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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 2, Issue 107: Monday, September 18, 2000
- "A Worn-Out Welcome Mat"
Washington Post (09/16/00) P. A1; Rosin, Hanna
Sanjay Sathya of Chicago, Ill., is moving to Canada now that his H-1B visa has expired. Sathya came to the United Stated six years ago, hoping to make a life for himself in the booming high-tech market. He has been successful, but critics believe Sathya and many like him are becoming victims of that success. In fact, so many foreign workers have entered the U.S. through H-1B visas, which allow foreign high-tech workers to fill much-needed positions, that the Immigration and Naturalization Service can no longer process all of their requests for permanent residency. This conflicts with the original intention of the program, which created the H-1B visa as a stepping stone to a green card. INS' Eyleen Schmidt says no one in the department expected this many people to enter the country through H-1B visas. Approximately 420,000 foreign citizens now work in the U.S. on H-1B visas, but each year about 40,000 of those workers must return home or enter another country because their visas have expired, even though the high-tech labor shortage is worse than ever. Congress has debated raising the number of H-1B visas issued to 200,000 per year, but critics argue that this ignores the program's underlying problem. Workers are lured by the promise of an excellent job and an opportunity to become a permanent resident only to be kicked out at the end of their visa period and replaced with other workers. Workers from India, like Sathya, face an additional problem. Because Indians make up an overwhelming majority of H-1B visa recipients, those who apply for permanent-resident status confront the INS' 7 percent per year limit on granting green cards to residents of any given country.
- "Programmers: Worth Their Weight in Gold?"
International Herald Tribune (09/18/00) P. 15; Connell, James
European IT companies are suffering from the same shortage of skilled labor as their American counterparts, according to an Andersen Consulting report. That labor shortage currently stands at 600,000 but could grow to 2 million within only three years. Executives say many of the most talented IT workers leave for jobs abroad, especially in the United States, and hop from job to job based on whatever firm is offering the highest salary. French firm Net Development believes that the quality of the work environment and the work itself is essential to retaining workers. "We think of our developers and try not to pick projects that will make them repeat what they've already done," says Net Development President Clement Egger. "We can't let people get bored." He notes that his company tends to hire less experienced workers and train them rather than relying on costly headhunting firms to find the best available workers. Eggers says his company also depends on references from current employees to find new workers. IT firms across Europe are concerned about laws that prevent or inhibit skilled foreign IT workers from immigrating to their countries.
- "The Net as One Giant Brain"
Interactive Week Online (09/18/00); Spangler, Todd
Distributed computing might present a much larger opportunity for peer-to-peer networking than does Napster, which has received much of the attention on peer-to-peer technology so far. Several companies are creating software and services that perform complex operations using the collective computing power of thousands of Internet-connected PCs, rather than one supercomputer. This type of "computing grid" might form the basis of a new generation of dynamic Internet applications, observers say. DataSynapse, for example, connects hundreds of idle PCs to provide large amounts of computing power to financial services firms. DataSynapse's service, scheduled for release this fall, uses a central server to distribute computing jobs to participants, who must install Java-based software on their systems. The PCs perform their computations and return the data, completing in minutes a task that would take a single computer 50 hours to finish, says DataSynapse. The system uses authentication and encryption tools, and all participants must have broadband connections to ensure high-quality performance. PC owners who participate in the network will be rewarded with online gift credits from Flooz.com, which can be donated to charity or used to purchase items. Other startups in the distributed computing space include Entropia, Popular Power, and United Devices.
- "Popular Privacy Bill Stalls Due to Industry Opposition"
Newsbytes (09/14/00); McGuire, David
The Notice of Electronic Monitoring Act (NEMA), a bill that would bar employers from monitoring Internet usage in the workplace without informing employees on an annual basis, has been stopped in its tracks by fierce opposition from business interests. The House Judiciary Committee's Constitution Subcommittee was set to take up the bill last week, but "objections from people in the business community" forced the subcommittee to drop the bill from its agenda, according to a source in Congress. The bill is hugely popular with privacy and civil liberties groups and had met little opposition in Congress up until this point. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.), and Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) are sponsoring the bill. Schumer said only recently that he thought the bill would have a good chance of passing this session.
For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.
- "Calif. Net Tax Bill a Job Cutter?"
