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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 3, Issue 277: Friday, November 16, 2001
- "Not Much of a Party at This Year's Comdex"
SiliconValley.com (11/14/01); Ackerman, Elise
This year's Comdex computer conference has little of the flair of previous years, when attendees threw lavish and wild parties. Not only has the tone of the trade show been subdued, but there are not as many cool new products being unveiled. Some of the most popular items, such as the merged handheld organizer and phone devices from Nokia and Handspring, are already available. Security products have been popular as well, such as firewall technology or cameras that scan people's irises. Rick Moore, a VP of Key3Media Group, which organizes Comdex, says between 300 to 500 companies in attendance last year had since gone out of business, leaving only 1,950 exhibitors compared to last year's 2,300. Attendance has also fallen, from 200,000 last year to 125,000 this year. Still, an executive at one of the companies displaying their wares at the show says the people at this year's crowd are more serious, and fewer are "tire-kickers."
- "H-P Employees Are Key to Any Acquisition of Compaq"
Wall Street Journal (11/16/01) P. B10; Williams, Molly
The acquisition of Compaq Computer by Hewlett-Packard may not take place if HP's employees are not aboard. Some HP veterans say that employee morale is low and bad feelings about the merger permeate the workforce. One of the sore points is the firing of 15,000 workers upon completion of the deal. The workforce has already had to contend with 6,000 layoffs, temporary pay cuts, and options rendered worthless by plummeting stock prices. The opposition of David Hewlett and David W. Packard to the deal may also galvanize HP's workers to vote against it. Employee support is critical, since it is the workers who will be tasked with integrating the two companies if the merger goes through. Many veterans are displeased that HP CEO Carly Fiorina is attempting to change a long-standing corporate tradition that focuses on employee satisfaction and innovation rather than pure profit. However, HP claims that the results of a Nov. 9 survey indicate that "a significant majority of employees" support the merger.
- "UCITA Opposition Turns Up Heat"
Computerworld Online (11/12/01); Copeland, Lee; Thibodeau, Patrick
Software companies backing the Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (UCITA) will likely drop the law's most controversial provision that allows remote disabling of software programs used outside of contract terms. The law has already passed in two states, Maryland and Virginia, but has most recently been blocked in eight other states by a growing coalition of library associations, manufacturing companies, and financial firms. UCITA's sponsor, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), is ready to revise the law, as proponents of the law, including Microsoft and America Online, have supported its removal. However, UCITA opponents want to see the law revised even more, particularly the removal of any disabling provisions as well as "click-wrap licensing," which binds users to contract terms when they click to accept a software license's provisions. NCCUSL's drafting committee is meeting next weekend in an effort to find a satisfactory middle ground, but experts warn that Congress will be forced to mandate its own law if a compromise can't be reached.
For information about ACM's UCITA activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/IP.
- "Officials: Web Security Work Needed"
Associated Press (11/15/01); Gentile, Gary
The ICANN meeting is approaching a consensus that the Internet domain name system is not in immediate danger, but does need work against future threats. Of the 13 master-directory root servers, six are on the East Coast, four are located out West, and the remaining three are scattered internationally. ICANN Chairman Vinton Cerf believes that developing security protocols and procedures ahead of any crisis is crucial, and many experts are concerned about increasing the physical safety around root servers, further protecting root server software, and guarding against denial-of-service attacks against root servers--a hacker tactic that has only been used against Web sites so far. Cerf is also looking at patterning root server system safety on traditional disaster relief principals, which would entail having emergency kits as well as a backup.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/crypto.
- "Security Might Be Just Talk"
Investor's Business Daily (11/15/01) P. A8; Howell, Donna
The federal government has put out a call for technology that can be used to combat terrorism, in the form of a 28-page request for proposals and a wish list of 38 technologies published online. "The goal is to get out to industry, to educational institutions, and other places the fact that we have some needs that we're looking for some solutions to, which can be implemented in the next year to 18 months," says Maj. Mike Halbig of the Defense Department. Voice technology is one of the items on the list; the Pentagon is specifically looking for an automated speaker recognition system that can distinguish between spoken languages, and a voiceprint identification system that can verify the identity of suspects. SpeechWorks International and Nuance Communications are among the commercial firms that are considering making proposals for anti-terrorist speech-recognition programs. But voice industry consultant Judith Markowitz says that research groups such as IBM and SRI International could also submit proposals, since they have voice verification programs of their own.
