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Engineering salaries are still rising, but not as fast as in the good old days

WASHINGTON — Engineers working on communications technology were paid a a median salary of $135,087 last year, the highest in the profession, according to new IEEE-USA survey data.

The lowest paid engineers, with a median salary of $107,820, specialize in energy and power engineering, the survey found.

This data was collected from more than 10,200 IEEE-USA members in an annual survey.

Overall, engineers in electrotechnology and IT, which includes electrical engineering, the survey had a median income of $120,000 last year, according to the survey.


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Ed Kirchner, who chairs the employment and career services committee at IEEE-USA, said “communications technology” label is broad and reflects the fusion of computers and mobile tech. “It is literally everybody who would fall under the umbrella of electrical or computer engineering,” said Kirchner.

By job skills, the category would include circuit designers, software engineers, computer engineers and network engineers, he added.

“The breadth of engineers who can work in that technology has really spread out,” said Kirchner, an IEEE-USA volunteer and works for a communications company as a project engineer and deputy program manager.

The growth of the smartphone industry has been explosive, said Kirchner, and engineering salaries are directly tied to the financial performance of the companies they work for.

Engineering and IT salaries increased by 1.7% last year, less than half the rate of the prior year, reports the IEEE-USA, in its latest salary survey.

“I think it’s very good news that salaries are still rising. The fact they are rising at a smaller rate reflects the fact that raises are smaller, bonuses are smaller,” said Kirchner.

In normal economic times, the raise budgets are more on the order of 6% or so, he said.

Some other median levels for engineering salaries include: circuits and devices, $129,000; signals and applications, $127,000; industrial applications, $110,000 and systems and control, $112,000.


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Attacks based on designed viruses could interest bioterrorists

Computer hackers could create malicious software that crosses the line from technology to biology, crafting viruses that could spread dangerous epidemics, researchers said at Black Hat Europe.

“We are really on the border between the living and the not living,” said Guillaume Lovet, senior manager of Fortinet’s Threat Research and Response Center, during a keynote speech discussing the similarities between biological and computer viruses. Fortinet was the main sponsor of the Black Hat Europe security conference in Amsterdam last week.

WHAT’S AHEAD: IBM predicts 5 big technologies of the future

The comparison between computer and human viruses was made to give security researchers a better understanding of why the human immune system is so much better in battling viruses then antivirus systems.

“We came to wonder if there can be some kind of convergence between human viruses and computer viruses,” Lovet added. “It may sound like a scenario for a bad Hollywood movie, but it is not such a stupid question.”

One of the main things that led Fortinet researchers to that conclusion is the similarity between computer and human viruses. In essence they behave the same way, including information coding for parasitic behavior inside a host system.

Reasoning along this line of thought, a Denial of Service (DoS) attack can be compared to HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus), because both aim at overloading a system, said Ruchna Nigam, security researcher at Fortinet.

There are other comparisons between computer viruses and HIV. HIV attacks the immune system, making humans more vulnerable to certain diseases. Computer viruses such as W32/Sality also use this strategy, terminating antivirus programs and setting a malicious program as an authorized application to bypass Microsoft’s firewall.

The researchers also pointed out that both humans and computers infect themselves. A human visiting a doctor and getting an infection is not an unthinkable scenario, Lovet and Nigam pointed out. Likewise, computers can get infected by visiting a website and downloading a so-called drive-by download — malware that is embedded in the site that tries to install itself on computers. “This is how the ZeuS Trojan built a botnet of an estimated 3.6 million hosts in the USA alone,” noted Lovet and Axelle Apvrille, another Fortinet researcher, in a research paper.

Biological viruses, such as the influenza virus, are also known to change upon replication. When viruses replicate “they mutate themselves,” Nigam said. This behavior is comparable to the way the Conficker and Koobface viruses work. It’s a nightmare for security analysts, because every replicated sample is significantly different from its predecessor. This can render antivirus signatures, designed to detect malicious viruses, close to useless.

