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Issue: 014 CPU: Working in the Computer Industry 09/12/95
CPU is a moderated forum dedicated to sharing information among workers in the computer industry.
- ABOUT BOX
- LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
FEATURE: "Who owns files on a computer used by an employee?"
FEATURE: National Organization of Downsized Employees?
- FEATURE: Skilled Work Migrating Overseas
BOOK REVIEW & READINGS: _Microserfs_, by Douglas Coupland, etc.
BILLBOARD: CPSR Annual Meeting, Oct. 7 & 8 in Chicago, etc.
TOOLBOX: The IEEE-USA National Job-listing Service, etc.
- LABOR BYTES: Miscellany
1. ABOUT BOX
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PLEASE RE-POST THIS FREELY, especially at work. CPU material may be reprinted for non-profit purposes as long as the source is cited. We welcome submissions and commentary. Mail sent to the editors or to CPU will be treated as a "letter to the editor" and considered printable, unless noted otherwise.
Editors for this issue: Michael Stack and Jim Davis. We may be contacted by voice at (510) 601-6740, by email to cpu-owner @ cpsr.org , or by USPS at POB 3181, Oakland, CA 94609.
CPU is a project of the "Working in the Computer Industry" working group of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility / Berkeley Chapter (though views expressed herein are not necessarily those of CPSR).
The David Noble piece we ran in CPU.013, ["The Truth About The Information Highway"] was widely posted, and created a flurry of comments, both positive and negative. Most of the negative responses, I think, missed the general point that there has been a parallel march of new technologies and job destruction and declining wages, and that workers, who are bearing the brunt of the pain in the job loss arena, must come to terms with fundamental questions like, what do we want from new technologies, how do we decide what gets developed and deployed, who have they been benefiting, who's getting rich off of them and who is getting screwed. This, anyway, would be consistent with Noble's earlier work. People focused on his absolutely provocative closing sentence, "At the very least, as a modest beginning, we pull the public plug on the Information Highway" instead of on the more far-reaching assertion in the previous sentence, "We must insist that progress without people is not progress." Take my money, take my house, take my car, but lay off of my blue suede shoes.
A comment on a frequently seen theme in articles on the export of programming work to offshore, high skill, low wage areas like Ireland, Eastern Europe, India or China: Typically, this exported work is considered "rote", "uninteresting", or otherwise routine, while "creative" programming is reserved for the U.S. I don't know how one distinguishes between rote and creative coding. There is a lot of machismo around coding, I think, and it would be interesting to sketch a taxonomy of coding, where drivers or UNIX kernel coding is way up there in the "creative" department, while xbase and heaven forbid COBOL are down there in the rote muck. There is also a sort of implicit chauvinism in the idea -- North American programmers are "creative", programmers elsewhere just copy what North Americans have already accomplished. Also, these "routine" jobs, including technical support work and testing, are often the entry-level, apprenticeship-type jobs at programming shops, where new employees learn the code, features, work flow patterns etc. Exporting those jobs cuts off an important rung on the skills- development ladder. The downward pressure on salaries that the offshore markets represent is another critical issue. Dismissing the work that companies are shopping around in international labor markets as work not needed or wanted here is whistling past the graveyard.
On another note: I had the opportunity to speak at DefCon III in Las Vegas in early August. I don't know any of the history of the event, or how it fits into the general matrix of hacker culture. >From the appeals of the military contractors and representatives of the national police forces of one stripe or another present there, though, it seemed like more of a government recruiting effort to get the mostly young, overwhelmingly male, assuredly talented attendees to clean up their act and, well, defend their country, etc. One speaker changed the topic of his talk from "Successful Hacking Techniques" to "How to get a job using successful hacking techniques." There were uncontested comments from the floor that "anyone could get a job if they wanted to", and that all it took was being willing "to be a slave for a year", these comments being directed at some things I said in my talk regarding shifts and changes in the computer industry. I suspect that, because our industry, especially in the development arena, favors the young, the unattached, those willing "to be slaves", that perhaps anyone in the room in fact could get a job in the industry. This may be indicative of the hacker movement getting older, and more concerned about jobs, or maybe people who self-identify themselves as "hackers" who have a job are by and large the ones with the money to go to events in Las Vegas.
Much of the discussion stemming from the talks by the unofficial CPSR speakers (me and Karen Coyle, a library specialist in new info technologies) devolved into an unproductive debate on intellectual property rights -- one would have thought that we were at a convening of info-entrepreneurs and not rebel- hackers (which may have been the case and it was just wishful thinking on my part).
The event pointed back, as much of everything seems to these days, at the importance of ideas and consciousness, and getting ideas out to people, and stretching consciousness. Venues like Wired, with their progressive civil libertarianism mixed up with a downright dangerous and destructive economic libertarianism seem to be dominating the ideological landscape. Our industry, for various reasons, is especially susceptible to the simple-minded "I think I'm making it, why aren't you" psychosis. Although the current wind may be blowing out of the Gingrich camp, reality has a way of eventually asserting itself.
Finally, as some of you may have noticed, it has been a while since we pulled together an issue of CPU (actually, almost seven months). Michael and I have been busy putting together an anthology of articles and papers on electronics and capitalism; it is supposed to be published by Verso sometime early next year. We will try and get CPU out more often in the future. As always, comments, reports, rumor, reflection, etc., on working in the computer industry are always welcome.
3. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
The tirade about the supposed unemployment being caused by the creation and deployment of the InfoHighway is amazingly off target. I'm shocked that something with as little understanding of the real economic impact of technology advance would be deemed credible enough for distribution. Please count my receipt of the message as a total waste of time, effort, and confirmation of the waste caused by irrational unions.
> The letter writer seems to have a romantic notion of
> the programmer's trade, as most of it is rote, with the practice
> of insight the exception rather than the rule.-- Eds.]
