close this bookVolume 1: No. 37
View the documentNews -- computer industry
View the documentNews -- recession
View the documentNews -- venture capital
View the documentNews -- taxes
View the documentNews -- Japanese summer institute; jobs
View the documentNews -- NLP conferences
View the documentResources -- professional literature
View the documentDiscussion -- hobby programming; elderly students
View the documentDiscussion -- loneliness; writing; coauthoring
View the documentDiscussion -- sex, lies, and newsletters

AT&T is acquiring Teradata Corp. (El Segundo, CA). Teradata's parallel processing of large commercial databases and NCR's point-of-sale products will help AT&T compete with IBM in the commercial database market. (The market is expected to grow from $13B to $40B in the next four years.) [SJM, 12/3.]

Unisys stock skyrocketed on a USA Today report that multinational investors are attempting a takeover. [SJM, 12/3.]

IBM is eliminating another 20,000 jobs in 1992, and is considering splitting into a loose-knit federation of business units. [Newsweek, 12/9.] IBM could become the first U.S. zaibatsu, but central control seems more likely. Some restructuring has already occurred. New units will be closer to their customers and less dominated by mainframe-oriented executives. Dividing up the research labs may be a problem, though.

United Technologies (Hartford, CN) is reducing its 1,100 central research staff by about 340. [Margaret Ryan, EE Times, 11/11.]

E-Systems (Dallas, TX) and General Dynamics Land Systems (Sterling Heights, MI) are hiring EEs and software engineers, mainly at the BS level. [EE Times, 11/11.] There are always more entry-level openings than upper-level ones, and upper-level slots will often be filled internally. Still, there's a better chance of entry in a growing company than in a shrinking one.

Knowledgeware's acquisition of Intellicorp has fallen through, and Knowledgeware is having trouble digesting Language Technology Inc., Quinsoft, and other acquisitions. It now plans to cut 200 of its 900 employees, many of them recent hires for a sales boom that never came. Customers are turning to TI and other CASE vendors that offer better integration and graphical user interfaces for less money. [Kim S. Nash, Computerworld, 11/25.]

Europe's electronics firms are currently in an acquisition phase. Start-ups have less credibility in Europe, making growth difficult and acquisition likely. Average R&D spending among the top 25 growth companies is only 6.5% of sales, compared with 8% to 9% in the U.S. [Linda Bernier, Electronic World News, 11/18.]

CEOs of the 12 largest U.S. computer companies called on President Bush to increase R&D funding for the HPCC/NREN national data highway project. They -- known as the Computer Systems Policy Project -- say the recently passed Gore bill is fine for pure research, but the nation also needs research in semiconductors, software, and other enabling technologies. [Valerie Rice, SJM, 11/4.] (Twelve of the biggest corporations in the U.S. are asking for research support from shopkeepers and other taxpayers. Apple's reserves are close to $1B, and Sculley's income alone was three times NSF's budget for Robotics and Machine Intelligence last year. Additional funding may be a good idea, but shouldn't their own economic engines be fueling these advances?)

The U.S. has been outspending Europe and Japan 2-to-1 in information technology, the technology is now amazingly cheap, and $200B this year, or half of all durable equipment purchases, will be for information systems. Yet productivity is dropping. CEOs are beginning to ask what they're getting for all of this cash drain. [Gary Loveman, Computerworld, 11/25.] (Various explanations of the paradox have been offered, but the article failed to mention cumbersome software. Custom "vertical market" software, quickly constructed (from mass-market object-oriented modules) and easily maintainable, has a chance of reducing the clerical and software workforces. AI might also play a role, if it serves corporate objectives. Much of the inefficiency of current information systems is in training workers to use and maintain non-standard, ill-fitting software.)

Pat Hayes says that DEC's AI-based Canasta Help Desk project has reduced crash-related symptom reporting from 30 minutes to 3 minutes, "with greater accuracy than most engineers." [Computerworld, 11/25.]

Mark Weiser's group at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto, CA) has been featured in Computerworld [Clinton Wilder, 11/25] and other magazines. The group is working on "ubiquitous computing," and has prototyped pen-based whiteboards, laptop pads, and wireless 3"-square "tabs" or badges that can track the user, display information, and accept input. Commercialization may be a decade away.

