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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Volume 2, Issue 75:  Friday, June 30, 2000

  • "More Visas for Techies?"
    Washington Post (06/30/00) P. E1; Eilperin, Juliet

    Although it has been two years since Congress doubled the number of temporary visas for high-tech professionals, U.S. companies say there are still thousands of jobs left unfilled. Congress raised the H-1B visa cap to 115,000 from 65,000 in 1998, but technology companies say 300,000 high-tech jobs are still awaiting qualified workers. Texas Instruments alone has 1,600 jobs unfilled. To address the dearth of skilled workers in the U.S., lawmakers are attempting to raise the H-1B limit to 200,000 for the next three fiscal years, a 75 percent increase. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), House Judiciary subcommittee chair of immigration, has proposed only increasing H-1B visas to 170,000 and imposing restrictions on companies designed to protect the interests of U.S. workers. Yet the original bipartisan bill, while increasing visas to 200,000, favors doubling the visa fee to $1,000 to fund worker training and scholarships. Although 1.2 million high-tech jobs have emerged since 1993, the number of Americans receiving electrical engineering degrees has dropped by 45 percent from 1987 to 1997. Many H-1B visa holders are Chinese and Indian, and include engineers, analysts, and professors.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A21713-2000Jun29.html

  • "Intel Introduces New Computer Chip"
    Associated Press (06/28/00)

    Intel on Wednesday announced a new 1.5 GHz chip that will mark a 50 percent speed increase over the fastest chip the company offers today. The new Pentium 4 chip, previously known as Willamette, will ship this fall. As e-commerce, gaming, and entertainment on the Internet demand more computing power, the faster chips are becoming necessary, says Intel CEO Craig Barrett. However, some experts advise consumers to postpone buying such powerful chips until more software is available that requires such high speeds.
    http://dailynews.yahoo.com/htx/ap/20000628/tc/intel_pentium_4_3.html

  • "U.N. Plans Internet Conference"
    Reuters (06/29/00)

    Online privacy, e-commerce security, and intellectual property copyrights will be among the issues addressed by the United Nations during a July conference on the use of Internet technology to increase the pace of economic development around the world, according to Indonesian Ambassador Makarim Wibisono. Wibisono, president of the U.N. Economic and Social Council, says the conference, being held from July 5 to July 7, marks the first time the U.N. has taken the initiative on information technology issues. Executives from top financial firms and trade groups around the world will attend the "Information Technology for the World" conference, as will several government officials, including Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, and--by video link--Vice President Al Gore. The digital divide separating industrial and third world countries will be one of the first issues discussed, Wibisono says.
    http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/00/06/biztech/articles/29un-tech.html
    For information on ACM's work with issues of security and copyright, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/copyright and http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.

  • "Workplace Is Being Altered by E-Mail"
    Washington Post (06/29/00) P. E7; Chea, Terence

    A recent report, "E-Mail Behavior in the Workplace," reveals that email has effected change in the workplace. The Vault.com-conducted study indicated that traditional business correspondence has been replaced by email for 80 percent of the 1,000 employees polled, and replaced faxing and phone calls for 72.5 percent and 45 percent, respectively. But most of the survey participants believe that less routine activities, such as resigning or asking for a raise, are better conducted in person.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16205-2000Jun28.html
    For information on ACM's activities involving privacy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy

  • "The Search Engine as Cyborg"
    New York Times (06/29/00) P. E1; Guernsey, Lisa

    The scope and nature of the Internet is posing serious challenges for search engines and the human indexers behind them. The number of Web pages has doubled since last year, now exceeding more than one billion. Yet search engines, once praised for their automated keyword-searching and indexing capabilities, are being criticized for not turning up thousands of new Web sites. Human intelligence is entering the game again because indexing more pages does not address the open-ended nature of the Internet, where users may employ inefficient, overly general searching methods. New and increasingly popular search engines such as Google and Northern Light use human judgment, along with computer-aided scanning and indexing, to determine more pointed categories and classifications. But human intelligence, as opposed to the artificial intelligence the industry is ultimately aiming for, is also subject to human biases. For example, Northern Light information specialists were recently grappling with what items would be included under the category "alternative lifestyles"--which, subjectively speaking, could include sites covering everything from anarchy to country clubs. DirectHit technology, used by AOL, HotBot, and Lycos, analyzes previous searches to turn up the hottest sites, but detractors say such methods do not necessarily reveal the most useful sites, only the more popular. Prompting search engines such as AskJeeves are also trying to help refine searches.
    http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/00/06/circuits/articles/29sear.html

