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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 3, Issue 213: Monday, June 11, 2001
- "Survey Highlights Gender Gap on IT Issues"
InfoWorld.com (06/07/01); Melymuka, Kathleen
A new survey conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide for Deloitte & Touche has revealed differences in how men and women perceive the position of women in the IT industry. According to the survey of 1,000 women and 500 men employed in the IT industry, 62 percent of women said a glass ceiling exists in the IT industry; 62 percent of men said there is no glass ceiling. When asked if too few women have IT leadership positions, 84 percent of women said yes, and 57 percent of men agreed. However, while 75 percent of men said there is gender equality in the IT industry, only 56 percent of women agreed. In addition, 55 percent of men said financial equality exists in the IT industry, while only 29 percent of women agreed. Women said their success was due to education, skill, and female mentors, while men said their success was due to the nation's booming economy in the past decade. The survey found that, despite a lack of female CEOs, 43 percent of respondents said "a fair amount" of women have management positions at their firm, while 14 percent said "many women" have such positions.
To learn about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Intel Transistor Claims Speed Record"
Associated Press (06/10/01)
Intel has revealed the development of what it claims are the fastest silicon transistors in the world. The new transistors, which will be found in Intel processors by 2007, switch on and off at speeds 1,000 times faster than today's fastest transistors. Also, the new transistors are only 80 nanometers wide, meaning the number of the new transistors that can be placed on a single processor will increase 2,500 percent from Intel's Pentium 4 chip. Intel claims that a chip using the new transistors will have nearly 1 billion of them, compared to roughly 42 million on the Pentium 4 chip. The new transistors will also reduce power consumption, with a chip using the new transistors consuming under 1 volt, compared with 1.7 volts for the Pentium 4 chip. The chips will likely power applications that currently need supercomputer strength to operate as well as such programs as language translation and speech recognition. Industry observers say the new transistors are proof that Moore's Law, which claims processing power doubles every 18 months, is still very much in effect.
- "Hackers Hit Computers Running Calif.'s Power Grid"
Hackers attempted to gain access to computer networks that regulate most of California's electricity grid, operated by the California Independent Systems Operator (Cal-ISO), during the height of the state's power crisis. The attempted breach was discovered on May 11 when agency personnel found evidence of attempts to break through firewalls in a system that was under construction, but may have begun as early as April 25. The source of the main attack was allegedly tracked to a computer user in China, who used servers in Tulsa, Okla., and Santa Clara, Calif., to gain access to the network, and may have been reacting to the downing of a Chinese jet when it collided with an American spy plane on April 1.
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- "Researchers Turn Compound into Superconducting Wires"
New York Times (06/11/01) P. A9; Chang, Kenneth
Scientists have been able to make wiring from a compound recently found to be a low-temperature superconducting material. Although magnesium diboride has been known to exist for some time, only in January did scientists discover that it has superconducting qualities that allow electrons to flow almost unimpeded through the substance. Electric Power Research Institute science fellow Paul Grant says the latest discovery, which was made by scientists at Agere Systems, has significant potential as a manufacturing material because it could turn out to be quite cheap. Researchers at labs in Princeton and at the University of Wisconsin are working on using magnesium dioxide as a superconducting film, which could be used in products requiring sensitive magnetic sensing devices.
- "The Net Spreads in Africa"
International Herald Tribune (06/11/01) P. 13; Tomlinson, Chris
More and more Africans are using the Internet for e-commerce, email, and access to unrestricted information. A growing number of Internet cafes and ISPs have begun offering services, spurred by the U.S. Agency for International Development's $15 million Leland Initiative in 1995. Currently, Africa has about 1 million dial-up Internet users, mostly in South Africa, and that number is growing about 20 percent a month, estimates South African Web consultant Mike Jensen. However, high government fees on phone lines and foreign equipment hamper Internet growth; service providers often resort to wireless and satellite systems.
