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Volume 3, Issue 195: Friday, April 27, 2001
- "I.B.M. Computer Researchers Push Tiny to a New Extreme"
New York Times (04/27/01) P. A1; Markoff, John
IBM researchers have developed a reliable technique for manufacturing nanotube chips, a development that could revolutionize computers. Circuitry built on the molecular level would bypass nearly all the physical barriers silicon chips currently grapple with, such as power usage, size, and overheating. Although nanotube chips have been introduced before, this is the first instance where a standard procedure has delivered predictable results. Because nanotubes are so small--only 10 atoms wide--they are particularly difficult to work with. The IBM scientists found a way to insulate semiconducting nanotubes while eliminating the metallic nanotubes that are intertwined with them. Once the researchers find ways in which to control other aspects of the circuitry, unheard of processing speeds will be possible, they claim. The nanotube chips could make possible electronic components that are 1/500th the width of today's silicon transistors, offer far more power, consumer less energy, and emit less heat. Several firms are now working to develop ultra-tiny devices based on nanotechnology. Rice University chemist and Nobel Prize winner Richard E. Smalley says, "All of the brains are lined up thinking about a new kind of electronics based on nanotechnology."
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- "Software Developers Haunted by Patent Madness"
TheStandard.com (04/26/01); Grondahl, Boris
European software developers are critical of the U.S.-style patent law they say restricts technological innovation and penalizes smaller firms who do not have the legal resources to protect their intellectual property. The European Commission has already taken steps towards controlling the issue, but rescinded its decision because of anti-patent lobbying efforts from programmers and Linux companies. German software maker SAP demonstrated their complaint with the situation at a software patent conference this week in Frankfurt. The software giant created its own patent unit in 1997 to help negotiate terms with competitors, but it says that it would rather do away with the system entirely. Software programmers such as those employed at SAP argue that computer programs are developed on the foundations laid before, so that blocking access to certain technologies prevents the industry on the whole from advancing. Additionally, companies are locked in a constant patent arms race and usually end up breaking even when paying and receiving licensing fees--the losers are small companies who have not built up enough patent capital to be able to compete.
- "IT Labor Crunch Persists, Study Says"
TechWeb (04/24/01); Joachim, David
Despite the cool economy and the dot-com wasteland, IT workers are still in high demand, according to a Meta Group survey of 500 North American IT and compensation managers. Just a year ago, 1 million tech positions were open. Today, 600,000 still need to be filled, especially e-commerce experts, Web designers, and database administrators. Maria Schafer, Meta Group program director responsible for the study, says that it is a misconception to link the IT workforce so closely with the dot-com sector as only one percent of 13 million U.S. IT workers are actually employed by dot-coms. She adds that IT workers still can demand higher salaries than their non-techie coworkers--usually 10 to 20 percent more.
- "NASA Explores Future of Software"
Wall Street Journal (04/26/01) P. A1; Wessel, David
NASA administrator Daniel Goldin is planning to collaborate with universities and businesses to develop more reliable software at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. Along with the military, NASA has historically led in software development for its space projects. As business software matured, the focus of NASA and the corporate sector diverged more clearly, but Goldin believes that they may be drawing near again. Henry McDonald, the NASA physicist in charge of the Ames center, says that applications need to be found that support both business and NASA functions. He says that both large financial firms and NASA need more reliable software to manage reams of digital information flowing continuously. Goldin is aware that NASA has suffered software-wise in recent years, and that better programs could help prevent disasters like the crash of a Mars Polar Lander in late 1999. NASA has already succeeded in signing on one research partner in IBM, who shares the view that such collaborative research can improve both the process and the end product.
- "Penguin, 'Mad Dog' Visit Africa"
Wired News (04/25/01); Wachira, Nick
Jon "Mad Dog" Hall, executive director of Linux International, appeared at a Linux conference in Johannesburg, South Africa this week. His appearance highlights the opportunity the Linux operating system has in the continent, where its adoption has been hindered by the lack of technological infrastructure and expertise, and rampant piracy of the Windows OS. Linux is restricted mostly to ISPs and universities, although Mike Jensen, who writes the Africa Connectivity Report, says that governments' adoption could act as a catalyst for the open-source movement there. Mauritius and Senegal have already shown commitment to the platform, which boasts significant cost-savings to big institutions, but still cannot compete with the embedded culture of software piracy prevalent in Africa. Moreover, experts point to other obstacles, such as the controls of state-owned telecoms preventing widening telephone access, and the lack of Internet access in schools, where children have little exposure to technology.
