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November 19, 2007

Study finds no shortage of science, engineering talent

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:30 PM

My story on Bill Gates' Friday evening speech to the regional conference of the National Society of Black Engineers elicited several responses from readers who think the shortage of engineering talent Gates described is a fallacy created by Big Tech in order to lobby for a raised H-1B visa cap and cut their labor costs.

Many readers pointed to this recent Urban Institute study, which says "U.S. student performance rankings are comparable to other leading nations and colleges graduate far more scientists and engineers than are hired each year." The authors note in a summary excerpt that the education pipeline in these fields could use improvement, but is not dysfunctional. Further, they wrote,

"Surprisingly few of the many students who start along the path toward [science and engineering] careers take the next steps to remain in an S&E career. If there is a problem, it is not one of too few S&E qualified college graduates but, rather, the inability of S&E firms to attract qualified graduates."

This caveat is offered: "The analysis of all S&E students and workers may not apply equally to the trends and problems faced in specific fields or by domestic minority groups. A fine-grained analysis of specific industries, occupations, and populations is needed to identify the weakness in the U.S. education system."

The study is interesting reading and provides a good counterpoint to the comments Gates made. (Here's a full transcript of his speech and Q&A with the NSBE.)

It seems to me that, as with any complex subject, there are plenty of credible studies supporting both sides of the debate for one to pick from.

October 18, 2007

IT industry, Microsoft, continue to rev global economy

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 12:01 AM

Microsoft paid leading market-researcher IDC to draw up a major report of the economic impact of the IT industry -- and Microsoft's share of it -- on the global economy.

The big takeaway, no suprise: IT drives a big part of the global economy, and software in particular has a disproportionately large impact.

After studying 82 countries and regions, IDC found that $1.2 trillion, or 2.5 percent of 2007 global gross domestic product, can be traced back to the IT industry. That share is expected to grow to 2.75 percent by 2011.

The report gives Microsoft and its "ecosystem" -- described as "hardware, software, services, and channel firms as well as end user organizations running Microsoft software" -- credit for $400 billion in 2007 revenues and 42 percent of IT employment globally.

Pamela Passman, Microsoft's vice president of global corporate affairs, said the report is useful to the company in talks with government officials.

"What's most interesting about this are the trends that we see and for the audiences that we want to talk to about this, which is significantly policy makers," she said. "It's important for them to understand the trends, as they think about how they make resource allocation decisions."

Packaged software -- Microsoft's bread and butter, also the stuff provided to big enterprise customers by IBM, Oracle and SAP -- represents 21 percent of IT spending. But this sub-category of the industry generates half of all the IT jobs.

IDC chief researcher John Gantz explained why software has an out-sized impact on employment in the industry.

"For every dollar of software sold there's $1.25 of services around that software to be sold," Gantz said. Those services include training, installing, integrating, and working with software and also the software distribution channel, he said.

What about software's share of IT spending vs. hardware and services?

"In general, the software market is growing faster than the hardware market so over time that share will go up," said Gantz. He added that software's growth has slowed since the late 1990s -- hardware growth has slowed more -- when software spending was in the 15 to 20 percent range.

Today, software is growing about 6 to 8 percent a year. So what's causing the slow down?

"We call it basically the software complexity crisis," Gantz said. "It's fundamentally that so much of the software has to be integrated with older software that it slows the adoption down." (That also creates plenty of jobs for IT pros who can integrate the latest and greatest with legacy systems.)

How might the trend toward software as a service or, in Microsoft's terms, software plus services, affect growth of this part of the IT industry?

Right now, Gantz said, software as a service is counted by IDC as a service, and despite all the attention it's getting, "actually there's not enough of it to really make a difference.

"It's Microsoft Office Live, Dynamics Live,, and out of $220 billion for a total software market, there's not all that much activity," Gantz said. "It's the wave of the future, but the amount today is not that high."

September 10, 2007

RFID chips and cancer -- ask Amal

Posted by Kristi Heim at 6:23 PM

Embedding microchips in humans scares some people on privacy grounds alone. Now the chips are raising alarms for a different reason -- a potential link to cancer.

Studies done in the 1990s found that chip implants had "induced" malignant tumors in lab mice and rats, according to this AP story.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the VeriChip by Applied Digital Solutions for use in humans in 2005. At the time, the man in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the FDA, was Tommy Thompson.

