Timely Topics for IT Professionals
About ACM TechNews
ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either Gateway Inc. or ACM.
To send comments, please write to email@example.com.
Volume 1, Issue 1: Wednesday, December 1, 1999
- "Several Countries Say the Bug Is in Y2K Reports From Gartner"
Baltimore Sun (11/27/99) P. 11C
Although the Gartner Group is considered a leading expert on Y2K
readiness, some countries that received unfavorable ratings say
the group's reports are inaccurate and have possibly harmed
foreign investment. South Africa, for example, says
international grain trader Cargill named a Gartner report as a
factor in its decision not to deliver to South Africa for two
weeks around Jan. 1. Later, South Africa received a positive
rating from Gartner. "Gartner Group has a vested interest in
stirring up panic," says Jamaica's government Y2K coordinator
Luke Jackson. "They're consultants. That's what they do."
Jackson says Gartner never approached him in compiling the
report. Likewise, Ecuador's national Y2K coordinator Jacqueline
Herrera says Gartner never called her before releasing a report
that showed the country lagging in Y2K readiness. "The
conclusions of this report are inaccurate," Herrera says.
Meanwhile, Gartner, which maintains the confidentiality of its
sources, supports its findings and says its information comes
from thousands of its clients and other private companies.
- "AT&T, MCI WorldCom Win Contracts to Provide Data and Internet Services"
Wall Street Journal (11/30/99)
P. B8; Blumenstein, Rebecca; White, Gregory L.
AT&T and MCI WorldCom are set to unveil several outsourcing
agreements with large businesses, people familiar with the
companies said. AT&T is expected to announce a five-year, $550
million deal to provide General Motors and Delphi Automotive
Systems with data and Internet services. MCI WorldCom is
expected to announce an up to $700 million, five-year agreement
to provide similar services to BP Amoco, insiders said. The
contracts suggest that a growing number of businesses want help
with handling their increasingly complicated telecom networks.
None of the companies involved would comment on the deals.
- "Not Just Another New Year's Eve..."
InformationWeek (11/29/99) No. 763, P. 42; Greenemeier, Larry
Although U.S. firms are confident in their Y2K preparations, many
plan to spend New Year's weekend monitoring systems for errors.
About 23 percent of IT employees are required to work on Dec. 31
and an average of 62 percent of IT staff will be on call,
according to an InformationWeek Research survey of 200 IT
executives from businesses of all sizes. Upper-level staff will
also be on site at many businesses, with 41 percent of survey
respondents saying their top IT executive will be on site New
Year's Eve. Visa and Prudential are among the firms requiring
top IT managers to monitor the rollover, and both companies will
provide food and housing for workers that have to be away from
home. However, many companies will not make such provisions,
with 45 percent of respondents saying they will offer no special
accommodations for workers. Most companies will also prohibit
workers' families and alcohol from being on site Dec. 31. Visa
says workers are excited to be a part of Y2K, which they view as
a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Still, many workers are being
deprived of end-of-year vacations, and some companies are
offering bonus pay or comp time to make up for the loss. IT
managers are most worried about the parts of their system that
they cannot control, such as telecommunications, power
infrastructures, transportation, and logistics, according to the
survey. Despite these worries, the survey shows that IT managers
believe there is only a 7 percent chance of their company being
affected by a business partner's Y2K problem. U.S. companies and
government agencies have devoted considerable resources to
preparing for Y2K, spending about $100 billion from 1995 to 2001
identifying, testing, and repairing systems, according to
Commerce Secretary William Daley. As a result, only 1 percent of
survey respondents say they will not be ready for the date
- "Times Company Dismisses 23 Over E-Mail"
New York Times (12/01/99) P. C6
The New York Times Company yesterday fired 23 workers for
internally circulating email that violates the company's email
policy. The company's policy states that "computer
communications must be consistent with conventional standards of
ethical and proper conduct, behavior, and manners and are not to
be used to create, forward, or display any offensive or
disruptive messages, including photographs, graphics, and audio
materials." Other workers at the company's administrative center
in Norfolk, Va. where the dismissals occurred received warning
letters as a result of the episode. Although the company has
terminated employees in the past because of email violations,
this is the largest group to date, says the New York Times' Nancy
- "Deadly Computer Virus Is Circulating Via E-Mail"
Wall Street Journal (12/01/99) P. B14
Antivirus firms have warned of a new computer virus called
Explorepak that spreads through email and destroys a range of
computer files. Three Fortune 500 companies have been infected
with Explorepak over the past few days, according to Trend Micro.
