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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 3, Issue 154: Friday, January 19, 2001
- "In Silicon Valley, Rolling With the Blackouts"
Washington Post (01/19/01) P. E1; Streitfeld, David
As the troublesome power outages in California continue, morale among high-tech workers may be the main casualty in the Silicon Valley area. Although outages reportedly hit Apple and Cisco Systems, rolling blackouts did not do substantial harm to any production facilities or critical Web hosting centers. Indeed, many area firms relocated strategic facilities outside of California several years ago to avoid damage from earthquakes. Scott Dunlap, marketing vice president for the Web services company Loudcloud, found one reason to appreciate the blackouts that partially closed his office--his satisfaction at seeing disaster recovery plans put into action. "We have everything redundant right down to two different trucks bringing us diesel fuel for the generator," he said. Officials at Intel's one California factory have been working with Silicon Valley Power to avoid a blackout by drastically cutting back power use, even shutting down whole buildings so that production might be spared.
- "Scientists Bring Light to Full Stop, Hold It, Then Send It on Its Way"
New York Times (01/18/01) P. A1; Glanz, James
Two separate research teams have developed methods to bring light to a full stop, hold it in storage, and then release it. A group led by Ronald L. Walsworth and Mikhail D. Lukin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., used a specially tailored rubidium gas medium to stop a beam of light and then flash a second light through the medium to release the original beam. "Essentially, the light becomes stuck in the medium, and it can't get out until the experimenters say so," explains Seth Lloyd of MIT. A pair of light beams of differing frequency are shined into the medium, altering the rubidium atoms so they cannot absorb light. The first beam changes the spin of the gas atoms, and then the second beam is gradually extinguished, causing the first beam to slow down and disappear. The second beam is then turned back on, releasing the first beam. Dr. Lene Vestgaard Hau of Harvard University and the Rowland Institute for Science, also in Cambridge, has formulated her own technique but has not disclosed the process. However, two years before Hau successfully slowed light down using chilled sodium gas, which Lukin cites in a paper to be published in the Jan. 29 issue of Physical Review Letters. Rubidium gas is normally opaque but can be rendered clear through electromagnetically induced transparency. Unlike light passing through an ordinary lens, light passing through the rubidium medium dims as it slows, and the atoms in the gas form an impression of the decelerating light wave. This innovation could be a significant step toward the development of quantum computers and quantum communications, Lloyd postulates. Such devices require networks of light to store and carry quantum data, the result being systems that can process operations faster than conventional computers and communications that are immune to monitoring.
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- "New H-1B Laws Roil Visa Opponents"
EE Times Online (01/17/01); Costlow, Terry
The 115,000 spots allotted for the H-1B visa program in fiscal 2000 were taken quickly, and a long line of ready applicants was already waiting when the doors opened in October for the 195,000 fiscal 2001 visas. The INS has been so inundated with petitions from skilled foreign workers and their sponsor firms that it is still processing applications submitted in November, reports Lynn Shotwell, director of government relations at the American Council of International Personnel. However, the industries that benefit from these skilled workers have remained relatively silent about increasing the number of H-1Bs. Shotwell says the firms are no longer discussing raising the cap on temporary visas but are ready to seek a long term solution--more permanent, less restrictive green-card status--when the new Congress gets settled in. Opponents of the H-1B program continue to argue that companies use the visas to save money because they can pay foreign workers less than they would have to pay U.S. workers.
For information regarding ACM's work on matters of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Consumer Rights on the Block?"
ZDNN (01/17/01); Lemos, Robert
New measures to prevent software piracy have drawn the ire of consumer advocates. The measures include Microsoft's new Product Activation technology, which lets Microsoft programs run on only one machine and requires the user of each program to register by phone or online. Several hardware firms, including IBM, Intel, and Toshiba, support a new technology called Content Protection for Recordable Media, while the Secure Digital Music Initiative is developing new anti-piracy features to prevent the unauthorized duplication of digital audio files. Many consumer advocates argue that these new measures exceed the fair application of copyright law. Jennifer Granick, the director of Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society, says, "[The technology] means I can't use the software in any way I want to, regardless if it is legally permitted or not." For example, the user of a Microsoft program that employs the Product Activation feature would not be able to install the software on a second computer that he or she owns. However, anti-piracy experts say fair use claims cannot be applied to software as broadly as they are to other media. Robert Holleyman, CEO of the anti-piracy organization Business Software Alliance, contends that market pressure will regulate which anti-piracy measures succeed and are adopted widely. Consumers will simply avoid software with copyright protection that is to0 restrictive, he argues.
