US Needs to Do Better at Building Digital Skills

January 10, 2022

A recent study sums up the state of worker skills in this country, and it is far from rosy. Tech News World connects the dots in its piece, “Report Finds US Workers Lagging in Digital Skills.” In both educating our youth and keeping adult workers up to date, the US is falling behind. It seems playing online games, watching TikTok, and using chipped credit cards do not provide a high-value tech foundation. Citing a recent think-tank report, writer John P. Mello Jr. tells us:

“One-third of U.S. workers lack digital skills, with 13 percent having no digital skills and 18 percent having, at best, limited digital skills, noted the report by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a science and technology institute. In essence, the ITIF reported, one in six working-age Americans are unable to use email, web search, or other basic online tools. ‘It begins with insufficient teaching of digital skills in the K-12 education system. Only a quarter of U.S. high schools have computer classes,’ the report’s author, ITIF Director of Global Innovation Policy Stephen Ezell told TechNewsWorld.”

Another roadblock is a lack of digital platforms at home for many students. Apparently 23% of households do not possess a computer and over seven percent of Americans do not use the internet.

Not only are we failing to teach our children what they need to know, efforts to keep the existing workforce current are insufficient in several fields. We learn:

“The lack of workforce digital skills is particularly acute in certain industries, according to the report. Across the U.S. construction, transportation and storage industries, half of all workers have no or only limited digital skills, while that share is over one-third across the health and social work, manufacturing, hospitality and retail and wholesale industries, it continued. The lack of digital skills in the manufacturing sector is particularly concerning, it added, especially because jobs in U.S. manufacturing increasingly demand a facility with digital skills, which is important for individual workers to be both competitive and productive, and for broader U.S. manufacturing industries as well.”

Ezell reports private-sector investment in training, as a share of US GDP, fell 30 percent over the past 20 years. According to the international Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), we invest about one-sixth the OECD average in labor market retraining among leading countries. Where does this lack of investment get us? Well below average in the developed world. A 2021 study from online education provider Coursera ranked the U.S. just 29th out of 100 countries in digital skills proficiency, putting us behind many countries in Europe and Asia.

This sorry state of affairs could all change if Congress ever manages to pass the Build Back Better bill, which includes funding for digital-skills training for both youth and established workers. We also see a ray of hope from yet another report, this one released last April by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. That study found 69%of organizations are doing more skill-building now than they did before the Covid-19 crisis. A silver lining, we suppose.

Cynthia Murrell, January 10, 2022

Brief Configuration Error by Google Triggers Japanese Investigation

October 12, 2017

When a tech giant makes even a small mistake, consequences can be significant. A brief write-up from the BBC, “Google Error Disrupts Corporate Japan’s Web Traffic,”  highlights this lamentable fact. We learn:

Google has admitted that wide-spread connectivity issues in Japan were the result of a mistake by the tech giant. Web traffic intended for Japanese internet service providers was being sent to Google instead.

Online banking, railway payment systems as well as gaming sites were among those affected.

A spokesman said a ‘network configuration error’ only lasted for eight minutes on Friday but it took hours for some services to resume. Nintendo was among the companies who reported poor connectivity, according to the Japan Times, as well as the East Japan Railway Company.

All of that content—financial transactions included—was gone for good, since Google cannot transmit to third-party networks, according to an industry expert cited in the post. Essentially, it seems that for those few minutes, Google accidentally hijacked all traffic to NTT Communications Corp, which boasts over 50 million customers in Japan. The country’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is investigating the incident.

Cynthia Murrell, October 12, 2017

Alphabets Employees Feel Empowered

May 29, 2017

Discrimination at the workplace is a real issue, including Alphabet, the parent company of Google. Employees now are trying to fight this off by curating complaints and circulating it within the company using weekly newsletter.

According to an article published by Bloomberg titled At Google, an Employee-Run Email List Tracks Harassment and Bias Complaints, the author says:

Yes, at Google tracks allegations of unwelcome behavior at work in an attempt to make the company more inclusive, said the employees, who did not want to be named because they were not authorized to speak about internal company matters.

The list is allegedly managed by a group of employees who redact the personal information before circulating the content. Google though is aware of the list, the company is silent on it considering the fact that no one really knows who is running the list.

So far, the list has yielded positive results. Behavior by employees that do not adhere to company policies or are offensive towards certain sex or people of ethnicity has been handled by the company through regular channels.

Vishal Ingole, May 29, 2017

Innovations in Language Understanding

May 25, 2017

AI and robotics have advanced significantly. However, machines are yet to achieve that level of sophistication in language understanding. The work is in progress as these trends indicate.

Abbyy in an eBook titled Killer Language Understanding Innovations says:

Pioneering advances in natural language processing and machine vision are re-defining the computing landscape. And disrupting every single industry in the process.