Say what???? You purport to speak for the computer industry and issue a statement like that??
Perhaps it would be better if you used the term 'software developer'. He or she is one who must analyze a problem domain, design a solution, and implement it in a programming language. First of all, I think the percentage of programmers who only implement as opposed to analyze and design is probably quite small. I have never worked in such a situation in my 18 years of industry experience. Secondly, even with a well thought out design, programming is far from a rote activity.
Having just read my first copy of your CPU publication I must admit to being a little perplexed by certain material it contained. Many of the contributors seem to be concerned about job security in the 'uncertain' future world of computer programming.
I can only state that it is my contention that the future for skilled computer programmers is indeed bright.
The recently publicized Intel and Microsoft bugs highlight a growing need for skills that are becoming ever harder to find. As the technology and systems become ever more complex the need for competent software engineers will only increase. I am referring to the skilled individuals who can architect and develop systems software rather than business applications. The need for application developers will decline as the tools and products increase in power.
The moral here should be obvious: If you are currently an application programmer you should work hard at developing a systems programming skill-set or resign yourself to eventually being reduced to 'corporate power user' status.
Date: Sat, 18 Feb 95 11:17:25 CST
From: email@example.com (David Schaefer)
To: cpu-owner @ cpsr.org
Interesting commentary on libertarianism in CPU issue 13. The current wave of libertarianism can be explained by the obvious failure of socialism and socialism-lite (our very own welfare-warfare state). But how do you explain our libertarian founding fathers?
By the way, the other parts of CPU13 that i read were simply hilarious! Thanks for the laughs.
Thank you again for another CPSR newsletter. In general, I find the newsletter informing, when it simply reports facts. I do find that the newsletter has an extreme bias, a "Politically Correct" bias that I find offensive, and out of the mainstream of thinking of all my colleagues.
The "Communist Manifesto" tone is a bit overdone. Many (myself included) who have been union members at one time or another, find the glorification of unionism to be just so much communist propaganda. When I was a union member (against my will... It was join the union or loose the job) I felt oppressed by my "brothers" There was the shop steward from hell that threatened my life for "breaking the rate" (that's working to hard). So, back off of extolling the virtues of the union. Union mentality is more oppressive than any manager or supervisor I've ever had in private industry.
Unions are for the lazy, the incompetents, those of poor self esteem, the collectivists. Let them go the way of communism in general. It just does not work.
I especially take exception with the article by David Nobel. His credentials alone are enough to cause one to discount his PC pronouncements. ... it's just so much PC, communist propaganda. It does not cut it. He is not believable.
Lighten up! Report some good news! There's lots.
I have seen references to the magazine "Resistor" in CPU. Is this available on-line? If so, can you send me info, or if not, could you send their mailing address?
Thanks in advance,
P.S. You guys are doing a great job! Keep rattling the cage!
[Resistor can be reached c/o IBM Workers United_ #41 2/94, PO Box 634 Johnson City, NY, NY 13790, or Lee19@delphi.com. See item below in the CPU Billboard -- Editors]
> Issue: 013 CPU: Working in the Computer Industry 02/15/95
Thanks, this made my day. Good stuff and desperately needed for the up-coming media hype on the dadabahn (infobahn turned databahn turned dadabahn, from Dadism) in Europe.
4. FEATURE: "WHO OWNS FILES ON A COMPUTER USED BY AN EMPLOYEE?"
[Below, we reprint a series of electronic mail messages regarding a particular instance faced by a programmer when he was fired, over ownership of material stored on a machine at work. The original message was posted to several lists, including firstname.lastname@example.org, cpsr-int- prop @ cpsr.org , cpsr-work @ cpsr.org , and cpsr-workplace- info @ cpsr.org , and it propagated from there. Thanks to Dave Kadlecek for permission to reprint these. - Editors]
Who owns files on a computer used by an employee, when those files are not directly related to that employee's job, but to his personal activities (for example, stored e-mail messages and saved items from newsgroups)?
While the employment relation continues, the data is effectively owned by the employee, regardless of what the law says, except in high security workplaces where workers cannot carry floppy disks in or out and net security measures limit data transfers in and out of the domain. After the employment relation ends, the situation is reversed, and the data is effectively owned by the employer, regardless of what the law says.
The employers' claim to ownership is based primarily on their ownership of the computer on which it resides. But employers' ownership of the desks at which employees work does not give them ownership of the contents of all the desk drawers, so why should their ownership of a computer automatically give them ownership of all the data on it?
I am raising this matter now because I was fired from my job this past Monday, May 8th. When I asked if I could copy files of saved e-mail and so forth onto floppy disks to take home, I was told that I could not; the data was downloaded using company equipment and so was company property. (Strangely enough, I was immediately thereafter told that if I would tell them what directories such files were in, they could have them deleted before the computer was given to someone else to use. Not what one usually does with property to which one has a clear claim.)
In addition to any general discussion on philosophy, morality and the law of ownership, I would like to know what, if any, remedy I may have that might let me get the data I see as mine from the computers that are not. Please respond to this list or to me directly at email@example.com
P.O. Box 28562
Oakland, CA 94604
I just returned a couple of computers to my concluding employer. They owned them, they were their's, OK by me.
As I have been working from home, I could copy whatever I liked from them before returning them, but had I not been at home, I still would have had better protection than you, for my primary computer is my own notebook. It does the job better than what they bought me, I own it, the data in it is--by that "possession == 90%" rule--mine.
Maybe it is a little like trying to take your purse from your desk drawer on your way out the door. If you own the purse, you have a lot more rights. Whether they let you bring your purse to work can give you substantial rights.
Computers seem related. If they own the computer they gain some significant rights from that. If you don't carry a computer with you, maybe you should have been emailing private stuff off to your own computer all along?
