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 ACM.
To send comments, please write to email@example.com.
Volume 3, Issue 292: Wednesday, December 26, 2001
- "2002 Resolution: Make Sure Year Isn't Like 2001"
Wall Street Journal (12/24/01) P. B1; Swisher, Kara
The past year has steered many people and companies in the technology sector in new directions. While Microsoft and AOL emerge from their respective lawsuits and mergers, and eBay and Amazon struggle to validate their e-commerce visions, many other tech-related organizations are regrouping after a disastrous 2001. Web page builder Homestead.com, for example, will continue its shift toward paid services and lower overhead. "All of a sudden it's hip to be square," says CEO Justin Kitch, describing the company's reform from dot-com culture. TechNet, one of the industry's lobbying coalitions, will focus on boosting the priority of national broadband rollout, says new head and former congressman Rick White. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Shari Steele says 2001's national security laws, many of which compromise civil liberties, will be hard to repeal. Steele worries that obvious government flagrances will be necessary for citizens to discern the danger of the laws.
- "Commercialization May Limit Internet"
Associated Press (12/25/01); Jesdanun, Anick
The uniqueness of the Internet--its openness--is being threatened by corporations who are leveraging their copyrights, trademarks, policies, and other resources to limit users' activities; this threat could get worse as commercialization of the Web continues. Although Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig acknowledges that commercialism has its place on the Internet, he adds, "The concern is how the commercial interests might want to change the features of the Internet to better protect themselves." On the other hand, Microsoft's Brad Smith says that corporate technologies have helped enrich the Internet with more diverse content. Still, the most popular Web sites are falling under the control of a few companies that can manipulate content to suit them, even going so far as to censor unfavorable opinions and strip critics of their anonymity. The increased popularity of cable modems gives more control over online content and access to cable providers, while wireless and other services could also be centralized.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Where Workers Are Hit Hard"
Business Week (12/24/01) No. 3763, P. 26; Mandel, Michael J.
Tech workers have been severely affected by the current economic slump. Employment in software and computer services, communications, and tech equipment manufacturing hit a high in March and has since fallen by 3.3%. In the 1990-91 recession, employment had fallen only 1.7% from its 1989 peak. In the previous recession, software companies steadily hired new workers amid job cuts in other sectors. Now, employment in the software sector has slowed along with that in other tech sectors. In October, employment in computer programming services was lower compared to the year before, marking the first such decline since 1988. Communications services remains the only bright area in the tech industry. The number of jobs in this field has increased slightly due to growing cable industry employment.
- "A Cybernaut Plans Software for Navigating TV"
New York Times (12/24/01) P. C1; Schwartz, John
Internet pioneer Carl Malamud's nonprofit NetTopBox project aims to ease television navigation using technologies also used for Internet navigation. Although the service would only be available through the Web at first, Malamud predicts that users will eventually be able to access it with digital set-top boxes and handheld organizers. He expects that viewers will use the service to carry out program searches, read minireviews, organize preferred program lists, and communicate by instant message and chat services. The programming will be open source, while program producers will supply the information to go with their shows, using a read/search format devised by Malamud's team. Malamud and partners worry that they risk being sued by electronic programming guide leader Gemstar-TV Guide International, which is known for relentlessly pursuing anyone they think infringes on their patents. Investors have contributed almost $1 million to fund the programming stage of Malamud's venture. The first NetTopBox components will emerge in the next several months, according to Malamud.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Discovering Uses for Transporter"
Baltimore Sun (12/24/01) P. C1; Langberg, Mike
The Segway Human Transporter is an electric scooter capable of traveling up to 12 mph, with a maximum range of 15 miles before its batteries need to be recharged. The platform on which the rider stands is between two wheels situated on the sides of the scooter. Gyroscopes and motion sensors inside the platform allow the vehicle to speed up, slow down, and go backward or forward, based on how far the rider leans. Side-to-side navigation is controlled by twist grips on the handlebars. The transporter cannot hurt pedestrians it bumps into because the rider is pushed back whenever the handlebars touch something, while the rider's weight is shifted to the downhill wheel when the other wheel goes over obstacles. The Segway is designed to replace walking and boost speeds for travelers carrying heavy loads. The postal service and several police departments will be first to use the vehicle when it starts selling next year. Consumer models are expected in late 2002 for about $3,000.
- "For Dot-Com Success Stories, Failure Became a Fact"
Washington Post (12/24/01) P. E10; Merle, Renae
Washington, D.C.-based Internet companies are collapsing under the economic pressures of less online advertising revenue and industry consolidation. Online financial advice magazine Motley Fool is diversifying its revenue stream after having to lay off 75% of its staff and jettisoning its CEO. Online advertising, which supplied a considerable portion of the company's revenues, shrunk by 8% the first nine months of this year, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers' New Media Group. Now the company has signed a major book deal and contracted with National Public Radio for a show. Other companies, such as CareerBuilder, Proxicom, and Digex have been on both ends of merger and acquisition activity, with the former two being bought out by large companies looking to beef up their Internet services operations. CareerBuilder recently acquired online recruitment competitor Headhunter.net, and Monster.com bought Hotjobs.com, consolidating two of the largest online recruitment firms.
