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.
To send comments, please write to email@example.com.
Volume 3, Issue 253: Monday, September 17, 2001
- "IT Community Steps Up to Volunteer"
Computerworld Online (09/14/01); Solomon, Melissa
IT companies have answered the call to aid the reconstruction of New York businesses that have been severely hit by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Such dedication will help the general IT infrastructure as well as specific companies, says Edward Roche, CTO at The Research Board. Cap Gemini Ernst & Young is offering use of its advanced development center near the New York Stock Exchange; the volunteers operating in this office space will help companies with critical projects, says Ernst & Young VP of strategy and technology services Lanny Cohen. Siemens, which had personnel who worked in the devastated World Trade Center, is contributing logistical services to other tenants. TransCore used its business-to-business network to route 700 trucks to assist in the disaster relief effort. United Messaging is supplying free email services to companies that also worked in the destroyed building.
- "A Test Like None Before For the Computer Wizards"
New York Times (09/17/01) P. C12; Harmon, Amy
Island ECN had its work cut out for it following last Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. It was the company's job to reconnect its 700 brokerage subscribers to the stock market exchange, which is scheduled to reopen today. This task was complicated by the fact that Island's data center was inundated with soot following the attacks, due to the center's proximity to the site of the bombing; all of Island's 2,000 computers were shut down as a result. Island CTO Will Sterling coordinated the linkage of the company's subscribers through the construction of a temporary virtual private network, an effort facilitated by Internet connections which had for the most part survived the devastation. Encryption technology was also utilized to grant access to authorized personnel only.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "Fears of Recession Fail to End R&D Funding"
Financial Times (09/17/01) P. 8; Cookson, Clive
Even as the world's economy suffered, the 500 leading international companies raised research and development budgets by 10 percent, according to a recent report from the British government. Overall, big business has increased spending over the last four years by 54 percent to last year's total of $290 billion. Although America's big three auto manufacturers are still the leading individual contributors, the IT hardware and software sectors made big gains over the last year, jumping 16 percent and 18 percent, respectively. France, Britain, and the United States had the top three increases in R&D, while Japan was at the bottom of the list, not having increased R&D spending on average. The British report was released at the same time as the announcement of a European Commission Innovation scoreboard. That research showed Sweden, the United States, Finland, Britain, and Japan lead the world in 17 areas vital to innovation.
- "Information Security: A New Priority"
Computerworld Online (09/14/01); Thibodeau, Patrick
Congress is expected to take on key IT security issues soon in response to the recent terrorist attacks. Security will replace privacy as the most pressing issue, with collaboration between government and the private sector likely to be one area of focus. Before last week, private companies had been extremely wary of sharing information about security threats with one another and with the government. However, Ronald Plesser, a Washington-based lawyer with Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe, says privacy issues may suffer because of the shift toward security. "In all these debates, there is a curve between privacy and security," he explains. Meanwhile, academics and privacy advocates urge a moderated approach to addressing the issue, pointing out that small security gains at the loss of significant civil liberties and privacy would be a mistake. Some warn of another attempt by the federal government to implement measures, such as the proposed plan by the Clinton administration to get key escrow controls allowing rapid decryption. That measure was quickly headed off by an overwhelming public outcry.
- "New Perspective on Doldrums in Silicon Valley"
Wall Street Journal (09/17/01) P. B1; Swisher, Kara
The past year's tech bust seems less important to the industry in light of last week's terrorist attacks. Former Oracle President Ray Lane says the tragedies have given the tech sector a new perspective on their business, including spurring more innovation and focus on tech applications for security. Lane, who is currently a partner in a venture-capital firm, expects to receive several business proposals relating to security in the next few weeks. Several tech industry meetings have also been cancelled recently, such as MSN Day, which was to be held on Sept. 25. Microsoft MSN chief Yusuf Mehdi reflected commonly-shared sentiment that the coming days would be difficult for the country to face. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) says the tech industry will play a key role in helping to prevent future terrorist attacks.
