05 October 2007

E-responsibility of e-wastePart — I

A WALK through the history of technology has always proved that it is a double-edged knife. The benefits it brings along are bundled offers with social and environmental evils. As an offspring topic in the recent 'Digital Nation' seminar, online social networking was quoted as one such evil.

A school of thought exists that due to digital life style, various members of the modern family spent less time socialising among themselves, diverting their focus on e-mails, Internet, Chat services, weblogs leading a second life in the digital world. In a similar third-dimension view Digital Oman will look closely into the environmental impact of technology and resulting e-waste this week and the next week.

E-Waste demystified

E-waste management is becoming an e-responsibility: everyone's responsibility in the technology era. To begin with let us understand that the electronic products we use in our daily life, like the computers, printers, calculators, electronic watches, televisions, phones, fax and photocopy machines, audio and video systems, electronic fittings and lamps, gaming systems, batteries, microwave ovens, refrigerators, etc compound to electronic waste that are discarded either due to failure or because they are obsolete.

E-waste is now the fastest-growing part of the municipal waste stream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. In California alone, 6,000 computers become obsolete each day. Out of the high volume of discarded and obsolete computers, only 10 per cent are actually recycled. The vast majority of electronics are simply thrown away.

Problem scenario

Unforeseen disasters in several countries have resulted in a lot of electronic garbage piles. Electronic devices by nature tend to become outdated due to rapid advances in technologies. We commonly keep the old ones aside and go for completely new systems which in most cases cannot reuse most parts of the older systems.

For example we have little to do or recover from a failed television, mobile phone or refrigerator. It seems easier to go for a new phone or PC than to repair an old one. The average lifespan of a computer is almost down to 3 yrs after which getting spare-parts or it suitability fore new software is challenged.

Chemical challenge

Computer and other electronic equipments are complex assemblies of several small components assembled over printed circuit boards. Computer monitors (older and most common ones) and televisions have the Cathode Ray Tube as a main component. It is claimed that each such CRT contains toxic chemicals like lead, cadmium, barium, mercury, plastic etc.

These materials can cause damage to humans by leading to health complications like kidney, liver and respiratory disorders, genetic and reproductive problems and even damages to the brain and nervous systems. The computer monitor alone can contain more than 6 per cent lead by weight. In addition most materials used in such electronic devices are non-biodegradable.

When unprocessed e-waste is put directly in landfill, flame-resistant plastics, used in electronics casings can release particles that damage human endocrine functions. Thus improper disposal of electronic waste like burning create adverse environmental and ecological impact.

Risk transfer

Most developed nations like the USA and Japan, have strict laws governing disposal of e-waste and their recycling. In result such countries ship them to third world nations which are now becoming the e-waste dump yards.

Nearly 50 to 80 per cent of e-waste recycling by the western world is by simple sending them to countries like Cambodia, China, Pakistan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India. Most of these countries lack strict laws regarding the treatment of e-waste.

To continue…Having understood the impact of e-waste and need for its control, Digital Oman will continue next week to look at worldwide control and e-waste management techniques next week.

26 September 2007

Nurturing the culture of science and technology

THE children of the land hold the key to our future and the spirit of innovation and science is to be kept alive and active within this sector. This week Digital Oman looks into a co-operative effort within the scientific fraternity to build this among the school students.

The Science India Forum (SIF) Muscat is a non-profit forum of science lovers who are held together for nurturing the spirit of science and technology among schoolchildren. SIF works in close co-operation with the Vigyan Bharati India and Indian Institute of Scientific Heritage for the promotion and popularisation of science and technology under the patronage of the Indian Embassy, Muscat.

Their flagship projects are the famed 'Sastra Pratibha Contest' (running for the past three years) and the associated science and technology seminars, essay competitions, exhibitions and quiz shows. In early 2007, the SIF received the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru prize for popularising science among youths in India from the Indian prime minister.

The Sastra Pratibha Contest is unique in its format that it tests the students' acumen and intellect in the science stream with a syllabus being on the Pinnacle of Indian Science publication, a science India magazine in addition to their academic curriculum. This instils the habit of reading more about scientific advancements and challenges and motivates children to take up science as a career.

SIF seminars invite eminent scholars, researchers and highly accomplished individuals from the scientific community whereby the schoolchildren get opportunity to enhance their knowledge and interact with the guests. To quote one of their grand events, the 2006 Sastra Pratibha Contest finale event was presided over by Dr Madhavan Nair, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation. On the sidelines of this event a science exhibition was conducted where selected schoolchildren presented their projects.

