Archive for February, 2011


Cubicle space is shrinking

If you feel like your cubicle walls are closing in around you, you may be right.

A combination of the troubled economy and the influx of mobile technology is changing A combination of mobile technology and a sluggish economy is shrinking American cubicle, the target of office humor in movies such as "Office Space" and the Dilbert comics.the workplace landscape. Literally.

Companies across the country are shrinking those boxed-in work areas or scrapping the notion of the once-ubiquitous cubicles altogether.

At tech-giant Intel, employees who used to work in a 72-square-foot space now work in a cozier 48-square-foot station, company officials say.

“Everyone used to get a cube, but that doesn’t work for the way people actually do their work today,” said Neil Tunmore, director of corporate services at Intel, who spearheaded the corporate redesign that began in 2007.

In 1994, the average office worker had 90 square feet of office space, but the area had been whittled down to 75 square feet in 2010, according to the International Facility Management Association, a professional network for the facility management industry.

Space for senior office workers shrunk, too, from 115 square feet in 1994 to 96 square feet in 2010.

But not to worry, that corner office keeps growing. During this same time, space for executive management actually increased.

Chart: The ever-shrinking cubicle

Gensler, a design firm in San Francisco has renovated spaces for 70% of the Fortune 500 companies. On average, they estimate those companies have downsized the cubicle from an 8-by-10 foot area to a 5-by-5 foot work space.

Open-space seating found at companies such asFacebook are becoming a popular “team-oriented” model in the past 10 years, she says.

“In recent years, we’ve seen how companies are trying to shed real estate cost,” says Shari Epstein, director of research at the IFMA. “When you have less space to work, you will try to cram as many people into one space.”



Smartphone data usage soaring

smartphone-dataBy David Goldman, staff writerFebruary 8, 2011: 10:48 AM ET


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile are fighting a losing battle.

With costs of maintaining their networks flying through the roof, the nation’s largest wireless carriers are attempting to limit the mobile Internet usage of their most download-happy customers through speed slowdownsprice tiering and by raising costs.

Yet Americans’ mobile Internet usage is growing exponentially. Video, multimedia-heavy apps and other data hogs have even casual users sucking down more data than they realize.

“As the mobile Web continues to get better, people are using it more,” said Todd Day, a wireless industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan.

Mobile video traffic, the greatest data hog of them all, nearly doubled in the last six months of 2010, Allot Communications’ just-released Global MobileTrends Report found. Meanwhile, other data-hungry services like Skype grew about 87%, and Facebook grew 267%.

So it’s no surprise that average monthly data usage for smartphone users has more than doubled in each of the past three years — and it’s expected to grow 10-fold over the next four years, according to a recently released study by Cisco (CSCOFortune 500).

To put the current state of the mobile Internet into perspective, total mobile data traffic in 2010 was three times the size of the entire Internet in 2000.

That means wireless companies’ limits and slowdowns are beginning to look Draconian. Or, at best, naive.

In June 2010 — when it scrapped its unlimited data offering and moved to a capped system — AT&T (TFortune 500) said that 98% of its smartphone customers use less than 2 gigabytes per month of data, and 65% use less than 200 megabytes.

But that was six months ago. At the rate mobile Internet traffic has been expanding, June was practically the stone age.

The growing prevalence of mobile video is easily the biggest culprit for that rise, accounting for exactly half of mobile Internet traffic last year, Cisco said.

Average mobile Internet usage is already approaching the lowest-tier, 200 MB cap set by AT&T and T-Mobile. It’s on track to close in on AT&T’s highest-tier, 2 GB per month cap by 2015.

To consumers, all of this can get confusing in a hurry. As more shoppers look to buy smartphones each year — the number of smartphones is expected to grow by a third to 117 million in North America this year, Frost & Sullivan forecasts — they’re wondering what those caps, price increases and limits mean for them.

Americans waste an average of $336 a year by miscalculating their usage estimates, according to a study released this week. So if you’re going to get a smartphone, you it pays to know what you’ll be able to do with it each month and how much it’s going to cost you.

What plan is right for you? Let’s first take a look at what you can get with each plan.

T-Mobile and AT&T offer lower prices ($10 and $15, respectively) to customers who use less than 200 MB a month. But that won’t get you too much: It’s the equivalent of about 1,300 Web pages, 400 photo downloads, 60 songs, or 14 YouTube videos. Depending on the compression rate, you could use your entire monthly allotment on less than an hour of Netflix videos.

If you need more out of your smartphone each month than that, AT&T’s 2 GB limit for $25 could be the plan for you: With that, you could download about 13,000 Web pages, 4,000 photos, 650 songs or 130 YouTube videos. That’s also between six and 12 hours of Netflix viewing.

If you use even more than that, you’ll probably want an unlimited plan, which Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile still offer (though Verizon said it willsoon discontinue unlimited data plans for the iPhone).

