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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Volume 3, Issue 240:  Wednesday, August 15, 2001

  • "Scientists to Detail Controversial Research"
    InfoWorld.com (08/14/01); Pruitt, Scarlet

    Princeton University Professor Edward Felten and his research group are expected to release a paper about decrypting digital music encryption codes at the Usenix Security Conference on Wednesday, and thus risk violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Felten's paper was barred from being presented at an earlier conference when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) complained that it would contravene DMCA. Felten and his team are currently suing the RIAA, the SDMI, the U.S. Justice Department, and encryption code maker Verance, citing First Amendment rights. His case has garnered the support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which contends that DMCA has been suppressing scientific research. Although the RIAA and SDMI claim they have no objection to Felten presenting his research at Usenix, the EFF says the Justice Department could still charge him and his team for violating DMCA. International scientists who spoke on Felten's behalf in federal court are worried of being charged with similar violations if they travel to the United States to present research.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    ACM filed a declaration in federal court last Monday in support of Felten et al. to help the court understand the practical effect of the issues at stake. To read the declaration in its entirety, visit http://www.acm.org/felten

  • "H-1B Workers Face Ugly Backlash"
    ZDNet (08/13/01); Konrad, Rachel

    Participating H-1B workers must contend with a nasty anti-immigration backlash as a result of the economic slowdown. Former President Clinton increased the limit of H-1B visas that can be granted, but politicians are calling for tax-funded educational programs as a way to address a shortage of U.S. technology professionals, rather than relying on foreigners to fill in the gaps. Furthermore, conservative politicians such as Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) oppose the H-1B program, claiming it takes jobs away from Americans. The early successes of the H-1B program has also created a stereotype: U.S. companies tend to believe that H-1B visa workers have better technical skills than American workers, which makes it harder for them to branch out into other areas; at the same time, anonymous surveys indicate that Americans resent foreign workers, calling them job thieves that drive down salary scales. Meanwhile, visa workers do not usually ask for salary increases or make waves in the workplace out of concern that their permits will be rescinded. The top high-tech employers, such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard, plan to continue hiring H-1B programmers, simply because they cannot find American programmers of equal skill; this only adds fuel to the H-1B opponents' argument. Also raising the hackles of conservatives is a plan by the Bush administration to confer "legal status" upon undocumented workers. Still, the number of H-1B applications received by the Immigration and Naturalization Service increased 12.5 percent between the first eight months of fiscal 2000 and the first eight months of fiscal 2001.
    http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/news/0,4586,2803859,00.html

  • "Efforts to Ease Worries on New Net Addresses"
    New York Times (08/15/01) P. C7; Stellin, Susan

    Afilias will announce today that it will challenge suspicious .info domain name trademark claims by participating in its own "challenge period," a period where challengers can force trademark claimants to produce verifiable proof of trademarks to a WIPO arbitrator or forfeit their .info sunrise period claim on domain names. "The registry itself is planning to step in and challenge these questionable registrations," said Afilias' Roland LaPlante. In related news, NeuLevel is butting heads with Amazon.com over its allocation process for .biz domains; NeuLevel on Tuesday filed a declaratory judgment against Amazon.com in a U.S. District Court. Amazon.com sent NeuLevel a letter in July airing the online retailer's concerns over NeuLevel's "pay-to-play lottery scheme" for registering .biz names, says Amazon.com spokeswoman Patty Smith. Smith says NeuLevel did not bother to respond to the letter and has instead decided to file a lawsuit. NeuLevel's Jeffrey J. Neuman, director of policy and intellectual property for NeuLevel, says his company is defending its system by any means necessary. NeuLevel is also arguing that the allocation process is not subject to national or state lottery laws, a preemptive move against a California class action suit that claims that .biz's pre-registration is an illegal lottery.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/15/technology/ebusiness/15DOMA.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)

  • "Computer Developers Aiming to Exterminate the Mouse"
    Los Angeles Times (08/14/01) P. C1; Pham, Alex