One important difference between these polymorphic viruses, as these adaptive variants are known, is that computer viruses only changes form. “Only the package is changed;” the code is not rewritten, Nigam explained.Computer viruses like Conficker have are also known to incubate, nestling themselves on systems to attack at a later time, which is comparable to the flu. “These ideas are taken from the physical world,” said Nigam.There are differences between biological and computer viruses, the researchers noted. If someone wrote the influenza virus in code, the file containing the virus would be no bigger than 22KB. Computer viruses are far bigger than that. In addition, they are more advanced. Biological viruses are not able to implement techniques comparable with encryption and antidebugging tricks, the researchers noted. This is fortunate, because drugs would have severe problems eliminating such virus variations.However, Lovet speculates that human and computer viruses could converge in the future. Most human viruses are essentially DNA or RNA code, strands that contain essential genetic instructions for all known living organisms. “In a nutshell: a biological virus is information that codes for behavior in a host system,” the researchers say. Computer viruses are essentially the same.

The frontier between the digital and the biological world is already blurring, the researchers said, citing cybernetic prosthesis as a good example. Some people have several electronic devices in their body, such as pacemakers, deep brain stimulators and cochlear implants, they noted. As soon as those devices communicate with an external machine, which in most cases is necessary at some point, they become theoretically vulnerable to computer viruses.In 2002, scientists were able to synthesize the poliovirus. Since then, biotechnology has moved on, making it possible to synthesize bacteria, and organisms are genetically modified almost every day, the researchers said. In addition, all the code for synthetic DNA is stored on computers.

“Seeing that the infamous Stuxnet virus, in 2010, was able to creep through a uranium enrichment plant, seize control of its PLC (programmable logic controller), and destroy its centrifuging gear, one could reasonably think that a virus infecting the computers sporting DNA databases is not outside the realm of possibility,” the researchers said in their paper.

“Conversely, software used when sequencing DNA of a living organism, and databases storing bits that code for that sequence, are probably not absent of vulnerabilities.” But whether it is possible to make a virus with malicious DNA sequences that could, once transcribed into bits, exploit those vulnerabilities, remains to be seen.Using a coded virus to affect human biology for military purposes is highly unlikely, since a spreading computer virus is much harder to control than, for example, anthrax bacteria. Releasing a virus might backfire and infect a nation’s own army. However, bioterrorists might be interested in the use of attacks based on such viruses, Lovet said. “And that is a very scary thought.”

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In last week’s episode of “Can you top this dumb patent?” we discovered that Apple had patented the design element of sliding to unlock a device. Gosh, and I recall my grandpa’s front gate having a slide-to-unlock device in the 60s! Boy those Apple guys had to get up early in the morning to invent that one

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Sarcasm aside, does” every Android device now infringe this Apple patent?” Or, for that matter, every Windows 8 device? Well, yes, they probably do. But does that mean that Apple is really going to be using this patent to sue everyone and anyone who uses the slide metaphor in their design? I asked some prominent intellectual property (IP) lawyers about it and this is what they said.

Thomas Carey, a partner at Sunstein, a major intellectual property (IP) law firm and chair of its Business Department, said that, “In this particular case, it appears that there is prior art that may render the patent invalid.” Carey points out that this video of the Neonode N1m device at the 4 minute mark appears to pre-date Apple’s devices.

“However,” Carey continued, “The Apple patent claims refer to a touch screen, which is not what the device in the video contains. Nonetheless, applying the same technique to a touch screen would seem obvious. Hence, invalidity.  (The priority date on the patent is 12/23/2005, which comes after the date of the Neonode N1m.)”

If Apple were to sue someone with this patent, Carey suspects Microsoft, rather than Google and its Android partners, might be targeted. After all, “Apple has had its innovations ripped off by Microsoft for years, so you would surely expect them to start seeking patent protection for their innovations.”

Even so, Daniel Ravicher, an attorney and executive director of the Public Patent Foundation, doesn’t see Apple suing anyone with this particular patent. “Getting a silly patent takes a few thousand dollars and can stealthily contribute to quantity metrics. Deciding to assert a silly patent in litigation takes a few million dollars and can’t hide from quality requirements. I doubt they’d ever assert this patent.”

So, the consensus seems to be that this particular patent won’t be seen used in anger inside a courtroom any time soon. Other dumb patents, that’s another matter. With patents likes these, the mobile patent wars look certain to go on for years—decades—more. Now, just so long as no lawyer comes to my grandpa’s old door I guess I can put up with it.

The iPhone 4S is not the last major project that Steve Jobs worked on, according to one analyst. That would be the next iPhone–let’s call it the iPhone 5.

The next-generation iPhone “was the last project that Steve Jobs was intimately involved with from concept to final design. For that reason…this product will establish the high water mark for iPhone volumes,” Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw, wrote in a research note this week. He expects the iPhone 5 to be a “cult classic” because of Jobs’ involvement.