Two weeks after the approval took effect, the story recounts, Thompson left his job, and five months later he took a paid position on the board of Applied Digital Solutions.

This just doesn't look good for Thompson or for the 2,000 people with RFID chips in their bodies now.

To get a sense of how worrisome this newly uncovered research might be, I asked one of them. Amal Graafstra has put two chips in his own hands voluntarily, but he deliberately avoided the kind approved by the FDA.

Amal Graafstra

Graafstra opens a door by waving his micro-chipped hand near the keypad.

The reason is that he wanted to be able to remove his implants easily for any reason. The "anti-migration" coating on pet and human implant chips makes them much harder to take out.

Graafstra said he strongly suspects it's this coating that caused cancerous cells to grow around the implant sites on the animals in the studies.

"Now I'm just that much more satisfied I chose not to get an 'FDA approved human' or pet implant which have this coating," he writes in his blog. Graafstra manages to provide a good source of do-it-yourself information on RFID, as well as some clear-headed thinking about the science around it.

Could it be that these self-taught "guinea pigs" provide better expertise on the topic than the FDA?

September 5, 2007

Tech companies wake up to traffic nightmare

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:13 PM

How many people have companies like Microsoft lost over the years because of the commuting nightmare between Seattle and the Eastside? Maybe none, maybe only a few. Considering the worsening traffic situation for people who need to work on one side of the lake every day, but want to dwell on the other, life is definitely not easy.


Arteries clogged daily

Now it sounds like some tech companies are finally getting wiser because our local transportation officials are not.

Today we're seeing a stream of news about Microsoft's possible plans to expand along South Lake Union and F5 Networks building up its waterfront campus and opening a new R&D center in Bellevue. Meanwhile, Google is serving up perks on both sides of the water. The locations all seem aimed at lessening employees' commuting woes.

If more companies would match F5's incentive program, which gives employees up to $300 a month if they bike, walk, bus or carpool to work, the traffic situation just might improve a bit more.

August 10, 2007

China, France, Poland top podium in Microsoft Olympics

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 8:25 AM

With the 2008 Olympics in Beijing now less than a year away, we're getting in the mood for medals. And we can consider Microsoft's Imagine Cup, a global technology and creativity competition among students from around the world, the Olympics of software. So, with the winners of this year's cup announced today, let's do a "medal count" -- admittedly an imprecise measure because of inconsistent factors from country to country such as population and resources -- and see which countries have the top young technology talent.

The Imagine Cup has nine events from Algorithm to Short Film. Microsoft lists the top three finishers in each category. There's also an interactive map of the world showing all finalists by category and country.

Both China and France had four teams finish in the top three, the most of any country, but each had only one first place. China's was in the IT Challenge, which asks competitors to "demonstrate proficiency in the science of networks, databases, and servers, as well as the areas of analysis and decision making in IT environments." The French team took first in Web development. (Taiwan also had a second-place finish.)

Poland had three winning teams, all of which finished first. The country dominated the visual arts, winning the photography and short film categories, as well as the algorithm category -- perhaps the most demanding of the event. It's an individual competition comprised of "brain teasers, coding challenges, and algorithmic puzzles."

Romania and Brazil had two top-three finishers each.

In the high-profile software design category, in which teams of students used Microsoft technologies to design applications to improve education, Thailand took top honors, followed by Korea and Jamaica.

The complete results are available here.

The United States had several finalists, but no top-three finishers. Those so inclined to do so might read this as another piece of evidence that the U.S. is lagging the rest of the world in math and science education.

August 9, 2007

Pearl Jam concert lyrics censored by AT&T

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 9:29 AM

Pearl Jam was rocking out at Lollapalooza on Sunday, per usual, this time riffing on Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" during a performance of "Daughter." Lyrics criticizing the president were cut from AT&T's Web cast of the event.

According to the Seattle band's Web site, the lyrics "George Bush, leave this world alone" and "George Bush find yourself another home" were censored.

The concert organizers did a bit of reporting to find out what the hell happened: "When asked about the missing performance, AT&T informed Lollapalooza that portions of the show were in fact missing from the Web cast, and that their content monitor had made a mistake in cutting them."

PJ was not happy:

This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media.

AT&T's actions strike at the heart of the public's concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media. ...

If a company that is controlling a Web cast is cutting out bits of our performance -- not based on laws, but on their own preferences and interpretations -- fans have little choice but to watch the censored version.

What happened to us this weekend was a wake up call, and it's about something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band.

