Association for Computing Machinery
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 Compaq or ACM.

To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.

Volume 4, Issue 313: Wednesday, February 20, 2002

  • "Case Could Shift Balance In Debate on Public Domain"
    New York Times (02/20/02) P. C7; Harmon, Amy

    The Supreme Court will hear a key case in the battle over intellectual property rights when it decides whether or not to uphold a 1998 law that extends the life of copyrights 20 years. Experts say the case focuses public scrutiny on the issue and is a win for those that want to free content, regardless of the ruling. Currently, copyrights can last over 100 years, much longer than the first ones issued in the 1700s. Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig will represent the plaintiffs in the case and argues that the Internet and digital technology have shifted too much power into the hands of copyright holders, which used to have control over only a limited range of published material. Now that the Internet makes content instantly and globally available, it is necessary to feed creativity by freeing content from the ownership of a few corporations, he says. He also noted that content holders such as Walt Disney have benefited greatly from works in the public domain, such as Victor Hugo's "Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Andersen. Walt Disney is currently joining in a suit against SonicBlue, which makes a digital TV recorder with features to send TV programs over the Internet.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/20/national/20MEDI.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "RSA: Cybersecurity Czar Urges Cooperation, Spending"
    InfoWorld.com (02/19/02); Costello, Sam

    White House cybersecurity czar Richard Clarke called for increased spending and awareness of cybersecurity issues and more collaboration between government and industry in his keynote address at the RSA Conference 2002. Such cooperation would help thwart cyberattacks that could potentially be as serious as the Sept. 11 attacks, he said. "The vulnerabilities are too well known for someone not to use them in a big way," Clarke noted. He cited federal efforts to boost awareness of the problem such as the National Cybersecurity Alliance, which targets home users; a federal-industrial warning information network; a 2003 expansion of the government's IT scholarship program that doubles the number of participating colleges; and an upcoming national simulation and analysis center that models the interaction between infrastructure and networks. Industry also needs to pull its weight in the cybersecurity effort, making products secure while boosting its own infrastructure security with more spending, he said. Furthermore, companies must get involved with cybersecurity groups, Clarke explained. "We have to say 'it's not my company's problem, but it is my industry's problem,'" he urged.
    http://www.infoworld.com/articles/hn/xml/02/02/19/020219hnczar.xml

  • "High-Tech Discards Threaten Environment"
    SiliconValley.com (02/19/02); Levey, Noam

    Electronic waste (e-waste) is accumulating as more and more hardware becomes obsolete, and proponents and leaders are trying to figure out what to do before it becomes a major ecological problem. Discarded machines contain cadmium, mercury, lead, and flame retardants that can become hazardous. The problem is particularly pronounced in California, where the California Integrated Waste Management Board estimates that over 6 million obsolete computers and TVs are being consigned to household storage by citizens. Although e-waste recycling programs have been implemented by California cities and major electronics manufacturers, many advocates say the scope of such programs is not wide enough: A better solution would recycle millions rather than thousands of electronics. State officials are mulling over who should pay for such a program, which could cost over $500 million. People close to the matter say that the high-tech industry has a responsibility to rectify the problem, and charging consumers for recycling services does not work. Suggestions run the gamut from funding a recycling system through additional fees on new electronics purchases to consumer deposits on new electronics; meanwhile, Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) will float a bill this week that would force electronics manufacturers to pay a state fee unless they establish take-back initiatives. Manufacturers want California to hold off on instituting e-waste regulations until a national e-waste program can be organized, according to Kelly Milton of the American Electronics Association.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/2705907.htm

  • "How to Harness the Hidden Power on Office Desktops"
    Financial Times-IT Review (02/20/02) P. 2; Harvey, Fiona

