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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 4, Issue 310: Monday, February 11, 2002
- "Tech Innovation Thrives, Despite Stock-Market Blues"
Wall Street Journal (02/11/02) P. B1; Clark, Don
Innovative technologies are still emerging at a fast pace, despite a dearth of venture capital and startup companies. Startups developing new technologies are finding ways to do more with less, says Carver Mead, chairman of Foveon, which recently made the news with a breakthrough in digital camera technology. Foveon's new image sensor could revolutionize the digital camera industry, says Eastman Kodak director of digital systems, Madahv Mehra. The Demo conference this year also will feature several new technologies that hold great promise, such as a special wireless network that sends data at speeds of one million bits per second, and software that helps robots navigate. Although the lack of venture capital has not hindered innovation, it has reduced the number of smaller firms creating new technologies. More large organizations are coming out with new ideas, as illustrated by NASA's air-traffic control system and Sprint's e-assistant technology unveiled at the Demo conference.
- "House Panel to Examine Another Net Security Bill"
Newsbytes (02/08/02); MacMillan, Robert
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime is planning to hold a hearing on Tuesday that covers the Cyber Security Enhancement Act, a proposal to revise the U.S. Sentencing Commission's policy on sentencing convicted perpetrators of computer crimes. The bill is backed by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.). The latter also supported the $880 million Cyber Security Research and Development Act that the House passed last week. The new act calls for the Sentencing Commission to weigh such factors as whether the convicted parties attacked government networks, whether they committed their crimes for personal or commercial financial gain, and how sophisticated the assaults were. Furthermore, ISPs that make open up their networks to law enforcement agencies for the purpose of tracking suspects will receive liability protection under the bill.
- "Linking Patent Goes to Court"
BT Group, the former British telecom monopoly, is going to court to defend a patent it says covers hypertext links, which are used ubiquitously on the Internet. Its first potential victim is Prodigy, the longest-standing Internet Service Provider. The lawsuit has banded together Web developers, programmers, and businesses against BT Group, which stands to lose tremendous public goodwill by pursuing the patent claim. The technology community in general has been against such broadly applied patents. Part of the effort against the BT Group claim is gathering evidence of previous hypertext use, called prior art in legal terms. So far, one video from Stanford University's Web site shows Internet pioneer Douglas Engelbart clicking on text in a rudimentary computer program to bring up another page of text back in the 1960s. Sill, opponents of BT Group's suit worry that the firm would not venture to defend its patent if it was not sure of its case in the first place.
- "A Robot Revolution is Coming Your Way"
USA Today (02/11/02) P. 16B; Baig, Edward C.
The annual Demo technology conference in Phoenix will showcase technology from Evolution Robotics, a software company created by Idealab CEO Bill Gross. Gross envisions his company laying the foundation for personal robots that exhibit a degree of autonomy. Prototypes on display at Demo will have the ability to read books, follow people while negotiating obstacles, and respond vocally when they are addressed. A simple programming method will also be demonstrated, Gross hopes. The technology incorporates a dashboard interface that allows users to write commands by dragging and dropping pictures of objects. Evolution's standard "open software platform" will be licensed to third-party developers and manufacturers, who will assemble the actual robots. Gross expects Evolution's first mass-market robots to enter the commercial space this year. "I strongly believe in the next decade we're going to see service applications of robots in society and in the home, to a larger extent than we've seen before," predicts Evolution advisory board member George Bekey. Among the technological trends fueling the development of increasingly sophisticated robots are the emergence of smaller, cheaper, and more powerful computer chips, audio recognition and speech synthesis technology, wireless technologies, and the spread of the Internet.
- "Tech Trainees Remain Upbeat Through Slump"
SiliconValley.com (02/10/02); Ha, K. Oanh
Many Silicon Valley residents who struggled through high-tech training programs in order to net a lucrative job--only to lose it because of the tech slump--do not regret the investment, saying that it has improved their skills and boosted their confidence. Low-income residents can take advantage of nearly a dozen certification programs, such as Menlo Park's Opportunities Industrialization Center West (OICW). These programs are still full despite layoffs that have forced many high-tech employees to collect unemployment while searching for new positions. Nevertheless, many graduates are confident about their futures, adding that they have gained important skills, interview savviness being one. Furthermore, graduates whose prior schooling never went beyond a high-school level say they have developed a desire for more knowledge, and often further their education after certification. But the hard fact remains: There are fewer positions available for graduates, who often face rivalry from more experienced laid-off workers.