- "Hot on the Scent of Information"
Wired News (06/08/01); Gonzalez, Angel
Researchers at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center are studying the links between Web users hunting data and natural predators stalking game, a science they call information foraging. The results of their work is being commercialized into a product called Bloodhound that will use the theory to measure site usability. Dr. Ed Chi says the more naturally a site conforms to the way people search for things, the more revenues it will accrue. Chi says users searching specific data on the Internet often start at a search engine and follow "scent trails" that are determined not only by text, but also by URLs, links, and images. Google senior research scientist Krishna Bharat says his company helps data seekers by adding the text immediately surrounding the search phrase in its link summaries.
- "Tiny Minds"
Nature Online (06/06/01); Ball, Philip
A team of Yale University scientists led by Mark Reed has created a molecular device capable of storing and erasing data. The tiny device could someday replace today's computer memories, making the RAM more robust. Inside the device, carbon-based, rod-like molecules act as switches. These molecules convey currents between two gold electrodes and are more than 1,000 times smaller than the microscopic switches in silicon chips. Positive and negative voltage pulses applied to the electrodes create on/off states that resemble the ones and zeros used in computer memories. Subsequent voltage pulses read as well as erase the molecular information, allowing the molecules to act like RAM. Currently, 1,000 molecules are grouped together between the two electrodes, but researchers hope to wire individual molecules to make cells even more efficient. However, the team needs to work out such matters as switching speed and durability in order to make the molecular RAM cells practical.
- "Speedier H-1B Visa Program Under Fire"
CNet (06/09/01); Konrad, Rachel
H-1B applicants will be able to speed the processing time of their visa applications to only 15 days through a new premium service offered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Currently, H-1B applicants must wait at least seven weeks for their applications to be reviewed and pay a non-refundable $1,100 fee. The Premium Processing Service, which begins July 30, guarantees a 15-day turnaround--although it does not guarantee a visa's acceptance--for an additional $1,000. The attorney general approved the program in order to reduce the backlog on H-1B visa applications last December. Immigration lawyer Jon Velie predicts that companies hiring key managerial staff will use the program, whereas lower-wage workers will likely sit through the normal process. Some critics say this will create a "digital divide" between these low-wage workers and skilled tech workers. Critics also complain that the premium service is unfair to family-related visa petitions, which have to compete for the INS' resources. Additionally, H-1B opposition groups such as the Coalition for the Future American Worker are gaining significant following as demand for tech workers continues to slacken.
- "Web Firms Could Have Benefited From More 'Usability,' Experts Say"
E-Commerce Times (06/06/01); Kosseff, Jeffrey
Usability could have helped dot-com companies stay afloat, say experts in the field. However, now usability consultant firms themselves are suffering as well. As Internet retail took off, usability experts were brought in to help guide customers to purchase goods and to keep them from wandering off Web sites. Many companies with Web operations have now scaled back their expenditures and are not designing new sites, forcing design consultancies such as WebCriteria and Agency.com to lay off workers. However, usability has been around much longer than the dot-com boom, dating back to the 1960s with IBM's human-factor engineers, and those in the industry remain positive. WebCriteria CEO Alistair Williamson says his company is steering through the slowdown, expecting that business will pick up again with the resurgent economy.
- "Internet Operators Make Progress"
Associated Press (06/08/01); Gamel, Kim
Country code operators have voted to leave ICANN's Domain Name Supporting Organization in order to gain some influence at the organization, and ICANN seems to be taking the country code operators more seriously since the move. ICANN will have to see that these other interests are out there or it will fall apart, says ICANN board member Karl Auerbach. ICANN sent invoices to the country code operators last year, but these invoices were sent before any agreements had been made, according to ICANN President Stuart Lynn, who notes that ICANN and the country code operators are now working to understand one another better in the hopes that a general agreement might be achieved over the next few weeks. Although the country code operators willingly laud ICANN's attempts to communicate better, they still want to have a higher level of representation at ICANN, which they assert still focuses on global suffixes that are more often used by U.S. sites.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving.IG.html.
