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 4, Issue 296: Monday, January 7, 2002
- "Senate Leader Stumps for More Tech Funding, Tax Breaks"
Newsbytes (01/04/02); Krebs, Brian
Democrats unveiled their economic stimulus package last week, promising huge tax breaks on technology investments, tax credits for broadband rollout, and support of "fast track" authorization, which allows President Bush greater freedom in signing foreign trade deals. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) also suggested increasing research and development funding at some federal agencies by 100 percent. The broadband stimulus program promises 10 percent and 20 percent tax credits to companies pioneering broadband in rural areas, but the size of the credit depends on the level of service offered. Daschle also proposed a faster amortization schedule for technology investments than that included in President Bush's plan late last year, increasing the rate to a 40 percent write-off in the first six months, followed by 20 percent for the next half-year. In addition, Democrats also support technology training and economic help for American workers whose jobs are lost as a result of more liberal trade policies. Republicans criticized Daschle and other Democrats for not supporting the Republican stimulus package in debate late last year, since their new proposal mirrors the previous one in many aspects.
- "U.S. Tech Town Rises in India"
Wall Street Journal (01/07/02) P. A13; Swisher, Kara
A group of former Microsoft programmers has embarked on an ambitious project to build a self-sufficient community of software makers in rural India. Formed in 1999 by Swain Porter, Catalytic Software has had to contend with the usual problems of securing funds, employees, and outsourcing contracts while also dealing with the quirky environment of its southern Indian locale. The community, called New Oroville, aims to provide bargain software using a combination of less expensive Indian labor and high American standards. New Oroville, located near the tech center of Hyderabad, is designed to feature thousands of geodesic domes for programmers, a recreation center, and an electric-recycling communications grid. About 12 domes are almost complete, and the company currently boasts 35 employees. Former Microsoft executive Eric Engstrom has contributed over $1 million in principal funding to the Catalytic project, while his U.S.-based software ventures have supplied the fledgling company with its first contracts. Some $2 million has been spent on Catalytic so far, with an additional $2 million in funding expected. The company is on track to turn a profit despite the economic downturn, but the next challenge will be garnering work from companies not associated with investors.
- "Rise of Internet 'Borders' Prompts Fears for Web's Future"
Washington Post (01/04/02) P. E1; Cha, Ariana Eunjung
Governments and businesses are attempting to impose borders on the Internet in order to curtail various activities that may be objectionable or constitute a threat to security, but civil libertarians warn that such maneuvers may endanger personal privacy and freedom of speech. Furthermore, they could give oppressive regimes license to censor nonconformist opinions. Several methods exist for maintaining these borders, including Internet access restrictions and communications filters. One of the most controversial techniques is geolocation software that can track down a user's physical location based on their Web address. The technology has the potential to expand Internet boundaries, according to analysts. However, some legal experts say the concept is unworkable because Web site operators would have to know each country's laws concerning what is and is not permitted. Analysts also say that the United States' dominion over the Web will likely change with the institution of online boundaries.
- "Virus Writers Here to 'Help'"
Wired News (01/07/02); Delio, Michelle
Many virus authors insist that they are promoting computer security by writing and releasing worms that exploit security flaws. "Better that you find out about a hole in your system through my virus, than through some unethical cracker smashing into your machine and stealing all your so-called private data," says one writer, who goes by the pseudonym of Criminal and Anonymous Terrorist (CAT). Some coders argue that openly reporting these flaws to the software makers could lead to accusations of hacking, and have found releasing viruses to be a less risky alternate way of alerting them. The recently passed Patriot Act identifies hackers as terrorists, while the arrest of Russian programmer Dmitri Sklyarov for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act only discourages virus writers from openly disclosing security vulnerabilities. Vigilinx intelligence officer Jerry Freese dismisses such arguments, claiming that no company has yet prosecuted anyone for reporting such holes, and adds that people can report them anonymously if they wish. Symantec Security Response's Sarah Gordon calls the distribution of viruses irresponsible, no matter if it is done to make security problems known. Many virus writers have little sympathy for their victims, whom they charge as complacent and ignorant of security measures. CAT blames human stupidity as the reason such holes continue to exist, even though they are patchable.