It might seem strange to use ownership of "atoms" to arbitrate ownership of "bits", but the world still thinks that way. Until the dust settles, atom ownership will win. Carry your atoms and get someone still employed there to slip you the missing bits on the sly.
-kb, the Kent who not long ago lost a lot of bits by not grabbing them in time.
-- Kent Borg
+1 (617) 776-6899
This area remains unclear in the law, but one thing stands out: If your employer made some kind of company-wide statement of intent about intellectual property and computer use, they have a case upon which to back their action. If they have never made a statement about their policy, they are open to further legal action. Employers do own their property (desk, computer, storage media...) but unless they state that they also intend to monitor your work and storage space, privacy is assumed. There are several cases working their way through the courts on this issue.
Good luck. This also reminds us to back up our work.
On Thu, 11 May 1995, Dave Kadlecek wrote:
> I am raising this matter now because I was fired from my job
> this past Monday, May 8th. When I asked if I could copy files
> of saved e-mail and so forth onto floppy disks to take home, I
> was told that I could not; the data was downloaded using company
What the heck did you ASK for? Haven't you yet learned that IT IS EASIER TO OBTAIN FORGIVENESS THAN PERMISSION?
Whenever you ask anyone in authority (company OR union) for permission for something, that person must assume responsibility for their response. NO is the safest response, so you'll get a NO more often than you will a YES.
To avoid a NO response in the future, don't ask.
The disk-drawer analogy doesn't hold up too well either. The contents of the desk drawer cannot, in most cases, be duplicated easily. Especially physical objects.
Computer files can.
Bob Kastigar International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
BBS: (312) 693-1223 Local 1220 - Chicago, IL USA
>From firstname.lastname@example.org >Subject: Re: who owns data? >.... > >As to your question: I don't think there is much you can do, unless you >can convince your manager or your manager's manager to let you take >certain files, which they could inspect if they wished to make sure that >no proprietary information would be taken. In exchange, you would help >them properly clean up the machine. Another possible idea would be for a >co-worker friend to stay very late at work, and when he was by himself, >just copy the files for you. That is about all I can think of. > >I do keep stuff at work, but if asked, advise people to keep backups at >home, too, because I think the companies have pretty much got us on this >one; unless someone wants to sue -- I suppose that is an option, too. You >could write them a letter that says: (1) They are to return your personal >information (data) to you, (2) you are willing to have it inspected to >make sure no proprietary info is taken (this is a right of a company, too, >I believe, for non-computer stuff), (3) if they destroy the data/property >they are subject to being sued, (4) if they refuse to return your property >they are subject to being sued, (5) you expect a response by such and such >date, or you will obtain an attorney and begin the suit. Clearly it'd be >better if such a letter was *by* an attorney, but that is awfully >expensive unless you can work something out. > >-- Jim
>From: David Cloutman <email@example.com> >Subject: Re: who owns data? > >This is a rather interesting legal issue you have raised here, and >although I am not a lawyer, my understanding of the law is that neither >you nor the company actually own the software or the email stored on the >system, but that the information is protected by copyright laws as being >the intellectual property of the author. Now if any of the software or >email was written by an employee of the firm, depending on the contract >they signed, then it is the company's intellectual property, however if >it is mail sent to you from outside the firm, it seems to me that it >would be the property of the author, and that there would be an implied >licence allowing unlimited reproduction (due to the nature of the >medium) unless a disclaimer stating otherwise was attached. In other >words, neither you nor the company own the e-mail, although if you had >been terminated already, I can see why they didn't want you user their >computer, which is their property. > >I can't make any guarantees on this opinion, but I think that it might be >a successful argument. > > -David
Around a month ago, I posted a message to several lists asking both about the legal/philosophical matter of who owns data related to personal activities that an employee stores on an employer's computer and about practical measures that I could take to get back such data after losing my job. I will not try here to summarize the responses, but I will report that I tried one suggestion, that I send a letter restating my request and threatening to sue my ex-employer if they do not satisfy it, and that it worked. I mailed the letter on a Thursday, and the next Monday, the head of HR called to tell me the company did not have a problem with meeting my request and he had directed my ex-boss to make the arrangements. When my ex-boss called me, he said that they had had no idea that the data involved was anything I had paid for, and that made all the difference. Arrangements were made, and I finally got everything earlier this week, about two weeks later. Following is the text of the letter that worked for me:
>18 May 1995 > >Dear [my ex-boss]: > >When I was notified May 8th of the termination of my employment with >[the company], you and [a representative from the HR department] told >me that I would not be permitted to retrieve personal data from the >computers I had been using at work by copying it to diskettes. Though >the computers and media on which they reside are [the company's] >property this data is mine. (Most of it is saved transcripts of >telnet sessions with an on-line service to which I pay a subscription >fee for my account.) > >I repeat my request that I be permitted to copy to diskettes the >personal data that I kept on the hard disks of the computer on the >desk I used while working .... I will provide the diskettes >necessary to copy the data, and I will either copy the data myself >or help a current [company] employee to copy it for me, at your >discretion. I am willing to allow a representative of [the company] >to inspect the copied data to ensure that it includes no [company] >proprietary data. > >If [the company] refuses to provide me access to my personal data, I >intend to pursue legal remedies, as I will also if the data is damaged >or destroyed. If I receive no positive response by Friday, 2 June 1995, >I will interpret that as a negative response and proceed accordingly. > > >Sincerely, > > > >David J. Kadlecek > > > >cc: [the head of the HR department] > [my ex-boss's boss]
P.O. Box 28562
Oakland, CA 94604
5. FEATURE: NATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF DOWNSIZED EMPLOYEES?
[This from a query posted to firstname.lastname@example.org - Editors]
Has anyone heard of, or worked with the "National Organization of Downsized Employees" (N.O.D.E.)? I think that this was an association of downsized IBM employees who organized for the (mistaken in my opinion) purpose of a class action suit against the IRS (a protest of sorts for taxes taken out of severance packages).