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In the note, Kumar said the phone will have a slimmer profile and larger screen size but with the same dimensions as the iPhone 4S (the relatively-small 3.5-inch screen is not one of the 4S’ best features). The iPhone is also expected to have LTE, or Long Term Evolution–what’s sometimes referred to as 4G.

Another source, who I spoke with this week and who claims to have knowledge of the redesign, said the iPhone 5 is a “complete redesign. This is a very large project that Steve dedicated all of his time to. He was not that involved in the 4S because his time was limited.”

That makes sense to me. Cosmetically, the iPhone 4S is identical to the iPhone 4. So no big change here. And though the 4S has been revamped on the inside, in some respects, it carries over technology already in the iPad 2: the same dual-core processor, same memory capacity, same accelerometer, same gyroscope, among other similarities.

So, it’s probably not unreasonable to expect the iPhone 5 to be a “complete redesign,” as the source said–meaning both externally and internally, though probably less so internally when compared with pronounced user-facing changes like the display size. (No telling what kind of plans Apple has on the software front: iOS 6? Siri 2?)

The iPhone 5 should debut around the time of Apple’s Developer’s Conference in the summer of 2012, according to Kumar’s research note.

A mosaic of Apple leader Steve Jobs’ on-the-record opinions and musings

Apple’s former CEO, and now chairman, Steve Jobs does not think in sound bites. Reading through the wealth of interviews in his career, one is conscious of a mind working through both questions and answers, and taking little for granted.

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Herewith, a collection of the on-the-record ruminations of now Chairman Steve on Apple’s core talents, being fired, the new CEO, music, optimism, technology, death and more. (Links to the sources are at the end.)
On Apple’s core talents and future products

Apple has a core set of talents, and those talents are: We do, I think, very good hardware design; we do very good industrial design; and we write very good system and application software. And we’re really good at packaging that all together into a product. We’re the only people left in the computer industry that do that. And we’re really the only people in the consumer-electronics industry that go deep in software in consumer products. So those talents can be used to make personal computers, and they can also be used to make things like iPods. And we’re doing both, and we’ll find out what the future holds. — Rolling Stone, 2003
On Tim Cook, now Apple’s CEO per Jobs’ recommendation

Not everyone knows it, but three months after I came back to Apple, my chief operating guy quit. I couldn’t find anyone internally or elsewhere that knew as much as he did, or as I did. So I did that job for nine months before I found someone I saw eye-to-eye with, and that was Tim Cook. And he has been here ever since. — Businessweek, 2004

BACKGROUND: Steve Jobs: “I hereby resign as CEO of Apple”
On being a Silicon Valley celebrity

I think of it as my well-known twin brother. It’s not me. Because otherwise, you go crazy. You read some negative article some idiot writes about you — you just can’t take it too personally. But then that teaches you not to take the really great ones too personally either. People like symbols, and they write about symbols. — Rolling Stone, 1994
On “design”

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that. — Wired, February 1996
On buying washers and dryers

We spent some time in our family talking| Free MCTS TrainingMCTS Online Training . about what’s the trade-off we want to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table. We’d get around to that old washer-dryer discussion. And the talk was about design.

The IRS today said it crossed the 1 billion mark for individual tax returns processed via its e-file system.

The Internal Revenue Service’s electronic filing program started as a pilot project in 1986 and became available nationally in 1990. Prior to the April 18 deadline, IRS e-file passed another high point as more than 100 million individual tax returns were e-filed during the 2011 filing season, the agency stated.


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MORE NEWS: IRS: Top 10 things every taxpayer should know about identity theft

Congress set an 80% goal for the electronic filing of federal tax and information returns in 1998. E-file is now very close to that mark, the IRS said. Currently, more than 79% of taxpayers have used e-file to submit their tax returns so far this year. The IRS also says an e-file return costs 20 times less to process than a paper return.

In 2009, Congress passed another provision requiring tax preparers who file 10 or more tax returns to use e-file. IRS e-file has been steadily growing, but the new law, which the IRS is phasing in, brought a surge of e-filed returns for 2011. For this year, tax preparers who filed 100 or more returns were required to e-file. For 2012, tax preparers who file 11 or more returns will be required to e-file.

The IRS was in the news last week as a report from the Government Accountability Office said that the number of tax-related identity theft incidents is exploding and the IRS has seen reports of the crime rice from 51,702 in 2008 to 248,357 in 2010.