Wired News (09/13/00); McCullagh, Declan
If signed by California Gov. Gray Davis, online tax bill AB 2412 could cause 2,100 people to lose their jobs next year, according to a report by the Pacific Research Institute (PRI). Furthermore, if online sales are subject to higher taxes than the bill permits, over 100,000 people in California could lose their jobs by 2002. The bill requires the collection of sales tax on Internet affiliates of brick-and-mortar retail firms in California. The PRI report claims any new sales tax measures on the Internet "will generate less than one-half percent of the state's total tax revenue." A three-year congressional moratorium on Internet sales taxes will expire in Oct. 2001, but as yet there is no federal consensus on the next course of action. This impasse prompted California Democratic legislators Carole Migden and Dion Aroner to propose AB 2412. Gov. Davis has vocally opposed Internet taxation in the past, but remains quiet on whether he will sign or veto the bill, says Davis spokesman Steven Maviglio. Online tax supporters stress that hospitals and other vital state services are funded by sales taxes. "County services are losing out on millions of dollars in funding that would come about as a result of Internet taxes," says Liz Galewski of the National Association of Counties. But the PRI study claims that pro-tax lobbyists do not comprehend economic expansion by implying that a sales tax reduction will give people more money to spend on purchases that will be taxed anyway.
- "WAP, Europe's Wireless Dud?"
Washington Post (09/15/00) P. E1; Reid, T.R.
European consumers have yet to show major a interest in using WAP technology. Although millions of WAP-enabled mobile phones have been purchased since becoming commercially available almost a year ago, the demand for WAP services has not matched industry expectations. D2, a mobile phone operator in Germany, says its WAP service is used less than a minute a day by its subscribers. WAP reformats Internet data to be displayed on the imaging screens of mobile devices. Johan H. Larson, chief of Web operations at Stockholm's SEB bank, believes there are several reasons why WAP's popularity has not increased, including the small screen size for data being displayed, the time it takes to download Web data, and the need to scroll through a series of confusing menus. Leading mobile phone manufacturers Nokia and Ericsson have also admitted that the demand for wireless Web services has not yet met industry expectations. Another problem is that current wireless network speeds for transmitting Web pages to mobile devices remain slow. In addition, mobile phones are not yet capable of displaying all the information contained on a typical Web page. Many telecom companies are convinced that the wireless Web will become the industry's major market, but are unsure if WAP systems can deliver the type of access to information consumers want.
- "Lab Rat: Actually, This Is Rocket Science"
Redherring.com (09/14/00); McKay, Niall
It is hoped that a little-known branch of science called quantum physics may one day be able to drive microprocessor performance beyond Moore's Law--the axiom that the number of transistors on a microprocessor doubles every 18 months. A quantum factorization algorithm developed six years ago by AT&T scientist Peter Shor, if applied to a quantum computer, would theoretically dispense with cryptography and calculate many possibilities simultaneously. Lou Grover of Bell Labs has devised his own algorithm that may speed up database searches. For instance, a quantum computer using the Grover algorithm would be able to search through a 10,000-item list in 100 steps, while a current computer would take 5,000 steps. A variant of Grover's algorithm could be applied to space exploration, says Deepak Srivestava at NASA's Ames Research Center. The goal is to produce planetary simulations to carry out predictive modeling, Srivestava says. Two types of quantum computers are currently in development: the National Institute for Standards and Technology's ion trap computer developed by David Wineland, and the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) computer created by Dr. Richard Hughes and his team at Los Alamos National Labs. The NMR computer only has a memory capacity of three qubits, while the ion trap computer has seven qubits. IBM's Isaac Chuang came up with a five-qubit quantum computer in May. All these computers are difficult to program, as touching or even looking at a qubit distorts the results.
- "Self-Service HR Popular Among Tech Companies"
TechWeb (09/11/00); Morneau, Jill
Companies are increasingly providing Web-based, self-service access to benefits, personnel data, 401(k) services, and other human resources functions to their employees. Over 30 percent of companies have human resources portals in place, and nine out of 10 believe the initiatives have met with success, says a Hunter Group survey. The majority of these solutions are developed in-house, but there is a trend toward using human resources management packages from such outside vendors as PeopleSoft, SAP, and Oracle.
- "High-Tech Connections Shape U.S.-India Relations"
SiliconValley.com (09/14/00); Puzzanghera, Jim
Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee addressed Congress on Thursday, saying his country views the United States as a key partner in global democracy and the spread of information technology. Despite the tension that has existed between the two countries since India tested a nuclear device in 1998, officials say the high-tech industry in each country benefits the other. Vajpayee noted the number of Indians working for high-tech firms in the United States and suggested the U.S. government increase the number of foreign workers who receive H-1B visas. The U.S. government issues more H-1B visas to Indians than to any other foreign people. Although H-1B visas remove valuable employees out of India, the Indian government supports the program because when the workers return they bring immeasurable tech experience and entrepreneurial know-how to the Indian high-tech field. Many American firms see India as fertile ground for development and expansion. Cisco recently announced plans to invest $150 million in the growth of its Bangalore, India, facilities. Also, Bill Gates is currently visiting India to mark Microsoft's 10th anniversary of working there.