- "New Economy: Terror Tests Fabric of Communications Network"
New York Times (09/17/01) P. C2; Harmon, Amy
The nation's communications network demonstrated its resiliency on Tuesday as people stretched its limits in order to keep in contact, check new information, and even operate their businesses remotely. Traditional forms of information and communication, such as land phone lines, TV, and radio, were augmented and supplanted by email and cell phones. The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 30 million Americans sent email to talk about the crisis on Tuesday and Wednesday. Even passengers on hijacked planes were able to communicate with families and authorities, possibly leading to the crash that averted a second airborne attack on Washington, D.C. Akamai CTO and co-founder Dan Lewin, who died in the World Trade Center attack, pioneered the content delivery network technology that made it possible for millions of people to get recent coverage via news Web sites, some of which experienced up to 1,000 times their normal loads. Akamai's videoconferencing technology was also one of a host of options available to business executives stranded far from their offices.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "Business Will Never Be the Same, Gartner Says"
IDG News Service (09/12/01); Garretson, Cara
Business in the U.S. will never be the same, say Gartner analysts. Being prepared for disaster is a must, they advise. Corporations must create recovery plans, crisis management teams, and business-continuation processes in the new climate. The country should not assume such attacks will not occur again, says French Caldwell, a Gartner research director. He forecasts that the Pentagon will implement new high-tech weapon systems, which could spur business for IT vendors. He also predicts that in the short term, business with foreign countries will become more difficult due to travel concerns and heightened security. Online businesses will also undergo changes, says analyst Richard Steinnon. Cyberterrorists are likely to target such properties as financial and e-commerce firms, as well as airlines and utilities, he warns.
- "Companies To Rely On Tech In Times Of Crisis--Study"
Newsbytes (09/12/01); Bartlett, Michael
In times of national crisis, firms should turn to telecommuting and videoconferencing to continue working, according to a study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Teleconferencing gear allows firms to communicate with partners, suppliers, and clients despite inaccessibility to air travel, the study says. Departments should be divided into two parts, telecommuting and office-based. Additionally, each section should have its own manager. If office workers are forced to leave a building, a telecommuter team can take over, the report says. In addition, workers can go to empty buildings such as churches in the event of an evacuation. They can use such devices as cell phones and laptops, the Challenger report says. Firms will also need to assure workers that working in landmark buildings is safe, according to the report.
- "Computing Made Good, Easy"
Wired News (09/12/01); Ahmed, Zimran
Computing experts found in the early 1980s that normal desktop users became entrenched in the way they completed computer tasks, even if those methods were inefficient. A new operating environment from usability expert Mark Hurst lets computer users hang on to the graphical interfaces that make them comfortable, but eases them into the more efficient realm of Unix-based computing. His Good Easy environment centers on plain text as the main application and storage format, making computing tasks much easier, even when using many applications on the same document. Users can also learn to use the Unix-type keyboard commands, which are much more efficient than using a mouse when mastered, via preset commands. Additionally, the Good Easy environment makes automating tasks and customizing processes simple.
- "Now, Follow the Bouncing Nucleotide"
New York Times (09/13/01) P. E7; Greenman, Catherine
Software programs exist that can derive musical compositions from DNA sequences. The University of Wales' Ross King and Scottish musician Colin Angus invented Protein Music in 1996. Protein Music assigns the musical notes C, A, G, and E to the four base nucleotides of DNA sequences--cytosine, adenine, guanine, and thymine; the treble line on a musical staff is formed from these pairings, while the bass line is derived from matching musical notes to the 20 amino acids. Any Windows-based computer with a sound card can now run Protein Language, since King and a research student put together a Java-based version of the program. Students who listen to DNA sequences in this way may get a deeper insight into their inherent patterns and repetitions, according to King. DNA sequences are available for downloading throughout the Web. Many composers, computer scientists, and programmers are drawn to these applications out of simple curiosity, while others are attracted to them in the hope of understanding proteins better.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "Lack of Expertise Delays Indonesian Cyberlaws"
Total Telecom (09/13/01); Newlands, Mike
Indonesia's draft cybercrime law will not be finalized until 2004 because the country lacks IT specialists, a top government official has said. "Although we urgently need the law, we cannot finalize it immediately as we're lacking 'law drafters' as well as information technology experts to help ensure the law will be workable," said State Minister of Communications and Information Syamsul Mu'arif. The ministry is reviewing a pair of documents, one that addresses IT in general and another that that addresses e-commerce and electronic signatures. The proposed cybercrime law covers several important tech issues, including online consumer privacy, digital signature fraud, and credit card fraud. Mu'arif expects that the draft laws will be ready for the House of Representatives in three years.
