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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 3, Issue 207: Friday, May 25, 2001
- "Tech Firms Unruffled by Impending Senate Power Shift"
SiliconValley.com (05/23/01); Phillips, Heather Fleming
Although Sen. James Jefford's (R-Vt.) apparent decision to leave the GOP to become either a Democrat or an independent, shifting the balance of power in the Senate to the Democrats, has sent shockwaves through Washington, D.C., tech industry officials do not think the switch will impact their business that much. "We tend to have pragmatic problems to solve and our problems don't conform easily to ideological precepts," explains Computer and Communication Industry Association President Edward Black. Of the tech issues before this session of Congress--tax credits for research and development, the moratorium on Internet sales taxes, online copyrights, among others--most enjoy support across party lines. However, industry observers say the switch to a Democratic Senate could impact a select number of tech issues. For example, Republicans have held up legislation that would relax export controls on technology because of concerns about its impact on national security. Also, Sen. Earnest Hollings (D-S.C.) would likely become chair of the Senate Commerce Committee under a Democratic leadership, replacing Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), which could affect the privacy legislation now before the Senate. Hollings supports much tougher regulations against how companies can collect and use consumer data from the Internet.
For information about ACM's efforts on behalf of technology and public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "A 'White Hat' Goes to Jail"
Wired News (05/22/01); Delio, Michelle
Computer security expert Max Butler was sentenced to 18 months in prison for hacking, but his case highlights the difficulties in distinguishing between good guy and bad guy hackers. Max Butler, also known as Max Vision, ran Max Vision Network Security, which provided network integrity tests for corporations. The FBI approached him in 1996 with criminal charges of hacking but agreed to let him go free if he became an informant. As such, Max Vision helped track down and identify hackers involved in a 1996 3Com telephone system hack and also supplied the identities of participants in the DefCon 6 hacker convention in 1998. Most recently, when he refused to wear a wiretap to a meeting with friend Matthew Harrigan, the CTO of security firm MCR, the FBI arrested him. Prominent members in the hacking community lambasted the government's actions, noting that Butler was a proven "white hat" hacker, one who helped strengthen and protect network systems.
- "Computer Vandals Clog Antivandalism Web Site"
New York Times (05/24/01) P. C5; Schwartz, John
The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) was knocked offline Monday and Tuesday after a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack sent information into its Web site at rates several hundred times higher than normal. The CERT Coordination Center, operated by Carnegie Mellon University, is one of the key distribution points for information on new viruses, worms, and other threats to computer security. This week's attack did not compromise the center's security--rather, as in all DDoS attacks, the heavy traffic overwhelmed the capacity of its Web site, preventing legitimate users from gaining access. DDoS attacks have become a serious threat to Web sites because, as Rich Pethia, director of Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute explains, "There is no good way to defend against [a DDoS attack] or stop it once it's started. The Internet wasn't built with any built-in flow control, so there's no way to throttle back" and prevent the incoming traffic. DDoS attacks use remote "zombie" computers to execute the attack, making it very difficult to track down their source. A new report from the University of California at San Diego reveals that there are 4,000 DDoS attacks around the world each week, and such an attack also struck the White House on Tuesday, taking out its site for six hours.
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- "Senate Approves Permanent R&D Tax Credit"
Newsbytes (05/23/01); McGuire, David
The Senate on Wednesday ratified a permanent research and development (R&D) tax credit, with senators voting 62-38 in favor of the plan. Campaigners for the R&D tax credit had feared that the addition would not be included among the tax packages in the $1.35 trillion tax cut presented to the Senate. "It is a major step forward for the U.S. high-tech industry as we try [to] compete in the global market," said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA). He added that IT sector lobbyists would make an effort to advance the tax cut as House and Senate members fuse together their respective versions of the tax-cut package. In the past, the R&D tax credit had to undergo regular reviews in order to remain in effect, causing tech firms to hesitate on their R&D spending. The R&D tax credit will equal $47 billion in taxes over 10 years, which Miller says pales in comparison to $1.35 trillion tax cut.
