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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 4, Issue 312: Friday, February 15, 2002
- "FCC Rules Seek High-Speed Shift"
Washington Post (02/15/02) P. E1; Krim, Jonathan
Local telephone companies may be able to exclude smaller competitors from using their networks for digital subscriber line (DSL) services that they themselves also offer. A new proposal from the FCC would loosen the restrictions in order to foster greater broadband rollout, saying that the Clinton administration's strategy to create competition inside the different broadband delivery methods was not working. Instead, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said that competition between cable, DSL, and satellite broadband would be enough, virtually conceding to local monopolies in each of those sectors. The move would boost the value of high-speed lines to local telephone companies, encouraging them to expand their networks. Technology companies have largely encouraged the move because they expect pervasive broadband to fuel a new revival in the technology market. Currently, only 10 percent of American households have broadband, even though over 80 percent have access to the service.
- "House Passes Stimulus Bill Over Democrats' Objections"
Newsbytes (02/14/02); MacMillan, Robert
An economic stimulus package that offers a corporate tax break for companies to write off high-tech equipment was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives 225 to 199, but House Democrats do not expect Senate Democrats to support it. The House stimulus language would give businesses a 30 percent bonus depreciation for writing off high-tech gear over three years, and would raise the spending cap on IT equipment by $15,000. The Alliance for Small Business Investment in Technology says the turbulent economic situation makes the approval of the depreciation bonus necessary. "The need for IT product expensing and realistic depreciation incentives tied to the useful lives of these productivity tools has not passed," the agency explains. "And small businesses--increasingly dependent on current IT tools to stay competitive--need these tools now in order to grow, create jobs, lead and firm up any recovery from of the recession." The stimulus language takes its cue from an adoption tax credit bill, H.R. 622, which Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) also used for the Democrats' version of the package. However, unlike the Senate package, the House package does not extend the R&D tax credit.
- "U.S.: Cyber Strike Could Earn Military Response"
NewsFactor Network (02/14/02); McDonald, Tim
Terrorists or foreign governments that launch an attack on the Internet infrastructure of the United States could face an armed response, according to White House cyber security advisor Richard Clarke, who warned that many essential infrastructure systems have probably been compromised already. Clarke did not go into detail about what specific kind of cyber attack would elicit military action. "That's the kind of ambiguity that we like to keep intentionally to create some deterrence," he explained. The U.S. General Accounting Office conducted a study of 24 federal agencies' security systems last year, and gave 16 of them a failing grade. Government computers offer very little defense against hackers and terrorists, the report concluded. The government is expected to spend roughly $2.7 billion in cyber security this year and $4.2 billion next year. The relative ease and low cost of attacking the country through cyberspace makes such an assault a probability, said security experts. They added that basic utilities such as water and power, as well as telecommunications and financial systems, could be seriously damaged in such an attack.
- "Is Small the Next Big Thing?"
CNet (02/11/02); Kary, Tiffany; Shankland, Stephen
The U.S. government, leading technology companies, and new players are all making sizable investments in nanotechnology projects that could potentially be applied to medicine, the military, and computer systems. President Bush has earmarked 17 percent more funding for nanotech research in his proposed budget; a technique to build microscopic computers has been patented by Hewlett-Packard and researchers at the University of California; and Applied Materials has developed devices designed to aid the assembly of nanoscale semiconductors. IBM has a lead on HP and Intel with multiple nanotech projects, including the Millipede high-density computer memory technology, energy-efficient carbon nanotubes, and magnetic tunnel junctions. HP and its academic collaborators are focusing on molecular computing for greater memory storage, while Intel is building nanoscale transistors that can run more power-intensive features. Meanwhile, startups such as Nantero are working on nanotech products, including organic-based memory chips. The next 20 years should see the emergence of nanobots capable of replication and other forms of molecular assembly, say most scientists. The market for nanotech products and services should be worth $1 trillion by 2015, according to the National Science Foundation.
