Category Archives: OtherNews

Stephens College is the first all-women's school with an eSports team

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Jedrzej Kaminski / EyeEm via Getty Images

Last Thursday, Stephens College made history when it officially created the first varsity-level eSports team at an all-women’s school. The program’s 12-player squad will begin digitally competing in collegiate Overwatch leagues this fall.

Administrators started discussing adding eSports as the school’s ninth sport 16 months ago, according to ESPN. Its players will receive the same partial scholarships and resources given to the institution’s other athletic programs. The only difference: The eSports team will be housed in the information technology department.

Stephens became a member of the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE) — college-level competitive gaming’s version of the NCAA — joining 30 other scholarship-sponsored programs under the organization. In keeping with Stephens’ eSports team’s pioneering spirit, they chose Blizzard’s team shooter Overwatch for their initial competitive title for its diverse and strong female characters.

The squad will have a six-person main team and backup “bench” of six more athletes; Interested students may apply on the program’s website, with tryouts over the summer. This fall, the team will start competing in Overwatch leagues run by Tespa, the collegiate eSports organization that puts on the Heroes of the Dorm series and operates out of Blizzard’s headquarters.

 

 

How to administer Microsoft virtual machines using Hyper-V Manager

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Image: iStockphoto.com/Vladimir_Timofeev

Virtualization brings with it many upsides, from consolidating the number of physical servers in use to dynamically allocating resources, including provisioning new servers and clustering VMs for high-availability environments.

The simplicity behind it, however, lies in how effectively the VMs are managed—and the software used to administer them is key. Third-party management suites exist, including Microsoft’s own SCCM. But the free Hyper-V Manager app that’s included with Windows Server and Windows client OSes offers a great deal of manageability, such as the ability to implement Hyper-V settings that will affect all hosted VMs, along with Virtual Switching and Virtual SAN capabilities (Figure A and Figure B).

Figure A

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Figure B

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To stay within the scope of this article, I’ll be covering the steps for adding a VM to Hyper-V Manager to allow for remote administration. Here are the requirements before doing so:

  • Windows-based virtual machine (preexisting or create a new VM)
  • Windows Server 2012 (or later) or Windows 8 (or later)
  • Network connectivity
  • Internet connectivity (optional but required for WAN connections or updates)

Let’s move on to how to add VMs to Hyper-V Manager:

1. Right-click the host server you wish to add a VM from and select New | Virtual Machine… from the context menu (Figure C).

Figure C

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2. The New Virtual Machine Wizard will launch. Enter a name to identify the VM and specify where you want to save the VM’s configuration data, including checkpoints. Click Next to proceed (Figure D).

Figure D

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3. On the following screen, you will be prompted to select the generation type of the VM. Choose the type that best suits your needs and click Next (Figure E).

Figure E

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4. Assign the amount of RAM to allocate to the VM. Indicate whether Dynamic Memory will be used for the VM by placing a check mark in the box, and then click Next (Figure F).

Figure F

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5. The default configuration for VMs is to be disconnected from the network. To modify this, you can create a virtual switch and proper VLAN tags to assign the network cards to the VM. You can also configure this later by accessing the virtual switch settings in the manager app (Figure G).

Figure G

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6. On the following screen, you can create a new virtual disk and size it per the needs of the VM, use an existing VHD/VHDX, or forgo the virtual hard disk and attach one later (Figure H).

Figure H

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7. The Installation Options page will allow you to install an OS as part of the creation of the VM. Installation media, such as a DVD or .ISO, can be used to install the OS. Also, if a network adapter is linked to the VM, PXE booting from a network-based installation server, such as Windows Deployment Services (WDS), can be used instead. Once all the settings have been properly selected, click on the Finish button to create your VM instance (Figure I and Figure J).

Figure I

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Figure J

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8. With the VM created under the physical server linked to Hyper-V Manager, selecting the server from the Virtual Machines section will allow actions to be executed on the VM itself and let you modify the settings of the Hyper-V environment, as well (Figure K).

Figure K

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9. The VMs section also allows for remote management of the VM, such as powering on/off, setting checkpoint states, and moving or exporting VMs. To establish a remote connection to a VM, right-click the VM and select Connect… from the context menu (Figure L).

Figure L

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10. This will open the VM in a separate window to be managed independently from all other VMs hosted on the physical server (Figure M).

Figure M

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Other tips?

Do you have experience using Hyper-V Manager? Share your advice and opinions with fellow TechRepublic members.

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Spotify looks into building its own hardware

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AOL

Spotify, the most popular music streaming service, might be getting ready to jump into the hardware game — if a few job postings are to be believed. The company recently posted a handful of openings that make clear references to designing and selling hardware direct to Spotify users. A posting for a senior hardware product manager says that the eventual hire would work on an initiative to “deliver hardware directly from Spotify to existing and new customers.” It also indicates that the hardware would be “a category defining product akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles.”

Spotify indicates that this would be a “fully-connected” hardware device; the senior product manager would define both the internet-connected hardware requirements as well as its software. The position is located at Spotify’s Stockholm, Sweden headquarters, but the listing doesn’t give specifics on what the hardware would do.