  • "Why So Few Tech Women?"
    Baltimore Sun (06/29/00) P. 1C; Guidera, Mark

    As IT continues to face a severe labor shortage, another hiring problem is emerging as companies find that few women are filling high-tech positions. Although women represented 49 percent of the U.S. workforce, they accounted for just 29 percent of the five top IT job categories mentioned in a White House report last year. Moreover, only 7 percent of female high-tech workers make $69,740 or more a year, compared with 20 percent of their male counterparts. Women account for 15 percent to 20 percent of high-tech job applicants, according to Women in Technology International estimates. Paragon Computer Services President Shirley Collier attributes the relatively low number of women in the IT field to subtle messages girls receive in high school and college that the high-tech field is too difficult for them. However, some observers say more women are entering the IT field, and that the Internet is helping more women learn computer skills. Meanwhile, some high-tech firms are trying to attract more female workers by providing internships for female college students and offering flexible work hours and telecommuting options to employees with children.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    For information about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Report Hits Web Sites' Builders"
    Boston Globe Online (06/26/00); Stoughton, Stephanie

    Although many companies that have moved online over the past two years have taken the blame for poorly designed and inefficient Web sites, Web consulting and services firms are also responsible for these awkward efforts, analysts say. Web consulting and services companies play a major role in helping both Internet startups and traditional firms move online, and demand for these services is so strong that the industry has little incentive to offer better services, experts say. Poor site design significantly impairs a company's chances to succeed online. Observers note, for example, that site designer Organic contributed to last month's collapse of Boo.com by building a site that sacrificed basic merchandising principles in favor of catchy features. Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic's Web site, created by iXL Enterprises, functions improperly, displays error messages when visitors come to the site, and includes overwhelming graphics. Although a recent Forrester Research survey found that even the best Web designers are inconsistent, the report applauded Sapient, Digitas, and Zefer for designing a number of effective sites. Despite their criticism, experts also note that Web-site designers face the difficult task of integrating a range of software to make e-commerce sites function properly. In their own defense, Web services firms say their advice is sometimes ignored as customers push for sites to be completed too quickly.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Oracle-Style Investigations Common, Experts Say"
    USA Today (06/29/00) P. 3B; Davidson, Paul

    The recent revelation that Oracle hired a detective agency to dig up dirt on Microsoft was not a revelation to most Fortune 500 companies. "Virtually all of the Fortune 500 companies have in-house capability to do competitive intelligence," contends Alden Taylor of Kroll Associates, an investigation company. Competitive intelligence collection has grown with the globalization of the economy, as potential competitors who are geographically distant often remain an unknown entity. Also, experts say that the deregulation of many industries, such as airlines and financial services, has erased much of the public information about companies. Most competitive intelligence is done legally and seeks to learn basic things about competitors, such as profit margins or the status of a bid on projects. Although investigative firms often engage in legal but shady practices such as paying money for trash or trying to find disgruntled employees, occasionally investigators, particularly those from smaller firms hired as subcontractors by the larger investigation firms, will engage in outright illegal behavior, such as stealing laptops or email, or trespassing. Roughly 400 investigative firms exist in the U.S., with annual revenues of several billion dollars today as compared to only about $200 million five years ago. Experts attribute public relations battles due to the massive increase in media outlets, such as the Internet, as part of the reason for the growth of investigation firms who engage in corporate espionage.
    http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20000629/2412325s.htm

  • "UN Think Tank Urges G8 Action on Global Web Access"
    Total Telecom (06/27/00)

    The entire world should have access to the Internet by 2004, or else many countries will become alienated from the new economy, claims a report by a United Nations-appointed panel of experts. The report calls upon the leading industrial nations to assist developing nations that lack the resources to put their citizens online. The report also reveals that only 300 million of the world's inhabitants are currently online and that worldwide e-commerce levels could hit $7 trillion by 2004. Members of the U.N. panel believe that the leaders of the G8 nations will address the issue by launching an initiative at their July 21 summit in Okinawa, Japan.
    http://www.totaltele.com/view.asp?ArticleID=28563&pub=tt&categoryid=0

  • "On the Levy"
    Wall Street Journal (06/29/00) P. A1; Seib, Gerald F.; VandeHei, Jim