A range of talents emerged from this forum such as alternative energy sources and robotic models to bio-fuels. Eminent scientists like Dr Ananda Bose IAS, Chairman Education Society and Joint Secretary (R&D) Atomic Energy Commission and Prof P B Sharma, founder Vice-Chancellor of Rajiv Gandhi University judged the entries.

This year's Sastra Pratibha Contest has been launched under the auspices of Anil Wadhwa, the Ambassador of India to the Sultanate of Oman. With the date of examination set on October 4, 2007, the final award ceremony is scheduled for early January 2008.

Students eagerly await the scientists whom they could interact with directly during this science festival. They also look forward to the science exhibition, science quiz, skit and presentation on science and technology. Top-level academicians, scientists and policymakers of science and technology in India are the torch-bearers of this great scientific movement.

As remarked by Dr Madhavan Nair, the guest of honour in 2006 event, “it is impressive and truly an eye opener for everyone about the potentials of the young minds, their knowledge and aspirations.” The views of the students about global issues like environment pollution, energy self-reliance and alternative energy forms have impressed eminent scientists, academics and parents alike.

The value of such forums and competitions is evident and the spirit of the movement has been received well within the academic community. There is also an anticipation amongst the students as to who the guest of honour for this year's award ceremony will be. Whoever it might be, it is truly going to be festival of science and technology for students and teachers. We wish the entire organising team and the students for a splendid contest and results this year as well.

18 September 2007

Knowledge is free online

WHERE on earth can we find 1.74 billion words in 7.5 million articles in approximately 250 languages completely free? Is there a non-profit one stop shop with about 2,010,642 articles as on date and growing with 1700 new English articles per day? Yes, this week we are talking about the online website www.wikipedia.org which has been ranked the 10th busiest domain on the Internet.

The website has a wealth of knowledge authored by over 5 million registered editors. It is an example of online encyclopedia, collaboratively authored by the society serving the community as an open source of knowledge with no practical limit to the number of topics it can cover.

Wikipedia’s name is a portmanteau of the words wiki (a type of collaborative website like ‘What I Know Is’) and encyclopaedia (Wikiwiki in Hawaiian means quick say for reference). Wikipedia was founded by Jimmy Wales in 2001 as a free, community project under the vision of Larry Sanger who was editor-in-chief of nupedia.com wherecan subject experts worldwide authored. He suggested a lighter version with public contribution to create an all new encyclopaedia.
The Wikimedia Foundation was established in 2003 as a non-profit organisation to oversee the wikipaedia project and its expansions. Currently the foundation offers a wide gamut of wiki-projects:
  • Commons — Free media repository
  • Wikinews — Free-content news
  • Wiktionary — Dictionary and thesaurusl
  • Wikiquote — Collection of quotations
  • Wikibooks — Free textbooks and manuals
  • Wikisource — Free-content library
  • Wikispecies — Directory of species
  • Wikiversity — Free learning materials and activities
  • Meta-Wiki — Wikimedia project coordination

All Wikipedia content must be written from a neutral point of view (NPOV), representing views fairly, proportionately and without bias. Details of this policy can be found online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Neutral_point_of_view.

NPOV requires views to be represented without bias with respect to class, commercial, ethnic or racial, geographical, nationalistic, gender, political, religious, sensationalist or the scientific. Perhaps this neutrality attributes to the information focus on content backed up by verifiability.
Wikipedia is neither a dictionary nor a publisher of original thought. It is also not a personal essay of opinions or a discussion forum. It also does not follow the news streams like primary source journalism. There are no self-promotional articles or sponsor advertisements.

Wikipedia articles are about the people, concepts, places, events, and things that their titles denote. The articles contain relevant referential link to other wikipedia articles and other sources from the public domain. Anyone reading Wikipedia can edit an article and the changes are displayed instantaneously without any checking to ensure appropriateness. But based on reader reviews, inappropriate content is usually removed immediately.

Wikipedia is very much internationalised that as of 2007, almost 75 per cent of its articles are non-English. The license Wikipedia uses grants free access to its content in the same sense as free software. Content is bound by copyright for contributors and freely licensed to the public under the GNU Free Documentation Licence (GFDL).