- "EU Waits for U.S. in Microsoft Antitrust Case"
TheStandard.com (05/23/01); Grondahl, Boris
The European Commission's efforts to bring Microsoft to trial are on hold, pending a firmer resolution by U.S. officials to pursue the matter. EU competition director general Alexander Schaub explained at a meeting in Berlin earlier this week that his team needed a cooperative agreement from its U.S. counterparts so that they could jointly work on the case. However, President Bush's antitrust appointee, Charles James, has remained silent on the Microsoft case, and Microsoft's current position in U.S. courts remains uncertain. Representatives at the German conference balked at traditional arguments given by tech companies under antitrust investigation, contending instead that the Internet provides more opportunities for market collusion and unfair practice. The European allegations that Microsoft used its PC software dominance in the server market are different than the Department of Justice's case against the software giant.
- "Talking to Computers"
Scientific American Online (05/21/01); Franzen, Harald
New technologies may not signal the end for the standard devices used with computers, some experts predict. Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, thinks that the mouse could be on its way out, while Terry Winograd, a professor of computer science at Stanford University, believes that the keyboard is likely to stay. Hedge sees the mouse being replaced by touch-surface technology and agrees with Winograd that systems that use voice or handwriting recognition will not make keyboards obsolete. Hedge suggests that consumers will not be receptive to a computer that speaks to them as fast as visual data is placed on a computer screen. Similarly, he says people can type words on a keyboard three times as fast as they can write words using a pen-based computer. Hedge says the keyboard may no longer be used for as many tasks, but it will not be overhauled because users would have to learn a new layout. Rickson Sun, director of research and development at product-design consulting firm IDEO, sees touch-surface technology being integrated with a lightweight display. Display glasses will not be popular anytime soon, adds Winograd.
- "Batteries Push Paper Into Electronics Age"
New York Times (05/24/01) P. E9; Eisenberg, Anne
Israeli electronics company Power Paper has developed a battery that can be printed onto paper, plastic, or other surfaces, opening up a variety of possible applications. CEO Baruch Levanon says the battery uses conventional energy storage technology but involves a secret printing process through which electrolytes are inked onto the surface without requiring a metal casing. The product's energy output is scalable according to the area, but a one-foot section would produce the same voltage as an AA alkaline battery. A German microelectronics company has already developed a use for the battery in a blood bag label that reads the temperature of blood while still in transport. Levanon suggests that the battery, in conjunction with liquid-crystal displays and small processing chips, could lead to a credit card-sized organizer as one future product, or plastic payment cards that display account balances.
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- "Oakland Hosts Energy Department Supercomputer Lab"
SiliconValley.com (05/24/01); Gonzales, Sandra
The Department of Energy is currently testing a new 2,528-processor supercomputer that it plans to bring online this summer. The supercomputer is located at the department's Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory in Oakland, Calif. Researchers across the country will be able to access the system online and tap into the data the computer produces, answering complex algorithms dealing with global warming, better fuel efficiency, and new power sources. James Decker, director of the department's Office of Science, says the computer will let researchers tackle questions that were previously unanswerable and run super-detailed simulation models.
- "Microsoft Survey Finds Tech Optimism in Europe"
TheStandard.com (05/23/01); Wray, Rick
A new poll from International Data (IDC), on behalf of Microsoft, reveals that 93 percent of 500 senior executives in Europe are planning to retain or raise IT spending this fiscal year. The IDC survey found that 60 percent of executives have confidence in Europe's economy and that 80 percent view technology as the key component of their business plans this year. The poll reinforces the widely perceived notion that the tech slowdown that has struck the United States is not as severe in Europe. Analysts say a main reason why the IT slowdown will not be as bad in Europe is that its tech investment lags behind tech investment in the United States. For example, a majority of European firms rely on technology to improve their internal operations rather than to grow their business interests. The survey did find some fear that technology can disrupt competition by letting new firms enter markets quickly, especially in Germany and the United Kingdom. In countries where PC and Internet penetration is not as widespread--France and Italy, for example--this fear is not as great.
- "Europe Ready to Fund Asian IT Projects"
Bangkok Post (05/23/01); Boonruang, Sasiwimon
The 15 countries in the European Union and 17 countries in South and Southeast Asia are currently working together to build their collective IT and communications. The European Union agreed to co-fund up to 100 programs that would link the European and Asian countries, including a supply-chain project aimed at promoting trade and a free-flow research program. European Commission Information Society Director-General Erick Habers says the overall effort, named Asia IT&C (Information Technology and Communications), was meant to bolster ties and development in the two regions.
