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Volume 3, Issue 238: Friday, August 10, 2001
- "Russians Won't Prosecute Programmer"
Associated Press (08/09/01); Dolgov, Anna
Dmitry Sklyarov, charged with violating American copyright laws, will not face prosecution in Russia, police said Thursday. The computer programmer may still face imprisonment in the United States if found guilty of breaking the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. He was arrested for creating programs that bypass restrictions on electronic books published via Adobe Systems' eBook Reader. Authorities in Russia have no case against him, says Dmitry Chepchugov of the Russian Interior Ministry; such programs do not violate any laws in Russia.
- "Officials Brief Bush on Microsoft Case"
Los Angeles Times (08/10/01) P. C3; Menn, Joseph; Sanders, Edmund
President Bush this week was briefed by Justice Department officials on the state of the government's antitrust case against Microsoft, leading analysts to believe the case is nearing its end. Bush had said prior to his election that he is against breaking up Microsoft, and this week's meeting reportedly didn't end with a recommended course of action. However, sources say the 18 states as well as the Justice Department do not plan to pursue an injunction that would halt the release of Microsoft's new XP operating system in October. Still, other remedies are being considered even as Microsoft has asked the Supreme Court to review the federal appeals court's decision to uphold the finding that it broke monopoly laws. Meanwhile, 120 members of Congress have signed a petition calling on the Justice Department and the states to settle the case.
- "Internet Access by Telephone Grows Strongly"
Financial Times (08/10/01) P. 27; Spiegel, Peter
When it comes to providing high-speed Internet service, cable broadband providers still have a huge lead over telephone-based DSL services, with 3.6 million connections. But telecom carriers are making rapid advances, growing from 370,000 subscribers to approximately two million subscribers over the course of last year, according to a recent report from the FCC. The number of Americans connected to high-speed Internet access rose 158% in 2000, with almost three million subscribers signing up for these services between July and December of last year. Nevertheless, a number of FCC commissioners expressed reservations about the fact that high-speed Internet access is not increasing at the same rates as they are in Asia. The FCC commissioners also noted that rural areas in the U.S. tend to have relatively few subscribers for high-speed internet services, which they believe is a cause for concern. The FCC also recently announced that it was setting up a proceeding to find more airwaves for third generation (3G) mobile telephones. The International Telecommunications Union has designated airwaves for 3G wireless uses, but these are currently occupied in the U.S. by various telecommunications companies, as well as the U.S. military. The FCC has been working hard to find ways to shift existing owners to other wavelengths. The FCC is now planning to look at four new areas of spectrum, some of which are currently controlled by satellite operators and unlicensed mobile phone companies.
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- "Judges' Ire Stirs Debate on Web Monitoring"
Wall Street Journal (08/09/01) P. B12; Bridis, Ted; Simpson, Glenn R.
The rebellious actions of a group of West Coast judges may force lawmakers to revise federal edicts on the monitoring of online activity by employers. "We may need to have people in a position of power affected by electronic monitoring before there is going to be an honest legislative evaluation of the current situation in the American workplace," contends National Workrights Institute legal director Jeremy Gruber. Earlier this year for one week the judges deactivated the system of a Washington administrative agency programmed to monitor them. The U.S. Judicial Conference will decide whether the judges were within their rights when it meets on Sept. 11. Employer surveillance is allowable under the Electronic and Communications Privacy Act of 1986, but Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) are expected to propose legislation sometime this year that would restrict such surveillance.
- "Discarded Computers Mounting Up to Environmental Threat"
Los Angeles Times (08/09/01) P. T7; Huffstutter, P.J.
Unrecycled computers constitute a serious environmental hazard; they are a source of lead, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, and chromium. The EPA prohibits businesses from dumping old computers as garbage, and in California it is illegal to place lead-laden monitors in landfills. Unfortunately, many charity groups and agencies are starting to refuse donations because most of the contributed machines are out of date. But with 315 million PCs expected to become obsolete in the U.S. by 2004, the need for more effective recycling becomes clear. There are several ways one can go about recycling an old computer: resources such as ElectronicsRecycling.net and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition Web site can provide helpful advice and information. Some computer manufacturers can recycle old computers, and even offer customers incentives for doing so. Gateway gives rebates to those who recycle or donate their machines, while IBM will take obsolete models for a fee. The local sanitation bureau may host recycling programs as well.