One of the major trend is training chatbots to automate the entire customer services. Chatbots if become capable of interacting in natural language, it would revolutionize several industries. Another trend is combining geospatial data with language understanding to thwart terrorist threats.

In a corporate domain, decision making can become easier if AI is able to decipher the data an organization has and provides real-time actionable inputs. Similarly, data extraction which is still is a manual process can be expedited with optical recognition capabilities of machines.

These are few of the trends that are dominating the language innovations. You can read more about it by clicking here.

Vishol Ingole, May 25, 2017

Passion for the Work Is Key to Watson Team HR

May 17, 2017

Have you ever wanted to be on the IBM Watson team? Business Insider shares, “An IBM Watson VP Says He’s Hired Candidates Without Even Conducting an Interview—Here’s Why He’d Hire You on the Spot.” The brief write-up introduces Watson’s VP of HR Obed Louissant, who reveals that he has offered some folks a job they weren’t actually seeking after speaking with them. Writer Áine Cain specifies:

In certain conversations, Louissant says that he’s been blown away by the passion and engagement with which some individuals speak about their work. … ‘It was more about the experience and what types of places they like to work at,’ Louissant says. If the type of workplace happens to sound just like IBM Watson, the branch of the company that focuses on the question answering computer system, then Louissant says he’s willing to make a job offer right then and there.”

So, never underestimate the power of revealing a passion for your work. It could just land you a better job someday, with Louissant or other corporate leaders who, like him, are ready to snap up enthusiastic workers as soon as they recognize them.

Cynthia Murrell, May 17, 2017

AI Might Not Be the Most Intelligent Business Solution

April 21, 2017

Big data was the buzzword a few years ago, but now artificial intelligence is the tech jargon of the moment.  While big data was a more plausible solution for companies trying to mine information from their digital data, AI is proving difficult to implement.  Forbes discusses AI difficulties in the article, “Artificial Intelligence Is Powerful Stuff, But Difficult To Scale To Real-Life Business.”

There is a lot of excitement brewing around machine learning and AI business possibilities, while the technology is ready for use, workers are not.  People need to be prepped and taught how to use AI and machine learning technology, but without the proper lessons, it will hurt a company’s bottom line.  The problem comes from companies rolling out digital solutions, without changing the way they conduct business.  Workers cannot just adapt to changes instantly.  They need to feel like they are part of the solution, instead of being shifted to the side in the latest technological trend.

CIO for the Federal Communications Commission Dr. David Bray said that:

The growth of AI may shift thinking in organizations. ‘At the end of the day, we are changing what people are doing,; Bray says. ‘You are changing how they work, and they’re going to feel threatened if they’re not bought into the change. It’s almost imperative for CIOs to really work closely with their chief executive officers, and serve as an internal venture capitalist, for how we bring data, to bring process improvements and organizational performance improvements – and work it across the entire organization as a whole.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are an upgrade to not only a company’s technology but also how a company conducts business.  Business processes will need to be updated to integrate the new technology, but also how workers will use and interface it.  Businesses will continue facing problems if they think that changing technology, but not their procedures are the final solution.

Whitney Grace, April 21, 2017

The Design Is Old School, but the Info Is Verified

April 5, 2017

For a moment, let us go back to the 1990s.  The Internet was still new, flash animation was “da bomb” (to quote the vernacular of the day), and Web site design was plain HTML.  While you could see prime examples of early Web site design visiting the Internet Archive, but why hit the time machine search button when you can simply visit

RefDesk is reminiscent of an old AOL landing page, except it lacks the cheesy graphics and provides higher quality information.  RefDesk is an all-inclusive reference and fact checking Web site that pools links of various sources with quality information into one complete resource.  It keeps things simple with the plain HTML format, then it groups sources together based on content and relevance, such as search engines, news outlets, weather, dictionaries, games, white pages, yellow pages, and specialized topics that change daily.  RefDesk’s mission is to take the guesswork out of the Internet:

The Internet is the world’s largest library containing millions of books, artifacts, images, documents, maps, etc. There is but one small problem in this library: everything is scattered about on the floor, with growing hordes of confused and bewildered users frantically shifting through the maze, occasionally crying out, Great Scott, look at what I just found!’ Enter refdesk.

Refdesk has three goals: (1) fast access, (2) intuitive and easy navigation and (3) comprehensive content, rationally indexed. The prevailing philosophy here is: simplicity. “Simplicity is the natural result of profound thought.” And, very difficult to achieve.

Refdesk is the one stop source to find verified, credible resources because a team dedicated to fishing out the facts from the filth that runs amuck on other sites runs it.  It set up shop in 1995 and the only thing that has changed is the information.  It might be basic, it might be a tad bland, but the content is curated to ensure credibility.

