Association for Computing Machinery
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 technews@hq.acm.org.

Volume 2, Issue 87:  Monday, July 31, 2000

  • "Free Speech Rights for Computer Code?"
    New York Times (07/31/00) P. C1; Harmon, Amy

    A federal judge will rule next week on whether a software program that can break the encryption code of DVD movie disks is a violation of copyright law or "fair use" of copyrighted works. The case will likely set a precedent for how First Amendment protection applies to software code and digital technology, legal observers say. A group of eight Hollywood studios brought the suit against the creator of the software program, called DeCSS, and a publisher who printed the software code in a magazine for hackers. The studios believe DeCSS is the first step in the creation of an Internet movie-piracy network that could rival Napster in scope and popularity. They are suing under a 1998 federal law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it illegal to make available to the public any tools that could crack the encryption of copyrighted works. Defense attorneys argue DeCSS has a legitimate purpose and the movie studios' desired injunction would limit the "fair use" of software code. A 16-year-old Norwegian youth designed the code last year not to pirate DVD disks, but to allow himself to play DVD disks on a computer that uses the Linux operating system. The federal law is so broad, say defense attorneys, it would prevent access to digitally-protected works for such legitimate reasons as film and book reviews. Although the judge seemed more swayed by the movie studios' case, late testimony by a defense witness, a Carnegie-Mellon computer-science professor, has prompted him to consider whether software code should be a protected form of free speech. "I see this as having a chilling effect on my ability as a computer scientist to express myself," the professor testified.
    http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/00/07/biztech/articles/31rite.html

  • "Ford's Plan to Give Workers PCs Hits Snag Abroad"
    USA Today (07/31/00) P. 2B; Eldridge, Earle

    Ford Motor says its plan to provide all of its workers worldwide with a PC and Internet access by May 2001 is on schedule, but tax and infrastructure problems are arising in some countries. The company announced in February that it would offer all of its 375,000 employees free Hewlett-Packard PCs with monitors and color printers, and unlimited Internet access for $5 a month for three years. Already Ford has delivered 20,833 PCs to employees, but the company is trying to smooth out a problem in Germany, where officials plan to tax recipients about $500 per PC. Ford aims to persuade German officials to offer a tax break, or failing that, the company might pay the taxes. The tax issue goes beyond Germany, says Ford's Steve Paschen, who notes that every country has different tax laws. Meanwhile, since $5-a-month Internet access is too expensive in some countries, Ford is building Internet kiosks in its plants for workers in those countries to go online. General Motors and DaimlerChrysler indicate that they are likely to follow Ford's lead in providing PCs and Internet access for employees. Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines, which announced a PC program shortly after Ford, says it will have all of its 70,000 workers online by December.
    http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20000731/2503632s.htm

  • "'Old Girls Network' Helps Bring Young Women Into Technology Jobs"
    Washington Post (07/30/00) P. L1; Johnson, Carrie

    Several networking groups are working to improve the position of women in tech companies and to make the tech field more enticing to women. Women represent 27 percent of computer programmers and only 9 percent of engineers, according to Department of Commerce statistics. A study by the American Association for University Women Educational Foundation found that the traditional routes of interest for young computer users--video games and college computer-science classes--do not interest many young women. Women who do find tech work say they often find themselves the subjects of doubt and derision. But many successful women in the tech field are banding together in groups such as the Association for Women in Computing or Women in Technology both to support each other and to convince others that their prospects in the tech field are better than skeptics imagine. Recent research by the Stanford Business School supports their cause. Stanford concluded that employing women in leadership positions often reduces a startup's bureaucratic problems.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A1474-2000Jul29.html
    To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Dow Chemical Fires 50 Workers After E-Mail Investigation"
    SiliconValley.com (07/27/00)

    Dow Chemical last week terminated 50 workers from its Midland, Mich., headquarters and suspended or reprimanded 200 others after an investigation of employee email practices. An internal review discovered hundreds of employees who were using company computers to send and download images that, according to a company spokesperson, ranged "from mild pornography to very graphic pornography and some seriously violent images." After an employee brought the matter to the company's attention last May, the company conducted a one-week audit of employees' email. The company had already informed workers of its standards for appropriate computer use. Employees who did not download or distribute objectionable emails were not punished, the company said. A local union has protested the firing of several steel workers, saying their punishment outweighs their crime.
    http://www.mercurycenter.com/svtech/news/breaking/merc/docs/067863.htm
    For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.