There probably could be better purposes served through such an association, especially if you included other downsized employees from other companies such as Digital, Bell Atlantic, etc.
I'd appreciate any information. You can reach me at: email@example.com
This should not be interpreted as a direct criticism of the strategy of litigation against the IRS to retrieve taxed income from severance packages.
As a downsized employee myself, I understand that issue. However my concern is with the greater issues of disinvestment in a company's human resources, and real solutions to serious business problems facing corporations today. I'm looking more towards NODE and similar (are there any?) organizations to engage the industry in discussions on these solutions, other than just lopping off percentages of headcount, without regard to the talent and skills, etc.
In my opinion the central issue is the disinvestment and disregard of a company's human contributors. Individual contributors are considered to be fungible items. You can't capitalize an individual, can you?
It's time for a new contract (no, not *that* contract...) or basis of understanding between management and the individual contributors. The issue shouldn't be so much a company's headcount and/or how much overhead an employee costs, but how do you redevelop a company's 'dynamic' so that new ideas can flourish and (real) profitability returns. If you look at IBM or Digital today you may see signs of a "turnaround", but it's only a paper turnaround. IBM's profits stem from more of the traditional mainframe business with little other activity in more relevant areas (let's not talk about Lotus for now...). Digital still has sluggish sales of Alpha cpu's, and it's "turnaround" is about 95% attributable to the reduced headcount and overhead.
If there is no alternative to reductions, then shouldn't the pain be equally distributed and start at the top? Why can't American companies develop 'interchange networks' with suppliers and other smaller companies as corporations do in Japan? Headcount can be distributed throughout these networks (it has been done in a few instances with DEC and a few suppliers in the repair area), and the talent can contribute to their new companies directly and the 'parent company' in a peripheral way. You could think of this as "client/server human resource management".
All of this plus other activities could be engaged in by NODE or other associations, and it's of far better use than employing lawyers to sue the IRS. Just think...
6. FEATURE: SKILLED WORK MIGRATING OVERSEAS
" Skilled Workers Watch Their Jobs Migrate Overseas - A Blow to Middle Class " By: Keith Bradsher (_New York Times_, Aug 28, 1995)
Corporate America is getting a lot of work done on foreign shores - in India, China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brazil, Mexico and Australia - but not by Americans. Educated locals in these countries are paid a fraction of the cost (paid in the United States) to perform high-technology tasks like designing sophisticated chips, equipment design and computer-programming. Absence of other infrastructure are no impediment to many of these activities. In most cases, what they need is a private satellite link. High-speed communication links even make it possible to use two teams (one in the United States and other overseas, in a different time zone) together working on a software development project, cutting development time by around 40 percent.
Millions of white-collar Americans are now experiencing the same global wage pressure that their blue-collar counterparts have long faced. And now they have to justify their higher wages with higher productivity.
"Many fears that the growing tendency of corporations to farm out tasks to developing countries is widening the gap even further between the rich and everybody else in American society by eliminating some categories of high-skill, high-wage jobs that make-up the heart of the middle class".
The article's author argues that " new jobs overseas do not necessarily mean the elimination of jobs in the United States." A number of these companies which are expanding in the United States as well as abroad "attribute their overseas moves in part to a scarcity of good engineers in the United States."
According to experts quoted here some of the best-paid computer jobs - requiring writing original programs for a customer's precise needs - tend to be staying in the United States. What is being shipped overseas are skilled tasks turned into routine work by rapidly evolving computer technology.
Corporate America now shops on a worldwide basis for many tasks to stay competitive. Some experts add that the economy based on ideas and information does not require companies to keep their production units close to market.
One economist argues that in a computer industry one witnesses "enormous integration of the markets, and therefore a drag on the real wages here of the semiskilled, of the computer programmers, of the skilled."
Describing one of the responses from software professionals to the above situation, the author says, "For now, this increased foreign competition has set off a political backlash in the United States. The Software Professionals' Political Action Committee, a lobbying group in Austin, Tex., wants to limit immigration visas for computer programmers." In conclusion the author quotes economist Jagdish Bhagavati who argues that "American companies will go wherever they can find the best deals."
7. BOOK REVIEW & READINGS:
MICROSERFS by DOUGLAS COUPLAND, 1995, ReganBooks, $23.00
- Throughout the book are lists like this one. But the main story-telling
device is its diary/journal form. Our narrator is 26 year-old
firstname.lastname@example.org, a tester from Building Seven.
- Other techniques and entertainments are: A file that the narrator keeps
which he fills w/ rorschach-random words to which latest entries we are
intermittently exposed; two-page dumps of the word "money", "machines",
binary and uuencodings; short "observations" and "philosophy" snippets
ending in a flip punch-line; various text-machinations including robbery
of the stylistic ASCIIing of the _phrack_ population; and a carousel of
pop themes to which we are regularly returned supplying "continuity".
- There is at least one part in the novel where I laughed out loud.
- The story is of a group of Microsoft heads who occupy a never-never land
whose main geographic features are the MSFT campus (at all hours), CostCo
and the house where they sleep (but which is hardly "home"):
"People end up living in group houses either by e-mail or by word of mouth. Living in a group house is a little bit like admitting you're deficient in the having-a-life department, but at work you spend your entire life crunching code and testing for bugs, and what else are you supposed to do? Work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep..." (p. 4)
In the book's second-half, our crew leaves MSFT and heads south to Silicon Valley to do the start-up thing.