For information regarding ACM's work in the area of intellectual property, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/copyright.
- "Privacy Measure for U.S. Is Backed by Trade Group"
Wall Street Journal (01/18/01) P. B6; Benson, Mitchel; Simpson, Glenn R.
The American Electronics Association (AEA) will announce today that it favors the introduction of federal Internet privacy legislation if those bills take precedence over state Internet privacy bills. The AEA has been a stalwart supporter of industry solutions over federal legislation, but state lawmakers are turning up the heat. "There's a knife to our throats and that's the threat of state legislation," says John Palafoutas, AEA senior vice president for domestic policy. The AEA will introduce its new "principles" today, including one that gives consumers the option of not sharing personal data with Web sites. The principles are meant as a guideline for Congress. In related news, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the American Library Association, and the Consumer Federation of America yesterday sent a letter to Congress and President-elect George W. Bush urging stiffer privacy rules.
- "Web Sites Begin to Get Organized, on Their Own"
New York Times (01/18/01) P. E1; Hafner, Katie
Self-organizing Web sites are moving the Internet toward "self-consciousness" by employing software that automatically manages content according to collective tastes. Joey Anuff, editor-in-chief of the site Plastic.com, says, "The Web in 1996 didn't need to organize itself. But we have a Web now that's measured in billions of pages and millions of users, so any kind of mechanism that automatically imposes order becomes more useful and important." Several writers' sites are using this technology to create a hierarchy of content imposed by users' ratings. The higher a rating an article receives, the more prominently it is displayed on the site. Eden Muir, co-founder of the VinesNetwork writers' site, says, "[The site is] designed to make the bad stuff disappear. It will be up for a little while, then it will sink like a stone." Although commercial sites such as Amazon.comand Google are now using ranking systems to manage content, more often than not developers use the system to build sites based around the ranking process itself. For example, Everything2.com depends on submissions from users, rating ideas, and information submitted to the site according to traffic patterns and the popularity of specific links within the network. Also, Everything2.com gives veteran users who collect "experience points" more clout to vote on others' postings. Slashdot.com co-founder Jeff Bates notes that such sites have shifted focus to the interests of the people, not those of a small group of editors.
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- "European Data Protection Initiative Gets Rolling"
Newsbytes (01/18/01); Gold, Steve
The European Committee for Standardization Information Society Standardization System (CEN/ISSS), a data standards group that is supported by the European Union, is calling for greater standardization of data protection laws among EU countries. "The aim of the project is to look at how the various country laws can be standardized and how best to go about this," says James Boyd, CEN/ISSS strategy manager. Boyd recommends that companies in EU member countries get advice from their country-specific Data Protection Registrar on complying with the EU personal data directive. CEN/ISSS will draft a report on the Initiative for Privacy Standardization in Europe. The report will be released by the end of April and will be available for public comment.
- "Military Veterans Finding Tech Jobs"
Associated Press (01/18/01) P. F4; Forman, Judith
Increasingly, high-tech firms are seeking former military personnel to fill positions. At Dell Computer, for example, officials want those who have military experience because they often possess strong leadership abilities and integrity. Former Army pilot Bill Gaul, who heads a headhunting service for tech firms, says military personnel have "structure, calmness, and order" in their approach to work. In addition, military personnel know how to follow standard operating procedures, which are also used widely in the tech field, notes Andrew Grimalda, vice president of the tech firm nano. Observers say some tech firms still have a bias against those with military experience but, in general, the situation has improved greatly since the 1980s--firms are much more willing to consider a job applicant who forewent college for military service.
