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News Track

By Robert Fox

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 42 No. 8, Pages 9-10
10.1145/310930.310937


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Just as computers around the world are coping with the Y2K bug, the sun will enter the most violent and disruptive phase of its 11-year cycle, say astronomers, causing disruptions in satellite transmissions and triggering blackouts. According to reports at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, researchers are forecasting the sun's cycle to peak January to April, 2000, setting off solar explosions as big as a million 100-megaton hydrogen bombs. Massive bursts of energy can cause power outages and generate phantom commands capable of sending satellites spinning out of proper orbit. The good news is that unlike with past severe solar cycles, a government satellite will detect solar bursts and send a warning via the Internet, relaying it through a special system so as to give companies time to align circuits, avoid damage caused by electrical surges, as well as to power down satellite equipment to protect against disaster.

Table. Net Surveillance Rising

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Show Me the Money

Infrastructure companies, including those in networking, telecommunications, Internet service, and PC manufacturing, rack up average revenue of $308,708 per employee, a University of Texas study finds. By contrast, commerce companies average $211,401 per worker. Though the largest number of jobs and about one-third of the revenue in the entire U.S. economy is in the commerce sector, the Internet engineers are the kingsfor now. The cause: Networking and hardware companies are growing faster because traditional businesses are spending billions to get on- line, as well as keep up with the demands of super-high-speed Net access and Internet backbones.

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European Online Explosion

Business use of the Internet in Europe grew by 91% in 1998, with more than 20 million users having Net access at work, according to a report from market research firm Dataquest. Overall online use in Europe grew from 17.7 million in 1997 to more than 35 million in 1998. The report predicts Internet penetration across Europe will reach 17% by year's end, adding that in order for the Internet to function as a viable sales channel, Net penetration has to reach 20%. Many Nordic countries have already hit the 20% threshold; in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and U.K., Net penetration is nearing that level. Germany had the highest number of Internet users in Europe, going from more than 5 million in 1997 to more than 8 million last year.

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Tracking Missing Children

A system that tracks missing children was invested in and developed by two South Carolina businessmen-grandfathers, designed by the Canadian GPS group, Marconi Co., and is being tested by a juvenile justice agency and the Anderson, S.C., police, reports CNN. A tracking device is sewn into a backpack or jacket lining and "sleeps" until called by a tracking center. The signal can be received anywhere with cell-phone coverage. Five units were sent to Child Search, a Houston-based nonprofit group that hunts for missing children. Future possibilities are numerous: tracking Alzheimer's patients, lost hikers, and runaway teens. Expected cost: $200, with a monthly activation fee of about $5.


Fact: There are more than 600,000 abduction attempts on children each year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Every day, about 2,300 children are reported missing and entered into the FBI's computer system.


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Spam Report

One in three Internet users report getting six to 20 unsolicited bulk email messages a week, reports a survey commissioned by Bright Lights, an email filtering company in San Francisco. And the longer you have an email address, the higher the probability you will get spammedfrom 63% at two months to 96% for those online four or more years. The most frequent unwanted messages were get-rich-quick schemes, adult ads, and software offers.


"The best-connected 'Net-heads' are carrying around handheld devices and Web phones. They wouldn't think of stopping at a restaurant to use a computer."Mickey Butts, managing editor of Industry Standard, commenting on the failure of cybercafes.


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Not Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In an unusual case in Worchester, Mass., a reputed mobster, Vincent Marino, went to court to determine whether the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration had secretly implanted a microchip tracking device during surgery to remove a bullet from his buttocks. Prosecutors first argued the government was not required to confirm whether or not it had done such a thing. But later, after a judge ordered them to respond, prosecuters said the agency had not implanted a chip. Marino, now in prison, "doesn't trust the government" and wants an MRI scan to check for a microchip. Federal agents would not say whether they've ever used such tracking devices.

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Tables

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