- "Hobbyists Souping Up Electronics"
Associated Press (05/24/01) P. F3; Jesdanun, Anick
Enthusiasts can add modifications to a number of electronic devices, altering their function. TiVo, a digital recorder of television programs, is a favorite target of such high-tech tinkerers--they increase its recording time by installing extra hardware and attach Ethernet ports to access online program guides. A company called EnjoyWeb plans to market TiVos outfitted with software enabling the gadget to record shows from the Web; others hope to use TiVo as a surveillance tool or to circumvent subscription fees and copy TiVo files onto CDs. Manufacturers have had differing reactions to the hacking, with some companies warning the tinkerers that they have violated their warranty and will receive no more support; others, though, have embraced the movement, treating hackers' work as free research toward future product development.
- "Despite Slump, New Server Companies Flourish"
Wall Street Journal (05/24/01) P. B6; McWilliams, Gary
New server companies are capitalizing on the tight economy to sell low-power, optimized servers to data centers and corporate buyers. Based on a component "blade" design, hundreds of these small computer boxes can be placed in a traditional server rack. Because they use low-power chips designed for laptops and are able to share connections and storage, the servers use up to one-fifth of the power requirements of regular servers and one-eighth of the physical space. FiberCycle and IBM-backed RLX Technologies have already developed similar types of these servers aimed at data centers seeking to optimize their revenues. RLX President Michael Swavely points out that his company's product is appealing in the current market, whereas the focus before was on performance at any cost. A number of big-name financiers have come behind the new startups, and both Dell and Compaq have announced that they will build their own servers using the blade design as well.
- "Privacy Is Becoming Everyone's Business"
Los Angeles Times (05/22/01) P. C1; Sanders, Edmund
The privacy consulting business is rapidly expanding to help corporations deal with mounting consumer fears and the difficulties posed by different U.S., European, and international privacy regulations, especially recent U.S. laws concerning medical and financial data privacy. Major firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers, IBM, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte & Touche have all launched significant privacy consulting units to serve a 1999 $300 million industry that Gartner analysts predict will skyrocket to $1.8 billion by 2003. Privacy consulting services include the Chief Privacy Officer training offered by the Privacy Council for $2,000, to the PricewaterhouseCoopers top-to-bottom analysis of network data-use, which produces a written privacy assessment for $50,000. Deloitte & Touche's Elizabeth Krentzman says companies looking to establish an international online presence often face conflicting privacy laws, and this is another reason privacy consulting is making an online boom. Media fallout is also a big corporate concern. "After DoubleClick became the poster child for bad privacy, there was a lot more interest from out clients," says Weber Shandwick's Rosabel Tao. However, Rick Lane, Internet technology director at the Chamber of Commerce, believes some privacy consultants are inflating the dangers.
- "Democrats Talk IT"
InformationWeek Online (05/23/01); Swanson, Sandra
Members of the Clinton administration, including the former president himself, have made or are scheduled to make key speeches before tech audiences. This week, Al Gore gave the keynote address at the Association of Communications Enterprises' Spring Conference & Exhibition, where he spoke on the FCC's need to support a competitive marketplace. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright will speak at the PeopleSoft Leadership Summit on June 4 in Las Vegas, while in early May, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich spoke at the e-HR Future Show. The former president gave the keynote address at Oracle's AppsWorld convention in February and will be the keynote speaker this October at the Online Learning Conference, to be held in Los Angeles. "No administration in the past 25 years has done more for the appropriate application of technology for learning than the Clinton administration," says conference director Philip Jones.
For information about ACM's efforts on behalf of technology and public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Linux Looks Good on Server"
eWeek (05/21/01) Vol. 18, No. 20, P. 1; Galli, Peter
Linux-based systems are quickly gaining ground in the commercial server market as the technology improves and big vendors adopt the platform. Tests on IBM's DB2 7.2 Linux 2.4.3 database server demonstrate that it beats Microsoft's SQL Server 2000 running Windows 2000. The results provide Linux servers a significant confidence boost with businesses, ensuring that Linux will continue to expand on the server front. In the desktop market, however, Linux companies are finding it a hard sell to investors because they have yet to come up with a breakthrough product and have captured no more than 2 percent of the market. Eazel recently closed its shop after it could not find further funding for its work on a Linux-based graphical user interface. Corel's Linux arm is also struggling, and the company is now in negotiations to sell the unit for only $1.5 million. International Data analyst Al Gillen sees no prospects for Linux on the desktop through 2005.