While the IRS has programs in place to fight the identity theft issue, it is also hamstrung in many other areas, the report said.

McAfee-Rovio Mobile
Let’s face it – fighting viruses on your own computer gets really old after a while. You perform an hour-long scan of your hard drive, you quarantine suspicious files, you scrutinize them and then delete them one-by-one. To rectify this, imagine what would happen if McAfee tried to spice things up a bit by overlaying Rovio’s uber-popular “Angry Birds” interface onto its antivirus software. In this setup, suspected viruses appear on your screen as green pigs that you then have the option of eradicating with a wide arsenal of antivirus birds. Now if only someone could figure out a way to integrate “Farmville” into hard drive reformatting…


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At this point, there’s pretty much nothing the United States government can do to stop WikiLeaks from acquiring and publishing vital state secrets. So in order to streamline the leaking process and to raise some cash to pay down the national debt, the government might consider licensing the domain name to WikiLeaks so the website can have easy access to U.S. intelligence databases.

Goldman Sachs-Google Wallet
Goldman Sachs, the oft-subpoenaed investment banking titan, has done a bang-up job making money for a wide range of esteemed clients including the Greek government and Col. Moammar Gadhafi. So with this in mind, why wouldn’t you want Goldman managing your digital wallet? Just think of the joys you’ll feel when you wake up to learn that all the money in your checking account has been invested in complex currency swaps and synthetic junk bonds! We’ve looked at a lot of bad merger ideas in this piece, but the only way to aptly describe this proposed merger is with the words of Goldman senior executive Tom Montag; in other words, this is “one [expletive] deal.”

With 4G smartphones hitting the market in a big way, we decided to test a couple of devices to get an overall sense of how 4G compares with 3G, how specific devices perform and how the underlying networks differ.


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T-Mobile’s data cap embrace leaves Sprint as lone ‘unlimited’ 4G carrier

We got our hands on the Verizon Wireless ThunderBolt and the Samsung Galaxy S from T-Mobile. (Sprint was invited to participate, but was unable to provide a device.) Here’s what we learned in general about 4G wireless networks (watch a slideshow version of this story):

A quick guide to 4G phones
1. 4G capability on any device will add significant bandwidth if you’re in an area with good 4G coverage. However if you stray beyond the 4G coverage area, you revert back to 3G speeds. So, check carefully with any carrier that claims 4G service to make sure it has coverage where you need it.

2. 4G isn’t available in every market served by these companies, and even in markets where it is available, it’s not everywhere in that market. I conducted this series of tests in northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. I found that locations even a couple of miles apart had significant performance differences depending on where I was in the signal pattern.

In general, you can assume that if you’re on or near the edge of a 4G coverage area, your data speeds won’t be as fast as they would be in the center of a coverage area.

3. It’s also important to know what the limits of these devices are. T-Mobile claims that the top speed of its 4G network is about 21Mbps, theoretically. Verizon Wireless claims about half of that. In actual testing, Verizon consistently delivered test files in about half the time as T-Mobile.

4. It’s also worth noting that in spite of the claims by all of the companies, none of these devices, nor their respective networks, is really 4G. The proposed ITU standard for 4G requires a speed of 100Mbps for mobile devices, and that’s not available right now to any carrier, anywhere.

5. Both of the 4G smartphones we tested have more in common than they have obvious differences. Both are Android 2.2 devices, they both have most of the standard Android apps pre-loaded, and both feature large screens that are clearly designed for showing video.

Both come with video apps that include a means of downloading and streaming video, and both can use videoconferencing apps so that you can look at whomever you’re calling, assuming they have a similar service. Skype’s Qik is available for both devices, and they can call each other, most other Android smartphones, as well as iPhones, BlackBerry and Nokia smartphones.

PlayBook plays in WiFi world

Here’s the head-to-head comparison:
T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S 4G

The T-Mobile Galaxy S 4G is the next step in T-Mobile’s line of Galaxy S smartphones. The company also sells the Samsung Vibrant, which is a similar device that supports 3G speeds. The Galaxy S 4G features a 4-inch AMOLED screen and is powered by a Samsung 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird processor. The device includes two cameras, a 5-megapixel rear camera, and a VGA resolution front camera intended for video chats and little else.

21. NYTimes 2.3.3

21. NYTimes 2.3.3
The New York Times Company,
So you’re wondering why a news app would be included in a list of a top apps when you can just go to the Web site? Simple: It allows you to save stories for reading when you don’t have an Internet connection. (Thanks AT&T!) Plus, The New York Times has depth of content—even as newspapers across the country are cutting back, the Times still has niche sections like Technology, Health, Books, Travel, Fashion, and Dining.