- "Comdex: Vendors, Users Split Over Promise of Tablet PCs"
InfoWorld.com (11/14/01); Neel, Dan; Jones, Mark
Computer firms are largely uncertain over the prospects of the Tablet PC, part of Bill Gates' vision of the future of computing. Toshiba has been working on the concept for 10 years but is still waiting for the right time to enter the market, says Toshiba's Oscar Koenders. He says more technology still needs to be developed to make Tablet PCs useful, including swiveling monitors and better batteries and hard disks. So far, the lack of a market is what is keeping computer manufacturers such as IBM, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell away from the sector. Gateway's Lisa Emard says, "We feel the focus now is on networked PCs and low-cost notebooks that can get the job of a Tablet PC done." Still, Compaq and a number of Japanese firms are pushing the technology, and Compaq's Tablet PC will be released with Microsoft's XP operating system for that platform next year. The product, still being developed, will initially target businesses and will allow users to convert handwriting to text in such Microsoft applications as Word and Outlook.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Report: Business Fails on Global Security"
ZDNet (11/14/01); Lemos, Robert
A forthcoming risk assessment report from KPMG finds that corporate network security leaves a lot to be desired. Out of 500 executives interviewed by KPMG, almost four out of 10 believe their company is vulnerable to security breaches, even though 85 percent think their company gives information security adequate attention. Most respondents are convinced that buying new technology will remedy this situation, but Stuart Campbell of KPMG's Risk and Advisory Services disputes that assumption, saying that employee education and training is the best solution. "Until more executives regard information security as a strategic business issue, organizations will remain vulnerable," he admonishes. The report also indicates that companies are erroneously focusing on threats outside their networks when they should be concentrating on threats from within. A third of the respondents consider Internet hackers to be the number-one threat, but the KPMG study finds that nearly 80 percent of hacker attacks come from inside the network. However, this conclusion is disputed by the 2001 Computer Crime and Security Survey, which finds that 70 percent of companies have experienced Internet-based hacker attacks in 2001, compared to 31 percent experiencing insider attacks. On a more positive note, almost six of 10 multinationals surveyed in the KPMG study have hired full-time security experts, while almost eight out of 10 have created catastrophic response plans.
- "Can We Stop the Terrorist Tech Trade?"
NewsFactor Network (11/15/01); Weisman, Robyn
It is unlikely that the civilized world can control the passage of technology into the hands of rogue nations and terrorist organizations, according to Gartner research director French Caldwell. Tech seepage is a fact of life and a consequence of global trade, but nations that acquire sophisticated technology will face implementation and maintenance challenges. Caldwell points out that Iran, for example, secured a trio of kilo-class Russian submarines but has been unable to maintain them due to outdated technology. He also adds that most terrorists tend to commit their acts through low-tech means. "Do [terrorists] need much in the way of technology to import a suitcase bomb into New York Harbor?" he queries. Meanwhile, Gartner's Bill Malik notes that export controls on Internet technology have not been imposed because the majority of such technology is not classified as prohibitive.
- "House OKs Bill With Cyber-Security Funding"
Newsbytes (11/14/01); Krebs, Brian; MacMillan, Robert
The House of Representatives has approved a 2002 appropriations bill that provides funding for a slew of online law enforcement programs as well as money for technology research. The spending bill strengthens the power of federal attorneys to fight intellectual property violations, such as software piracy, and funds several technology-related Justice Department programs. The funding also provides an ample lifeline for the Advanced Technology Program, part of the Commerce Department. Although that program seemed doomed due to the Bush administration's vow to cut off its funding, the House bill allows it to continue its work in bringing newfound innovations to the marketplace.
- "Engineering: Gold Nanowires Grow on Their Own"
Scientific American Online (11/05/01); Graham, Sarah
Researchers at the University of Delaware have successfully grown gold nanowires that are conductive and capable of self-repair in a fluid medium, according to findings published in the latest issue of Science. Gold particles about 15 to 30 nanometers in diameter were placed in a fluid suspension between a pair of electrodes; the application of alternating voltage to the electrodes caused the particles to cluster on the tip of one electrode and start to grow toward the other. The scientists report that the nanowires form without any need for chemical reaction or soldering, can repair themselves when they burn out, and remain intact after the voltage is turned off. "A promising aspect of this research is the possibility to quickly and simply create electrical connections at ambient conditions in water environments," the researchers say. They also suggest that such nanowires could be applied to wet electronic and bioelectric circuits.
