Can you really believe Internet usage statistics ?

I was reading the latest issue of FirstMonday, when I came across an interesting statistic. Apparently, approximately 60 million Americans use search engines to find information on the Internet every day. Nothing wrong with that, you say. But, how’s this for another statistic; there are about 204 million Internet users in America! This is about 68% of the total population.

So, where do the rest 144 million Americans go for information on the Internet? Now, this statistic could mean a few things:

1. Most Americans don’t use the Internet daily!
2. Most Americans know where to find what they’re looking for!
3. Most Americans don’t look for information online.
4. The statistic is completely wrong.

I am not sure what is the case here, but it is interesting to note that statistics can be fairly amusing at times!

I pay, you pay, we all pay income tax

Yesterday was the last day to file taxes in the majority of the United States. The deadline is April 15th of each year, but this time an extra working day was given because the 15th fell on a Saturday, which is a non-working day for most of corporate America. Statistics are interesting, and in this case surprising that about 6% of American taxpayers (including legal as well as illegal aliens) request an extension of deadline. I never understood this, but I guess it just goes to show that people working in the hi-tech industries (bulk of taxpayers by my own account) are by and large procrastinators.

Now, while we are on the topic of statistics, let me mention that according to figures from the American Internal Revenue Service, about 44% of Americans are taxpayers. This is a great statistic simply because it takes the total population of the US in consideration along with the total number of taxpayers, while completely neglecting the number of undocumented aliens who file their taxes. This is because the IRS does not reveal these numbers to anyone. The IRS works on the premise that its main job is to get everyone in the US to pay taxes, not to enforce immigration laws.

An increasing number of such “undocumented” aliens are filing for taxes simply in the hopes of one day getting the “paper” making them a legal US citizen. This is a phenomenal thing. There’s lots of debate going on about granting these aliens legal status, and the fact that they pay their taxes makes a stronger case for them.

Another interesting fact is that the number of Americans filing a return with zero taxes due is also increasing rapidly every year. Does this mean that the economy isn’t growing at all? Does it mean that the number of poor people are increasing in the US? The answer to the second question is a “yes” from one of my earlier posts. Is the fact that an increasing number of Americans aren’t subject to any taxes at all an indicator of the tax law’s love for the middle class? I am baffled, and maybe someone can offer an explanation.

By the way, April 15th is also Leonardo Da Vinci’s birthday, the day Lincoln died, the day GE was incorporated, the day the Titanic sank, and the day that McDonald’s served its first hamburger! (wsj.com)

The memories of my IBM ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest adventure

I was reading the news today, when I came across news that the results of the IBM ACM-ICPC World Finals had been announced. This is a very prestigious programming contest that begins at the regional level and then goes onto the international level, with exciting prizes and recognition for the winners and runners-ups.

I had the opportunity to participate in the 2000 ACM ICPC Asia regional contest at IIT Kanpur. Although, my team did not score an entry into the prestigious finals, I am proud to have represented Kanpur University at the Asia level. Those were the days! I can still remember the sequence of events that lead me to the regionals and get an honorable mention. There was this subtle desire to achieve something; the desire to be different. I will never forget my college days.

The best part about representing Kanpur University was the fact that I did not have any formal training in programming. My major wasn’t Computer Science, and yet my team was able to qualify to be the official entry from the University after acing the screening test in which about a dozen teams participated from within my college. I had a blast with my team members, Abhinav Bali (currently a graduate student in Australia) and Ruchi Makhani (haven’t communicated since 2001). We literally stayed at IITK’s guest house for about 3 days even though we had our own places to live in Kanpur. Our trio was a force to reckon with, and we went on to win a string of programming contests, including winning the 2nd position in a national level programming contest at IIT Kanpur.

There was so much enthusiasm. Participating at the regionals was a new feat for my college and we lacked the kind of coaching that is almost required to even qualify. We felt on top of the world, and of course the loads of freebies (books, CDs, licensed software, certificates, food), bragging rights, and celebratory social events pumped up our egos. I remember dining with the top faculty of both my college and IIT Kanpur, and being recognized by name by students of all the batches.