- "Giving Women a Push Into Technology Fields"
Newsday (01/14/01) P. F9; Kitchen, Patricia
Three women with prominent positions in the high-tech industry agree that, despite the majority of men in the field, other women can advance as far as they have. Betty Jane Scheihing, vice president for worldwide operations at Arrow Electronics, says women have the problem-solving capacity, detail-minded thinking, and passion necessary to succeed in tech jobs. Clare Cunniffe, a vice president at Computer Associates International, argues that women must be assertive and strong and not be afraid to speak their mind. The psychologist Susan Battley says women must avoid the "girls-don't-vote-for-themselves" mentality. Kim Foglia, president of e-business consulting firm WriteDesign, says women should see technology as equalizing, not scary. She herself won a job at CNN by saying she knew HTML when she did not. She then learned it only the weekend before she was due to start work. However, the women agree that gender biases still exist, both in the tech industry and in the world at large, and must be confronted.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Web Survivors Take Business Software Where the Money Is"
Washington Post (01/18/01) P. E1; Walker, Leslie
As the dot-com sector continues to contract, many firms that developed software for etailers are now pitching their services to offline retailers. For example, NetPerceptions, which designed the software that let Amazon.com provide each customer with customized recommendations, now offers software that analyzes print advertisements. J.C. Penney, Best Buy, and Kmart are among its customers. MobShop, one of several firms that tried to introduce the group-purchasing model to consumers, has now turned toward large-scale buyers such as the auto industry and the government. For the past year, the General Services Administration has purchased computers through MobShop. Turning to new markets is vital for these firms, analysts say, as the dot-com downturn has claimed many of them. MobShop rival Mercata recently closed, and NetPerceptions has lost $65 million as its dot-com customers have folded or, as Amazon.com has, developed their own business software.
- "Urban Study Shows Need for Tech Training"
Civic.com (01/17/01); Sarkar, Dibya
A majority of low-income urban adults who have little or no experience with the Internet want to participate in some kind of training program, a recent survey by FleetBoston and the University of Massachusetts found. The survey was based on the responses of 1,600 adults in Boston, Hartford, Newark, and Brooklyn. The survey found that, of those who earn above $40,000 per year, 77% have a computer at home, while 70% of those who earn under $40,000 per year do not. Those who do not have a computer said cost was the major factor preventing their purchasing one, especially among African American and Hispanic households. FleetBoston commissioned the survey as part of CommunityLink, a project to bring computer and Internet training to urban adults in the Northeast. Beginning with community centers in Newark and Boston, FleetBoston will offer adults computers and Internet access. It will also work with local community groups to develop neighborhood portals and other Web-based services.
- "World Leaders: IT Gap Expanding"
NewsFactor Network (01/18/01); Lyman, Jay
Leaders from the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) caution of a growing digital divide between developed OECD countries and poorer nations. Speaking at a conference in Dubai on e-commerce in emerging markets, UN official Rouben Indikjian noted that 97 percent of Web sites and 95% of secure servers are operated from developed countries in North America, Europe, and Australia. In order to close the gap, leading tech firms are working with the UN to develop plans encouraging competition, access to technology, and infrastructure in poorer countries. UN representative Sarbuland Khan said that developing countries will have to make greater efforts to keep abreast of advancements, especially with B2B networks "so they can be on the supply chain."
- "Unwired World"
Interactive Week (01/15/01) Vol. 8, No. 2, P. 72; Gruenwald, Juliana
The digital divide remains a confusing subject for the high-tech industry. Although some companies are willing to bring the technology to poor markets around the world, other industry leaders wonder what good the technology would do in countries where most people are more concerned about food, health care, and other basic necessities. Still, industry figures who say poorer countries should not be left behind maintain that they are not merely trying to sell PCs. For example, they say the technology could help the poor have access to the information they need to improve their lives. Iqbal Quadir, who helped found a mobile phone company in his native Bangladesh, is a believer in bringing technology to poorer nations. He says high-tech companies tend to believe that there is no market for their products in certain countries because the population is poor. C.K. Prahalad, a University of Michigan professor and chairman of the software company Praja, agrees that high-tech companies have to adjust their thinking when they look at developing countries. Nevertheless, some countries are embracing the technology. In dealing with poorer countries, Kent Lupberger of the International Finance Corporation, says "what we try to argue is that if you can come in with the right kind of environment ... introduce privatization and competition, the private sector will come and build out."
Readers interested in the digital divide and related issues may wish to learn more about ACM's Conference on Universal Usability: http://www.acm.org/sigs/sigchi/cuu
- "Non-Technical Issues Cloud Net's Future, Panel Says"
EE Times Online (01/17/01); Matsumoto, Craig
Panelists at Tuesday's SuperNet conference in Santa Clara, Calif., agreed that the high-tech industry will have to address technology issues if the Internet is to continue to evolve. The participants discussed how increasing consumer interest in the Internet and broader bandwidth offerings could lead to new networking schemes. The entertainment industry became a topic of discussion because some observers felt that AOL Time Warner could have a major impact on next-generation online content. Other participants said new network providers such as car companies could emerge before new mobile platforms are made available to consumers. As the network becomes more complex, changes will have to be made to Internet Protocol. For example, Judy Estrin, CEO of Packet Design, cited asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) and multiple protocol label switching (MPLS) as ideas that could hinder the distributed, independent nature of the Internet. At the same time, Estrin warned that non-technical issues such as copyrights and trademarks are important as well, particularly because the music, movie, and TV industries are all involved. "We have to be thinking about the non-technical issues," she said. "You can't ignore it, or else the content won't be there and the pull won't be there."