- "Grid Computing Gaining Voice"
InternetNews.com (01/03/02); Olavsrud, Thor
Rather than purchase and maintain expensive supercomputers to solve data-heavy problems, organizations can tap into the idle processor cycles of computers arranged in a network, a technique known as grid computing. The method can be used to process a tremendous amount of data at a lower cost. For example, the SETI@Home project leverages the unused processor cycles of volunteer PC users around the world to study radio signals from space. About 15 teraflops of data has been processed using the cycles of about 3 million volunteers, at a total cost of roughly $500,000. In contrast, IBM's ASCI White supercomputer costs $110 million and processes 12 teraflops. Grid computing has also begun to find favor among businesses. Juno Online sells supercomputing services to research companies through its Juno Virtual Supercomputer Project. Meanwhile, the University of Texas for Austin's advanced computing center is testing computer grids with a parallel processing system supplied by IBM.
- "Tiny Slices Of Opportunity for Jobless Techies"
Washington Post (01/07/02) P. E1; Johnson, Carrie
Recruiters and employment experts surveyed by @Work are making several predictions for job growth in 2002. Information security specialists will be highly sought after, as they are currently very scarce. People with over three years of experience or CISSP certification are especially valued. Foundstone CEO George Kurtz reports that security professionals can be found from the ranks of systems administrators and even programmers who have worked on secure financial transactions. Biotech companies are also a promising center for IT employment: Susan Bateson McKay of Human Genome Sciences says her company plans to add 400 new positions this year. "Now there are business issues across the board, systems being built for different business units," she says. "As companies like ours scale up, there is an increasing need for techies." Recruiters also expect more layoffs this month from companies that held back on firings before the holiday season.
- "Nanotech Fine-Tuning"
Wired News (01/04/02); Anderson, Mark K.
Researchers in the United States and South Korea write in an upcoming issue of Science that they have discovered that carbon nanotubes stuffed with C60 molecules can tune their electrical properties. Co-author Ali Yazdani of the University of Illinois says such nanotube "peapods" can act as semiconductors, conductors, or insulators, depending on how the encapsulated molecules are arranged. The researchers also note that the devices could be used for quantum computing, since the quantum wave resonances of the electrons transmitted through the system can be tuned if the molecules are spaced periodically. However, neither Yazdani nor Cees Dekker of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands think the peapods will replace regular nanotubes. The work of Dekker has already demonstrated the usefulness of plain nanotubes in computer circuits, according to Stanford University's Calvin Quate. Still, Yazdani thinks nanotube peapods could promise new kinds of functionality. "Nanotubes are starting to be used everywhere now--in molecular-scale device making and logic circuits," he explains. "This is a new twist, and it could be a very important twist, because you can then start tuning the nanotube's properties with encapsulation."
- "Top Female Tech Engineers May Make More than Men--Report"
Newsbytes (12/28/01); Bonisteel, Steven
IEEE-USA's annual Salary and Fringe Benefit Survey indicates that female computer engineers may earn more than men. Those with 20 to 24 years experience pull in a yearly median income of $100,037, compared to $98,500 for men. However, women with only five to six years experience earn a median salary of $68,000, while their male counterparts earn $76,000. Women with 15 to 19 years of experience are making a median income of $84,700, while men in the same range are making $96,000. The report finds that Asian-American workers are earning the highest median income ($99,000), followed by Caucasians ($93,000), Hispanics ($86,500), and African-Americans ($86,340). The median salary for all 9,500 survey respondents is $93,100, but IEEE-USA says women comprise only 6.8 percent of its membership.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "A Look Ahead: How 5 Technologies Will Fare in 2002"
ZDNet (12/31/01); Somogyi, Stephan
Consumer electronics and personal computing will pursue five hot trends in 2002. Apple's Mac OS X, version 10.2 should be ready about one year after the release of version 10.0 and should reveal a mature version of the operating system. FireWire, another Apple innovation, will also continue to change the way PCs and digital devices interact, with many products emulating the iPod's single-wire connection, which conjoins power supply with high-speed data-transfer. Technology companies such as TiVo have found that letting users customize their products generates more interest, so more of the same trend toward customization can be expected in 2002. Gaming is another area that will see significant advances in 2002 as Nintendo's GameCube and Microsoft's Xbox battle it out for the top spot with Sony's incumbent PlayStation 2. Hopefully, the new year will also involve more options for media consumers as industry groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America loosen their grip on the way technology mixes with their content.
