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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 2, Issue 108: Wednesday, September 20, 2000
- "Senate Clears Historic Bill on China Trade"
SiliconValley.com (09/19/00); Puzzanghera, Jim
Silicon Valley applauded yesterday's overwhelming vote in the U.S. Senate that approved normal trade relations with China. The 83-15 vote, together with the House's approval vote and President Clinton's stated intention to sign the legislation, guarantees further increases in U.S. exports to China. Exports should grow from $13.5 billion each year to $26 billion each year by 2005, Goldman Sachs predicts. Silicon Valley has already seen its exports to China double between 1993 and 1998, and tech industry insiders are confident that the growth will continue. Hewlett-Packard's Jim Whittaker says, "By opening, once and for all, the vast Chinese market, this legislation will also open broad new doorways of opportunity to our industry for exports and investments." As part of its concessions to the United States, China will eventually remove tariffs, averaging 13 percent, on imported computers and other hardware. Also, U.S. firms will no longer have to distribute their products through intermediaries from the Chinese government. However, opponents of the legislation, which include both anti-Communists and human rights activists, note that China has a long history of breaking trade agreements.
- "Massive Denial-of-Service Attack Looming--CERT Report"
Newsbytes (09/18/00); Krebs, Brian
An alert issued by the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) Coordination Center states that hundreds of computer systems have been compromised by hackers who could carry out distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks similar to those that locked up Amazon.com, Yahoo!, and other major Web sites last February. Over the past two months hackers have been scanning the Internet, looking for computers on which to install toolkits that can take over systems and coordinate attacks on other computers or networks, warns CERT. The intruders appear to be using toolkits and downloadable scripts similar to the ones used in the February attacks, according to CERT. DDOS attacks flood networks with a high volume of traffic from systems commandeered by hackers and directed by a single network or computer. While targeted systems have little protection other than shutdown, downloadable patches can prevent systems from being turned into hacker hosts. CERT recommends that all Internet sites visit the CERT Web sites for advisories and to check to see that workarounds or patches have been applied to vulnerable systems.
- "Microsoft Suit Mediator Rues State Antitrust Role"
Wall Street Journal (09/19/00) P. B15; Wilke, John R.
U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner, who is mediating the government's antitrust case against Microsoft, recently said states should not be able to file antitrust lawsuits as they have done in the Microsoft case. In a paper given before a legal conference, Posner said a state should sue only if it can prove a company's action harmed its interests directly. Otherwise, he said, the states are merely taking a "free ride on federal antitrust legislation." He argued that states slow down the antitrust legal process and are too open to outside influences. Those who support the right of states to pursue antitrust cases pointed out that both Congress and the Supreme Court have stood behind that right in the past. During the Reagan administration, when the federal government filed few antitrust lawsuits, the states became the main source of antitrust suits. Posner also questioned the federal government's ability to enforce antitrust laws in today's new economy. He argued that antitrust laws can apply to new technology as in the Microsoft case, but that the government does not have the resources to keep pace with how quickly the technology is changing.
- "Industry Seeks More Visas for High-Tech Workers"
Washington Post (09/20/00) P. G13; Johnson, Carrie
Lobbyists for the tech industry doubt Congress will act on any of the pending bills concerning H-1B visas, which allow foreign tech workers to live in the United States for no longer than six years, before the legislators recess next month. The industry has been pushing hard to increase the number of H-1B visas issued each year from 115,000 to 200,000. Many tech companies depend on H-1B visa workers to make up for the shortage of domestic tech workers, and this year the available H-1B visas were issued more quickly than ever before. Tech lobbyists direct much of their frustration toward Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the House judiciary subcommittee on immigration. Smith has introduced a bill that would remove all limits on the number of H-1B visas issued for the next three years, provided tech firms paid foreign workers a minimum salary of $40,000. Observers believe Smith is reacting to critics of the tech industry, who accuse tech firms of underpaying foreign workers. Tech lobbyists and their Republican supporters are also angered by President Clinton's demand that any H-1B legislation also include amnesty provisions for Latin American immigrants, which critics believe is a political ploy.
- "Clinton Predicts More High-Tech Visas"
Boston Globe (09/18/00) P. C4
President Clinton on Saturday told a group of reporters from India that he expects Congress to approve legislation increasing the number of foreign high-tech workers admitted into the United States on H-1B visas. Legislation pending before the Senate would raise the cap on H-1B visas issued to 200,000 per year, but that bill stalled in May after the president said any legislation concerning the H-1B visa must also include provisions on other immigration issues. Clinton made no mention of this condition Saturday, and said he would sign the pending H-1B visa bill should Congress pass it. This bill would prevent a scheduled drop in the H-1B visa cap to 65,000 per year beginning in fiscal 2002, but the high-tech industry argues that a cap of no less than 300,000 visas per year is needed to solve its labor shortage.