- "Hackers' Video Technology Goes Open Source"
CNet (01/16/01); Borland, John
The developers of DivX, the code that compresses video files in much the same way MP3 technology compresses music files, have opened the DivX source code to the public. With DivX, users can transmit high-quality video images on the Internet. The DivX developers are upgrading DivX and believe that the open source community will be willing to provide assistance. DivX developers still dispute an earlier claim that their technology was hacked from Microsoft code. The developers say they own copyrights on the DivX code. However, the DivX code is based on the MPEG-4 standard, which falls under the copyright protection of several companies. Developers who use the DivX code may risk opening themselves to legal action from those companies. Meanwhile, the film industry is watching the latest developments in DivX technology carefully since attempts to crack the encryption on DVDs and distribute films illegally over the Internet have in part relied on DivX code to work.
- "Stop Signs on the Web"
Economist (01/13/01) Vol. 358, No. 8204, P. 21
The jurisdictional problems created by the Internet will be the main focus of many governments this year. Ironically, the Internet was once touted as a tool that could democratize the world. Now, it is in jeopardy of doing just the opposite. All eyes will be on the case involving Yahoo! and France in which the nation has made it clear that it will not allow the company to expose its populace to Nazi memorabilia. However, nations have other ways to reign in the Internet. They can turn to filtering software, IP-address tracking, or even the controversial IPv6 protocol, which includes the unique serial number of each computer's network-connection hardware. Online companies have also set their sights on permanent digital certificates, which would include a person's age, citizenship, sex, professional credentials, and more. However, Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Stanford University, is concerned that governments may one day require permanent digital certificates. Aside from technology, governments can employ other means to crackdown on an open Internet. They can rely on indirect regulation--more stringent rules for credit-card companies and financial intermediaries to keep tabs on online gambling--or they can team up with other nations to address issues of concern. The outcome of legal and political disputes over the next five years should determine whether the Internet is likely to become weighed down with more regulation than the real world. Still, advocates of a free Internet can always fight government controls with technology such as peer-to-peer networks.
- "U.N. Pushes for Global Labor Force"
Computerworld (01/15/01) Vol. 35, No. 3, P. 54; DiSabatino, Jennifer
Analysts report that most U.S. firms do not employ foreign IT workers for jobs outside of the United States. Although consultant Derek Lacks agrees that the use of foreign IT workers would provide cost savings to U.S. firms, he says, "the number [of] things that can go wrong is just tremendous." He says IT in foreign countries is often exposed to undue security threats--for example, copper wiring needed for IT infrastructure is sometimes dug up and stolen. The United Nations has undertaken a new initiative to improve IT infrastructure in developing countries, a step that could lead to more U.S. firms allowing foreign labor to work on overseas projects. J. Bradford DeLong, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, argues that globalization is the strongest bet toward improving countries with troubled economies, although it by no means guarantees success. Concern about foreign IT workers has also extended to the U.S. labor movement. Representatives from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) are taking an active role in counseling Indian IT workers about U.S. firms. CWA officials help the workers find U.S. firms that participate in the H-1B visa program but that do not taken advantage of those foreign workers they hire. Proponents of employing foreign IT workers say even if foreign IT workers receive a lower salary than their U.S. counterparts, they are still doing better than most other workers in their home countries.
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- "Slow Growth for Fed R&D in 2001"
Washington Technology (01/08/01) Vol. 15, No. 19, P. 8
A report from Batelle-R&D Magazine estimates that federal spending on technological research and development in 2001 will amount to $72 billion, an increase of only 1.3%, which is behind the inflation rate. "The federal budget continues to give very mixed signals about its support of R&D, with major differences between budget authorization and actual expenditures of funds," explains report co-author Jules Duga. Commercial sector R&D spending is expected to be $190 billion, a 6.5% increase, but this forecast could be affected by foreign economic or political instability, a fluctuating stock market, or a capricious dot-com industry, the report warns. Industry will favor collaborative relationships between other industries, federal labs, and international facilities, according to the report.