    The likelihood that the Internet would be free of taxes for another half decade seemed all but assured last month when legislation extending the current tax moratorium breezed through the House with ease. However, navigating the confines of the Senate has proved another matter entirely, as an eclectic cast of online sales tax proponents, including mom-and-pop retailers, real estate agents, teachers, economists, and firemen, have banded together to waylay the bill. The moratorium legislation remains stalled in the Senate, raising the likelihood that senators may soon turn their attention to other Internet tax bills that would begin revising the U.S. uniform tax system to pave the way for collection of online sales taxes. Sen. John McCain, a staunch proponent of extending the moratorium, no longer seems as sure of his position on the issue of Internet taxes. "This has not been nearly fleshed out enough," says McCain adviser Mark Buse, noting the issue's extreme complexity. The slowdown in the Senate seems likely to keep the bill from passing this year. The bill's passage in the House can be attributed in part to election-year politics--lobbying efforts and campaign contributions by the Internet industry helped convince members of the House to keep the Internet tax-free. The Internet tax issue is not as imperative in the Senate, where only a third of members are up for reelection this year.

  • "'Big Browser' Would Let U.K. Eavesdrop on Net"
    USA Today (06/28/00) P. 12A; Lynch, David J.

    A bill before the British Parliament would give the government the right to read private email. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) bill, also known as the "Big Browser," has the full support of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labor Party majority and is likely to pass both houses of Parliament. The government is concerned that criminals and pedophiles on the Internet could be using secure emails as part of their illegal activities, although Home Secretary Jack Straw asserts that neither he nor any law enforcement agent will read "every" email. The bill has unsettled British businesses, which, according to one estimate, stand to lose $70 billion should it become law. The British Chamber of Commerce, in protesting the bill, claims that businesses will abandon the United Kingdom to avoid the measure. Nick Lansman of the Internet Services Provider Association, a trade group that counts AOL Europe among its members, says the bill is causing extreme consternation in the U.K. industry. "So many people at the Home Office are out of their depths," says Lansman. "They need to rely on the Internet community for expertise." The bill also could have a significant impact on the online privacy debates in both the United States and Europe.
    http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20000628/2407215s.htm

  • "To Web Surfers, Uncle Sam More Like Big Brother"
    Scripps Howard News Service (06/25/00); Gay, Lance

    Last week's revelation that White House drug office-operated Web sites were collecting personal data from site visitors has prompted the Clinton administration to take immediate steps to ensure the privacy of Internet users visiting federal government Web sites. White House Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew has called for a mandatory review of all federal agencies' privacy policies and Web practices. Lew is prohibiting the sites from using data-collecting cookies unless a "compelling need" arises to harvest data from site visitors. Privacy advocates are incensed that the government was using Web sites to surreptitiously collect information from its citizens and are urging Congress to hold hearings on the matter. "Monitoring citizens' use of government Web sites raises profound privacy and constitutional concerns," says Electronic Privacy Information Center Executive Director Marc Rotenberg.

  • "By Any Other Name, Is It Spam?"
    New York Times Online (06/25/00); Deutsch, Claudia H.

    A new study from Toronto-based FloNetwork finds that Internet shoppers do not consider permission-based email to be spam in the normal sense of the term. Permission-based email is normally defined as promotional email that shoppers have indicated--usually by clicking a button on a Web page--that they would be receptive to receiving. FloNetwork, which manages promotional email for retailers, surveyed 1,000 online shoppers for the survey. The study determined that survey respondents received an average of 10 unsolicited promotional emails a week. Only 2 percent of respondents enjoyed receiving the spam, 33 percent felt the spam was a privacy invasion, and 65 percent held neutral feelings on the matter. The survey also found that 94 percent of those surveyed have at one time or another granted retailers permission to send them promotional email. In addition, 58 percent of respondents highly favor the use of promotional emails by retailers.
    http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/00/06/biztech/articles/26emai.html

  • "U.S.-EU Net Privacy Proposal in Jeopardy"
    TheStandard.com (06/26/00); Perine, Keith

    Concerns about Internet privacy threaten the approval of a data-privacy protocol drafted by the U.S. Commerce Department and the European Commission. A report by the European Parliament's Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights claims that the protocol does not give European customers enough protection from U.S. companies. The report specifically attacks the protocol's conceding of a "safe harbor" to U.S. companies. In its current form, the protocol would exempt U.S. companies from the European Union's strict European Data Protection Directive, which gives customers significant control over any personal data that companies possess. Safe-harbor companies would instead be subject to review by the FTC, a policy that, according to the report, would be arbitrary and ineffective. The report calls for independent investigations of any conflicts between customers' privacy and companies' use of data. The full European Parliament will vote on the protocol July 6, and more than just privacy issues ride on their decision. The White House estimates that the protocol would be worth $120 billion to trade between the United States and the European Union.
    http://www.thestandard.com/article/display/1,1151,16387,00.html

