantial changes in the ethnicity make-up of their people will not be immediate.

‘Early indications show promise but we know that with an organisation our size, year-on-year growth and meaningful change is going to take time,’ said Nancy Lee, the vice-president at Google of people operations.

In total, at the end of 2014, Google employed 53,600 people. The demographic breakdown report disclosed the following:

  • In the US, 2% of Google’s workers were black
  • In the US, 3% of Google’s workers were Hispanic
  • Across the world, 18% of Google’s tech-based jobs were held by women
  • In the US, white people held 59% of Google’s technology jobs
  • In the US, Asian people held 35% of Google’s technology jobs

In 2014, Google undertook a concerted effort to increase the number of women in tech jobs at the company. Google said that twenty-one percent of all workers hired for tech jobs in 2014 were female. In total, Google employed around 9,700 new people last year. The company did not declare how many of these jobs were technology-based, and how many were menial.

Leading tech companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook are already leading initiatives to attract more woman, black and Hispanic people to tech-based roles. They are encouraging people from minorities to study science, mathematics and IT in schools, and are stepping up their recruitment drives in order to find the most ‘tech-talented’ minority students who are on the verge of graduating from college.

Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, has been heading the drive to create more diversity within the technology industry. Jackson welcomed Google’s report as he sees it as a way of highlighting the need to change the demographic profile of IT workers beyond white and Asian people as a whole.

‘Tech companies must move from the aspiration of ‘doing better’ to concrete actionable hiring to move the needle,’ Jackson said in a statement. ‘We aim to change the flow of the river.’

The big cover up – 1 in 5 are guilty

Real world crime figures may be falling, but cyber-crime is on the increase as tech-savvy criminals find new ways of hacking into sensitive caches of important information, and into the systems of some of the world’s largest corporations.

Reports of breaches are thankfully rare, but that does beg one question – how accurate are the figures released by IT companies about security breaches? According to a study conducted by computer security hardware manufacturer AllenVault, they could be out by as much as twenty percent.

That’s how many IT security pros admit to having seen computer security breaches covered up. In addition, only one in four IT security experts feel that the best course of action following a security breach is to ‘fess up, inform the regulator and stump up for the fine.

‘Information security is still a comparatively immature industry,’ said Javvad Malik, a security advocate for AlienVault. ‘The survey’s findings that twenty percent of IT security professionals have witnessed or been part of a breach being hidden is the prime indicator of the strain placed upon the industry. The time and effort it could take to recover from a breach can be significant, particularly where sensitive data is involved.’

AlienVault conducted the survey at the recent RSA (the security division of the US computer storage company EMC) 2015 security conference that took place in San Francisco between 20 and 24 April. In total just over 1,000 IT professionals were questioned.

Other concerning figures raised by the survey indicated that two-thirds of IT security professionals see a security breach as a neat way of increasing funding for their department. It’s perhaps alarming that despite evidence of high-profile security breaches and a raised awareness of the importance of computer security, it takes an actual security breach for a company to take its IT security as seriously as it perhaps needs to do.

One thing seems to have been made clear by this report – that a much stronger support base is needed for IT security professionals, including better avenues into training and networking opportunities. As Malik says: ‘most organisations are coming round to the belief that along a long enough time scale, a security incident or exposure in their product is inevitable. Support from within the security industry on emerging threat and attacks isn’t sufficient or freely available to professionals liking to access information in a timely manner.’

More alarming perhaps is that when the IT security professionals were asked if they resorted to hacker forums and working with ‘black hats’ to keep up to date with the latest news and technologies, over fifty percent admitted that they did. Working with black hats is not always legal, and can be seen in itself as a security risk.

Most respondents also stated their opinion that the CISO (chief information security officer) should be held ultimately accountable for any security breach to IT systems that occur.

Happy birthday Java! Twenty today!

Programming languages come and go (remember Ruby?), but successful coding systems are the ones that manage to retain their popularity. Java – named after the coffee produced on the island in Indonesia of the same name – has now survived so long that next year it will be old enough to order a beer in a US bar.

The original concept of the Java programming language was created in 1991 by James Gosling, Mike Sheridan and Patrick Naughton of Sun Microsystems. The language was originally called ‘Oak’, and then ‘Green’ until finally the name of ‘Java’ was settled upon. Sun released Java 1.0 in 1995.

The timing of this initial release could not have been better. The fledging World Wide Web was seeking ways in which to make web sites more interesting and flashing text and dancing hamsters were no longer seen as being interesting enough. Internet Explorer and Netscape – the dominant browsers at the time – added the functionality to embed Java Applets within web pages. This meant that Java became very popular with web developers.

The versatility of Java meant that Java programs could easily be run both on the server side of things, and the client side. Java was capable of creating tiny programs to add slight functionality to any app, through to major applications in the form of critical business processes.