- "Suddenly, 'Idea Wars' Take On a New Global Urgency"
New York Times Online (11/11/01); Harmon, Amy
At the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Doha, Qatar, many developing companies contend that America's strong stance on patent protection stifles the distribution of drugs, an argument that cuts to the heart of a debate that encompasses almost every industry: Whether tight control of intellectual property encourages or discourages innovation. Drug companies, trademark holders, movie studios, technology companies, and researchers have all lobbied to assert their ownership claims over their ideas. The number of patents issued by the Patent and Trademark Office has nearly doubled since 1990, while patents are being approved for everything from uniform design to a production method for videotaped golfing lessons to computer software for privatizing socialist economies. Legal scholars claim that patenting ideas twists the original and cultural definition of patents and copyrights. Speaking to the House Judiciary Committee earlier this year, Travelocity.com VP Andrew Steinberg argued that patents for business practices take away resources needed for development and pours them instead into legal fees; Priceline founder Jay Walker counters that property rights are necessary to build assets and secure investments. Cross-licensing has also complicated the situation, especially for business executives. Some congressional members are pushing for legislation that would force the awarding of patents to adhere to higher standards and loosen the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "FTC, DOJ to Hold Hearings on Patent Proliferation"
Newsbytes (11/15/01); Krebs, Brian
The increasing number of patents being awarded is fueling concerns that intellectual property and antitrust laws will go out of balance, and hurt competition while copyright holders profit. The Justice Department and the FTC are planning to hold hearings in December to examine this issue. FTC Chairman Timothy Muris declared that the hearings will focus on "overbroad patents" like those for business methods, as well as attempts to patent widely used e-business tools. Legislation from Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Rick Boucher (R-Va.) seeks to establish that Internet applications of existing business methods cannot be patented because they are evident. The past two decades have seen a threefold increase in the number of patents awarded annually. "We need to understand the recent trend in patent proliferation," said Muris. "Perhaps it is intellectual property doctrine that is not showing a proper appreciation for the innovation that competition may spur."
- "Intel Unwraps Hannacroix Concept PC"
InternetNews.com (11/12/01); Olavsrud, Thor
Intel this month unveiled Hannacroix, a concept PC designed to demonstrate technology that developers and integrators can incorporate into future machines. Hannacroix features 802.11b and Bluetooth wireless connectivity; high-performance audio through six analog outputs or a Sony/Philips Digital Interface; two separate LAN connections; Serial ATA technology to provide next-generation storage; a DVD/CD drive; high-speed I/O connections that provide printing, scanning, audio, and video functions; and a three-port 1394a solution that maintains high-speed linkage between the computer and video-input devices. Hannacroix was built using technology from Agere, Cirrus Logic, Cypress, Foxconn, Intersil, Kawasaki, Marvell, Molex, NEC, and Silicon Wave.
- "Argentina Peeks Into E-Mail Laws"
Wired News (11/14/01); Sametband, Ricardo
A pair of bills working their way through Argentina's Congress could make sending unidentified spam and reading someone else's email without authorization illegal. The spam measure would require senders to state their intentions in the email's subject, identify themselves in the body of the email itself, and provide an email address for recipients to send messages of refusal. Users would also be able to enter their email on a list of people who do not wish to receive spam. Senders who fail to comply with these regulations would be forced to pay as much as $25,000 to the ISP and the recipient; ISPs that detect spam would be authorized to block the sender's access. The second bill would forbid the opening and reading of email contents by anyone except its owner, unless authorized by court order. Violators could face jail time, while those who publish such email would receive a stiff fine. Although the local tech community has generally backed the measure, some are taking issue with the fact that employers are allowed to read employees' email. Both bills were presented to the Congress by the Secretaria de Comunicaciones, the Argentine equivalent of the FCC.
- "Where Are The Jobs?"