Verizon and T-Mobile charge $30 a month for that. Sprint doesn’t break out its unlimited mobile Internet plan the same way as its competitors, but it forces its smartphone customers to pay $10 a month extra for their data plans.

If you’re going with T-Mobile, however, you should know that the carrier will start slowing down the speeds of users who exceed 5 GB of data a month, which is a much harder threshold to hit. It’s the equivalent of 33,000 Web pages — or about seven full-length movie downloads.

Verizon also said it will throttle down speeds for heavy users, but it didn’t set an exact usage limit where that kicks in.

How do you know what you’ll use? If you’re still not sure what plan is right for you, check your monthly wireless statement to see how much data you’ve been using, or ask your friends with smartphones to do the same.

An unscientific poll of the CNNMoney newsroom revealed that smartphone owners use a wide range of data — even among owners of the same device.

One iPhone user downloaded just under 1 GB per month, but another downloaded 500 MB a month. One Motorola Droid user typically downloaded between 200 MB and 500 MB per month, but another used between 1 GB and 2 GB a month.

The heaviest data users tend to have Android devices, which run widgets that constantly update with data over the network. Android users download an average of 400 MB per month, and iPhone users are a close second with 375 MB per month, according to Frost & Sullivan. On the flip side, BlackBerry devices tend to download just 100 MB per month.

But even if you pin down exactly how much you can expect to use, there’s another problem: It’s changing fast.

Cisco’s recent report showed that the top 1% of mobile data users account for 20% of all mobile traffic. But just one year ago, those data hogs were consuming 30%. The drop means that average users are downloading more and more.

So start scrutinizing your mobile data use patterns. With unlimited plans headed the way of the dodo bird, we’re all going to have to get used to the idea that when data is downloading, the meter is running.  To top of page



Gop favors victory over values, poll indicates

Given the choice between a candidate who agrees with them on the issues or a candidate who can defeat President Barack Obama in 2012, a new national poll indicates Republicans overwhelming want a winner.

According to CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday, nearly seven out of ten Republicans say they would prefer a GOP presidential nominee who can top Obama in the next election, with 29 percent saying a nominee who agrees with them on every issue that matters the most is more important.

Full results (pdf)

“Republicans are divided on their choice for the GOP nominee in 2012, but they are united in their desire to see Obama ousted from the White House,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

The survey indicates that the race for the Republican nomination is still wide open, with Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Mitt Romney all clustered at the top of the pack. Twenty-one percent of Republicans and independents who lean Republican say if Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and 2008 GOP presidential candidate, decides to run for the White House, they would be likely to support him for their party’s presidential nomination, followed by Palin, the former Alaska governor & 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, at 19 percent, and Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2008 Republican presidential contender, at 18 percent.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, at ten percent, is the only other Republican tested who gets double-digit support. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who made a bid for the last GOP presidential nomination, came in at seven percent, with the remaining potential candidates named in the poll all in the low single digits. CNN’s poll numbers are in-line with most other national GOP 2012 horse race surveys.

It’s worth remembering that polls taken a year before the first votes will be cast are mostly a matter of name recognition.

“Keep in mind that Joe Lieberman and Rudy Giuliani – both relatively famous when they decided to run for president – were ahead in polls conducted in 2003 and 2007,” says Holland. “Neither man won a single primary or caucus once the voting started.”



Chick-fil-A may find difficulty avoiding controversy

The ongoing Chick-fil-A flap – which has gay rights groups blasting the restaurant chain for donating food to an anti-gay marriage group – may be a fleeting controversy for a privately held company that is more accustomed to fiercely loyal patrons and generally positive press coverage.

But Lake Lambert, author of the book Spirituality Inc., says the flap may be a sign of more turbulence ahead for Chick-fil-A as it attempts to hold onto its conservative Christian business culture while expanding its chain beyond the Bible Belt.

“If you have a faith-based corporate identity and you want to function in the national marketplace, you’re going to continue to encounter resistance to those values because not everybody is going to share them,” says Lambert. “The only other option is some sort of secular identity and that’s not where Chick-fil-A is going.”

Lambert says Chick-fil-A is the most visible example of an American corporation trying to foster a specifically Christian identity. The company is privately held and family-run, making that task somewhat easier.

Lambert says Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy signed what Cathy describes as a “covenant” with his children when they took over the company, to help preserve its Christian DNA.

The current controversy erupted when some college campus and gay rights groups blasted the restaurant chain for donating free food to a Pennsylvania organization opposed to gay marriage.

The Human Rights Campaign, a major gay rights group, launched a letter writing campaign to the company, while the Indiana University South Bend went so far as to temporarily suspend Chick-fil-A service in its campus dining facilities.

The fallout provoked Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy to defend his company in a Facebook video and in a written statement.

“In recent weeks, we have been accused of being anti-gay,” Cathy said in a written statement last Saturday. “We have no agenda against anyone.”