The band plans to post an uncensored version of its performance on its Web site soon.

July 20, 2007

More RFID resources and more debate

Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:35 PM

Today's story on RFID in new Washington state driver licenses and ID cards is only part of a much larger story about the growing use of RFID technology in all kinds of applications. More public discussion about the impact of these technologies seems warranted.

A few readers called or e-mailed me with questions about the story, which I'll try to answer.

Q: Why wasn't there a way for the public to find out about this and weigh in before the decision to go with the new driver licenses was made?

A: I'm not sure, but not all the technical details are finalized, so there may be room for change. Here is what we know so far. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants the system to be compatible with its Nexus program, so states essentially accept whatever strengths or weaknesses come with that program.

Q: What can the "average citizen" do to fight against these tracking devices? Sure, they have "good intentions," however, I for one am very concerned about the intrusiveness of the government into our lives. It seems we have less and less rights all in the name of security."

A: The ability to opt in or out is key. At least for now, the Washington state system is voluntary.

RFID is also being used for electronic tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and for the new ORCA regional transportation system pass.

Rene Martinez, a veteran of IBM's research labs, helped invent the new generation of long-range RFID technology. Controlling technology is difficult because it's always changing, he said. It should be behavior that any new laws attempt to control.
Martinez proposed the idea of an "electronic anti-stalking law," which would protect citizens or their property from being tracked by a government, company or person without permission.

Nicky Ozer of the Northern California chapter of the ACLU said that doesn't go far enough. Since RFID can be used surreptitiously, individuals don't know they are being tracked. She pointed to the case of seat belts.
"The combination of modifying the technology to make it safer and combining it with regulating behavior" is the right approach, she said.

Here is a list of current RFID-related bills in California. Here is some information on the Washington bill, which the WSA and a number of business groups opposed, saying it would create onerous new legal liabilities.

While most experts agreed that RFID is inherently insecure technology, there are ways to deploy it that capture its effectiveness and still protect privacy. One example is the Seattle Public Library, which uses an RFID system to check books in and out. The system does not store personal identification on the RFID tag, and it erases data in its system about who borrowed what book as soon as the book is checked in.

Update: Here's a tool that might come in handy someday.

June 29, 2007


Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:49 AM

Bruce Weinstein, who writes "The Ethics Guy" column at BusinessWeek, has an interesting take on our obsession with electronic gadgets. In critiquing the iPhone, he says the "i" should stand for "isolation."

Throughout the day, the more we bury our heads in devices that let us chat, listen to music, read e-mail and shop, the more opportunities we miss for direct social interaction, he writes. Of course, he doesn't mention all the interaction the Internet also facilitates, connecting people across the globe who ordinarily would have no way to meet.

Still, I found his column thought-provoking. But when I replied to an e-mail from him last night, I had to confess I read his column on my BlackBerry. He then admitted to being online from his laptop at 10 p.m. Face it, we're all hooked.

March 21, 2007

A timely debate on Starbucks

Posted by Kristi Heim at 3:21 PM


You can find a Starbucks in the Forbidden City in Beijing, but having a store located there has provoked some controversy and protest.

Today's Starbucks shareholders meeting offered interesting fodder for debate, and more is on tap at a discussion next week on the role of chain retailers on Main Street.

Years ago, it would have been strange to think of McDonald's giving Starbucks some competition. But Starbucks' aggressive global expansion increasingly draws such comparisons, and now so does McDonald's coffee.

In addition, the company that prides itself on social responsibility is now getting some push back in places like China, where opposition has grown to its opening a cafe inside the 600-year-old Forbidden City.

Is Starbucks becoming too ubiquitous? Are three stores on the same street necessary?

Those questions are up for debate during the "Chains on Main" session during a national conference on "Building a Sustainable Future," which is hosted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The discussion takes place Tuesday morning from 9 to 10:15 at the Westin Seattle.

January 10, 2007

How should the Gates Foundation handle investments?

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:53 AM

The recent media coverage of Gates Foundation investments raises questions about whether assets can and should be used to encourage positive change (or at least avoid causing harm) rather than simply to make more money for its mission.

Socially responsible investing has been around for a long time, but the size of this foundation's assets gives more it weight and influence than any other charitable organization.

But why stop there? The debate about the role of foundations could apply to any institution or individual with a significant pool of money to invest.

Let's say you don't like the way a company is run -- should you steer clear of it entirely, or actively invest to change the company as a shareholder?