    Distributed computing, peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, and grid computing are all names given to emerging ideas that seek to pool the processing power and storage capacity of many individual computers. Companies looking to make the most of their current assets during the slumping economy can network their existing desktop systems to provide supercomputing power, file-sharing networks, and collaborative workspaces. Larger corporations that need to process huge amounts of data, such as utility companies' billing operations, can make use of the computing power afforded by distributed networks, which chop up processing tasks, send it out in small packets to be completed by separate computers, and put it back together once finished and returned. Several companies are currently working on software to solve the management problems this type of system causes, among them Platform Computing, Entropia, and United Devices. Intel has said it saved $500,000 on such a system used in its chip development research. Other business uses for distributed computing or P2P networks include collaborative workplaces set up online or on company intranets. Meanwhile, firms such as Groove Networks are creating systems where remote workers can meet in virtual meeting rooms to share files.
    http://specials.ft.com/ftit/FT38E8Q1TXC.html

  • "EFF Looks to Grassroots in CD Copy-Protection Fight"
    Newsbytes (02/15/02); Featherby, Kevin

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation is encouraging a grassroots letter-writing campaign to back consumer electronics company Philips in its criticism of the recording industry's use of copy-protected CDs. Philips, which co-invented the CD format, has said that the new copy-protected CDs are not actually CDs because they do not function as CDs were intended to. Recording labels have been slow in their efforts to market copy-protected discs in the United States, with Universal's "More Fast and the Furious" the most popular example. The discs have been marked with a small sticker advising consumers to return the item if it does not play on their music devices. Jupiter Media Metrix analyst Aram Sinnreich says the recording industry is wrong in thinking it can prevent consumers from digitally reproducing music, even if they are successful in a copy-protected-disc campaign. He says that consumers that know enough to burn a CD on their computer also know enough to go online and obtain a pirate copy from a file-trading network such as Morpheus.
    http://www.newsbytes.com/news/02/174562.html

  • "IT Jobless Rate on Rise Again"
    InformationWeek Online (02/15/02); Chabrow, Eric; George, Tischelle

    Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data indicates that the percentage of jobless IT workers approached 6 percent last month, compared to 4.4 percent in December and 2.7 percent in the previous January. Data also shows that the number of IT workers fell 9.1 percent between January 2001 and January 2002, to 2.71 million. Meanwhile, employment experts say these trends should reverse themselves once the economy begins to recover. HotJobs.com suggests such a rebound is on the way with a 5 percent decline in IT job postings between December and January, compared to a 19 percent decline between July and August. Gartner research director Barbara Gomolski reports that laid-off workers are taking the opportunity to go back to school or reflect on their career choices.
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020215S0012

  • "Open-Source Projects Grab Dot-Com Dropouts"
    CNet (02/19/02); Lemos, Robert

    Programmers who lost their jobs in the dot-com implosion are gravitating to open-source projects, such as those showcased at the CodeCon conference this weekend. "It's incredible to me how many intelligent people, who are working on great projects, are unemployed," notes OpenPrivacy.org project leader Fen Labalme. Conference founder Bram Cohen says peer-to-peer is a particularly hot area right now, and his BitTorrent project focuses on this trend. Cohen is working on a way to build large peer-to-peer networks that do not suffer from bandwidth congestion. Meanwhile, the Reptile application is supposed to measure the quality of Internet content, and Labalme believes it could be used to determine the authenticity of data. Peekabooty project leader Paul Baranowski compares the spate of open-source projects to businessmen weathering tough economic times by continuing their education. "All the security guys are starting a project," he explains. "They can hone their skills, network and be better off for future jobs."
    http://news.com.com/2100-1001-839705.html

  • "Beefed-Up Global Surveillance?"
    Wired News (02/20/02); McCullagh, Declan

    Privacy and civil liberties groups warn that new amendments to an international cybercrime treaty could greatly enhance governments' abilities to monitor their citizens online. The Council of Europe is considering a secret Second Protocol amendment to its cybercrime treaty currently before member states for ratification. Although the base treaty has yet to be approved by any countries, measures included in the First Protocol amendment are already creating tremendous controversy because they criminalize online hate speech, which would violate First Amendment rights of American citizens. Congress is expected to vote to ratify the base portion of the cybercrime treaty, which would set ground rules for identifying and prosecuting cybercrime. Several Justice Department officials have attended the talks on the Second Protocol, which critics suspect will boost online surveillance, decryption, and encryption limits. The United States, Canada, and Japan hold non-voting seats in the Council of Europe, which includes most European countries.
    http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,50529,00.html