Jeff Hawkins, head of research at Grid, is leaving to form a new pen-based consumer software company. [Rory J. O'Connor, SJM, 12/4.]

Prabhu Goel is now the Chief Technical Officer of Cadence Design Systems Inc. (San Jose, CA). Joseph B. Costello is the president and CEO. [SJM, 11/27.]

H. Ross Perot has resigned from the board of NeXT to devote all his time to Perot Systems Corp. (Dallas, TX). He still owns 11.5% of NeXT. [Lee Gomez et al., SJM, 12/4.]

Good news, bad news. Although venture capitalists are sounding cheerful again [Steve Kaufman, SJM, 12/2], a sharp drop in the Consumer Confidence Index (and in retail sales) underscores continuing layoffs at a time when companies should be hiring. Unemployment will remain high for the next six months to a year. Inflation will remain low, but many companies are giving only bonuses instead of wage hikes. With most families having two wage earners already, there's little slack for those who need extra cash. [Jane Bryant Quinn, SJM, 12/1.]

The median price of a house in San Jose has fallen slightly to $218K. [Mary Anne Ostrom, SJM, 12/4.] Low-end demand from first-time buyers is strong. Sales nationwide have slumped, although [or because] prices are generally up. Interest rates are at their lowest in 14 years, but consumers are not confident that they can keep up the payments. For existing single-family detached homes, the median selling price has been: Dallas, $90K; Sacramento Co., $139K; Seattle, $147K; NY City, $175K; Boston, $179K; San Diego Co., $192K; Los Angeles Co., $220K; and Santa Clara Co., $269K. [Ibid., 11/2 & 11/5.]

In tough times, be sure to pay off your credit card balance. If you absolutely have to run on credit, get the cheapest credit you can. Other tips from The Secret Banker's Bulletin are: cancel your mortgage insurance, shop sales, weigh potatoes to get the heaviest sack, buy cheap gas, inflate your tires properly, pay your taxes only when due, and -- one I really like -- check (800) 555-1212 for toll-free numbers before calling companies long distance. [SJM, 11/24.] (For a sample of the newsletter, send $1 to Bulletin Sample, Box 78, Elizaville, NY 12523.)

Jane Bryant Quinn recommends that you accelerate your mortgage payments if you're self-employed, middle-aged, or otherwise insecure. Having your house paid off could keep you from losing it. Even if you just owe less, that could help you refinance at lower monthly payments. A home-equity line of credit will let you borrow again if you need cash, although your credit may be frozen if the bank learns that you're unemployed. If you're young and on your way up, keep your house mortgaged to the hilt and invest in stock-owning mutual funds. [Newsweek, 11/4.] As interest rates continue to decline, people living on their savings should keep no more than one year's expenses in money-market accounts. CDs or Treasury notes will provide security at better rates. [SJM, 12/1.]

Bay Area venture funding was down this last quarter, but several institutional sources are again making long-term funds available to venture capitalists. Software companies getting funding (and hence hiring) are Cross Access (Santa Clara, CA), for database software; Information Work Bench (Mountain View), automating customer service; McAfee Associates (Santa Clara), anti-virus software; Parcplace Systems (Mountain View), object-oriented programming tools; Pillar Corp. (Foster City), corporate planning; Quickturn Systems (Mountain View), CAE; Remedy Corp. (Sunnyvale), network management; Versant Object Technology (Menlo Park), object-oriented software; Vertex Design Systems (San Francisco), CAD for architects; and Vividus (Palo Alto), multimedia software. [Steve Kaufman, SJM, 12/2.] McAfee Associates really stands out, with $10M as an initial venture-capital infusion. Anti-virus software must be a hot market.

When Kamran Elahian needed money for Momenta (Mountain View, CA), he and co-principals raised their first $1M without a business plan. (The suppliers had previously dealt with Kamran's CAE Systems and his international Cirrus Logic.) That stake from American investors soon grew to $5M. Momenta needed both large amounts of funding and connections in many countries, so Kamran raised the next $7M from the U.S., Singapore, and Taiwan. Another $18M required inputs from Japan, Europe, and Kuwait. His most recent $10M tapped all of the above plus Indonesia, Korea, and the Middle East. An advantage of dealing with so many people is that there are deep pockets that could still be tapped as necessary. However, Kamran was turned down by five investors for every one who chipped in. He had to make 52 trips to Japan, 23 to Europe, 16 to Taiwan, 10 to Singapore, and 6 or 7 to Korea. [Mary Eisenhart, MicroTimes, 11/25.]