- "DMCA Protection at U.S. Border"
Wired News (02/14/02); King, Brad
Consumers looking to buy modified components for their game consoles from overseas will likely have their items held by U.S. Customs officials, which uses the UPS' tracking system to determine the origin of packages. They are especially watching out for products from Lik-Sang, a video game firm that is accused of creating modifications that impinge on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) because they allow users to expand the uses of their games and game consoles. Shipments of Lik-Sang's NEO4 chip, for example, are being held because they allow people to play games copied onto CD-ROMs and DVDs with regional encryption schemes. UPS' Dan McMackin says other items are being held along with the contraband because Customs officials cannot identify exactly which products are infringing within a shipment. University of Minnesota computer science student Colin McMillen says his coder's cable from Lik-Sang was held. He was planning to use it to hook his Sega Dreamcast with his PC in order to code programs for the console. Fred von Lohmann, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the recent events are an example of how broad and restrictive the DMCA is, since companies and U.S. officials are using it to ban items that do not even break encryption. He notes that the modification chips for the PlayStation 1 do not break any encryption schemes because there are none on the console to begin with.
To read more about ACM's argument against DMCA, visit
- "'This Chip Will Explode in 5 Seconds': Imagining the Uses"
New York Times (02/14/02) P. E5; Austen, Ian
University of California at San Diego researchers have stumbled onto a new application for silicon--explosives. A postdoctoral chemistry student in Professor Michael J. Sailor's laboratory was working with a silicon chip that had gadolinium nitrate deposited on it when it unexpectedly exploded. Since then, Dr. Sailor's laboratory has focused on uses for the exploding silicon, which is created by adding some form of nitrate and expanding the surface area of the silicon by etching fine lines onto it. Because exploding silicon creates a special ultraviolet light, says Sailor, it could be used as field emission spectrometers that could test for dangerous chemicals on the spot. Users would ignite the compound to be tested with the silicon and its flame color would produce instantaneous results, whereas laboratory analysis could take days. Computer security and chip manufacturing firms have contacted Sailor about another possibility, that the silicon could be used as a remote self-destruct mechanism, but he explains that it would only destroy the chip, not necessarily the hard drive or other memory. Such an application would largely be wasted on consumer devices, but could possibly be used to protect secret chip designs the military uses in nuclear warheads and other mechanisms.
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- "Internet Industry Pushes More Flexible ID Method"
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has announced that an industry-wide digital signature standard, the XML-Signature Syntax and Processing standard, is now ready to be incorporated into products by companies such as VeriSign, IBM, Microsoft, and other applications developers. Although in many countries digital signatures have been legal for years, the lack of interoperability among networks and applications has impeded digital signatures' widespread use. Boosting industry-wide interoperability will allow digitally signed, electronic documents to pass through many intermediaries in order to facilitate e-commerce transactions; for instance, someone requesting a car loan may sign and send a document to their car dealer, who in turn signs the document and sends it to a bank's loan officer, who then may sign the bank's approval and return the document to the car dealership for commencement of sale. Participants in backing W3C's development of XML Signature include VeriSign, Citigroup, Sun Microsystems, Baltimore Technologies, and Motorola; Microsoft's Robert Wahbe says that Microsoft has already embedded XML Signatures into Visual Studio .Net and the .NET Framework.
- "ICANN Appoints Security Chief--Update"
Newsbytes (02/12/02); McGuire, David
New ICANN security chief Stephen Crocker will take a leadership role in appointing 15 to 20 international experts to a new ICANN Security Committee, a committee Crocker will chair. "The people he pulls in will probably be top notch," says ICANN's Mary Hewitt. Karl Auerbach, who says he has known Crocker for some time, is pleased with Crocker's appointment, though Auerbach believes ICANN has moved too slowly in terms of DNS security. ICANN should have taken concrete DNS security steps long ago, such as enhancing DNS recovery-protocols, says Auerbach. Hewitt says that ICANN and the rest of the Internet addressing community, including registry operators and registrars, have been working to secure the DNS systems. "The best and brightest have been working on this," Hewitt says, adding that ICANN has helped coordinate the efforts to strengthen security.
