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Volume 2, Issue 134:  Monday, November 27, 2000

  • "Unions Pushing to Organize Thousands of Amazon.com Workers"
    New York Times (11/23/00) P. C1; Greenhouse, Steven

    Union organizers have focused their attention on Amazon.com in an attempt to bring the labor movement to the high-tech industry. Labor organizers say now is an ideal time to move into the tech market, as the dot-com shakeout and sales pressures of the holiday season have discouraged many workers. Organizers from the Communications Workers of America are speaking with Amazon employees at the company's customer-service center in Seattle, while the United Food and Commercial Workers Union has sent organizers to the company's distribution centers in eight cities. Union officials contend that many Amazon employees fear for their jobs as the company struggles to make a profit. Amazon recently laid off 150 workers and has moved some of its call-center operations to India, concerning many of its Seattle call-center workers. Call-center employees say they do not receive high enough wages--especially now that the future value of their stock options has declined--and must work excessive overtime. Similar complaints plague those at the distribution center. Labor organizers believe that a strong push for unionization during the Christmas season could force the company to negotiate. However, company officials have resisted the move, and CEO Jeff Bezos recently reminded employees that each of them is an owner of the company. "We don't need unions in Amazon.com," he said.
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  • "Green Cards Fail to Lure Tech Workers"
    Washington Times (11/23/00) P. A15; Roensberg, Andrea

    Germany is disappointed in the small number of foreign tech workers taking advantage of the five-year work and residency visa it introduced in August in an effort to alleviate its IT worker shortage. After German IT firms complained earlier this year that they lacked up to 75,000 tech workers, the government agreed to provide visas for as many as 20,000 non-European Union citizens. However, only 2,500 non-EU workers sought the visas as of this month. Some observers say the five-year limit makes Germany's visa less appealing than a visa to work in the United States or England. Furthermore, Indian tech workers tend to favor Silicon Valley or New York over Germany, according to one recent study. Several factors deter Indian IT workers from heading for Germany, including language barriers, bureaucracy, and recent violence against foreigners. Meanwhile, German startups object to the visa's requirement that IT workers without a college degree receive salaries of at least $44,000. This requirement is unrealistic because startups usually offer IT workers without degrees salaries between $25,000 and $35,000, says Felix Frohn-Bernau, CEO of German startup Dooyoo.

  • "All Used Up With Someplace to Go"
    New York Times (11/23/00) P. E1; Schuessler, Heidi

    Computer manufacturers and environmental-protection groups have noted an increased awareness of the importance of recycling old computers. In Silicon Valley, for example, the Computer Recycling Center received 100,000 old machines this year, whereas in 1990 only 2,000 were donated. A recent survey by the National Recycling Coalition found that 2.3 million computers were recycled in 1998. However, that represents a small percentage of the 20 million computers removed from general use that year. Although some of those computers were donated to schools or other groups, many were trashed because they were obsolete or no longer usable. Environmental activists say not only does this waste many reusable materials such as plastic, copper, and steel, but it also creates a toxic waste hazard, as the cathode rays used in most computer monitors contain lead. Several major computer manufacturers have implemented programs to recycle old computers. IBM, Gateway, and Hewlett-Packard all offer collection centers, and Gateway will even provide recyclers with a discount toward future purchases. The key to recycling computers, observers say, is finding a new user for old parts. This can present a problem, as the computer manufacturers produce far more recycled plastic than the market can absorb. Also, while some firms recycle the cathode rays in computer monitors, the move to flat-screen technology has lessened the need, and manufacturers are unclear how to dispose of the dangerous waste. However, with the average computer user purchasing a new system every three years, analysts say the recycling market will only continue to expand. For example, a new $2.8-million center in New York City has the capacity to recycle 1 million computers and monitors. Customers include Chase Manhattan, the Postal Service, and J.P. Morgan.
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  • "G8 'Dot Force' Meets in Japan"
    Reuters (11/27/00)

    The Group of Eight countries have announced the launch of a task force, "Dot Force," that will be charged with coming up with solutions to bridge the global digital divide. The launch of the taskforce came as the Group of Eight met in Tokyo for a two-day meeting that ends Tuesday. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori noted technology's importance in driving the global economy. "G8 leaders at the summit identified IT as one of the most important forces shaping the 21st century," Mori said. The Group of Eight intends to help close the digital divide by creating a regulatory scheme that would encourage the growth of information services.