This conversation includes some interesting views from a charitable fund director and Amnesty International. Fund director Charlie Tomberg points out that buying or selling a company's shares doesn't have much effect on that company. Amnesty International has an arm that advocates changing companies like Dow Chemical from within by becoming a shareholder.

If the Gates Foundation pours more resources into analyzing its portfolio, will it get clear answers?

Jeff Reifman, a former Microsoft manager who advocates socially responsible investing, expressed skepticism that the Gates Foundation will break much new ground in holding corporate behavior accountable.

The issue is complicated and worth a lot more debate. Let me know what you think....

November 8, 2006

Post election ponderings

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:41 AM

Update: Make that a different party running both the House and Senate. And one issue that is sure to heat up is the debate over H-1B visas. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has been speaking out about the need to ease limits on the number of visas granted, or even do away with them. Meanwhile WashTech today sent out a message to members to urge their elected officials to "End Corporate War on High-Tech Workers."

Now that the election is over, I have been wondering what it means for technology, and what effect technology has had on the election.

Some conclusions:

Electronic voting is not ready for prime time.

Bloggers probably didn't have as much impact on individual races this time around. Drilling down into details didn't seem to matter as much to voters preoccupied by the larger issue of war in Iraq.

But they did a great job pointing out weaknesses in the voting system.

The Web can be a useful tool to collect information on voting irregularities across the country.

Regardless of political affiliation, it seems clear that this country needs to make it a whole lot easier for people to exercise their right to vote. Maybe the right technology can help.

Technology policy doesn't seem like it will shift dramatically with a different party running the House. Too many tech issues cut across party lines.

October 31, 2006

The price of clean water

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:51 PM

In his discussion here about how to make globalization work, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz talked about the importance of assets like a clean environment. Because the environment isn't mobile, like money or factories, protecting it can help shore up a region's competitive strength and attract workers who value it. I remembered the story of a high-powered U.S. executive who kept getting sick on the polluted air in Shanghai and finally packed it in.

What if the value of nature could be quantified like any other asset? The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and Stanford University are teaming up on a new project to calculate nature's economic benefits, looking at clean water and air, soil fertility and other factors.

Natural systems should be protected for their economic value, they contend. One study along those lines found that the economic benefits of conserving forests in Paraguay exceeded the benefits of farming the same land, for example.

The Natural Capital Project starts in three pilot areas -- the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania, the upper Yangtze River Basin in China and the Sierra Nevada region in California. It aims to measure the economic value of "ecosystem services" and incorporate the data into policy decisions.

October 17, 2006

Why globalization has failed

Posted by Kristi Heim at 4:08 PM

Update: If you want to read the whole discussion, stay tuned for reporter Al Scott's Q&A with Stiglitz this Sunday.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz stopped by here for a brief interview this morning to talk about the state of the global economy. I had a chance to meet Stiglitz a few years ago at Columbia University, where he teaches, and he was every bit as dynamic today.

Joseph Stiglitz

In town to promote his book "Making Globalization Work," reviewed here, Stiglitz said he was interviewed this morning by a radio host at KEXP who was one of the protesters at the "Battle of Seattle," marching in the streets against the World Trade Organization in 1999. The foes of free trade might think they've found a new messiah, but actually Stiglitz supports globalization in principle. He just opposes its mismanagement, which has exacerbated the fundamental inequalities between rich and poor countries.

Countries like China and India have succeeded in spite of those obstacles, he said, because they have resisted pressure to float their currencies by the World Bank, IMF and the rest of the so-called Washington concensus. Brazil developed its own alcohol fuel industry, one initially discouraged by the World Bank, and now has achieved energy independence, he noted.

Lack of a level playing field in behind-the-scenes WTO negotiations has traditionally hurt the developing world. But in some ways it could come back to bite the U.S., too. Without multilateral trade agreements that include environmental protection, for example, a country that pollutes without restriction has a cost advantage over one that doesn't.

While globalization isn't pretty, it does seem permanent. At least Stiglitz is proposing some solutions for making it better.

August 29, 2006

Citizens campaign for net neutrality

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:07 PM

A coalition of diverse groups has gathered almost 30,000 signatures to deliver to Sen. Patty Murray on Wednesday, urging her to vote in support of net neutrality.

