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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Volume 3, Issue 155:  Monday, January 22, 2001

  • "Experts Square Off Over Net's Role in Calif. Power Crisis"
    USA Today (01/22/01) P. B1; Iwata, Edward

    Analysts continue to argue whether the rise of the Internet and its related industries are partly to blame for the energy crisis that has hit the state of California. Last year, energy analyst Mark Mills warned that the new Internet-driven economy would drain the nation's energy by half, claiming that the energy need of a PC and its network connections was equivalent to that from a refrigerator. Mills cited statistics showing that energy use in the tech-firm heavy Silicon Valley area increased 5.5% last year, while rising only 2.5% in California as a whole. A particularly energy-intensive aspect of the Internet economy is the rise of server farms, complexes that house the computers necessary to power Web sites and e-business. Experts say one server farm uses the same amount of power as 10,000 homes. However, many energy analysts dispute Mills' conclusions, saying the Internet industry is actually reducing energy use, not increasing it. These analysts note that, although the economy has grown by 5% in the past four years, overall energy use has risen only 1%. The Internet economy, these analysts argue, is less energy-intensive than the manufacturing firms that drove the old economy. Joseph Romm, head of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, says, "Intel uses energy, but it ain't a steel mill. When Microsoft sells billions of dollars of software, it uses very little energy. Compare that to manufacturing thousands of autos." Many analysts blame the current crisis in California on a flawed deregulation policy as well as a coincidence of climatological factors.
    http://usatoday.com/usatonline/20010122/3005670s.htm

  • "Tech Firms Starving for Skilled Leaders"
    Los Angeles Times (01/22/01) P. C4; Johnson, Carrie

    High-tech firms desperately need skilled managers who are able to increase efficiency while consolidating a committed workforce, concludes a recent study by Webmergers.com. Analysts say a lack of such leadership may be a main reason why 210 dot-coms collapsed in 2000 and also why, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, almost 1,000 corporate CEOs resigned last year. Center for Leadership Excellence coordinator Isa Campbell says managers for high-tech firms are often inexperienced with leadership, either because of their age or because of a predominately technical background, and need preparation and coaching in leadership issues. Because the wells of money accessible through venture capitalists and IPOs have dried up, analysts say high-tech companies are coming to grips with the real-life concerns of productivity.
    http://www.latimes.com/print/business/20010122/t000006219.html

  • "New Economy"
    New York Times (01/22/01) P. C4; Race, Tim

    Recent events at San Francisco dot-com Etown highlight the challenges that management and employees in the new economy must face now that the economy is struggling. Last year, Etown customer-service workers complained about their work schedules and compensation. The workers say management did not respond to their complaints, which focused on their schedules and the company's overtime policy. To emphasize their point, several workers in October staged a one-day sickout. Etown fired the two workers who organized the sickout, prompting other customer-service workers to contact the Communications Workers of America union. The workers then scheduled a unionization vote, but the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) postponed the vote while it investigates complaints from the Etown workers that the company has been interfering with their attempts to unionize. Analysts say the events at Etown are not surprising considering how many dot-com workers were willing to put up with long hours and low compensation for the promise of potentially lucrative stock options. Now that those stock options have lost their value, analysts say worker dissatisfaction is to be expected. Workers at Etown are unsure if their vote will occur once the NLRB has finished its investigation. Workers say some of the issues in dispute have been worked out with management, while others may still be resolved. Lew Brown, president of Etown's parent firm Collaborative Media, says he is not a union opponent and that his "door is always open" to union complaints.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/22/technology/22NECO.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)

  • Will Potholes Develop in Information Highway If Economy Slows?"
    Wall Street Journal (01/22/01); Weber, Thomas E.

    Since its adoption by the private sector in 1995, the Internet has never seen a recession. But as the current economy slows, the technological investments that fuel the Internet are not keeping pace with its growth. Recent sales at Cisco Systems and Sun Microsystems have dropped off, suggesting that companies are paring back their Web efforts. Although experts say the fiber-optic cable systems in place around the U.S. represent a robust framework for future high-speed innovations, the access points between Internet users and those fiber-optic systems may be facing trouble. Keynote Systems tests the download times of major Web sites from different U.S. cities and found that the average wait times began rising in the last quarter of 2000. AOL users alone faced more than 20-second waits in September, according to the weekly reports. Even if the speed at which users connect stays the same, lack of enthusiasm could hamper infrastructure investments for new markets such as wireless and interactive TV, which are already facing hesitation on the part of both consumers and providers. In a tight economy, companies may be unwilling to forge ahead to provide the content and tools for potential markets at the same time consumers are unwilling to buy devices for which there are no services.