- "For Tech, the Hard Part May Just Be Beginning"
Wall Street Journal (12/24/01) P. A1; Thurm, Scott
Tech sector analysts say that technology sales could lag an overall economic rebound by about a year. The current recession is caused by economic factors, both national and global, plus the lack of a killer technology innovation to boost growth, such as the personal computer, office network, or the Internet. Other factors contributing to the prolonged downturn include the glut in inventory, which could offset any benefit added by economic stimulus and pent-up demand; statistics show semiconductor factories operating at just 60% capacity, for example. The technology industry will experience more trouble compared to non-tech companies, since it has further to fall. Sales of software, telecommunications equipment, and computers have slowed by 20% annually in the first nine months of 2001, compared to a 2.2% annual drop in non-tech sectors. Moreover, says UBS Warburg analyst Pip Coburn, technology administrators are wary over expensive new projects since many of the costly initiatives introduced in the late 1990s never paid off.
- "Lifelike Models That Leap Off the Screen"
Financial Times (12/24/01) P. 6; Daniel, Caroline
New 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software is making headway in all stages of product development in nearly every manufacturing and retail product industry. New innovations allow engineers to cut development time by studying the real-life characteristics of their products without building prototypes. The 3D CAD software also is helping marketing teams better prepare to launch their products and coordinate with engineers, by allowing them to see things like the way design lines reflect light and the surface texture. One 3D CAD pioneer, Dassault Systemes, aims to let companies test their products' entire life cycle before it is ever physically crafted. U.S. Air Command research into computer graphics displays in the 1950s signaled the beginnings of the CAD industry, while General Motors and other companies started using CAD in the 1960s. Daratech says the market for such digital product simulation software will grow by 10% annually to comprise about $1.2 billion of the $6.1 billion CAD software market this year. The next expected application of 3D is the design of a virtual factory.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Can Chipmaking Get Smarter?"
ZDNet (12/21/01); Spooner, John G.
Advanced Micro Devices is leading the Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International consortium to develop an online chip diagnosis system that will cut production time and costs. The three-year project includes setting industry standards for data sharing, securing an online network, and developing appropriate software for the job. AMD says it can use its Advanced Process Control system to help with automated diagnosis of equipment and production processes, but that the new system will allow chipmakers to coordinate with manufacturers securely online. Currently, technicians have to visit a factory in order to solve any problems, but the new system would spot them automatically and allow for remote fixes via the Internet. "The object here is to provide an application that would enable a secure mechanism that would allow [equipment] buyers and companies to communicate with each other" via the Internet, according to AMD's Charles Clark.
- "DOJ Authorization Bill Requires Annual 'Carnivore' Report"
Newsbytes (12/21/01); Krebs, Brian
The U.S. Senate has approved the Department of Justice Appropriations Authorization Act, an edict that requires the director of the FBI and the Attorney General to provide Congress with an annual report on the use of the DCS 1000 email surveillance tool, also known as "Carnivore," in federal investigations. This is the first time in 20 years that the Senate has passed a reauthorization bill for the DOJ. "Many concerns have been raised about the use of this system, and it is my hope that the reporting requirement will provide policymakers with valuable information and encourage [the] department to use the system responsibly," said Senate Judiciary Committee ranking GOP member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). The report will supply numerous details, including how many times Carnivore was used in the preceding year, who authorized its use and why, and any intercepted information that was not authorized by court order. The Justice Department earlier commissioned an independent review committee to submit a report evaluating whether Carnivore could keep such data away from prying eyes, but privacy groups were not satisfied. Meanwhile, the USA Patriot Act passed by Congress in October also requires the Justice Department to provide a Carnivore usage report to every court that authorizes its use in an investigation.
- "Nanocircuits Lead 2001's List of Breakthroughs"
Nanocircuitry tops Science magazine's list of the 10 most significant scientific breakthroughs of the past year. Science editor-in-chief Donald Kennedy explains that "The breakthrough ... is for the extraordinary accomplishment of arranging [nanoscale devices] into circuits that can actually perform logical operations: amplify signals, invert current flows and even perform simple computing tasks." Researchers are undertaking several nanotech initiatives, including the development of quantum computers and super-small circuitry that could vastly boost computing power, and drug-delivery systems that operate within the body. Other achievements that made Science's top 10 include the splicing of messenger RNA, the decoding of the human genome, and the discovery of exotic substances that raise the heat threshold of superconductors to as high as 117 degrees Kelvin. As for the future of nanocircuitry, Kennedy says the costs of mass producing nanocircuits will be a significant barrier, but that the functional molecular circuitry developed this year proves that the principle is sound.