- "Double Vision: Retinal Displays Add Data Layer"
New York Times (04/26/01) P. E9; Lake, Matt
Although several companies have already developed head-mounted computer displays, a new product from Microvision promises retinal scanning displays that would cast pictures onto the back of one's eye, superimposing a digital image over what is normally seen. The company plans to release a consumer product, called the Nomad, in the fall that will work with open standards such television signals. Actually, retinal scanning display technology works similarly to television and computer monitors in that it projects pixels directly onto the back of the eye, instead of through a cathode-ray tube onto a screen. Microvision developed a proprietary system for clinical use in conjunction with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. That application allows doctors to immediately access patient information and medical images. However, Nomad could also be used by heavy equipment operators to monitor instrument panels while keeping their eyes on the road, or by service technicians for reading manuals. Because of the high cost, the aerospace, military, and medical industries will likely be the first users of the technology, but eventually it might be used as a way to watch television or surf the Web.
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- "Tech Has Created a New Economy, Report Confirms"
Investor's Business Daily (04/26/01) P. A5; Prado, Antonio A.
A recent report by the National Bureau of Economic Research tempers both undue pessimism and resurgent blind faith in the New Economy. The study shows that IT was the main driver behind the productivity gains and economic growth of the last decade. Supply chain and other management technology has made factories and business processes far more efficient, allowing the economy to grow faster without danger of inflation. Consensus says that IT comprises 6 percent to 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product while fueling 30 percent growth in the country's economy. The NBER study shows companies that invested heavily in IT grew productivity by 4.18 percent annually from 1995, compared to an average 1.6 percent nationally, of which 0.6 percent also was attributed to IT. Wholesale trade, manufacturing, and financial firms benefited most from productivity-related IT, though the study's authors warn that they must keep up technology spending in order to maintain those gains as the economy slows. Although the Internet has played a major role in the New Economy, it is not the driving force behind economic development in the 1990s, claimed the study.
- "When Theft Is Justified"
Financial Times (04/26/01) P. 14; Waldmeir, Patti
Next week a New York appeals court will decide whether to uphold a district judge's ruling that Eric Corley can be penalized for sharing software code on the Internet that permits DVD duplication. The Motion Picture Association of America brought the action against Corley, arguing that his www.2600.com Web site violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by carrying links to the anti-copyright code. However, civil liberties groups say that DMCA is unconstitutional because it takes away people's fair-use rights, which permits using some copyrighted content for intellectual advancement. The judge overseeing the case, Lewis Kaplan, ruled that the DMCA is legitimate, and suggested using other sources such as videotape from which to get material. This case represents the first test of the DMCA, and may result in subsequent arrests of those that create and disburse anti-copyright technology. Congress has already stepped in to solve this problem with the copying of audio tapes, by not allowing the copying of copies, not copying completely, thus preserving fair-use access.
- "Chao, Senators Clash on Ergonomics Rules"
Washington Post (04/27/01) P. E4; Skrzycki, Cindy
At Thursday's Senate hearing about minimizing worker hazards in the workplace, Labor Department head Elaine Chao declined to give any time frame for new ergonomic standards on injuries caused by repetitive stress injuries. She said that offering a time period for new regulations would be a mistake because proceeding without the cooperation of all the parties would produce a faulty and unreliable rule. Chao also said that the Labor Department prefers to limit repetitive injuries through compliance and working with companies rather than forcing firms to comply with laws. Any new regulation, she said, would not require companies to compensate employees for their injuries. However, her department would examine the situation of jobs that entail the greatest danger, and use the help of an unaffiliated organization, Chao said. She added that the Labor department is short on funds. A number of labor groups yesterday asked that new rules be produced as soon as possible.
- "FBI Warning on Chinese Hackers"
Financial Times (04/27/01) P. 4; Labate, John
The FBI has issued a warning that Chinese hackers may try to attack U.S. computer systems over the Internet, especially between April 30 and May 7. The dates coincide with significant events in Chinese history: May 1 is May Day; May 4 is Youth Day; and May 7 marks the anniversary of the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. A previous Internet worm named Lion that infected government computers was also mentioned.