    Numerous technologies are being touted at the ACM SIGGRAPH conference as replacements for the traditional keyboard and mouse interfaces on computers. Haptics, or touch-based technology, are perhaps closest to becoming reality: Purdue University's intuitive sensingChair allows sitters to direct a virtual car through body movements, while a haptic pen can sense changes in the molecular makeup of certain substances. Kyoto's Advanced Telecommunication Research Lab has developed a multiple-sense interface that integrates touch, sight, and speech by pulling up images triggered by spoken keywords onto a touch-sensitive screen; users who touch a specific image will pull up additional data. Meanwhile, the University of Tokyo has developed the Enhanced Desk, a virtual interface that users control by hand movements. An even grander project is going on at MIT, where researchers are investigating the possibilities of a computer that can detect and respond to a user's emotions. The ultimate interface would be one controlled by thought, but such technology is thus far limited to experimental research oriented around helping disabled people move objects and their own limbs.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Execs, Geeks Join Forces to Attack Digital Divide"
    NewsFactor Network (08/14/01); McDonald, Tim

    The International Executive Service Corps (IESC) is merging with Geekcorps to leverage technology and business strategies in order to promote economic development in third-world countries. Geekcorps and IESC are both nonprofit groups, but Geekcorps is a younger company mainly comprised of young IT experts. IESC is a volunteer organization started in the 1960s, and its current funding totals $20 million, compared to Geekcorps' 2000 budget of $325,000. The merged groups' first initiative will be to expand Geekcorps' efforts to provide computer networks and training in Ghana. Geekcorps volunteers will also be sent into Jordan, Armenia, and other developing nations. "We believe this partnership will help bridge both the digital divide and the generation gap," says IESC President Hobart C. Gardiner.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/12788.html

  • "The Wait for a Technological Rebound May Be Long"
    New York Times (08/14/01) P. C1; Berenson, Alex

    Profits at top tier technology firms like Cisco Systems and EMC are dropping even quicker than their stock prices are as a result of the worst-ever bear market. Cisco's stock price dropped only two thirds while earnings fell 82 percent since last year and now, 18 months into the market downslide, analysts are warning investors that a turnaround is not imminent. Market skeptics believe that Wall Street analysts are dropping their technological profit forecasts and that it will take many years for firms like Cisco and Oracle to recover and regain their peaks of high profits and earnings they experienced during the technological boom. Charles L. Hill, research director for Thomson Financial/First Call, predicts that technology companies listed in the Standard & Poor's index will drop about 50 percent in profits this year, but that earnings at non-technology firms would fall slightly as well. On average, technology profits have fallen back to 1997 levels, virtually eradicating three years of enormous growth and Byron Wien, director of investment strategy at Morgan Stanley, feels that despite the disbelief and denial of many investors, the technological industry will not spring back to its glorious grandeur of the boom days. But he noted that people are still mesmerized by trading technology stocks, pointing out that on the Nasdaq most active list, tech stocks are still king.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/14/business/14PLAC.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)

  • "Softer Hardware: Designs for Digital Living"
    International Herald Tribune (08/14/01) P. 8; Hales, Linda

    Creators of new high-tech gadgets realize they have not yet stopped to admire the many digital innovations currently available, as the industry continues to invent new products. The annual conference of the Industrial Designers Society of America will honor the best designs of 2001, including Apple's Titanium PowerBook G4 and a portable Web pad, among other designs. New inventions likely to be discussed at the annual conference include a magic wallet with the power of a supercomputer, and an interactive teaching device called Gooru that is able to encourage and entertain children while simultaneously keeping track of them. Also on hand will be Clear Boards, an electronic merger of physical and virtual wall surfaces. Meanwhile, wearable technology is finding expression in products such as Aura, a digital jewelry/smart clothing combination. However, the economic downturn has slowed the introduction of new technology and lowered the reward for corporate risk-taking. In turn, industry firms will likely revamp current products instead of investing in new developments.
    http://www.iht.com/articles/29206.html

  • "Lab Hits New High in Computer Power by Linking Up IBMs"
    Investor's Business Daily (08/14/01) P. A6; Riley, Sheila