Members of the SavetheInternet coalition plan to deliver the petition to Murray's office in Seattle, said Kevin Moore, a Microsoft employee and volunteer at who helped circulate the petition. The Washington state drive is part of a nationwide Internet campaign by the coalition that has collected more than a million signatures. They are targeting senators who have been undecided on the issue in the past, Moore said. While Sen. Maria Cantwell has already come out in support of net neutrality, Murray could be a deciding vote in the Senate, he said.

Bret Chiafalo, a Seattle resident who signed the online petition, had this to say: "My phone or cable company should not be telling me which Web sites I can open on my computer. Senator Murray has a choice. She can take away Internet freedom by turning the Internet over to giant corporations or she can side with constituents by voting to preserve net neutrality."

August 16, 2006

The politics of AIDS funding

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:33 PM

Bill and Melinda Gates made headlines around the world when they spoke this week at the opening of the International AIDS Conference in Toronto. They urged quicker progress toward the next big breakthrough, including practical methods to prevent HIV transmission such as microbicides for women.

Amid the flurry of news were striking comments by Bill Gates that abstinence programs have limited usefulness. That view is a sharp contrast to the Bush administration and Congress, which require organizations they fund to spend at least a third of their prevention dollars on programs that promote sexual abstinence.

Gates' comments prompted this response, ahem, from the government.

July 19, 2006

Amnesty International details Internet censorship

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:12 PM

Amnesty International has come out with a report about censorship in China that details how Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google have collaborated with Chinese censors in violation of their own values and policies.

The companies have come under fire recently for bowing to pressure from Chinese authorities to filter out politically sensitive content. As a result, they face potential restrictions on how they behave abroad with a bill pending in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Amnesty International is asking companies to exhaust judicial measures before complying with requests that could impact human rights, such as giving out information about email users. It urges companies to call for the release of dissidents jailed for expressing opinions online. AI also created a Website designed to undermine censorship by spreading the news about censored content on individual blogs and Web sites around the world.

June 28, 2006

Net neutrality amendment fails

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:14 PM

An amendment to add a network neutrality guarantee to the telecom bill failed today in the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee. The 11-11 vote was split right down the middle along party lines, with the exception of Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, who co-sponsored the amendment. It would have prevented Internet access providers from giving priority to any particular content or services along their networks. See our previous story here.

June 27, 2006

Net neutrality update

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:36 PM

What do craigslist, and Skype have in common with AARP and the Christian Coalition of America?

They held a joint press conference by phone in support of network neutrality, which is being debated this week in the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee. Last week's hearing, with 214 amendments to the sweeping telecom reform bill, got out of control quickly and was stopped after about two hours.

The Christian Coalition says it favors network neutrality because its 50 state leaders have to host their own Web sites, and if they end up having to settle for a cheaper slow lane to serve up their pages, the organization will have trouble getting its message out.

Meanwhile, an alternative has been suggested by the Center for Democracy and Technology that would draw a line between the network and the Internet, allowing telecom providers to "experiment with non-neutral arrangements" on their networks while preserving the openness of the Internet for the public.

Update: More sparks are expected to fly when the hearing resumes Wednesday at 7 a.m. Pacific time. A Webcast is available here.

June 16, 2006

Why Chinese censors love Yahoo!

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:02 PM

A comparison of search engines Yahoo!, Google, MSN and Baidu in China revealed some surprising results, says the organization Reporters Without Borders. The group said Yahoo! was the worst offender in the censorship tests, filtering even more information than its local Chinese competitor, Baidu.

The study used Chinese language search terms, including "democracy," "human rights" and "Tibet independence." In Yahoo!'s case, typing in certain search terms returned an error message the first time, and shut down the service for an hour the second time, the group reported.

June 14, 2006

Net neutrality, Amazon and Microsoft

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:23 PM

The issue of "network neutrality" heads to a vote in the Senate next week, but signs are not looking good that the outcome will be any different from last week.

The House of Representatives rejected a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Jay Inslee to prevent telecom companies from charging Internet companies for different tiers of network access. That leaves some consumers wondering whether the Internet without premium service will become as dull as TV without cable.

Today, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said he believed the Senate would take a similar vote, according to Bloomberg.

I haven't heard of too many Internet companies setting up shop in Alaska. So far, senators in the land of and Microsoft have been mum on the issue.