- "Euros Continue Echelon Probe"
Wired News (04/24/01); McCullagh, Declan
A 33-member European Parliament team called the Temporary Committee on the Echelon Interception System is set to visit the National Security Agency in May concerning the U.S. surveillance system, Echelon. The visit will last May 8 to May 11, and will also include a meeting with the House Intelligence Committee. The talks will concern whether Echelon was used to spy on international corporations, giving the United States an unfair position over other firms, and whether Echelon violates European citizens' privacy rights. Other nations participating in the system are Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Andreas Dietl, who works for Ilka Schroeder, a member of the committee, said that the team's goal is to get more information. The House Intelligence Committee conducted a review of Echelon in April of last year.
- "Phone Numbers Tested As One-Stop Data Link"
Washington Post (04/26/01) P. E5
On April 24, NeuStar announced that it initiated a public test of a system that would permit phone calls, voice mail, and email to be routed via 10-digit phone numbers to recipients' communication devices, such as telephones. Internet and telecommunications service providers and equipment manufacturers may take part in the test, which is based on the "Enum" technical standard. Although NeuStar is not ready to reveal the names of participating companies, according to NeuStar executive Richard Shockey, Nortel Networks and AOL Time Warner were listed during examples of how the system would work. VeriSign and NetNumber already are testing similar systems. Primary concerns include the new systems' effect on current systems and policy and ownership issues. If the system is determined to be a telecommunications service, then the government could regulate the system. However, the system would have a great deal of freedom if it is labeled as an Internet service.
- "Cost-Cuts May Mean the Statistics Don't Add up"
Financial Times (04/26/01) P. 8; Briscoe, Simon
A new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says that countries' different methods for calculating the value of IT products may mean significant variances in key economic data. Efforts to measure the value of IT investment and its effect on the economy have proved problematic, and OECD's report is likely to cloud the issue further. The controversy surrounds the hedonic deflator method, a price index calculation that links quality to the value of computers to their components' size or number, such as with monitors and memory. The hedonic deflator method is quick to incorporate price changes, and as a result, computer spending's contribution to economic growth is significantly enhanced. Economists point to the fact that countries using this method--the United States, Canada, Finland, and Australia--had economies closely linked to large hardware sectors and showed the largest growth in GDP. They suggest that this method either inflates or more accurately reflects computer prices than methods used in other countries, such as the United Kingdom. OECD's Paul Schreyer says that many factors, such as import percentages and data collection, make it difficult to accurately compare economic data in different countries.
- "Tech Trainees Still for Hire"
Washington Post (04/21/01) P. E1; Johnson, Carrie
In the past, establishments offering computer training promised better jobs to all those completing their courses. However, many who have completed such classes find that it is currently harder than ever to find good high tech positions. Those with some experience fare the best in the job market, as do college degree holders. Candidates without degrees have the hardest time finding jobs since entry-level jobs are the most difficult to get. Such a situation faced Valerie Holloway-Akwara, who could not find a networking job despite passing certification tests. After almost two years of searching, she finally found a job at a Washington, D.C. IT firm when she enlisted the help of the retraining firm MetroTech. However, another Washington, D.C.-area woman spent more than $6,000 for Oracle classes in 1998 and has had no success in finding a job. The high-tech training boom has run into the Internet shakeout, leaving many holding new certificate degrees with few options as they compete with more experienced technology workers for new work. IS professor Keith Morneau says, "For some entry-level folks, it's deadly right now."
- "Cell Phone Makers Learn Software the Hard Way"
CNet (04/24/01); Charny, Ben
Some cell phone makers are offering more features, including Web access, on their devices to improve sales as market growth declines. However, industry observers are concerned that multi-functional devices are rushed to market, since some previously introduced products had faulty software and needed to be recalled. For instance, Nokia admitted a software glitch could prevent some of its phones from accessing future 3G networks. The fear that handset software could crash is gaining momentum after some Java-enabled handsets needed software upgrades in Japan last year. Some software developers predict the cell phone industry will need the same kind of support staff used to keep large PC networks operational. Jupiter Research analyst Seamus McAteer predicts that cell phone design will become more important as wireless technologies adopt more functions. He adds that some wireless companies will likely release wireless technologies before they are adequately field tested as consumer demand slows and competition increases. Releasing mobile products with glitches could become a large problem as many wireless carriers share some networks and transfer customers across each other's networks.
