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Odds and ends... How many of the top programmers are American?

The WSJ reports that "of the 48 best computer programmers in the world, only four of them are Americans."

Back in February, I wrote about a computer-programming competition run by an outfit called TopCoder. That event was part of the run-up to the global finals held last week in Las Vegas. If you have trouble putting "computer programming" and "spectator sport" in the same sentence, you haven't been to one of these contests. From the gasps, moans and cheers as the audience watched the scoreboard tracking the contestants, you'd have thought you were at a World Cup match.

As noted in February, these competitions were dominated at their start in 2001 by Americans, but that's no longer the case -- not by a long shot. In fact, of the four Americans who won the top seats out of 4,500 contestants, two were brothers: Po-Shen Loh, 23, a graduate student in math at Princeton University, and his 21-year-old sibling, Po-Ru, now an undergraduate at CalTech. Both were born in the Midwest of parents who had emigrated to the U.S. from Singapore; their father is a professor of statistics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

By contrast, there were eight from Russia, and four each from Norway and China. The biggest delegation -- 11 -- came from Poland.

So, is all this more evidence of a sad decline in American education and competitiveness?

Surprisingly, the Eastern Europeans don't seem to think so.

We have been covering the issue of competitiveness because it has such an impact on the government IT community. See the feature stories that ran in the May 1 issue if you want to read more.

Other quick hits:
* SJMN, 5.10.2006: Too much tech regulation would hinder services of IT specialists
Technology is a hot topic again on the business pages, and also unfortunately in the courts and in the halls of government. Advances throughout the information technology (IT) industry could be offset by a new wave of technology regulation. Policy-makers should proceed cautiously with an accurate picture of how the technology sector works.

We mostly hear about big deals among big players -- AOL and Google, eBay and Skype, Oracle and Siebel and so on. But this picture of the IT sector misses the mark. All around the country, businesses, government and consumers rely on local technology experts. We're called value-added resellers (VARs), systems integrators and solution providers. We are the retailers who sell computers, the people who build generic beige-box PCs, and the integrators who set up computer networks for businesses, hospitals, schools and governments.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in the past 10 years, the largest driver of growth for our nation's economy has been the IT industry. In turn, the largest component of that growth is the services and specialized software that IT integrators provide.

* SJMN, 5.10.2006: New can-do club wants to build better cell phone
A small band of tinkerers with that old Silicon Valley can-do spirit say they are determined to build a better cell phone, whether wireless companies like it or not.

They have even adapted the name of the Homebrew Computer Club, which in the 1970s counted Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the founders of Apple Computer, among its earliest members.

This time around, the Homebrew Mobile Phone Club's beef is that today's cell phones are not as flexible as personal computers. That's just not acceptable for a generation of Silicon Valley geeks who made a sport of building custom computers with off-the-shelf parts.

* WP, 5.10.2006: Conference Attendees' Personal Data May Be at Risk
The Pentagon has sent warning letters to thousands of people who may have had their personal data stolen, advising them that they may be at risk of identify theft and other fraudulent activities.

Most of those affected used an online registration for an August 2001 Defense Department conference on health-care fraud. Names, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, employer identification and other personal information were entered into a computer database by conference attendees, Defense Department spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on May 10, 2006 at 12:15 PM


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