  • "Home PC Use Rises, Global Digital Gap Remains"
    Reuters (07/27/00); McCool, Grant

    Developed Asian nations have made the biggest jump in PC ownership, according to a study across 30 developed and developing countries by Roper Starch Worldwide. Singapore topped the list for Internet usage with half of its population having gone online in the last 30 days, while the U.S. came in second with 44 percent of its population having gone online. The country with the fastest growth of Internet use is Turkey, while Indonesia displays the least amount of growth. The Roper Starch study indicates that the digital divide between these nations is showing little sign of narrowing, and is even widening in some cases. Tom Miller of Roper Starch says inequality in getting connected is keeping people from owning computers and accessing the Internet. The study also found that about 30 percent of consumers worldwide own a computer, up 6 percent since 1998, while almost 20 percent went online in the last 30 days, up 7 percent. Miller says there is a "tremendous inequality in being wired."
    http://news.excite.com/news/r/000727/12/tech-computers-survey2

  • "Study: CFOs Not Ready for E-Commerce"
    E-Commerce Times (07/26/00); Enos, Lori

    CFOs must adjust to cutting-edge technologies, advises a new study by Andersen Consulting and the Economist Intelligence Unit, titled "E-Commerce and the CFO: A framework for finance in the New Economy." The report advises CFOs that the future will depend on developing an automated "virtual" accounting system, implementing e-business initiatives according to a prioritized timeline, and creating a new method of forecasting, one that does not rely on historical data. The study found that many CFOs believe their companies to be lacking the culture and structure required for e-business success. For example, while 56 percent of CFOs still use traditional techniques to evaluate capital investments, most doubt whether those metrics are of any use when considering strategic moves in the new economy, according to Andersen partner Daniel T. London. Only 17 percent of respondents reported that their traditional metrics were effective gauges of New Economy issues. Furthermore, while many CFOs struggle to develop effective processes, the pace of change is accelerating, creating a higher demand for answers. Some 64 percent of respondents said their e-business plan is less than two years old and 58 percent report conducting strategy reviews on an ongoing basis rather than annually. "E-commerce is changing the rules of the game and broadening the role of financial officers," said London. "New business models and innovative technologies are requiring greater levels of finance leadership to ensure long-term viability and success."

  • "Lessons Learned Online"
    Wall Street Journal Interactive (07/31/00); Lande, Laurie

    Thanks to recent improvements in available bandwidth and satellite space, Asian companies are increasingly turning to online learning programs to educate and train their employees, leading to lower costs for companies and better learning experiences for employees. International Data (IDC) expects about 40 percent of all IT training to be conducted via e-learning programs, leading to total Asia-Pacific region e-learning expenditures reaching $235 million in 2004, up from $10 million last year, according to IDC analyst Sujoy Sen. Companies can expect to recover their e-learning investment within two years, says IBM Mindspan Solutions' Lye Chan Loy. Depending on the complexity of coursework and what type of hardware a company has, a two-day e-learning course costs roughly $100,000, according to course-designer ICUS Private. By offering e-learning courses, companies avoid the costs associated with employee travel while employees appreciate the chance to learn in a more dynamic environment, at their own pace, and in relative anonymity.
    http://interactive.wsj.com/archive/retrieve.cgi?id=SB964804632569220447.djm (Access for paying subscribers only.)

