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Workplace

A Room with Many, Many Views

Move over, office furniture. If the folks at British Telecom's research and development centre in the United Kingdom have anything to say about it, the pale grey desk and chair sets that populate most offices are on their way out.

"The desk you have now is ideal for writing a paper, not for using technology," says John Collins, a senior research engineer at BT.

Enter Smartspace, a new virtual workspace that consists of a desk and chair with a wraparound projection screen that allows for multiple data streams and surround sound. Users can view data in a wide or split screen and can control an onscreen keyboard connected to a liquid crystal display either by voice recognition or by a finger or pen on the display service. Rotating the chair controls a remote camera, so a user can view a roomful of people via videoconferencing. Smartspace is semi-immersive, meaning the user can plug in to the virtual environment and still tune in to what's going on around him.

Smartspace is manufactured by Incorporated Technologies, which has licensed BT's patent. For now the price tag is pretty steep - the fully loaded version sells for about £42,000 (about $106,000) - but BT expects the price to come down as production increases.

One company in England has already licensed Smartspace to use as a point-of-sale kiosk, and BT hopes to market it to airport traffic controllers or traders - anyone who needs to keep an eye on several screens at once. Someday, researchers hope, Smartspace will be common in your garden-variety office building, and BT will be able to offer customised versions for specific functions.

THE NEW MILLENNIUM

Top 10 Signs That You Had Too Much of the 90s 10. You try to enter your password on the microwave.

9. You haven't played solitaire with a real deck of cards in years.

8. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of three.

7. Your daughter sells Girl Guide cookies via her Web site.

6. You buy a computer and a week later it's selling for half the price you paid.

5. Cleaning up the dining area means getting the fast food bags out of the back seat of your car.

4. Your reason for not staying in touch with family is that they do not have e-mail addresses.

3. You consider second-day air delivery painfully slow.

2. You refer to your dining room table as the flat filing cabinet.

And the top sign that you've had too much of the 90s . . .

1. You hear your jokes via e-mail instead of in person.

Source: From a circulated e-mail; author unknown.

Globalisation

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

According to a recent report in The Economist, Ramya Neelamegham of the University of Colourado and Pradeep Chintagunta of the University of Chicago were able to predict which films would thrive in which foreign markets by analysing how 35 movies performed in 14 countries.

Their study concluded that thrillers are hot in Japan and Mexico, and romances do well in the United States, Sweden, Germany and South Africa. Brazil and Britain are the least predictable markets. Japan and Germany are the most predictable.

Well, natch.

HOT TOPIC LEADERSHIP

Time Crunch

By Polly Schneider

Being a good leader depends not just on skills and techniques, it also requires time. Without that, it's hard to be effective at much of anything.

Personal productivity consultant David Allen, based in California, has helped companies and individuals be more efficient for the last 20 years. He shares a few thoughts on how to reduce the stress of information overload.

Q: Is the problem of time management getting worse?

A: Fifteen years ago it was more self-evident when work was done and people could go home. It's incrementally getting worse, and that's why the simpler models haven't worked. I can fill a big landfill with all the partially used PalmPilots, day runners and Franklin planners I've uncovered in people's desks. Most people don't know how to use these tools.

Is the spread of technology - e-mail and the Internet - the source of the problem?

What technology has done is grease the skids. IT is just increasing the bandwidth and the speed of information. What we don't have is people trained to define the edges of their job and how to process information rapidly.

What's a common mistake?

Emergency scanning the e-mail and not making any decisions. As soon as the inbox gets to be more than a screenful, you need to file it, print it or delete it. Most people keep looking at it and thinking about it and shuffling the stuff around. People are doing a lot of thinking about what they ought to be thinking about and feeling bad. It's not so much time as it is mental distraction and stress. A lot of what I teach is the thinking process - the intense 15 to 20 seconds you need to spend on an e-mail to decide what it is: Is it something I need to act on, and, if so, what's that action?

So what are some first steps to get organised?

First, write everything down - every open loop - and throw it in your in basket. If it's in your head, it's in the wrong place. Second, don't just leave it there. Go back and ask yourself what you need to do about it. Then put the results into some system that you trust and that you review regularly. Learning to train yourself in processing time is part of your work.

For more information, visit www.davidcomProgrammingCan You Say OOP?

Here's a story making the rounds:

Australian Air Force programmers were recently asked to include kangaroos in their virtual reality flight simulations because fleeing herds of skittish roos can give away helicopter positions. The programmers, in order to save time and money, simply took the code used to model infantry detachment reactions to choppers flying overhead, changed the icon from a soldier to a kangaroo, and increased the speed of movement.

But when pilots first buzzed the virtual kangaroos in flight simulation exercises, they were shocked to see that after they scattered, the kangaroos "launched a barrage of Stinger missiles". The programmers had forgotten to remove that part of the infantry coding.

The moral, according to the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation's report on the incident? Be careful about reusing object-oriented code.

Since then, the report concludes, pilots flying simulations have taken great pains to avoid the heavily armed marsupials.

- David Rosenbaum

SECURITY

Open Sesame

In this computerised, security-conscious era, it's not too big a stretch to say that passwords practically run our lives. We have passwords for our computers, for individual software programs, for Web sites, for voice mail, for banking . . . and it doesn't stop there. Keeping track of them all is becoming a daunting challenge.

Well at last, there's help for the password-weary. EmmaSoft's Darn! Passwords! is a Windows utility that remembers all your computer passwords for you. You remember just one password, and that lets you in to the Darn! Passwords! "safe", in which all the others are securely stored. When you want to open a protected program or Web site, Darn! Passwords! supplies the correct password to get you in.

Darn! Passwords! can also be accessed used by multiple users. For more information, visit www.emmasoft.com

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