- "Hackers Discuss Retaliatory Cyberstrikes"
Newsbytes (09/12/01); McWilliams, Brian
Postings in Internet newsgroups indicate that some hackers are planning cyberstrikes against Islamic Web sites in retaliation for the the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The impact of such hacking has been limited so far, but the Web sites of the Presidential Palace of the Islamic State of Afghanistan and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan were unreachable for at least part of Sept. 12. A denial of service attack may be responsible for the outages. One message posted to several hacking newsgroups on Sept. 11 gave a Web address that the poster claimed was Usama bin Laden's Web site. The message told readers to "trash" the site, but the address now redirects to a page that has "exceeded its allocated data transfer," according to a Yahoo! Geocities message. An article published on an online news site suggests that a Russian hacker defaced Taleban.com, which is registered to an organization in New York, but it is not clear when the present defacement occurred because the hacker defaced the site in March and July as well. The Computer Emergency Response Team says that it has not seen a significant increase in online hacking incidents.
- "Senate Expands Surveillance Powers Following Attacks"
Newsbytes (09/14/01); McGuire, David
Telephone monitoring laws would be applied to Internet communications, according to terms of a last-minute amendment to the Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations bill. The amendment was sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) in reaction to last week's terrorist attacks and has already been passed by the Senate. Civil libertarians are bracing for a raft of similar legislation in the wake of the devastating terrorist attacks. "This is a preview of the rush to legislate that we're likely to see in response to this week's attacks," said Alan Davidson, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. Davidson says that the Hatch-Kyl amendment would give law enforcement agents access to a great deal of online information, including email addresses, Web sites, and the words users enter in search engines. Specifically, the amendment extends "trap-and-trace" and "pen-register" laws to the Internet.
- "Noncompete Clauses Draw Fire"
Baltimore Sun (09/12/01) P. 7C
New hires are often required to sign noncompete agreements, which became popular during the dot-com boom, but have difficulty finding new jobs if fired. Noncompete agreements prohibit former employees from being rehired within a certain radius of their old employer. Firms say such agreements prevent the loss of trade secrets, employees, and funds spent on training. In addition, the Internet makes it easy to send secrets or find client lists, says Catherine Reuben, an attorney in Boston. However, many say such agreements are unfair and bar people from getting better jobs. Several states are modifying laws regarding noncompete agreements. In Wisconsin, for example, noncompete agreements that are too broad are rejected by the courts, says corporate attorney Carl Khalil. In New York, Illinois, and Arkansas, workers who did no wrongdoing when fired are exempt from the agreements, he adds.
- "Quantum Encryption: Protected by the Laws of Nature"
NewsFactor Network (09/12/01); McDonald, Tim
Computer experts had feared that future quantum computing would make all encrypted systems vulnerable to hackers using the technology. Current encryption techniques depend upon secret keys, or strings of numbers, that are necessary to solve a complex algorithm. However, quantum computing would be so fast that those secret keys could not be hidden, no matter how complex the equation. But scientists have developed a way to use natural laws as their keys, which not even quantum computers would be able to figure out. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and at Oxford University have been able to track the link between two light particles at great distances. Recently, the Los Alamos lab was able to stretch the signal of the light particle through laser amplification, so that quantum encryption could be relayed by satellite anywhere in the world.
- "Bush Official Serves as Tech Go-To Guy"
eWeek (09/10/01) Vol. 18, No. 35, P. 25
Bruce Mehl, head of the Office of Technology Policy within the Department of Commerce, says that his group is working to put government in a proactive stance to national IT issues. The Office of Technology Policy maintains important links with the computer industry and holds sway with both executive and legislative branches. Currently, one focus is solving the tech worker shortage by pushing more money for the National Science Foundation in the 2002 budget, because that would help to draw skilled people in a competitive international market. And although Mehl says that increasing freedoms for H-1B visa holders may be another solution, he emphasizes supporting science and math education more heavily. To help spur the tech economy, Mehl says that the United States needs to work on getting access to markets not associated with unilateral agreements such as Brazil, which is not part of the WTO.