- The novel ultimately succeeds, because the characters turn-out to be
human after all. In the beginning -- in the MSFT zone -- we're not so
sure. Moving to California prompts each of the characters to reevaluate
their lives, out of which each unfolds "character" suppressed or let
dormant while MSFT living: One comes out, another turns riot grrrl,
another becomes a "woman", others find relationships and all seemingly
discover each other, for though living in the same house in Redmond, only
in the new circumstances in California do they make meaningful contact.
The catalyst is seemingly "real life" (whatever that means) butting in on
the coding haze: The narrator's father loses his job at IBM; his mother
has a stroke; the start-up's money-man develops cancer; and all are living
precariously on little funds. The novel's motif is that even those who
occupy the land of shadows -- dead but afraid to stiffen -- can be
- With the "Awakening" comes reactions against Microsoft living. Below are
- Before leaving for California, the narrator writes, "I went to
Microsoft for the last time to clean out my office. Our section, having
recently shipped, was unusually empty, even for a Sunday... I got to think
of my cramped, love-starved, sensationless existence at Microsoft -- and I
got so pissed off. And now I just want to forget the whole business and
get on with living -- with being alive. I want to forget the way my body
was ignored, year in, year out, in the pursuit of code, in the pursuit of
somebody else's abstraction.... There's something about a monolithic tech
culture like Microsoft that makes humans seriously rethink fundamental
aspects of the relationship between their brains and bodies -- their souls
and their ambitions; things and thoughts..." (p. 91).
- Later in the book, a MSFT remnant about to turn and join the others down south writes the narrator an email message (the typos are in the original): "At 21, you make this Faustian pact with yourself --- that your company is allowed to soak up 7 to 10 years of your life -- but then at 30 you have to abandon the company, or else there's something WRONG with you. The tech system feeds on bright, asocial kids from diveorced backgrounds who had pro-education parents. We ARE in a new industry; there aren't really many older poeple in it. We are on the vanguard of adoldescence protraction. As is common with Microsoft people I worked like a mental case throughout my 20s, and then hit this wall at thirty and went *SPLAT*. But just think about the way high tech cultures puroposefully protract out the adolescence of their employees well into their late 20s, if not their early 30s,. I mean, all those NERF TOUYS and FREE BEVERAGES! And the way tech firms won't even call work, 'The office':, but instead, 'the campus'..." (p. 311)
- Before leaving for California, the narrator writes, "I went to Microsoft for the last time to clean out my office. Our section, having recently shipped, was unusually empty, even for a Sunday... I got to think of my cramped, love-starved, sensationless existence at Microsoft -- and I got so pissed off. And now I just want to forget the whole business and get on with living -- with being alive. I want to forget the way my body was ignored, year in, year out, in the pursuit of code, in the pursuit of somebody else's abstraction.... There's something about a monolithic tech culture like Microsoft that makes humans seriously rethink fundamental aspects of the relationship between their brains and bodies -- their souls and their ambitions; things and thoughts..." (p. 91).
- Often while reading, a flush of claustrophobia would wash over me. The
novel is about this software industry and these times. Coupland's doing a
Tom Wolfe on Programming. It's a story strung among the headlines of
Edupage, circa 1993-94. It's describing events, fears and sensations
common to those who worked this industry then. Its bad enough going to
work each day but coming home and reading about the same work and the same
events in a "novel" felt like a world closing in.
- Adding to the claustrophobia are the little things the novel's
characters do and what they see, whether it be landmarks of SV w/ which
we're familiar and some of us pass everyday, but also our common
consciousness' cultural artifacts and "interesting facts": Warner Bros.
cartoons, Prozac, the Blue Cube, Navajos as military coders, Fry's, the
Gap, Melrose Place (".. vibrant, nonlinear, marginally controversial plot
lines..." p. 297) and that mecca beckoning from the east, Las Vegas
("...the Detroit of the postindustrial economy..." p. 337).
- Various commentaries confirm for us that politics are unimportant to the
characters of the book. "Abe, like most people here, is a fiscal
Republican, but otherwise, pretty empty-file in the ideology department"
(p. 28). So, our lack of empathy for the novel's characters can now be
extrapolated: The characters are essentially selfish only wound up in
their own little worlds made of games, toys, lists and "witty" remarks.
These relatively well-off educated programmers and testers have never
helped others whether "volunteering" for a worthy cause or organizing
around something they believe in. It would be enough to leave the book's
"politics" at that, but Coupland has to go on the attack. Jest is made of
those, however viscerally, attempt picturing a society beyond themselves.
Later in the book, comic-book Berkeley Marxists convert the body-building
couple (one is portrayed as faddish, the other born of a super-religious
family always in need of something to believe in). Quickly the two become
"Maoists" and migrate through the political spectrum, becoming, in the
end, pregnant and praying in a church, respectively.
- The last paragraphs have the novel's characters lounging about an SV
pool. On the Coupland barometer perhaps there's been some evolution:
Their startup is showing signs of success; they now "care" for each other
etc. But Coupland's is a superficial world gleefully made from
capital's icons and commodities, if (a little) irreverently manipulated
and customized. And so, though the characters end up in a different place
both physically and mentally, we come away w/ a sense that they have only
substituted one limbo for another. Alternate (and more interesting)
endings are not allowed to happen because in the Coupland universe,
certain, predictable "rules" must prevail. For instance, though "friends"
in close quarters working equally hard, they're ownership of the startup
depends on how much capital each has invested.