InformationWeek (11/12/01) No. 863, P. 47; Khirallah, Diane Rezendes; Chabrow, Eric; Goodridge, Elisabeth
Conditions in the IT job market are worsening, and for the first time in more than 10 years IT unemployment has surpassed that of the general workforce. Potential workers who once demanded high salaries and perks are now more willing to negotiate, what with so many of them competing for jobs. IT professionals could also improve their odds of getting a job if they migrate from well established tech centers such as Silicon Valley to emergent centers such as Washington, D.C. Furthermore, many companies are looking for employees who bring business value to the table, not just IT skills. Research by William M. Mercer principal consultant David Van De Voort indicates that IT professionals with communications skills stand the best chance of promotion. Workers with expertise in security, disaster recovery, Web development, storage, databases, and high-end networking are in demand, while the defense, pharmaceutical, and health care industries remain hot spots for IT jobs. Security experience has been highly sought after even before the Sept. 11 attacks, due to increased emphasis on the protection of customer data and privacy.
- "Bringing on Broadband--Slowly"
National Journal (11/10/01) Vol. 33, No. 45, P. 3526; Rucker, Teri
The Bush administration is cautious about its role in promoting further broadband rollout, even as it is increasingly aware of broadband's importance to economic revival. A recent study showed the United States falling to fourth place in terms of broadband deployment among the 30 countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Technology, telecommunications, and regional phone companies have all argued for different, sometimes opposing, aspects of government involvement. The hesitancy on the part of the FCC or the Commerce Department to act comes from uncertainty over congressional action such as the deregulation bill supported by the leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Consumer uptake is uncertain as well because only 12 percent of the nation's households are expected to subscribe to a high-speed Internet service by the end of 2001, even though 85 percent will have access to one. For now, regulatory officials are mostly trying to steer clear of regulating broadband investment in hopes of letting the best solution naturally win out.
- "Staying Alive"
Computerworld (11/05/01) Vol. 35, No. 45, P. 30; Nash, Kim S.
For IT employees working at companies undergoing Chapter 11 filing, less funding for necessary items and abruptly cut projects can be discouraging. But the process also offers a chance for IT managers to boost the stature of their division by using technology and innovation to cut costs, says Jay Alix & Associates turnaround expert Joe Szmadinski. Obstacles often encountered during Chapter 11 reorganization include vendors who are weary of selling to a near-bankrupt company, tense workplace relations due to strained resources, and the lengthy process needed to approve extraneous spending for projects or bonuses. Some companies, such as USG, are continuing to proceed on IT projects even in the face of Chapter 11. Meanwhile, Maidenform entered into a pair of outsourcing contracts that saved the company at least $251,000 per year combined.
- "Go Global, Young Man!"
Newsweek (11/12/01) Vol. 138, No. 20, P. 77; Sherman, Erik
Offshore outsourcing of programming tasks is increasingly appealing as companies in countries such as India, Russia, and Israel better target U.S. clients. Up to 30 percent can be saved on software development because of the cheap labor and buildings, and more productive workers. Ere Hendelman sends all the research and development for his company, Oblicore, based in Herndon, Va., over to Israel because he says the young programmers there have excellent work ethics gained from military duty. Sean Ellis of World Source Advantage says programmers in former communist countries are able to do more with available technology after being used to make-do with limited resources. However, Gartner research director Frances Karamouzis says political instability in countries such as Russia should worry U.S. clients. Karamouzis touts India as the number one outsourcing nation because of its large pool of engineers, English-speaking workforce, and IT-friendly government.
Wired (11/01) Vol. 9, No. 11, P. 186; Fox, Cynthia
Gerontechnology is the enhancement of the elderly's quality of life through technological innovation. The ultimate goal of gerontechnological research is to allow the aged to live their lives more independently, as well as give their caregivers more freedom to help them. Oatfield Estates is the first rest home in the United States to be electronically wired. Outside, residents wear badges that track their location by infrared or radio frequency, while optional IR motion detectors fulfill the same function in their apartments. Web surfing, vital sign monitoring, and visual memory enhancement are facilitated through touchscreen-equipped PCs. Weight changes that may signify health problems can be detected by load cells in residents' beds; the devices can also be used to help confused residents remember why they are getting up, such as triggering the bathroom light to turn on when one intends to visit the lavatory. Some of the country's top universities are investing in gerontechnological research: MIT's Age Lab is developing a cell phone designed to aid people suffering from Alzheimer's by posting text-based reminders. Meanwhile, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Aware Home laboratory are working on the Smart Shirt, a t-shirt that constantly monitors the wearer's vital signs, allowing them to wander with impunity. These are just a few examples of technology that will improve the standard of living for geriatrics.