- "Study Pushes Performance Pay to Lure IT Workers"
Federal Times (09/10/01) Vol. 37, No. 32, P. 1; Robb, Karen
Over the next 10 years, 30,000 federal IT professionals will retire; Costis Toregas of the National Academy of Public Administration says that new policies must be instituted to attract IT workers to fill the vacant positions as well as 16,000 new positions. A study from the academy indicates that the government should base IT worker salaries on their performance rather than the type of work they do or the number of years they have worked. The report suggests that the 11 General Schedule pay grades and executive pay grades should be combined into four IT pay bands. The salary cap should also be raised to the same salary level as the vice president, who makes $180,000 annually. IT salary budgets would increase at first, but higher productivity and lower human-resources overhead will help recoup those costs, according to Myra Howse Shiplett of the academy's Center for Human Resources Management. The State Department has already deployed a skill- and performance-based salary system, and has seen its attrition rate fall from 33 percent to 10 percent as a result. Instituting broader pay bands and raising the IT salary cap would do even more, says State's CIO Fernando Burbano. However, an anonymous senior IT manager cautions that, Just setting up a structure to pay for performance would take an enormous investment of time without any guarantee that the next administration will follow through.
- "Internet II: Rebooting America"
Forbes (09/10/01) P. 44; Malone, Michael S.
The history of digital technology over the past 50 years shows that after an initial explosion in entrepreneurial activity, a shakeout ensues and, when new competitors emerge over the course of the next two decades, the industry grows 100 fold. Such events happened to the $200 billion semiconductor industry, which crashed in 1974; the $60 billion processors industry, which bottomed out in 1984; and the $44 billion enterprise software industry, which plummeted in 1990. And the Internet has experienced the same cycle so far, with its rebirth likely to begin in 2004 or 2005. The Internet will be even bigger this time around thanks to universal broadband access, killer applications, an improved e-commerce experience, better online security, a more visual and intuitive interface, and real-time enterprise computing that streamlines the data flows of companies in a more useful manner. This Internet II will be the real Internet, offering its Great Global Grid visual medium through cell phones, PDAs, appliances, cash registers, public spaces, and much more. History indicates that the Internet is destined to become a $20 trillion industry by 2020, but America's infrastructure would be unable to handle such a shift in the economy. Radio and TV would not be able to handle the increase in Internet advertising, roads would not be able to accommodate the vehicles of new delivery companies, the electronic power grid would not be able to serve more computers and servers, and the government may not be able to figure out what do about the last mile. The United States may need to spend about $2 trillion to purify water for making semiconductors, repair bridges, improve airports and harbors, and on other infrastructure needs, or see another nation reap the benefits of Internet II.
- "Little Big Science"
Scientific American (09/01) Vol. 285, No. 3, P. 32; Stix, Gary
Although nanotechnology is now among the hottest disciplines in science and technology, the nanotech field continues to lack cohesion. Not all research into nanotechnology involves nano--structures that are a billionth of a meter--or technology; nanoscience is a better label for some research. What is more, researchers have failed to group their wide ranging research into nanotechnology, which could help bring some clarity to the potential for transdisciplinary projects involving the field, and some respectability to the discipline as a whole. Just last year, a Congressional Research Service report said some scientists now consider nanotechnology to be a discipline that is too vague and surrounded by too much hype. Nanotechnology is likely to benefit and suffer from the nanoworld that K. Eric Drexler depicted in his 1986 book, "Engines of Creation." A world in which self-replicating nanomachines usher in a new industrial revolution, but without anymore pollution, and help us live longer by curing our diseases, could encourage more people to choose careers in science. However, his utopian take on the technology has generated ridicule and skepticism that could affect future funding for nanotechnology. There are also fears, such as those expressed by Sun Microsystems chief scientist Bill Joy, that the technology could pose a threat to society if self-replicating robots multiply uncontrollably.