- Here's what you get sending mail to email@example.com:
Trouble sending mail on `newgate', Tue Sep 5 08:06:01 1995
============ Transcript follows ============ danielu 0 alias errors No local user named "danielu" 1 delivery errors 1 total errors St.Ack
See issue 211 of _NEW LEFT REVIEW_ (May/June '95) for an article on "Empowering Technology: The Exploration of Cyberspace". It's a chapter from a forthcoming Verso book to be called "Gargantua" by Julian Stallabrass. Mostly the article is a yawn, yet another "academic" on tour of the (printed) literature reheating Gibson & Sterling; that Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr. quote synopsizing cyberpunk novel plots; net- fact/mythologies such as the man who impersonated a disabled, disfigured, mute female; the usual suspects (Rheingold, Schiller, Rozak, _Mondo_ and _Hired_); and even ancient history, Operation Sun Devil. Throw in the obligatory reference or two to an obscure Hegel essay here, some Goethe there, and you get the gist (Over the last decade "intellectuals" did post-modernism. Next up is the Net, and Virtuosity in particular). Critically, the essay is disappointing. The only thing lefty about the writing are a few comments sign-posted by adjectives "bourgeois" and "middle-class" used derogatively. That said, there are nuggets that make the piece worthy of a skimming: "The idea that high-band global networking will become truly universal in a world where only a fifth of the population currently have even telephones in laughable" (p. 11).
CPU readers may also be interested in _Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information_, a collection of essays edited by James Brook and Iain A. Boal (City Lights, 1995). Of note is Doug Henwood's review of the "information economy" (Henwood edits the _Left Business Observer_ ). It begins with a funny trashing of one of Newt's and _Hired_'s favorite "futurists", the conservative George Gilder, and continues through related pronouncements of Alan Greenspan and Robert Reich. What do these three Musketeers have in common that Henwood chooses to kick against? Simplistically put, they reckon the workforce will be overrun by "symbolic analysts", operating in the "virtual" realm, shuffling "information", using "intellectual" capital, working with ideas rather than matter, and generally keeping their hands clean. Henwood counters, using Bureau of Labor Statistics predictions, that tomorrow will not be too different from today in that most of us will still be firmly rooted in the material world working as retail salespersons, truck drivers, child-care workers, guards, etc. "Scientists, engineers, and technicans now constitute about 5 percent of the total workforce. By 2005... these workers will account for all of 5.6 percent of total employment. Looking at high-tech industries rather than workers gives an even less impressive picture... Yes, the number of systems analysts and computer scientists will grow dramatically -- by almost 80 percent. But since there are under a half-million of such folks now, their share of the workforce will remain nearly invisible to the naked eye. The same can be said of computer programmers, electronics engineers, and biotech scientists." (p. 167).
Dennis Hayes of _Behind the Silicon Curtain_ fame in his essay "Digital Palsy: RSI and Restructuring Capital" doesn't mince words. He contends that "information technology, upon which we are now very dependent, has occasioned an epidemic of chronic, often crippling, workplace injuries and layoffs. It has also failed remarkably to reduce workloads or, in most cases, to boost productivity. As a result, computers have significantly raised the cost of doing business and intensified the pace of work without delivering on many of the benefits presumed, promised, or imagined to have accompanied the information age." (p. 173). Other good writings include Rebecca Solnit on the transformation of Silicon Valley, Monty Neil on computers in schools and Ellen Ullman -- a software engineer -- on the "Programming Life". St.Ack
CPSR ANNUAL MEETING, OCTOBER 7 & 8 IN CHICAGO
The Good, the Bad, and the Internet
A Conference on Critical Issues in Information Technology
October 7 & 8, 1995
Chicago Circle Center, University of Illinois - Chicago
750 South Halsted
New technologies have been appearing at a dizzying pace. The use of these technologies affect all of us, and the questions about what technologies get developed and how they are deployed are too important to leave to the government or to the private sector. Periodically we need to step back and take stock of where we are. Are the "right" technologies being developed? Are they achieving what we want? What are we gaining, and what are we losing? And on the eve of a major election year, what issues should be raised in upcoming national and local debates?
These are the questions that will be explored at "The Good, the Bad, and the Internet" in Chicago this fall. The goals of the conference are
- To educate the broad public, especially in the Midwest, about
what is at stake today in the major debates around computers
and information technology.
- To provide a forum where the people concerned about the impact
of computer and information technologies can assess the
current state of affairs and discuss strategies for
democratizing technology, especially in light of the upcoming
- To share experiences and skills in making computers and access to digital information available to the broad public, and especially to communities that have historically been blocked from these new technologies.
To accomplish these goals, the first day of the conference will include four panel discussions that highlight what is at stake, what is the current state of affairs, and different ways that people at the community level are taking the initiative to make the technology live up to its potential. The titles of the panels are
- Democratizing the Internet
- Privacy and civil liberties: What's happened? What's next?
- Technology and jobs: What's happened? What's next?
- The good news is: Local initiatives in democratizing technology
Day two of the conference begins with a plenary discussion on election year 1996 and will feature representatives from various technology fields identifying the key technology issues for the 1996 election year. Various workshops, including hands-on demonstrations and how-to discussions will help conference attendees acquire the skills to put the ideas from the panel discussions into practice. The conference will conclude with the CPSR Annual Meeting, at which CPSR members can discuss how Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility can and should move forward on the issues raised at the conference.
The conference combines discussion of national issues with a look especially at efforts in the Midwest to broaden access to new technologies. Anyone with an interest in access to the future -- whether it be access to jobs, access to information, access to audience, or access to community -- is encouraged to attend.
The discussion starts early. Participate in the Virtual Conference in the weeks leading up to October 7 and 8 via the World Wide Web. Tune your browser to:
to participate in online discussions of the issues being raised at the conference, and also to find the latest information about the conference. And if you can't make it in person to Chicago, participate virtually -- discussion on the issues surrounding the conference will be accessible from the page before, during and after the conference.
To obtain further conference details or a conference registration form, send mail to: CPSR-ANNMTG@CPSR.ORG
IBM Workers United are undertaking a membership drive to bring plant and office non-management employees (permanents and temps) in the U.S. into ONE organization. Write IBM Workers United, PO Box 634, Johnson City, NY 13790 or Lee19@delphi.com.
