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News Track

By Robert Fox

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 43 No. 7, Pages 9-10
10.1145/341852.341858


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The U.S. agriculture industry has been one of the slowest to embrace the Internet age, with farmers, who tend to be fiercely loyal to local merchants and banks, wary of e-commerce, reports BusinessWeek. But such a link is as inevitable as spring planting: of 2.1 million farmers in the U.S., the 380,000 largest ones produce most of the crops and buy most of the farm supplies. And about 60% of these big farms are now connected to the Net, allowing farmers to shop around regionally and nationally, even internationally. Livestock, equipment, seed, and fertilizer Web auctions have cropped up overnight; new ag sites are integrating forecasting and financial services with their e-commerce offerings. Farmers are able to collect enormous amounts of data from their fields, using global-positioning systems, aerial and satellite photos, and other sensors.

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Latest agricultural stats

According to the U.S. Agriculture Department, 29% of U.S. farms had Internet access in 1999more than double the percentage in 1997. Of the farms with sales of $250,000 or more, 52% had Net access in 1999.


"When local dealers come around looking to buy, I refer them to my Web site."
Rick Lawinger, Wisconsin pig farmer


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Myanmar cuts net

As the rest of developing Asia rushes into the IT revolution, Myanmar's unelected military rulers have forbidden Internet access to their country's citizenry, fearing it could lead to dissent. The Myanmar Computer Federation estimates there are more than 50,000 computers in this country of 48 million people, one of the world's poorest. Networking these computers with the outside world is forbidden; unauthorized ownership of a modem can fetch a 7- to 15-year jail term. Even email remains restricted to a few hundred foreigners and to privileged Myanmar officials. While the regime has the capacity to provide the public with access, it is determined to keep the international information spigot closed. "Why would we want to collect garbage in our own homes?," a government official said.

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Video Games, violence linked

Violence has been linked to video games, reports a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Students ages 13 to 17 who played more violent games engaged in more aggressive behavior. The study also claims violent video games increase aggressive tendencies in the short term and can have long-lasting effects. For the complete report go to www.apa.org/journals.

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Flying the web-connected skies

By creating a global partnership and pooling financial and technical resources, Boeing is seeking to provide airline passengers with live television and Internet access in its planes, reports the Wall Street Journal. The aim is to provide high-speed connections and email at prices below what passengers pay for the current generation of telephones installed in airliner cabins. Loral's Skynet unit, with 10 satellites covering North and South America, Europe, and parts of Asia will provide satellite capacity; Alenia ApA, an Italian company, is expected to supply the technology. Some of the new services are expected to be available at the end of 2001.

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Intricate politics of weaving

The women of Letham, Guyana, hired a Web designer, and by using the Internet to market and sell their hand-woven hammocks, sold 17 for about $1,000 a piececonsidered a large sum of money in these parts. Threatened by the women's success, regional leaders then moved in and took control of the weavers' organization, alienating and finally driving out the young woman who ran the Web site. The group ultimately fell into disarray. A letter to a newspaper in the capital city of Georgetown said: "Economic advancement is not just about technology and markets; more fundamentally, it is about human relationships."

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Girls and computers

For girls to catch up to boys in IT, the "culture of computers" has to change, says the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation. Its report, "Tech Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age," says women now earn less than 28% of the U.S. bachelor's degrees awarded in computer science, down from 37% in 1984. After surveying teachers, interviewing girls, and reviewing the literature, the study concluded "girls have reservations about the computer culture." Email and Web surfing don't count because true IT literacy means using computers "proactively."

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Wall of tetris

Powered by 14 custom-built circuit boards, a data network covering several hundred feet, and illuminated by 10,000 Christmas lights, a 10-story version of the classic video game Tetris was played on the façade of the 14-floor Sciences library at Brown University. Floors four through 13 were used for the game; students built 100, 4x4 wooden frames that held the lights in place, and coupled the frames with each floor's five windows. Each frame had a small relay connected to cables that led to circuit boards in a dumbwaiter shaft, controlled by a computer in a building across from the library. First conceived as a prank by Technology House, a residence for Brown students, the project went live after getting approval from the university and raising $750 for supplies. Even a klezmer band showed up the first few nights to play music from the original version of Tetris.


"Email is a tool that many people now use to deepen and improve their ties to family and friends. Use of the Internet actually enlarges and enriches most users' social worlds. And that is particularly true for women."
Lee Raine, Director, Pew Internet and American Life Project


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