May 23, 2006

Software piracy down in emerging markets

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:38 AM

China, Russia and India, usually given the dubious distinction as the world's biggest markets for pirated software, today topped the list of countries with the most progress on reducing software piracy last year, according to the Business Software Allilance. In both Russia and China, piracy rates dropped 4 percent, while the rate declined 2 percent in India. Ukraine and Morocco were also included in the group with the biggest reductions in piracy.

About 35 percent of software on the world's PCs last year was still illegal, according to the BSA, amounting to $34 billion in losses. But the progress in emerging markets was a positive sign. The BSA credited education, enforcement and policy efforts for the change.

Seems to me the progress has a lot to do with the development of homegrown software industries in those countries, and the government's desire to protect a nascent asset.

Even with the lowest rate of software piracy, the amount of damage was highest in the United States, where piracy was blamed for $6.9 billion in losses. Read the report here.

May 19, 2006

What should phone companies do with your data?

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:04 PM

In the aftermath of a report that several major U.S. telephone companies gave customer phone records to the National Security Agency, the ACLU of Washington state has started an e-mail campaign asking people to call their phone companies and find out if their records were turned over to the NSA.

The report said AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth were participating (Verizon and BellSouth later denied they had provided records to the NSA), but that Qwest had refused the NSA's request. The ACLU e-mail campaign also urged Qwest customers to thank the company for its "principled stand." Qwest, better known by some for its poor customer service record, has been both praised and condemned for its stance.

I couldn't help thinking about the recent debate over Internet companies refusing or complying with government requests for customer information. I wonder whether this issue will have any long-term effect on Google or Qwest or the others involved.

What do you think companies should do when asked to turn over such data?

April 18, 2006 From Microsoft to Apple

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:04 AM, the Santa Rosa, Calif., company that sued Microsoft for patent infringement, filed a lawsuit Monday against Apple Computer. The suit is actually a counterclaim in ongoing litigation between the two companies; Apple sued Burst in January proactively seeking a legal declaration that it wasn't infringing patents.

At issue are Burst's patents related to aspects of delivering and playing back audio and video. Burst is claiming that Apple is infringing on those patents in its iPod, iTunes and QuickTime products.

The patents, which were filed beginning in 1988, suggest a shift in the previous broadcast paradigm of delivering audio/video content at a rate commensurate with the playback speed. In contrast to the broadcast paradigm, one aspect of the patented inventions is to transmit the audio and/or video content at a rate faster than playback speed...

Microsoft paid Burst $60 million last year to settle its suit, which covered some of the same patents.

April 13, 2006

Quoted: Bill Gates

Posted by Kim Peterson at 12:59 PM

Bill Gates, speaking to an audience at the University of Washington in 1988, according to the Los Angeles Times:

"Although about 3 million computers get sold every year in China, people don't pay for the software. Someday they will, though. And as long as they're going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They'll get sort of addicted, and then we'll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade."

Microsoft is starting to figure out how to collect. See today's story for more details.

April 12, 2006

Citywide Wi-Fi in Portland

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 5:33 PM

Portland announced today who would be rolling out its Wi-Fi network across the city, and it wasn't EarthLink or Google, which have received a lot of attention for proposals in other markets.

The winner was MetroFi, which will build and operate a citywide Wi-Fi network that will provide free wireless Internet access to Portland residents. The network will also be used for public services such as smart parking meters, through which the city expects to save millions of dollars in productivity. The system will be built at no cost to the city.

The city of Portland spans 134 square miles and has a population of approximately 540,000. Access for up to 1 megabit per second will be available at no cost. The service will be supported by advertising from local and national advertisers in the form of banner and text advertisements in the browser frame. Customers who want an access without ads can pay about $20 a month.

If you remember, in a May report the city of Seattle dismissed the idea of Wi-Fi being efficient for providing Internet access to residents. Instead, the city wanted to get a service provider to lay fiber to every home and business.

Cell biologist bats .341 with 25 home runs

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 10:47 AM

OK, not really. But a trade group in Illinois has issued trading cards showcasing the state's top scientists.

"Collect 'em now and get an autograph," Jack Lavin, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce, said at the biotech industry's biggest convention, according to this Chicago Tribune article (registration required). "They'll be worth thousands once they win a Nobel!"

It's an innovative, if gimmicky, effort in the ongoing competition among the states to woo the life sciences industry. Traditional enticements include tax incentives and cash for research, like the $350 million Life Sciences Discovery Fund here in Washington, or giveaways of land and other resources in other states.