  • "Group for Cooperatives Seeks to Make Credibility a Lure of Its New .Coop Domain"
    New York Times (11/27/00) P. C6; Gaither, Chris

    The organizations that administer the new top level domain names introduced by ICANN have yet to prove if the new TLDs will actually be acceptable alternatives. The new organization handling the .coop TLD, the National Cooperative Business Association, intends to make an impression, simplifying the processes of locating trusted businesses online for consumers, producers, and other users. Co-operatives could be the answer to the chaotic Internet environment, says association President Paul Hazen. "There's only so many common-word names, and if you only have three suffixes, 'thefarmerinthedell' can be used up pretty quickly," says Jeffrey Moser, director of economic and co-op development at the National Farmers Union. The .coop TLD will be helpful because co-ops are not exactly businesses or non-profits, so a new Internet space that is different from .com or .org is necessary for co-operatives, says Hazen. Over the first four years of .coop's existence, 155,000 Internet addresses will likely be registered using the .coop TLD, according to the association. There will be a $75 registration fee, which is significantly higher than other new TLD fees, so that each new .coop Internet address can be examined by the association and the International Cooperative Alliance to make sure the organization is a certified co-operative, says Hazen. The intention is to raise user confidence in .coop organizations, says the association. During the selection of new TLDs, ICANN avoided domain name suffixes that would be used to limit content; however, .coop was chosen because co-ops are better defined, says ICANN Chairman Vinton G. Cerf. Co-operatives, particularly those with well-known .com Web sites already in existence, will take to the .coop TLD slowly, says Hazen. However, smaller co-operatives might find .coop space when there was none to be found using .com.
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    For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html

  • "Happy Workplaces"
    Washington Post (11/27/00) P. E1; Johnson, Carrie

    Tech industry observers say many firms have developed a new position, the culture manager, to support employee morale. The culture manager acts as everything from a team-building leader to a concierge, answering questions for new employees while ensuring all employees remember to have their cars' oil changed. Executives say the position has become essential in creating and then maintaining their firms' identity during the tech market's expansion and recent shakeout, as firms add more employees and offices but also shift business plans, sometimes more than once. Culture managers conduct surveys to monitor the satisfaction level of employees, arrange company outings such as paintball trips to develop a sense of teamwork, and provide perks such as gift certificates or T-shirts. The new position could be a key development for tech firms, as strong communications skills can provide company identity during a time of expansion or uncertainty, analysts say. However, some analysts question whether tech firms will be willing to provide culture managers with the financial means to conduct their jobs considering the recent instability of the overall market. Those who support the new position say it may become even more vital now that firms are consolidating or laying off numerous employees. The culture manager can provide needed support in times of transition, they argue.

  • "What's In a Name? A Lot of Money for the Right One"
    Seattle Times (11/26/00) P. B5; Marshall, Patrick

    Internet users locate Web sites more easily when the site's domain name, or Internet address, is simple to find and remember, which is why some domain names have recently sold for large sums of money. For example, BroadBand.com recently was sold for $4 million through Greatdomains.com, and engineering.org for $198,985 through Afternic.com. A paucity of available domain names under the current top level domains has helped to raise the prices, but ICANN recently chose seven new TLDs that will likely be introduced in early 2001. There are two primary reasons to introduce new TLDs slowly: user and trademark confusion. "If you were to open up 200, 300, 1,200 new TLDs, the opportunity for confusion in the consumer marketplace would be very strong," says Network Solutions spokesman Brian O'Shaughnessy. "With so many new extensions, Web users might have trouble finding the site they're looking for." And trademarks have always been understood through national borders, whereas the Internet is international and can not be restricted by borders, says O'Shaughnessy. To register a domain name, simply go to a domain name registrar. NSI originally was the only registrar available, but now there is competition in the market and a wide range of domain name registrars and prices are available. DirectNic.com offers domain names at the comparatively low price of $15 annually. Once an acceptable domain name is found, register it right away, as many domain names will be picked up even in a matter of days. A credit card number is all that is required to register. A public IP address is necessary and configuration settings must be chosen before a new address can be found through a Web site address, and an ISP or other Web hosting provider can be used to do this.
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  • "Sen. Wyden Calls for Government Complaint Portal"
    Newsbytes (11/21/00); McGuire, David

    Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wants the administration to create an Internet portal that can accept citizen complaints about the government and then send those complaints to the proper authority. Wyden wrote a letter to General Services Administration head David Barram, saying citizens currently may not know where to direct complaints and so may not do so. Wyden and Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) also requested a General Accounting Office (GAO) study into how 32 federal agencies handled complaints online; the report indicates that some agencies are availing themselves of the Internet's capabilities, but many could be doing more. Wyden wants the GAO to add a complaint feature to the federal government portal Firstgov.gov.

