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 email@example.com.
Volume 3, Issue 172: Monday, March 5, 2001
- "Tech Employment Still High Despite Dot-Com Layoffs"
Investor's Business Daily (03/05/01) P. A8; Prado, Antonio A.
Even though dot-com layoffs in the past three months have been 12 percent greater than layoffs in the entire previous year, research shows that the tech sector is still a good place for employment. Overall IT spending is still growing at over 10 percent per year, note analysts. Besides, the nearly 66,000 pink slips issued in the past 15 months represent only a small fraction of tech-sector jobs. Most hard hit have been companies that are dependent on banner-ad revenue. In contrast, chip, computer, and software makers have grown their workforces by 7.4 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, says Economy.com/The Dismal Scientist researcher Wes Basel. A recent survey by Wirthlin Worldwide research group shows that 73 percent of tech workers believe that their jobs are secure, although 58 percent admit to taking an active role in preparing for possible layoffs. However, Amy Vernetti, a recruiter for startup tech and life sciences firms, says quality management skills are harder to discern in the current job market because of the many inept, now-jobless executives floating in the talent pool.
- "GOP Plans Attack on Workplace Rule"
Washington Post (03/03/01) P. A1; Skrzycki, Cindy; Dewar, Helen
Congress could vote as early as tomorrow to overturn a new workplace ergonomics regulation approved by the Clinton administration. Republicans have brought a "resolution of disapproval" on the regulation before the Senate. Under the Congressional Review Act of 1996, a majority vote in both the House and Senate to approve the resolution, followed by the president's signature, would be enough to overturn the regulation. The regulation, set to go into effect in October, would provide nearly 100 million workers with protection from carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and numerous other stress-related disorders. The regulation would increase workers' compensation payments for such injuries and would require companies with affected workers to implement ergonomic changes to workplace environments to avoid such injuries in the future. The corporate sector has been campaigning against the regulation since it was first proposed, arguing that it would be too costly--analysts have estimated its cost anywhere from $4.5 billion to $100 billion per year--that no one has proven that work is the sole cause of these injuries, and that most companies are able to regulate themselves. Proponents of the regulation say it addresses the most pressing safety issue in today's workplace. Also, proponents warn that overturning the regulation could prevent similar protection from being passed in the future because of a provision in the Congressional Review Act that prevents new rules "substantially the same" as the overturned rule from being enacted without the authorization of Congress.
- "Start-Up Will Sell Web Addresses to Bypass Internet Bureaucracy"
Wall Street Journal (03/05/01) P. B6; Clark, Don
Idealab! is funding a start-up called New.net, which intends to sell Internet addresses complemented with top level domains beyond the regular .com, .net, and .org. Extensions available through New.net include .tech, .sport, .xxx, and .family. None of the extensions conflict with ICANN's newly approved TLDs; however, some of the extensions could conflict with future ICANN TLDs. In order to offer these TLDs, New.net will implement a new set of servers. Rather than having its users change their Web-browser settings, New.net is making deals with ISPs. New.net provides ISPs with software. This software adds the extension "new.net" to the end of addresses entered by users, and this routes the request through New.net's servers. Thus far, agreements have been made with EarthLink, NetZero, and ExciteAtHome, and these agreements will give approximately 16 million users the opportunity to access sites complemented with New.net's TLDs. Although it would be better for consumers if they had access to TLDs that had ICANN's approval, delays have allowed for the introduction of alternative commercial plans, says University of Miami law Professor A. Michael Froomkin. New.net might lessen ICANN's control over the domain name system, according to Bill Gross, who came up with the idea for New.net. ICANN says that it will probably wait to comment until after it has looked into New.net's plans. Theoretically, ICANN could block New.net's plans, according to New.net CEO Dave Hernand, but others disagree that ICANN has that power. "ICANN cannot and should not and has no power to shut them down," says former ICANN Chairman Esther Dyson. UltraDNS runs New.net's directory servers. MP3.com will exclusively offer domain names ending in .mp3, according to New.net.