- "What Are the Hot Trends in Technology?"
IDG News Service (02/11/02); Weil, Nancy
The Harvard Business School's Cyberposium this week outlined hot future technologies, including artificial intelligence, wireless, 3G networks, and biometric security. In the near-term, experts said security would be an important growing technology sector, although a balance would have to be made in how and where more invasive security technologies are implemented. Panelists said frequent travelers at airports, for example, would be identified and shuttled by security checkpoints. Many of the speakers at the Cyberposium said 2002 was the year voice-over-Internet protocol would take off because the technology and infrastructure are in place. More pervasive wireless and 3G network technologies will also take the forefront of technological advances in the coming years, and wireless technology will be incorporated more into everyday life, working in household appliances and not just with computers and phones. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence is continuing to make advances towards being on par with human intelligence, a point Outerware CEO Michael de la Maza puts 50 years in the future. He expects AI to quickly progress after that point.
- "Black Engineer of Year Conference Opens Today"
Baltimore Sun (02/14/02) P. C1; Walker, Andrea
The Annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference hosted by Career Communications Group aims to ignite interest in science and technology among young people, especially African-Americans. The 16th annual conference starts today, and will feature activities that Baltimore schoolchildren can participate in. Seminars will be held on leading edge technologies and career paths. Almost 10,000 schoolchildren, college students, professionals and executives from across the U.S. are expected to attend this year's conference. "It's our responsibility to make sure we're stakeholders in the well-being of the next generation," urges Career Communications Group President Tyrone Taborn. "We've got to get kids thinking about technology in kindergarten, first grade and second grade." Taborn is concerned that a lack of interest among children in science and technology will lead to shortage of engineering professionals.
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For information egarding ACM's joint participation (with CRA and IEEE) in the Coalition to Diversify Computing, visit http://www.npaci.edu/Outreach/CDC/
- "Rep. Boucher Plans Privacy, Open Access Bills"
Newsbytes (02/13/02); MacMillan, Robert
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) has announced his support for a pair of bills, one of which requires cable providers to open up their infrastructure to rival ISPs that wish to provide high-speed cable access; the second bill proposes that both online and offline businesses institute opt-out policies in which they do not collect and sell their customers' personal data if their customers so ask. The latter takes its cue from legislation drafted by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection. Many privacy advocates are opposed to the measure, preferring an opt-in policy in which Web sites would be required to ask permission from consumers before collecting such information. Stearns also suggests that consumers be barred from suing Web sites for violating their privacy, which pro-privacy groups are also set against. Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee like Boucher and Stearns, says congressionally-approved online privacy regulations must be mandated before states can go ahead with plans to mandate their own policies. Boucher says the opt-out bill will be introduced in March, while the open access legislation will likely be presented "in the next couple of months."
- "Entertainment Industry's Copyright Fight Puts Consumers in Cross
SiliconValley.com (02/12/02); Gillmor, Dan
The entertainment industry is pushing further into consumer rights in its fight to control digital media, such as is stored on personal video recorders (PVRs) and music CDs, writes Dan Gillmor. Although consumers currently have the ability to skip through commercials in programs recorded on their VCR and make another copy of their favorite album for personal use, Hollywood and the recording industry want to strip those capabilities from new technology. Hollywood and the largest TV networks have launched a lawsuit against PVR maker SonicBlue in an attempt to rid its devices of a user-friendly keyword function that lets people search programs stored on the device according to what they like. Another target in the suit is the ability to fast forward through commercials, which users are usually able to do in almost every other medium. The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has been used in almost every instance the entertainment industry tries to infringe on consumer rights, such as shutting down the online file-trading network Napster and their fight against decryption technology used to break the digital locks on their content. Philips, which helped invent CD technology, has laudably attacked the recording industry's attempt to cripple the CD format by making CDs that are not re-recordable, Gillmor notes. If these huge intellectual property owners are successful in their ultimate aims, it will eventually affect scholarship and free access to the pool of public knowledge, he warns.