  • "Conundrum: Silicon Too Slow for Optics"
    Investor's Business Daily (07/28/00) P. A8; Angell, Mike

    Networking companies are pursuing all-optical technology as the electrical switches in today's networks are increasingly unable to keep pace with fiber-optic products. To change a signal's direction, switches must now perform a time-consuming conversion of light signals into electrical signals and then back into light signals. Lucent Technologies Bell Labs hopes conversion will be eliminated with its WaveStar LambaRouter, which uses mirrors to redirect light signals without ever converting them. The LambaRouter transmits as much as 10 trillion bits per second, while today's fastest electrical switches reach only 160 billion bits per second. Next month Global Crossing will become the first data network to test the LambaRouter. Other networking firms such as JDS Uniphase, Corning, and Nortel Networks are also moving toward all-optical products by acquiring companies that make the technology.

  • "The Working Group Behind Cyberlaw Policy"
    Legal Times Online (07/24/00); Johnston, James H.

    The U.S. government has yet to develop a fully integrated policy for cyberspace regulation, which is currently scattered among various Washington agencies coordinated by the White House's Working Group on Electronic Commerce. Representatives from invited federal agencies, the White House, and the vice president's office comprise the group. Since the implementation of the Internet, government policy has shifted several times, and the current policy favored by the Clinton/Gore administration promotes e-commerce. The author believes that the working group is only working for commercial interests, noting that its annual Web-posted reports mention departments that are mostly business-oriented. Furthermore, the group's reports in 1997 and 1998 resulted in presidential directives affecting such commercial issues as tariffs, copyrights, patents, taxes, privacy codes, encryption, consumer protection, and Internet accessibility to other nations. The Federal Communications Commission, free from presidential control, has currently adopted a policy of noninvolvement with cyberspace. Congress and the judiciary branch display similar reluctance to deal with cyberspace. The author believes that cyberspace should be a center of information sharing for everyone, not just an economic resource, and that it is the government's responsibility to realize this.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    For information regarding ACM's work in the area of intellectual property, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/copyright.

  • "U.K. Passes E-Mail Snooping Bill Into Law"
    TheStandard.com (07/27/00); Rohde, Laura

    Despite the intense lobbying efforts of ISPs and civil liberties groups, Britain's Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) has been passed into law. The U.K. House of Commons approved amendments to the bill last week, meaning that the legislation needs only the Queen's signature before it officially goes into effect Oct. 5. The bill gives the Home Office and other parts of the U.K. government the power to request that companies turn over the encryption keys to any digital communications, with the added provision that the request be kept secret. Any company official found guilty of "tipping-off" the secret request faces a maximum jail term of five years. The bill forces ISPs operating in Britain to monitor data on their networks and link the data to the Government Technical Assistance Center. U.K. ISPs, including PSINet, say they may be forced to leave the country and establish operations elsewhere due to the harshness of the bill. The costs of complying with the bill will be debilitating, according to many ISPs. Defending the bill against "the comments made in the overseas media," Home Office Minister Charles Clarke said RIP would not pose a threat to U.K. e-commerce and would "help to achieve the government's aim of a strong and secure e-commerce economy." Clarke also said that "propaganda is needed" to give the public a better idea of what the bill is about.
    http://www.thestandard.com/article/display/1,1151,17179,00.html

  • "Minority Gains Essential to U.S. Technology Future"
    Electronic News (07/24/00) Vol. 46, No. 30, P. 10; Bruner, Richard

    The U.S. high-tech industry needs to attract more minorities and women if it is to have enough skilled workers to maintain the nation's lead in technology. Even as minorities remain largely underrepresented in the tech sector, these groups are beginning to account for a larger percentage of the U.S. population, and the tech industry might not be able to continue growing without attracting more diverse workers, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF). Women represented just 26 percent of the computer and math science workforce in 1997. Meanwhile African-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians accounted for only 7 percent of the science and engineering workforce, despite the fact that they represented 24 percent of the overall population, says the NSF. Allan Fisher, head of Carnegie Technology Education (CTE) at Carnegie Mellon, tried to determine why few women entered CTE, and found that women tend to have less informal experience with computers than their male counterparts. After modifying CTE's curriculum and admission process to draw in students with minimal experience, the percentage of women in the program jumped from 8 percent in 1995 to 42 percent today, Fisher says. Fisher notes that changing the admission requirements did not negatively impact the success of the students in the program. The semiconductor industry is also working to attract more minorities and women. The Semiconductor Industry Association, for example, sponsors a program aimed at showing teachers how to encourage student interest in math and science. The SIA also works with SECME, a pre-college group of 40 engineering universities, to draw more young minorities to the high-tech field.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Digital Piracy: Now the Spotlight Is on Congress"
    Business Week (07/31/00) No. 3692, P. 59; St. Pierre, Nicole

