The Future of IT

I found this Dallas Morning News article about the future of IT especially salient. (If prompted to login, get a username and password from www.bugmenot.com.) In a nutshell, Gartner says IT workers must broadly diversify skills or get steamrolled. Gartner further predicts major IT upheaval by 2010.

I had a similar revelation shortly after getting my BS in Computer Science in 1999. Even back then–the middle of the tech boom–skills taught just ten years ago were already becoming irrelevant or commoditized. In plain terms, that means it can become cheaper for your employer to purchase what you do from another firm than to keep you employed. Before my undergrad days, I lived near the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and I saw how people with dinosaur skill sets were often the first to be laid off. They were also the last to find a comparable replacement job.

These revelations are part of what led me to pursue my MS in Computer Science, and they continue to push me towards my in-progress Engineering Management degree.

These revelations are also a motivation (not the motivation) behind my involvement in community organizations. And by involvement, I am not just talking about essentials like pounding nails and folding newsletters. These are important jobs, and I help with them, but I go beyond that and work within the system to motivate others to pound nails and fold newsletters even better. When I help out in this way with Boy Scouts or with my neighborhood association, I am honing life and career skills. This is part of my education. I think that few people realize the immense value one gets from the lessons learned from going that extra mile in community service. Such involvement benefits you as much as it benefits the community.

These revelations also why I try to diversify my skill set beyond what I can get in a classroom. The above-mentioned community service gives me opportunity to test management skills learned in my degree program. My praxis topic allows me to deeply explore a controversial aspect traffic engineering that also has implications for politics, ethics, and economics.

All IT workers should ask themselves three questions:

  • Are my skills only the basic skills for 2006?
  • Do I have knowledge that somehow goes beyond the bachelors-level? Can I do many things that freshly-minted graduates cannot do?
  • Are my skills a “one hit wonder”? Is my overall skill set highly specialized?

An IT worker who answer yes to any of these questions should be gravely concerned. To survive in this industry, they must fix the problem or quickly plan an exit strategy.

The writing is not only on the wall, it’s etched on the stone outside and tattooed on your forehead. In the IT field, those who get ahead are those who learn and adapt. Many of those who don’t will not have gainful IT employment in as soon a a few years.

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs Pay Off Handsomely


Typical compact
fluorescent bulb.

Over the past two years, I have gradually replaced most my light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.

Many claim these bulbs save a ton of money, but they cost a lot. Try $8 for a new compact fluorescent bulb that is equivalent to a $0.50 100W incandescent. Do they really pay off?

Here’s the math:

Bulb Type Incandescent Compact Fluorescent
Wattage 100 27
Bulb lifetime 1500 10000
Initial cost $0.50 $8
Cost per hour of usage $0.00874 $0.00080
Cost per year of typical usage $25.53 $2.34

Two assumptions using this math:

  1. Electricity costs $0.0841 per kWh, which is the 1998-2003 average according to the US Department of Energy (link).
  2. “typical usage” is 8 hours a day: 2 hours in the morning and 6 hours at night.

Regardless of one’s typical usage, it is abundantly clear that, even after accounting for the initial cost, compact fluorescent bulbs overall cost about a tenth to run as traditional bulbs. Most of this is due to their lower energy usage, but part is due to their dramatically increased life span.

90% of the energy consumed by incandescent bulbs are kicked off as heat. This calculation does not catch two things related to that:

  1. If you live in a warm climate, you run the A/C far more than you run the heater. If you create more heat in the house, guess what happens to your electricity bills? They go up because you have to use the A/C even more.
  2. Even if you live in a cold climate–where you run the heat far more than A/C–you are still better off running compact fluorescents unless you have a house exclusively heated by electricity. Gas/propane/oil heating cheaper than electric heat, so while the incandescent bulbs could slightly reduce central heater utilization, you are effectively supplementing a “cheaper to operate” heater with a more expensive one.

CF bulbs have even more advantages. By reducing demand, they can extend the usable life of lower capacity electrical systems that are common in older houses. Thanks to lower heat output, they are safer, especially in lamps or in older houses where certain exposed light fixtures are installed in locations where they wouldn’t be allowed today.

Compact fluorescent bulbs definitely pay off!

Doctorate progress

My doctorate is showing signs of progress! To recap, I am working towards a Doctorate of Engineering in Engineering Management through Southern Methodist University Engineering School‘s Department of Engineering Management and Information Science. (I am simultaneously enrolled in a Master of Science in Engineering Management, but this is only in case the doctorate falls through.)

On Friday, I passed my Preliminary Counseling Exam. This was a 30 minute chat with three EMIS department professors where they verified knowledge of basic concepts. I flubbed some precise definitions (e.g., couldn’t remember the exact words behind the abbreviation MARR), but I showed competence in the heuristics of the concepts. For most of the session, we chatted about my proposed praxis topic, which is on speed limits. This topic dovetails well with engineering management, especially with its economic implications.

My research advisor agrees that I have finished all advanced coursework, so I am formally cleared to begin the preliminary praxis steps of assembling my supervisory committee and passing a qualifying exam.

This degree requires 66 credit hours of coursework and a 12 hour praxis. To date, I have earned 52 hours. Fortunately, my Master of Science in Computer Science, which I earned in May 2003, satisfied all the elective credits for the doctorate, so I am really only doing twelve courses beyond that degree.

I have finished the following courses. (EMIS means Engineering Management and Information Sciencece (my department), CSE means Computer Science and Engineering, ENCE means Environmental and Civil Engineering, and CISB is for the Cox School of Businesses‘s Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship.)