  • "Pluto's Not a Planet? Only in New York"
    New York Times (01/22/01) P. A1; Chang, Kenneth

    Pluto's planethood is not in question, say many astronomers. However, at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City, the Hayden Planetarium, which is under the direction of Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson, has reclassified Pluto as an orbiting object in the Kuiper belt, a disk of comets and icy minor planets that forms the outer ring of our solar system. First discovered in 1992, the Kuiper Belt comprises hundreds of smaller objects with a course similar to Pluto's. A furor in the astronomical community over Pluto's classification had been resolved through a lengthy process in the International Astronomical Union with Pluto being reaffirmed as the ninth planet. Consequently, the planetarium has roused the ire of many professors and scientists who say the issue is now closed. Dr. Tyson says the reclassification is not the blatant flaunting of convention it seems. Ceres, a large minor planet located just outside of Mars, was reclassified in the 1800s, setting precedent for this type of change. Besides, he says, Pluto has gone "from puniest planet to king of the Kuiper Belt. And I think it's happier that way."
    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/22/science/22PLAN.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
    Neil de Grasse Tyson will be a featured speaker at the upcoming ACM1 conference, March 10-14 in San Jose, CA; for more information see http://www.acm.org/acm1

  • "Tech Groups Ask U.S. to Delay New Web Suffixes"
    Los Angeles Times (01/22/01) P. C5; Kaplan, Karen

    Last week, the ACLU, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, among others, sent a letter to Norman Y. Mineta, who was Commerce Secretary at the time, suggesting that the Commerce Department slow down the process of approving new top-level domain names. The National Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration (NTIA), which is part of the Commerce Department, is the only authority that can introduce new Internet suffixes. ICANN's process of selecting new TLDs was "woefully inadequate by any measure," according to the critical letter. ICANN's staff did not look over the applications thoroughly enough, the public comment period was too brief, and the applicants were unable to properly respond to ICANN's questions and concerns, according to the letter. The letter also noted that ICANN moved too slowly in introducing new TLDs. The agency is waiting to see what will happen after Bush becomes president and Mineta becomes secretary of the Transportation Department, according to NTIA spokesman Art Brodsky. The increased interest in the nation's capital is normal after a new president takes office, according to an ICANN spokesman.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "ACLU Fires Shot Across ICANN's Bow"
    Newsbytes (01/18/01); McGuire, David

    The ACLU, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and other privacy and free-speech advocates are criticizing ICANN's new top level domain name selection process as "unconstitutional" and an affront to freedom of speech. The groups voiced their opinions in a letter to outgoing Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta. "These concerns are particularly strong because decisions on this subject may have a strong impact on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech," the letter says. The letter also criticizes ICANN for unduly addressing the needs of businesses at the expense of individual Internet users. EPIC policy analyst Andrew Shen says that ICANN's domain selection process was too arbitrary and fast-paced. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) last week said that the House Commerce Committee intends to hold hearings on ICANN's domain selection process.
    http://www.newsbytes.com/news/01/160718.html

  • "ICANN Tackles Multilingual Domain Names"
    NewsFactor.com (01/16/01); Wiesman, Robyn

    ICANN President and CEO Mike Roberts addressed the issue of multilingual domain name registration at the 23rd annual Pacific Telecommunications Council (PTC). "Keeping governments out is tough because, as the Internet becomes essential to worldwide trade, it also becomes a key factor in government decision-making," says Roberts. ICANN's biggest concern is regulating an Internet environment that spans national boundaries, says Giga Information Group analyst James Grady. VeriSign and other registrars are attempting to enter into new markets while China is working to maintain control of its domain, says Grady. It is impossible for ICANN to mediate a dispute of this type, but ICANN will want to resolve the issue, says Grady. VeriSign should have been patient and waited to offer Chinese-language domain name registration until after it obtained approval from the Chinese government, says Grady. ICANN is hampered by its connections to the U.S. government, and it also is having financial difficulties, as most of its current funding comes from VeriSign subsidiary Network Solutions, notes Grady. "The bottom line is that we believe that the right people are working on these issues and are sensitive to the political and cultural implications involved," says Roberts. All those involved ought to develop standards-based implementations early, suggests Roberts.
    Click Here to View Full Articles
    For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html

  • "Slate of Advisers on Cyber-Terrorism Is Selected"
    Wall Street Journal (01/22/01) P. B7; Bridis, Ted

    Former President Clinton inexplicably decided against submitting a 200-page report on cyber-attacks to Congress before leaving office, but he did name 21 people to a new cyber-attacks advisory council. Clinton aides said that Clinton gave no reason for leaving the 200-page report unsigned. Congress had mandated that Clinton deliver the report before stepping down from the presidency. The new advisory council will be headed by Richard Clarke. Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst Frank Cilluffo was one of several critics who raised concerns about the timing of the appointments and the makeup of the council. Clinton's nominations to the council include Harris Miller of the Information Technology Association of America, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, and Nasdaq President Alfred Berkeley.