- "File-Sharing Programs Carry Trojan Horse"
CNet (01/03/02); Borland, John
Antivirus software company Symantec says recent versions of Limewire and Grokster have included Trojan horse code bundled as part of the advertisements that come along with the file-trading programs. Users have said the Kazaa Media Desktop has the same bug. Limewire and Grokster have both made moves to eliminate the Trojan code from their software, and Grokster is offering a download that will purge the offending code from users' computers. The "W32.DIDer" code carried in the "Clicktilluwin" promotional program installs itself and relays user information back to a home Web address without the user's knowledge. It is the first promotional "spyware" to be labeled as Trojan code by an antivirus company. Limewire, Kazaa, and Grokster are currently some of the most popular downloads on the Web, with 1.3 million copies of Kazaa downloaded in the last week of December, for instance.
- "UN Bodies Address Multilingual Domain Names"
Business World (Philippines) (01/03/02); Jimenez, Helen A.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and the Multilingual Internet Names Consortium met last month with about 200 stakeholders of the Internet community to discuss the internationalization of Internet domains, and came to the conclusion that "native speakers of Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tamil, Thai and other languages are at disadvantage," according to ITU deputy secretary-general Roberto Blois. According to these three groups, the global Internet market's growth may be hindered by the barrier of unfamiliar and English-only characters in URLs. WIPO assistant director general Francis Gurry says the Internet's global nature emphasizes the need for international dialogue to solve the problem, and he adds that equality of access should be a main concern for international intergovernmental organizations. "The challenges are complex and go far beyond technical considerations; these include administrative arrangements for multilingual domains, competition policy, market access, intellectual property and dispute resolution mechanisms, as well as cultural and social issues," the groups said in a joint statement. Gurry notes that the expansion of domain names may bring intellectual property rights and trademark problems. The Domain Name System is thought to have over 100 million domain names already.
- "H-1B Visa Limit Debate Reaches the Rockies"
Potomac Tech Journal (12/24/01) Vol. 2, No. 52, P. 6; Neff, Todd
Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) is leading an effort in Congress to reduce the cap on H-1B visas by more than two-thirds and then tie the limit to U.S. unemployment figures. Tancredo and other worker groups, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, say there is a glut in the domestic technology workforce and that companies want the H-1B program because it allows them to pay foreign workers 5 percent less than American counterparts. However, technology companies insist that the H-1B program is necessary to fill specific gaps in their companies. Intel, for instance, says it only hires H-1B workers with scientists and engineers with advanced degrees, which are in short supply in the United States. American Council on International Personnel director of government relations Lynn Shotwell says part of the problem is the lack of transparency in the H-1B program because the Immigration and Naturalization Service does not keep records of what sectors H-1B workers go to.
- "Your Wish Is My Command"
New Scientist (12/29/01) Vol. 172, No. 2323, P. 62; Mullins, Justin
The emergence of telerobotics presents society with several moral issues regarding the technology, which is a convergence of the Internet and robotic machines. Giving people long-distance remote control over things is dangerous because it can separate cause from effect. For example, a Web surfer playing with a model train set could crash the train and claim it was an accident, or a Web surfer could steer a telebot through an office full of people and bruise someone's leg or crush someone's toe. Telerobots remain difficult to control; they are still clumsy and unreliable. "The major challenge is overcoming the time delay the Internet introduces," says Roland Siegwart, a teleroboticist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Users will have to wait for their commands to reach the robot, and then have to wait to view the image. The ultimate telerobotic experiment so far was carried out by Ken Goldberg, an electrical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, who allowed users to control the movements of a person carrying a webcam connected to the Internet. Telerobotics also raises the issue of whether users can be certain their commands are being carried out, or whether they have seen carefully selected pictures instead of live images.
- "Machines Push the Boundaries of Science and Engineering"
Red Herring (12/01) No. 108, P. 84; Bruno, Lee
The field of robotics continues to explore the edges of science and engineering. More precise and reliable robots have improved the manufacturing process while simultaneously reducing costs. Robot technology is being applied to practically every kind of product and assembly. The development of robotic processors keeps pace with Moore's Law, doubling performance every 18 months. Medicine is benefiting from the advent of precision robotics. In Germany, for instance, robots craft replacement hip joints of better quality than hand-crafted prostheses. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence developments have also been significant, although communications between AI systems has yet to be realized. This can be accomplished by building modular systems capable of interaction, as well as establishing standards for data exchange. There is little venture funding for robotics, but more investment may come if investors realize the practical applications.