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- "Multilingual Europe Has Latent Edge on U.S."
Washington Times (09/19/00) P. B12; Doughtery, Carter
European companies are better equipped than the United States to operate within a multicultural, multilingual business environment, according to a new study by Andersen Consulting. Americans are usually ignorant of cultural differences, while "in Europe, you can't sneeze without hitting someone who speaks another language," says Andersen chief scientist Glover Ferguson. The study found American executives less likely than Europeans to expand their business geographically using the Internet. Only one-third of U.S. executives saw value in adapting Web sites to other cultures, which could be a serious weakness, Andersen noted. The spread of wireless technology represents a great opportunity to European companies, Ferguson says. Nevertheless, the U.S. maintains its lead in the Internet sector. Sixty-seven percent of worldwide revenues in business-to-business e-commerce and 76 percent in business-to-consumer e-commerce were generated by the United States in 1999. In contrast, Europe only captured 14 percent in both markets.
- "Advocates Decry Business Opposition to Privacy Bill"
Newsbytes (09/18/00); McGuire, David
Business interests conspired to stall a workplace privacy bill in the House Judiciary Committee's Constitution Subcommittee late last week, a move decried as short-sighted by Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy and Technology. The Notice of Electronic Monitoring Act, which addresses the monitoring of email and Web use in the workplace, appeared to be on a fast track until derailed Thursday. Schwartz argues that the industry's opposition to the bill could be interpreted as an extremist stance on privacy, which could cost the industry credibility in future debates on privacy. Meanwhile, Ken Segarnick, an attorney at United Messaging, says he has no problems with the bill's intentions but does believe that its requirements place an unnecessary burden on employers. Segarnick contends that the bill creates reporting problems for companies. Also, employees could use the bill to file lawsuits against employers that fail to monitor as often as they say they do, Segarnick says. Segarnick argues that the legislation should be recast so that the only requirement facing employers is that they inform workers as to what kind of privacy they can expect when using office equipment.
For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.
- "Mastering the Robot"
Washington Post (09/17/00) P. A1; Suplee, Curt
The development of a new paradigm to design quasi-autonomous objects solved many problems that had stifled progress in robot research for decades. In the mid-1980s scientists adopted systems that could make their own decisions and deal with unknown factors. An offshoot of this principle was the development of machines that can mimic insect nervous systems by Rodney Brooks, director of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab. MIT is currently working on two highly advanced robots: Cog, a humanoid machine designed to recreate the sensory and motor dynamics of a human body; and Kismet, which possesses facial features to learn how humans react. Although scientists believe that a truly autonomous robot is a long way off, the shrinking size of robot components has driven prices down, encouraging more research and development. Robots are already well-embedded in factories, farms, hospitals, and the military. If the cost of human labor for simple tasks gets too high, then the maintenance robot market could grow rapidly. Carnegie Mellon University has developed self-directing tractors and highway vehicles, and is currently working on machines that can recognize people and vehicles as well as detect odd behavior. Toys are likely to be the most lucrative robot market in the short term, says Brooks. Achievements such as Sony's AIBO robot dog paved the way for new designs such as Hasbro's upcoming My Real Baby, an infant robot that can interact, grow, and learn to speak. But other researchers are worried that advanced robots could take over. Self-replicating robots could emerge by 2030 and constitute a threat, says Sun Microsystems cofounder Bill Joy. Hans Moravec of Carnegie Mellon predicts a robot revolution in the next 10 years, with machines replacing humans in essential roles.
- "One World, One Internet?"
E-Commerce Times (09/18/00); Blakey, Elizabeth
The laws of individual countries should be applied to the regulation of Internet transactions and other multinational activities around the world, otherwise the right of individuals and localities to govern themselves would be violated, writes Elizabeth Blakey. E-commerce companies such as Yahoo! should respect the local laws of each country and make efforts to uphold these laws on their Web sites, Blakey maintains. The selling of Nazi artifacts is illegal in France, and several human rights groups sued Yahoo! for selling such objects on its U.S.-based site, demanding that the ISP filter out French surfers. Although Yahoo! now posts warnings that French surfers may be breaking the law, the Web is borderless and keeping the French from visiting the Nazi auctions is not possible from a technological standpoint, according to Yahoo!. In the U.S. a transaction between citizens of different states is studied by the courts to see which state's laws are applicable. Web content and international e-commerce should be subject to similar kinds of tests, Blakey believes. The French court gave Yahoo! experts until mid-October to devise a way to block French Internet users from accessing the auctions selling Nazi objects.
- "Internet Land Rush at TM Office"
Wired News (09/18/00); Cisneros, Oscar S.