That is to say, Wikipedia content can be copied, modified, and redistributed so long as the new version grants the same freedoms to others and acknowledges the authors of the Wikipedia article used.So enjoy free reading, for example access their English homepage at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page.

Magic of mobile phones and GSM

We are celebrating mobile phones this week with Nawras winning the Middle East Mobile Operator of the year award for 2007. DO is glad to congratulate them for transforming the mobile communications landscape of Oman with service innovation and customer care.The First MobileThe first fully automatic mobile phone system, called MTA (Mobile Telephone system A), was developed by Ericsson and commercially released in Sweden in 1956. However the mobiles were so heavy that had been usually installed in vehicles and were bulky enough to discourage being hand-carried. The launch of the Motorola DynaTAC1 8000X on the March 6, 1983, can define the telecommunication era into BM (Before Mobiles) and AM (After Mobiles); where people are now able to communicate anytime, anyplace, anywhere. For up-to-date statistics on GSM proliferation access online http://www.gsmworld.com/news/statistics/index.shtml.

Generation — 0

In the beginning, each mobile phone had a defined area or a 'Cell' within which they can operate throughout the phone call. Switching between cell stations was not possible and hence they could be used for a mobile connectivity. In 1970 such a call-handing-off system was invented at the Bell Labs. Here the phone can be mobile within a network of cell-stations and yet maintain continuity within a single call. The first public commercial mobile phone network namely the ARP network in Finland in 1971 is considered as the 0G cellular network.

First Generation (1G)

With Motorola DynaTAC 8000X being the first handheld 1G mobile phone, the market was busy installing cell-station networks that enable the same radio frequencies to be reused simultaneously in other cells. The cell-phones are based on these cell-station networks with multiple base-stations located within a close proximity to form a network. Within these networks the calls are automatically handed-over to the next cell station creating a seamless connectivity for the mobile users.

Second Generation (2G)

Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) belonging to the 2nd generation technology (due to digital call quality and low-cost text messaging capability) is clearly the most popular standard for mobile phones in the world. GSM accounts for 82 per cent of the global mobile market with over 29 per cent of the global population using GSM technology. Precisely 20 years ago, on September 7, 1987, 15 phone firms signed an agreement to build mobile networks based on GSM and now the GSM Association has operator members in 218 countries and territories. The first GSM network was launched in 1991 by Radiolinja in Finland with joint technical infrastructure maintenance from Ericsson.In GSMs, the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card carries the subscription information, phone book and this can be easily swapped between mobile phones. Similarly mobiles can operate on SIM cards of different mobile service providers and newer mobiles can accommodate SIM cards of two different technologies say GSM and CDMA. There are 2.5 billion GSM connections worldwide with about 7billion text messages being exchanged every day.

Third Generation (3G)

Mobiles are becoming sleeker, long-lasting and more affordable, which demands higher data rates fit for live streaming of radio and television. This was partially met by several competing but non-compatible standards like the CDMA2000 1x,GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSPDA and CDMA2000 1xEV-DO all belong to this third Gen providing wide-area wireless voice telephony and broadband wireless data services at higher speeds.The futureMobiles of the feature are simply wearable into clothing or footwear or even pervasive enough to be implanted into human body. Most modern automobiles will have built-in mobile systems for 3-D based auto navigation and intelligent communication. 3G devices of the future will be feature-rich with voice and multimedia services delivering streaming media live on demand.

04 September 2007

A sneak preview of a techie’s dream home

HAVING moved into a new house and in result being ever tired of running the house amongst ongoing electrical, plumbing and upholstery works, I let my dream wander as to what technology can do to our home and lifestyle to increase our comfort. While you read this let your imagination run wild to visualise what these gadgets would look like and feel right in your home.

Perfect living room
Beginning with the basics, the living room is voice activated for operating the television, air-conditioning, music and lighting. The very minute you hold the handle on the door, your biometric finger print identifies you and authorises you to enter followed by activating music and lighting controls according to your personal settings. Remember almost everything in the house is RFID tagged and so no more misplaced keys or glasses.
The couch with built-in weighing scale has a mini-display on the arm-rest showing your basics metrics like weight, body temperature, etc. So you can program it to raise alarms at specific weight limits to cut. These programs can also activate and open up a near-by panel with handy gym gadgets right in your living room while you watch TV.