There are still over one billion Java downloads each and every year. Of all the programming language available, C is the only main competitor to Java’s dominance. ‘Newbie’ languages such as PHP and Python have had their peaks in recent years, but they simply cannot hold a candle to Java’s ongoing popularity.

Java is now owned by Oracle, as Oracle purchased Sun in January 2010. By then, Java had become an open source platform, which meant that anyone could distribute Java programmes free of charge. The Java Virtual Machine which is needed to run Java programs can also be downloaded absolutely free.

Despite reaching the milestone of 20, the chances of Java reaching 40 are perhaps not that spectacular. Java applets on web pages are as relevant today as MySpace.com and Netscape Navigator. They were first superseded by Adobe Flash apps, and subsequently by HTML5.

Additionally, Java is now infrequently used for desktop apps, as Oracle has a habit of releasing constant security updates and bundling-in unwanted software.

The march of mobile platforms is not good news for Java either. Apple’s iOS system does not use Java, preferring Objective C and Swift. Java does work on Android but via Google’s in-house runtime app Dalvik as opposed to JVM.

Java has also been guilty of lagging a little behind the times when it comes to language updates. The latest version of Java has only reached version 9, which is expected to be released in 2016.

Will we be talking about Java in 2035, or will we be reminiscing about it, in the same way we now reminisce about Cobol and Pascal? Sadly, the odds of Java surviving another two decades do not seem to be too encouraging.

Bye bye Google Code – where to go now?

Google has announced that it is shutting the doors on Google Code, which is their hosting service provided free for open source coding projects. If you use Google Code and you’ve yet to migrate your projects to a different provider, now might be a good time to do it, before you’ve no choice.

Google Code was launched in 2006, but failed to become what Google envisaged it would become, just like Google+. It is still the home for thousands of projects though, all of which now have to search for a new residence.

All projects hosted on Google Code will become ‘read-only’ on 24 August this year. You can still download your projects, but you won’t be able to upload your updates. On 25 January 2016 the doors to Google Code will be shut, locked and bolted.

So, what are the best hosting alternatives to Google Code?

GitHub

GitHub is to project hosting as Youtube is to videos. It’s easily the most popular source code repository out there, and it’s completely free for basic users. Coders can easily upload, download, tweak and branch their projects using CLI tools, while even beginners can manage their projects just as easily thanks to GitHub’s web interface.

Google even go as far as recommending GitHub as an alternative to Google Code, and provide tools and guides designed to help you migrate your code and files from Google Code to their new home.

CodePlex

While GitHub is specifically open-source, CodePlex is owned by Microsoft. You ought not to let that put you off … honestly. It won’t surprise you to learn that most of the code hosted on CodePlex is designed to be run on a Windows environment, although you can build and manage apps on CodePlex for any language or platform.
CodePlex does offer everything you’d expect from a decent code repository, including version control, a Wiki, issue tracking and project home-pages.

BitBucket

BitBucket is free, and offers coders unlimited repositories where you can work on your code, create branches and control releases. Not as ‘open source’ friendly as GitHub, you can only share your code with a maximum of five developers if you want to stick to a free account. If you have a larger development team you will have to pay for them.

Not ideal perhaps for independent developers or hobby programmers, but fine for small company development teams.

Launchpad

Launchpad is ideal if you work on a Linux-based platform, as it is owned by Canonical, who are the team behind Ubuntu. Launchpad is free, and offers special tools which make it easy to roll up your code in a way that makes installation of Linux systems incredibly easy.

Others

You are not limited to the choices listed above of course. Other suitable service providers include GitLab, CodeBase and Beanstalk, and they all have their own pros and cons so you’ll need to do a little detective work.

Just make you sure you act in time before you turn up one day at the entrance to Google Code and wonder why there’s nobody there when you ring the virtual doorbell.

Small is beautiful – micro startup acquisitions are in the ascendency

Recently, Pinterest acquired a startup – Hike Labs – that could hardly have been any tinier, as it only consisted of two people (okay, so it could have been tinier). This followed the acquisition of Kosei which – at seven people – was a multi-national conglomerate by comparison.

The question is … why such tiny acquisitions?

Typically, tech companies like Facebook, Google and Apple have always concentrated on acquiring established startups with proven track records and established sources of revenue. Yet even Microsoft have jumped on the micro-acquisition bandwagon with the purchases of LiveLoop, Sunrise and Accompli, all of whom had a portfolio of twenty-five persons or less.

We have the technology … and slimmer wallets!

The cost of releasing software has fallen drastically over the past few years, and launching a product is now so easy as so many distribution channels are available. You no longer need the backing of a medium-to-large company to get your idea into production, and it’s very easy via established networks to ‘go viral’ and find yourself a ready-made global audience.