Domain name speculators have been registering trademarks based on yet-to-be approved top level domains in an effort to ensure possession of the domain names once ICANN decides what new top level domains will be created. The speculators register trademarks using unapproved top level domain names in intent-to-use trademark applications at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Using the trademark, a speculator can then obtain possession of the trademarked term even if someone else registers the domain name with an ICANN-approved registrar. The trademark office already has issued internal guidelines regarding applications for trademarks that include top level domain names, and will look at trademarks or service marks even if the used top level domain does not exist. Source products and services are identified through trademarks while domain names are like addresses, says trademark attorney Jessie Marshall of the Patent and Trademark Office. And under the trademark office's rules, the speculator has six months to prove the trademark is being utilized in commerce, and the deadline can be extended for as many as three years, says Marshall. For example, Von Eric Lerner Kalaydjian filed sex.web as an intent-to-use trademark application, and if ICANN approves the .web top level domain, Kalaydjian can gain control of the address even if others register it first. "And if anybody tries to register sex.banc they've got another thing coming because my application covers banking services," says Kalaydjian. The situation is turning into another rush to register trademarks based on non-existent top level domain names. The competitive name grabbing highlights the conflict between the newcomers and more established companies with pre-existing trademarks, says intellectual property law Professor Robert Merges.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Technology Boom Too Tempting for Many Government Scientists"
New York Times (09/19/00) P. A1; Hafner, Katie
Government research laboratories are struggling to retain the nation's top scientists as high-tech companies lure workers away with the promise of huge salaries and stock options. Government labs, which have contributed major advances in areas such as computing, robotics, and gene sequencing, might pay a senior scientist $90,000, while the private sector would offer the same worker 50 percent more, plus stock options. Growing attrition rates in the next several years could threaten the quality of government research, including projects involving national security, administrators say. Leading research centers such as Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories have seen attrition rates jump into double-digit percentages, compared with the traditional 4 percent. Areas such as advanced computation and biotechnology, which are strong in the private sector, have been particularly hard hit at government labs. At the Advanced Computing Laboratory at Los Alamos, 41 percent of workers have left in the last year or will soon leave. Research centers close to Silicon Valley, such as the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., which continues to lose top engineers to startups, find it especially difficult to keep workers as housing prices rise and technical workers are in high demand. Many engineers who have left NASA Ames for tech firms have become millionaires as a result. Meanwhile, government labs must operate within budgets fixed by Congress. However, some labs are trying to compete for workers by offering signing bonuses and housing assistance.
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- "Software Can Make E-Mail Disappear Without a Trace"
USA Today (09/20/00) P. 1B; Swartz, Jon
Email users will soon be able to erase the messages they send from the recipient's hard drive using software called SafeMessage that a company called AbsoluteFuture is releasing today. SafeMessage destroys messages within a certain amount of time after the recipient opens them, erasing all footprints on PC hard drives and computer servers, says AbsoluteFuture CEO Graham Andrews. Law enforcement officials worry that criminals and terrorists will use SafeMessage to conceal their communications, arguing that fighting crime effectively in the digital age requires email tracing. Meanwhile, privacy advocates applaud the new software. One oil executive says he uses a beta version of SafeMessage to prevent rivals from accessing his messages.
For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy .
- "Germany Quashes Net Tax Plan"
Associated Press (09/18/00)
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has defeated a Finance Ministry proposal that would have levied a tax on businesses every time an employee made use of the Internet for personal reasons in the workplace. "Private use of the Internet in the workplace is tax-free," Schroeder declared. Further, Schroeder said that people who access the Internet from their own PCs for work purposes will receive tax breaks. The government's plan had drawn heavy flak from the telecom and computer industries as an impediment to the country's Internet adoption rates. Nonetheless, Schroeder said that the government does not intend to deviate from its plans to enforce intellectual property laws by taxing the producers of high-speed modems and other types of equipment used to make copies of intellectual material.
- "E-Biz Jobs Made Healthier"
eWeek (09/18/00) Vol. 17, No. 38, P. 66; Villano, Matt
Employees who spend long hours using computers are at risk of developing a range of physical problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome, eyestrain, and sore backs. Many high-tech workers type and use computer mice all day while sitting in awkward positions, holding their arms at unnatural angles, and staring at monitors for long periods. As dot-coms race to keep up with the rapid pace of the high-tech industry, repetitive stress injuries are rising, according to physical therapists and industry experts. Companies that want to succeed in e-business should take steps to provide ergonomically sound working conditions, says ergonomics consultant Dora Potter. SAS Institute, for example, created an ergonomics lab for its workers to find the equipment most comfortable for them, and hired an ergonomics coordinator to implement standards for the entire company. The coordinator, Kathleen Malik, provided all employees with keyboard trays, worktables, and adjustable chairs. One SAS employee with carpal tunnel syndrome was given a metal brace to limit her wrist movements, a curved keyboard, and a trackball mouse. Malik also instructed the afflicted employee to use proper posture and take short breaks from the computer. While some companies might worry about the cost of ergonomics, Malik says SAS has never spent over $1,000 on a single employee and the number of workers' compensation claims at the company has dropped to almost zero.
