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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 4, Issue 314: Friday, February 22, 2002
- "Two California Bills Address Recycling of Electronic Discards"
SiliconValley.com (02/21/02); Levey, Noam
A pair of California senators have introduced legislation calling for electronic waste (e-waste) recycling programs. Sen. Byron Sher's (D-San Jose) bill would require consumers to pay an "advanced disposal fee" when they buy new cathode-ray tubes, a known source of lead. Meanwhile, Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) has proposed that electronics manufacturers either develop recycling programs or pay a fee to fund such an effort. However, representatives of the high-tech industry say such measures would threaten the competitive edge of California manufacturers, since other states do not impose such responsibilities on companies. A much better solution would be to wait until the federal government establishes national standards for e-waste management, according to the American Electronics Association and the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group. Statistics show that California households are stockpiling 6 million obsolete computers and televisions, a figure that worries Sher, Romero, and others. In addition to lead-filled cathode-ray tubes, electronics contain toxic substances such as mercury and cadmium.
- "Row Erupts Over European Patent Plan"
ZDNet UK (02/21/02); Loney, Matt; Thorel, Jerome
Advocacy groups for European software developers are complaining about the apparent involvement of representatives of the Business Software Alliance (BSA) in the drafting of the European Commission's software patent plan. Europeans have been adamant in saying they want to avoid U.S.-style software patent law, which they claim is too broad and used as a tool by large companies to crush smaller competition. A draft version of the plan was obtained by the EuroLinux Alliance with a name of a prominent BSA European director, Francisco Mingorance, cited as the plan's author. Mingorance has denied involvement in composing the plan, though the European Commission did take proposals and arguments from all sides involved. The BSA represents large technology companies, including Microsoft. In the United States, software patents have become a point of controversy and numerous lawsuits because they cover what some describe as simple business processes. The European Commission aims to limit software patents to code that demonstrates clear technical effect and novelty, according to a spokesman for the U.K. Patent Office.
- "Court Enters Entertainment Arena"
Associated Press (02/20/02); Kravets, David
An injunction that prohibited Andrew Bunner from posting DVD decoding software online was overturned by the 6th District Court of Appeal, which ruled that the measure violated the First Amendment. The DVD Copy Control Association, the original plaintiff in the case against Bunner, says the distribution of the software would give crooks the means to copy protected material on a wide scale. The case has been brought before the California Supreme Court, which has agreed to a hearing, although no date has been disclosed. In a similar case, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York forbade 2600 Magazine publisher Eric Corley from posting the same DVD encryption code last year, on the grounds that it violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
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- "Entrepreneurial Women Tackle Tech"
Medill News Service (02/20/02); Roy, Saumya
A report from the U.S. Small Business Administration finds more and more women qualified to start high-tech companies, yet few of them have the opportunity to do so because of a dearth of venture capital funding. Women-led firms received only 5 percent of funding last year, the report notes. The lack of venture capital is attributable to the fact that women "lack access to networks, so they are starting companies and have the know-how but not the know-who," according to Springboard director of programming Debra Fitzer. A major stumbling block to women gaining access is the fact that networks are male-dominated, says Patrick Von Bargen of the National Commission on Entrepreneurship. Meanwhile, Springboard President Amy Millman also notes that women entrepreneurs are in serious need of role models if they wish to increase their business savvy and negotiation skills. The SBA study is based on a poll of more than 1,000 female entrepreneurs who touted plans at conventions sponsored by Springboard, and over 50 percent of the respondents delivered business outlines in which the Internet and software were featured prominently. Almost half were business, science, and technology graduates, debunking the perception that women do not have the background to be business leaders. Women are turning to conventions such as those hosted by Springboard and incubators such as Women's Technology Cluster to help secure funding and expertise.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "The Grid Draws Its Battle Lines"
Wired News (02/20/02); Delio, Michelle
The Grid, a global mesh of interconnected computers from different organizations, is shaping up to become a competitor to Microsoft's .Net Web services platform. With backing from technology companies, the Grid will be able to push business applications such as supercomputing power on demand, direct online collaboration, and shared storage. However, most importantly, is the fact that the Grid project and supporting technologies are open source, in contrast to Microsoft's proprietary .Net platform. IBM vice president of Linux emerging technologies David Turek says the benefit of the open-source model in the Grid project is that it joins together the world's smartest programmers to make the best possible code. Department of Defense contractor William Reidy says one toolkit announced at the Global Grid Forum this week will help developers collaborate to make super-secure Grid applications. Platform Computing, a grid technology firm, unveiled its Platform Globus toolkit that makes use of infrastructures and standards developed by the Globus project, an open-source grid collaboration. IBM recently helped create the Open Grid Services Architecture, which lays the groundwork for how grid-enabled business applications will work using existing Internet standards.