    On Wednesday, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will introduce its Accelerated Strategic Computer Initiative (ASCI) White supercomputer, a machine composed of off-the-shelf IBM gear that businesses can also configure to build their own supercomputers. ASCI White features 512 16-processor IBM computers clustered together. Similar machines are currently being used for molecular modeling, financial transactions, weather forecasting, car crash simulation, materials design and testing, data warehousing, and Web hosting. ASCI White, which has four terabytes of memory and can process 12.3 trillion arithmetic operations each second, is being used to simulate nuclear explosions. Although few companies may have the means or the need to build a supercomputer now, International Data analyst Christopher Willard estimates that supercomputer sales will increase from $1.1 billion in 2000 to $2 billion in 2005.

  • "Pentagon's Internet Voting Project Raises More Questions than Answers"
    E-Commerce Times (08/14/01); Gill, Lisa

    A report by the Federal Voting Assistance Program found that questions about security and scalability remain in regards to Internet voting by American citizens who are living overseas. The report studied the ballots cast from last year's election by people overseas, focusing on the costs and new innovations. According to industry officials, centralized voting sites located on a military base or embassy may solve the problem of security. The program implemented a $6.2 million pilot project in 1999 to determine the technical performance of the voting system, and verify if Internet-based voting was possible. However, the recent study concluded that more research needs to be conducted to determine whether Internet voting will uphold the electoral process. In addition, the Bush administration recently moved to prioritize e-government issues and will develop an "Action Plan" for e-government oriented around citizens.
    http://www.ecommercetimes.com/perl/story/12776.html

  • "ICANN Adviser Brings Diplomatic Expertise to Net Governance"
    San Jose Mercury News Online (08/14/01); Ostrom, Mary Anne

    At an Aug. 13 ICANN meeting held at the California headquarters of VeriSign--a controversial domain name player--participants considered issues of ICANN's membership composition and requirements. Indeed, advocates for broadening ICANN's deliberative process argued that the group needs more elected board members. Currently, ICANN elects five board members and appoints 14 others. New ICANN advisor and former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt was in attendance; Bildt is overseeing an ICANN committee investigating potential changes in ICANN's board composition, membership requirements, and in other areas. "It's a question of setting up a structure of ICANN that is seen as stable, reliable, transparent," said Bildt, who calls this goal "highly challenging." Bildt's committee will report recommendations this fall, and ICANN President M. Stuart Lynn has been publicly enthusiastic for Bildt's results. Unless it adds more elected board members, ICANN risks alienating the "little guys" and Internet policy will be unduly influenced by those with money and power, said Silicon Valley technologist Barbara Simons.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/docs/news/svtop/icann081401.htm
    Simons, a former ACM president, is co-chair of ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee; http://www.acm.org/usacm

  • "Computers Learn to Play By Rules"
    Wired News (08/10/01); Frishberg, Manny

    The 17th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence last week gave researchers and market experts the opportunity to remain abreast of the latest developments in artificial intelligence. Those in attendance learned that Israel's Artificial Intelligence (Ai) has created games that are designed to teach a computer how to think. The games are similar to the process depicted in the movie "War Games," an early 1980s film in which Tic-Tac-Toe was used to teach a Pentagon computer about no-win situations. Ai has taken a similar approach to teaching a software program, Hal, to speak English; instead of creating a game for the natural-language learning program, Ai has a trainer hold conversations with Hal and read to it. Another notable company at the conference was iRobot, which is developing an intelligent robot that can be controlled using a Web browser with a high-speed connection. Rodney Brooks, iRobot chairman and director of the MIT AI Laboratory, acknowledged that slowdowns could be a problem, while adding that the company has developed a robot that could provide janitorial services for stores and office buildings. Carnegie Mellon AI professor Manuela Veloso and Sony's Hiroaki Kitano agreed that robots and artificial intelligence are finding useful roles in the medical field and in other areas today. However, Kitano, who helped develop the Aibo robotic pet, wondered whether humanoid robots that can perform human activities are what consumers really want.
    http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,45941,00.html

  • "No PC Recovery Until 2003, IDC Says"
    CNet (08/09/01); Spooner, John G.