- "Fee Services Prepare to Pick Up Where Napster Left Off"
Los Angeles Times (03/05/01) P. C1; Healey, Jon
With the recent courtroom setbacks dealt to Napster, several fee-based file-sharing services believe that now is the best time to make their move into the market. Music industry executives are wary of the firms--including Britain-based Wippit, CenterSpan Communications out of Oregon, and New York's Ipingpong---but have signed several temporary or tentative deals. Wippit CEO Paul Myers says his company was able to secure at least one major music license, although industry leaders scoffed at his requests only six months ago. Each of these three companies plan to use different methods to control copyright infringement on their networks. Although the sites will not offer the open, unscrambled MP3 format that the digital music industry has built itself around, they plan to offer services and features that were not available on Napster. Wippit, for example, intends to let users search for songs not only by artist and title, but also by album, year, genre, and even track number. Myers says this ability will appeal to more savvy music enthusiasts who are keen on completing their collections. However, none of the new sites will be able to match the size of the music database that Napster pooled together, which some experts say was the real value Napster offered to users. Also, even though recording labels have been more open-minded since the Napster debacle, it remains to be seen whether or not these new file-sharing services will be able to launch their sites successfully before Napster unveils a planned fee-based version of its service by summer.
- "Congress Seeks Progress on Hackers"
Associated Press (03/02/01)
The House Commerce subcommittee on investigations on Friday told the FCC, FTC, and 13 other federal agencies to submit reports on their plans for complying with a federal law requiring that they protect their computer infrastructure from outside hacking attacks. Outside auditors must conduct "penetration testing" for the agencies, according to terms of the law. "These penetration tests will go a long way toward giving us a true picture of the status of government efforts to ensure national security," said committee spokesman Peter Sheffield.
- "Who Caused the Dot-Com Crash?"
Wall Street Journal (03/05/01) P. B1; Buckman, Rebecca
As many dot-com companies continue to sink lower, young executives, venture capitalists, and laid-off employees all have someone else to blame for their misery. Very few acknowledge that they themselves had something to contribute to the hype or bubble. Epinions CEO Nirav Tolia, often featured in Silicon Valley socialite magazines, finds his company's recent layoff of 27 percent of its workers "shocking" in light of his company's strengths. Disillusioned former dot-com employees blame their former bosses, whom they say are incompetent and out of touch with reality. Daniel Jordan, a business-process engineer laid off from Website Pros, says company extravagances and managerial mistakes eventually led to his termination. A common target for complaint, especially amongst venture capitalists, are once-revered Wall Street analysts such as Henry Blodget of Merrill Lynch, whose "buy" recommendations often failed to perform for investors. Blodget, for his part, says, "I feel like a global pinata."
- "Senate GOP Details High-Tech Priorities"
Newsbytes (03/01/01); Krebs, Brian
Strengthening online privacy and digital copyrights and addressing cybercrime are among the high-tech legislative priorities of Senate Republicans during the 107th Congress. The Senate High Tech Task Force is "the gateway to the technology industry in the Senate," said Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), chairman of the group. The task force will attempt to push "digital decency" by "encouraging better private sector filters to keep the Internet experience a healthy one," the group said. The task force is still attempting to procure a URL to set up its Web site, but has yet to find a catchy domain name, says task force spokesman Matt Raymond.
For information regarding ACM's efforts in regards to privacy, intellectual property, and public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Running Lean and Mean to Survive In E-Business"
E-Commerce Times (03/02/01); Mahoney, Michael
With the help of a report from The Yankee Group, E-Commerce Times has outlined an e-business strategy for companies that wish to survive by trimming the fat from their operations and following aggressive core competencies. "Many of the failed e-tailers of 2000 established business plans that were intended to operate on negative gross margins for an extended period of time, a fundamentally flawed business strategy," explains Yankee online retail analyst Paul Ritter. "Clearly, substantial gross margins are required by online retailers looking to achieve long-term viability with their Internet operations." Generating repeat business is vital, according to Boston Consulting Group e-commerce research director James Vogtle. The Yankee report estimates that online retailers who spend over $20 to $40 for each paying customer have a low survivability factor. With the average conversion rate for e-tailers about 1 percent, "Firms must do a good job of driving substantial traffic, while at the same time making it easy to find and to buy the products of interest," says Ritter. Even those that enjoy conversion rates that are five times the industry average will not necessarily generate profits. Excellent customer service, both automated and live, is essential, according to Ritter. A compelling value proposition is another way to draw in loyal customers, but the Internet's potential as a transaction tool alone is not viable, notes eMarketer business analyst Steve Butler. The Yankee report predicts that many e-tailers will outsource fulfillment services to third parties in order to eliminate cash flow problems caused by inordinate fulfillment charges; this will require an efficient procedure for managing returns.