- "South Dakota: Fire, Don't Filter"
Wired News (06/07/01); Benner, Jeffrey
A score of government workers in South Dakota have been fired or suspended for abusing the state's Internet-use policy, but Gov. Bill Janklow has decided that the state will not use Internet filters to enforce the policy. Janklow spokesman Bob Mercer says the governor has decided that Internet filters pose a threat to the access of information on the Internet. The state encountered reliability problems with Internet filters during a recent test period of the technology. Recent studies show that monitoring of Internet and email use in the workplace is on the rise, as is the government's use of Internet filters. Mercer says that an analysis of workers' log files uncovered thousands of visits to inappropriate Web sites during a three-week period.
- "Nokia to Pour Java Into 100 Million Phones"
ZDNet (06/05/01); Charny, Ben
Nokia announced yesterday plans to produce 100 million Java-enabled cell phones by the close of 2003. In addition, Nokia President Pekka Ala-Pietila said the company intends to offer its Communicator 9290, a PDA/cell phone device, in North America. Currently, there are only 3 million cell phones equipped with the J2ME (Java2 MicroEdition) software language. Ala-Pietila said Nokia should ship 50 million Java-equipped phones by the end of next year. The company is expected to ship the other 50 million by the close of 2003. Sun Microsystems is pushing more mobile phone makers to use the Java language. Many wireless companies throughout the world, such as NTT DoCoMo, have already built or distributed Java-enabled cell phones for their users.
- "Internet Burnout Seemingly Hasn't Spread to Big Business"
TheStandard.com (06/05/01); Palfini, Jeff
Most large companies say the Internet is important to their overall success, according to a new study from DiamondCluster that surveyed 150 executives from businesses that generate revenues of at least $1 billion. The survey found that 70 percent said the Internet was either important or essential to the success of their business, and many expect that importance will increase over the next two years. Despite the negative reports in the media, most executives had realistic expectations from their e-business initiatives, with Internet sales expected to account for 12 percent of sales, on average, by 2003, or twice today's totals. The survey found that most Internet initiatives were designed to improve the supply chain or for customer-facing applications.
- "The Java Renaissance"
Business 2.0 (06/12/01) Vol. 6, No. 12, P. 50; Shirky, Clay
When Java was first created, its developers promised that it would provide a seamless method for writing programs on either Macintosh or Microsoft systems and posting them on the Internet for users with any kind of PC to download and run. However, flaws in the programming language when used on Netscape and Microsoft's Internet Explorer and attempts by Microsoft to hinder platform-independent software, has led many to seek other options. Java is still seen as an excellent language for Web servers because it is proficient at integrating different systems--due largely to the fact that it was written with the Internet in mind. However, it has, until recently, been deemed inefficient for desktop use. Now, some peer-to-peer companies, such as Roku Technologies and OpenCola, have begun to use Java again, mostly because PCs, as Napster demonstrated, are increasingly being used as servers, and also due to the fact that the new Java 1.3 is considered by its proponents to be a much better product than earlier versions.
- "A Mini-Y2K for the Web"
Fortune (06/11/01) Vol. 143, No. 12, P. 46; Kahn, Jeremy
An amendment to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act calls for making all government Web sites as well as portals that belong to the 11,000 companies that do business with the government user-friendly for physically disabled users by Jun. 21. The act seeks to remedy such situations as streaming audio that is not subtitled for the hearing impaired and keyboard commands that do not account for those with limited mobility. In recent years, advocates for the disabled have been forced to use the courts to force Web site operators to take disabled users into consideration. For example, two years ago, the National Federation of the Blind took AOL to court, alleging that it was violating the Americans With Disabilities Act because it was hard for visually impaired users to use their service; AOL later settled the suit. Revamping government and other Web sites nationwide is expected to cost about $690 million, mostly in fees paid to tech consultants and software developers.