    The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is taking online music-trading service Napster to court, claiming that Napster is violating copyright law by allowing downloads of pirated music. Congress is preparing for an onslaught of lobbying, no matter the decision. If Napster wins, recording company executives will want legislation, while a win for the RIAA will rile 20 million Napster users as well as other online music companies. Meanwhile, the film industry wants the issue settled before the technology used to download films spreads. Senators Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) say they have gotten over 70,000 emails from Napster and MP3.com users since a July 11 Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as many from fans of music groups that oppose free downloads. Congress may have to make a choice between the entertainment industry and the Internet industry. Companies are giving campaign contributions to lawmakers and meeting with them in attempts to sway votes. Leahy wants a compromise on fair prices for downloaded music. Hatch is warning big music labels that if they do not license music to smaller dot-com companies, Congress could institute compulsory licensing. However, there is too little time left in Congress' calendar this year for legislation. Furthermore, new programs such as Gnutella allow swapping directly between computers without a central server, making it unclear who is accountable for copyright infringement.

  • "A New Leader for ICANN"
    Industry Standard (07/31/00) Vol. 3, No. 28, P. 71; Pressman, Aaron

    The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is poised to undergo several major shifts with Chairwoman Esther Dyson expected to announce her resignation this November, while the organization also prepares to add new top-level domains. Not only is ICANN losing Dyson, who has helped ICANN shape the system for naming Internet domains for the past two years, but the group will also lose a powerful government supporter when Becky Burr of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration moves to the private sector in a few months. Even as ICANN adjusts to these departures, the organization could face difficulty adding the new top-level domains early next year as different groups seek their own special domains and trademark holders press for exclusive rights to certain domains. Further complicating ICANN's position is the election scheduled for October that will replace five of the group's at-large directors. New board members could undermine ICANN's legitimacy by upsetting its delicate balance of members who represent the overall Internet community, and those who are closely tied to the domain-name system. Although Dyson's successor has not yet been named, insiders suggest that Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, prominent ICANN board member and senior vice president of WorldCom, is a likely candidate.
    http://www.thestandard.com/article/display/0,1151,17052,00.html
    For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html

  • "Dow's New Chemistry"
    InternetWeek (07/24/00) No. 822, P. 1; Preston, Robert; Yasin, Rutrell

    Dow Chemical is turning to e-business as a buffer against falling chemicals prices and rising hydrocarbon and energy costs. "The Internet will touch everything: how we build plants, how we transmit vendor drawings from our engineering organization to construction firms," says Gary Veurink, Dow vice president of global purchasing. "Almost anywhere you do business, e-commerce will be pervasive." Accordingly, Dow CEO William Stavropoulos says the aim is to shift "Dow's center of gravity from a manufacturing company to a science and solutions company." The chemicals and plastics manufacturer's IT strategy was mapped out a decade ago, including global standardization and integrating back-end applications. Dow's virtual vision now includes marketing its engineering services, streamlining its supply chain and customer relationships, and using the Internet to improve employee leadership and productivity. Dow CIO David Kepler says that key to the company's initiative is sustainable growth, to be created by a productive, customer-centric, innovative organization. Dow's forays into e-marketplaces such as the chemicals exchange Elemica is also heightening the $19 billion company's e-business profile.
    http://www.internetwk.com/lead/lead072000.htm

  • "The Software That Cried Wolf"
    eWeek (07/24/00) Vol. 17, No. 30, P. 1; Berinato, Scott