- "Indian Programmers 'Not Taking UK Jobs'"
VNUNet (02/19/02); Nash, Emma
The U.K. managing director for Indian software firm Mastek, Mike Cast, disputed claims made by the Professional Contractors Group (PCG) that the new fast-track work permit rules in the United Kingdom would lead to less jobs for British IT workers. Cast said the United Kingdom has graduated only about 10,000 IT workers annually, while the shortage of skilled IT workers will likely grow to 330,000 workers next year, up from 220,000 workers this year. Moreover, Cast observed that British workers were less willing than foreign workers to take on programming tasks, instead preferring team leader and consulting positions. Outsourcing to Indian software firms also saves product development time, costs, and increases flexibility, he said. Last week, the PCG's Suzie Hughes noted that some U.K. companies took advantage of the new work permit scheme. Cast argued that generalizing the problem is not a responsible position and that the work permit scheme should not be blamed for the misdeeds of a few businesses.
- "In Search of the World's Costliest Computer Virus"
NewsFactor Network (02/21/02); Lyman, Jay
Computer security companies and IT administrators have little time to assess the damage done by computer viruses while they are busy fighting the newest threats. Although most experts agree that Nimda, Code Red, and SirCam were the most destructive viruses last year, few damage estimates consistently reach the same numbers. Symantec Security Response research director Steven Trilling says the cost can usually be calculated by tallying the number of organizations that report infections, so that the group has an idea of the scope of the virus attack. Forrester analyst Laura Koetzle says that some cost factors are hard to pin down, such as lost work time, productivity, and reputation, though companies can more easily evaluate other numbers, such as cost of equipment and employee-hours spent. One company that has made a claim to definitive cost estimates for virus attacks is Computer Economics. The company's Michael Erbschloe says Computer Economics' figures usually include more cost factors than do other estimates, and so are higher. He put last year's Code Red at the top of the list, costing $2.62 billion, while SirCam and Nimda cost $1.15 billion and $635 million, respectively. Computer Economics says the Love Bug virus retains the top spot all time, costing organizations $8.75 billion. Symantec's Trilling warns of possible future viruses that could shut down the entire Web by taking advantage of home broadband connections, and says such an attack would seriously affect every person's daily life.
- "Security Confab Calls for U.S. Spending"
CNet (02/22/02); Lemos, Robert
The United States needs to spend more on beefing up security to prevent cyberattacks, according to members of a keynote panel at the RSA Conference 2002. "While the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 took an unexpected form, we have to make certain that the next attack is better anticipated," explained panel moderator Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). The country's heavy dependence on networks makes a cyberattack's potential for disruption all the more likely, argued Federal Aviation Administration CIO Dan Mehan. The panel concentrated on the FAA's systems, while Mehan disclosed his agency's security practices, such as the separation of administrative data from air traffic data and the reliance on outdated networking protocols. Sept. 11 was a sobering turn of events that established the vulnerability of the nation, noted U.S. Navy CIO staff member Capt. Sheila K. McCoy, who added that money alone will not solve the problem; determining the amount of security required is also important. Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) urged that the cybersecurity initiative requires collaboration between the government and private industry as well as more money. "Everyone has to take part in being a cybercitizen, especially in the corporate world," he said.
- "Broadband: On the Fast Track?"