- "CIOs Set Goals for Tech-Savvy Government"
Federal Times (09/18/00) Vol. 36, No. 33, P. 1; Robb, Karen
The Chief Information Officers Council, which represents the 28 largest federal agencies, issued a draft plan outlining technology-related goals the next administration should achieve. Citing computer security as a top priority, the draft plan suggests boosting the Federal Computer Incident Response Capability (FedCIRC) program. FedCIRC, run by the General Services Administration, aims to help federal agencies share information about cyberattacks as quickly as possible. The plan also notes the importance of recruiting skilled IT workers, and calls for the creation of a program aimed at drawing high school students with computer skills into government jobs. Electronic delivery of government services will be another major issue for the next administration, according to the draft plan, which recommends expanding the government-wide Internet portal FirstGov. Also in line with the push to bring citizens closer to government, the plan suggests that agencies increasingly use the Internet to accept public comment. In addition, the plan calls for an interoperability initiative that would allow computers to process data in a wide range of formats. The council also intends to create guidelines that will help agencies assess the value of their IT investments.
- "World Leaders: IT Can Ease Globalization Woes"
Computerworld (09/11/00) Vol. 34, No. 37, P. 14; Trombly, Maria
Information technology could help protect developing nations from the potential damage that globalization could bring, said world leaders at two recent forums in New York. IT could also help Third World countries to bypass some of the slow development stages that technology pioneers went through, said United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan at the United Nations Millennium Summit. The UN has sent 23 volunteer IT professionals to developing nations such as Botswana, Ecuador, and India to spread their knowledge of technology, Annan said. Meanwhile, leaders at the State of the World Forum said IT can help minimize the possible negative impact of globalization on the environment, children, and poverty-stricken people. For example, Grameen Bank, a microlending leader in Bangladesh, is building Internet-enabled health care centers in villages, with a focus on reducing child mortality and maternal mortality. In addition, Grameen is collaborating with MIT Media Laboratory to create speech recognition software for regional languages. IT devices with touch screens and voice commands could help distribute knowledge and eliminate illiteracy, says Grameen founder Muhammad Yunus.
- "Web Hosting Heats Up"
InformationWeek (09/18/00) No. 804, P. 22; Wallace, Bob
Although the Web hosting market is not new, it is now exploding because of the e-commerce boom. Web site management services are in high demand as companies seek a solution to preserve resources and staff while building and maintaining infrastructure. Hosting facilities can guard against service interruptions and traffic overloads, an advantage that draws many customers to application service providers. A Gartner Group/Dataquest report reveals that almost half of the 254 companies surveyed plan or are already using Web hosting services. Forrester Research adds that hosting revenue will jump to an estimated $19.8 billion by 2004, up from 1999's $1.4 billion. Forrester also reports that shared hosting, co-location, managed hosting services, and custom hosting are the four main trends in Web hosting. Future Web hosting trends include industry consolidation, according to Giga Information Group senior analyst Joel Yaffe. Analysts also maintain that high-end, value-added, and industry-specific Web hosting is on the way, and that hosting vendors will increasingly control data centers and offer comprehensive global outsourcing services.
- "The Wiring of Main Street"
Darwin (09/00) Vol. 1, No. 2, P. 130; Duffy, Daintry
In 1994, the town of Buffalo Grove, Ill., a suburb of Chicago with an affluent, mobile population of 43,000, made a $750,000 investment in information technology infrastructure. That investment continues to pay off today as Buffalo Grove's Board of Trustees, with the assistance of CIO Robert Giddens, increases the number of electronic government services at an estimated cost of only $9.82 per citizen. For example, the town has placed computers that have wireless access to 450 databases in its police cruisers. That information covers data from the town's Lotus Notes system as well as state and federal crime statistics. Buffalo Grove's Lotus Notes database is the basis for its internal e-government solutions. Officials in each department can access information from one another quickly and seamlessly. An impressive range of services is available to citizens through their computers. They can view the latest crime information on the police department's Web site, sign up to receive the town's electronic newsletter, and download a wide variety of town documents. Village Manager William Balling would even like to provide citizens with a town forum online so they could voice their opinion directly to the local government. However, Buffalo Grove does not believe that electronic government can replace human interaction. For example, citizens who download documents still must submit the forms, pay application fees, and review proposals in person. The town also ensures that citizens without Internet access can view important information through the town government's cable channel. Giddens believes the town has planned its IT initiative very well. For example, the board mandated that, whenever Giddens' office purchases new hardware or software, it must begin saving money toward the eventual upgrade of that equipment.