- "The Name Game"
International Herald Tribune (03/05/01) P. 11; Connell, James
South Africa has requested that WIPO implement a policy where Internet addresses based on the names of developing countries be returned to those countries. South Africa is currently attempting to wrest control of the southafrica.com domain name from Virtual Countries, a U.S. company that registered around 30 domain names based on country names, including southafrica.com. Virtual Countries has filed a preemptive suit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Besides WIPO, South Africa intends to bring the issue before ICANN and the Organizations of African Unity. The government in South Africa would like to see a policy implemented that forbids any entity except the country itself to register official or common country names, according to the New York Times. Separately, ICANN unveiled that the introduction of its seven new top level domain names might be postponed until the end of 2001 due to extended negotiations with the domain name operators and the hard times that tech companies face on Wall Street. ICANN officials say that there could be future delays in the process that are impossible to predict now.
- "A Note to IT: Why You Need to Know P2P"
Computerworld (02/26/01) Vol. 35, No. 9, P. 25; Gillmor, Dan
Columnist Dan Gillmor encourages IT managers to take the P2P phenomenon as more than that, and look at the technology the same way major computing names are. He says that P2P networks connect devices and people together in the way that the Internet was first conceived to be able to, before the commercialization of the medium turned it into a one-way information street. By allowing every online device to share back information, the vast networked systems that are overwhelming current client/server architectures will be relieved of some of their burden. Besides, P2P provides serious benefits, such as an almost unsinkable way to back-up data, once security issues are resolved. But the considerable challenges posed to P2P--such as security--are exactly the reasons why IT people need to take a serious look at the inevitable system, Gillmor argues.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Minor Legislative Success"
Washington Techway (02/26/01) P. 44; Usher, Anne
A number of tech-related bills were before Virginia state lawmakers as the state General Assembly prepared for its Feb. 24 adjournment. The Senate approved a bill by Sen. Frederick Quayle (R-Prince George) that would use educational technology funds for vocational programs, and the House appeared as if it would do the same. Meanwhile, Northern Virginia Technology Council vice president of public affairs Douglas Koelemay said he thinks a bill by Del. James Scott (D-Fairfax) that would establish a regional tax incentive to boost telecommuting will succeed and that the governor will sign it. Other than these two prospects, the high-tech community in Northern Virginia had little to celebrate. For example, not only did the House Finance Committee table tax credit bills that would encourage the use of broadband Internet access and investment in small technology business, Del. Joe May (R-Fairfax), Del. Jay Katzen (R-Fauquier), and Del. Richard Black (R-Fairfax) all pulled their separate tax credit bills. May's bill gave a $2,000 tax credit to IT companies to cover a portion of intern wages, while Katzen's bill allowed tech companies to sell tax credits to companies in other industries. Black's bill was identical to the Katzen bill. Bills that were awaiting final vote included legislation by Sen. Charles Hawkins (R-Pittsylvania), which would protect organization members' Internet conversations from the Freedom of Information Act, and a measure by Del. John Rust (R-Fairfax), which would restrict online court case record to judges, court personnel, counsel, and parties involved.