There is a downside too. It may be easy to build a product, but it’s getting harder to build the right product. If you’re late to market, or if you invest heavily in the wrong idea, then you’re likely to be left floundering. While the world is still Facebooking and Twittering, not many people these days are bothered about their Google+ page, for example.

Achievement is still possible though. Vine was created by a three-person team in June 2012 as a video-sharing site … just like YouTube. Vine’s USP was the fact that videos were only six seconds long and were of a size that meant they could easily be shared on social networking sites. Vine was bought by Twitter for $30 million before it was even released.

Successful apps built by talented people

The hunt by the bigger guys for potentially-successful micro startups is not all about products though. Someone has to have the idea, and the ability to push that idea into production, and that means that such a person has talent that’s likely to invaluable if harvested.

For example, when Instagram purchased Luma, they also acquired a three-person team with the potential to further develop their video stabilisation software. The same team then worked on Hyperlapse, an app that automatically turns lengthy videos into professional-looking time lapse footage.

The other advantage of purchasing smaller software startups is rather obvious – they are cheaper, usually with funding budgets under $10 million, which is four times smaller than the average cost needed to purchase even a medium-sized startup. Big companies have the budget to take more risks, and to diversify their potential portfolio. Additionally, if a product goes the same way as Jay-Z’s failed music-streaming app Tidal, then the smaller losses are much easier to write off.

When it comes to startups, as far as the big tech companies currently feel small has never been so beautiful, and it’s a trend that seems set to continue.

IT’s all looking rather good

A study conducted by SJD Accountancy – a contractor services provider – has revealed that the number of IT contractors whom are experiencing rate rises is now out-numbering the number who are seeing rate cuts by almost two to one.

To be more accurate, 24.5 percent of IT contractors are reporting that their daily rates are increasing, as opposed to 12.6 percent who are reporting that they are experiencing reductions in their pay. These figures are derived from a survey of over 600 IT contractors who were questioned between July and December 2014.

This is a marked upturn from the figures that were provided in 2012. SJD Accountancy ran the same survey and found that a mere 17.7 percent of IT contractors said their rates had risen, as opposed to 29.1 percent who admitted that their rates have fallen.

‘This very strongly suggests that IT sector pay should recoup lost ground this year and finally pass its 2009 peak,’ said the CEO of SJD Accountancy, Simon Curry. ‘Having reduced spending on IT during the recession, businesses are now ramping up recruitment as investment in technology revives. Increased competition for the best candidates will inevitably drive up pay.’

In addition, IT contractors are also benefitting from the renewal of contracts that were originally agreed during the recent recession. It seems that it is becoming tougher for clients to agree contact extensions at those recession-influenced rates, mainly as the choice available to contractors has now widened considerably.

The survey also revealed that the current median average of IT sector pay is £36,148, which is a 2.6 percent drop from its peak of £37,094, which was achieved in 2009 – however, this difference is the thinnest margin recorded since the recession began in 2008.

Over half of all IT contractors surveyed expressed the opinion that they were ‘very positive’ concerning the current state of the market. The exact figure of 51.2 percent is in stark contrast to the 37.6 percent who said the same thing one year previously, representing a 13.6 percent increase in twelve months.

‘Contractors often see benefits from improving market conditions ahead of permanent staff,’ said a spokeman from Quantica Technology, ‘so this huge rise in confidence bodes well for the entire industry.’

While IT sector pay has yet to surpass the peak figures recorded before the recession hit, analysts predict that with the UK economy continuing its recovery, pay levels for IT contractors are likely to hit new peak levels before 2016.

Got Game? Then you might get the job.

Go back twenty years and using your PC to play games was seen as the preserve of geeks and people for whom social interaction in the real world was seen as something of a challenge.

Fast-forward two decades and people who have high K/H ratios on the likes of Call of Duty and have successfully levelled up to Level 100 in World of Warcraft are now being sort out by potential employers.

A newly-launched company called Starfighter has been created with the aim of crafting games that you should only be able to master if you possess a talent for programming. If you’ve never written a line of code in your life you can still get gaming with the geeks at Starfighter – you simply play as you learn.

The best players will be those who are the best programmers, and Starfighter will recommend the best programmers to the companies that seek coding talent.

Starfighter’s games will be based on the concept of Capture-the-Flag (CTF), which will be a idea that’s familiar to anyone who has ever switched on a PlayStation or XBOX. CTF games involve blasting or sneaking your way into an enemy compound and running off with their flag right under their noses.

Once you have the flag, you need to return it to your base (where your own flag is stored) to win the battle … all the while of course protecting your base from enemy invasion.

The games provided by the company will also have a story. ‘You’ll pretend you’re a spy for the day, for example,’ explains Starfighter’s CEO Patrick McKenzie. ‘The story might be to break into a tech that’s securing state secrets, but it’s the same tech you’d use to secure a bank in the real world.’

