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Communications of the ACM

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At major U.S. corporations last year, there was a 43% chance—up sharply from 35% in 1997—employers monitored workers' email files, voice mail, computer files, phone calls or other work-related activities, according to the American Management Association (AMA). Polling 1,054 human resource managers, the New-York-based AMA said the sample mirrored its corporate membership of 10,000 organizations that together employ one-fourth of the U.S. work force and had a margin of error of 3.5%. The financial sector conducted the most monitoring, with 68% of companies involved in some form of snooping, followed by business and professional service providers at 51%, and wholesalers and retailers at 47%. Most monitoring was performed by spot checks, and 84% of the companies that kept tabs on employee activity let its employees know they were watching.

Figure. DVDs Take Off


"Technology should enhance competition and democracy ... and that mandates an open standard that everyone can participate in."
—Mike Robinson, president of mp3.com, addressing CFP 99


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Infrastructure Revolution

The Asia-Pacific region has passed Europe in the pace of developing information infrastructures, according to a survey conducted by market research firm International Data Corp. Although the U.S. remains the dominant information economy, Asia-Pacific led the world in the growth rate of its information infrastructure in 1997, with a 10% increase from the year before. The U.S. grew 7.9%, Europe grew 7%, and Latin America grew 5.5%. The survey ranked countries for information systems, the Internet, computers, and social organization: U.S., Sweden, Finland, Singapore, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Japan, and Canada, respectively. Continental European countries ranked lower: The U.K. was 14th; France, 19th; and Italy 23d.

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E-strands of Life

DNA strands might someday be used as wires in computer chips and transistors, say researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland. The researchers found that DNA conducts electricity as well as a good semiconductor (barring copper) and claim there is no metallic wires that can be made as small or as regular as DNA strands, which are 2 billionths of a meter thick, or one-forty-four-thousandths of the diameter of a medium-sized human hair. DNA strands might even be able to wire themselves together; molecules at the end of strands might link themselves to other molecules, making it possible to create a wiring grid by laying down target molecules as terminals and letting the DNA attach itself.

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Leave the Driving to...

Computerized stability systems for luxury cars have become widely available in the past year or two, and are rapidly becoming standard equipment for all cars. Such stability systems are activated by a combination of the car's speed and its change of direction. Antilock brakes and traction control systems are designed to control the effects of hard braking; stability systems are designed to prevent a car from skidding out of control when its driver is speeding into dangerous curves or swerving to avoid an obstacle by decelerating and braking one wheel at a time, depending on the car's direction. However, stability systems can add from $500 to $1,000 to a car's sticker price.

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Plastic Pavement

Old computers may soon be part of the highway, not the information superhighway, but used as pothole filler for repairing roads. The State Department of Environmental Protection and the American Plastics Council are promoting the recycling and marketing of plastics from electronics. A lightweight, asphalt-type mix made with the plastic portions of computers, printers, paper trays, and scanners has been developed by Coniglairo Industries, Framingham, Mass., a company that processes up to 12.5 tons of computer and other plastic housing from the Northeast every day.

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Till Death Do We Chat

Records of electronic communication, a growing factor in high-profile corporate cases, such as the Microsoft antitrust trial and a wrongful termination lawsuit involving Oracle's CEO, have begun showing up in divorce proceedings and custody proceedings nationwide, reports the Washington Post. Some legal scholars are concerned, saying the practice raises questions of privacy and fairness. But that hasn't stopped clients from marching into lawyers' offices armed with printouts of email messages retrieved from home PCs. Lawyers seeking to use incriminating email argue that such evidence is valuable because, unlike witness testimony, it provides a firsthand record of the writers' feelings. But there's plenty of room for legal challenges. When spouses share a PC, for instance, messages can be written under the other's name, and existing files can be altered. Regardless, family lawyers say the use of electronic files in court will continue to grow; they advise caution when sending email.

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Author

Send items of interest to Fox_r@acm.org

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Figures

UF1Figure. DVDs Take Off

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©1999 ACM  0002-0782/99/0600  $5.00

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