- "Moody Computers"
Interactive Week (02/26/01) Vol. 8, No. 8, P. 47; Steinert-Threlkeld, Tom
Martin Minsky, co-founder of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of "Society of Mind" and its forthcoming sequel, "The Emotion Machine," argues that emotions are merely another way in which human beings think, rather than a process independent of or antithetical to thinking. His central idea, he says, "is that each of the major emotions is quite different. They have different management organizations for how you are thinking you will proceed." Minsky contends that common-sense reasoning is what allows us to handle and manipulate these different emotions, to choose which emotion is best for handling which situation, even though we are not aware when each type of thinking is occurring. This is also, he says, what separates machine thinking from human thinking. Machines are not able to see the same piece of knowledge represented in multiple ways. Minsky says, "You have to build a system that looks at two representations, two expressions or two data structures, and quickly says in what ways are they similar and what ways are they different. Then another knowledge base says which kinds of differences are important for which kind of preference." He contends that such ways of thinking could, for example, benefit search engines, allowing software to consider how to organize and execute a search based on what human users might want rather than relying on keywords and algorithms. The ability to approach a problem from many different ways and then solve it is how Minsky defines intelligence and is what he means by an intelligent, emotional machine. He dismisses the fear that "emotional" machines could somehow become irrational, as an emotional human being can become irrational and commit an act that may endanger or harm others, because that again reflects the human bias that emotions and thinking are two entirely different things.
- "Across the Great Divide"
eV (03/01) Vol. 1, No. 6, P. 16; Donahue, Ann
Organized labor is trying to enter the dot-com sector, as recent high-profile unionization attempts at Amazon.com and other e-commerce companies have demonstrated. Analysts say the union stirrings are a clear sign that the party is over for many dot-com workers, who may have taken jobs for the office perks and the promise of lucrative stock options but who are instead confronting the New Economy's first downturn. At Amazon.com, where employees once referred to stock options as "golden handcuffs" but now see those options worth about $15 a share, union efforts are focusing on the less glamorous side of the New Economy--call-center employees who handle customers and warehouse workers who make sure those customers' orders make it onto delivery trucks. Amazon customer-service worker Scott Buss, who was originally opposed to unionization, changed his mind after seeing his stock options lose value while his working days grew longer. Amazon management officials say the labor movement has just as many opponents among the customer-service employees as supporters and have had made multiple attempts to organize those workers because each previous attempt was unsuccessful. Analysts claim that underlying these fledgling labor movements is the same desire for job security that has affected workers in nearly every other industry. What makes the issue of job security so acute in the dot-com sector is the fact that many workers can see their job skills become obsolete very quickly. To combat this, the San Jose Newspaper Guild, part of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which is behind the unionization attempts at Amazon, is organizing training programs in tech-related fields to immigrants, low-income individuals, and others who might not normally get this kind of training. One key stipulation to receiving the training, though, is that participants must join the CWA.
- "One Person, One Number"
Business 2.0 (03/06/01) Vol. 6, No. 5,; Orenstein, David
Over the past year, companies such as SRI International and OneName, along with researchers at Stanford University and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, have unveiled ideas for systems that would give Internet users universal identity (UI). A UI is a single piece of contact information that would be given to every individual. UI's would streamline personal communications, make it easier to contact people, and make it easier to maintain privacy if desired. An individual with a UI would only have to update one database when moving, and all contact numbers, email addresses, and street addresses would be updated. SRI International is developing a service for postal code systems called IndiCode. Organizations such as Red Cube and ME.net offer subscribers a single, personal phone number and a single email address, and make it possible for subscribers to be reached through the number by phone. Eventually a UI system would make it possible for individuals to be contacted through a UI, even if the individual has multiple phone numbers and email addresses. Currently, there is not an established format for UI numbers or passwords. If all of Earth's inhabitants over the next 100 years utilized up to 100 UIs, then a system would need to generate 2 trillion UIs, according to Stanford Professor Mary Baker and doctoral student Petros Maniatis. Maniatis and Baker suggest a system that leverages nicknames containing several words complemented with an extra code, which would be called a checksum. If a random combination of letters and numbers that was 8 digits long is used, 2.8 trillion UIs would be created. Software vendors will probably not change their products until a UI standard is set. Further, addresses and phone numbers are free right now, so it is unclear who would pay for a new UI system. Security would be vital in a UI system, or consumers will reject it outright, says Yankee Group analyst Megan Gurley.