  • "The Next Revolution"
    Economist (06/24/00) Vol. 355, No. 8176, P. S-1

    The next Internet revolution will come within five years as governments all over the world move their departments and agencies online, transforming the way in which they deliver public services. Governments are currently playing catch-up to e-commerce and e-business for a number of reasons. The Y2K bug prompted many governments to use their IT funds and expertise on preventing any crisis situation, and unlike companies, governments do not have to race online for fear of being crushed by the competition. Governments have also been slow to move online because most of their citizens still do not have Internet access at home, and because of security and trust concerns. Now, however, governments are aware of the potential monetary savings that can result from e-government. In the U.S., federal, state, and local procurement spending on materials and services will reach $550 billion in 2000, while big private-sector companies expect their online supply chains to produce annual savings of 20 percent. A similar situation for the U.S. government could lead to $110 billion in savings a year. In addition to reducing purchasing and fulfillment cycles and lowering administrative costs, the Internet would help governments deliver better service. Like e-businesses, government would be able to offer 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week availability and convenience, fast delivery, customer focus, and personalization. With such online efficiency, the Internet could even improve the public perception of governments as a complex bureaucracy.
    http://www.economist.com/editorial/freeforall/20000624/index_survey.html

  • "Bulking Up"
    InformationWeek (06/26/00) No. 792, P. 97; Liebmann, Lenny

    Linux is now entering the high-end computing sector as corporate users are drawn to its mainframe-quality performance, wide range of application support, and Internet compatibility. Earlier this year IBM boosted Linux's role in enterprise computing by supporting Linux on its S/390 mainframes, allowing companies to cut costs and fulfill e-business requirements by running Linux applications on available mainframe processing cycles. Running applications on the mainframe also increases reliability and decreases the number of servers a company needs on the network. Beyond the mainframe, Linux is gaining momentum in the form of high-end clusters that provide an alternative to powerful computers. Lockheed Martin, for example, uses Linux clustering technology to run applications for the Navy that simulate pressures on an aircraft. Although the Navy offered Lockheed the use of a supercomputer, Lockheed found that the Linux clusters were significantly less expensive and could run four modeling cases a day, compared to just one modeling case with the supercomputer. In addition, Lockheed says it could continue working with the Linux clusters even if one node crashed, while a crash on a traditional system would bring all work to a halt. The Linux clusters also offer easier administration than the supercomputer, says Lockheed. Meanwhile, Linux is also becoming more popular in traditional application markets, as more commercial software is available for the open source operating system and companies are drawn to the platform because of its low cost, stability, and high performance.
    http://www.informationweek.com/792/linux.htm

  • "CEO: Partnership Hurt Toysmart"
    Computerworld (06/26/00) Vol. 34, No. 26, P. 1; King, Julia

    The recent demise of heavily lauded startup Toysmart.com was caused primarily by bad timing and an incompatible partnership, said CEO David Lord in a keynote presentation at last week's Computerworld Premier 100 IT leaders conference. The company is now auctioning off its inventory and physical assets after its partner, Disney, pulled the site's funding on May 19. Timing was the first major flaw in Toysmart's strategy. "We could have gotten an IPO and have been secure [financially] if timing hadn't killed us," said Lord. For example, Toysmart signed its deal with Disney in May 1999, but did not receive any funding until Disney announced the partnership in August. "We couldn't get product because we didn't have the cash yet, and we had to delay our marketing spending, which meant losing our chance to convert customers in the pre-Christmas buying season," said Lord. Disney was also slow to make business decisions, failing, for instance, to approve the sale of Disney books or baby items on Toysmart until after the Christmas shopping rush was over. "Any of these things might have been easy to overcome, but combine them all and no one can overcome them," said Lord. The trend of failed partnerships between traditional offline companies and dot-coms will continue because of a difference in priorities, predicts Gartner Group analyst Carol Ferrara. "Traditional retailers are very focused on the bottom line and inventory turns, and we don't see as much of that in the virtual retail space," says Ferrara. "A lot of these virtual companies are technologists rather than merchants and lack the understanding of what it takes to succeed in the toy market and in retail generally."
    http://www.computerworld.com/cwi/story/0,1199,NAV47_STO46278,00.html