Visitors calls are taken on the television as PIP (Picture In Picture) mode and your room camera can deliver your message on a small screen. The entry permission depends on valid face-recognition scan within your friends and family database.
Depending on your preference settings your television moves to your favourite programs based on time schedules and in case you want to watch something else, then the TiVO activates to record the program onto hard disk for replay later. So thanks to technology no more missing episodes of your most wanted programs.

Cleanest, smartest refreshment
The floor tiles are made of micro-pores that evaporate water instantly and continuously spread perfumed air for an ever fresh toilet. The door handle finger-print activates the cabinet shelves that open to the right toiletries based on the profile: say shaving set or facial creams or brushing set. The shower roof reflects the weather outside, so you can get an indoor sun tan or monsoon shower simulation.
The mirror doubles up as screen to display today’s appointments, stock quotations or TV schedules. The toilette connects to a laundry system that works with the clothes on the hangers from start to finish. The amount of detergent needed, rubbing needed and ironing steam are all customised based on the scanned profile of the soiled clothes which are tagged with RFID chips. By the way even the carpet doubles up as weighing machine that records weight, calculates BMI and plots it as a visual graph for artwork on the wall. No problem, you can even let your doctor receive these daily by email.

Futuristic bedrooms
The sensor loaded bedroom, activates personalised lighting and temperature controls with pod-shades sleep modules for individuals. The roof of the sleep-pod can be customised to project preferred scenes with soothing neon lights simulating a starry-night sky or spring-field blossoms and the like. The room outfitted with voice-activated controls can summon snack trays, refreshments and book-trolleys on mere voice commands.
Interestingly the mattress is self-shaping to body contours and shapes with sensors and soft-pads that can inflate or deflate based on sensor inputs. So no more body aches or neck sprains. The temperature controlled-pool is located just beneath the bed which slides you in gently when turn on.

Kitchen calling
Interestingly the kitchen has errand-robots to deliver food and collect soiled cutleries from any part of the house. The drain tub activates washing sensors based on its load and they stack using a conveyer system beneath the working bench. The refrigerator measures every item taken out and keeps stock of items. It can give our caloric displays of items taken out for a filthy life style which can be personalised with a diet programme. In case of provisions going low, the fridge can send an email to the grocery for orders automatically.

Cooked items have automated date of manufacture and date of expiry while storage and similar RFID tag-based reading can be programmed for all food items. So on expiry they get disposed to the recycling plant attached to the organic garden at home. The cabinet shelves double up as screens for displaying reminders, kitchen recipes or even calorie scales. The mood changing dining room can alter the light colours based on preset preferences say misty mauve to lightning lilac to add punch to your parties.

The flower vases emanate real fragrances, thanks to mood sensors and personalised control settings. All portraits in the house are electronic and hence pictures can be changed in click of the next button and so every time you see something new.

Reality Call
As my dream weaves gadgets of technology turning homes more automated, I also think of the energy dependency and dreaded malware corruption of software controls. The entire house is solar-panelled with a bio-power generated power plant.

It is true that we have several technologies shown hyped in James Bond movies have become a reality in our own modern life styles. If you think I am a dreamer, then I’m not the only one: click online to http://www.forbes.com/2007/05/23/inventions-we-want-tech-cx_07rev_ee_0524inventions.html to read other’s dream technologies.

Man with the advent of technology has made huge strides in adding comfort to his life but nothing can replace the warmth of simplicity that we have left far behind our healthy and eco-friendly life styles. But on the question if technology is a boon or a bane, I end by quoting Bill Gates who said, ‘Humanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries or technology — but in how those are applied to reduce inequities in the world’.

28 August 2007

One laptop perchild dream comes true

This week let us look technology enabling the under-privileged through the One Laptop per Child projects to celebrate the milestone it has reached.

The project

Five years ago in 2002 the idea was proposed by Professor Nicholas Negroponte to develop a low-cost computing machine targeting the under-developed community. With school children as the target community the machine should have basic computing facilities: write essays, do basic calculations, listen to music, watch multimedia, surf the Internet and communicate using emails.

According to its founder, ‘it is an education project, not a laptop project. If we can make education better — particularly primary and secondary schools — it will be a better world.’The project was titled One Laptop per Child (OLPC) and was to be implemented by an US-based non-profit organisation called the One Laptop per Child association. Both the project and the organisation were announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2005. Aimed to cost precisely $100 (RO 38.5), the project was a challenge in terms of manufacturing hardware, customising software and viable energy sources.

