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 125: Wednesday, November 1, 2000
- "Dot-Com Workers Down, But Not Out"
E-Commerce Times (10/31/00); Gebler, Dan
Although recent reports continue to show an increase in the number of layoffs at dot-com firms, observers say the laid-off workers are finding strong demand for their skills in the job marketplace. Dot-com layoffs rose 18 percent from September to October, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, and Christmas. Dot-com layoffs totaled 5,677 for October, and layoffs for the year to date now equal 22,267, the firm reported. Analysts say the layoffs have come from both failed dot-coms and dot-coms that have cut costs in an effort to reach profitability. Dot-com workers may have even more reason to feel insecure, say analysts, as the upcoming holiday season may lead to the failure of more firms. However, laid-off dot-com workers are finding more than a few employers who are interested in their skills. "They didn't win the lottery in terms of earnings and stock options in the dot-com world, but they hit the jackpot in terms of experience," says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray, and Christmas. He notes that many bricks-and-mortar companies are now moving aggressively into the e-commerce market by opening Internet-based sales channels and acquiring or partnering with struggling dot-coms. These companies want workers who have e-commerce experience, Challenger says. Although dot-com layoffs have reached record highs, overall unemployment rates remain low, even in tech-heavy areas such as Silicon Valley, San Mateo County, and San Francisco. In fact, analysts say, low unemployment rates may actually benefit dot-coms if consumers become frustrated with understaffed retail stores and decide to shop online instead.
- "High-Tech Lift for India's Women"
Wall Street Journal (11/01/00) P. B1; Yee, Chen May
India's growing high-tech industry is creating new opportunities for women, who are expected to account for nearly half of the country's IT workforce within 10 years. Women will play a major role in helping the Indian software industry grow from a $5 billion-a-year industry this year to an $87 billion industry by 2008, according to the National Association of Software and Service Companies. Although women now account for 14 percent of India's high-tech workforce, this figure is expected to jump to 45 percent by 2010, the association says. Half of the students at the tech trade schools offered by Indian software company NIIT are women, and some of the engineering colleges in India also say women represent 50 percent of their student population. High-tech careers are providing some Indian women with alternatives to arranged marriages and motherhood. In addition, the high salaries in the IT field enable some women to become the primary wage earners in their families, giving them more control over decisions such as household finances. The tech industry is also spearheading a shift in India's work culture toward increased gender equality, as other industries follow the tech companies' lead in offering paternity leave and telecommuting.
- "Candidates Stump for Silicon Valley's Vote"
USA Today (11/01/00) P. 1B; Swartz, Jon
Al Gore and George W. Bush have been campaigning heavily in Silicon Valley hoping to win the support of the wealthy high-tech industry. The candidates are competing to prove who would make the better new economy president, with Gore emphasizing his knowledge of technology and Bush focusing on loose regulation and tax cuts. Silicon Valley is becoming increasingly political as the high-tech industry seeks legislators' support on issues such as H-1B visas, online privacy, Internet taxation, and copyright protection. The San Francisco Bay area was the country's fourth largest contributor to political campaigns between January of last year and Oct. 1, donating $29 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Gore's Silicon Valley supporters include Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs, venture capitalist John Doerr, 3Com CEO Eric Benhamou, and Novell CEO Eric Schmidt. Meanwhile, Bush has gained the favor of Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy, Dell Computer CEO Michael Dell, and Intel CEO Craig Barrett.
- "Misunderstandings At the Office"
Washington Post (10/31/00) P. E1; Schafer, Sarah
Over half of the office workers surveyed in a recent Vault.com survey say the recipients of their emails misinterpret the tone or meaning of their messages. That can lead to embarrassing misunderstandings, as occurred when one worker angered fellow employees by joking that an office contest was "rigged," but it can also put a worker in an awful spot if a superior were to think that a particular email was too accusatory or insubordinate. Psychologists say this problem has arisen from email's informality. The ease with which someone can write and send a message makes it more likely that the message will be carelessly worded or poorly thought out. Furthermore, psychologists argue, email cannot account for the body language and vocal intonation that suggest when a statement is made in jest, causing many email "jokes" to fall flat or to be interpreted as personal attacks. Email, they say, does not have the established etiquette of formal letter writing, while email slang and characters meant to designate the tone of a message are considered too informal for the business world. To counter this problem, several firms are asking their workers to curtail email use. Other firms, such as Cisco, are reconfiguring office spaces to force workers to deal with each other in person.