Here is a request we saw on a list devoted to homeless issues. Perhaps a CPU reader has some information? - Editors
> Craig Allen is a missing person who was a computer analyst. He
> has not been heard from for a year and a half and was last seen
> trying to buy somebody's doormat to sleep on. He is extremely
> religious and may be trying to save souls for Jesus.
> I know this describes a lot of homeless people. Please help.
> His Mom, Arlene firstname.lastname@example.org
THE IEEE-USA NATIONAL JOB-LISTING SERVICE
The U.S. Activities division of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., the world's largest professional technical society, has inaugu- rated a national job-listing service on Internet to assist U.S. members seeking employment.
The autoresponse files contain listings for job openings, by state, in the New England area (IEEE Region 1), the Mid-Atlantic states (Region 2), the South (Region 3), the Midwest (Region 4), the Eastern Mountain states (Region 5), and the Pacific states (Region 6). A seventh file lists nationwide and non-U.S. job openings.
To gain access, job-seeking members send an e-mail message to designated Internet addresses, and the requested files will automatically return to the individuals' e-mail addresses. Job listings will be updated weekly, and remain posted for 30 days, unless specified otherwise by the employer.
IEEE members who do not have e-mail access can obtain files through their local Section officers (each Section is supposed to have an Electronic Information Recipient), PACE representatives or Student Branch officers.
If you are an IEEE member, please respond to this message with your member number to receive the file addresses.
If you are not a member of IEEE, please consider the advantages of belonging to the world's largest techni- cal professional society. For more information, request the autoresponse file:
If you are an employer, recruiter, or journalist, and seek more information on the new service or employer job-listing forms, contact William R. Anderson of IEEE-USA at 1828 L Street, NW, Suite 1202, Washington, DC 20036, 202-785-0017 (telephone), 202-785-0835 (fax), or email@example.com (e-mail).
OTHER JOB-LISTING SOURCES:
The _San Francisco Chronicle_ of July 17, 1995 carried an article "JOBS: Surfing the Internet can Mean Pay" and listed the following as web-sites w/ job-listings:
Online Career Center: http://www.occ.com/occ/
America's Job Bank: http://www.abj.dni.us/
E-Span Interactive Employment Network: http://www.espan.com/
BLACK ENGINEERS AND SCIENTISTS
The second edition of the on-line newsletter of the National Council of Black Engineers and Scientists is now available on the Emart Infoserver. To get a copy, send e-mail to:
With the message: Get Emart Tnews95-2
for back the issue, the command is: Get Emart Tnews95-1
10. LABOR BYTES: MISCELLANEA
GLOBAL PROGRAMMING VARIABLES: The U.S. software industry in recent years has frequently looked to developing countries to contract out programming projects, and there are hundreds or thousands of programmers working for U.S. companies in places such as Bangalore, Beijing, Budapest, Moscow, and Sofia. Potentially, the dispersion could continue much further. A Lotus executive says there are "tens of thousands of qualified programmers in the Beijing area alone," ready to take up work that U.S. programmers no longer find interesting. (Wall Street Journal 2/21/95)
CITIZEN PROGRAMMER: "The Labor Department, in the first major crackdown on U.S. companies that pay below-market wages to foreign professionals, reached a precedent-setting settlement with one of the nation's biggest employers of foreign computer programmers," wrote the _WSJ_ on 8/16/95. SYNTEL INC., a software-consulting firm is to pay $77,000 in back wages to about 40 of its foreign workers (hurray!) and to hire at least 40 Americans in the coming year. The company also agreed to spend $1 million to train U.S. programmers in the latest software techniques. The trouble started when AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL GROUP, a big insurance company, laid off about 250 American computer programmers and then hired SYNTEL last year to provide programming services. John Murray, owner of a software-consulting firm in Houston said "greed is the reason" some U.S. companies employ cut-rate foreign professionals over their American counterparts. He also said that there are plenty of Americans who can do the programming work. In a related story, employers -- particularly computer-industry employers -- are crying over Congress plans to cut legal immigration by up to one-third and to charge businesses a hefty fee for each employee they sponsor for green cards, or permanent visas. "In software engineering, in particular, companies say that the education system has failed to attract enough students." (_WSJ_, 7/11/95). ORACLE wants not only immigration laws eased, but also supports Republican proposed changes in the Fair Labor Standards Act. "The company doesn't like being forced to pay overtime for workers such as secretaries, when others don't qualify." (_WSJ_, 8/1/95)
DILBERT: Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon-strip of "management malfeasance" was fired from his technical post in a Pacific Bell engineering group, ostensibly for budget reasons. Apparently feedback from readers convinced Adams to concentrate on work-place issues, which formerly had been a smaller part of the strip. Thereafter, Dilbert's popularity soared. In the _WSJ_ of 8/8/95, Adams offered a few rules for "career success": "The No. 1 thing people have to work on is staying healthy: eating right and doing stress relief and not working 18 hours a day. Anything you offer in the workplace will be taken and you will not be compensated for it". The _WSJ_ suggested that "extra work" will eventually pay off in raises and promotions. Adams responded: "I can't see a correlation between the number of hours people work and promotions. What I do see is a correlation between success and the ability to communicate, the ability to focus on priorities."
