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


ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either Gateway Inc. or ACM.

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Volume 3, Issue 241:  Friday, August 17, 2001

  • 'High-Tech Industry Worried About Financing for Research"
    Philadelphia Inquirer (08/16/01) P. F2; Phillips, Heather Fleming

    High-tech industry leaders are lobbying that more money from the 2002 fiscal budget should be allocated to the National Science Foundation, even though President Bush has already designated a 1.3 percent rise in funding for the group. Executives from Cisco Systems, Intel, 3Com, and several other firms warned Congress that a lack of funding would threaten new projects, causing the United States to lose its competitive edge in the technology sector. The group asked for a 15 percent hike in the foundation's funding to $5.4 billion. However, industry officials admit the raise is unlikely to be granted. The foundation is the primary federal agency that works on new innovations in the engineering and computer science field, among other industries, and has been involved with such projects as the Internet, bar codes, and improved weather radar. Gigascale Silicon Research Center head Richard Newton depends on funding, but is routinely forced to spend research time finding sponsors; meanwhile, Japan and Germany are spending more money on research and development. High-tech companies are also suffering from a shortage of university graduates with tech skills. The Bush administration is pushing for a 6 percent increase in R&D funding across all agencies for fiscal 2002, but government researchers argue that that budget should be tripled over the next five years.

  • "Study: IT Budgets Opening Up to Linux"
    NewsFactor Network (08/15/01); Lyman, Jay

    Open-source Linux platforms are increasing in IT budgets of global firms, according to analysts at International Data. A survey of 800 industry people found that Linux buyers tend to be more mainstream and corporate, as the market share for Linux is forecasted to triple to 9 percent by 2002 as part of the average IT budget. In turn, analysts concluded that Linux is growing twice as fast as the Unix platform, which dominates only 15 percent of the market. Meanwhile, Linux will need to make software, skills, and trained staff more accessible in order to deploy and manage areas where it is used. Surveyors point out that Linux is getting a major boost from such giants as IBM, which has invested more than $2 billion into the operating system. On top of that, IBM is encouraging software vendors to adopt Linux.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/12808.html

  • "Cuts Can't Keep Pace With Falling Revenue"
    USA Today (08/16/01) P. 3B; Krantz, Matt

    Despite plummeting revenues, most American tech firms have not made comparable cuts in costs, according to USA Today and Zacks Investment Research. Of the top 51 tech companies, 32 have not reduced costs as quickly as revenue has fallen. Moreover, if demand does not pick up soon, tech firms may have to make bigger and more severe cuts, says Mitch Zacks, director of research at Zacks Investment Research. Nortel Networks, for example, has cut costs by 6 percent but has seen revenue drop by 25 percent. Similarly, Intel reduced its costs by less than 1 percent but revenue fell by 5 percent. Tech firms have also been hurt by high volume equipment purchases in 1999 and 2000, says Wells Capital Management CIO Jim Paulsen. Still, evaluating firms' cost cutting is premature, says Multex.com researcher Marc Gerstein. Cost benefits will not show up until several quarters later, he says.
    http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20010816/3548509s.htm

  • "Digital-Music Code Crackers Tell All"
    Washington Post (08/16/01) P. E3; Musgrove, Mike

    Professor Edward W. Felten and graduate student Scott A. Craver yesterday finally presented their paper detailing the technical analysis and dismantling of various copyright protection systems proposed by the recording industry's Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI). Computer security officials were dismayed to learn that a professor and graduate student from Princeton University were able to crack the copy-protection technology built for digital music, and just knowing the document existed was enough to spawn months of legal uproar regarding copyright issues and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. DMCA opponents have challenged the law, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has filed a suit questioning the law's constitutionality, and Felten yesterday said DMCA has hurt research efforts. Association for Computing Machinery director of public policy Jeff Grove says DMCA is a big concern for ACM members. He says, "It really puts us in a tough situation."
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17617-2001Aug15.html
    On Monday, 8/13/01, ACM filed a declaration on behalf of Felten et al. To read the declaration in its entirety, visit http://www.acm.org/felten.