The assumption here is that the players who are the most successful at breaking into the software in the game would be the most talented when it comes to building software systems to secure sensitive information in the real world.

Starfighter hopes to help the top players that they find to secure jobs that best match their abilities.

A company in Palo Alto, California called Knack is creating mobile games that build up gamer profiles using the abilities they show in the games they play, based on attributes such as problem-solving, planning and leadership. Such profiles can then be matched with employers who are looking for staff with the necessary skills.

Knack CEO Guy Halfteck says ‘we try to give job recommendations in the same way that Netflix recommends films.’

Knack has already gained patents to insert its technology into other games, which means that players who excel at Halo or League of Legends could find a recruitment request awaiting them once they’ve defeated their next level boss.

It’s not known whether players who’ve reached level 100 and above on The Candy Crush saga can as yet expect high-powered job offers for six-digit salaries to come landing into their inbox.

Developers’ adoption of new Apple language is not Swift

Apple’s new programming language Swift, launched in the summer of 2014, generated a lot of interest among developers. Less than a year later, a survey by VisionMobile has found that around one in five mobile developers all over the globe are already using Swift, which is pretty impressive.

Could this adoption rate solely be because Apple has designated Swift as the eventual replacement for Objective-C, the more common language for iOS and OS X development? Is it a choice for developers when it’s actually a case of no choice? Or is Swift good enough to stand on its own two feet as a development environment? Plus, how do veteran Apple programmers feel about it?

Swift – the finished article?

Apple released Swift with the admission that as a language, it was not yet complete. This has been reflected in the number of changes that have been made since its release. It soon became clear to developers that Apple was still building the language as they were releasing it. As a result, earlier development with Swift required a great deal of determination, which immediate put a lot of developers off the new language.

The good news for developers is that since the release of Swift 1.2 in February 2014, the language seems much more stabilised. The basic, core and essential elements are still changing, but with much less frequency.

Apple does listen to Swift developers

Given the instability inherent to Swift upon its launch, it seemed Apple really had no choice but to listen to the feedback given by unhappy developers. Of course, listening to developer grumbles and acting upon them are two separate issues entirely but in the latter regard, Apple seems to have done well.

Developers have noticed that in the last two years or so at least, Apple has become more responsive and out-going. This has been a huge step forward that has been warmly received by programmers.

New iOS and OS X developers should still start with Objective-C

The lack of stableness with Swift means that developers new to iOS and OS X should remain with Objective-C. Diving straight into Swift may seem like a good idea on the surface, but dealing with the issues of learning a new platform and having to deal with its problems would be both tough and off-putting to newbies. For now, new programmers should stick to Objective-C.

Swift is attractive to seasoned iOS and OS X developers.

It’s been observed that Swift is succeeding in at least one aspect – its success in attracting experienced iOS and OSX developers. This means that the programming pool for Swift is filled with a lot of very exceptional talents, instead of being just over-run with coding newbies.

Experienced iOS and OS X developers are still treading very cautiously

Few developers are diving straight in to Swift coding. Until the language is fully stabilised, this is an attitude that is likely to continue. Developers cannot spend hours working with something that’s unstable when they can stick with the Objective-C they know and love. The common attitude seems to be to use Objective-C for development, and learn what Swift has to offer as a hobby language until its stability is assured.

Capgemini named BI leader in Asia Pacific

Capgemini has been commended on its commitment to business intelligence (BI) and has been named as a leader in Asia Pacific.

Forrester named the company in its report “The Forrester Wave: Business Intelligence Service Providers in Asia Pacific, Q4 2013″ as being one of the best in the field when it came to providing BI to firms within this region. Capgemini was among eight top service providers which were marked across 53 criteria, Forrester was impressed with the company’s specialised BI management centres that it had set up in Australia and India.

The report stated that Down Under Capgemini had been focusing on human resources and computer relationship management analysis. It worked for a number of companies within a plethora of sectors including engineering, automotive, real estate, utilities and pharmaceuticals. The firm’s work in India honed in on the public sector making it one of the most recognised names within Asia Pacific BI operations.

Kiran Cavale, senior vice president of BIM Global Service Line at Capgemini, spoke of the accolade: “We are proud to be recognised as a leader in BI services for Asia Pacific. We believe it is a testament to Capgemini’s success in helping organisations realise the potential of big data and analytics to improve competitive edge. The report, in our opinion, is a valued recognition of Capgemini’s innovative BI solutions.”

Capgemini being named as the leader of BI technology in Asia Pacific highlights the rapid expansion that this business tool is having across the world. It is becoming a more commonly used solution in the corporate environment as it gives employers and managers crucial insight into their target market at the touch of a button. It can provide analysis on data and point them in the right direction of where to channel their next campaign.