Timely Topics for IT Professionals
About ACM TechNews
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 270: Monday, October 29, 2001
- "Breaking Up the Central Office"
New York Times (10/29/01) P. C1; Harmon, Amy
Firms displaced by the World Trade Center attack are distributing their workforce according to necessity, and many have decided they like the shift, either because of cost savings, convenience, or avoidance of a centralized catastrophe. Morgan Stanley, whose 3,700 World Trade Center employees all escaped, has decided not move into the Manhattan central office it had prepared before the Sept. 11 attacks. Instead, executives have decided to sell that space and operate two centers at different ends of the city. Sun Microsystems, whose technology products enable distributed workplaces, plans to make its 200 World Trade Center employees even more mobile by setting up a drop-in center in the New York downtown area for its workers to connect to communications resources while shuttling between clients and its new Midtown Manhattan office. Since finding 30 percent of its workforce works away from their desks about two years ago, Sun implemented a desk "hotelling" policy that allows its staff to reserve desk time on an ad hoc basis.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)
- "Glut Check for Valley"
SiliconValley.com (10/28/01); Bjorhus, Jennifer
Silicon Valley technology firms have been inundated with excess inventory that will likely keep companies such as Palm, Cisco, Agilent, and JDS Uniphase experiencing depressed sales for a long time. The inventory glut for telecommunications firms will likely last until 2003 at the least, predicts Standard & Poor's analyst Ari Bensinger. JDS Uniphase has $570.4 million worth of raw materials, and it expects to count at least some of it as completely lost. Already many of these companies have taken huge third-quarter losses to write off their excess inventory. ICX Electronics, a Web auction company, set up an "inventory redistribution services" site this past summer that more than 100 companies have signed onto to sell more than 600 million components.
- "IT Helping Companies Track, Manage Cipro Stockpile"
Computerworld Online (10/26/01); Brewin, Bob
Health care and pharmaceutical companies are using IT systems to handle increased demand for the anthrax antibiotic Cipro. These rules-based systems are being used to distribute Cipro fairly while guarding against stockpiling. For example, Cigna Health Care's database can determine a person's eligibility as well as the qualifications of prescribing physicians, says John Maesner, Cigna's VP of pharmacy operations. He says the system can check to see if prescriptions meet or exceed the recommended FDA dosage and whether any other drugs the patient is taking could interact. Any signs of Cipro stockpiling are flagged by the system, Maesner explains. Merck-Medco has incorporated into its database anthrax treatment rules for Cipro from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says spokeswoman Anita Kawatra. Maesner notes that the demand for anti-allergy and other common drugs far exceeds that for Cipro, even with the current anthrax crisis.
- "Utah's 'Black Ice': Cyber-Attack Scenario"
IDG News Service (10/21/01); Verton, Dan
The Department of Energy (DOE), together with local and state agencies in Utah, last year conducted an exercise to test the disaster-readiness of Utah's critical infrastructure in preparation for the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics. In the simulated scenario, an ice-storm knocked out power for seven counties and was coupled with a failure of infrastructure providers' electronic systems, either by cyberattack or from physical infrastructure failure. The result was a web of interconnected failures through water, electricity, communications, and emergency response systems, according to DOE Critical Infrastructure Protection Office director Paula Scalingi. She said the test showed how a simultaneous cyber and physical infrastructure attack could multiply the damage. Possible solutions include implementing a template that private owners of critical infrastructure systems could use to identify system interdependency, and a secure database on which the owners could store information.
- "What's the Future of Linux?"
Enterprise (10/23/01); Weiss, George
Linux will eventually become the open source environment for many major enterprise computing platforms, according to Gartner. Large companies are beginning to warm to Linux, especially with the recent $1 billion commitment of IBM and investments from other vendors. IBM is pinning much of its hopes for increased market share on Linux uptake in several vertical markets, such as telecommunications, retail, and finance. Gartner also believes that Linux will continue to mature for the enterprise market, achieving enhanced scalability past four processors next year. Linux will also expand from the infrastructure to replicated systems such as thin-client database access, kiosks, and other remote access stations.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Linux Robot Man Treks Into Europe"
ZDNet UK (10/25/01); Wearden, Graeme
One of the highlights of the Embedded Linux Expo in Milan this November will be H7, a Japanese robot powered by Linux and capable of walking without assistance. H7 features an onboard computer using the RT-Linux operating system that can communicate by wireless Ethernet. Developed by JSK Laboratories, the bipedal, humanoid robot is linked to an external device that is conveyed on a trolley behind the machine. Dr. Satoshi Kagami of the National Institute of Advanced Science and Technology at the Digital Human Laboratory of Tokyo says that H7 would "provide an experimental research platform for full-body integrated sensing and control."