Stephen Bingham, president of Alias Research Inc. (Toronto, Canada), says "There's a curious advantage about doing software in Canada. From day one, you realize that there ain't no market here. That's a terrific advantage." More than 25% of Canada's industrial R&D is software-related, but technology is "not even on the government agenda." Stephen couldn't find more than one or two bankers in the country who understand technology, so he went to Boston for his second round of financing. [Douglas Powell, Computing Research News, 11/91.] (U.S. academics assume there is a market here, and may put years into a project without exploring industrial interest. If no customers seek them out, they expect government support.)

If you need $100K or more, an investment broker may be the way to go. The following are some electronic matchmaking services, with the fees they charge companies looking for cash. [Bruce G. Posner, Inc., 10/91.]

Georgia Capital Network, (404) 894-3575, $75/year. Kentucky Investment Capital Network, (502) 564-4252, free. Mid-Atlantic Investment Network, (301) 405-2144, $35/year. Northwest Capital Network, (503) 294-0643, $100/year. Pacific Venture Capital Network, (714) 856-8366, $200/6 mo. Private Investor Network (SC), (803) 648-6851, $100/year. Tennessee Venture Capital Network, (615) 898-2745, $100/6 mo. Texas Capital Network, (512) 794-9398, $100/6 months. Venture Capital Network at MIT, (617) 253-7163, $250/year. Venture Capital Network of Minnesota, (612) 223-8663, $100/6 mo. Washington Investment Network (WA), (206) 464-6282, free.

If you don't incorporate, you're running a sole proprietorship. (If you've ever run a garage sale or hired someone to mow your lawn, you've done business as a sole proprietor.) It's not a "business," though, unless you're in it to make money (at more than a craft/hobby level). The government starts to take an interest when you claim business deductions on your tax statement.

There haven't been many tax changes this year, and there aren't many options for people making less than $100K. Be sure that you have Social Security numbers for all dependents over one year old. Deductions are not allowed for personal interest charges (auto loans, credit cards, etc.), but you don't have to pay taxes on employer-paid fringe benefits (professional dues, child care). If you buy business equipment, the first $10K can be written off without depreciation. [Rick Maxey, Self-Employed America, 11/91.] (Are textbooks acquired for review treated as income?)

If you have a home office, you'll need the new Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home. You should take the deduction if you have a separate area set aside for business use. The new form will help you prorate mortgage interest, real estate taxes, home maintenance, insurance, utilities, and depreciation or rent. If you are intending to sell your home, it's best to convert the office to personal use (and give up the home-office deduction) before the sale. (Take photographs.) Either that or stop depreciating the house, since it's depreciation of the office space that triggers capital gains "recapture." [Linda Stern, Home-Office Computing, 12/91.]

If you're self-employed and don't have a Keogh plan, you have until the end of the year to establish one. You can put away as much as 20% of your income (up to $30K per year), and you don't have to decide the amount until 5/15 each year. Taxes are deferred until you are 59.5, but there's a 10% penalty for early withdrawal. [Mike Espindle and Steve Nelson, Home-Office Computing, 12/91.]

If you travel for business, you can deduct transportation, meals and lodging, laundry, telephone charges, and tips, plus 80% of business meal/entertainment expense if you have documentation. If your trip is only partly business, keep a daily log and all business receipts. You can't deduct expenses for personal companions, but you get the full cost of a room or rental car if there was no cheaper rate for sole use. Keep tax records for at least three years. The IRS won't accept microfilm or other copies unless they comply with IRS regulations. [Milton Zall, Self-Employed America, 11/91.]