- "U.S. Funds Open Source Security Hub"
Business Week Online (02/07/02); Poulsen, Kevin
A new online clearinghouse to check the security of open-source code has been awarded funds from the U.S. Defense Department, which plans to use more open-source software in the future. The Sardonix project will consolidate efforts to check for bugs in open-source software, which is more secure, in theory, because more people are able to scrutinize it. Until now, there was little cohesion or impetuous to the bug-checking effort. The Sardonix portal will list all the code that has already been checked and all that has not, and will reward reviewers according to how much code they look at and how many bugs they find. The code, too, will receive scores based on cumulative ratings given by those who check it. WireX Communications chief researcher Crispin Cowan, Sardonix project leader, plans to implement a grading system for reviewers similar to those on Slashdot and popular volunteer distributed computing efforts.
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- "From Computer Games to U.S. Prison Cells"
Moscow Times (01/29/02) P. 7; Naumenko, Larisa
Piracy will continue in Russia, says Dmitry Sklyarov, the first person to be indicted under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998. Although he says the Russian government should create tougher copyright laws that crack down on the distribution of pirated products, Sklyarov believes nothing will change because money from piracy trickles back into the hands of the government. Sklyarov is back in Russia, having reached a compromise with the U.S. government that would drop charges related to writing a software program that allows people to use Adobe Systems' eBook Reader to copy eBook files. However, Sklyarov must not violate any laws for one year or until the trial against his employer ElcomSoft ends. He must also appear as a witness against the Moscow-based software company during the trial, which is most likely to begin on April 15. Sklyarov says Americans supported his cause in the form of street rallies and Web sites that called for his release. "Perhaps they are truly concerned with this law and they are trying to do whatever they can to change the situation," he says. In addition to piracy, Sklyarov is critical of the Russian government for its lack of support for the local programming industry, which continues to see its best managers go abroad in order to earn a living.
To read more about ACM's argument against DMCA, visit < a href="http://www.acm.org/felten">http://www.acm.org/felten.
- "Indian IT Firms Urged to Train Their Sights on Europe"
Indian IT service companies need to focus on expanding their European business in order to capture more of the global market. India's IT growth has skyrocketed in the last few years due to outsourcing contracts secured from U.S. companies, but experts gathered at the NASSCOM 2002 conference in Mumbai said the next step is for Indian IT service firms to branch into the European market, which some said was just as large as the U.S. market. Some Indian IT firms have demonstrated the wisdom of targeting the European market, such as Mastek, which receives more business from Europe and expects to grow profits by 150 percent this year, five times as much as its other Indian peers. Although India's four largest IT groups receive, on average, less than 20 percent of their revenue from Europe, the portion of their business coming from the Continent grew by 59 percent in the first three quarters of last year, compared to just 13 percent growth from the United States. ABN Amro's Alexandra Cook says Britain should be the first place Indian companies look when thinking about Europe because of its open market, language, large financial services industry, and its role as a command center for American companies in Europe.
- "Tech Upgrades With a Hidden Downside"
Financial Times (02/08/02) P. 26; Newing, Rod
Small companies are especially vulnerable to the hidden costs in setting up new IT systems because buying decisions are often made by senior management who lack the time to devote to the project that IT departments in larger companies can afford. Gartner analysts estimate that hidden costs of new IT systems eat up 0.4 percent of annual profits for companies with less than 20 workers, and 0.3 percent of profits for slightly larger businesses. Management time is one of the largest hidden costs, and should be planned for. In fact, Tate Bramald Chairman John Tate says setting apart time each month to review new IT systems for optimization is a good practice, even if things seem to be running fine. Training and support are also large hidden costs, as well as potential crashes due to inadequate security or backups. Application service providers can eliminate some of these costs, besides training and implementation, and allow for predictable fixed costs.
- "Tried and True Beating Out InfiniBand"
CNet (02/06/02); Shankland, Stephen
Computer experts now agree that InfiniBand technology will be regulated to the data center and other enterprise-level network applications, whereas it was once speculated it would completely take over the current PCI architecture. New developments in PCI technology have encouraged software and hardware developers to stick with that standard, especially since the upcoming PCI-X 2.0 chips will allow for data transfer speeds of up to 4.3 Gbps. In the future, new input-output technology called 3GIO will reach transfer speeds of up to 8 Gbps in specialized applications, coexisting with PCI-X chips. InfiniBand will be used in data center applications as originally planned, instead of becoming the ubiquitous data transfer standard people had expected. It can be used to detach CPUs from other components, so that rack space can be more efficiently managed. In the enterprise, it can make networked PCs interact faster, especially important with the advent of new high-end database software from companies such as Oracle and IBM.