- "End Predicted for IT Sector Slump"
CyberAtlas (10/24/01); Pastore, Michael
Forrester Research predicts that the IT sector will halt its decline by the third quarter of 2002 and experience double-digit growth in 2004, but notes that the tech landscape will have profoundly changed by then. IT budgets are expected to grow only 2.2 percent in 2002, and then increase 9.7 percent in 2003. Forrester anticipates nearly 12 percent growth in 2004 due to the advent of cheaper PCs and increased broadband access. Productivity will rise as supply chain planning, e-procurement, and other applications gain in popularity. Rather than concentrate on large e-business investments, Forrester expects CIOs to fund smaller-scale projects, which will lead to more modular applications and subscription-based software. E-business projects can be kept active, as long as they are collaborative process-design ventures with partners and clients, Forrester suggests. The research firm is predicting more consolidation as a result of the downturn.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "NASA Releases Classic Software To Public Domain"
Government Computer News Online (10/25/01); Menke, Susan M.
When NASA turned 43 this month, it commemorated the event by releasing over 200 of its open-source applications for public use. Dubbed NASA Classics, the collection of scientific and engineering programs are being published by the Robert C. Byrd National Technology Transfer Center and the Open Channel Foundation. The programs are based on Fortran and run on most Linux platforms. The Byrd center already distributes more than 500 NASA programs, according to the center's president, Joseph Allen. Open Channel Software has access to those programs as well and pledges to promote the software to the public, Allen said. The classic programs cover such topics as meteorology, flow analysis, decision-making, and modeling.
- "Robot Agents: Coming Soon to Software Near You"
NewsFactor Network (10/24/01); McDonald, Tim
The potential for robots to ease the burden of computer users, particularly in the world of financial trading, is generating considerable excitement. The robots would manifest themselves as smart software programs designed to perform activities that average users would find too boring or complicated. Such activities would include independent Internet communications, such as sifting through auction sites for specific, hard-to-find items to bid on. Dr. Michael Wellman of the University of Michigan expects automated trading agents to one day be working the stock exchanges. In fact, a recent competition hosted by the university demonstrates that Germany is in the lead when it comes to software agents: The German software company Living Systems won the second annual Trading Agent Competition with Livingagents, a program that was able to build a five-day travel and entertainment package for clients while taking market fluctuations into account. However, the World Wide Web Consortium has raised ethical issues about robot agents in its Public Policies Issues and the Web. "If Java agents become automated trading agents beyond the control of the [Securities and Exchange Commission], how does one put caps on trading volumes in order to prevent overheating or collapse?" it asks.
- "German Carriers Told to Install Cyber-Snooping Tech"
Newsbytes (10/25/01); Gold, Steve
Online-monitoring legislation that German lawmakers had let languish for five years has been fast-tracked due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The German government passed the legislation Wednesday, opening the door for law enforcement agencies to monitor the communications carried by fixed and wireless telcos--but not ISPs. Government monitoring of telco communications has actually been legal for years, but the new legislation simplifies the legal process and would shift the costs associated with the monitoring from the government to telcos. Although the new legislation takes effect in 2005, carriers are immediately to begin work on installing the technology, says Steffan Grosse, an IT specialist with Bitkom, a German association representing the interests of IT and telecommunications. Bitkom gave its endorsement to the legislation with one caveat: that ISPs be exempted, Grosse says. Several German privacy groups have criticized the government for pushing the legislation through so quickly.
- "The Silicon Edge"
InformationWeek Online (10/22/01); Ewalt, David M.