- "Utah Takes Another Step Toward Totally Online Government"
Associated Press (09/14/00); Newell, L. Anne
Utah signed a contract with Digital Signature Trust (DST) this week that will enable the state to offer residents and businesses digital certificates. The agreement has state officials such as chief information officer Al Sherwood believing that digital signatures will be widely used in Utah within six months. "I think Utah will be one of the first states to implement it on a really wide scale," adds Karen West, the director of government services for DST. So far, Salt Lake City's district attorney's office and courts in the city are accepting digitally signed documents. The state will work to build the infrastructure so that more government agencies will be able to accept digitally signed documents. The digital certificates, essentially electronic ID cards, could cost residents $15. Coupled with digital signatures, the encryption technology ensures that people who are doing business online are in fact who they say they are. The deal will speed up the state's e-government efforts. Residents would use the technology when online to renew their drivers license, check their property or hospital records, and settle parking tickets, for example. Although Washington and Virginia are among the states that have similar agreements, West considers Utah to be a leader in the digital signature movement.
- "Mass Hack Performed by Petrol Protestor"
Vnunet.com (09/14/00); Lynch, Ian
A hacker known as Herbless who altered nine local government Web agencies last month and did the same last week to the Legoland.co.uk Web site, has placed a message supporting a protest of the United Kingdom's high fuel taxes on the main page of 168 corporate Internet sites. The types of Web sites Herbless hacked were diverse in nature, including specsavers.com, jobs.co.uk, travelfocus.co.uk, itforhire.co.uk, and brandimage.co.uk. The protestor's message has since been removed by a majority of the sites. Herbless used the same methods as were used by a hacker last month to post anti-smoking messages on several government Web sites, according to Paul Rogers, network security analyst at MIS Corporate Defence Solutions. A default password is included when an SQL server is implemented, and Microsoft suggests changing that password immediately to avoid hackers unless the system is running on a trusted network owned solely by the company. "We think [Herbless] has performed a mass scan over a large range of sites checking for the MS SQL admin port, flagging insecure Web sites to be used in a masses hack," says Rogers. The hacker was able to break into the sites because administrators did not follow the software configuration instructions, and the problem is not inherent to the SQL server product, says Microsoft.
- "How to Beat the Odds"
eWeek (09/11/00) Vol. 17, No. 37, P. 61; Vaas, Lisa
The IT industry, e-business in particular, is considered to be a more favorable working environment for women than old economy corporate America. Debbi Gillotti, former CIO of Duracell, the subsidiary of the Gillette Co., says the corporate America atmosphere was a negative experience in that she was often in a male-dominated environment, with many of her peers some 10 to 15 years older than her. Currently the chief operations officer at the Seattle-based Internet database company Viathan, Gillotti feels much more comfortable in a dot-com culture of startups where the people are around the same age and where there are more women. Telle Whitney, vice president of engineering at Malleable Technologies, the chip maker purchased by PMC-Sierra, agrees. Whitney says she hardly sees women in upper-level positions in semiconductor companies. But in Internet companies, opportunities are abundant, and one does not need to have a technical background to reach positions of authority. Observers still acknowledge that the IT industry is not perfect. The American Association of University Women has conducted a study that shows women representing just 20 percent of IT professionals. And IT salaries are not always the same for women and men. Experts tend to agree that making women responsible for hiring and placing them in other positions of power would make the IT industry even more women-friendly. Companies could start internship programs and not always rely on resumes for hiring decisions. Moreover, companies could offer flexible working hours, which would be beneficial to women who have children.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Va.'s UCITA Committee Opens Hearings"
Potomac Tech Journal (09/04/00) Vol. 1, No. 32, P. 7; Robblee, Steve
Virginia passed its version of the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) in March, becoming the first state to do so, but decided to wait until 2001 to implement it. In the meantime, Virginia wants to study the ramifications of the act. The commonwealth's UCITA advisory meeting held its first public hearing in August to consider potential amendments to the legislation, and there are more meetings scheduled over the next couple of months. Advisory committee members say the electronic self-help provision will probably generate the most debate. A number of industries want exemptions to the self-help provision, which delineates procedures for software companies that want to terminate customers' software privileges for violating their licenses. Greater Richmond Technology Council executive director Bob Stolle, an advisory board member, says that business lobbyists do not like the provision, which requires a 45-day waiting period before a software company can terminate a license. Del. Joe May (R-Leesburg) says that major changes are unlikely because the bill had so much support when it was passed. Any proposed amendments would be voted on by the General Assembly in early 2001, before implementation July 1, 2001. May says the small group of business consumers that UCITA is likely to affect is nonetheless passionate. A possible amendment proposal from the Piedmont Technology Council would give consumer transactions exemptions from the electronic self-help provisions, and offer them some more protections. UCITA was promoted by a national legislative advisory commission whose members wanted clearer rules for software transactions.