Explorepak transforms all word-processing files into documents
containing only zeroes. The virus sends itself as an attachment
to users that send email to an infected system, and can only be
detected with antivirus software updated as of yesterday, Trend
Micro says. The virus appears as a compressed Pak file attached
to an email reply, with the sender's own subject line in the
heading. ExplorePak is similar to the earlier ExploreZip virus.
Network Associates says it received reports from 11 companies
infected by the virus yesterday.
- "Online Auctions Won't Do it All"
Journal of Commerce (12/01/99) P. 17; Atkinson, Helen
Online auctions offer businesses many benefits, but these open
exchanges cannot serve as the basis for all supply-chain
relationships, some analysts say. In recent years several online
exchange companies have emerged, including VerticalNet.com, the
National Transportation Exchange, and ProNetLink.com. These
firms help buyers and sellers find one another and advertise
potential business partners. While online auctions are suitable
for some purposes, many business needs cannot be met with an
online auction, says AMR Research analyst Larry Lapide. Instead
of a public exchange, supply chain relationships could rely on
private password-protected intranets, Lapide says. Sharing the
view that online auctions should have limited use, ProAction
Group analyst Timothy Van Mieghem says, "The real benefit is
extending the visibility throughout your supply chain, and to do
that requires more than a vehicle for transmitting information."
A company needs "the trust and commitment that goes along with
exposing...proprietary information in that format," Van Mieghem
says. Lapide suggests that auctions should be used in dealing
with short-term, commodity-oriented suppliers. However, in
buying from non-strategic suppliers that are not as
commodity-oriented, companies should consider using an intranet.
With long-term strategic suppliers that are part of a
collaborative relationship, companies should establish a more
advanced private exchange as one part of the partnership. Beyond
the private exchange, buyers might send important decision makers
to meet face-to-face with the strategic partner's workers.
- "Internet to Get an Upgrade"
Philadelphia Inquirer (12/01/99) P. D1; Woodall, Martha
The Pegasus project, which aims to create new technologies to
ensure that the Internet can support its rapidly rising usage,
has received $7.5 million in funding from the federal government.
The project, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency for the past two years, includes researchers from Bell
Atlantic, Lucent, Drexel University, University of Pennsylvania,
Princeton, City College of New York, and MCP Hahnemann
University. The project aims to ensure that the government's
Next Generation Internet is 1,000 times faster, more reliable,
and more capable of supporting sophisticated applications than
the current Internet. The federal government announced the Next
Generation Internet project two years ago, not long after a group
of universities announced the Internet2 project. The Next
Generation Internet "focuses on creating new technologies to
build networks of the future," says Drexel's Stewart Patrick, who
will manage Pegasus. Pegasus will address architecture, optical
networking, and applications. Researchers will examine issues
such as whether current Internet protocols will support future
multimedia applications. For its part, Lucent plans to create a
packet switch that can process 100 times more information per
second than today's switches.
- "Race Is on to Find Chips of the Future"
Financial Times--Information Technology (12/01/99) P. 1; Taylor, Paul
Scientists worldwide are racing to redesign semiconductors to
keep pace with computing innovations of the future. While
semiconductors have so far adhered to Moore's Law, which states
that computing power will double every 18 months, scientists fear
that the limit may be reached in the next 10 to 20 years.
"Unless new methods are developed, future scaling [shrinkage] of
the transistor will result in a loss of total charge, an increase
in resistance, and a potential decrease in performance," warns
Intel researcher Paul Packan. To avoid this barrier to computer
innovation, IBM researchers are designing microscopic circuits
that organize themselves into molecular structures under certain
conditions. This technology shows promise, as scientists at IBM
and elsewhere have already built organic molecules capable of
forming channels for conducting electrical charge. Furthermore,
molecular technology may reduce costs by eliminating the need for
the expensive, dust-free manufacturing plants used today.