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- "Why This Link Patent Case Is Weak"
Wired News (02/12/02); Delio, Michelle
British Telecom is pursuing its patent case for hyperlink technology in the United States, saying it is the owner of the near-ubiquitous Internet technology. In a preliminary hearing earlier this week, Judge Colleen McMahon said BT's claim was tenuous and most legal experts do not expect BT to win. Even if the company does prove its 1989 patent is the foundation for hyperlink technology, they say it is far too late to be able to collect any retroactive fees, and extremely difficult to control the usage of hyperlinks in the Internet's vast universe of Web sites. Programmers, for their part, say developing a new protocol for linking Internet content would be easily accomplished. Media lawyer Fredrick Gorsen says BT could possibly win a limited victory giving it control over hyperlinks used in specific settings. BT says it has overlooked the patent until an update of its 15,000 global patents was conducted in 2000. "Assuming for a moment that they have a valid case, then BT made a huge error in allowing that patent to sit unclaimed for so long," observes patent attorney Vincent Jerham.
- "French Decision Prompts Questions About Free Speech and Cyberspace"
New York Times (02/11/02) P. C3; Kaplan, Carl S.
American civil libertarians are battling an increasing tide of Internet censorship imposed by other countries, especially as many nations seek to quell racist and other hate speech after the Sept. 11 attacks. The French case against Yahoo! is now in appeals court in the United States after a U.S. judge ruled two previous French court rulings were unenforceable in the United States. Yahoo! was originally sued two years ago for allowing Nazi memorabilia on its English-language auction sites and ordered to implement filters to keep French people from viewing it. Law experts say the ruling could set a precedent for other instances of international Internet censorship and has ignited worries over the liability of multinational companies. Although companies with international assets are vulnerable to foreign laws, firms based solely in the United States would be able to operate as they please under the First Amendment. The Council of Europe, made up of 43 countries including the United States, is discussing an addition to its general cybercrime treaty that would make illegal the computerized dissemination of hate speech.
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- "The Great Giveaway"
New Scientist (02/02/02) Vol. 173, No. 2328, P. 34; Lawton, Graham
Open source technology is seen as a way for people to combat companies who stifle innovation by keeping important technical details of their products, such as software source code, out of the public eye by enforcing intellectual property regulations. Open source products such as the Linux operating system are freely available and can be copied, shared, and modified without any legal obstacles under the General Public License, better known as a copyleft; ensuring such freedoms raises the products' chances of being improved and enhanced quicker, thus increasing their adaptability to technological change. Open source also symbolizes a political view that favors freedom of expression and casts a wary eye on corporate power and the tight control of information. Although the benefits of open source are easily demonstrable for software, they are not as obvious for other industries, such as music. "Music and most books are not like software, because they don't generally need to be debugged or maintained," writes Eric Raymond in his essay, "The Cathedral and the Bazaar." Encyclopedias show more promise, but the slow progress of the first free online encyclopedia, Nupedia, is less than encouraging. Much more successful are efforts that appeal to the open source community's sense of goodwill: Nupedia's companion volume, Wikipedia, has attracted more contributors because its rules are less formal than those of Nupedia. The article itself has been released under a copyleft as part of an experiment to study the outcome.