There are several approaches to accounting and business structure, and the government lets you decide. (Once you've studied your industry, the choice may be obvious. If you fail to choose anything else, you're running a cash business as a sole proprietor.) The IRS tries not to interfere with commerce; it just wants its share. Documentation it requires is typically generated by any well-run business, independent of tax concerns. (Sometimes the IRS is unreasonable, like asking for receipts from library copy machines. Sometimes they're sticklers for minor details, like disallowing a home office deduction if you've stored your personal tax records in your office file cabinet. I'll pass along any other gotchas I hear about.)

My biggest headache so far has been paying estimated tax. I had no way of knowing my income until the end of the year, so I risk IRS penalties of about 9% per year if I happened to pay less than 25% of the total in any quarter. Many consultants are in a similar bind, especially during the first year. You won't be penalized if you pay 100% of your previous year's tax level, but that's unrealistic if you're taking a big drop in income. There is a form for requesting an exception, but there's an easier escape if you also have a salaried job. Just file a new Form W-4 directing your employer to withhold any required amount in the fourth quarter. All withholding is treated as if paid in four equal installments, so it lets you retroactively add to your previous estimated tax payments. [Irving L. Blackman, EE Times, 6/17.]

NSF's 1992 Summer Institute in Japan is accepting applications from U.S. graduate students in science and engineering. Fifty 2nd-year (or above) graduate students will spend eight weeks at up to four dozen Japanese research laboratories in Tsukuba Science City, about 60 km northeast of Tokyo. Apply by 1/15/92. If your college doesn't have brochure NSF 90-144, contact pubs@nsf.gov. Direct inquiries to nsfjinfo@nsf.gov, (202) 653-5862. [Nick Michell (michell@cs.utah.edu), m.j.o, 12/3.]

The Philosophy Department at CMU (Pittsburgh, PA) needs tenure-track faculty in computational linguistics. Apply to the department by 12/16/91. [Carpenter (carp@lcl.cmu.edu), NL-KR, 12/3.]

Hughes STX, a subsidiary of Hughes Information Systems, needs an experienced Unix programmer/analyst to develop visualization software for the Visual Interface for Space and Terrestrial Analysis (VISTA) at NRL (Washington, DC). U.S. citizenship required. Contact sadler@ssd0.nrl.navy.mil. [Jason Williams (williams@nrl.navy.mil), m.j.o, 12/3.]

UHawaii Dept. of Information and CS has a tenure-track faculty opening for an associate or assistant network specialist to extend their PACCOM network into multimedia, distributed file systems, etc. Contact Art Lew (lew@uhics.ics.hawaii.edu) by 2/15/92. [Torben Noerup Nielsen (torben@foralie.net.hawaii.edu), m.j.o, 11/26.]

SAIC needs experienced BS/MS/PhD GIS specialists and managers in DC and NC. Contact resumes@sasig.saic.com. [akt@mcl.saic.com, m.j.o, 11/22.]

SynOptics Communications, Inc. (Santa Clara, CA) needs an experienced BSCS knowledge engineer to lead development of AI based network fault diagnosis. Contact Joe Castilla (jcastilla @synoptics.com). [James F. Duran (tracker@cup.portal.com), m.j.o, 11/22.]

There are always ads for EEs in IEEE Spectrum and in the San Jose Mercury. EEs can quickly implement any algorithm in hardware, but they may need computer scientists to develop the algorithms -- if only they knew it. Remember your place in their pecking order if you want to sell yourself.

DARPA/SISTO (Software and Intelligent Systems Technology Office) has announced the 4th Message Conference (MUC-4), June 16-18, 1992, at PRC, Inc. in McLean, VA. The conference will include evaluations of currently competing message-understanding systems. Attendance is limited to participants, advisers, and government representatives, and applications must be received by 12/27/91. Limited support (perhaps $20K) is available. Contact Beth M. Sundheim (sundheim@cod.nosc.mil). Last year's challenge involved 15 systems operating in the domain of terrorist violence in Latin America. For details, get the MUC-3 proceedings, ISBN 1-55860-236-4, $40, from Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, (800) 745-7372 or morgan@unix.sri.com. [NL-KR, 12/3.] (Start now if you want to participate in MUC-5!)