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- "Bush's Tech Chasm"
Industry Standard (06/11/01) Vol. 4, No. 23, P. 28; Fallows, James
With money and support from tech industry executives, the Clinton administration was able to achieve major gains in tax and accounting rules, immigration policy, environmental and pro-choice laws, and anti-gay ordinances, while the tech industry saw rising stock prices, Internet expansion, and competition created by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The tech industry expected much of the same from a shift in the political landscape because there are tech moguls who are Republicans as well as other interests--Microsoft, for example--that wanted to see change. Instead, the industry has become more of an outsider to the political process now that the Bush White House is filled with veterans from the oil business, defense contracting, and manufacturing. Also, Bush's FCC will operate with views that are radically different from the Clinton years. For example, new FCC Chairman Michael Powell recently suggested the agency should not have to ensure that new local phone carriers, or CLECs, are competitive, a legal responsibility of the commission. The industry places a priority on pro-competition regulation because tech upstarts are well aware that they can be crushed by bigger players if the government does not step in. Powell also suggested that media companies should not be excluded from industry cross-ownerships, an approach that could enable AOL Time Warner, for example, to buy broadcast networks and newspapers and ultimately gain significant control over public information.
- "Internet Armageddon--Again"
Net Economy (06/04/01) Vol. 2, No. 12, P. 44; McGarvey, Joe
The Internet's potential for rapid growth has some experts concerned whether the public network infrastructure can handle greater traffic. Experts expect growth to test currently deployed Internet routers within the next 12 months, but some, including Judy Estrin, Packet Design CEO and former CTO at Cisco Systems, say routers are faltering right now because route tables have grown too large for them to handle. Routers base their forwarding decisions regarding the possible paths of destinations on the Net on the information that they get from a route table. Still, not all experts believe that there is a crisis since Cisco, Juniper Networks, and Avici Systems are all rolling out new routers that can handle at least a half million routes. Critics also point out that route management problems in the form of route flapping is getting worse and could result in packets never reaching their destination. However, equipment makers and standards groups say they are moving in the right direction by building stronger implementations of BGP and tweaking BGP and other router protocols. Critics still see these attempts as temporary solutions and say an overhaul is needed, but most industry experts expect the Internet to continue to evolve gradually into a stable and agile communications medium.
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- "Little Big Screen"
Technology Review (06/01) Vol. 104, No. 5, P. 64; Sherman, Erik
Tech companies are trying to find answers to the problems of handheld computers being too small, too slow, and too awkward. E Ink and Xerox spinoff Gyricon Media see pocket-sized foldable screens, although a few years away, as one way to improve screen size and resolution. For InViso, Sony, and Olympus, mounting magnifying lenses in monocular units or goggles is the answer. Another strategy, which has gained the attention of Motorola, Eastman Kodak, eMagin, IBM, Uniax, and Cambridge Display Technology, is to use organic light-emitting diodes, which emit their own light when charged by electrodes, to improve the resolution of handheld computers. Microvision plans to junk screens altogether and take an approach that is similar to cathode-ray projection in television to project an image directly onto the retina of users. As for typing on the small devices, Targus, Electro-Textiles, and other firms are investing in folding keyboards, while Motorola, Nokia, Conversay, and Microsoft are involved in voice-recognition technology. However, there are serious doubts among experts whether there will ever be sophisticated voice recognition. Some experts say the ultimate interface will not come until there is complete integration of human and machines, using chips and sensors planted under the skin.
- "The New Russian Revolution"
Interactive Week (06/04/01) Vol. 8, No. 22, P. 54; Smetannikov, Max
Software developers in Russia see the local software industry as a potential challenger to India in the market for offshore software development. Russian companies still have a long way to go, having generated anywhere from $60 million to $100 million in contract development in 2000, compared to Indian companies' $6.3 billion. However, while Indian firms believe that they do the best job handling simpler tasks such as encoding, Russian developers maintain--and some Western executives agree--that they have the creative computer skills needed to tackle more "complex" software development projects. Evgeniy Peskin, vice president in charge of day-to-day operations at IBS Group, one of the largest software development contractors in Moscow, says the local industry is suffering from beliefs about its links to organized crime, the present tax environment, and general stereotypes about the country. For IT managers in the United States, Europe, and Asia, an emerging Russian market means more choices and more savings. Indeed, such a development worries India, but the nation has become so entrenched in technology that IT is on the verge of becoming its top expert item. A few Russian companies even have lofty goals of moving beyond contract projects and developing their own products and services.