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22. OpenTable 3.0.2

22. OpenTable 3.0.2
OpenTable, Inc.,
You’re out on a date that’s going better than expected, but you didn’t make dinner reservations. What to do? Time to bust out the OpenTable app for iPhone and make a reservation for a nearby restaurant. OpenTable makes the process so fast and easy that you might be able to do it while your date isn’t looking.

23. Opera Mini Web Browser 5.0.2

23. Opera Mini Web Browser 5.0.2
Opera Software ASA;
Many in the tech community (including us) were surprised when Apple approved Opera Mini for the iPhone. Since the beginning of the App Store, Apple had never approved a real alternative Web browser because it wanted iPhone users to use Safari. However, lousy connections on AT&T prompted Apple to approve Opera Mini, which uses less data and can sometimes eke out a complete Web page when Safari can’t. We like Safari better overall, but Opera Mini is good to keep around for the times when your network connection isn’t optimal.

24. Pandora Radio 3.1.1

24. Pandora Radio 3.1.1
Pandora Media, Inc.,
For most of its existence, Pandora has been a smart, reliable choice for customized streaming radio. Pandora creates custom stations based on artists or songs you like. It uses elements from the song itself and the user’s preferences to pick new songs to listen to. You’re likely to hear some unfamiliar bands mixed in with a lot of bands you already know and like. Plus, if you use Pandora on your desktop, the iPhone account will sync your thumbs up or down on song selections.

25. Mobile 1.2.2

25. Mobile 1.2.2
Adobe Systems, Inc.,
With the new iPhone 4’s 5-megapixel camera and better photo capabilities, there’s a good chance more users are going to use the iPhone’s camera. Naturally, they will need a photo editor if they want to maximize their photos. Mobile doesn’t do everything, but it does allow you to crop, rotate, change exposure, and apply other effects to your iPhone photos. When you’re done editing your photos, you can upload your work to an account on

26. Remote 1.3.3

26. Remote 1.3.3
Apple Inc.,
Apple’s Remote app turns your iPhone or iPod touch into a remote control for music on your computer or Apple TV. While music is playing, album artwork is displayed on your phone and you can even edit playlists. The app only works over your home Wi-Fi connection, so you don’t have to worry about anyone else controlling your tunes—except other people in your house, of course.

27. ShopSavvy Barcode Scanner 1.5

27. ShopSavvy Barcode Scanner 1.5
Big in Japan,
Have you ever wanted to do a global price check on item at the store? There’s an app for that, and it’s called ShopSavvy. All you do is load up the app and then take a photo of any bar code to find out prices from online and local retailers. If you think a product is overpriced, you can simply buy it from someone else. If ShopSavvy doesn’t find what you need, check out pic2shop, another accurate barcode scanner.

28. Siri Assistant 1.1.1

28. Siri Assistant 1.1.1
Siri’s smart search app is so compelling that Apple bought the company. Will this app be folded into iOS 5? We’re not sure, but downloading it now will let you see what Steve Jobs thinks is worth spending money on. Siri Assistant is a smart search app with learning A.I. built in. As you use Siri, it begins to remember your preferences and locations, which means more accurate search results. The most recent version added the ability to post to Twitter and do math problems. Let’s just hope Siri doesn’t become Skynet and use the data in its computer systems to take over the world.

29. Skype 2.0.0

29. Skype 2.0.0
Skpye Software S.a.r.l,
While the iPhone version of Skype doesn’t yet do video calls (you’ll have to stick to FaceTime on the iPhone 4 to do that), it finally does 3G VoIP voice calls, Wi-Fi Skype-to-Skype calls, and paid Skype-to-landline calls. Skype’s international rates are much lower than AT&T’s, and this app can be a real boon if you use it in a Wi-Fi zone while traveling. Skype promises to run in the background on iOS 4 devices soon, which will make it much easier to receive calls when you aren’t expecting them.

30. Slacker Radio 2.1

30. Slacker Radio 2.1
Slacker, Inc.,
Want to listen to professionally programmed radio stations on your phone? Then meet Slacker, which never slacks in finding you great music. If you enter an artist, it finds similar music you might like and you can ban or like songs to help the system fine-tune your listening experience. Like Pandora, the more you use it, the better the app works.

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