Elementary school kids take note; you can use this on your history report.

Whitney Grace, April 5, 2017


U.S. Government Keeping Fewer New Secrets

February 24, 2017

We have good news and bad news for fans of government transparency. In their Secrecy News blog, the Federation of American Scientists’ reports, “Number of New Secrets in 2015 Near Historic Low.” Writer Steven Aftergood explains:

The production of new national security secrets dropped precipitously in the last five years and remained at historically low levels last year, according to a new annual report released today by the Information Security Oversight Office.

There were 53,425 new secrets (‘original classification decisions’) created by executive branch agencies in FY 2015. Though this represents a 14% increase from the all-time low achieved in FY 2014, it is still the second lowest number of original classification actions ever reported. Ten years earlier (2005), by contrast, there were more than 258,000 new secrets.

The new data appear to confirm that the national security classification system is undergoing a slow-motion process of transformation, involving continuing incremental reductions in classification activity and gradually increased disclosure. …

Meanwhile, ‘derivative classification activity,’ or the incorporation of existing secrets into new forms or products, dropped by 32%. The number of pages declassified increased by 30% over the year before.

A marked decrease in government secrecy—that’s the good news. On the other hand, the report reveals some troubling findings. For one thing, costs are not going down alongside classifications; in fact, they rose by eight percent last year. Also, response times to mandatory declassification requests (MDRs) are growing, leaving over 14,000 such requests to languish for over a year each. Finally, fewer newly classified documents carry the “declassify in ten years or less” specification, which means fewer items will become declassified automatically down the line.

Such red-tape tangles notwithstanding, the reduction in secret classifications does look like a sign that the government is moving toward more transparency. Can we trust the trajectory?

Cynthia Murrell, February 24, 2017

Big Data Is a Big Mess

January 18, 2017

Big Data and Cloud Computing were supposed to make things easier for the C-Suites to take billion dollar decisions. But it seems things have started to fall apart.

In an article published by Forbes titled The Data Warehouse Has Failed, Will Cloud Computing Die Next?, the author says:

A company that sells software tools designed to put intelligence controls into data warehousing environments says that traditional data warehousing approaches are flaky. Is this just a platform to spin WhereScape wares, or does Whitehead have a point?

WhereScape, a key player in Data Warehousing is admitting that the buzzwords in the IT industry are fizzing out. The Big Data is being generated, in abundance, but companies still are unsure what to do with the enormous amount of data that their companies produce.

Large corporations who already have invested heavily in Big Data are yet to find any RoIs. As the author points out:

Data led organizations have no idea how good their data is. CEOs have no idea where the data they get actually comes from, who is responsible for it etc. yet they make multi million pound decisions based on it. Big data is making the situation worse not better.

Looks like after 3D-Printing, another buzzword in the tech world, Big Data and Cloud Computing is going to be just a fizzled out buzzword.

Vishal Ingole, January 18, 2017

On-Demand Business Model Not Sure Cash Flow

December 23, 2016

The on-demand car service Uber established a business model that startups in Silicon Valley and other cities are trying to replicate.  These startups are encountering more overhead costs than they expected and are learning that the on-demand economy does not generate instant cash flow.  The LA Times reports that, “On-Demand Business Models Have Put Some Startups On Life Support.”

Uber uses a business model revolving around independent contractors who use their own vehicles as a taxi service that responds to individual requests.  Other startups have sprung up around the same on-demand idea, but with a variety of services.  These include flower delivery service BloomThat, on-demand valet parking Zirx, on-demand meals Spoonrocket, and housecleaning with Homejoy.  The problem these on-demand startups are learning is that they have to deal with overhead costs, such as renting storage spaces, parking spaces, paying for products, delivery vehicles, etc.

Unlike Uber, which relies on the independent contractor to cover the costs of vehicles, other services cannot rely on the on-demand business model due to the other expenses.  The result is that cash is gushing out of their companies:

It’s not just companies that are waking up to the fact being “on-demand” doesn’t guarantee success — the investor tide has also turned.  As the downturn leads to more cautious investment, on-demand businesses are among the hardest-hit; funding for such companies fell in the first quarter of this year to $1.3 billion, down from $7.3 billion six months ago.  ‘If you look in venture capital markets, the on-demand sector is definitely out of favor,’ said Ajay Chopra, a partner at Trinity Ventures who is an investor in both Gobble and Zirx.

These new on-demand startups have had to change their business models in order to remain in business and that requires dismantling the on-demand service model.  On-demand has had its moment in the sun and will remain a lucrative model for some services, but until we invent instant teleportation most companies cannot run on that model.

Whitney Grace, December 23, 2016

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