“While my family and I believe in the Biblical definition of marriage,” the statement continued, “we love and respect anyone who disagrees.”

The gestures have not mollified many of the chain’s critics, some of whom are airing their grievances on Chick-fil-A’s Facebook page. The Human Rights Campaign is calling on the restaurant to begin participating in the Corporate Equality Index, which rates companies’ treatment of gays.

Christian culture pervades many aspects of Chick-fil-A’s operations, from its corporate purpose – which includes “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us” – to its policy of closing restaurants on Sundays to praying at restaurant openings.

According to a recent case study of the restaurant chain by the Yale School of Management, employees are encouraged to attend prayer services.

Chick-fil-A has over 1,500 locations and began moving beyond the Deep South in the last decade or so. Recently the company has expanded its number of restaurants in the Northeast, creating a more serious presence there.

According to its website, there is only one Chick-fil-A store in New York State, at New York University in downtown Manhattan.

Considering Chick-fil-A’s conservative Christian mission, perhaps the most striking feature of the recent controversy is how unusual it is for the company. As the chain continues to grow, they may find it more difficult to avoid the culture war.



Allergies may prevent tumors

Whether it’s sneezes or hives or a potentially fatal closing of the throat, allergies generally don’t bring positive effects.

But some research indicates that having allergies carries at least one health benefit: More than dozen small studies have suggested that people with allergies are less likely to develop gliomas, which are tumors that begin in the brain or spine, and are the most common type of brain tumor.

A new study in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention adds to that research, finding that the more allergies a person has, the lower the risk of developing one of these tumors. Many other studies looking at allergy and glioma, although not all, have picked up on this association.

But, like previous experiments on the topic, this new study shows only an correlation between allergies and low glioma risk. It does not prove that this is a direct causal connection, said Bridget McCarthy, co-author of the new report and researcher at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

How allergies would prevent tumors is entirely unknown. Some scientists speculate that the immune system of people with allergies is hyperactive, and therefore guards against gliomas. Dr. Melissa Bondy of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, who was not involved in this particular study but has done similar research, thinks there is a trigger of the production of histamine – an inflammation-causing compound released in allergic reactions – that protects against gliomas and perhaps even other kinds of cancers.

McCarthy and colleagues took information from 419 patients who had glioma and 612 who didn’t who had been to hospitals in NorthShore University HealthSystem and Duke University Health System.  All participants self-reported their allergies – including to pets, food, pollen, medication, and other triggers – and antihistamine use.

According to this new study, there were gliomas among people who reported having allergies.  However, the use of antihistamine did not appear to significantly influence glioma risk on the whole, the researchers found.

But when Bondy looked antihistamine use in her study, she found it actually increased a person’s chance of developing a glioma.  She theorizes that certain medications may ease sneezes at the expense of taking away the protective value of the allergic reaction against cancer – but this is also speculation, she said.

An important limitation of this new study is that participants may have misremembered their allergy medication usage and the number of allergies that they have.  And environmental or other factors relating to allergies were not controlled for, meaning that it could be that it’s not the allergies but something else in the participants’ lifestyle or living situation that accounts for the reduced glioma risk, which is something  the authors acknowledge.

But given that so many other investigations into the topic find a protective effect of allergies against glioma, Bondy said it’s likely that there is something going on involving histamines.

To further explore these ideas, Bondy and colleagues are now recruiting 6,000 cases and 6,000 controls for a large-scale epidemiological study on protective factors in glioma.

Bottom line: Don’t stop taking antihistamines or try to make your eyes red and watery on the basis of this work.  Much more research needs to be done before any recommendation can be made.



Spring surge expected by Taliban in Afghanistan

A recent lull in Taliban resistance will not last, says a top commander who adds that come spring, the insurgents will be back on the offensive in Afghanistan, perhaps with assassination teams.

Despite the dismal prediction by the number-two American commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez painted a positive picture of American and international war efforts there, but warned the Taliban will be back on the offensive when spring arrives.

Winter in Afghanistan is so brutal, the Taliban tend to hunker down and refit so they can launch offensives in the spring.

Rodriguez expects the Taliban, which was hit hard by an increase in coalition attacks in 2010, to try new tactics this spring in an effort to rollback coalition military gains.

“Yes, assassination hit teams, IEDs (improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs), indirect things. They will not be as direct in their confrontations as they were last year, I believe,” Rodriguez told journalists at a press conference Tuesday.

The general expects Taliban hit teams to target civilian leaders who have taken over in areas that the Taliban used to control before coalition offensive operations.

But it’s not just those who oppose the Taliban that are being killed.

“They’re killing their own,” Rodriguez said. “You’ve got to understand that, in that insurgency, there’s a hierarchy of the most committed to the least committed. And they have been going after the people who were part of their efforts before, but who are on the lower scale, who are trying to turn over and support their government.”

The Taliban’s tactic of turning on their own comes after coalition success in places like Kabul, the capital.