- "Proponents Take IPv6 Off Its Pedestal"
Network World (05/21/01) Vol. 18, No. 21, P. 16; Marsan, Carolyn Duffy
Backers of the new Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) standard are now touting only one reason for migrating networks from the existing Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4)--the addition of several billion more IP addresses. The wireless industry has been one of the strongest supporters of IPv6, but actual implementation has been limited so far. Even the Third Generation Partnership Project, a leading wireless initiative in Europe, has only put one aspect of IPv6 in place, despite vocal support. The designers of IPv6 at the Internet Engineering Task Force admit that the security and increased speed of the new protocol are not enough to offset the huge infrastructure costs necessary to change over, but they insist that IPv6 will eventually be the best solution to solve the address shortage. IPv4 supports only 4 billion addresses, but the new standard would provide countless billions--enough for each one of the millions of new wireless Internet devices that industry experts predict will appear in the next few years. Already, major technology manufacturers have begun to include IPv6 support in their products, including router software and hardware from Cisco and Nortel.
- "Getting the Lead Out"
Interactive Week (05/21/01) Vol. 8, No. 20, P. 20; Gruenwald, Juliana
The European Parliament has toughened the European Commission's original proposals on electronic waste. Last week the Parliament adopted the changes, which include increasing the target collection rates for electronic waste, setting 30 months--instead of 5 years--as the deadline for collecting electronic waste and financing cleanup, and changing the year in which the ban on hazardous substances would go into effect from 2008 to 2006. Electronics makers have their concerns, although they say they support the goal of reducing electronic waste. For example, electronic manufacturers say the ban on a half dozen substances, including lead and mercury, could result in government officials telling computer makers how to design their products. Although government officials say there are other alternatives to the banned materials, electronics makers say they are not acceptable and that authorities have not considered whether the alternatives are safer. What is more, electronic manufacturers say their products will cost more and become less energy-efficient as a result of a ban on the chemicals. The Council of the European Union now will decide whether to accept the amendments.
- "Skills for Tomorrow"
Computerworld (05/21/01) Vol. 35, No. 21, P. 44; Melymuka, Kathleen
With the pace of technological change rapidly increasing, companies are taking several approaches to the evaluation and implementation of cutting-edge systems. At Northrop Grumman subsidiary PRC, the company has established a process known as Tech Watch in which employees volunteer to be advocates for a new technology. The advocate follows the development of that technology and may eventually propose a pilot program for that technology. For example, Tech Watch led PRC to implement Ariba business-to-business e-commerce software, which has since reduced the company's procurement cycle to as few as two days from as many as 16. Meanwhile, in the past five years, State Street has given its mainframe staffers a crash course in Internet and object-oriented technologies as it made a switch to a browser-based front end. CIO John Fiore says its method of training staff in new technology was ultimately successful but may have worked better had he let the staffers cut their teeth on the new technology on smaller projects, see what they still needed to learn, and only then move them to large projects. However, Home Depot CIO Ron Griffin says his company has learned that sometimes it is better not to make changes unless new technology provides a "quantum leap" that will reduce costs and life cycles. In the case of the company's changeover to TCP/IP and Java, Griffin says he was wise to hire experienced workers who were also willing to teach others.
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- "Buzzing Around"
New Scientist (05/19/01) Vol. 170, No. 2291, P. 30; Cohen, David
A Xerox researcher in France has devised a new network for distributing digital information. Applying the approach in which bees distribute pollen from flower to flower, Dave Snowden, a researcher at the Xerox Research Center in Grenoble, has developed a network in which users of personal digital assistants can distribute and receive information. The prototype network that Snowden's team built relies on coin-sized computers placed throughout their office--on doorways, filing cabinets, printers, computers, and the like--to serve as a network of nodes. The idea is to have people view on their PDAs information about the devices they use, and read, for example, that a printer is broken, a room is free for a meeting, contents of books, and even individual messages. The "hive" is a central server that tracks messages on their way to their destinations, and helps manage the flow of information on the pollen network. Snowden's network has its limitations in its speed and unpredictability of information travel, difficulty acknowledging that messages were sent, and lack of guarantee that messages would arrive. However, its benefits were low set-up costs because there is no physical infrastructure, and ease and low cost of expansion by adding new nodes. Snowden says Bluetooth and other short-range radio communication systems could add user-friendliness to pollen networks, which he envisions complementing existing cable, fiber-optic, and wireless networks.