A new report issued at the convention, ending in Chicago today, details the incentives offered by all the states, though the Illinois trading cards aren't included.

The Tribune quoted scientist Peter Sutovsky, who's depicted on a card, asking, "How do you calculate a scientist's batting average?"

April 10, 2006

Progress against piracy?

Posted by Kristi Heim at 5:39 PM

Chinese authorities announced a step toward reducing software piracy today, requiring manufacturers to ship new computers pre-loaded with legitimate operating system software. Many Chinese computers are sold without any software installed because consumers want them that way. It's easy to buy and install pirated versions of Microsoft Windows and other programs, sold on the street for less than $1 a copy.

But a government order issued last month requires all domestic and imported computers to be sold with legitimate operating system software pre-installed, according to China's National Copyright Administration. The regulation does not specify which software is to be used, and Microsoft has competition from Kingsoft, Linux and others. It does require software providers to give computer makers favorable prices and services, a hint that regulators don't want the price tag jumping $100 or more just for the software.

Microsoft has long pressed PC makers in China to agree to install legitimate software, and it made some progress recently with companies such as Lenovo. "We applaud the Chinese government for taking this significant step toward ensuring the use of genuine software in China, and for promoting a healthy intellectual property environment, which we believe is vital for China to realize its full potential as an innovation leader," the company said in a statement. But like any law in China, its effectiveness depends on enforcement.

The timing of the announcement was planned to coincide with a visit by Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi to the U.S. as she tries to defuse trade tensions and smooth the way for Chinese President Hu Jintao's official visit next week.

March 28, 2006

WashTech's take on H1-B visas

Posted by Kim Peterson at 11:40 AM

Marcus Courtney, the president of the Washington Alliance for Technology Workers (WashTech), attended a conference in Washington D.C. this month and takes the opportunity to talk H1-B visas on his organization's Web site.

One thing we learned is that this is really a debate that isn't dealing with facts. When you raise the H1-B issue with people, they have no understanding of what is really true or not about the program, how the program works, or the true labor conditions for high-tech workers.

Is there really a worker shortage? That argument works because the high-tech industry, in the person of Bill Gates, runs around saying it. So Congress now thinks this is true. But they don't have any basis for this, no numbers, no facts.

The H1-B visa program is one way that American companies and universities can hire foreigners to work in the United States, but the number of these visas is capped every year. Tech companies in particular have pushed Congress to increase the quota.

March 23, 2006

Should e-mail be free?

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:04 PM

Whether e-mail should be free is at the heart of the debate in Seattle today at 3:30 p.m. The debate, which a coalition of people are calling "The People vs. AOL," is about a system in which e-mail users pay to certify that the e-mail they are sending is not spam.

The service is from a company called Goodmail Systems.

In a New York Times op-ed piece, technology pundit Esther Dyson suggests the company be given a chance to see if its solution to the problem of spam and fraud on the Internet works -- one that relies on market forces rather than ineffective regulations.

Through its CertifiedEmail service, the company charges "reputable, responsible organizations" a small per-message fee.

The coalition hosting the debate at the N-TEN Conference in Seattle insists that it's an email tax and sees a certified program as a threat to the free and open Internet. To charge would draw a line between the rich and the poor. "This system would create a two-tiered Internet," the organization said.

The debate will take place at the Westin's Cascade II room in downtown Seattle at 3:30 p.m.

March 20, 2006

Maybe Negroponte and Gates are both wrong

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:19 PM

Or at least only half right. A new voice weighing in to the debate over how to bring technology to the developing world says mobile phones are a better fit than computers.

Over the past decade, the digital divide has grown wider with computers, but narrowed when it comes to mobile phones, said Philip Howard, assistant professor of communications at the University of Washington. He directed a team of 30 students who crunched 10 years of World Bank data to understand how the developing world uses (or lacks) technology. Here's the whole study.

While the use of computers is concentrated in rich, developed countries, the infrastructure and policies of the developing world are better suited for mobile phones. And people from Lagos to Jakarta are embracing mobile technology.

That begs a question: should we build a computer that links people, as MIT is doing with Google's support, or a mobile phone that computes, as Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has suggested?

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but think I come down on the Microsoft camp," Howard said.

That is, with one caveat: he thinks the mobile devices should be Linux based.

Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee

Angel Gonzalez
Angel Gonzalez

Kristi Heim
Kristi Heim

Benjamin J. Romano
Benjamin J. Romano

Mark Watanabe



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