Wednesday, February 28, 2001

Judges Voice Doubt on Order Last Year to Split Microsoft
In Monday's arguments, the judges expressed deep
skepticism about the government's central theory —
that the company illegally maintained a monopoly
in computer software. With today's comments, the
judges cast fresh doubt that the order by Judge
Thomas Penfield Jackson would survive the appeals
court's review.

In three hours of oral arguments today, the judges of
the United States Court of Appeals for the District
of Columbia Circuit, pilloried Judge Jackson for
granting interviews with the news media, including
The New York Times, before the case was

Saturday, February 24, 2001

Wednesday, February 21, 2001

ClickZ : The End for Search Engines?
The impending closure of Go only
underscores the dramatic changes that
have been taking place among the major
search engines over the past few months. Money is tight; new revenue is being sought anywhere, and no one seems guaranteed a future. Will your favorite search engine be around tomorrow? For searchers, such losses could mean less diversity in search results. For Web marketers, a consolidation could mean less likelihood of being found. It's scary-sounding
stuff, and no one knows the answers. However, a look back can provide us with some perspective on how the future may unfold.

Tuesday, February 20, 2001

New Economy: Online Companies' Customer Service Is Hardly a Priority
So far, more than six million people have registered to use the service. But for all that PayPal knows about its customers, it is remarkably guarded about its own contact information.

There is no street address, phone number or e-mail address listed among the contact information on PayPal's Web site — just a post office box in Palo Alto, Calif., and a form to submit a question electronically. PayPal does not even have a phone number available through directory assistance. (There is a phone number for customer service on the site, but it takes some dedicated digging to find it.)
In an Uncertain Climate, Philanthropy Is Slowing
In recent years charitable giving has reached new highs, and many organizations, from the American Heart Association to the American Friends Service Committee to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, say they have not yet felt any sign of the weakened economy.

But the decline in foundation assets may herald widespread trouble. Foundation giving almost tripled over the last decade, to $20 billion — support that is especially crucial to nonprofit organizations in lean economic times, when individual and corporate donations dry up.

But several prominent foundations lost a substantial share of their asset value over the last year, the Chronicle survey said. With the shakeout in technology stocks, for example, the assets of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, in Los Altos, Calif. — invested almost entirely in the stock of Hewlett-Packard and its spinoff, Agilent — dropped 25 percent, to $9.8 billion.
Glacier Loss Seen as Clear Sign of Human Role in Global Warming
The vanishing of the seemingly perpetual snows of
Kilimanjaro that inspired Ernest Hemingway,
echoed by similar trends on ice-capped peaks from
Peru to Tibet, is one of the clearest signs that a
global warming trend in the last 50 years may have
exceeded typical climate shifts and is at least partly
caused by gases released by human activities, a
variety of scientists say.

Saturday, February 17, 2001

Head of U. of California Seeks to End SAT Use in Admissions

“Let me describe how I came to make these recommendations. For many years, I have worried about the use of the SAT, but last year my concerns coalesced. I visited an upscale private school and observed a class of 12-year- old students studying verbal analogies in anticipation of the SAT. I learned that they spend hours each month — directly and indirectly — preparing for the SAT, studying long lists of verbal analogies such as "untruthful is to mendaciousness" as "circumspect is to caution." The time involved was not aimed at developing the students' reading and writing abilities but rather their test-taking skills.

What I saw was disturbing and prompted me to spend time taking sample SAT tests and reviewing the literature. I concluded what many others have concluded: that America's overemphasis on the SAT is compromising our educational system.” -- Speech Excerpt

In a letter Dr. Atkinson sent to the University of California's faculty senate today and in a speech he will give here on Sunday to the American Council on Education, an advance copy of which the school released tonight, Dr. Atkinson criticized the reliance on SAT's to rank students for admission to schools, saying that they are "not compatible with the American view on how merit should be defined and opportunities distributed."

If adopted, the proposed move to abandon the SAT's, taken by more than 1.2 million high school seniors applying for college each year, is expected to echo throughout the world of higher education. It follows similar moves by smaller schools, including Bates, Bowdoin and Mount Holyoke colleges, to make SAT's optional.
e-commerce press
The Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce announced today (February 16, 2001) that the estimate of U.S. retail e-commerce sales for the fourth quarter of 2000, not adjusted for seasonal, holiday, and trading-day differences, was $8.686 billion, an increase of 67.1 percent (± 4.3%) from the fourth quarter of 1999. The fourth quarter 2000 estimate increased 35.9 percent (± 2.8%) from the prior quarter. The third quarter 2000 estimate was revised from $6.373 billion to $6.393 billion.