A few other listings give some clues, however. A product manager posting calls for someone specifically to work in the “voice” team. “Voice is quickly becoming a key interaction mechanism for control of digital devices and services,” the posting reads. “As a Product Owner for voice you will be responsible for the strategy and execution of Spotify’s voice efforts beyond our core apps.” This listing notes that this candidate will be working with the “major external platform providers within the voice space,” which would indicate this job involves making Spotify work better on platforms like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home.

But the job isn’t exclusive to working with external companies. “You will be working closely with our User Interaction team and Product Managers for applicable platforms to ensure they are voice enabled in a consistent way to the benefit of our end users,” the listing reads. While there’s no guarantee that this person would work on the hardware initiative referred to in the other job posting, someone in this role could certainly take part in the project.

Lastly, Spotify is also looking to hire a product director who would focus on “natural language understanding.” That candidate would work on building teams “dedicated to building the components of the Spotify conversational interface.” That’s certainly something that could be utilized in any voice-connected hardware that the company could be working on.

Piecing together a company’s future moves based on job postings is naturally fraught with peril, but it looks like Spotify is at least investigating what it can do in the hardware space and how it can improve voice interactions that work with its software. Whether that means we see an official Spotify connected speaker with voice commands remains to be seen, but it’s obviously an area of intense interest for many companies right now. It’s also one of intense competition, so it’s hard to say if it’ll be worth it for Spotify to jump in and compete with the likes of Amazon and Google.

 

 

Create your own films on a VR movie set

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MuRo

When someone mentions “VR filmmaking,” they’re usually referring to 360-degree video, or some kind of video game environment where the story unfolds around you. One developer in Japan, however, has taken the concept in a vastly different direction. ‘Make it Film‘ is an experimental project by ‘MuRo‘ that lets you operate a camera inside a VR environment. Like a film director, you can frame up the shot and then hit record as characters converse or take part in an action scene. It was built on top of Unity3D and currently works with the Oculus Rift and Touch controllers.

The idea is certainly novel. For aspiring filmmakers, it can be difficult to obtain expensive gear, find talented (but cheap) actors and travel to exotic locations. Inside VR, however, that’s less of a problem. Provided you have the digital assets, you can go anywhere and shoot for as long as you like. You can also stop filming whenever you need a break and choose particular lighting or weather conditions on a dime. Mess something up? Simply reset the scene and start again. If you’re a student, or someone that’s interested in the art of cinematography, a tool like this could be invaluable.

MuRo’s example film (above) uses ‘Adam,’ a collection of 3D, high-resolution characters and environments made by Unity. He says the tool could, in theory, work with other scenes and characters too. So if you have the necessary models, you could make home movies or recreate scenes with any of your favorite heroes and actors. The real genius, though, is using the Touch controllers to manually move the camera rig around. We just hope future versions will have virtual cranes, sliders and drones too.

 

 

Texas A&M research team suggests how to defend against collective attention threats

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Image: iStockphoto.com/SergeyIT

Dr. James Caverlee, an associate professor in the department of computer science and engineering at Texas A&M University, has a dream. He wants to create an internet world where cybercriminals can no longer rely on collective attention threats to lure people into becoming victims of digital crime.

What is collective attention and why is it a threat?

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So what is collective attention? It is a recent phenomenon when, for whatever reason—breaking news, a video, or possibly a tweet posted on a large-scale social media system like YouTube or Twitter—captures the attention of thousands if not millions of internet denizens. A possible explanation as to why this happens is that we humans, thanks to our social and cognitive makeup, are more likely to trust information gleaned from our social circles than from mainstream venues, and online social-media outlets are now becoming our social circles.

SEE: FBI agent explores how social engineering attacks get a boost from social media

This digital “perfect storm” is not lost on cybercriminals, who craft online threats—phishing emails and/or malicious websites (Figure A)—related to viral (aka collective attention) social media events to phish unsuspecting victims whose only mistake is being interested in a trending piece of internet news, video, or tweet.

Figure A

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Image: Texas &M University/James Caverlee

Caverlee’s prior work

Early in 2017, Caverlee and his team began building a threat-awareness platform that would serve as an early-warning system. At the time, he suggested this type of countermeasure would mitigate the effects of collective attention threats.

However, that approach is already outdated. In this Texas A&M press release, Caverlee said, “It is imperative to develop new techniques to detect, analyze, model, and defend against collective attention threats in large-scale social systems.”

He admitted that existing media-based protections are not sufficient. “YouTube, itself, is responsible for monitoring and expelling videos that are conduits to spam and malware, while Twitter attempts to block spam accounts and messages once it collects sufficient evidence,” Caverlee said. “This one-size-fits-all method ignores individual risk profiles and suffers from either blocking too much content or allowing all content.”

SEE: 4 critical points to consider when receiving cybersecurity and privacy advice

Personalized apps

“We propose to develop a personalized app that will communicate to each user their exposure to collective attention threats,” Caverlee said. To accomplish that, the personalized app his team is developing will be able to detect evidence of collective attention threats early on—perhaps when the collective attention phenomenon starts going viral.

The press release cited Twitter as an example. “The way the app will work is that on opening a user’s Twitter timeline, for instance, the app will highlight tweets that are associated with a threat. This will give each user more control over their social experience.”