  • "Foreign Workers Face New Opposition in Tech Slump"
    CNet (08/13/01); Konrad, Rachel

    Foreign engineers and other workers are filling Silicon Valley and other centers of technology and scrambling the overall demographic trend of immigration with their higher levels of education, salaries, business influence and professional ambitions. Even as the H-1B visa workers become a political and cultural force in the United States, they face a backlash from critics who question the real necessity in importing labor, especially during the current downturn in the economy. Some opponents plan to challenge the U.S. Immigration policies by lobbying for better education opportunities for American citizens in an effort to keep foreigners from "stealing" American employment opportunities. They contend that American firms hire the foreign workers because they are willing to work for less pay and remain somewhat more easily controllable because of their visa status. Foreign workers have brought not only technical expertise to the tech industry and cultural changes to their communities, they continue to leave their distinctive mark in U.S. businesses, education, and political systems simply by their volume and involvement in American society.
    http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1007-201-6686403-0.html

  • "After Decades of Frustration, the Picture Tube Slims Down"
    New York Times (08/16/01) P. E7; Eisenberg, Anne

    A pair of IBM scientists have developed a 1-inch-thick cathode-ray tube. Dr. Andrew R. Knox and John Stuart Beeteson have arrayed a ceramic, stainless steel magnet riddled with minute holes between two glass plates, obviating the need for the long path that electrons travel in traditional CRTs. The rear electron gun assembly is no longer necessary, and the CRT no longer needs to be fashioned in a bulbous configuration. Instead of a single beam of electrons, a series of beams accelerate from the holes to strike individual pixels on the phosphor-coated glass plate. The CRT can be used to display a wide range of resolutions and be mass-produced for a low price, but it will be some time before the device is installed in TVs or desktops.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/08/16/technology/circuits/16NEXT.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)

  • "Dot-Com's Dirge Is Peace Corps' Jubilation"
    InformationWeek Online (08/13/01); Kontzer, Tony

    The Peace Corps is reporting significant increases in applications and phone calls from potential applicants, possibly as a result of fallout from the dot-com collapse, although no statistics are available yet. The organization targets educated people in their twenties, so displaced IT workers are a logical fit, says Peace Corps press director Ellen Field. Since the dot-com downturn, the Peace Corps is seeing volunteer levels that haven't been reached since the early 1970s. Interest is particularly on the rise in San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, D.C., all of which are IT industry hot spots. Other volunteer groups more attuned to the needs of out-of-work IT employees exist. One of them is Geekcorps, an agency that offers tech workers the opportunity to work on IT projects in developing nations.
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20010813S0004

  • "India's Software, Services Exports Rise 52 Percent in First Quarter"
    Reuters (08/16/01)

    India's software and services exports rose 52 percent in the first quarter, according to the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM); in comparison, growth was 65 percent a year ago, NASSCOM said Thursday. Despite the lower figures, the industry is still growing steadily, says NASSCOM Chairman Phiroz Vandrevala. NASSCOM forecasts a 41 percent increase in software exports this year to $8.48 billion. In addition, India's biggest software firms grew by an average of 50 percent in the second quarter, Vandrevala says. Growth is expected in the embedded software, IT-enabled services, and applications development sectors. Vandrevala says in response to the industry slowdown in the U.S., American tech companies are turning to Indian firms for help with big projects in an effort to lower costs.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "German High-Tech Miracle May Start to Sour"
    Financial Times (08/16/01) P. 2; Benoit, Bertrand