Total retail sales for the fourth quarter of 2000 were estimated at $856.2 billion, an increase of 4.2 percent (± 0.5%) from the same quarter a year ago and up 5.4 percent (± 0.3%) from the third quarter of 2000.

E-commerce sales in the fourth quarter of 2000 accounted for 1.0 percent of total sales compared to 0.6 percent of total sales in the fourth quarter of 1999. E-commerce sales in the third quarter of 2000 were 0.8 percent of total sales.

Thursday, February 15, 2001

Ghetto Life 101: Radio Documentary by Sound Portraits
In March, 1993, LeAlan Jones, thirteen, and Lloyd Newman, fourteen, collaborated with public radio producer David Isay to create the radio documentary Ghetto Life 101, their audio diaries of life on Chicago's South Side. The boys taped for ten days,
walking listeners through their daily lives: to school, to an overpass to throw rocks at cars, to a bus ride that takes them out of the ghetto, and to friends and family members in the community.

The candor in Jones and Newman's diaries brought listeners face to face with a portrait of poverty and danger and their effects on childhood in one of Chicago's worst housing projects. Like Vietnam War veterans in the bodies of young boys, Jones and Newman described the bitter truth about the sounds of machine guns at night and the effects of a thriving drug world on a community.
Teenagers Try Online Learning This is not the high school that most people know
or remember, but for a growing number of teenagers
and their parents, fully accredited online courses
have become an attractive alternative to going to

Sunday, February 11, 2001

Genome Analysis Shows Humans Survive on Low Number of Genes
Their principal discovery is how few human genes there seem to be. Textbooks have long pegged the number of human genes at around 100,000, but with the sequence of human DNA units in hand the two teams have found far fewer than expected. Dr. Venter says he has identified 26,588 protein-coding genes for sure and another 12,000 possible genes. The consortium says there are 30,000 to 40,000 human genes. Both sides prefer the lower end of their range, since their methods of gene discovery tend to predict more genes than they believe exist.

The low number of human genes — say 30,000 — can be seen as good for medicine because it means there are fewer genes to understand.

The impact on human pride is another matter. Of the only two other animal genomes sequenced so far, the roundworm has 19,000 genes and the fruit fly, also a standard laboratory organism, 13,000. Both teams devote part of their huge articles to discussing how it is that humans are more complicated than simple invertebrate animals even though they possess not that many more genes.

Despite these face-saving efforts, human self-esteem may be in for further blows as genome analysis progresses. Dr. Venter said he could find only 300 human genes that had no recognizable counterpart in the mouse. The mouse, though a fellow mammal, last shared a common ancestor with people 100 million years ago, time in which many more genetic differences might have been expected to develop.

Given the minor difference between man and mouse, Dr. Venter said he expected the chimpanzee, which parted company from the human line only five million years ago, to have an almost identical set of genes as people but to possess variant forms of these genes.
WebTop Search Rage Study
How long is too long until searching the web drives people crazy? On average, 12 minutes, the survey found. The survey also shows that if searching could provide results in 3 minutes or less, only 7 percent of people would be frustrated.

How long does it take before you get frustrated searching the Web for accurate information?

Longer than 15 minutes
11-15 minutes
6-10 minutes
4-5 minutes
2-3 minutes
1 minute
0-30 seconds
Don't know

In a separate question, "Do you feel that Web searching could be more efficient?," the vast majority said yes: 86 percent. Only 9 percent felt things were fine as they are.


Saturday, February 10, 2001

Going the Way of the Victrola
The same expanding technology that improves the capabilities of the PC also shrinks the size of the old recording hardware. Singers can use tiny microphones made of lightweight plastic. The sound quality will get better and you'll soon be able to buy them wherever batteries or blank cassettes are available. The daunting multitrack tasks that once could only be accomplished in the recording studio are now possible at home using innovative music software. Computerized mixing boards can already do more than the giant, complicated boards still found in most recording studios. The art of sequencing and sampling might well become a substitute for musical instruments, requiring a new sort of virtuosity.