There are challenges ahead

Caverlee and his team know that their first threat-awareness platform (February 2017) is now unable to keep up. The press release noted that Caverlee “recognizes the need to have a continually upgraded design” because the threats keep growing and changing. “His team will provide its initial thoughts on the most relevant features influencing and predicting threats and will continue to explore the most computationally efficient features to maintain the app’s responsiveness.”

Caverlee is persistent. He has been working on collective attention threats since the mid-2000s, studying emerging social systems like Twitter and creating social honeypots (research paper) to capture malicious code used by social spammers so it can be reverse-engineered. More recently, Caverlee has been studying online spaces and how they are manipulated by internet-based campaigns and crowd-sourced attacks.

The press release winds up with these final words from Caverlee:

“The ultimate goal is to build a scientific foundation for the understanding of new threats, including algorithms; frameworks and systems; tools that combat threats against company systems—giving users more power to make sense of their online experience.”

Also see…

Your thoughts

What measures have you taken to try to protect your staff from collective awareness threats? Share your experiences and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.

The 10 best and worst entry level jobs of 2017

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Image: iStockphoto/DragonImages

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Engineers, system engineers, and architects represent the top three entry-level jobs, according to a new report from WalletHub. And tech jobs including web applications developer, software engineer, and electronics engineer round out the rest of the list.

“What many job-market entrants ultimately seek is a career, not just a job,” according to the report. “They want the attractive combination of a high starting salary and high growth potential in terms of compensation as well as responsibility. They also want stability while doing what they love. The question is how to go about obtaining such things in this über-competitive job market.”

WalletHub analyzed 109 entry-level occupations across three dimensions: Immediate opportunity, growth potential, and job hazards.

SEE: The 10 best tech jobs that pay the highest salaries

The complete list of best entry level jobs is as follows:

1. Engineering

2. Systems engineer

3. Architect

4. Web application developer

5. Electrical engineer

6. Safety representative

7. Training specialist

8. Software engineer

9. Electronics engineer

10. Chemical engineer

Despite the fact that web application developers and software engineers are among the 10 best entry-level positions, computer operators have the worst job outlook: 19% of jobs in this field are projected to be cut by 2024, the report stated.

Overall, the tech industry remains a great career option for many people, with US employment in the field growing by about 3% in 2016, according to a recent report from CompTIA. Nearly 7 million tech workers are employed in the US today, the report found.

WalletHub listed the following as the worst entry level jobs (No. 1 is the worst):

1. Welder

2. Floor assembler

3. Boilermaker

4. Plumber

5. Tool and die maker

6. Automotive mechanic

7. Aircraft painter

8. Carpenter

9. Machinist

10. Sheetmetal mechanic

Many workers in these jobs, including tool and die makers and boilermakers, will likely be at risk of losing their positions in the coming years due to automation. However, new technologies also bring new job opportunities in other areas that require a human skillset.

“Solutions powered by AI/cognitive technology will displace jobs, with the biggest impact felt in transportation, logistics, customer service, and consumer services,” according to a recent report from Forrester. “Early movers who have amassed large data sets will have created a baseline set of AI/cognitive services. Other disruptors will begin to use these services to scale their businesses and steal customers from competitors.”

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. Several of the top 10 best entry level jobs are in tech, including web applications developer and software engineer, according to a new report from WalletHub.

2. Meanwhile, many of the 10 worst entry level jobs are likely to be automated in the coming years, including tool and die maker and boilermaker.

3. Though many tech jobs are currently in demand, computer operators have the worst job outlook, with 19% of jobs in this field projected to be cut by 2024, the report stated.

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How to prevent a Chromebook from running out of memory

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Image: Jack Wallen

If you’re a heavy Chromebook user, and you find your device constantly giving you an “out of memory” error, or if you find data in older browser tabs simply disappearing, your device doesn’t have enough memory to handle your workload. Fortunately there’s a way to fix this.

This often occurs on lower-end Chromebooks with 2GB of memory; but even those with 4GB aren’t guaranteed to not suffer from the issue. And so when it happens to you, what is there to be done?

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You use zram (otherwise known as compressed cache – compcache). With a single command you can create enough zram to compensate for your device’s lack of physical RAM. You can create as much compcache as you need; but remember, most Chromebooks contain smaller internal drives, so create a swap space that doesn’t gobble up too much of your physical drive (as swap is created using your Chromebook internal, physical drive).

To create compcache, you must work within Crosh (Chromebook shell), aka the command line. Believe it or not, the command use for this is incredibly simple; but the results are significant (especially in cases where you’re frequently running out of memory).

It should be said that this is still considered an experimental feature, so use it with caution when working with important files. I’ve used swap consistently without issue, but mileage may vary.

Getting to Crosh

The first thing you must do is open a Crosh tab. This is simple and doesn’t require anything more than hitting the key combination [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[t]. When you find yourself at crosh> (Figure A), you know you’re ready to go.

Figure A

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Figure A

The crosh window on a Chrome Pixel.

