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Communications of the ACM

News Track


Most federal Web sites do not meet the commercial standards for Internet privacy set by the Federal Trade Commission, including the FTC's own site, a study by the General Accounting Office has found. The GAO measured the sites against four federal standards for Internet privacy: that they disclose their information practices before personal data is collected from consumers; that they allow consumers to decide whether their personal information may be used for secondary purposes; that they give consumers access to their personal data, with the option of changing it if it is incorrect or incomplete; and that they protect against unauthorized access to personal information. Federal sites that didn't pass: the IRS, the Postal Service, and every cabinet-level agency. Only 3% of the sites studied met all four standards.

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Memory-chip Sandwich

In an ongoing effort to save space, a patented method piles up nonmemory devices, such as digital signal processors and custom logic chips, as well as memory, into stacks as high as eight layers. Dense-Pac Microsystems, Garden Grove, Calif., is a long-time pioneer in the technology of stacking multiple memory chips on top of each other, rather than side by side. Vertical stacking can be cost-effective; a PC maker can, for example, use four inexpensive 256Mb chips in a stack instead of a pricier 1Gb chip. Dense-Pac expects the new technology to go into mass production next fall.

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Better X-Ray Tech

Although digital technology has provided radiologists with X-ray images in 15 seconds and easily stored images on computer networks, improving the resolution of traditional X-rays hasn't yet been available. New York-based Swissray International, with the help of Eastman Kodak, claims to have solved the resolution problem, and, in addition, has developed a system that delivers 50% less radiation to patients, reports BusinessWeek. Whereas competing systems can digitally X-ray only certain body parts, Swissray's machine is flexible enough to X-ray bones in any part of the body. The company claims the machines, which cost about $450,000 apiece, have bested industry giants General Electric and Siemens in the $20 billion-a-year X-ray business. At three times the cost of a traditional X-ray machine, the new system could pay for itself in two years through reduced film and development costs, according to Swissray executives.


"Research is a very circuitous road. It requires tremendous patience and tolerance for failure. That's something you don't find out about yourself until you actually do it. It's depressing to put so much time and effort into something and have nothing to show for it."
Leonard Guarente, MIT biology professor


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Paper Still King

Reading comprehension is compromised when text is read on a computer monitor, according to an Ohio State study. Students were divided into three groups and asked to read and answer questions on two magazine essays. One group read the articles on paper and answered questions on paper; another read the article on a PC and answered questions on paper; and the remaining group read the articles and answered questions on a PC. The paper-based group had the highest understandability rating (7.76 out of 10) as opposed to the second group that read the same article on the PC but answered on paper (6.85), and the third group that read the same article on the PC and answered questions on the PC (6.55). A coauthor of the study suggests that students may need to be trained to better absorb material from a computer screen. The fact that online information often contains links is an example of how reading a Web page differs from the more linear nature of reading a paper page.

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Tricky Restoration

In an effort to solve the mystery of the missing 18-plus-minute gap in the infamous Watergate tapes, the National Archives will convene a panel of experts to see if it's possible to shed any new light on the decades-old case. This would be conducted by using computer hard-drive scanning techniques to examine old tapes made of magnetic powder suspended in oil. "We're most likely going to corroborate the findings that it was intentionally erased. As a kicker we might get a few words here and there," says David Pappas of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

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Going Coffin Shopping

Just about anything can be bought and arranged online. Even your own coffin and funeral. E-funeral homes are trying to finesse electronic anonymity with varying degrees of success. Now a Singapore-based company, Trinity Casket, for example, lets you click on the "Staff" icon to meet, among others, the "Chief Embalmer" and the "Lady Embalmer." The Neptune Society site offers package price lists as well as an à la carte menu. A sales manager for the Neptune Society says that while prearrangement sales over the Internet have been minimal, the service has generated a lot of leads. Many people feel comfortable asking questions and approaching this difficult issue via email.

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Author

Send items of interest to fox_r@acm.org

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Footnotes

Correction: Due to a printer's error, a chart appearing in the September News Track (p. 9) inadvertently lacked a vertical scale and properly labeled vertical bars. We apologize for this error.

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