I gained a lot of confidence after that event, and still cherish my memories of the contest. I got to meet peers from all over India and neighboring Asian countries. I have to admit that I loved being in the limelight at my college for more than a year by virtue of representing it at various national technical competitions. I travelled significantly, and it was great to be paid to travel and have fun at other Universities!

College life is an amazing experience, and I am very glad to have made the most out of it in terms of learning, popularity, entrepreneurial spirit (I’ll write about this sometime soon), setting lifelong goals, and realizing my true potential.

Speed Recruiting – Now this is where I could stand a chance !

I love to talk about jobs and hiring practices. Political issues notwithstanding, every country is facing a serious deficit of qualified people. As such, companies are having to deal with these shortages in innovative ways.

I just came across this article on Yahoo! News about an Indian headhunter using a “Speed Dating” technique to hire people. Although, this is not the first time that such a format has been used to hire people, I see more companies doing something like this than ever before. Now, of course, I would love to dwell on the benefits and drawbacks of such a hiring technique, but I am sure that would lead us to nowhere, especially since established studies have proved that traditional interviewing techniques are more a failure than actually effective.

I believe that in the software development, especially the backoffice arena, qualifications are not as important as the actual motivation for getting the job. Writing mundane code is like speaking in a foreign language. Even if you suck at it, there will always be quick ways around to help you overcome those drawbacks. What the “speed dating” technique does is help the recruiter get a quick first impression about your motivation, core skills, and your seriousness about the opportunity. Then, if both the participants sense a match in objectives, they communicate further and basically seal the deal.

I take special interest in the JobsBlog, and have time and again commented on stories pertaining to the evolution of recruiting at big software companies. This one instance, my comment was also quoted by a Microsoft recruiter!

It would be great to see the Internet, coupled with established social norms play a much more dominant role in hiring people.

Gizmo Project for all your Internet and roaming telephony needs

The telephony techscape is heating up with newer technologies being revealed almost everyday, and the POTS companies struggling to exist. VoIP is nothing new, and I, personally, have been using it since around 1999 when I first made my Internet voice call to the US. What’s really happening right now is the emergence of global open standards making it easy for new players in the arena to set up shop.

Skype has been around for quite some time and holds the most prominent position in Internet telephony. But, it suffers from the fact that it still uses proprietary technology, and is closed in many respects, restricting the users of other open standards based software to connect to their gateways. Nonetheless, they do have a sound business model.

I had the chance to use a relatively new service called Gizmo Project a couple of days ago. What distinguishes it from Skype is its implementation of open standards (including Jabber for IM), although the main client software itself is closed. Users get a free area code 775 US telephone number that could be used by regular POTS/cellular phone subscribers to connect to a Project Gizmo user for free. In addition, users have the option of paying a monthly/pay-by-use fee to forward/transfer their incoming calls to a regular phone number across the globe.

My experience up until now has been excellent, and I actually like the simple yet functional interface. The sound quality is great as well. Gizmo Project provides the cheapest calls to regular phones in the US at 1 cents a minute. International calls are not competitively priced, and this is where Yahoo! Messenger/Dialpad steals the show. Toll free calls (8**) incur no charge at all, and provide a great way to communicate when you’re travelling internationally.

The most phenomenal aspect of this software is its use of open standards, which means that it can connect to a multitude of SIP enabled networks, all for free! It is worth mentioning that almost all universities across the globe use open SIP gateways, which means you could use Gizmo Project to talk for free internationally! A lot of businesses are also investing in open SIP gateways. I see a complete Internet telephony enabled talk-space within a couple decades from now. Cell-phone networks stand no chance in the light of pervasive Internet and mature VoIP telephony.

That said, I would still wait for Yahoo!’s latest messenger to come out of beta stage before passing any final judgment. Yahoo! has a lot of tricks up its sleeve, and has just licensed the best VoIP codec technology for use in its messenger software. With its competitive pricing, it could very well emerge as the winner in this battle for a very long time.

Interesting times indeed!