The command to create swap space is very simple and comes in the form of:

swap enable SIZE

Where SIZE is the size of the swap space you wish to create. The ChromeOS developers suggest adding a swap of 2GB, which means the command would be:

swap enable 2000

Once you’ve run the command, you must then reboot your Chromebook for the effect to take place. The swap will remain persistent until you run the disable command (again, from Crosh), like so:

swap disable

No matter how many times you reboot, the swap will remain until you issue the disable command.

An easy fix for a frustrating problem

When you’re trying to get your work done, the last thing you need is to have your device inform you it lacks the resources for the task. Fortunately, this easy fix will take care of that rather frustrating problem. Give swap space a try on your Chromebook and see if it keeps you working.

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Peggy Whitson breaks the US record for cumulative time in space

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POOL New / Reuters

US astronaut Peggy Whitson has officially broken the US record for cumulative time spent in space. As of 1:27 AM ET today, she had spent 534 days, 2 hours and 49 minutes in space — a number that has obviously increased since then. But that amount of time spent in space broke the record previously held by Jeff Williams. Her current run on the International Space Station started on November 17th, 2016, and her mission was recently extended from March until September. By the time she returns to earth, she’ll have accumulated more than 650 days in space. Whitson has also spent more than 53 hours outside the ISS doing spacewalks, a record for female astronauts.

President Donald Trump and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will be calling the ISS today at 10 AM ET to congratulate Whitson — NASA is offering a livestream of the event which you can watch below. It’ll also be broadcast on NASA’s Facebook and YouTube pages; you can find all the details on the stream here.

NASA’s excellent Tumblr also has details on four other times Whitson made history. She was named the first NASA Science Officer aboard the ISS way back in 2002 and was the first female to command the ISS in 2008. She was also the first female to become Chief of the Astronaut Office, the most senior position for active astronauts. And, as previously mentioned, she also just recently broke the record for most spacewalks for a female. Her 53+ hours and eight spacewalks are both records.

 

 

How to use histograms to improve your photography

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Image: iStockphoto.com/Lana2011

Ever watched a program on photography and heard commentators say a shot is “overexposed”? In a lot of instances, this assumption comes from just glancing at the image or the image’s histogram. Here’s the thing. The histogram in photography isn’t quite the same as the one you use in your day-to-day marketing or forecasting presentation.

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What is a histogram?

In photography, the histogram is used as a reference to help you understand the levels of light and color in a particular image. Analyzing image exposure is usually the primary reason for referencing a histogram. The way a photograph’s histogram is laid out, you can quickly grasp what’s going on with the image’s levels of black, shadows, midtones, general exposure, highlights, and white. If you look at the graph in Figure A, you’ll see vertical lines that delineate these levels of a particular image. As the white bar flows horizontally across the histogram, it lets you know that the image hits the marks for all the levels previously mentioned. The higher the peak, the more intense the particular level is in the image.

Figure A

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Image: Ant Pruitt

The black levels (denoted on the left) are high, the exposure level is low, and the highlights (denoted on the right) are about midrange in intensity. Like any tool when it comes to art, you shouldn’t always depend on it. Just reference it. Let me explain why.

The “perfect histogram” myth

I’ve seen, read, and heard discussions on what the “perfect histogram” should look like. The claim is to have a distribution across all light levels in the image, as well as to have slightly increased exposure, similar to the image in Figure B.

Figure B

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Image: PixelPuck

I can’t say I’ve agreed with this thinking, because many variables can affect the image’s histogram. The camera settings and the scene you’re shooting directly affect your histogram before you even click the shutter.

Sometimes, the beautiful image captured doesn’t have the so-called “perfect histogram.” For example, classic dark images found within the chiaroscuro photography will have higher black and shadow levels than exposure levels. Capturing an image of a bird flying across a sunny sky could have higher white and highlight levels because of the intense light coming from the sun or the camera sensor’s reaction to the bright white clouds. It all depends on the composition.

SEE: How to create professional looking movies with Google Photos

When to reference your histogram

You can check your histogram during your photo shoot. As the image is saved to your camera’s or phone’s storage, you can generally view the file. For example, Canon allows you to click the Info button in the menus of its camera to display the histogram of the recent image taken. There’s even an option to view the RGB (red, blue, green) levels in a seperate histogram. On your mobile phone, you can display the histogram in the editor, such as Snapseed or Lightroom. After checking your histogram, you can make any necessary in-camera adjustments and complete your photo shoot. You can also reference your histogram during post processing and make adjustments to enhance your image.

In conclusion

Get more familiar with the histogram. This tool can really help you understand the final output of your photos. Dive in and produce some awesome creative works!

Also see…

Your thoughts

Do you reference a histogram in your photography work? Share your tips and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.

Online shoppers are losing trust in e-commerce, study finds

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Image: iStockphoto/grapestock

Users are losing trust in the internet, at least when it comes to online shopping and e-commerce. According to the results of a survey, released on Monday, 49% of people said they are increasingly concerned about their privacy online, and lack of trust is the main issue keeping them from shopping online.

The survey, conducted by Ipsos and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), in collaboration with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Internet Society, could suggest that trust is keeping the digital economy from growing, a press release said.