  • EMIS 7370 – Engineering Statistics
  • EMIS 8360 – Operations Research
  • EMIS 7362 – Production and Operations Management
  • EMIS 8378 – Optimization Models for Decision Support
  • ENCE 7391 – Urban Transportation Systems
  • EMIS 8361 – Economic Decision Analysis
  • EMIS 8363 – Engineering Finance
  • CSE 8344 – Computer Networks
  • CSE 7382 – Computer Graphics
  • CSE 7348 – Internetworking Protocols
  • CSE 8313 – Object-Oriented Analysis & Design
  • CSE 8340 – Software Practicum
  • CSE 8391 – Mobile Computing & Databases
  • CSE 7350 – Algorithm Engineering
  • CSE 8330 – Database Management Systems
  • CSE 7381 – Computer Architecture
  • CSE 7394 – XML & Java
  • CSE 7192 – IP & Information Technology

This spring, I will take Experimental Statistics (STAT 5372) and Network Flows ( (EMIS 8374). I expect this spring to be the most difficult semester of my graduate career. I hope I get through it without too much bruising!

After this spring, I have three courses left:

  • CISB 6210 – Essential Law For The Entrepreneur (this is an MBA course)
  • EMIS 8362 – Engineering Accounting
  • EMIS 8364 – Management for Engineers

…and that pesky praxis.

    Relandscaping, Part 5

    Here are details of the plants we used.

    Encore Azalea
    Prolific bloomers, tolerant of full sun, dwarf habit. We got two shades of red for the front and white along the side.

    Salvia
    These are planted between the azaleas. They almost look like bluebonnets when in bloom.

    Oak Leaf Hydrangea

    Fall colors (I thought I had a better picture somewhere, but I could not find it):

    DynomiteCrape Myrtle
    This has a vibrant red color and is a prolific bloomer.

    Forsythia
    These have tons of yellow blooms in the fall.

    Fall flowers:

    Burning Bush Euonymus
    Vibrant red fall color.

    Fall colors:

    Doggitus Stupidus
    It was a moment of indiscretion.

    The next few plants are in front of the walkway.

    Anthony Waterer Spiraea
    Maybe it’s named “waterer” because, like the other plants, it likes to gobble up water? It will have lots of little pinkish flowers when in bloom.

    Sedum
    This tiny succulent turns a nice red in the fall.

    Knockout Rose
    This is a crazy rose bush. It just won’t stop blooming regardless of how poorly you treat it. The flowers have no fragrance, but this is definitely a good low water plant.

    Purple Coneflower
    This one is in the early stages of a bloom.

    Butterfly Bush
    Attracts butterflies. Seriously! Lots of nice, vibrant, small flowers.

    Cardinal Flower

    Gold Flame Spiraea
    Not quite sure what this does yet.

    Black Eyed Susan

    Holly and Nandina
    This is our pre-existing row of nandinas and hollies.

    The hollies had a horrible shape when I moved in. I hacked the back to stumps two winters ago. They have grown back nicely.

    Fall colors:

    Viburnum and Hosta
    We have both David and burkwood viburnums in the back yard. Between them is a patriot hosta.

    Hibiscus
    This plant doesn’t look all that great. Maybe it will grow back better in the spring?

    Nikko Blue Hydrangea
    This plant never looked happy. In fact, it looked downright crappy as winter set in.

    Boxwood Hacking

    My latest project, performed yesterday. We have some overgrown boxwoods on the side of the garage. Normally I wouldn’t complain about these, but they give a great hiding place for someone who wishes to attack someone who is returning home or who wishes to enter the garage through the window..

    They look full in the picture, but don’t let that deceive you. They were actually quite spindly.

    Before:

    After:

    We’re now just going to replace them entirely with a shade loving plant.

    Relandscaping, Part 4

    Both of my loyal readers have been begging for an update on our landscape project.

    Last time I wrote on this, we had just finished preparing the beds. That was a lot of work.

    Now I talk about the very end, where we finally install the plants!

    This is the truck dropping off the plants.

    As with the landscaping materials (mulch, compost, etc.), we were able to get wholesale prices at a major Dallas-area wholesaler thanks to a good contact. Speaking of landscaping materials, you can see that a lot of compost and most of the pine bark mulch was still left.

    Here are all the plants sitting in front of the garage:

    The whole collection was nicely fragrant.

    The first step is to place the plants where they will eventually go.

    Alec helped us with this chore:

    Next step is to dig a hole for each plant:

    In this case, you can see an area where we failed to till in the compost deeply enough. The sand left by the prior prior owners (i.e., 2 owners back) is still there.

    It’s hard to tell in this picture, but you need to make sure the top of the root ball is a hair above the surrounding soil level. This ensures the root system gets enough oxygen.

    Several hours later, all the plants in the front yard are planted.

    Finishing up the side of the house:

    See that crepe myrtle in the middle? Man, that was a heavy sucker! We ordered a 15 gallon one, but they gave us a 30 gallon instead. I had to get a neighbor help me set it in place. We just couldn’t do it.

    In an earlier post, I said I had to replace a railroad tie that had rotted out. In the pictures at top showing where all the plants had been dropped off, you can see a railroad tie. Here is where I dug out the bad tie and put a foundation of bricks below:

    The same spot later on, with the tie in place:

    At this point, I still need to amend the soil behind that tie. (I didn’t amend the soil earlier because it would have fallen.)

    The back yard was more of the same.