Project Support

The One Laptop per Child Project has been backed by Intel, Google, RedHat and AMD. In 2006 the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) announced it would back the laptop. Steve Jobs had offered Mac OS X free of charge for use in the laptop but open source software was preferred for customisation. In 2006, the Wikimedia Foundation announced that static copies of selected Wikipedia articles would be included on these laptops. Don Hopkins announced that he is creating a free and open source port of the game SimCity to the OLPC with the blessing of Will Wright and Electronic Arts, and demonstrated SimCity running on the OLPC at the Game Developer’s Conference in March 2007. Microsoft has announced that it is selling a reduced rate Windows and Office package for $3 in certain countries like Africa.

Powered by hand

The XO-1 is a $100 laptop designed to be energy efficient in design, construction as well applications. The OLPC is fitted with a ripcord that can be cranked to generate power for the device at the rate of 10 to one ratio — that is for each minute you pull and crank on the laptop you can get 10 minutes use out of it.The display can be read even in brilliant sunshine without any backlights thus making it suitable for outdoor environments common to schools in the African terrains. With a processor running at 433 Mhz is considered fast enough for the target applications.


As for functionality the XO-1 has several software programs like a web browser adapted from Firefox in addition to educational programs usable in schools. It works in the XO operating system which is a Linux adaptation and a GUI called Sugar, saving on licensing cost as well on the amount of power the chip requires.Data files are saved onto chip on the motherboard instead of in the hard disk. By eliminating the hard disk which rotates like a motor sucking a lot of power, the design has also minimised moving parts to increase reliability. The following productivity tools are available:
- Custom web browser based upon the Gecko engine used by Mozilla Firefox
- Word processor based on AbiWord
- Email made possible through the web-based Gmail service
- Online chat and VoIP programs l Several interpreted programming languages like Logo, JavaScript, Python, etc.
- Music sequencer with digital instruments
- Audio and video player software


According to Chris Blizzard, the designer, ‘OLTC gets connected through miniature antennae which, like FM radio aerials, can be moved to receive the best wi-fi signal. This reduces power usage compared to concealed wi-fi cards, which drain batteries quickly while struggling to receive weak signals. In stand-by mode the laptop are able to act as a wi-fi router for around 24 hours without being charged.’ The engineering team plans to use the laptops to form a mesh wi-fi network to spread net access around remote villages. Each machine relays data to its neighbours until the information reaches a satellite base unit that connects directly to the World Wide Web


More details on this project can be found at the project website at www.olpc.com. For an FAQ on OLPC access online http://wiki.laptop.org/ wiki/OLPC_FAQ. A fact file on the XO laptop can be found at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/ technology/6679431.stm. To watch a video of a $100 pc working get online to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nwqt8NMT-zI. For a video documentary on the project prototype premiered at the WSIS summit in Tunis, get online to http://www.andycarvin.com/video/100laptop.mov. A recent CBS program on this project available online at http://60minutes. yahoo. com/segment/69/ one_laptop.

Final word

A team of US-based resear-chers, backed by a billionaire, have re-invented the computer in an attempt to revolutionise education in the developing world and DO is glad to bring the highlights of this effort to Oman’s readers through this column.

21 August 2007

What do they really want…read their mind and map it too

AFTER the overwhelming response from readers to last week's Digital Oman column on Team IT Challenges, this week we look into what employees really want at their offices and how deploying technology can meet most of these requirements. Most managers would like to know what most employees want from the organisation. Topping on the list is a productive office culture which includes a two-way communication channel with his management.
Not all companies have a single culture, but over a period of time, a mix of personal influences creates the overall professional ambience. To understand this, the manager can begin to observe meetings, read through communication, monitor tea-time talks, examine employee behaviour and study the existing culture.

Having understood the current situation, he then charts the desired state of culture for professionalism within his sphere of operations. If the manager needs to steer his team towards the company's goals, he has to address his team with his clear concerns and highlights of best practices.

In a normal scenario, most managers are fire-fighting with day-to-day operations and take their team for granted to perform at their best with their current level of involvement and skills which is where the problem stems from. What is required here is taking time to see the big picture and sharing this with his staff openly. Borrowing-in his staff into his challenges and opportunities is not an easy task but not rocket-science either.
The manager can begin a team brain-storming as to the directions of the organisation, its core values, aspirations and future directions. Using technology tools such as a Mind mapping software (http://www.peterussell.com/Mindmaps/MMSoft.php) it is possible to document issues and points visually in a simple manner.