“The lifeblood of the Internet is trust, and when that is damaged, the consequences for the digital economy are nearly irreparable,” said Fen Osler Hampson, director of CIGI’s Global Security and Politics program, in the release. “The results of this global survey offer a glimpse into why policymakers should be concerned, and why there is a strong link between user trust and the health of e-commerce.”

SEE: Job description: Ecommerce tech analyst (Tech Pro Research)

The results of the survey coincided with UNCTAD E-Commerce Week in Geneva, Switzerland. According to the report, 82% of respondents were concerned about their privacy regarding cybercriminals, 74% were troubled by internet companies, and 65% were uneasy about potential governmental impact on their online privacy.

More about IT Security

Organizations doing business online should take note of these insights and react accordingly. For starters, companies should be investing in cybersecurity solutions, and should be clearly explaining to customers how they are protecting their data from hackers. Because personal data is such a valuable commodity online, firms should also be transparent about how they are using (or not using) customer data, and whether or not they are making it available to government agencies.

The survey also noted that the lack of trust will impact organizations in certain regions more than others, the report said. E-commerce platforms in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America will be more impacted by privacy concerns and trust issues, and companies operating there need to be aware of that.

“The survey confirms the importance of having adequate consumer protection and data protection in place, areas where many developing countries are lagging behind,” Shamika N. Sirimanne, director of UNCTAD’s Division on Technology and Logistics, said in the release. “More capacity-building is therefore urgently needed.”

Expectations around payment processing also differ by region, the results noted. More than 86% of users in China, India, and Indonesia said they expect that they will make smartphone-based mobile payments within the next year. However, only 30% of users in France, Germany, and Japan said the same.

Additionally, even though they are shopping online, 55% of those surveyed said that they would prefer to buy items made in their own country, the report said.

The report surveyed 24,225 internet users across 24 countries. As online shopping and e-commerce continue to grow, customer privacy will need to be a top concern for businesses all over the world.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. According to a new survey, 49% of internet users said they are concerned about online privacy, and that their lack of trust is keeping them from shopping online.
  2. People listed concerns over cybercriminals, internet companies themselves, and governments collecting customer data, meaning businesses should address these issues.
  3. Lack of trust in online organizations changes depending on the region, and user still prefer to buy goods and services from their own country.

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9 great networking venues for project management professionals

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Image: iStock/Rawpixel

The potential for project-based networking opportunities comes in various forms, not only at project management (PM) conferences and events, but also a few business and leadership events. For this reason, I’ve included PM, business and leadership venues, since each has the potential to offer great networking and educational opportunities for project professionals. Each year, many of these are held in different locations around the world.

1. IRNOP the (International Research Network on Organizing by Projects) is hosted by various sponsors in different locations. IRNOP was founded in 1993 and was developed to connect business, economics, engineering and other scholars who have an interest in projects, project organizations, and temporary systems. Because IRNOP conferences bring together top minds from all fields, it’s been referred to as “a meeting of minds.” This type of venue offers PM professionals with a chance to talk with experts in other fields and gain insights from different vantage points. On June 11 – 14, 2017, IRNOP will be hosted by and held at Boston University.

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2. PMI Global Conference put together by the Project Management Institute (PMI) is a week-long networking event, including multi-day workshops that bring together project and program managers, chapter leaders and business professionals from around the world. The goal of the event is to offer all attendees a chance to share knowledge, strengthen the PM community and influence the evolution of the profession. This year it will be held between October 26 – 30 in Chicago, Illinois.

3. PMO Symposium offers a chance for Project Management Office (PMO) leaders to network and get a “behind-the-scenes look into proven strategies and practices that drive success for some of the world’s leading PMOs”. The 2017 event will be held November 5 – 8, 2017 in Houston, TX.

4. Project Summit Business Analyst World is a two-day symposium that offers cross-disciplinary networking opportunities for industry experts, project leaders, and business analysts. It’s held in four cities across the US and Canada throughout the year and offers opportunities for education and training. The symposium is followed by an all-day workshop that gives participants a chance to pick up new tips and tools, and receive PDUs and CDUs in the process. Check out the Project Summit Business Analyst World site for the various 2017 symposium locations and dates.

5. APM Project Management Conference has built a reputation for bringing together influential and thought-provoking speakers from the project management profession. This is a conference intended for project leaders who challenge boundaries and look to develop best practices. The event offers featured speakers, a full day of activities and networking opportunities. The 2017 conference will be held in London on April 27.

SEE: Tips for building and advancing your leadership career (free ebook from TechRepublic)

6. Agile and Beyond is considered a”grassroots” volunteer-run conference, with around 100 sessions running across two days, aimed at educating people on agile principles and practices. Content is geared to professionals of all Agile knowledge levels, from beginner to advanced. It’s a great opportunity for project teams, business professionals, and project leaders to get to talk with Agile experts and learn more about this well-recognized methodology. The 2017 conference will be held in Ann Ypsilanti, MI, from May 4 – 5.

7. Change Management Conference is another great place to meet with change management experts in this growing space. Project leaders and business professionals alike need to have an understanding of change management and this conference offers a PM with the opportunity to get up to speed on best practices. This year the conference will be held in New Orleans, LA, between May 21 – 24.