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- "New Virus Spreads Using Acrobat Files"
InfoWorld.com (08/08/01); Calabia, Hector
Portable Document Format (PDF) files used in Adobe Acrobat are susceptible to an experimental virus, according to analysis by HispaSec Sistemas head Bernardo Quinteros and Privacy Foundation CTO Richard M. Smith. The virus, Outlook.pdf, proliferates through Acrobat and never-used operations of Outlook by Microsoft. It was invented by the Argentine hacker known as "Zulu" as proof that Acrobat files can be infected. Quinteros and Smith say the virus embeds itself in PDF files via Outlook, and then users who open the file with Acrobat are encouraged to click on an image of a peach, thus releasing the virus. The email addresses in Outlook's Address Book and its folder are utilized to spread Outlook.pdf. "Since PDF files are considered safe by Internet Explorer, it means that Acrobat security holes are easy to exploit from Web pages and HTML email messages," warns Smith.
- "Top Execs Seek Bright Spots in the Downturn"
InfoWorld.com (08/08/01); Harreld, Heather
Over 50% of the leading executives at Fortune 1000 firms are convinced the elimination of poor business models will greatly assist their companies during the current financial downturn, according to a new Accenture study. The programs executives favor include IT projects centering on supply chain management (SCM), ERP, and CRM, say the majority of the 150 C-level survey respondents. The study also determined that 39% believe the slowdown contributes directly to the inability to secure new capital. As the slowdown continues, company officials will be able to concentrate on lowering costs, the report finds. Accenture's David B. Rich says firms will also look to e-business applications to gain efficiencies. He says, "When they talk about poor business models, they mean moving toward a virtual enterprise." Executives say they expect the next killer business apps will be CRM technologies, wireless and mobile applications, and SCM systems.
- "Computer Security Lapses Cost Firms Billions of Dollars"
Investor's Business Daily (08/08/01) P. A8; Howell, Donna
Mary Pat McCarthy, KPMG's global chair of information, communications, and entertainment practice, contends that billions of dollars can be saved if companies spend more money on implementing preventative measures against computer security breaches rather than repair them after they have been exploited. She estimates that companies lose as much as $15 billion every year because of hackers and computer viruses, and sees a lack of understanding about the security risks of online operations among senior management. Companies that are security conscious from the start have solid protection, McCarthy notes. She explains that CEOs must coordinate people, processes, and technology to develop an effective security program; they must also dedicate more than 5% of their IT budgets for protective measures. Companies with good security management practices have policies and procedures in place that do not put too much pressure on the end user. McCarthy says that about 80% of reported security breaches are caused by business competitors rather than mischievous hackers.
- "A Chip That Mimics a Retina but Strains for Light"
New York Times (08/09/01) P. E8; Eisenberg, Anne
Many research projects are investigating ways technology can be used to repair or restore damaged vision, and one of the most interesting is a subretinal chip developed by Optiobionics COO Dr. Alan Chow and his brother, Vincent. The 2mm-long electronic retina, designed for people suffering from macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, consists of thousands of tiny photodiodes that convert photons into electrical signals that mimic the function of rods and cones. Three volunteers have had the chip implanted in them for a year, and three more were operated on last week; so far Chow says the chips are still operating with no signs of infection or rejection, but he is prohibited by FDA guidelines to disclose whether the patients' vision has improved. Other researchers working on retinal repair technology do not think Chow's device is efficient enough to generate the electricity required to trigger retinal neurons. Dr. Mark S. Humayun of Johns Hopkins Hospital claims that the light entering the eye would have to be incredibly intense for the chip to work successfully. His own research effort involves an implanted chip that transmits images from an external camera. Meanwhile, Harvard-MIT Retinal Implant Project codirector Dr. Joseph Rizzo has developed a chip that transmits camera images wirelessly and is implanted near the retinal layers, which would send the chip's signals to the brain's ganglion cells.