    Although International Data (IDC) does not plan to release its second-quarter PC shipment figures until the end of this month, the firm predicts that the decline of PC market growth in the United States and Europe will continue until 2003. Its preliminary second-quarter results were more positive, with a turnaround originally predicted for the first half of 2002. But a weak worldwide economy and consumer market has forced IDC to lower its expectations, says IDC's Loren Loverde. He adds that the Japanese PC market was softer than expected, leading IDC to lower its Asian PC market forecast as well. Some growth is predicted for the second half of 2001, but not enough to be considered a recovery, Loverde contends. Furthermore, IDC is skeptical that the fall release of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system will give the market the shot in the arm it needs.
    http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1006-200-6827695.html

  • "The Dirt in the New Machine"
    New York Times (08/12/01) P. 34; Harden, Blaine

    The high-tech industry appears no longer interested in doing business with suppliers who obtain coltan illegally mined in Congo. Companies such as Nokia and Motorola have challenged suppliers publicly in response to a report presented earlier in the year to the United Nations Security Council, which said the ore is fueling Congo's civil war, and called for an embargo on its export. Once it is refined, the superheavy mud coltan becomes tantalum, a metallic element that is excellent for conducting electricity and offering resistance to heat. As a result, tantalum powder has because almost synonymous with controlling the flow of current inside tiny circuit boards. Almost every laptop, pager, PDA, and cell phone now has a tantalum capacitor. The U.N. report suggests that the high-tech industry's demand for coltan has given rebel forces throughout the region reason to wage war against each other over controlling the trade of the ore. The Congolese people were able to make a living and eat as a result of the coltan trade, and many people are not happy with a de facto embargo that is emerging among tech companies. Many believe it would be worse not to mine coltan than to mine it.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/12/magazine/12COLTAN.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)

  • "Tech Downturn Hit Silicon Valley Hard and Fast"
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer (08/13/01); Bergstein, Brian

    Silicon Valley has been hammered by the high-tech slowdown and economic downturn, which has no end in sight. The Associated Press estimates that the stock wealth of Northern California's 100 biggest technology firms fell by $2 trillion. As the workforce is slashed, employees are taking pay cuts, and hiring has ground to a halt. Unemployment in Santa Clara County, Calif., for example, rose from 1.3 percent in December 2000 to 4.2 percent in June 2001. The real estate industry is also feeling the pinch, as selling prices dropped considerably. Despite the hard times, analysts say the downturn is merely a reaction to the high levels reached in recent years, while firms predict the financial crisis will turn around next year.
    http://seattlep-i.nwsource.com/business/34905_techmood13.shtml

  • "Connecting IT and Society"
    Computerworld (08/13/01) Vol. 35, No. 33, P. 58; Peterson, Tommy

    Association for Computing Machinery CEO John White says that his association's goal is to develop information technology and computing in a way that serves the needs of both the professional community and society in general. He says ACM "is realizing it has a huge responsibility to play a lead role in ensuring that information technology contributes to the future in the best way possible." The association has organized an education initiative that spans through high schools and the public; by spreading knowledge of IT through a recently-opened Washington office, ACM hopes to help policy makers better comprehend IT issues. White says that teaming up with commercial partners helps coordinate the way IT impacts on the general public, education, the advancement of the IT profession, and privacy. He cites wireless technology as the hottest topic in communications right now, while open-source operating systems and privacy rights are hot topics in the areas of systems/software and policy. White adds that technology will also help people resolve the problems of choosing between privacy and convenience and ease personalization of services. He describes the Internet as a transformative force that will continue to become both pervasive and seamless in professional and everyday life. "The future of the Web and computing is more of the right information that you want, when you want it and where you want it, with less hardware in the way," White says.
    http://www.computerworld.com/cwi/stories/0,1199,NAV47-81_STO62962,00.html

  • "Military Revolution"
    Red Herring (08/01/01) No. 101, P. 46; Williams, Mark; Madden, Andrew P.