8. Strategic Planning Innovation Summit covers everything from pitfalls in strategic planning to optimizing your strategy team and strategic innovation. This summit is geared to helping professionals understand a company’s vision, mission, values, and strategies. Understanding the link between strategy and PM is foundational for project management professionals, making this summit a high-value event. The 2017 summit will be held in San Francisco, CA between May 22 – 23.

9. Gartner CIO & IT Executive Summit provides opportunities for CIOs, IT, and project leaders to meet and discuss some of the emerging challenges facing companies today. The 2017 summit will be held in Toronto, ON, June 6 – 8.

There are of course many other events available to business professionals, IT leaders and project managers. Before choosing a venue it’s smart to think about the challenges you face as a PM. Then select the venue(s) that allows you to share ideas and network with other professionals who have the experience and knowledge you seek. These events can go a long way to helping you become a stronger and more versatile project leader.

Also see:

The best toaster

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By Brendan Nystedt and Michael Sullivan

This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome, a buyer’s guide to the best homewares. When readers choose to buy The Sweethome’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work. Read the full article here.

After dozens of hours researching and testing toasters—scrutinizing slot size, ease of use, batch-to-batch consistency, features, controls, and overall tastiness—we found the Oster TSSTTRJBBG1 Jelly Bean Toaster is the best. In our tests, this inexpensive and compact two-slot toaster performed as well as models double the price. The Oster’s medium setting evenly browned bread, bagels, and frozen waffles better than most of the competition. And the controls are easy to use and stay cool to the touch, even after toasting multiple batches.

Who should buy this

You’re probably looking for a new toaster because your old one bit the dust. Or maybe it toasts unevenly, can’t accommodate bagels, or doesn’t fit with your kitchen anymore. If you use a toaster oven and it dries out your bread, switching to the intense, direct heat of a toaster can give you a nice char while keeping the bread’s texture intact.

If you need something more versatile and capable than a two-slot toaster, you’re better off getting a toaster oven, which can handle some (if not all) of the tasks that a full-size oven can tackle. However, if you have a large family and you don’t want to invest in (or don’t have room for) a large toaster oven, four-slot toasters are the way to go. With double the capacity, four-slot toasters allow you to produce more toast fast, which is nice if you have a lot of mouths to feed.

How we picked and tested

For our 2016 update, we tested toasters using white sandwich bread, bagels, Eggo waffles, and English muffins. Photo: Michael Hession

The ideal toaster should toast bread evenly and consistently without a whole lot of fuss. Every slot should give you similar performance, and you should be able to toast breads of different types and shapes, which means having a big enough slot to handle thick bagels plus a way to retrieve small English muffins without jamming utensils (or your fingers) into the slots. You should be able to control the toast’s darkness, and it’s essential to have a cancel button that can easily cut off power mid-toast.

For this guide, we tested two- and four-slot toasters between $30 and $180. However, in our research, we found that many of the high-end toasters that cost upwards of $100 don’t offer much more than those costing less than half the price.

Ideally, we wanted to find a slot toaster for under $50, especially because they are really a lo-fi, single-purpose appliance. In most cases, we were able to make perfectly fine toast with much cheaper machines.

For our testing, we used uniform slices of basic white bread from Bimbo and Wonder. We did three back-to-back batches at a middle-shade setting, which showed us how consistent the toast could be from model to model and batch to batch. This also showed how well the toasters could self-regulate their temperature once they’re heated up.

We judged toast on its top-to-bottom and side-to-side evenness. We evaluated the accuracy of the shade settings—would most breakfast eaters consider these results medium, or were they too light or too burned? We also bit into the test toast to evaluate its texture and taste, looking for slices that had a lightly charred and crispy exterior and a warm interior that didn’t feel too dried out or stiff.

To test the toasters’ features beyond basic white bread, we tried out their bagel modes on everything bagels fresh from Murray’s and frozen waffles. For more on how we picked and tested, see our full guide.

The best two-slot toaster

The Oster Jelly Bean is our pick for the best two-slot toaster. Photo: Michael Hession

Our pick for the best toaster is the Oster Jelly Bean. This simple, inexpensive two-slot model toasted bread, bagels, and waffles better than all of the competition in this price range. Unlike some toasters we tested, the slots are wide enough to fit thick, hand-cut bagels without needing to force them down. The plastic controls are easy to use and stay cool to the touch even during multiple rounds of toasting. Also, the Oster was one of the smallest toasters we tested, so it’s ideal for kitchens with limited counter space.

The Oster toasted evenly from top to bottom and slot to slot, while pricier machines with the same nichrome heating element put out inconsistent results. In three successive batches, our Oster toast results were mostly consistent, with some darker patches on the second batch. This wasn’t the case with the Cuisinart CPT-440 we tested, which toasted bread inconsistently from batch to batch.

A pricier toaster with more features

Our upgrade pick is the Breville BTA720XL. Photo: Michael Hession

If you want a high-end toaster with more features, we recommend the Breville BTA720XL. Though it’s more than twice the price of our main pick, our testers found that the Breville toasts bread and bagels more evenly. The Breville also stands out because it allows you to check the degree of doneness, with the option to add 30 seconds more to the toasting cycle. Also, its handsome steel casing has a classic look that would fit the aesthetic of almost any kitchen.