- "Experts Veto 'Net Elections"
Technology Review Online (02/06/02); Essex, David
Although there is a pressing need for a more reliable voting system, experts do not think an Internet-based system will come about anytime soon, given unresolved issues relating to security and infrastructure. Computers owned by voters can be hacked, while those who vote under the hood of a corporate firewall might be monitored by network administrators. Faking one's identity over the Internet is easy to accomplish; one proposed solution calls for voters to be assigned a special ID during in-person registration, while another suggests a measure similar to absentee balloting in which online voters are required to submit documents. Complicating the situation further is the fact that elections are supposed to maintain voters' anonymity once their IDs have been confirmed. Furthermore, Federal Election Commission Chairman David Mason does not believe Internet voting systems can meet the FEC's standards. Meanwhile, researchers recommend using two technologies to improve the voting process: Optical-scanning systems and direct-recording electronic devices. The Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project has proposed a system that would record ballots, polling station locations, and other critical data on a memory card, but MIT political science professor Charles Stewart observes that deployment costs and local politics could act as roadblocks.
- "'Virtual' Guards to Patrol World's Borders"
Reuters (02/09/02); Christie, Jim
Sophisticated technology is being seen as a way to more quickly process travelers crossing national borders, but it also serves another function--the quick exchange of data to locate foreign visitors who may have malevolent agendas, a key consideration in the wake of Sept. 11. Technology companies are eagerly supplying products to aid these efforts: HNC Software, PROS Revenue Management, and Acxiom are building prototype projects to profile suspicious airline passengers; Oakland International, Dallas Fort-Worth, and other airports have deployed face ID systems from Visionics, Imagis Technologies, and other suppliers; and portable devices such as Palm handhelds could be used by border guards to screen people. President Bush called for stronger border screening in his State of the Union address, and promised to "use technology to track the arrivals and departures of visitors to the United States." Civil libertarians oppose face ID technology and other measures, arguing that they bypass basic freedoms and are not as reliable as promised.
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- "In Tokyo, Street Fashion Goes High-Tech"
Reuters (02/06/02); Mori, Akiko
Japan's street fashions may include the world's first wearable PCs for the masses. Fashion designer Sone Michie was a teacher at Tokyo's Bunka Fashion College until launching into a collaboration with Pioneer to create a fashionable, wearable PC jacket. Japan's Gifu prefecture is also sponsoring the project, which it hopes can bring more business to its garment industry. Michie says Japan's obsession with both fashion and high-tech make it the perfect starting place for this new trend. Pioneer industrial designer Naoki Harasawa says plans are in the works to add cell phones and MP3 audio capabilities to the jacket, which already boasts a organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen. Hitachi is already selling a $2,254 Wearable Internet Appliance to streamline factory operations. The device uses a belt-attached computer, handheld control unit, and head-mounted display, and would connect to a central server through a wireless local area network. Web Style Research Institute fashion expert Yoshimochi Obata expects such a device to gain mass appeal with the right marketing and features.
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- "Brands, Free Speech Clash Over Domains"
Toronto Globe & Mail (02/07/02) P. B21; Geist, Michael
Canada has emerged as the world's No. 1 protector of free-speech issues in the domain name field, despite the U.S. reputation for being the global defender of free speech. The United States has increasingly favored trademark interests in domain name disputes, a fact clearly apparent in comparing .com domain name disputes to .ca disputes, which are arbitrated under Canada's auspices. The UDRP has produced inconsistent rulings in regard to free-speech Web sites being challenged by trademark owners--sometimes favoring free-speech Web sites, but most often using a semblance of logic meant to squelch free speech and corporate criticism under the shield of trademark rights. A Jan. 2002 decision to transfer domain names to the German government away from a U.S. resident who promoted neo-Nazism at various Internet addresses is another example of attacking free speech because, while promoting Nazism is illegal under German law, it is not under U.S. law. In contrast, .ca dispute-rules have explicit, written protections for good-faith use of domain names for free-speech and criticism purposes in non-commercial manners. This explicit language is critical for the protection of free speech on the Internet, and will protect a new free-speech Web site at errorplan.com, which is dedicated to criticizing Air Canada's new "Aeroplan" program. Though Air Canada has announced intentions to sue over the site, Air Canada will not be able to use a "confusingly similar" trademark argument to trump errorplan.com's non-commercial use under .ca rules. Under UDRP guidelines, the decision could go either way.