    The Neuer Markt share price has fallen 90 percent from its March 2000 high, prompting drop-offs in venture capital for small technology companies, which could threaten Germany's dominance of the European high-tech market. The country is the world's third-leading exporter of high-tech goods, behind only the U.S. and Japan. The companies that are suffering find fault with venture capitalists for the downturn. "They did not try to understand the companies they invested in, they only had their initial public offerings in mind, and now we see the result," contends software entrepreneur Jens-Peter Clarfeld. TFG board member Michael Stallman predicts that the downturn could last another year. However, some industry insiders are hopeful that fundraising levels and procedures are now returning to normal after a period of irrational behavior. "In the past few years, the Neuer Markt short-circuited the normal fund-raising process for start-ups, with an IPO often replacing the fourth, third, and even second financing rounds," says KPMG Corporate Finance partner Warren Scott.
    http://globalarchive.ft.com/globalarchive/articles.html?id=010816001860

  • "Birth Pangs For Web Treaty Seem Endless"
    Wall Street Journal (08/16/01) P. A11; Hofheinz, Paul

    When e-commerce delegations from 53 nations meet in January, it will be to once again discuss the parameters of the Convention on Jurisdiction and Foreign Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters, an Internet treaty designed to protect both international e-consumers and providers when merchandise or service is unsatisfactory. The original treaty was supposed to include some built-in concessions to resolve civil lawsuits involving the virtually borderless Internet commerce, but negotiators admit that they may have been too ambitious in the beginning. The treaty's scope is too broad now, but reducing it will mean bad news for the global Internet shopper. Copyright Lawyer Marc Hankin, who represents the International Federation of Intellectual Property Attorneys during the negotiations, noted that ratification of the treaty would be more likely if the scope is narrowed, however he personally favors a broadening of the agreement. A more modest treaty could result in only addressing a few of the many basic issues that arise in global business disputes--but most of the delegates who are actually lawyers representing trade organizations and many major companies are behind reduced scope. E-retailers, especially in the U.S., are against the treaty provisions proposed by consumer advocate groups that promote the consumer's right to sue in a domestic court a company located in another country for disputes over products or services.

  • "Venture Capital Investment Plummets"
    Financial Times (08/14/01) P. 1; Abrahams, Paul

    The recent 66 percent drop in venture capital investments in American businesses is the lowest rate since the first quarter of 1999, according to recent statistics compiled by analysts with PricewaterhouseCoopers MoneyTree in conjunction with VentureOne of Reuters. Analysts feel the numbers demonstrate how technological innovation paid off with a high rate of U.S. productivity improvement over the past 10 years, reducing inflationary pressures and keeping interest rates low; innovation will now become restrained by a lack of investment. Venture capital firms have become less enthusiastic about investing in new companies due to the near-nonexistence of gaining returns through public offerings. Tracy Lefteroff, global managing partner of PwC's venture capital practice, says investments have not bottomed out yet, but he added that investments would be substantially lower this year, projecting $30 billion in comparison to last year's $89 billion. Lefteroff says that most investors were focusing on existing projects and not funding new ones with the same exuberance as in the past. The survey found that as a result of the investment decline, early-stage and startup companies were having extreme difficulty staying afloat--faced with seed and first-round funding dropping 86 percent year on year to $1.1 billion from $8.2 billion. Most of the venture capital decline has occurred in the communications firms, primarily in fiber optics, consumer business services, and software. Investments into science/biotechnology industries increased quarter on quarter from $46 million to $502 million, but still showed a deep decline from last year's second-quarter figure of $762 million.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Stretching It Out at ACM's SIGGRAPH"
    Wired News (08/11/01); Stroud, Michael

    The 28th annual ACM SIGGRAPH event in Los Angeles reflected the migration of many technologies into the industrial sector. Video-game designers and Hollywood studio executives flocked to this year's conference, as did international attendees showcased by an outreach program. Among SIGGRAPH's highlights were an animation festival with emphasis on Hollywood-produced submissions and advanced rendering of water, cloth, hair, and translucency, and touch-based haptic computer interfaces such as a device that can sense changes in liquids. A virtual reality "motion training system" from South Korea's Pohong University of Science and Technology capable of tracking the posture and full-body motion of people through cameras was exhibited. On hand from MIT Media Labs was a voice interface that "allows participants to interact socially with a pack of autonomous wolves."
    http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,46005,00.html

  • "Strange Bedfellows Lead Campaign for Electronic Privacy"
    NewsFactor Network (08/13/01); DeLong, Daniel F.