Computer chips are still on track to follow Moore's Law and double their speed and power every 18 months, despite the economic downturn. Photolithography using extreme ultraviolet light is a method that could etch more precise circuits on a chip, and a team at Sandia National Laboratories has developed the Engineering Test Stand, a prototype EUV lithography device. Team leader Jim Folta believes the Engineering Test Stand will be able to reduce the width of processor circuits from 0.1 microns to 0.03 microns, thus ramping up chip speed to 10 GHz by 2005. Another technique being researched is zone-plate-array lithography, which employs hundreds of tiny lenses rather than a mask to stencil the circuits. At Britain's University of Surrey, scientists have devised a method of inducing silicon to emit light by zapping it with a boron laser; this could lead to the creation of silicon-based light-emitting diodes. To lower the temperatures generated by a processor's power output, a group at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has constructed miniature cooling towers or "refrigerators," while researchers at the University of Colorado have developed microscopic fans. With circuit size shrinking, the next logical step is to shrink the chips themselves, and Intel is pioneering such research with the creation of a silicon processor only 20 nanometers wide.
- "Playing Politics: The EU and the U.S. on IT"
CIO Online (10/24/01); Rasmussen, Michael
Both legislation and business between the European Union and the United States are affected by cultural differences, and such differences have caused variations in legislation and make technology management more difficult for international enterprises; organizations should understand the differences and find ways to comply with differing regulations. Information security legislation is one area of difference, with the United States viewing information collected about an individual as not belonging to that individual. The European Union considers personal data to belong to the individual in question, who has rights as to how it can be used; most EU nations have constitutional mandates protecting individual privacy, while the United States does not. The U.S. has adopted legislation to help enforce privacy, and more is on the way, but it will be a slow process, assisted by economic interaction with the European Union. The adoption rates of smart cards in the two areas are affected by differences between electronic signature legislation, with EU legislation providing a framework for each member nation to develop laws around and detailed wording, but with U.S. legislation lacking specifics as to digital signature technologies and standards. Smart card adoption is thus higher in Europe.
- "Why Every Terrorist Needs a Web site"
Evening Standard (London) (10/24/01) P. 50; Rowan, David
Worldwide terrorist organizations listed as such by Western governments have been using Web sites to regularly communicate to the public while bypassing the media, and may become the target of law enforcement actions. An ICANN spokesperson says that national governments--not ICANN--have the responsibility to act against Web content that incites violence. "We don't condone anything like that, but we don't get involved," says the ICANN representative. "Some registrars might choose not to allow a domain such as IHateBaptistPeople.com; but others will allow hate stuff, just for the money." An organization that recently assassinated an Israeli cabinet minister used its Web site at www.Pflp-pal.org to announce its action, and other labeled terrorist groups, such as Hamas, Hezballah, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), all maintain Web sites. Many such Web sites are hosted in the U.S. and receive first amendment protection, which according to Electronic Frontier Foundation's Will Doherty, only applies "so long as they are not directly inciting physical harm." Currently, FBI agents are warning the U.S. ISP HyperVine that unless it shuts down IRAradio.com, the FBI may seize HyberVine's assets under U.S. antiterrorism laws.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "In Tech Job Market Dot-Commer's Loss Is Banks' Gain"
American Banker (10/25/01) P. 6; Kuehner-Hebert, Katie
Banks in tech-intensive regions such as Silicon Valley and Seattle say that the dot-com bust has helped make it easier to find skilled IT workers. Many new employees are content with the stability of a banking job, even if it does not always bring them projects involving the latest technology. Moreover, East Boston Savings Bank CEO Robert Verdonck says the current hiring environment has helped them target people with better people skills, who can explain IT projects to management. Pacific Northwest Bank CIO Michael Besselievre says workers have abandoned the idea of a short-term contract where the worker was more of a consultant than a salaried employee. He also says banks are working to adjust their workplace practices so that they do not lose tech workers when the economy picks up again. For example, banks are allowing tech employees to work nights and weekends instead of rigid bank office hours.
- "Feeling Insecure"
Interactive Week (10/22/01) Vol. 8, No. 41, P. 22; Luzadder, Dan; Bryce, Robert; Gohring, Nancy
The Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent war on terrorism have engendered a change of attitude on the part of corporations in regards to their security measures. They have triggered a wave of threat and risk assessments, restructuring, and implementations that serve to bolster corporate defense of information and critical infrastructures; prioritization, solid security policies, and strict compliance are the new order of the day, according to insiders. This may also foster collaboration between corporate security managers and information technologists, two groups that are more often opposed to one another, notes Information Systems Security's Marquis Grove. Unfortunately, Authentor Systems VP Bob Forbes says that companies large and small are ignoring basic security measures such as frequent password changes. The complex nature of networks may be their biggest flaw, according to experts; Steve Bellovin of AT&T Labs Research suggests that a Web server should not be the front end of a database, which should be kept on a separate server and separated by a firewall. Managers must also be aware of wireless LANs and their potential for security holes. Meanwhile, experts advise that data should be sent to multiple storage and data facilities in order to reduce the damage sustained in a single-point terrorist attack. There is also increased interest in biometrics and other authentication systems designed to confirm the identity of network users.