  • "U.S. Likely to Bring in Privacy Law"
    National Post Online (11/21/00); Akin, David

    The federal government is expected to introduce online privacy legislation next year because the Internet industry has failed in its attempts at self regulation, according to privacy experts who recently attended a privacy conference in Montebello, Quebec. Canada and countries in Europe have already taken a legislative approach to online privacy, but thus far U.S. lawmakers have been hesitant to take a similar stand on the issue. That appears likely to change. "We need some tools to get at those places that self-regulation isn't going to reach," said FTC Commissioner Mozelle Thompson. "We are very supportive of self-regulation models and any legislative model would allow those proposals to stand," Thompson said. Any federal privacy legislation should incorporate the four elements of notice, choice, access, and security, the FTC has said. If Congress introduces a privacy bill, it is expected to incorporate language from several existing privacy bills and would be broad in scope, much like Canada's Bill C-6, which goes into effect with the start of the new year.
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    For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy

  • "Australia, United Kingdom Sign E-Cooperation Pact"
    Washington Technology Online (11/20/00); Wait, Patience

    Australia and the United Kingdom will assist each other in e-commerce and e-government and will promote cooperation between both nations' information industries, according to a new agreement the two nations recently signed. The two nations will support standard codes of practice, develop a coordinated policies on key IT issues, and promote e-commerce across their borders. The agreement also calls for joint work on e-government issues, developing industry, and participation in international meetings. Last year the UK signed agreements with Hong Kong and Singapore, and Australia has released e-commerce joint statements with Canada, the United States, the Republic of Korea, and China.

  • "State Proposes Limits on Access to Records"
    Baltimore Sun (11/21/00) P. 1A; Gibson, Gail; Siegel, Eric

    The Maryland state Court of Appeals has proposed changes to the access of electronic data that would severely limit public access to court records. Except for police, lawyers, and government agencies, all persons would be prohibited from accessing records unless they explained what they planned to do with the records and proved that they are tending to legitimate government or business activity. Under these new rules, which state that a person can only request access to ten records a day, nearly 3,000 businesses, individuals, and news organizations would no longer be able to use computerized dial-in services to check court records. Neither members of the media nor legal observers are pleased by this turn of events. "It just affords that public information officer a chance to reject a request that would elicit negative information about the court system," says Tom Marquardt, chairman of the freedom of information committee of the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association. Legal observers say the changes are far too broad, and they are particularly concerned by changes that would allow court clerks to limit access to ten records per day. "Suddenly, lower-level court administrators will have the ability to decide some fairly difficult questions," said C. Christopher Brown, a professor at the University of Maryland law school. First Amendment advocates also reject the argument for the proposed changes. "There have been attempts around the country saying the Internet is different," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "We don't buy that," Dalglish said. "We think if you can get at it in a file cabinet, you should be able to get at it on the Internet." The situation will not be resolved until after all written comments have been examined early next year.

  • "New DOM Standard Gives XML a Boost"
    eWeek Online (11/22/00); Holland, Roberta

    The latest version of the Document Object Model standard released earlier this month by the World Wide Web Consortium gives developers additional integration capabilities, furthering the growth and acceptance of the extensible markup language (XML). "[DOM] allows you to mix and match XML content from different sources," says IBM's Bob Sutor, adding that this functionality makes it easier for e-businesses to update documents' content, structure, and/or style. The DOM release is somewhat ahead of the Web development market, says Microsoft's XML product manager David Turner, but he expects demand to pick up quickly.
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  • "Maryland University's Grant to Fund IT Turnover Study"
    Potomac Tech Journal (11/20/00) P. 3; Robblee, Steve

    A group of professors at the University of Maryland at College Park plan to study the factors that determine whether IT workers stay with their employers or switch to other jobs. Using a $673,959 grant from the National Science Foundation, the professors will spend more than a year tracking IT workers at about 10 to 12 companies and tech students at several universities. The study could help tech companies retain valuable employees, who are often lured away by rival firms that are desperate for workers. The IT industry lacked workers for 843,000 positions this year, according to the Information Technology Association of America. The IT industry's turnover rate is estimated at 20 percent to 25 percent, considerably higher than the 14 percent to 15 percent average across all industries, according to the Bureau of National Affairs. The high turnover in IT is probably due to the large incentives for workers to switch jobs rather than worker dissatisfaction, says Kathryn Bartol, one of the professors working on the study. However, recent IT graduates seem more likely to switch jobs than other IT workers, and the study aims to explain this trend. Bartol also says the study will focus on the opinions of women and minorities.
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  • "Washington Watch: Taxing Questions"
    CIO (11/15/00) Vol. 14, No. 4, P. 48; Varon, Elana