- "Telecommuters' Lament"
Wall Street Journal (10/31/00) P. B1; Dunham, Kemba J.
Many companies that were once optimistic about the future of telecommuting are now frowning on the practice. Although the number of U.S. telecommuters has jumped from 8.5 million in 1995 to 24 million today, many firms are beginning to limit the extent to which they allow employees to work from home. CareerEngine.com in August conducted a survey of 650 companies and found that most of the firms intended to hire fewer telecommuters. Some bosses say people who work in the office resent telecommuters, while others worry that telecommuters miss out on office meetings and interaction with coworkers, says CareerEngine President Tom Ferrara. Still, in today's worker-friendly job market, many companies feel pressured to offer flexible work schedules. This leads some companies to mislead job candidates with promises of telecommuting that turn out to be less flexible than the worker had anticipated. Even dot-com workers are finding their employers reluctant to permit telecommuting. "We need people working side by side, in the office, sharing ideas," says Barbara Beasley of Internet services firm Fort Point Partners. Human resources consulting firm Spherion allows workers to telecommute for only six months at a time. Spherion's workers can telecommute more than once, but they must work in the office for at least a year in between. Meanwhile, AT&T, a strong supporter of telecommuting, says its number of telecommuters has not increased in recent years. AT&T's Burke Stinson attributes the lack of growth in telecommuting to insufficient broadband connections for home offices as well as the need for employees to interact with coworkers in person.
- "From Backwater to Boom Town"
New York Times (10/31/00) P. C1; Cowell, Alan
Dublin, Ireland, has emerged as one of the leading marketplaces for high-tech employment, industry observers say. Several firms, including Compaq and IBM, have established their European call-center operations in the capital of Ireland, which is in the midst of an economic upswing. Ireland's economy has increased by as much as 9 percent for each of the past six years. Firms cite the country's low corporate tax rates as well as the youth and international background of its job seekers as main reasons for their investment. The job market has attracted young workers from both Ireland and mainland Europe, allowing companies to offer services to customers in Germany or France while paying relatively low wages to their Dublin-based employees. Indeed, the average salary of foreign workers in Ireland is $15,000 before taxes. As more young workers have taken advantage of the expanding job market, unemployment has fallen to the lowest level in all of Europe, 3.8 percent. This, however, has caused a rise in inflation, which now stands at 6.2 percent. This, coupled with the economic struggles of the euro, which Ireland implemented in 1999, has created some economic tension in Dublin and Ireland as a whole. Some observers worry that the country's growth has been too dependent on foreign investment, especially from American firms, which means the government will have no means to prevent an severe economic reversal should foreign firms suddenly pull out due to rising costs or troubles in their home countries.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "With Dissidents on Board, Net Could See Revolution"
USA Today (10/31/00) P. 3D; Weise, Elizabeth
The recent elections held by ICANN brought representatives of individuals, smaller businesses, and the general public onto a board of directors that has recently faced criticism for lending too much support and favor to big business. Two of these new ICANN board members, German hacker Andy Mueller-Maguhn and networking engineer Karl Auerbach, lead the way against ICANN's tendency toward favoring commercial interests. "I don't have anything against commercial users, but I don't like seeing the Net overrun by companies and ruled by corporate laws," says Mueller-Maguhn. Certain members of ICANN are attempting to stop public participation, going so far as to halt any outside input whatsoever, says Auerbach. ICANN claims it is solely responsible for managing the technical aspects of the Domain Name System and continually overseeing the administration and maintenance of Internet names and numbers. As a government, ICANN develops laws, some of which harm smaller companies' ability to be innovative, says Auerbach. On ICANN's agenda in the near future: the addition of new top level domains, overseeing the continual dispute of corporations vs. the rights of smaller companies and individuals, and deciding whether or not to permit governments to censor Internet content.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Budget Deal Stalls on Timing of a Worker-Safety Provision"
New York Times (11/01/00) P. A20; Schmitt, Eric
The Clinton administration wants the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) proposed ergonomic safety rules to go into effect before the end of the year, but Republican leaders have balked at a proposed deal that would delay enforcement of the rules until June 2001, and the rift is hindering the final budget deal between the White House and Congress. Republicans say that the proposed regulations deal would not do what it says it would do, while Democrats counter that Republicans are bowing to pressure from business lobbyists. Opponents of the rules say they are too complex and confusing and would cost businesses much more than OSHA says they will.