  • "Courts Consider Privacy Perils of Electronic Filing"
    Legal Times online (01/16/01); Groner, Jonathan

    A pilot electronic-filing program established by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts will, by 2003, greatly expand the accessibility of hundreds of millions of legal documents filed in federal courts. However, a controversy has arisen because the information, although technically public, will now be available at the touch of a button, whereas before the process of looking through reams of paper was quite arduous. Some privacy advocates are concerned about the electronic-filing program because the information would not be in categories that would cause judges to seal it from the public, meaning that the names of rape victims and trade secrets could be uncovered by anyone with a Web browser. Although U.S. courts have a long tradition of openness under the First Amendment, some privacy advocates contend that such a policy needs to be updated and brought in line with new technology. However, many media groups insist that electronic filing should not destroy the public's right-to-know and that attorneys can apply for protective orders if they think their clients may be hurt by the dissemination of public information in certain cases. The federal Judicial Conference has asked for public comment on the matter and will take suggestions at its Web site until Jan. 26.

  • "Consumers May Soon Be Drawn to Magnetic Memory Chips"
    New York Times (01/18/01) P. E6; Eisenberg, Anne

    Magnetic random access memory (MRAM) chips may soon compete with dynamic RAM (DRAM) chips for the consumer market, thanks to their ability to store data without a constant power source. MRAMs can facilitate instant-on, energy-efficient computers by using magnetic charges for binary data storage instead of electric charges. However, researchers do not expect consumer MRAM products to hit the market until 2004 or 2005. "The issue is making it cost-effective when it is produced in volume," argues Jeff Mailloux of Micron. IBM, Motorola, and other companies have developed MRAM prototypes, the result of a five-year Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiative that cost the government over $50 million, according to DARPA program manager Stuart Wolf. IBM hopes to have MRAM products on the market by 2004 through a joint venture with Infineon Technologies, says IBM fellow Bijan Davari. The IBM MRAM chip is comprised of a grid of electrodes with ferromagnetic sandwiches at each intersection. Changing the magnetic polarity within the sandwiches by applying an electric current stores and reads out data. Motorola's goal "is to put the system on a chip, integrating MRAM with our logic and wireless applications by 2004," claims Motorola project manager Saied Tehrani. Motorola's prototype is a 256K MRAM on a standard silicon chip that Tehrani describes as "the largest MRAM that has been built or demonstrated." Transistor feature size is expected to reach about 100 nm by 2004. MRAMs offer scalability levels that DRAMs cannot handle at such dimensions, explains Johan de Boeck of the Inter-University Microelectronics Center in Leuven, Belgium.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)

  • "Gov Sites Get It Together"
    Wired News (01/17/01); Terraciano, Jeffrey

    Many state governments are now consolidating all of their agency Web sites under a single portal. This approach saves the states time and money and makes the sites far more user friendly. California predicts such a move will save the state $300 million a year. Its new Internet portal provides residents features such as vehicle registration, applications for hunting and fishing licenses, and information on tax returns. California, hoping to emulate North Carolina--whose e-government site is the best in America, according to rankings from Government Technology Magazine--is seeking the assistance of the private sector to improve its online capabilities. State officials want to provide residents government information catered to each person's needs. However, the problem for many states is antiquated Web sites that will require much development in order to offer online services. Arizona's home page, for example, is basically an online phone book that provides phone numbers to government agencies. Another problem is routing citizens to the proper agency service on a Web site. Some states, such as Michigan, are developing personalization technology that will allow citizens to a state's portal to their own needs, similar to the functions on Amazon.com or My Yahoo!.
    http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,41084,00.html

  • "IT Projects Get Closer Scrutiny"
    Computerworld (01/15/01) Vol. 35, No. 3, P. 1; Vijayan, Jaikumar