    House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), who deems himself among the most conservative legislators in Washington, has become a new supporter for electronic privacy. He believes the rights promised under the U.S. Constitution are being infringed upon by such technologies as computerized face-recognition, digital cameras that catch red-light runners, and computer software programs that monitor Internet usage. Armey has formed an alliance with the ACLU as he attempts to lessen the government's role in citizens' lives. Although supporters of high-tech devices say such devices help protect the majority of people, Armey contends that they do so while trampling upon the rights of citizens. While several bills were introduced earlier in the year addressing privacy issues, none of them seem to be ready to move forward to a committee hearing. Congress has put the online privacy issue on hold for now, says an Armey spokesperson.
    http://www.ecommercetimes.com/perl/printer/12745/

  • "Computing's Next 20 Years: Smaller, Smarter--Even Under Our Skin"
    Maryland Daily Record (08/09/01) Vol. 2, No. 33, P. 7A; Krane, Jim

    Numerous changes appear to be in store for the computer over the course of the next 20 years. Although most people recognize today's computer as a beige box on a desktop, in the years to come consumers will come to rely on PDAs, cell phones, laptops, and Internet-access devices for their computing needs. Consumers will gain greater control of their household appliances and their automobiles as the high-tech industry connects all kinds of smart machines to computer networks. For example, a smart refrigerator connected to a network would be able to notify homeowners when food has gone bad. Futurist author and inventor Ray Kurzweil believes computer components are destined to become imbedded into every aspect of society. Although Clay Shirky, a computer consultant in New York, believes computer implants are the next step, he adds that researchers would have to develop new ways to input data if they expect the keyboard and screen to disappear. By 2020, experts believe computers will have enough processing speed to give machines the power to carry out capabilities that rival the human brain. Kurzweil believes by 2030 computers will exhibit more intelligence than humans, which would open up another world of possibilities for the future of computing.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Where Credit's Due"
    Computerworld (08/13/01) Vol. 35, No. 33, P. 42; Bernstein, David S.

    A federal bill is passing through the Senate and the House of Representatives calling for companies and individuals to receive tax credit on technology training costs. This would allow companies to train workers and still remain within budget, according to Genuity customer care training manager Penny Geld. "This is a way to show immediate return--it shows up on the bottom line, where normally, it's very hard to measure return on investment in training," she adds. However, there are still uncertainties about the bill and its ramifications: for instance, MindLeaders President Carol Clark notes that people are unclear as to whether the tax credit will go toward boosting the skills of existing IT staff or to bring new staff into the fold. Geld also says it is not clear what kinds of skills qualify for credit and whether internal training applies. The bill mentions state training programs, university systems, school districts, and certified field commercial technology training centers as qualified training providers, but omits private commercial training providers; this is just one provision that people may object to. Qualifications for credit would be determined by an advisory board, but a decision-making process has not been locked down. Advocates have been pushing similar bills for the past several years, with little success, but a spokesman for Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is hopeful that this recent bill will do better than previous efforts.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Putting It in Its Place"
    Economist (08/11/01) Vol. 360, No. 8234, P. 18

    The Internet is often hyped as a medium that breaks down geographical barriers, but the truth is that it is subject to geographic restrictions. Digital subscriber lines perform less well the further they are from a telephone exchange; downloading files from nearby regions goes faster; and isolated e-businesses still require a fast connection or a dependable electricity source. The fiber-optic cables that thread through the Net are often built atop the existing infrastructure; as a result, most server farms, like transportation and shipping networks, are urban-centered. Power constraints make the construction of server farms away from metropolitan areas a viable and logical move, according to Mohr Davidow Ventures' Jon Feiber. The spread of managed hosting and wireless devices will encourage information centralization, requiring technology that obscures the content's physical location from users, and therefore accelerating data delivery. Hiding the content in thousands of data caches placed near consumers, as Akamai does, is one solution; another is to more efficiently integrate the server farms and existing networks, an initiative that the Content Bridge Alliance is undertaking. On the other hand, there are several efforts to more accurately track geographic user locations for security, marketing and tax purposes: Such geolocation services can also be used to translate Web sites into other languages, prevent illegal goods from being sold over the Internet, and enforce rights-management standards for music and video broadcasts.
    http://www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=729808