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- "House Schedules Feb. 27 Broadband Deregulation Vote"
Newsbytes (02/06/02); Krebs, Brian
Broadband deregulation is the closest it has ever come to a vote in Congress, now that leaders of the House Commerce Committee and Judiciary Committee have come to a tentative compromise. Although the agreement still has to be polished, sources say it has to do with giving more oversight powers to antitrust regulators, while allowing the Bell companies to offer DSL without opening their local phone monopolies. The "Tauzin-Dingell" broadband deregulation bill is one of the most controversial pieces of technology legislation ever. The Bell companies say they will be able to devote more money to broadband rollout if they are assured greater profits--meaning less competition from startups that lease their local phone network infrastructure. Ken Johnson, spokesman for the pro-deregulation Commerce Committee, says the compromise currently being drafted would pass a vote by a wide margin, but there are concerns that upcoming campaign finance reform could push back its scheduled Feb. 27 vote.
- "Pervasive Computing: The Walls Are Listening"
Washington Technology (02/04/02) Vol. 16, No. 21, P. 22; Daukantas, Patricia
Smart Space Laboratory researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have used elements of pervasive computing to develop a prototype voice-recognition conference room. Pervasive computing is described as giving devices the ability to communicate with each other through a LAN, wired or wireless networks, or some combination of the networks. The idea is to enable people to make computations at a desktop PC or on a personal digital assistant, or even allow the pervasive computing system to make computations in the background, which is known as invisible computation. Open-source middleware, which links voice-recognition software, video cameras, and microphones, is at the heart of the NIST Smart Flow System designed by the researchers. The system can follow dictation and track people as they move around the room. "If I'm talking to you, and a computer can follow what the conversation is about, it can go out and get services," says NIST's Martin Herman, who adds that the computer can scope out online information related to the discussion. This would be a long-range goal for the meeting room. Herman says pervasive computing could turn up in other areas of everyday life, especially if computers and sensors are embedded in clothing, watches, shoes, eyeglasses, chairs, tables, and in walls.
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- "Faulty Memory"
U.S. News & World Report (02/11/02) Vol. 132, No. 4, P. 70; Sobel, Rachel K.
The job title of computer "operator" may have prevented six women from being written into the history of the ENIAC, the first electronic computer. Jennifer Light, assistant professor of communication studies and sociology at Northwestern University, says that in the 1940s someone who performed the role of a computer operator was considered a secretary, when in reality the women served as human computers. The wowmen worked with desktop calculators and pencil and paper to perform ballistics calculations, before the U.S. Army unveiled the ENIAC (electrical numerical integrator computer) on Feb. 14, 1946. They were responisble for programming ENIAC to compute ballistic tables, manually configuring the electronic computer's 18,000 vacuum tubes and 3,000 switches. There were no real guidelines for operating or programming ENIAC, says Jean J. Bartik, now 77. The tweaking of switches and wires is essentially the humble beginning of companies such as Microsoft. Physicist John Mauchly and electrical engineer J. Presper Eckert continue to receive credit for building ENIAC, but standard history has not told the story of the programmers of the first electronic computer. Some historians say the story needs to be told, considering how the computer industry looks at women as if they were newcomers, when they were there at the start.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "State of Web Services"
InfoWorld (02/04/02) Vol. 24, No. 5, P. 17; Johnston, Stuart
Web services are poised to be very successful, despite the fact that they may not all be as flexible, scalable, reliable, and affordable as advertised. Some companies have already implemented Web services to handle internal business operations: Nordstrom, for example, has optimized its online inventory management system using Web services. Meanwhile, major platform vendors are introducing sophisticated tools designed to ease the creation and deployment of Web services, such as J2EE 1.4, Sun's Java XML Pack, BEA's Cajun software development environment, and Microsoft's Visual Studio .Net. Users will be able to build Web services either visually, in Java, or both with Cajun, while Visual Studio .Net features multilanguage support for services that use Web Services Description Language (WSDL), Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI). Web services still lack unified security and authentication models, while user privacy issues are still being debated. It remains to be seen whether Microsoft's Passport or the Liberty Alliance standard will offer interoperability, although users will ultimately insist that rival authentication systems be compatible. Iona Technologies CEO Barry Morris predicts that Web services, fully developed or not, will debut in one to two years.
- "Technology Makes City Agendas"
InformationWeek (02/04/02) No. 874, P. 49; Swanson, Sandra
A new generation of techno-savvy mayors and an increased focus on security have boosted the role of IT in city government. Center for Digital Government executive director Cathilea Robinett says public safety is one of the starting points for mayors, when developing technology agendas. There are several examples of newly elected mayors making technology a cornerstone of their administration, such as Cleveland mayor Jane Campbell, who was recently elected after promising to establish an office of technology and CIO for the city. Campbell says she wants a solid technology infrastructure and e-government in order to attract more technology companies to the area. New York's new mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has also shown his appreciation for technology by making IT commissioner Gino Menchini his first appointment after taking office. New administrations have traditionally made appointments in other offices first, noted Robinett.