Personally I have used the ConceptDraw (http://www.conceptdraw.com/en/products/mindmap/main.php) and the free tool FreeMind () for this purpose. There are many more free software like the Thinkgraph (http://www.thinkgraph.com/)http://www.thinkgraph.com or VYM — View Your Mind (http://www.insilmaril.de/ vym/). Most software make to possible to convert these maps in easy viewable image formats, pdf format and html format.

A simple approach theorists suggest is the SWOT analysis — Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threats to assess a situation. The technique can be used effectively in any business scenario: Manufacturing, Finance, Marketing, IT, Healthcare, Government, Education, Training, Research, etc. You can use this technique for personal planning and organising which is a good training ground. The mind map diagram in the figure corresponds to a personal SWOT analysis.
Once this analysis is done, then it is time to reward the Strengths: improve on them while putting in place a plan of action to address the weaknesses and threats. The entire team can have a brainstorming day outside the office for this exercise and the management would expect a resulting plan of action in return.

To create the two-way communication between the manager and his employees, it is possible to try an open-office approach when employees could drop by to discuss if not engaged in a meeting. This may work for some but not all. So alternatively a morning mini-meeting before starting activities for the day is another alternative to try. Customise what suits your office environment and this largely depends on the employee responses.
Anytime, anywhere comfort in communication can be achieved by using e-mail systems for eco-friendly, clutter-free and instantaneous communications. Modern software make it possible to send related documents of pictures for review to the entire team with copies marked to relevant staff.
Meeting appointments can be fixed, by sending an electronic request to which the members can respond with an Accept/Reject/Suggest new time option. Some professionals use electronic calendars to mark their meeting appointments using PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) mobile phones. These appointments can be synchronised between the phone and PC version using software.

Interestingly it is possible to share your calendar with your other manager(s) and other staff to let them know about your availability. The opportunity for planning and communication has been opened up for adoption by the employees and the manager most often takes the lead: 'Walk your talk' approach.

Time and time again as mentioned, technology is only an enabler and it is the corporate culture that nourishes and sustains best practices within the office premises. This is very important for aligning personal goals with organisational goals while ensuring productivity and achievement of organisational objectives. Digital Oman will continue next week on enhancing productivity with yet another technology exclusively for you.

14 August 2007

Team IT challenges for managers

Every human being enjoys a pat-on-the-back and the role of manager is know when and where to give it precisely. Consider a Saturday morning meeting as an opportunity to thank the employee who sacrificed his weekend to complete an urgent task.
Most companies investing on IT systems and dependant of the services have a dedicated IT department to provide information supporting the organisation's business requirements. The significance of the role of this department has been steadily growing and now most corporate have a designation titled Chief Information Officer (CIO) directly reporting to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Challenges faced

The CIO has several challenges facing him. Ensuring business continuity, provision of information to the right person, at the right time and in the right format are on the top of his list. As a custodian of information as well as IT assets of the organisation he needs to ensure adequate security mechanism being put in place.

Due to the volatile nature of the IT manpower pool, he is constantly under pressure to hire the right person for the task on hand. Even if this is accomplished, he then continues to be pressurised to take measures to retain his staff.As a leader with a vision and mission he now counts upon his staff as a collective dynamic and responsive team.

In managing his team, technology solves only part of the problems leaving the rest of social systems to be handled carefully. For example having an email system for communication within the office must be controlled in terms of non-abusive usage. The manager or the CIO himself must have the professional discipline of responding to emails and do the needful to avoid email bounce-backs caused by mailbox-overflow. Back on IT manpower, with several ongoing projects, deadlines including penalty clauses and a focused technical backdrop, the need to retain the skilled staff stands paramount.

Profile of IT staff

The demand for technology based solutions and the dependence on IT systems is escalating, no matter what the core business is. This has made the IT manpower market very volatile. From technicians to analysts, programmers and project managers are very much in demand and the ones with relevant industry experience are the most wanted and highly paid. With this volatility comes the major task of motivating the employees on projects with incentives both monetary and fringe benefits.