"MORE PRACTICE, LESS THEORY," SAY SOFTWARE COMPANIES: Software companies say American universities are turning out students with little practical training applicable to the real world of software code writing. "There's no reason why a class can't build a whole operating system in a semester. But that rarely happens," says an Oracle Corp. senior VP. But educators contend that a broader approach is more beneficial over time: "Employers encourage students to get very narrow, very deep experience that meets their company's current needs, but in the long run breadth is better," says a computer science prof at the University of California at Berkeley. The University of Illinois is experimenting with letting 10% of its computer science majors tackle a commercial project during their senior year. (_WSJ_, 2/21/95)
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: A recent study on racial differences in the computing field had the following to say: "Black IS employees received lower job performance ratings, were less likely to have their job performance attributed to internal causes, were less successful in their jobs, were perceived as having less favorable advancement prospects, were more likely to be plateaued in their careers, and experienced lower career satisfaction than white IS employess." From "Race Differences in Job Performance and Career Success," _Communications of the ACM_, March 1995; Magid Igbaria and Wayne M. Wormley reported in _THE SOFTWARE PRACTITIONER_ (July/August, '95), a journal by and for software professionals (Write for a sample copy: Software Practitioner, Computing Trends, 350 Dalkeith Ave., LA, CA 90049)
WHITE SLAVES: A _San Francisco Chronicle_ story (4/12/95) details the sleeping arrangements of the "virtual prisoners" at SPECTRUM HOLOBYTE. A bunch of young fellas are pulling down 100 hours and plus weeks testing the CD-ROM version of "Star Trek: The Next Generation/A Final Unity" working "18 hour days, eating pizza, ignoring friends, family, and laundry...". Pictures of the testers stretched out in sleeping-bags by their cramped cubicles looked like the recently uncovered California sweat-shop where 70 Thai immigrants were kept against their will as slaves.
ON THE JOBS FRONT: "Domestic employment in the U.S. electronics and information technology industry grew by 111,000 in 1994. Employment in electronics increased from 2,322 million to 2,433 million (4.8%) between December, 1993 and December, 1994. Employment in all but two industry sectors -- Computers and Defense and Commercial Guidance Systems -- increased. Computer Programming Services, Prepackaged Software and Systems Design showed double-digit job increases over year-end 1993. [From the American Electronics Association. Figures based on Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers (_Business Wire_, 3/21/95)] According to the _IEEE News__ (5/8/95), "New survey shows electrical engineers salaries are slightly up, unemployment down."
ALSO ON THE JOBS FRONT... MOTOROLA is to cut 20% of its wireless data staff, about 180 employees, because of poor demand for hand-held computers (_WSJ_, 8/14/95). BELLSOUTH, seeking savings, is planning more job cuts of between 9 and 11,000 employees by the middle of 1997. More job-cuts are to be announced in the fall. By 1997, BELLSOUTH will have slashed its labor force by 30 percent, to roughly 58,000 (_New York Times_, 5/19/95). MCI plans laying-off 3,000 of its 40,000 workers (_WSJ_, 8/3/95). AT&T are cutting "some" jobs at their computer unit. The article doesn't say how many (_NYT_, 7/29/95, p. 19) but it does say that AT&T stock rose at the news ("...investors responded enthusiastically..."). The _IRISH EMIGRANT PROFESSIONAL_ (6/7/95) writes that AT&T is transferring the manufacture of its large computers from California to Dublin. The numbers are sparse -- only "80 people are being made redundant in California." BOEING is to cut 5,000 more jobs than originally expected bringing the total cuts this year up to 12,000 (_NYT_, 5/24/95). That's more than the total number of workers employed by MICROSOFT in the Seattle area. SYBASE has "quietly" laid off about 120 of its 5,400 worldwide workforce in a "secretive" way (_SFC_, 5/19/95). LOTUS, despite its recent acquisition by IBM, will continue with plans to lay off 15 percent -- about 500 -- of its 5,500 workers (_WSJ_, 6/13/95). And the winner is... NASA which will trim 28,650 of its 74,000 jobs by the year 2000 with possibly deeper cuts to follow (_WSJ_, 5/22/95).
[Thanks again to the Edupage list for some of this material. We welcome your submissions,]
11. EOF: WHY MY SHIFT?
> > Subject: Stressful tech call > To: Customer Service; TechSports > > This falls into the "Why did it have to happen on *MY* shift?" > category. > > A friend of mine is a chief engineer at SuperMac, and he related this > story to me. > > SuperMac records a certain number of technical support calls at > random, to keep tabs on customer satisfaction. By wild "luck", they > managed to catch the following conversation on tape. > > Some poor SuperMac TechSport got a call from some middle level > official. . . . from the legitimate government of Trinidad. The > fellow spoke very good English, and fairly calmly described the > problem. > > It seemed that was a coup attempt in progress at that moment. > However, the national armoury for that city was kept in the same > building as the Legislature, and it seems that there was a combination > lock on the door to the armoury. Of the people in the capitol city > that day, only the Chief of the > Capitol Guard and the Chief Armourer knew the combination to the lock, > and they had already been killed. > > So, this officer of the government of Trinidad continued, the problem > is this. The combination to the lock is stored in a file on the > Macintosh , but the file has been encrypted with the SuperMac product > called Sentinel. Was there any chance, he asked, that there was a > "back door" to the application, so they could get the combination, > open the armoury door, and defend the Capitol > Building and the legitimately elected government of Trinidad against > the insurgents? > > All the while he is asking this in a very calm voice, there is the > sound of gunfire in the background. The Technical Support guy put the > person on hold. A phone call to the phone company verified that the > origin of the call was in fact Trinidad. Meanwhile, there was this > mad scramble to see if anybody knew of any "back doors" in the > Sentinel program. > > As it turned out, Sentinel uses DES to encrypt the files, and there > was no known back door. The Tech Support fellow told the customer > that aside from trying to guess the password, there was no way through > Sentinel, and that they'd be better off trying to physically destroy > the lock. > > The official was very polite, thanked him for the effort, and hung up. > That night, the legitimate government of Trinidad fell. One of the > BBC reporters mentioned that the casualties seemed heaviest in the > capitol, where for some reason, there seemed to be little return fire > from the government forces. > > O.K., so they shouldn't have kept the combination in so precarious a > fashion. But it does place, "I can't see my Microsoft Mail server" > complaints in a different sort of perspective, does it not?
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