- "Communal Broadband"
San Francisco Chronicle Online (12/19/01); Matthew Yi
Bay Area neighbors are sharing broadband Internet service, and AT&T Broadband is none too happy about it. "We view it the same way as cable theft...and that's against a variety of state and federal laws," says AT&T Broadband's Andrew Johnson. Sharing is made possible by the 802.11 wireless standard, or Wi-Fi. The technology is less costly to set up than it was two years ago, and its 100-foot range can be extended with the attachment of an external antenna. The Bay Area Wireless Users Group, with about 1,200 members, offers an online forum for people to find ways to split bandwidth legally. Although Covad does not expressly prohibit broadband sharing, Covad's Hunter Middleton warns that the practice could slow the connection speed, as well as allow unauthorized users to download pornography and other unlawful content. Security design consultant Tony Bautts also cautions that the encryption standard of Wi-Fi networks is easily circumvented. This not only allows hackers to plug themselves into the bandwidth, but can give them access to users' hard drive files.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Humans Extinct by 2040, Says BT Boffin"
VNUNet (12/19/01); Lee, Chris
Technological advances could cause human extinction by 2040, warns British Telecom researcher Ian Pearson. To avoid this, humans must rein in technology, he says. Pearson believes computing could cause mass destruction as could nuclear, environmental, and biological threats. The futurologist also envisions robots with artificial intelligence that are smarter than humans. These robots could dominate human activity and take control over critical assets, he says. By 2011, an AI body will have finished schooling and have earned a degree, he predicts. Moreover, the statistical chances of extinction will soon surpass 1%, Pearson forecasts, which he says means that some time during the next 100 years the human race will be destroyed somehow.
- "E.U. Collaborating With Moscow on Russian E-Commerce"
Newsbytes (12/18/01); MacMillan, Robert
Russia is getting significant support from the European Union (EU) to develop e-commerce. The EU hopes the move will lead to a so-called Common European Economic Space. Commissioner Erkki Liikanen said the European Commission (EC) has allocated a large budget for the initiative and has received initial clearance from the 15 EU members. He said the EC is in talks with multinational financing groups to offer venture capital funding for small Russian firms. Liikanen forecasts that Russia's eRussia program will receive extensive financial support over the next 10 years. He also said the Common European Economic Space depends on "efficient and interoperable e-commerce services between our regions." However, the EU e-commerce directive contains more Internet related-matters than the Russian proposal, which solely covers contractual matters. Liikanen hopes Russia will broaden its e-commerce plans to include all its citizens as well as companies.
- "Improved Techno Gadgets Planned"
Associated Press (12/17/01); Wong, May
Enhanced consumer electronic devices are expected for next year, and some will capitalize on fulfilling specific needs rather than being flashy multifunction products, which have not done very well due to their high prices and technical complexity. Instead, "expect to see more evolutionary, rather than revolutionary devices," says Gartner Dataquest researcher Andrew Johnson. Among the products slated to debut are cell phones, PDAs, and hybrids that offer wireless Web access, and more affordable digital cameras. Home entertainment products such as DVD players, digital TVs, and game consoles have traditionally sold well, so analysts expect consumers to continue to shell out money for the latest improvements in picture and sound quality as well as cutting-edge gaming technology. Web tablets, interactive TV, and other new technologies with limited appeal will also return next year, albeit in different, more integrated products.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Latest Hacker Target: Routers"
InternetWeek (12/17/01) No. 889, P. 9; Yasin, Rutrell
As hackers are targeting routers to disrupt Internet traffic, security officials are scrambling to develop defenses against intrusions in the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), which allows routers of different makes to communicate. Although there are a number of ways to detect and track router break-ins, says Global Crossing network security director Jim Lippard, only enhanced security measures for BGP will completely prevent router attacks. Some other technologies, such as Message Digest (MD5) and filters limiting IP address assignments, can be used to prevent some types of router hacks, but not masked data purporting to be from a safe source. Only Secure BGP (S-BGP), developed in conjunction with Verizon and the Defense Department, can authenticate users and prevent hackers from exploiting system vulnerabilities. But S-BGP will have to be approved by standards bodies such as the IETF and implemented by router manufacturers, ISPs, and Internet registries.
- "An E-Government Pill for the Tech Sector"
CNet (12/17/01); Dignan, Larry
E-government spending will pick up in the second half of next year, according to industry analysts. The dearth of corporate IT spending and the focus on expansive, cost-cutting e-government projects will result in a bonanza for IT services and software companies, who are increasingly marketing to the government sector. Recently, for example, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison offered his company's software for free to be used for a national ID database. Kevin Fitzgerald, an Oracle senior VP in charge of government sales, says, "It's the first time the government had put a serious process behind e-government. Before they were sitting in a back room doing white papers." Prudential Securities economist James Lucier says government historically lags private-sector technology by three to five years, lacking CRM software, XML capabilities, and often duplicating efforts. Anne Altman, managing director for IBM's federal division, expects e-government sales to rise sharply, plateau, and then fall off.