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Communications of the ACM

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An ongoing effort involving dozens of people and pilot programs with hundreds of employees at Sun Microsystems could be the next model for large high-tech companies worldwide in molding the workplace to information-age realities, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Whereas the setup of traditional high-tech companies was established in the industrial era, when people had to come together to process physical goods, today people combine their brainpower with other people's brainpower in different ways; Sun believes where people work should reflect that change. The most positive experiment was the development of "drop-in" centers where employees can go to work that are closer to home and more easily accessible. In addition, this spring Sun will roll out an elaborate work-at-home program, providing extensive equipment and other support. The company is also rethinking how it builds and uses its main campuses. Ironically, Sun is traveling in the telecommuting lane at a time when studies indicate most U.S. firms find the option costly and unrewarding. A Sun spokesperson says the experiments have shown it is important to offer "variety, choice, and mix."


"Someone will design improved humans somewhere. I'm just saying it is likely to happen in the next million years, whether we like it or not."


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From The Desk of Rage

Desk rage can best be defined as the unsettling and occasionally dangerous outcome of office workers stressed by long hours, excessive workloads, and unrealistic deadlines. The effects can range from headaches to physical violence. What stressed workers experienced in the workplace:

Witnessed yelling or other verbal abuse

42%

Yelled at co-workers themselves

29%

Cried over work-related issues

23%

Seen someone purposely damage   machines or furniture

10%

Struck a co-worker

2%

Data: Integra Reality Resources, Oct.Nov. 2000 survey of 1,305 men and women 18 and over

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Smarty Pants

A way to use nanotechnology to add properties to different kinds of natural and man-made textiles without changing the look or feel of the fabric has been developed, reports USA Today. Nanotech, touted as the technology of the future, literally refers to any technology done on a nanometer scaleone-billionth of a meter, or three to five atoms across. The technology, dubbed NanoDry and NanoCare, works like this: nano "whiskers," built atom by atom, are grafted onto, say, a cotton fiber, until they create a peach-fuzz effect. This permanent fuzz changes the fabric itself so it can't wash or wear off like the other coatings used to make cotton resist wrinkles and stains. Nano-Tex, Greensboro, NC, plans to team up with Gayley and Lord Fabric and by summer introduce khaki pants to consumers. The cost? About $5 more for a pair of nano-pants.

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Toddlers and Computers Don't Mix

Parents should ban computers, as well as TV and videogames, for children under 2, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. The notion that keyboard strokes and mouse clicks are appropriate to give a baby's budding brain a boost is wrong, say experts. But that

hasn't stopped doting moms and dads from buying lapwareeducational programs for toddlers as young as six months. Sales of lapware grew by 20% between July 1999 and July 2000, according to PC Data, Reston, VA. "Children need to touch and feel and taste, and turn things upside down and roll around," says one child psychologist. "That's how they learn best. Anything else is less effective."


"It's my belief that computers aren't something you use like you would a StairMaster. You can't get a workout on it in a half hour. You need to have it as part of your life."
Elisabeth Stock, founder of Computers for Youth


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Dot-Com Graveyard

At least 210 Internet companies have shut down since January 2000, nearly 60% of them in the fourth quarter, according to a report released by Webmergers.com, a San Francisco research firm. About 75% of the dot-coms that have closed, or 157 companies, targeted a consumer audience. One reason for the string of failures had to do with e-tailors that were unprepared for the holiday season. Another reason had to do with many Internet players running out of money as Wall Street and venture capitalists cut off funding to unprofitable Web ventures. In a separate report, the firm found buyers spent more than $87 billion on 910 acquisitions of Internet properties last year, up from $48 billion and half as many deals in 1999.

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Monkeying Around

Brain signals from a monkey in a laboratory in North Carolina have been used to control the movement of a robot arm over the Internet at a university 600 miles away. An article in the science journal Nature said scientists implanted electrodes in the monkey's brain and recorded the brain activity as the animal moved its limbs. Data was fed into a computer and mathematical methods were used to predict hand trajectory in real time as the monkey learned to make different hand movements. After scientists were convinced the computer analysis could predict hand movement from brain signal patterns, they used the brain signals as processed by the computer to allow the animal to control a robot arm. The system offers hope restoring some motor functions in paralyzed patients.

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Mating Call

A study found that men use their mobile phones to advertise to females their worth, status, and desirability. The University of Liverpool study, which observed the behavior of patrons at an upscale pub, discovered that men had a markedly different relationship with their mobile phones than did women. Whereas women generally kept their phones in their purses and retrieved them only as needed, men would take their phones out upon sitting down and place them on the bar or table for all to see. Men also fiddled with them often, moving them, checking whether the battery was charged. The study suggests the evolution of today's technology is driven not merely by scientific innovations, but by the social need of people to find novel ornaments and status symbols that distinguish them from the pack.

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Author

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©2001 ACM  0002-0782/01/0300  $5.00

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