- "Welcome to the Girl's Club"
InfoWorld (02/23/01) Vol. 23, No. 17, P. 55; Cohen, Sacha
The number of women in the higher ranks of technology firms is small but growing and several organizations are emerging that are designed to help other women break into the field. Web developer Monique Boea set up African-American Women in Technology (AAWIT) to facilitate technology learning and provide support for career advancement for black women. Boea says, "Things are definitely chaning for the better. As women continue to get the quality training they need and the demand for skilled technology work continues to increase, we will see even more women succeeding in a once male-dominated field." Similarly, Liz Ryan, a co-founder of a networking firm, established an automated email delivery list called World WIT (Women in Technology) to provide information for women working in technology. WorldWIT also offers such career advancement tools as job fairs and networking opportunities. GirlGeeks was established by Kristine Hanna, a video editor. She feels that as more women get into the higher tiers of tech jobs, they will hire more women as well. Yellow Technologies, a transportation firm headed by Lynn Caddell, plans to make young women interested in the technology field by inviting high school students to her company. Such goals are shared by Karen Kurek of Arthur Anderson's Growth and Retention of Women initiative. Ford Motor's Barbara Cooper says both men and women struggle to reach the executive ranks, but she believes women have the advantage because they typically have better communications skills, more patience, and are better at building relationships.
- "How Green Is the Valley?"
U.S. News & World Report (04/30/01) Vol. 130, No. 17, P. 38; Kurlantzick, Joshua
High-tech companies never imagined that the Internet and Internet-related devices would demand so much energy. The tech sector has that it would be energy-efficient and turn a profit, unlike their old economy predecessors. Indeed, the Internet has allowed for reduced vehicle consumption and need for commercial space due to telecommuting, while e-commerce lessened the need for paper, and encouraged entrepreneurs to rely more on warehouses than retail stores, saving energy and other commodities. What is more, companies have lower inventories and less waste because of the new technologies. However, California is suffering from an energy crisis and the blackouts give an indication of the enormous amount of energy that Silicon Valley demands. Some high-tech firms have become discouraged by the blackouts and have settled for diesel power generators, which are not easy on the environment. Meanwhile, high-tech companies have come under criticism for the lead, mercury, and toxic gases that computers contain, as well as for not doing more to keep PCs out of landfills, incinerators, and junkyards where dangerous materials can leach out and cause further damage to the environment. Nevertheless, with RYNO Technology and Quad/Graphics as examples of how New Economy companies can be profitable and environmentally friendly, and with research from Dickinson College also showing that it is possible, many high-tech companies are steadfast in their belief that an environmental approach ultimately will contribute to the bottom line.
- "Busted! InfiniBand Aims to Smash the Data Bind"
Interactive Week (04/23/01) Vol. 8, No. 16, P. 22; Babcock, Charles; Bryce, Robert
InfiniBand is set to supplant the Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) bus as the new input/output (I/O) standard for handling network data. Servers with the new technology may appear near the start of 2002. A contraction of "infinite bandwidth," the new standard handles data via switches rather than through a single path. InfiniBand has the support of major computer companies such as Compaq, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems who are working to ensure interoperability among different platforms. These firms are also funding ventures for the development of the standard, which work exclusively on developing InfiniBand products. The new technology enhances data transfer rates as well as data repository capabilities. InfiniBand is different from the PCI bus in that "PCI acted as a local input/output bus for a single server. InfiniBand acts as a distributed I/O architecture...It creates a fabric of compute nodes that talk to each other," says John Gromala, Compaq's head of InfiniBand. Businesses linked to the InfiniBand fabric would ensure that each computer would be able to get network access to data extremely quickly. Each switch of the new standard will optimally support 64,000 appliances, and can link up to another switch to provide a further 64,000 connections, says Chris Meier of Crossroads Systems, a maker of storage routers. And compared to the PCI bus, data in InfiniBand servers can move at velocities that are two times to 20 times greater. The most significant hurdle for the new standard to overcome is how soon the industry will produce hardware and software supporting the technology.