- "Staples Files Suit Against Web Hacker"
Boston Globe (11/30/99) P. D1; Murphy, Shelley
Office-supply retailer Staples has filed suit in federal court
against an as yet unnamed computer hacker who redirected traffic
from Staples' Web site to that of Office Depot, Staple's chief
competitor. Federal law calls for a punishment of as much as 10
years in prison if one has been found to have caused damage by
gaining access to a computer without permission. The redirection
of site traffic was successful for about an hour before Staples
officials recognized the problem. In addition to the loss of
business for an hour, Staples is claiming the hacker cost the
company time and money to fix the Web site. Staples expects to
have $1 billion in online sales by 2003. Staples' Shannon
Lapierre says the company thinks it "highly unlikely" that Office
Depot had anything to do with the sabotage and expects to name
the hacker soon.
- "Heavy Traffic on a Web Site Can Trigger a Crash"
USA Today (11/29/99) P. 2B; Solomon, Deborah
Web site crashes have become common due to heavy site traffic and
inadequate technology. Often, companies are unable to gauge how
many people will visit their sites, resulting in data overloads
when sites unexpectedly become popular. "There's an undersizing
element--the sites didn't anticipate whether they could handle
the volumes they see coming at them," says IBM's Jeff Gore. The
most common sources of crashes are inadequate servers and
database systems, as well as software upgrades. A system can
become overloaded when there are too few servers to handle the
information, or when the database and order-entry systems are not
scaled for heavy use. Furthermore, software upgrades and new
applications can cause problems when not properly tested before
being offered on the site.
- "Demand Surges for Online Retailers"
Financial Times (11/30/99) P. 17; Edgecliffe-Johnson, Andrew
Online vendors last Friday saw a significant rise in the number
of visitors to their sites as the holiday shopping season began.
Yahoo! on Monday announced that its site made five times as many
sales last Friday as on the same day last year. In addition,
Yahoo!'s sales last Friday were up 35 percent from the previous
week's Friday. AOL reported that its shoppers spent almost three
times as much last week as they spent during the same week last
year. Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com also reported strong
sales gains. Nielsen/NetRatings measures the traffic to major
e-commerce sites, and notes an 18 percent increase in traffic
between last Wednesday and Friday. Online toy vendors, with an
83 percent rise in activity, showed the largest gains over last
year. Meanwhile, electronics vendors saw 65 percent more visits
the day after Thanksgiving than the day before. Book and music
vendors had the highest level of shoppers, with a 27 percent rise
in visitors over the Thanksgiving holiday, according to
- "EBay Changes How the Wild Web Is Run"
Washington Post (11/28/99) P. A1; Streitfeld, David
EBay, which used to be the embodiment of the unregulated Web, is
now beginning to police itself. After several well-publicized
incidents in which organs and babies were put up for sale at the
online auction house, the company hired Robert Chestnut, a former
federal prosecutor, as its associate general counsel. Chestnut
not only enforces the rules to deal with fraud, scams, and the
selling of illegal items, but also creates them. The site has
350,000 new items for sale every day, and does not attempt to
weed any out beforehand due to the sheer volume. However, the
site does have a disclaimer that says it is not responsible for
the authenticity of any of the items sold through it.
Regardless, the company realized that if it wanted to continue to
be a highly-regarded, publicly traded company, as well as gain
new business, it would need to have some sort of policing body.
This led to the creation last summer of the Fraud Prevention
Department, of which Chestnut is a member. Usually, the most
severe action the unit takes is to suspend a user's account, but
sometimes the unit will have to notify the police if more serious
crimes occur. Chestnut says although the quantity of hoaxes has
declined since eBay began requiring all sellers to have a credit
card number in October, the number of rules and the personnel
needed to enforce them will most certainly grow in the near
- "SIM Seeks to Quash Pending Legislation"
Computerworld (11/29/99) Vol. 33, No. 48, P. 1; Thibodeau, Patrick
The Society for Information Management (SIM), a group of IT
executives, plans to fight the adoption of the Uniform Computer
Information Transaction Act (UCITA), which SIM says gives vendors
too much power. Although UCITA must be approved by all 50 states
to become the standard, if one or two critical states such as
Washington or Virginia adopt the law, software vendors might be
able to apply UCITA throughout the U.S. The legislation is a
model commercial code that applies to a wide range of software
licensing issues, defining the rights of software buyers and
sellers. UCITA covers issues such as shrink-wrap licenses,
contract disputes, and liability. Critics say UCITA would enable
software vendors to disable software if they thought a user had
broken the contract, in the same way that a bank repossesses a
vehicle. Another problem SIM sees with UCITA is that it changes
current practices on contracts, for example, if a license does
not name a duration, the contract is restricted to a reasonable
time. However, UCITA advocates say the legislation will provide
businesses with uniformity, particularly in the area of
e-commerce. SIM and other groups plan to launch a lobbying
effort called 4Cite within a few weeks to discourage adoption of
UCITA, but experts say the legislation will be difficult to stop.