  • "An Age-Old Story"
    InfoWorld (08/13/01) Vol. 23, No. 33, P. 40; Ormsbee, J. Todd

    Age discrimination exists within the high-tech sector. A National Research Council study finds that the biggest hurdle older tech workers are currently facing is a cultural bias toward youth, with experience a secondary consideration. "[Some younger managers] have done a competent job of keeping away [older] people who might overshadow them," contends Oracle expert Ron Cleaver. An anonymous APL specialist reports that recruiters claimed he was overqualified or unsuited for a company's current needs. "Some younger managers think that the older a person is, the less able they are to learn new skills," he adds. Senior workers may be more knowledgeable of older systems, but CEO of The Senior Staff Bill Payson recommends that they add IT skills to their resumes. One over-40 networking consultant, currently unemployed, says that the dot-com downturn has closed off even more of the market from older employees. Although age discrimination is an illegal practice, proving it exists is a difficult task, and older workers' current or future job prospects may be endangered if they pursue further litigation.
    http://www.infoworld.com/articles/pe/xml/01/08/13/010813peage.xml

  • "IT At the Edge of Science"
    InformationWeek (08/13/01) No. 850, P. 30; Ricadela, Aaron

    Bioresearch firms such as Celera Genomics Group and Myriad Genetics are pushing the envelope of supercomputer performance by undertaking bio-informatics projects and assembling machines that could overshadow the supercomputing efforts of national labs. Vendors plan to realize profits by selling their findings to pharmaceutical companies, but they lack the scalability and data management capability required to process the massive amounts of data for genomics and proteomics research. "There's still a big gap in the software that's been properly parallelized for clusters," explains MDS Proteomics CIO Chris Hogue. Some bioresearch firms are teaming up with computing concerns to help ease the workload. MDS and IBM, for instance, developed a nonprofit company that will supply a database of information related to proteins; MDS also uses clustering-management software called Moby Dick that splits up calculations so they can be distributed across a network of 200 CPUs. Meanwhile, Myriad Genetics has partnered with Oracle and Hitachi to form Myriad Proteomics, a company that has embarked on a three-year project to catalog proteomic interactions. Oracle and Hitachi will help address scalability issues, according to Myriad director of IS Rob Harrison. Initiatives that could aid bioresearch include IBM Research's Blue Gene supercomputer and remote databases shared across networks via computing grids.
    http://www.informationweek.com/thisweek/story/IWK20010810S0004

  • "What Storytelling Can Do for Information Visualization"
    Communications of the ACM (08/01) Vol. 44, No. 8, P. 31; Gershon, Nahum; Page, Ward

    Storytelling is an essential component of information visualization, the process whereby streams of data are visually integrated so that the underlying information can be perceived. The process is a primary function of environments in which vast volumes of information or data sources are either delivered in real time or culled from existing resources. The presentation of this information must follow a story-like structure if viewers are to understand the data and make timely decisions, so designers must be skilled creatively, not just technically. Although the representation of the information is akin to movies, television, and other visual media, the data itself is considerably more complex. It is up to the designer to determine the mode--animation, overview maps, voiceover, etc.--that best depicts the facts. Among the story elements the information must establish are setting, time, mood, and continuity; visual cues can reinforce certain points and help the viewer fill in information gaps; and repeating patterns or statements help communicate where a presentation begins and ends. Different styles of visualization can reflect different kinds of content or context: A comic-book-style display, for example, can help viewers recall particular facts or processes. As computers grow in sophistication and ability, they will become more valuable as tools to integrate visual media and present facts as stories.