- "Collective Brainpower"
CIO Insight (12/01) No. 8, P. 34; Roberts, Bill
Companies are realizing tremendous benefits by harnessing unused computing cycles through grid computing. GlaxoSmithKline has built an in-house grid that taps into computing power from 600 desktop PCs throughout the world, running at a peak capacity of 95 percent. With its grid, GSK can shave weeks, even months, off product development, cut research and development costs through faster drug analysis, and most important of all, study scores of compounds faster than anyone. The company has also saved $4.8 million that would otherwise be spent on additional equipment. Meanwhile, other companies have started laying the foundation of a national computing grid designed to facilitate power sharing between businesses that promises to be as simple as Web-based data sharing. Companies will be able to tap into other companies' raw computing power anywhere and at any time. IBM is pioneering the commercialization of the technology with its support of the Globus consortium, a global initiative to develop grid computing on open-source software. Globus director Ian Foster says grid computing is "gaining critical mass" among businesses, as number-crunching becomes an ever more critical function.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "High Wireless Act"
Security Management (12/01) Vol. 45, No. 12, P. 87; Biery Jr., Ken; Hager, David M.
The convenience of wireless communications had led many businesses to adopt it for use in their corporate enterprise networks, but inherent in the technology are vulnerabilities that make it an attractive target for hackers and industrial spies. The biggest problem in wireless communications lies primarily in the way data travels, with two competing standards used to transmit data packets. Systems that use wireless application protocol (WAP) rely on Wireless Transport Layer Security (WTLS), which encrypts data traveling from wireless systems, much like Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) does for the Internet. However, WTLS is not compatible with SSL because most WAP technology cannot handle the memory and processing required by the latter's RSA encryption algorithms. This requires a brief period of time, just milliseconds, needed at WAP gateways to decrypt WTLS information into plain text and then to encrypt it again to SSL, and it is at this point where hackers often lay their traps, accessing transactional information often sent through WAPs at the moment the information is decoded. Wireless local area network (WLAN) is the second major standard used to transmit data from and among wireless networks. Many of WAP's weaknesses also apply to it, but it can be more dangerous, because it allows direct access to enterprise systems, and since the bandwidth it uses is greater, it is more likely to be targeted. The relative novelty of WLAN limits the amount of security standards developed for its protection, but securing access points and limiting access, using virtual private networks, and utilizing network IDs can minimize risks.
- "Can You Print It for Me?"
Global Business Magazine (12/01) Vol. 158, No. 27, P. B10; Philadelphia, Desa
As businesses transition from paper to digital documents, they end up using more of both. Between 1995 and 2000, paper use increased 12 percent while there were almost 5 percent more computers at workplaces. In their book, "The Myth of the Paperless Office," Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper found that paper consumption generally leaps 40 percent when an office first implements email. Email does eliminate reliance on costly overnight deliveries and courier services, however, and new technologies such as ClearType could make reading attachments on computer screens easier. Often, office workers print out documents because of restrictions on email storage space and buggy computer systems. The increased use of paper does actually signal an improvement in technology, according to Thomas Kuhn's theory expounded in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions." He said resources are often strained during the short period people use both old and new technologies simultaneously.
- "Reverse Engineering and the Computing Profession"
Computer (12/01) Vol. 34, No. 12, P. 168; Cifuentes, Cristina
The reverse engineering of computer software raises many legal, technical, ethical, and social issues. The process is a critical part of software evaluation and assessment. Software can be copyrighted to prevent it from being reproduced and adapted without authorization, but reverse engineering leaves the issue open to debate. A decision in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court allowed reverse engineering of software for interoperability purposes, while the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) includes a provision that sanctions reverse engineering for encryption research and security testing of computer programs and networks. However, the language used in the security-testing exception is being contested by computer security researchers, who note that they are not allowed to release or publish any discoveries made through reverse engineering. This in turn can create a chilling effect on innovation, which yields fewer benefits to society. Further confusion is caused by the fact that software can also be patented. In the end, it is the responsibility of the legal community and the computing community to educate each other; the legal community must clarify the meaning of the various intellectual property systems, while the computing community must help the legal community understand technology and how proposed legislation can impact software and its development.