The Breville delivers a more even toasting performance than the Oster, with uniform browning from top to bottom. While the Oster slightly scorched the edges of the second round of toast in back-to-back tests, the Breville’s results were a bit darker but not burnt. Bagels also turned out better using the Breville, because the toaster’s bagel mode is more precise with how it heats each side of the bagel. If you follow an onboard legend that tells you which direction to insert a sliced bagel, you can get a nicely darkened sliced side and a round side that’s warmed but not overdone.

A four-slot toaster for larger households

The Oster 4-Slice offers double the capacity and consistent toasting results. Photo: Michael Hession

If you need a four-slot toaster, we recommend the affordably priced Oster 4-Slice. This model toasts bread very evenly, even after multiple batches. Like most models we tested, you’ll need to adjust the heat setting slightly for bagels, English muffins, and Eggos, but it provides consistent results every time. Additionally, this stainless steel model has a classic look and wouldn’t be an eyesore if stored on a kitchen counter.

In our tests, the Oster 4-Slice toasted bread almost as well as, if not better than models costing three and four times as much. Toast comes out perfectly golden brown, with a crisp exterior and a warm interior that isn’t dried out. Though the Oster 4-Slice toasts more evenly than most other models we tried in the price range, it does leave a small area around the perimeter of the bread untoasted. However, for the price, we don’t think this is a dealbreaker.

A heavy-duty four-slot toaster

Our upgrade pick for a four-slot toaster, the Breville BTA840XL. Photo: Michael Hession

If you want a four-slot toaster that consistently makes evenly browned toast with every batch, the Breville BTA840XL is hands down the best that we tried. Though it’s pricier and takes up more space than the Oster four-slot toaster, the Breville offers more features than any other two- or four-slot model we tested.

This guide may have been updated by The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from The Sweethome: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

 

 

Google had more than 90k government requests for data in 2016, calls for new data framework

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Image: iStockphoto/denizbayram

Governments and courts around the world continue to ask Google for more and more user data, according to the search giant’s latest transparency report. The report, release Thursday, shows that Google received 90,492 government requests for users’ data in 2016 alone—roughly a 19% increase from the 76,042 received in 2015.

Google’s report noted that the firm discloses the requests it receives from the government in six month blocks, separating the first half of the calendar year from the second half. In the second half of 2016, Google received some 45,549 requests for user data.

The percentage of cases where the data was actually procured is also highlighted in Google’s report, with 60% of all cases in the second half of 2016 receiving the data. That is down from the 64% of cases in both the first half of 2016 and the second half of 2015 that did.

SEE: Big data privacy is a bigger issue than you think

The statistics presented in the report show the number of requests that both Google and YouTube receive for the data they have access to. If we break it down by the number of user data requests by country, here are the top five:

  1. United States – 13,682
  2. Germany – 9,925
  3. France – 4,775
  4. India – 3,449
  5. United Kingdom – 3,177

Of course, the data can also be listed in order of the percentage of requests that Google complied with, or the number of users or accounts that were specified in the request. As previously noted, not every request guarantees that Google will provide the data.

“We review each request to make sure that it complies with both the spirit and the letter of the law, and we may refuse to produce information or try to narrow the request in some cases,” the report said.

The number of requests that Google received in the latter half of 2016 marks the highest number of requests in a six month period that the company has received since it first began releasing a transparency report back in 2010. Being that many of the requests were cross-border, Google called for a new framework to handle and process such requests, detailed in another blog post. While Google didn’t present a specific policy, it did note that personal privacy should be a balanced part of the new initiative.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Google released its latest transparency report, noting that it received 90,492 government requests for users data in 2016, up 19% from the previous year.
  2. The US made the most requests, followed by Germany and then France, although that doesn’t necessarily mean Google fulfilled those requests.
  3. Google also called for a new international framework or standard for handling such cross-border data requests at scale.

Also see

How the 'Olympics of Robotics' shines a spotlight on girls and minorities in science

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On Thursday morning in Louisville, KY, thousands of grade schoolers gathered together in the halls of the Kentucky Exposition Center, awaiting their moment on the stage to march in the “Parade of Nations.” The children, donning costumes from Stormtroopers to starfish, hailed from more than 30 countries across the world—from Saudi Arabia to Macau to Kazakhstan.

What drew them to Kentucky? A passion for building competitive robots.

The 10th annual VEX Robotics World Championship—the world’s largest, with 20,000 students—has been hosted in Louisville for the last three years. The program, presented by the Northrop Grumman Foundation, has grown rapidly, by about 30% each year, Vicki Grisanti, communications director of the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation (REC) told me last year. The competition includes: VEX IQ (elementary and middle school), VEX Robotics Competition (middle and high school), and VEX U (college-level).

Earning a spot at the VEX Robotics World Championship is no easy feat. In Kentucky, a state-wide championship drew about 50 high school teams—competing for about eight spots total at the world championship. An all-girl team of first year students from the Kenton County Academies of Innovation and Technology in Fort Mitchell, KY, who had competed in the state-wide tournament, came to the Expo Center as volunteers, and explained the process. The electoral college for robotics is a bit complicated, I learned—each state is allotted a certain number of teams at the world championship, based on how many teams the state has.