While salaries make bulk of the return to IT employees, there is a need to find innovative ways to reward performance. This is because competitors are willing to hike the salaries over night to snatch the prospective candidate. Most IT teams average between 5 and 50 in numbers within an average business venture. This community is well networked and this must be utilised to the best advantage. Most recruitment processes refer to technical expertise quoted in resumes but the test of time is the on-the-job performance. The most recent deliverables and achievements are more relevant to this market as several IT experts have switched from other streams of expertise.

Rewards and incentives

Technology itself is evolving and this complicates the project technical experience more heavily. This has to be addressed with frequent training programmes being offered to all employees and the more prestigious offerings to the top-notch performers. Every human being enjoys a pat-on-the-back and the role of manager is know when and where to give it precisely. Consider a Saturday morning meeting as an opportunity to thank the employee who sacrificed his weekend to complete an urgent task.How about sending a mass email to all staff congratulating a colleague who has topped a certain exam or won a technical competition? Pretty easy stuff that doesn't cost anything to the budget can be implemented instantly. On a grander scale company's stock options, performance bonuses, family holiday sponsorships, educational supplements are also other incentives to be considered.

Back-up plan B

On the cautionary note, CIOs and IT managers need to create a hierarchical staffing structure within each department and projects. This will enable better team building and give senior members of the team an opportunity to mentor the freshmen. For critical projects, a back-up member must work in parallel so that he/she is ready to take the lead if required. Organise periodical project status reviews with the presence of a wider audience from the team which will keep all members aware of ongoing projects. This exercise could also bring in synergic effect due to voluntary support or even suggestions.


It is paramount to create project documents that explain the charter, team structure, roles and responsibilities and status reports. Most important meetings must be transcribed and circulated preferably electronically. Official contacts can be electronically archived into a common pool accessible to all staff.

Digital Oman has given suggestions to the IT managers and CIOs to retain their expert staff and nothing is complete unless and until these are put into practice within the organisation for which one will have to harness the support of the senior management. It is time to prepare a strategic report on this, highlighting the knowledge, skills and accomplishments of the staff and suggest ways to retain them collectively and individually.

Computing gets wearable more comfortably

WEARABLE Computing is transforming the way people interact, take care of their health, entertain themselves and do more. With miniaturisation of computers and omnipotent capabilities of phones of the modern era, it is possible to wear technology gadgets just like garments or accessories.

Such devices necessarily must not disturb human activity but act and interact with humans for functionality. This is the concept of wearable computing which aims to simplify interactions between humans and computers like in the case of mobile phones, laptops and PDAs. For a better understanding of this concept take the connection of computing devices within a networked office. Thet share and communicate with each other. In the same way, body network or personal area network (PAN) with several devices worn by the user network and communicate even remotely.

To monitor an aged patient at home, wearable computing makes it possible to measure the pulse rate through the wrist watch or bracelet and transmit the signal through her mobile phone to her clinic which continuously plots this data for monitoring. Through programming an abnormal variation in the pulse rate generates alarms at the clinic which enables the paramedics to reach the patient at the earliest for treatment. In the case of gaming head mounted units with microphones simulate visual screens in front of the eye with voice activated operations.

Imagine moving your arm to simulate playing a tennis stroke and the motion sensor pad recognises the motion and translates it into digital form required for a game scenario. This would make gaming more natural and interactive with more precision without keypads or joysticks. In computing, artificial intelligence attempts to emulate human intelligence and progress in this direction has been quite limited for practical applications. Wearable computing attempts to synergise human intelligence and computing power, making it more practical for real life applications.

Wearable computing has certain basic features: l These devices fit on to the human body and are non-obstructive to activity.l They are always on and do not require interactions to activate.l The computing part happens while the humans are active performing normally to augment the intellect or the senses.l Depending on the programming they can either jam outside signals or permit them to act as filters.l It is possible to maintain a higher level of security in computing as identification can be based on any biometric measure thus increasing privacy.

Devices are generally prosthetic so that the users adapt to its just like and extension of body and after some time they even forget that they are wearing it.l These devices are unrestrictive to the user and are connected cable-free so they can be mobile and do other things while using them.l The devices are attentive to changes in the environment, responsive to user’s controls and are also communicative with other devices in the system.The most fundamental issue in wearable computing is that the wearer is empowered through technology that is a personalised, customisable information space, owned, operated, and controlled by them. In the future many more sensors will be built with chips to make wearable computing more sophisticated and less intrusive to humans.