    Key elements within the upper levels of the U.S. military, with the support of the Bush administration, are advocating a new overall strategy known as RMA. This strategy advocates replacing the platform-based approach of U.S. battle readiness, with its reliance on aircraft carriers and troop transports that are bulky and slow to deploy, with a technology-based approach that seeks to achieve information dominance. This approach depends on what Admiral David Owens, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, refers to as a "system of systems," in which various technologies, from robotics to sensor technologies to precision weapons, are brought together in a single network. Military strategists believe such a network will remove a hallmark of warfare: the so-called "fog" in which no force can be completely sure what its adversary is doing or what the overall situation is. This network would call upon a wide range of new systems, including robot mine-sniffers, electric guns, computerized headsets that provide soldiers with maps and other key battlefield information. However, RMA has met with skepticism from many military officials and members of Congress. Some are merely resistant to change, while others question whether the new technologies can deliver on such wide-reaching promises.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Unix Vendors Go On Offensive"
    Network World (08/06/01) Vol. 18, No. 32, P. 20; Connor, Deni

    Unix vendors have responded to the encroachment of Linux and Windows with enhanced versions of the operating system that offer greater scalability, manageability, and security than previous editions; they are also working on future versions that will handle more complex applications and server operations. Sun's Solaris 9, better known as Helix, supports both Itanium and Jini. Compaq has introduced Tru64 Unix Version 5.1, a product that can allocate system resources through ARMTech software, support as many as 32 processors, and comes with iPlanet Server, iPlanet Enterprise Server, and an Apache Web server. IBM's AIX 5L can operate in mixed Unix environments and features a Workload Manager, support for symmetrical multiprocessing and multipath I/O, and system and debug tools. These products all support Linux, as do Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX 11i and Caldera's Open Unix 8.

  • "The End--Not Here Yet, But Coming Soon"
    Science (08/03/01) Vol. 293, No. 5531, P. 787; Normile, Dennis; Service, Robert F.

    Semiconductor development has been on track for 40 years, adhering to Moore's Law--the maxim that chip transistors double every 18 months. The International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors states that to remain on target, DRAM half-pitch must be reduced from 130 nanometers down to 35 nanometers by 2014. However, experts are flummoxed as to how to shrink it down to 60 nanometers by the year 2003. Nevertheless, industry officials such as Juri Matisoo, the Semiconductor Industry Association's vice president for technology, believe that this problem will eventually be solved "with sufficient research." A report by S.J. Lin pegs the current gate oxide limit at three atoms in thickness, and scientists are investigating alternatives to silicon dioxide such as hafnium and zirconium. However, the scalability barrier is expected to be reached around 2014, when gate oxides become so thin that electron leakage will be unacceptable. Some researchers posit that reconfiguring the planar gate architecture by a small degree could maintain scalability until 2014 or even later.

  • "Sparking Innovation"
    Computerworld (08/06/01) Vol. 35, No. 32, P. 36; Solomon, Melissa

    To uphold the high standards of innovation at TRW's Space & Electronics Group, software applications and database services manager Linda Chan and her team keep workers up to date on the latest equipment and optimize efficiency by encouraging them to be open-minded. Innovation and creativity support the state-of-the-art technology TRW invests in to stay ahead, she notes. Innovation is one of the goals TRW sets for its employees at the outset, and rewarding workers--through recognition and support--for displaying innovation helps fuel creativity and new ideas, Chan says. To provide an ambience that fosters innovation, Chan roams the hallways, converses with staff, and encourages the exchange of ideas. She observes that having a common objective makes people more accepting of new concepts. Risks and risk management are evaluated at the beginning of every IT project, which is aligned with the company's business goals; a cross-functional team meets once a month to discuss ideas and best practices. "As the organization supporting the infrastructure, we need to be continually evolving and looking at ways to improve the business, ways to create value, using IT solutions to promote business growth, to enhance our overall competitive edge," Chan explains. "Most important of all is how we can improve the bottom line."
    http://www.computerworld.com/cwi/story/0,1199,NAV47_STO62751,00.html