    Businesses will not be as lavish with their IT budgets in 2001 as in previous years, analysts and corporate executives predict. According to a recent survey of 150 corporate CIOs by Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, the growth rate of corporate IT budgets will be only 8% this year, down from last year's 12% growth. Of those CIOs surveyed, 16% said they would reduce their IT budgets this year. Analysts say the targets of corporate cost cutting in the IT department will most likely be those projects that have large cost outlays but produce no immediate results--for example, business-to-business integration or enterprise resource planning software. Instead, analysts say the IT projects likely to win approval this year will be those that save companies a significant amount of time or money, including sales automation, Web purchasing, and customer relationship management systems. Also high on most corporations' IT priority lists will be infrastructure improvements such as better security and greater bandwidth.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Law of the Lands"
    Interactive Week (01/15/01) Vol. 8, No. 2, P. 16; Gruenwald, Juliana

    The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) will use the group's existing rules on taxation as the basis for e-commerce taxation. Members of the group will apply the Model Tax Convention when they deal with other countries. According to an agreement by members [including the United States and most European countries], countries cannot use a Web site or a Web hosting arrangement as the basis for taxing a foreign company. Furthermore, in most cases, the business relationship that a company may have with a foreign ISP does not constitute a permanent establishment for tax purposes. However, a provision of the agreement would enable nations to tax foreign companies who make "significant" use of computer equipment, such as servers, located in their countries. The computer equipment must also account for an essential part of their business operations. Although Bartlett Cleland of the Information Technology Association of America suggests that the OECD is making progress on the issue, he adds that the "devil is in the details."
    http://www.zdnet.com/intweek/stories/news/0,4164,2674820,00.html

  • "IT Policy Issues on Tap for New Congress"
    InfoWorld (01/15/01) Vol. 23, No. 3, P. 12; Jones, Jennifer

    The high-tech industry is likely to find convincing lawmakers to keep their hands off the Internet much more difficult this year. Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, says, "The argument that there should be no regulation because the Internet is so young and fragile...is wearing thin." Indeed, privacy has moved from an issue that was once the interest of watchdog groups to being a topic that most Americans are aware of. As a result, lawmakers are ready to move on the issue, possibly replacing industry self-regulation with rules that govern data collection and the use of the personal information of consumers. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, gained the backing of Hewlett-Packard, America Online, and Walt Disney for his Consumer Privacy Enforcement Act and now has a House of Representatives counterpart in Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who has shown his passion for telecom issues in the past. The two commerce committees tend to have considerable influence over high-tech issues. In addition to privacy, lawmakers this year are likely to address intellectual property, workplace issues, and Internet taxation, the moratorium on which is likely to be extended.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    For information regarding ACM's work on matters of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm

  • "Trends Now Changing the World: The Growth of the Information Industries Is Creating a Knowledge-Dependent Global Society"
    Futurist (02/01) Vol. 35, No. 1, P. 33

    The world will become more knowledge-dependent as a result of information technology. In fact, information has become such a dominating commodity in the business arena that 83% of American management personnel will be knowledge workers by 2005, and knowledge workers will represent 22% of the labor force. Europe and Japan are making tremendous strides as well. In five years, 80% of U.S. homes will have computers, compared to 50% today, and half of all knowledge workers will have working arrangements that will allow them to work from the home. In addition, America should see less of a digital divide. Programmers and systems analysts will see the demand for their skills grow by 70% as computer-related careers grab five of the top 10 spots for fastest-growing careers. In a high-tech world, Internet access will be the educational foundation for building a better life. And prospective workers will need to have computer skills to find a job. In fact, computer training will come to be viewed as a benefit that companies offer employees.

  • "Gone But Not Forgotten"
    Business Week (01/22/01) P. EB14; Mullaney, Timothy J.

    The 200-plus failed dot-com companies of 2000 have demonstrated that running a Web business is not easy, writes Business Week's Timothy Mullaney. Startups hoping to survive must remember to use common sense when designing their ventures, says Mullaney. Any business that could not survive in the brick-and-mortar world is not going to survive online. Yet some dot-com losses were based on good ideas, says Mullaney. Some of these sites simply did not deliver on their promises, while others suffered from poor financing. Furniture.com offered consumers an alternative to brick-and-mortar furniture shopping, in which sales assistants can be intimidating and direct price comparisons can be difficult. Yet orders were often delivered late and damaged in transit, and the site's customer service was poor, says Mullaney. Meanwhile, Garden.com fulfilled its promises but failed to catch on with consumers. The site featured well-designed pages, strong content, personalization, and features such as tips on planning gardens in different U.S. climates. Despite seemingly doing everything right, Garden.com was forced to close its doors because of a lack of sales.