  • "Building a Better Robot Species"
    Boston Globe (02/18/02) P. D1; Kirsner, Scott

    Robots will surpass humans in intelligence in the near future, according to MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab director Rodney Brooks, whose new book, "Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us," lays out a robotic vision of the future. He says three main types of robots are being pioneered currently: automated drones that perform various tasks, remote-control robots humans direct, and humans with implanted robotics and computers. Brooks says that, along with superior intelligence, robots will be able to develop consciousness and emotions, heal and reproduce themselves. The challenges humanity will face in light of these developments are not unlike those faced when Galileo and Darwin first expounded their theories. Already Brooks' work is bearing real fruit. His laboratory collaborated with NASA to build the Sojourner robot that landed and explored the Martian surface in 1997, and his iRobot company already has robots operating on oil rigs and working with explosives for the British military. He says current trends in robotics are pushing scientists to make robots out of more "sloppy material" such as the organic compounds humans are built with, and to make robots that are self-sustaining.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Scientist Says It's Time to Change 'Virtual Tupperware' System"
    USA Today (02/20/02) P. 3B; Maney, Kevin

    Microsoft's Windows framework is to blame for the Enron collapse, according to Yale University professor David Gelernter, who says a different file storage method would have increased visibility and accountability. Gelernter has argued against the file-storage metaphor used in computers today since 1991, when he first proposed storing files according to time. He says a contextual narrative gives users a much better chance of finding what exactly they are looking for. In a corporate setting, Gelernter says every computer file could be stored in a central server, but employees would only be given access to files according to their permission levels. Gelernter says, "This electronic file cabinet idea is obsolete. It's furniture. We use software to turn computers into virtual furniture. It makes no sense." Gelernter will present his ideas again at this week's Internet World Wireless conference in New York.
    http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20020220/3875435s.htm

  • "Bush Proposes Deep Cuts to Program that Funds High-Risk Nanotechnology"
    Small Times Online (02/11/02); Brown, Doug

    The Advanced Technology Program (ATP), which supports high-risk nanotechnology research, stands to lose a significant chunk of its federal funding under President Bush's fiscal 2003 budget. The Bush administration is calling for the elimination of 42 percent of the program's funds, reducing its budget from approximately $185 million to $107.9 million. NanoBusiness Alliance director Mark Modzelewski argues that more money, not less, is needed. "I think [cutbacks] would be a mistake, especially in light of corporations cutting back on advanced R&D," he explains, adding that such a measure could cause the United States to fall behind other countries also pursuing nanotech initiatives. However, Modzelewski lauds Bush for boosting the budget of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Conservatives have lobbied for the dissolution of the ATP, labeling it "corporate welfare." The program has funded over 30 nanotech projects at a cost of about $128 million, notes Michael Baum of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The Progressive Policy Institute's Rob Atkinson opposes the budget cut, saying, "They are willing to fund only basic science, as if there is any real distinction now between basic and applied research, but they wont fund programs like the ATP, which plays a critical role in helping companies, particularly smaller companies, move technology along."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Weaving Grid Computing Into the Net"
    ZDNet (02/15/02); Shankland, Stephen