- "Symbiotic Intelligence"
Computerworld (10/22/01) Vol. 35, No. 43, P. 54; Anthes, Gary H.
Symbiotic intelligence may offer society a better way of solving problems such as managing a global economy or fighting terrorism in the years to come. In fact, Norman Johnson, a computational physicist who heads the Symbiotic Intelligence Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, says self-organizing groups of "average" people do a better job of solving complex problems than experts. Johnson's belief is in line with a U.S. Department of Labor survey, which indicates employees at several large companies receive 70 percent of the information they need to do their job from informal sources. The Internet is the type of tool that fosters human interaction and can be used to enhance the symbiotic intelligence process. Johnson says the intelligence community must remember that there is not a better processor of complex information than a human. And he adds that managers can facilitate symbiotic intelligence by abandoning the role of decision-maker and becoming an enabler of Internet and email use, expression and risk-taking, and diverse personalities and experiences, while relying less on formal training and expert advice. Adele Howe, a computer science professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, agrees that IT managers should look for job applicants with nonstandard credentials and promote informal interaction in the workplace. "With the increased use of the Net, many of the problems that have challenged traditional forms of management and organizations may now find solutions," says Johnson.
- "Government Takes Security Lead"
InternetWeek (10/22/01) No. 883, P. 9; Yasin, Rutrell
As the government moves to develop a closed IP network for federal use, companies are paying close attention. Enterprises will look for new technologies that could be transferred for their own use. The GSA earlier this month sent out a request for information for the proposed Govnet, a closed network. The GSA wants suggestions to be submitted by Nov. 21. After selecting a contractor, it expects to complete Govnet within six months. However, building a totally new infrastructure will be expensive for the government, says Mike Hager of Oppenheimer Funds. In addition, so-called managed networks created for the auto industry eventually had to connect with other networks, he says. Analysts do not believe businesses will create their own closed networks but will use encryption and other methods to safeguard Internet communications.
- "Women in IT: Is the Pipeline Still Shrinking?"
IT Professional (10/01) Vol. 3, No. 5, P. 72; Jepsen, Tom
Surveys indicate that women are steadily gaining ground in the IT industry, but the numbers of women who are training for the industry are falling. This could not come at a worse time, since the incredible growth the industry has recently sustained has generated a shortage of personnel. Colorado School of Mines' Tracy Camp published several reports estimating that the number of female computer science graduates has declined from 37.1 percent in the 1983-1984 school year to 26.7 percent in the 1997-1998 school year. To reverse this trend, the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation appointed a Commission on Technology, Gender, and Teacher Education. This commission made several recommendations to boost the number of women receiving computer training, including keeping classroom activities on an equitable level; shattering the stereotypical view of computer science majors as loners; and giving female students a greater role in the design phase. Girls also have confidence issues with their computer skills. Organizations such as GirlGeeks exist to improve training and provide role models to boost their confidence, which leads to improved hiring and retention in the IT sector. Meanwhile, Springboard 2000 and other initiatives offer services to improve women entrepreneurs' chances of tapping into venture capital.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, see http://www.acm.org/women.
- "New Life for Moore's Law"
Atlantic Monthly (10/01) Vol. 288, No. 3, P. 44; Fallows, James
Lawrence Livermore laboratory has developed the prototype of a new system for producing semiconductor chips, the Engineering Test Stand. The project, which was developed in collaboration with several national laboratories and a private industry consortium, could become a model for the rest of the tech sector. Lawrence Livermore, Sandia, and Lawrence Berkeley pooled their resources to create the technology, while the $250 million for research and development came from private semiconductor firms that usually compete with one another, including Intel, AMD, and IBM. Nikon and Canon were excluded from the consortium because the politicians wanted domestic steppers used in the project to reinvigorate the industry. The Engineering Test Stand uses extreme ultraviolet light (EUV) transmitted in a vacuum and focused by mirrors to etch very small circuits on a chip. The lithography method derived from it should be capable of producing chips with 20 times the transistors and 30 times the speed of current models, thus adding about another 10 years to Moore's Law.