For information regarding ACM's work in the area of intellectual property, visit
- "IT Is Recruited for U.S. Defense"
eWeek (02/11/02) Vol. 19, No. 6, P. 19; Carlson, Caron
For the past 10 years, the government has let control of IT innovation slip from its hands to that of private enterprise. A resurgence of government-driven scientific advancement is in order with the Bush administration earmarking $52 billion for IT in its fiscal 2003 budget, because IT is a vital component of the nation's homeland defense effort. Oracle's Steve Perkins expects more collaborations between government and private industry. IT security initiatives are expected to consume $4.2 billion of the 2003 budget, and ramped-up cooperative projects in this area will probably fuel advances that will trickle down into corporate markets. Mark Forman of the White House Office of Management and Budget has urged industry leaders to partner up to provide full solutions to the government's IT problems; Perkins notes that these too could be commercialized. The Bush administration is seeking $722 million in funding to facilitate inter-agency and inter-government information exchange. The government is also looking to buy products and services that do not require customization, thus bringing more high-end systems into the commercial sector. Forman insists that IT management practices must be improved if IT problems at federal agencies are to be remedied.
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- "Layoff Lessons Learned"
Computerworld (02/11/02) Vol. 36, No. 7, P. 28; Solomon, Melissa
Employment experts say the experience of the Reagan-era recession has enabled older IT workers to respond more positively to the current downturn in the economy than young IT professionals. While older workers are preparing to land their next job, younger workers remain doubtful about their employment prospects, having "graduated into a recession," with the thought in the back of their minds that the dot-com boom would come to an end, according to Allison Hemming, president of interim workforce agency The Hired Guns. Hemming has started pink slip parties, networking opportunities for laid-off workers, that have become popular across the country. David Zimmer, president of IT consultancy American Eagle Group, agrees that networking is key to finding a new job, adding that 80 percent of jobs are found through personal networks. He adds that volunteering IT services at professional associations and nonprofit organizations is an excellent networking strategy. Meanwhile, ProActive Solutions VP Steve Ovadia is an advocate of creating IT work portfolios of letters, charts, videos, and memos that demonstrate work performance. Hemming says the government has set up free retraining programs that are helpful to IT professionals. Former employers also offer outplacement services that are just as beneficial to industry workers, she adds.
- "Offshore Outsourcing Grows to Global Proportions"
InformationWeek (02/11/02) No. 875, P. 56; Greenemeier, Larry
Offshore outsourcing continues to mature as a market for U.S. companies in search of inexpensive technology skills. India is considered the premier destination for offshore outsourcing, but U.S. firms are starting to look at markets such as China, Russia, and the Philippines as well for workers with programming talent. India will have about 625,000 IT workers by 2005, but market demand will be for more than 1 million offshore IT workers by then, according to Forrester Research. The rising demand for offshore programmers and project managers comes at a time when U.S. companies must lower their costs to survive the downturn in the economy. Through offshore outsourcing, U.S. companies can expect to save as much as 25 percent of what it would cost to do similar work domestically. U.S. manufacturers have a huge head start in offshore outsourcing, but U.S. professional-services companies such as IBM Global Services and Accenture are catching up. Forrester found in an interview with 50 IT executives that their firms spent an average of $8 million--about 12 percent of their IT budgets--on offshore outsourcing in 2000. However, by 2003, Forrester projects that companies will spend an average of 28 percent of their IT budgets--$28 million--on offshore outsourcing.
- "Cryptographic Abundance"
Technology Review (02/02) Vol. 105, No. 1, P. 90; Berson, Tom
Cryptographic knowledge has been freely distributed since the late 1970s, and the time is coming when cryptography will be used widely and inexpensively to ensure security of messages, writes Xerox Palo Alto Research Center scientist Tom Berson. He says system designers generally avoid cryptography because of the outdated assumption that it is expensive, difficult to comprehend, and hard to deploy. This has led to tools and electronic devices that reveal the information displayed on them and whose digital identities are vulnerable to theft and misuse. The benefits of widespread cryptographic resources have the potential to resonate throughout every strata of people, systems, and data. Spam and e-surveillance could be eliminated, identity theft could be thwarted, and systems would be capable of verifying the authenticity of any communications and digital content that users receive. But for these things to be realized, consumers must be weaned off the belief that low levels of privacy and security are the norm. A major stumbling block is the fact that consumers' privacy interests are at odds with the marketing interests of information systems providers.