DARPA/SISTO is also sponsoring the TREC text-retrieval conference at NIST in Gaithersburg, MD, November 4-6, 1992. Full participants will access half a million English documents (2Gb) from ACL/DCI and the DARPA TIPSTER project, for retrieval and routing of articles on 50 topics in international finance and science and technology. Exploratory groups may work with a subset of the data. Minimal support may be available, even to non-U.S. participants. Apply by 1/1/92 to Donna Harman (harman @magi.ncsl.nist.gov). [Beth M. Sundheim (sundheim@cod.nosc.mil), NL-KR, 12/3.]

AAAI is having a workshop on hybrid statistical NLP, at the 10th National Conference on AI. Contact Carl Weir (weir-5@prc.unisys.com) by 3/13/92. [NL-KR Digest, 12/3.]

If you're thinking about getting a doctorate, send for Research Student and Supervisor: An Approach to Good Supervisory Practice, $2.50 (12 pp.), Council of Graduate Schools, One Dupont Circle, N.W., Suite 430, Washington, D.C. 20036-1173; (202) 223-3791. It should give you a better idea of how to interview an advisor or institution. Highly recommended. [Dwight Spencer (dwights @cse.ogi.edu), soc.college.grad, 11/18.]

To reserve the new No-Nonsense Guide to Computing Careers, ACM members can send $16 ($12 student) to ACM Order Dept., P.O. Box 64145, Baltimore, MD 21264, by 12/31/91. (800) 342-6626 for credit-card orders. [ACMemberNet, 10/91.] (Buying by credit card gives U.S. purchasers additional recourse in case of fulfillment problems -- but never give your card number to an unknown person or business. In particular, email is not secure.)

If your library gets Computer Select, you can access more than 140 computer news and technical magazines, buyers' guides and newsletters. That's probably more than you want to read, but it's great for product descriptions and market studies. Each monthly disc contains 65,000 articles plus 70,000 product descriptions. One quick use is to see if anyone is using a product or company name you'd like to have. $995/year, Ziff-Davis Computer Library (New York, NY), (212) 503-4400. [Nick Anis, Computer Currents, 11/5.] The profiles and contact information for 1,200 companies could be useful for job hunters.

ACM is publishing a library of design-automation literature, including searchable full text of conference proceedings, transactions, and newsletters going back as far as 27 years. Seven of the eight CD ROMs are page images of the text. Contact Margaret Tuttle (magt@acmvm.bitnet). [ACMemberNet, 10/91.]

For a discussion of computer (and other) jargon, you might check out John Barry's Technobabble. For training in the jargon, The New Hacker's Dictionary by Eric Raymond will give you far more words -- about five times as many as in the original Hacker's Dictionary. Both are from MIT Press, (800) 356-0343. [L.R. Shannon, NYT. SJM, 10/13.]

There's a new book out on Music and Connectionism, edited by Peter M. Todd and D. Gareth Loy. (MIT Press, 280 pp.; $39.95, (800) 356-0343; probably $45 in stores.) Articles are from the Computer Music Journal, plus new articles by Kohonen, Mozer, Bharucha, and others. [Peter Todd (todd@psych.stanford.edu), connectionists, 10/25.]

Project Management Made Simple: A Guide to Successful Management of Computer Systems Projects (David King; Yourdon Press, $30) "boils down a huge amount of information" into 100 pages of charts and clearly written text. [Christopher Lindquist, Computerworld, 11/25.]

Microsoft Press (Redmond, WA) has published The Parent's Guide to Educational Software, by Drs. Marion Blank and Laura Berlin. Over 200 programs are evaluated. 400 pages, $14.95, (206) 882-8080. [Computer Currents, 11/5.] An appendix lists educational software producers, which might be a job-hunting resource.

Chris Crawford takes an interesting stand on programming. His new book, How to Program: The Skill That Will Sharpen Your Thinking (Storm King Press), argues that no one should enter programming for the money. They should instead take it up as a hobby, like writing, woodworking, or photography. For that purpose, BASIC suits him just fine. [L.R. Shannon, NYT. SJM, 11/17.] (Chris wrote and published the games Balance of Power and Balance of the Planet.)

A Menlo Park senior center is teaching hobby and business programming to about 200 patrons in 12 classes. About half the seniors take to it, although many have trouble using a mouse. "Seniors are fixed on what they want to do with it" -- often church newsletters, personal correspondence, greeting cards, or cataloging hobby materials. [Bruce Barton, Peninsula Times Tribune, 11/19.]