    Technology giants providing computing power for businesses and groups researching grid computing for academic purposes are collaborating to develop the infrastructure for grid computing on a global scale. IBM has already begun spearheading the partnership between the business and academic interests with the appointment of top strategist Irving Wladawsky-Berger to head up the company's grid computing efforts. A recent white paper describing an Open Grid Services Architecture also involved the work of an IBM researcher. The white paper is one of the purposes for the Global Grid Forum meeting this week, which will also feature the version 3.0 of grid software tools developed by IBM and the Globus open-source software project. IDC analyst Jean Bozman says the work being pioneered by the academic community will form the underlying architecture for new Web services and e-business strategies. Grid computing will enable companies' visions of utility computing. Sun Microsystems is also working on grid technology and recently announced that its iPlanet Web Services platform will work with its Grid Engine software to let companies access computing-on-tap. Sun's N1 program is also working to consolidate data center operations in a grid architecture.
    http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1105-839265.html

  • "Tech Workers, Once Fired, Now Rehired"
    Washington Post (02/18/02) P. E1; Johnson, Carrie

    Tech companies who let workers go because of the recession are starting to rehire them, but some are offering them only part-time work or reduced benefits as they wait for a complete rebound. Watson Wyatt Worldwide human resources expert Jane Weizmann notes that that many former employees' willingness to come back to companies that laid them off depends on how well they were treated when they were let go. "There are ones who left employees in the lurch with regard to travel reimbursements, vacation time," she notes. "In the future, those companies and names associated with them are going to have a hard time recruiting." One telecom worker says his situation has improved since he was rehired because his co-workers and managers treat him with more respect. He attributes this partially to the fact that they are all united in keeping the company solvent in these turbulent economic times. Other firms are quickly hiring back employees with hard-to-find skills, particularly in such areas as Web development, information architecture, and engineering.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Sending Old PCs Up the River"
    CNet (02/14/02); Skillings, Jonathan

    A soon-to-open federal prison in Atwater, Calif., will supply cheap labor to the electronics recycling effort by employing inmates to sort through and clean up used computers, monitors, and other devices. The facility would be able to process 5,000 CRTs a day, according to a member of California's Integrated Waste Management Board, who notes that the prison would have to comply with state regulations for hazardous waste disposal. However, there are those who oppose the use of prison labor because of the low wages inmates draw and their risk of being exposed to possibly toxic substances. Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition executive director Ted Smith calls the situation "scandalous" and believes that the e-waste recycling initiative should be the responsibility of electronic device manufacturers. "Since we have refused to embrace producer responsibility, we're relying on prison labor instead," he argues. Larry Novicky of Unicor, also known as Federal Prison Industries, says the prisoners' earnings from the program are poured into an "inmate responsibility" fund that is used to pay for child support, court costs, and other expenses, as well as provide prisoners with some means after their release. Furthermore, Novicky adds that prisoners can also acquire skills they can use when they are returned to society. The Atwater facility should be up and running in March and fully operational by the end of September.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1040-838011.html

  • "Russian Dolls Meet Nanotubes"
    InformationWeek (02/11/02) No. 875, P. 20; Ewalt, David M.

    Researchers at the University of California at Riverside and Tsinghua University in Beijing have developed a method to fabricate high-speed oscillators from nanotubes, carbon-based cylinders that offer considerable strength, flexibility, conductivity, and mechanical properties. One nanotube is sheltered within another; the inner nanotube is retractile, and bounces back out the other end when yanked. The tubes' interaction is practically friction-free, allowing for billions of oscillations per second. This property could revolutionize computer displays, fiber-optic systems, and other devices. Nanotubes also have potential as drug delivery systems or antibiotics, while some researchers are investigating the use of nanotubes as semiconductors. "Integrated circuits made from nanotubes would be really tiny, really high speed, and would be almost error-free," notes Joseph Chiang of State University of New York at Oneonta. "There are no problems with heating or hot weather."
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020208S0019

  • "Living with Worms, Viruses and Daily Security Alerts"
    eWeek (02/11/02) Vol. 19, No. 6, P. 20; Fisher, Dennis