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- "Material Benefits From Mighty Molecules"
Financial Times (08/07/01) P. 8; Harvey, Fiona
Nanomaterial technology promises to change the way engineers build the tools and applications people use every day. By manipulating individual molecules, scientists are able to custom-build materials at the atomic level so that they display precisely the desired properties. For example, because nanomaterials have perfect shapes, without the irregularities of normally produced materials, they can better conduct light and electricity. Also, drugs made from nanomaterials can be more efficiently absorbed into the body because they have a 30% greater surface area. One company used nanomaterials to construct a phosphor-based monitor screen that works using only a 500-volt electron gun, instead of the 30,000-volt gun used by conventional computer monitors and televisions. Estimates put the market for nanomaterials somewhere between $5 billion and $10 billion over the next 10 years, and scientists are still coming up with more efficient processes to create nanomaterials.
- "Sex, Lies and TLDs"
MSNBC.com (08/08/01); Meeks, Brock N.
After trademark holders are finished exploiting pre-registration loopholes to claim attractive new TLD domain names that they have no trademark rights to, those awaiting general registration will find nothing left, argues Brock N. Meeks of MSNBC, and a columnist for Communications of the ACM. In the .info space, almost all generic .info names have been claimed already, even though under U.S. law descriptive terms like "dog" cannot be trademarked by those in the dog or pet business. However, trademark law quirks would allow a nail polish company to trademark the word "dog" for one of its brands of nail polish, says trademark attorney Bret Fausett. Overall, the sunrise period has given trademark holders a mammoth leg up over everyone else. Afilias consultant Michael Palage, who designed the .info sunrise period, was at first dismissive of the public's outcry over the situation, telling the Associated Press that Afilias' job was not to verify the legitimacy of trademark holders. Now Palage has done an about-face, saying, "we're going through looking for potential non-qualifying data," and pledging to "make sure that the integrity of the process is upheld." Palage also has said that Afilias will announce remedying measures. In one interesting case, U.S. citizen Pat Norbriga registered the domain name clinton.info without having trademark rights to it in order to save clinton.info from critics or cybersquatters.
- "Talking About...Wearable Computers"
Venture Development senior analyst Tim Shea and colleague Dave Krebs discuss the current state of wearable computers and what the future has in store. Wearable technology is currently finding its widest use in the workplace: warehouse employees use wrist keypads and ring scanners to help manage inventory; wireless communication helps maintain FedEx's aircraft fleet; wearables are also finding their way into the military, public safety, asset management, home inspection, and field-service troubleshooting. Shea and Krebs cite major research projects into wearable computing such as MIT's MITThril and NASA's 2001 Haughton-Mars Project. Leading the charge for consumer wearables are IBM, Hitachi, and Hewlett-Packard; IBM and Hitachi are both collaborating with Xybernaut on wearable computer products while HP is developing a Web-enabled watch in conjunction with Swatch Watch. Shea and Krebs envision wearables that consist of three basic elements: a display, a voice recognition interface, and wireless computing and communications functionality. Both men say that the widespread adoption of wearables will only become a reality if they are inexpensive and fashionable.
- "Web3D Consortium Launches Successor to VRML"
A group of browser firms have banded together to create a new standard for next-generation 3D modeling over the Internet. The Web3D Consortium plans to develop an X3D, or Extensible 3D, standard that will enable different developers to innovate new products while making sure those products work on the same platforms and can interchange data. X3D works on an open standard and will benefit the industry in allowing quicker development and better graphics than the current VRML protocol. Web3D also intends to act as an arbitrator and repository for X3D extensions, which will be integrated with other XML Web languages.