- "Smart Outfit"
Science News (11/20/99) Vol. 156, No. 21, P. 330; Weiss, Peter
Wearable computers, not simply portable ones, are the future of
the personal computing industry, say those involved in the
research and development of the devices. However, the wearable
era has not yet arrived, mainly do to current battery technology
that lags well behind computing technology. Juha Kaario of the
Nokia Research Center says current wearable computer technology
really only is "bearable." Eventually, wearable computers "will
know where you are, how you're feeling, and they'll be
continuously feeding you information," says Cliff Randell at the
University of Bristol in England. Wearable PC users will receive
a steady stream of information, triggered by voice cues, motion
sensors, Global Positioning System (GPS) sensors, etc., relevant
to whatever context the wearer is involved in at any moment. The
U.S. military has run field tests for wearable computers that
translate languages as they are spoken and others that aid in
carrying out extensive maintenance checks for airplanes and
- "Hartford CIO Seeks Need to Take Risks"
National Underwriter (Property/Casualty) (11/22/99) Vol. 103, No.
47, P. 27;
Trembly, Ara C.
To remain competitive, insurance companies need to pursue
innovative technology solutions to more effectively distribute
products and increase customer service, says David Annis, The
Hartford's senior vice president of information technology.
Technology can mean valuable benefits if handled in the right
manner, but technology can also mean the failure of the company,
Annis says. Annis believes information technology professionals
should be part of a company's strategic plan from the beginning,
not just hired to complete projects. CIOs with long-term
relationships with the company's executives can mean a more
intimate and more effective relationship between business and
technology strategies. However, many information technology
employees do not stay at the same company for longer than three
years, which could be due to high demand in the technology
industry for talented people. Annis says that's why companies
need to offer good compensation, a great working environment, and
great employee services to retain the best technology
professionals. Annis makes it a point to focus his attention on
his technology team and the plans made by senior business
leaders, the company's vendors, and other CIOs to stay up-to-date
on the latest business and technology trends. CIOs should be
excellent leaders willing to serve as role models who provide
direction, hope, and trust to the company, Annis points out.
Newsweek (11/29/99) Vol. 134, No. 22, P. 62; Naughton, Keith
Cyberslacking, the practice of employees using company-provided
Internet or email access for personal use on company time, is an
issue growing in prominence and surrounded by controversy. "It
may be unfair for a boss to fire you for a five-minute Web site
visit, but it's not illegal," says Lewis Maltby, the American
Civil Liberties Union's workplace-rights chief. The American
Management Association says 27 percent of companies monitor
employee emails, and 21 percent monitor computer files. In a
survey performed by Vault.com, 90 percent of respondents say they
recreationally surf Web sites on company time, and 84 percent say
they send and receive personal emails from work. According to
another survey by Elron Software, more than half of American
workers shop online during office hours.
- "Commercial Ways Find Favor in Public-Sector Practices"
Washington Technology (11/22/99) Vol. 14, No. 17, P. 24; Wakeman, Nick
The government is increasingly imitating commercial models in
designing IT contracts. Governments are embracing commercial
solutions such as outsourcing of desktop services, enterprise
resource planning solutions, and call centers, and shifting their
top priority from low cost to best value. As part of this new
focus on business practices, U.S. and international governments
are adopting e-commerce. Governments are increasingly looking
for ways to use the Internet to improve services for the end
user. The government of Singapore, for example, developed the
TradeNet system to streamline the data collection processes of
the 26 agencies that all companies must consult when exporting or
importing products. The government's focus on commercial
practices is good news for businesses because they can negotiate
more valuable contracts based on performance. Yet even top
players in the government market continue to gain the majority of
their revenues from commercial contracts.