For information about ACM's UCITA activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/copyright.
- "ICANN Is on the Up-and-Up, GAO Decides"
Government Computer News (09/11/00) Vol. 19, No. 27, P. 83
ICANN's relationship with the Commerce Department is legal, the General Accounting Office (GAO) concluded in a recent report. The Commerce Department formed ICANN in 1998 to be the private sector administrator of the Domain Name System originally run by Network Solutions. A GAO investigation into the legality of the relationship between ICANN and Commerce was mandated by the department's fiscal 2000 funding bill. Commerce defended its expenditure of $250,000 in ICANN participation as part of its mandate to promote U.S. commerce. Since Commerce neither founded nor controls ICANN, there was no law violation, said GAO in a recent report. ICANN can also levy fees to recover its costs of operation, the report determined. GAO is uncertain as to whether or not Commerce can transfer control of the Internet's root server system, since its authority was never statutorily granted.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Goodbye, Shrink-Wrap: Software for Rent"
Newsweek (09/18/00) Vol. 136, No. 12, P. 74C; Sandberg, Jared
Wall Street analysts are so high on the burgeoning software rental market that they are calling application service providers (ASPs) the "key to the growth of our global economy over the next decade." Market observers say rental software products could serve as the solution to the software headaches of bugs, obsolescence, and installation. For example, the last two versions of Microsoft Office had some 130 patches, fixes, and additions. The perceived cost savings of renting software products has led Traver Gruen-Kennedy, the head of the industry consortium of ASPs, to believe that computing will become more affordable and help close the digital divide. Established software companies such as Intuit and new market players such as cMeRun, Media Station, and Personable.com are clamoring to fill the software rental market space. Even Microsoft, which plans to add Internet-ready capabilities to its software applications, believes software products will become a service. Software makers are embracing the idea of a rental market because they would no longer have to re-engineer their applications as soon as they hit store shelves. Furthermore, software makers get to keep 50 percent of the purchase price that used to go to retailers and distributors, and the companies no longer have to worry about pirates. However, some observers are not convinced that the software rental market will be the "win-win" situation that software makers say it will be. Consumers are likely to spend more in monthly charges than they ever would on one-time purchases, critics say. Moreover, consumers are not likely to have the hardware to handle remote software, and are not likely to feel confident about storing important information on rentable online applications.
- "Teaching Teen Techies"
Network World (09/11/00) Vol. 17, No. 37, P. 47; Duffy, Tom
High-tech companies are working to create a supply of future IT workers by forming educational partnerships with schools from the elementary to college level. With 850,000 high-tech jobs expected to go unfilled this year, according to the Information Technology Association of America, companies want to ensure that the next generation is interested in and prepared for technology careers. Cisco Systems, for example, joins with high schools to offer Cisco networking academies that teach network installation and repair in a one-year, online course. Cisco's networking academies have already taught 21,000 students in 60 countries, and the company has devoted over $50 million to teaching students technology skills. Meanwhile, Federal Express this summer invited middle school students to its data centers for one-day tech camps, which featured online scavenger hunts and instruction on Web page design. For its part, Intel plans to develop 100 Computer Clubhouses worldwide for children between the ages of eight and 18. Following the model set forth by the Boston Museum of Science and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the clubhouses will encourage creative use of technology in the form of computer-generated art and animation, for example, says Intel's Miguel Salinas.
- "Are You Web Smart?"
Business Week--e.biz (09/18/00) No.3699, P. EB36; Stepanek, Marcia
Use of the Web to make, sell, and market products in any industry is now standard, so a radical e-transformation may be the next step. Gary Hamel, author the classic "Competing for the Future," says that businesses must now "out-innovate the innovators." E-innovators are identifying newer, more targeted ways to deliver information and market their pioneering products. Streamlined e-businesses have trimmed error rates, distribution and delivery costs as well as management teams, and boosted earnings per customer. Energy giant Enron has leveraged the Web to found a new business--providing Internet capacity along with energy resources. The Web also allows businesses to respond more quickly to the market, as is the case with cutting-edge European fashion retailer Zara, who has revamped its supply chain to deliver new products as trends crop up. Webcor Builders posts plans and timetables for its commercial building projects on the Internet, which aids in the collaborative process and allows Webcor to erect buildings two months faster with one-third less personnel. Ocean Spray's online foray helps independent growers pick redder, more lucrative berries. While there have been e-commerce missteps, these bold moves indicate that e-business is ready for the future. Forrester Research estimates that goods traded over the Internet will hit $2.7 trillion, or over 25 percent of the current U.S. gross national product.
- "Privacy as Global Policy"
InfoWorld (09/11/00) Vol. 22, No. 37, P. 49; Connolly, P.J.
For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.