Still in an embryonic stage, the making of music on the PC should eventually produce work rivaling that made by today's recording artists and composers — even surpassing them. The use of the PC isn't just a hobby anymore. The musical geniuses of tomorrow won't even have to leave their homes.
Strike the Band: Pop Music Without Musicians
Once mere "records" of musical events, recordings were now something much more exotic and autonomous, painstakingly layered
confections. But even after multitrack recording had severed music making from real time, somebody still had to play that guitar.

Students, Mindful of Columbine, Break Silence to Report Threats

Psychologists from the Secret Service, with whom Mr. Modzeleski works, found that in almost three-quarters of 37 school shootings since 1974, the assailant told someone in advance about his plan, almost always another student.

That means many school shootings could be averted if students shared information with teachers, administrators or parents, said Marisa Reddy, a director of the Secret Service's Safe School Initiative.

Friday, February 09, 2001

The Scout Report - February 9, 2001 Google Now Indexes PDF Files
The indomitable Google has recently begun indexing content in .pdf files, allowing searchers a significant peek into
the "invisible Web," the large area of online content not covered by most search engines. PDF files are differentiated
by a [PDF] label and instead of a cached version, Google provides a link to a plain text version of the document.
Keeping a plain text version allows Google to apply its PageRank technology and integrate .pdf content with normal
search returns. Test searches did not turn up a large number of .pdf files, but adding "pdf" to the query produced a
more significant proportion in the returns, although they were not always the majority. [MD]
Selection of Net Suffixes Defended Vinton G. Cerf, the chairman of
the Internet Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers, or
Icann, said that the selection of
new suffixes, also called generic
top-level domains, last fall was
essentially an "experiment." The
objective, he said, was to proceed
slowly and get a "test case" of how
the new domains influence the

But Dr. Cerf admitted that there
was room for improvement. "We
need to re-examine the procedures
that we used," he said.

Monday, February 05, 2001

Kafkaesque? Big Brother? Finding the Right Literary Metaphor for Net Privacy
The slogan is great to toss around at conferences
and parties. But people who take books and ideas
seriously might well ask: is Big Brother -- the
personification of an all-seeing totalitarian
government depicted in George Orwell's novel
"1984" -- the best metaphor to describe the privacy
problems of the Internet Age?

Sunday, February 04, 2001

How to Create a Shortage In a Skilled-Labor Market
TO alleviate apparent shortages of computer programmers, President Clinton and Congress have agreed to raise a quota on H-1B's, the temporary visas for skilled foreigners. The annual limit will go to 200,000 next year, up from 65,000 only three years ago.

The imported workers, most of whom come from India, are said to be needed because American schools do not graduate enough young people with science and math skills. Microsoft's chairman, William H. Gates, and Intel's chairman, Andrew S. Grove, told Congress in June that more visas were only a stopgap until education improved.

But the crisis is a mirage. High-tech companies portray a shortage, yet it is our memories that are short: only yesterday there was a glut of science and math graduates.

The computer industry took advantage of that glut by reducing wages. This discouraged youths from entering the field, creating the temporary shortages of today. Now, taking advantage of a public preconception that school failures have created the problem, industry finds a ready audience for its demands to import workers.

This newspaper covered the earlier surplus extensively. In 1992, it reported that 1 in 5 college graduates had a job not requiring a college degree. A 1995 article headlined "Supply Exceeds Demand for Ph.D.'s in Many Science Fields" cited nationwide unemployment of engineers, mathematicians and scientists. "Overproduction of Ph.D. degrees," it noted, "seems to be highest in computer science."

Michael S. Teitelbaum, a demographer who served as vice chairman of the Commission on Immigration Reform, said in 1996 that there was "an employer's market" for technology workers, partly because of post-cold-war downsizing in aerospace.

In fields with real labor scarcity, wages rise. Yet despite accounts of dot-com entrepreneurs' becoming millionaires, trends in computer technology pay do not confirm a need to import legions of programmers.

Salary offers to new college graduates in computer science averaged $39,000 in 1986 and had declined by 1994 to $33,000 (in constant dollars). The trend reversed only in the late 1990's.

The West Coast median salary for experienced software engineers was $71,100 in 1999, up only 10 percent (in constant dollars) from 1990. This pay growth of about 1 percent a year suggests no labor shortage.
con·cept: February 2001