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The teams have been working all year to develop robots that can master the new challenge, called “Starstruck.” While last year’s competition, “Nothing But Net” involved shooting baskets, this year’s tournament is played on a 12-by-12 foot volleyball-like field, in which the robots must pick up star- and cube-shaped objects and hurl them over a “fence.”

While many robots last year featured a conveyor belt-like system to scoop up the balls and spit them out, several of this year’s robots have arms that can pick the object up, and the aim is not quite as important. Also, “the body of the robot is less study” this year, said Claire Walker, a student at Kent County, since the robots don’t have the same obstacles in the field that they did last year.

But VEX Worlds doesn’t just teach kids to learn STEM skills—with teams from across the world, breaking down language and cultural barriers is another important lesson these students learn. Although translators in Mandarin and Spanish are provided, many students must overcome the language barrier in creative ways. And working side-by-side with teammates from different background provides a chance for cross-cultural learning, as well. For the first time last year, a team from Syria came to the champions, with the help of the Lebanon-based Multi Aid Programs, with the goal of helping fight stereotypes about Syrian refugees. And a team arrived from Kazakhstan this year, for the first time ever.

SEE: Photos: ‘The Olympics of Robotics’ shows kids across globe embrace future of robots (TechRepublic)

To address the gender gap when it comes to women in tech, a new initiative called Girl Powered aims to double the number of girls on robotics teams in the next five years. The program, spearheaded by the REC Foundation and VEX Robotics, offers resources to help girls—with help from their mentors—succeed in designing, building, programming, and driving robots. In 2016, the REC Foundation gave grants to about 50 teams through Girl Powered, and created an online challenge called “In Her Words Storybook.”

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An all-girls team from Malaysia at VEX Worlds 2017.

Image: Hope Reese/TechRepublic

While a program like Girl Powered is making a broader impact on girls in robotics, one high schooler has taken a hands-on approach to the issue.

Mirabelle Scholten, a 16-year-old from Seattle, has been to Haiti three times this year to help train an all-female middle school team called the Regina Assumpta Robotics team. By helping train the girls on that team, who might not have had access to the same level of STEM education as she did, Scholten is contributing to a larger effort to empower girls in science and math. And not only did she help the team develop its robot—Scholten also became involved when the girls needed travel visas. “When they went to the visa program, only eight girls could come,” she said. “We wrote letters to the senators and congressman in Washington state to help get support for the visas.”

The Regina Assumpta team is set to arrive in Louisville on Saturday—one of 6,670 teams to compete in the VEX IQ Challenge Middle School World Championship.

Also see…

Microsoft aims to simplify enterprise IoT deployments with SaaS offering, analytics tools

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Image: iStockphoto/chombosan

Microsoft IoT Central, a new managed software as a service (SaaS) solution, could help eliminate some of the complexity in enterprise IoT deployments, the company announced in a blog post on Thursday.

The big value behind Microsoft IoT Central is that it provides the management backend for IoT, eliminating the need for businesses to invest in custom solutions or grow their talent in-house, according to a video posted by Microsoft. The service provides the cloud connections necessary, through Microsoft’s Azure cloud, to connect the devices.

The solution could be appealing to businesses that wish to pursue digital transformation, but may not have the cloud or networking expertise to fully do so. Or, it could help businesses with existing deployments expand their IoT footprint with less of an investment in infrastructure.

SEE: Internet of Things policy template (Tech Pro Research)

According to the video, customers can configure Microsoft IoT Central on their own, or with input from a Microsoft partner. The service also offers additional security features to keep data protected.

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Microsoft IoT Central will be available alongside the Azure IoT Suite, an existing platform as a service (PaaS) solution Microsoft already offers. The new service will bring more options for deployments and “lower the barriers” for creating revenue-generating IoT solutions, Microsoft said.

More information about Microsoft IoT Central is coming in the next few months, but interested customers can sign up for pre-release updates here.

To improve industrial IoT, Microsoft also announced a new feature called Connected Factory for the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite. Connected Factory makes it easier to connect standard industrial systems to the cloud, with little to no configuration required, the post said.

The new Azure IoT Hub Device Provisioning service makes it easier to enroll and register IoT devices, while Azure Stream Analytics and Azure Time Series Insights provide improved analytics and visualizations for IoT data.

Microsoft’s new offerings speak to many of the challenges faced by organizations looking to embrace IoT. Microsoft IoT Central, and the related tools for analytics, are an interesting option for Microsoft shops that see the value IoT could bring, but haven’t yet been able to justify the investment necessary to do it right.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Microsoft IoT Central is a new managed software as a service (SaaS) solution, that could help eliminate some of the complexity in enterprise IoT deployments.
  2. A new Connected Factory offering for Microsoft’s Azure IoT Suite will also make it easier for factories to connect traditional industrial systems to the cloud to gain insights.
  3. Azure Stream Analytics and Azure Time Series Insights boost the analytics insights for enterprise IoT, and the Azure IoT Hub Device Provisioning service makes it easier to enroll IoT devices.

Also see