Click Here to View Full Article
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Lab Has Big Appetite for Worms, Viruses"
Investor's Business Daily (10/31/00) P. A8; Howell, Donna
Security experts at the Symantec AntiVirus Research Center (SARC) look for ways to make technology more secure by launching viruses on the center's sealed-off network. The center handles 10 new viruses every day, releasing software patches for customers and finding better ways to combat future viruses. Users, who once received quarterly antivirus updates, can now get software patches within hours after a virus is discovered. Symantec's Norton AntiVirus now installs fixes while users surf the Web. In the future, Symantec hopes to be able to stop viruses before they are launched. Heuristic, or self-teaching, software will play a large role in the future of network security, says Diana Kelley of the Core Technology Division. Software will learn a user's habits and screen for unusual activity, such as a virus sending messages to all addresses in the user's address book. Meanwhile, Michael Callahan of Network Associates' McAfee division predicts that antivirus protection in the future might come in the form of a small device that users can plug into the Internet and forget about. One problem with today's security products is that users turn them off, says Callahan.
- "ICANN Antagonist Calls for Board Resignations"
Newsbytes (10/27/00); McGuire, David
University of Miami law Professor Michael Froomkin posted a statement at the personal.law.miami.edu/~froomkin/boardsquat.htm Web site that criticizes ICANN's decision to permit four of its original board members to remain active board members. Froomkin's statement calls those four board members "squatters." The original directors should give up their positions on ICANN's board now that at-large board members have been elected, says Froomkin. ICANN's board was originally formed with the idea of having nine members appointed by internal "supporting organizations" of ICANN and the other nine board members elected by the Internet public to represent the organization's at-large membership. However, only five at-large board members were elected due to a prior edict from ICANN's board, with the elections of the last four at-large board members being postponed until the election process could be examined and tweaked. Therefore, the four original ICANN board members are remaining active as part of the at-large portion of the board. Retaining the four board members will keep the board at full strength and help sustain the current balance between board members selected by supporting organizations and those representing the at-large membership, says ICANN Chairwoman Esther Dyson. The four remaining board members do not truly represent the at-large membership, says Froomkin. ICANN has not made an official response to Froomkin's statement, according to Dyson, who stresses that her comments are her personal opinions and not those of ICANN's board of directors.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html
- "Taming the Web"
Miami Herald (10/29/00) P. 1E; Dorschner, John
Experts who study the new economy say it is only a matter of time before the Internet succumbs to the oversight of the federal government. Although Vice President Al Gore has joined Texas Gov. George W. Bush in saying the Internet should be left alone, Washington is now home to several hundred bills concerning the Internet. Moreover, if the federal government does not move fast enough on issues such as protecting the privacy of consumers and eliminating spam, state officials are ready to weigh in on the issue. For example, legislators in California have already filed more than 250 bills addressing the Internet. Protecting privacy and ending spam are two causes that many people support. However, politicians will also have to address taxes on e-commerce, online gambling and sex sites, and copyright and piracy issues involving file-sharing technologies such as Napster. "You will be seeing a process of the Internet becoming increasingly politicized," says Forrester Research analyst Jay Stanley. Meanwhile, industry leaders such as Jim Barksdale, formerly of Netscape, and Carly Fiorina of Hewlett-Packard are increasingly letting it be known that politicians will have to step in. And tech companies are starting to contribute their dollars to political campaigns. The fact that the Internet is a global entity makes regulating the technology all the more complicated, and one of the most difficult issues for lawmakers to address will be taxes on e-commerce transactions.
For information regarding ACM's work on matters of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Wetherell: Future of Net Economy Looks Bright"
InternetNews.com (10/27/00); Boulton, Clint
Despite Wall Street's recent disenchantment with technology, two executives speaking at the recent Internet World Fall 2000 conference were optimistic about the future of the new economy. America Online interactive services group president Barry Schuler on Wednesday said the Internet boom has not even begun. Meanwhile, CMGI CEO David Wetherell on Thursday said faster Internet infrastructure and globalization will help the Internet market mature and consolidate over the next year. The Internet industry, driven by the telecom and retail sectors, will grow by about 25 percent over the next year, Wetherell said. Wireless technology is growing rapidly, and some experts believe wireless sales will surpass PC sales by next year, Wetherell noted. The recent drop in tech stocks is the consequence of the extra money the government pushed into the economy because of concerns that Y2K would destroy credit card access, Wetherell says.