    Congress is expected to debate dozens of bills that address the issue of taxing the digital economy when it reconvenes in January. Legislators have proposed about 50 bills that suggest different ways for companies to write off IT equipment. Tech firms say IT gear becomes outdated by the time they can write it off completely, and Brookings Institution senior fellow Bill Gale says tax rules for IT equipment should be in line with the actual lifespan of technology. Congress will also debate roughly five dozen bills pertaining to tax breaks for companies that provide workers with continuing education. Progress & Freedom Foundation President Jeffrey Eisenach predicts that legislators will boost "lifelong learning" subsidies, saying it is illogical "to subsidize K-12 education but give no recognition to the value of continuing education." Although Rep. Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.) says tax laws must be updated to reflect the new economy, Jonathan Low of the Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation warns that Congress needs to gather more information before altering tax laws.

  • "It's a Nano World"
    Business Week (11/27/00) No. 3709, P. 76; Port, Otis

    Nanotechnology promises new materials formed by the manipulation of molecules, but scientists must first find a method to grow organic and inorganic materials together cooperatively, says W. Lance Haworth of the National Science Foundation. The hybridization of organic and inorganic molecules could yield materials that possess strength and flexibility, such as a foldable flat-panel display, claims Ralph E. Taylor-Smith at Lucent Technologies. The primary force behind nanotech research is the search for a cheaper way to manufacture transistors and wires for circuits that are growing ever smaller. A team at the University of Toronto has successfully produced an alternate semiconductor insulating compound by inserting organic molecules into porous silica. Chemist Xiaoyang Zhu at the University of Minnesota has solved another size problem, stiction, by binding chlorine and silicon atoms. And at the University of North Carolina, scientists are using the nanoManipulator to create nanotube molecules that are more conductive than copper and stronger than steel yet one-sixth as heavy. NASA is exploring an atomic memory system using a combination of nanotubes, fluorine atoms, and hydrogen atoms. Meanwhile, MIT researchers have created a material that can emit the entire visible spectrum from a polymer-semiconductor composite. The behavior of quantum forces allows the addition of nano or meso particles to drastically change a material's bulk properties, according to Thomas N. Theis of IBM. The harnessing of DNA for material assembly offers tremendous potential, such as the creation of substances on demand. Caltech's Materials & Process Simulation Center has developed structural prediction software for a supersensitive military sniffer that could yield significant advancements. "We're now in the process of designing modified olfactory receptors sensitive to very small concentrations of the products that come off land mines-and off nerve gases," says Caltech's William A. Goddard III.

  • "Attorneys Debate Making Cybercrime Laws Tougher"
    Computerworld (11/20/00) Vol. 34, No. 47, P. 16; Verton, Dan

    Famed defense attorney Jennifer Stisa Granick recently spoke at the Computer Security Institute's 27th Annual Computer Security Conference and Exhibition, complaining that computer crime statutes are too vaguely worded and that stiffer penalties for hacking would not make computers any more secure. Granick argued that beefing up sentences for hacking would accomplish nothing because criminals never believe they will get caught, and longer sentences may increase false guilty pleas as defendants who insist they are innocent take a two-year plea bargain arrangement rather than risk serving 10 years. Also at the conference, attorney David Loundy called for more clearly written computer crime statutes with punishments proportional to the crime and resulting damage. Meanwhile, Granick took the FBI to task for conducting surveillance on law-abiding individuals and groups, saying some members of the legitimate computer security group 2600 told her that the FBI warned them not to associate with certain people in the group.
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  • "Taking Liberties"
    Industry Standard (12/04/00) Vol. 3, No. 49, P. 94; Perine, Keith

    Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) and Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) have added the Children's Internet Protection Act as a rider to an appropriations bill currently before Congress. Although the courts threw out Congress' two previous attempts at restricting Internet pornography--the Communications Decency Act and the Child Online Protection Act--on First Amendment grounds, analysts contend that President Clinton will most likely sign the appropriations legislation, and therefore the anti-porn law, if only to keep the government running. The bill requires that libraries and other public institutions that receive federal funding place filtering software on their computers to thwart access to porn sites. Civil liberties groups pledge to fight the issue in court, and most legal experts maintain that the bill will not survive such a challenge because of free speech rights and what some critics say is the law's unconstitutional "prior restraint" on such speech. However, supporters of filtering believe they will win a court battle this time because, unlike the last two laws, the Children's Internet Protection Act does not impose criminal penalties but rather offers an "economic incentive" to install porn filters.

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