    Much of the intrusion detection software employed by corporations is hampered by a high rate of false alarms, according to security experts. This has caused many IT managers to ignore alerts warning about some types of intrusion, which experts say could be disastrous if ever there were a real attack. And new intrusion threats have been steadily multiplying, increasing from 15 new threats in June 1999 to 77 in June 2000. Because intrusion detection must now safeguard against an ever-increasing array of threats, experts say IT staff should expect a corresponding increase in false-positive readings. Security professionals contend that false-positives can be reduced by companies spending more money on outside consultants and services to tune intrusion detection software to fit an environment. Many companies are increasingly farming out security work to outside firms, thereby freeing up their own IT staff for other chores besides babysitting monitoring software. The new generation of intrusion detection software will also reduce false alarms because it will be able to study a network's usage patterns and adapt to them through the concept of "anomaly detection." Firms such as ClickNet are also manufacturing intrusion detection devices that are host-based as opposed to network-based, meaning that instead of intercepting traffic on its way into the network, the product actually analyzes code at the host site.
    http://www.zdnet.com/eweek/stories/general/0,11011,2606343,00.html

  • "Avis Goes Wireless to Fuel Efficiency"
    Computerworld (07/24/00) Vol. 34, No. 30, P. 1; Brewin, Bob

    Avis Group Holdings announced last week plans to implement at approximately 700 car rental locations nationwide broadband wireless LANs, which will allow digital signatures to be captured in real time and then be sent directly to Avis' enterprise information system. The initiative is intended to decrease the amount of time taken by a customer to check in or return cars. Avis' move is representative of the LANs' acceptance by a broad range of businesses this year, and the company is the first rental car company to utilize wireless LANs as a base for operations, says Gartner Group analyst Bob Egan. The wireless LAN system, which will be supplied by Symbol Technologies, will not only expedite check-in and checkout, but will help to support maintenance, repair, and training, and enhance the rental car company's overall operations. Avis also intends to use the wireless LANs for its airport shuttle bus fleet, enabling customers to check in on the way to the car lot. Pilot testing for the LANs has already begun at four airports in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. Other public-access wireless LANs companies are already working in major airports, and because the Symbol LAN is compliant with the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance standard, Avis may have the opportunity to develop partnerships with some of these companies, says DeMarco.
    http://www.computerworld.com/cwi/story/0,1199,NAV47_STO47430,00.html

  • "Money for Nothing"
    New Scientist (07/15/00) Vol. 167, No. 2247, P. 11; Cohen, David

    Several U.S.-based companies plan to pay users to download their corporate software, access the Internet, and let their computers run idle. "We estimate an average PC will earn at least $10 a month," says Jim Albea, CEO of Distributed Science, one of the companies initiating the program. The other companies involved are Parabon and United Devices. Each company uses systems that chop up programs into thousands of units that are farmed out to subscribers, the programs activating only when computers are idle. The overall goal is to increase computer power to develop company projects. United Devices founder David Anderson launched the SETI@Homescreen saver on which the systems are based. The programs Distributed Science intends to farm out will model protein folding, run fluid dynamics studies, test dynamics of integrated circuits, and render 3D graphics; the company uses 128-bit encryption to guard against hackers. Such projects revolve around domestic PC computers to distribute data throughout the private sector, but the government funded High-End Computing initiative in Britain is developing The Grid, a network of supercomputers that will share data with researchers and eventually go international.

  • "Knowledge Pool"
    CIO (07/15/00) Vol. 13, No. 19, P. 60

    Wendi Bukowitz and Ruth Williams, authors of "The Knowledge Management Fieldbook," defined optimal knowledge management (KM) systems in a recent CIO.com forum. While information management locates and disseminates data, KM analyzes cloudier issues like data creation and application. The authors continue that the best KM systems address the needs of the information gatherers, rather than the needs of management. Sound KM systems consider what type of knowledge is needed--whether mission-critical information, customer information, process methodologies, or prior project results. An organization must evaluate its KM strengths and weaknesses. The authors maintain that while an enterprise portal technology-enabled KM system can be an organizational tool, it is not a substitute for a KM strategy. Technological and human infrastructure must be in place to maintain servers and classification systems, as well as to develop databases and Web sites. Online knowledge communities (OLC) may appear to be a strategic way to encourage employee participation, but they will only prove successful if employees can see how the OLC improves work production.
    http://www.cio.com/archive/071500_expert.html