    Overcomplicated software and poor development practices are mainly to blame for the sorry state of Internet and network security, according to experts. As more software is developed, the more chances there are for security flaws to crop up, according to AT&T Labs researcher Avi Rubin. "There are more lines of code and more integration than before, so damage from a virus or malicious program is greater because it has access to more software," he explains. Security incidents have steadily increased since the first self-propagating Internet worm was released over a decade ago, and not just because of more people using the Web. Tripp Hammer of Montana's Department of Environmental Quality says software vendors have a deep responsibility for the problem because they rush products to market without considering security issues. "I attribute the rise in security events and viruses in the past few years simply to Microsoft delivering poorly designed and tested products," he says. Microsoft, for its part, finally seems to be taking network security seriously with its Trusted Computing initiative, but the company is known for promoting "secure" products, only to have flaws uncovered later.
    http://www.eweek.com/article/0,3658,s=712&a=22612,00.asp

  • "Revenge of the Brahmins"
    Economist (02/09/02) Vol. 362, No. 8259, P. 55

    Now is the time for Boston's high-tech suburbs to return the favor to Silicon Valley, where the west-coast high-tech sector is taking the recession especially hard. Back in the early 1990s, Santa Clara bragged that Boston did not have a clue as the personal computer gained in popularity and the prospects for minicomputers started to decline. The young upstarts out west pointed a finger at an east coast culture that was too old and insular for a new, networked economy. However, Boston's high-tech workers learned from the collapse of the minicomputer industry and its impact on the regional economy, as out-of-work engineers and salesmen took to their garages, drawing up plans to start their own businesses. Today, Route 128 offers numerous companies in a wide range of high-tech industries from biotech, bioinformatics, software, telecoms-equipment, data-storage, to dotcom. These companies have replaced the likes of Apollo, DEC, and a handful of other old-fashioned manufacturers. And MIT has done its part to work more closely with the local high-tech industry, having added a number of key high-tech entrepreneurs to its ranks. These days, the reinvented high-tech industry in Boston looks much better than Silicon Valley in terms of unemployment, access to capital, and the stability of its software and Internet companies.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Tower Of Power"
    InformationWeek (02/11/02) No. 875, P. 40; Whiting, Rick

    If the amount of data that the typical business manages continues to double annually, many companies will have aggregated at least 1 petabyte (1,000 terabytes) of raw data in the next five years. The boom in data management is attributable to falling storage prices thanks to improved disk-drive technology and companies getting information from a plethora of resources, all to facilitate better customer service and smoother business operations. The Stanford Linear Accelerator database and the CERN prototype particle accelerator database are some of the academic projects on track to hit or surpass the 1 petabyte threshold in the next several years. But to prevent such huge databases from getting out of control, businesses must determine what kind of information they should collect as well as how much it costs, while at the same time automate management and administrative processes. Industry analyst Richard Winter estimates that the current purchase price for a petabyte database precludes a return on investment; but more companies are likely to buy such databases once prices fall from the $500 million to $750 million range to the more manageable range of $100 million to $250 million. Technology vendors insist that they are ready and capable to support petabyte databases, but customers are less confident--Winter, for one, detects a noticeable dearth of experience among vendors. Most IT managers will also need to adjust their everyday processes in order to handle a greater level of operational complexity than they are used to. Data distribution can relieve some of the pressure from servers, but this requires advanced clustering technology.
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020208S0009

  • "Ginger's Next Trick"
    Business 2.0 (02/02) Vol. 3, No. 2, P. 24; Saffo, Paul

    Dean Kamen's gyro-stabilized Segway Human Transporter, better known as Ginger, is not poised to make a major commercial impact due to its price, heavy weight, and limited battery life, writes Institute of the Future's Paul Saffo. However, Saffo says a new version of Ginger likely will feature Kamen's truly amazing breakthrough. Saffo says Kamen is working on an exhaust-free, lightweight engine that promises to boost Ginger's battery power by a factor of 10. This device, the Stirling engine, was first designed almost 200 years old, and consists of a sealed chamber containing a gas that is compressed by an external heat source. The gas drives a piston as it heats and cools. Kamen's engine could have even greater commercial potential as a quiet, energy-efficient, and pollution-free alternative to the two-stroke engine.
    http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,36742,FF.html