As the U.S. population ages, and as much of the wealth concentrates in that demographic sector, universities will have to cater more to elderly students. Some retirement homes are already exploiting relationships with nearby colleges and cultural centers, and many professors are now teaching elder hostels. I don't know how much money there is to be made, but these "hobby" courses tend to be a lot of fun -- and it's a kick to have knowledgeable students eager for the ideas you're presenting.

Are you easily distracted, suffering from poor concentration and a short attention span? These are symptoms of loneliness, a recurrent condition plaguing 54% of entrepreneurs. You can fight loneliness by networking with others through industry associations, user groups, or journal and newsletter columns. Also, don't forget your personal friends in your climb to the top. [Constance Hallinan Lagan, Self-Employed America, 11/91.]

I just saw James Mitchner on Good Morning America (12/2), promoting his new autobiography. (Anyone can write an autobiography, he says, but it does seem to take special talent to get beyond that to the third or fourth book.) In his business, it's said that if you don't write a book by the time you're 35, you never will. Mitchner wrote his first book at 40, and now has 38 of them -- each translated into 15 or 20 languages.

I once read that scientific productivity obeys an interesting exponential law. The number of papers you can expect to publish in the remainder of your career is always equal to the number you have already published. That clearly doesn't apply throughout the career of a single productive individual, but it may apply across the ensemble of all investigators. Someone with only one publication will likely leave the field after another attempt or two, whereas a prolific coauthor may continue to publish long after retiring from active research.

My own career weakness was that I never entered into joint research. I was too comfortable, with enough support that I didn't have to worry about deadlines or short-term relevance, and my work was so "state of the art" that there weren't other people to collaborate with. Or so I thought. I missed out on friendships and professional contacts, technical cross- fertilization, the spur of competition, and the "resume multiplier" of coauthored papers. The benefits of being sole author and father [or mother] of a technique are not sufficient to justify being a loner.

Two readers have gently pointed out that my "What do women want?" paragraph was not politically correct. The context of a man asking the age-old question was clear enough, but the underlying assumption is offensive: what a woman wants often has nothing to do with a man. (I'm surprised no one objected to the idea of indirect success through molding a spouse. It seems to have been "common wisdom" before World War II, but dropped out of favor as more women entered careers outside the home.) I could have asked "What sort of male companions have heterosexual women traditionally sought for long-term relationships?", but the male point of view would still have been presumptuous. I seem to do better when quoting authors and experts.

I do thank you for responding, and will continue passing along thought-provoking items. The Communique-as-discussion-forum is about living with dignity in the working world. For example, a 12/2 letter to the San Jose Mercury complained about personnel policies that discriminate against homosexual families. Peter Chastain has chosen to be an independent contractor in order to get standard medical insurance for his family. Peter's personal accommodation is at a level that I can recommend to Computists. There are other forums for political activism to correct social injustice, and I don't intend to use the Communique for such advocacy -- but I don't mind raising the point, just to start people thinking.

Deborah Tannen's book, "You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation," says that women usually want empathy and discussion when they ask for advice. Men tend to respond with crisp answers and strong opinions that make continued discussion seem confrontational. [Tom Peters, SJM, 10/28.] I don't know if this is true for everyone, but she seems to have nailed me. To be fair, the male system works just fine if participants all advance their opinions vigorously. A male discussion is as much jockeying for leadership as it is an exploration of alternatives, and that's good if leadership is needed to implement a course of action. Failure to debate could be seen as immaturity, disinterest, or inability to contribute. Eagerness to debate implies interest more than conviction. Bosses may differ, but in my experience stating an opinion IS asking for discussion.

Should men modulate this behavior in meetings with women? Should they treat women with courtesy as they debate or even shout down other men? Should they treat everyone with courtesy, at the expense of their own culture? Should (or do) women in business join the struggle for dominance? I dunno. I do know that to influence the world you must take a stand and sell your ideas with conviction. Outside of Jimmy Stewart movies, that doesn't happen unless you've practiced assertiveness and are willing to take risks.

-- Ken