- "Europe to Investigate Legality of RIP"
Register Online (10/27/00); Richardson, Tim
The European Commission is investigating Britain's Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act to determine if the law violated European privacy laws including the Treaty of Rome on four separate counts. "The Commission is currently examining the Act to determine if it is compatible with the provisions of several Community dispositions," says European Commissioner Liikanen. Liikanen's statement is in response to a parliamentary question from British Lib Dem Euro-MP Diana Wallis as to whether the Act's policy on email interception constitutes a breach of personal privacy and free speech. Although the RIP was passed as a measure to protect citizens from privacy invasion in accordance with the European Union's Directive on Data Protection, the British government is using loopholes within the law to tap and intercept communications, Wallis contends.
- "First Reviews on FirstGov"
Federal Computer Week Online (10/30/00); Matthews, William
The new government-wide Internet portal FirstGov has come under criticism for having searching capabilities that are too robust. For example, Glynis Long of the Small Business Administration says she searched for "e-commerce" using FirstGov and received 35,668 returns, for the term "e commerce" she received 230,980 returns, and for "electronic commerce" she received 140,501 returns. When Long searched for those terms using the SBA search engine, the number of returns ranged from 210 to 5,610. Early users of FirstGov say the high-performance search engine that can perform word searches in a fraction of a second may be too powerful for its own good. Rebecca Andadi of the Rand think tank believes FirstGov turns up too many hits, and Mary Alice Baish of the American Association of Law Libraries adds that users are likely to be frustrated by the search engine because they will feel more assailed than assisted by the sheer number of the search returns. Dave Binetti, director of the Fed-Search Foundation, which operates FirstGov, acknowledges that users are likely to feel "overwhelmed," particularly if they are conducting a general search. Dick Griffin, manager of the federal site Disability.gov, foresees improvements and evolutions for FirstGov that will solve this problem. Launched in September, FirstGov is scheduled to become a second generation Web site in late December or January, with the third coming in March. FirstGov is attracting 187,000 queries a day, according to Binetti.
- "Long Odds for Software Law"
Legal Times (10/23/00) Vol. 23, No. 42, P. 1; Boncompagni, Tatiana
Virginia and Maryland already have adopted the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA), but the high-tech industry plans to step up its effort to have all 50 states adopt a uniform measure on software licensing. Although UCITA is now pending before six other states, software makers are facing a serious counterassault on their plan from consumer advocacy groups and other corporations. Consumer groups oppose UCITA because consumers would have to buy software products without first seeing the license terms, while corporations such as Caterpillar and Prudential Insurance fear that they will be just as powerless to bargain for better terms in deals with software companies. Essentially, UCITA declares that buyers of software are not purchasing the actual product but rather the license to use the application according to the terms of the agreement. In many instances, the agreement would detail how users are restricted in using the software product. Software makers are relying on UCITA to protect them from being held liable for software flaws. Vendors do not want to see states adopt varying software licensing laws, which would likely prompt the federal government to write its own policy. By the end of the year, the Digital Commerce Coalition, an advocate of UCITA, wants the law to be passed in five states.
For information about ACM's UCITA activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/IP.