- "Will C-6 Pass Euro Scrutiny?"
eBusiness Journal (02/01) Vol. 3, No. 2, P. 3; Downey, Geoffrey
The European Union is currently investigating Canada's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act to ensure that its privacy guarantees are strong enough to pass EU muster, Deloitte and Touche consultants report. Analysts contend that although the law does have relatively strong protections, there are many "gray areas" that the courts will most likely iron out over the next several years. The legislation, formerly called Bill C-6, went into effect on Jan. 1 and applies to private firms that are regulated by the federal government as well as companies that barter in personal information, where "the information itself is the subject of the trade," such as banks, telecommunications firms, and ISPs. Canada's law was written partially to keep up with the EU's data protection directive, in which there is a provision that says personal data cannot be revealed to companies in non-EU countries whose privacy protections are not up to EU standards. If the EU working party currently studying Canada's privacy law decides that the legislation is not up to snuff, companies can be fined as much as $100,000 or sued in federal court, where there is no monetary limit on the penalties that could be imposed.
- "Java Loosens Wireless Market"
CRN (02/26/01) No. 934, P. 77; Pepe, Michele
Industry observers say wireless Java applications will enable workers to increase their productivity. Japan is the first country to target a wide range of services to users of Java-enabled handsets. Solution providers may take advantage of the market by creating Java applications for the specific needs of wireless clients in vertical markets. Pervasent is eagerly anticipating the wide-scale launch of J2ME, Sun's Java 2 Micro Engine. The technology provides a programming language that can be used with various platforms and can be installed in cell phones, PDAs, and vehicle telematics systems. Pervasent CEO Stuart Williams says J2ME will permit the creation of so-called push applications, which can send alerts to user's devices regarding specific events, such as falling stock prices. IBM and iPlanet are among the companies seeking to establish a significant presence in the market for Java-compliant servers. Another company, Lutris, has focused on upgrading its Enhydra server, which is Java and XML compatible. The company introduced its version 3.5 last December, which is compatible with recognized wireless standards.
- "Changing the Company Name"
InfoWorld (02/26/01) Vol. 23, No. 9, P. 79; Prencipe, Loretta W.
As corporate "branding" has gained steam, so have corporate name changes. "The number of new federal trademark applications has almost tripled over the last 10 years," notes Glenn Gundersen, an attorney at Dechter law firm. Nearly 3,000 corporations changed names last year, up from approximately 2,000 name changes in 1998. The Internet and URLs' primacy as a marketing tool have sent this trend skyrocketing. It is important to change a business name for the right reasons, not because of a trend like adding an "e" or a .com suffix, according to Enterprise IG. A business should not lose equity in the market through a name change, notes Peter Mack, vice president of corporate branding at Enterprise IG. Good reasons include a corporate spinoff, division divestiture, or the business name violates another company's name, says Gundersen. A name change is also necessary if the name does not express what the business does, notes Mack. Although it is important to check URL and trademark availability, it is also important to consider brand and corporate identity, says Mack. A trademark search firm or corporate counsel can make sure there are no domain name or trademark conflicts early on in the process, says Gundersen. Finally, it is important to get employees involved and show support from above, as a name change can be difficult for employees, says Mack. Tell employees why the name change was made, says Mack.
- "H-1B Hiring Steady Despite Cap Increase"
Computerworld (02/26/01) Vol. 35, No. 9, P. 12; Dash, Julekha
High-tech companies last year successfully lobbied Congress to increase the quota for foreign tech workers allowed to enter the United States under the H-1B visa program because the hot economy made them desperate for employees. However, the more anemic economy this year has slowed down the need for workers, thus causing a major freeze on the hiring of H-1B workers and prompting U.S. firms to hire domestic workers first. In October, Congress raised the number of visas for foreign workers from 115,000 to 195,000, a move many Silicon Valley firms soon found unnecessary as business dropped. Immigration and Naturalization Service authorities will not know how many H-1B visas that companies have used until several weeks from now, but officials claim that they are well below the cap.
Click Here to View Full Article