- "Beyond Sight"
InfoWorld (08/06/01) Vol. 23, No. 32, P. 32; Millman, Howard
Ampacet global IT director Bob Woods breaks the stereotypical view that disabled people cannot function in the workplace. In addition to a rigorous work ethic and an incredible memory, the legally blind Woods uses adaptive technology. Magnifier from Microsoft allows him to view data on both his and other people's monitors. Woods also uses email text-to-speech readers to ease online communications. Although adaptive technology is giving Woods and other disabled people the opportunity to hold a regular job, there are almost 11 million people on federal disability rolls, almost twice that of 10 years ago. IT workers in particular can benefit from the advances in technology, but it is still up to individual companies to give them a chance. Woods started out as a programmer nine years ago and this year was promoted to global IT director. He says, "I know there are jobs that I didn't get. They just weren't willing to give me the chance to prove myself."
- "Assembling Nanocircuits From the Bottom Up"
Science (08/03/01) Vol. 293, No. 5531, P. 782; Service, Robert F.
Researchers are probing into molecular electronics, in which self-assembling, nanometer-sized circuits are fashioned from the bottom up, as a way to create devices with greater computing power and lower fabrication costs. Molecular assembly became possible with the advent of the scanning probe microscope, which Rice University's Jim Tour used to construct organic molecules with electrical conductivity. Since then, there have been numerous advances toward working nanoelectronics, including circuits with nanotube transistors; a 16-bit memory cell made from a crossbar array of nanowires; and hybrid technologies that combine molecular electronics with conventional silicon electronics. This last approach is the most likely way molecular electronics will be applied, according to experts. Several research teams are competing to build the first integrated circuit to be based on molecular electronics.
- "Davis Pushes Public-Private Exchange of IT Workers"
Federal Times (08/06/01); Robb, Karen
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) supports the Digital Tech Corps Act, a bill that calls for an exchange of midlevel IT personnel between the public and private sectors to help address a shortfall of IT workers as well as foster an understanding of government among industrial employees. The exchange program would probably result in the government hiring more people for midlevel positions, explains Steve Kelman of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Conflict of interest would be circumvented by provisions within the bill, says Davis. Government employees would still retain their federal salary and benefits; private-sector employees would be considered government employees while receiving their pay from their industrial employers. Although Davis favors an equal exchange between public and private agencies, the bill carries the possibility for cross-agency electronic-government efforts, according to Accenture managing partner Stephen Rohleder.
- "Hidden Pitfalls in .Net Open Source?"
Interactive Week (08/06/01) Vol. 8, No. 30, P. 13; Babcock, Charles
Open-source developers are concerned about hidden patents Microsoft might be able to leverage against them if they make their applications interoperable with Microsoft's .Net initiative. Some say that a patent is likely to be behind the password-changing mechanism necessary for open-source applications to integrate in order to work with the Windows file system. Microsoft refuses to admit to such a patent, and has only said it would abide by rules set down by the European standards body, the ECMA. ECMA's Jan van den Beld says those rules allow companies to hide their patents during the standards setting process, and apply them in a non-discriminatory fashion later. The open source .Net idea is the brainchild of Miguel de Icaza, a pioneer of Linux desktop applications. Responding to patent concerns last week, De Icaza said his project would first focus on linking open source applications in the public domain to .Net until the issue is more clear.
- "Get in Touch With Your PC"
U.S. News & World Report (08/06/01) Vol. 131, No. 5, P. 32; Rae-Dupree, Janet
Immersion founder Louis Rosenberg believes touch-enhanced devices will become highly desirable once they can be inexpensively mass-produced. Consumers are primarily familiar with so-called force-feedback sensations through videogames. However, experts who envision great things for haptics, the science of the sense of touch, believe their research can be applied beyond gaming. For example, experts believe touchpads could improve the efficiency of computer use, such as having program windows feel elastic when stretched, or identifying data contained in cells through sensation. Immersion's chief technology officer Bruce Schena says researchers will know they have succeeded in 10 years if computer users are able to realize that something is wrong based on sensation interaction with their PCs. DemoLetter editor Jim Forbes believes that reaching out to touch Web pages could become a compelling reason for consumers to want force feedback devices at a price of less than $50. Such devices could be just what computer companies need to revive the PC industry. Other industries have plans for the technology as well; for example, BMW plans to place haptic knobs in some vehicles next year.