- "Girl Geeks: A Mathematical Imperative for High-Tech Shortages"
Interactive Week (10/23/00) Vol. 7, No. 43, P. 132; Monroy, Tom
Women could benefit both the high-tech industry and themselves by moving into the half a million IT jobs that are now unfilled. "Women represent the mathematical imperative to filling the personnel shortages in the high-paying high-tech world of business today," says GirlGeeks cofounder Kristine Hanna. Women are well-positioned to take part in the high-tech industry, as they are joining the workforce at a faster rate than men and attending college in larger numbers. In 1988 women represented 45 percent of the workforce, and that figure will rise to 48 percent by 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, 69 percent of women attend college after high school, compared to 64 percent of men, and an increasing number of women are pursuing computer science and IT degrees. At Carnegie Mellon University, for example, women accounted for only 8 percent of computer science majors in 1995, but the figure jumped to 40 percent this year, says computer science professor Lenore Blum. Mentoring is a key factor in encouraging women to enter the high-tech field, says Blum, noting that women are often deterred by the stereotype of the male computer geek. Women can help make the IT culture more diverse and improve the way computer projects are handled, says Blum. Hanna agrees with Blum's assessment, noting that men often approach a programming task as a competition, while women are more likely to broaden the scope of their research, collaborate with peers, and ask questions.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Study: H-1B Crucial to Economic Growth"
Computerworld (10/30/00) Vol. 34, No. 44, P. 1; Dash, Julekha
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) last week released a report for Congress upholding the H-1B visa program but noting that visa holders might depress wages in the high-tech industry. The report describes the findings of a 15-month study on the high-tech workforce, for which NAS interviewed over 100 IT workers on issues such as age discrimination and abuse of the H-1B program. Although the study suggests that the large number of H-1B visa holders in the U.S. high-tech industry is keeping salaries from increasing as quickly as they otherwise would, the report offers no proof that foreign workers receive lower salaries than their American counterparts. However, network engineer Craig Hopkins contends that companies are turning to foreign workers rather than recruiting older workers or training existing workers. Although one respondent noted that companies are required to pay foreign workers the going salaries, another respondent says he has seen contracting firms bypass these rules by classifying employees in lower job categories. The report also found that compared to younger workers, IT professionals age 40 and above are more likely to lose their positions, but are able to find new jobs almost as fast. Although the report offers no conclusive evidence of age discrimination in the IT industry, one observer says the information is misleading because discrimination is usually targeted at workers age 50 and above, while the study focused on workers age 40 and above.
Click Here to View Full Article
Red Herring (11/13/00) No. 85, P. 166; Cunningham, Cara
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is in need of clarification. The law is backed by the film and music industries, but is proving to be problematic for tech experts, researchers, educators, and library professionals. The DMCA is now the central issue in the lawsuit that the Motion Picture Association of America has filed against 2600 Enterprises and others who posted computer code on how to get DVD movies to play on PCs. The DMCA is also the focus of the lawsuit filed by the Recording Industry Association of America against Napster. A change to the DMCA may be coming, says the U.S. Copyright Office. "Depending in part on the outcome of [the pending DMCA litigation], Congress may see a need to revisit certain aspects of the act," says registrar of copyrights Marybeth Peters. Signed into law in 1998, the DMCA prohibits the circumvention of the antipiracy mechanisms of digital devices, such as DeCSS software, and also prohibits the use of code-cracking devices to illegally copy software for reasons other than encryption research or security testing of systems. Two years ago lawmakers needed to get something down on paper, but the law is now keeping the courts busy. With the prospects for potential changes to the DMCA, it remains to be seen who will benefit from the law this time. Congress could very well decide that the law is limiting consumers and could give them greater access to copyrighted material.
For more articles on DeCSS and DVD court cases, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Plans for E-Government Inspire Spending Spree"
Nikkei Weekly (10/23/00) Vol. 38, No. 1950, P. 1; Suzuki, Yumiko
The Japanese government intends to create an immense electronic government network by fiscal 2003. The network will link some 3,300 local governments and municipalities both to the central government and to one another. Local governments are also trying to link themselves with their administrative territories. Computer companies and systems integrators are competing to supply the designs and equipment needed, and industry experts estimate that the connection effort will cost more than 500 billion yen ($4.6 billion). Once the network is up, local government officials will not have to travel to the national ministries and agencies in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki area, reducing their expenses and saving them time. The linking schedule has all 47 prefectural governments and the 12 biggest cities networked by fiscal 2001, with a trial run in 17 major local governments by next month. The Ministry of Home Affairs is also encouraging local governments to establish their own networks. For example, rather than depending on a telecommunications firm, Okayama Prefecture has been laying its own fiber-optic network. It now has one of the highest communications speeds in the nation, and schools, companies, and hospitals can use it for free. Some economists are concerned about the network-building trend; one computer company official points out that the Internet is already available. The government says it needs a closed network to prevent hacking and fraud and to preserve confidentiality, but the official points out that companies such as banks have security measures for such risks.