Medill News Service (02/21/02); Roy, Saumya
Technology and telecommunications companies are pushing for government action to spur broadband rollout. They say subsidies, tax benefits, and deregulation--such as that proposed by the Tauzin-Dingell bill up for a House vote next month--will all help increase the availability of broadband while decreasing the price. Broadband Internet, proponents say, is vital to maintaining American competitiveness. IBM CEO Lou Gerstner warned that the United States could drop from the list of top 10 broadband-connected countries if it does not take action soon and other chief executives of companies such as Dell, Motorola, Palm, and Microsoft have echoed similar pleas. Still, research shows that more than availability and price may be hindering consumers, since a Yankee Group study last year showed almost 80 percent of American homes have access to at least one form of broadband connection, while half of those have a choice of three or more providers. Still, the study found that only 11 percent of households were likely to sign up that year. Experts say killer apps that could drive broadband adoption could be telecommuting, telemedicine, or e-learning, though others say use will ramp up as numbers grow. So far, businesses have had the most immediate benefit from broadband Internet, since it speeds the transfer of large files.
- "Cheney Touts Importance of Tech in Visit to Valley"
SiliconValley.com (02/21/02); Schwanhausser, Mark
Vice President Dick Cheney wrapped up a four-day California tour with a speech at San Jose's Parkside Hall, in which he praised technology and its importance in beefing up the security and economy of the United States. He noted the Bush administration's efforts to ease export regulations for computers and high-tech gear, institute a permanent tax credit for technology R&D, and grant the president the authority to form trade agreements that are not subject to congressional amendment. However, attendees such as quality compliance engineer Que Le were disappointed that Cheney did not specifically address how the White House plans to revitalize the economy of Silicon Valley or find jobs for skilled workers. "He did talk about technology, but what is in there for the economy here?" inquired Le. Cheney supporters say the vice president was not there to offer new initiatives, but to demonstrate that administration's understanding of the importance of the tech industry. Cheney's appearance also served to demonstrate the vice president's accessibility.
- "India Inc Battles Image Problem"
Attempts by Indian IT companies to move up the value chain and offer more than computer maintenance services are hampered by foreign businesses either being unaware of their existence or expecting low rates. The industry wishes to remedy this situation by turning the name "India Inc" into a marketing brand for software services. "I want to make India and IT as synonymous as France and wine or Switzerland and watches," declares National Association of Software and Service Companies President Kiran Karnik. India's cheap labor pool could take up a sizable portion of growing IT service markets, such as enterprise application integration services and IT-enabled services. McKinsey consulting firm principal Noshir Kaka believes that Indian outsourcing is about to surge dramatically as a result of more people amenable to doing business in the country; McKinsey says more than three-quarters of the global top 40 companies are establishing or expanding Indian offices.
- "ICANN Board Members Plan Washington Retreat"
Newsbytes (02/20/02); McGuire, David
ICANN board members will be engaging in a "retreat" on Saturday, Feb. 23, in which open discussions will be held but no decisions will be reached, according to ICANN spokesperson Mary Hewitt. During the upcoming March meeting in Ghana, ICANN is expected to issue a decision on the issue of At-Large governance and to determine what percentage of ICANN board seats will be publicly elected seats. This topic may come up during the retreat's closed-door discussions, says Hewitt, who adds that ICANN board members have been desirous of meeting in a retreat-like setting for some time. ICANN board officials feel that the rushed nature of public meetings leave scant time for discussion. However, ICANN board member Karl Auerbach does believe decisions will be made "in peoples' minds" during the retreat--though no votes will be counted. Auerbach initially favored a retreat-style meeting but now feels the meeting is not "in keeping with ICANN's obligation to do things in public." Center for Democracy and Technology analyst Rob Courtney says that considering the complex issues facing ICANN, board members are reasonable in seeking additional time to discuss them. ICANN's retreat does not ring alarm bells as long as no decisions are made, says Courtney.
- "Group to Set Bug-Reporting Standards"
CNet (02/21/02); Lemos, Robert
Microsoft and several security companies came together to form the Organization for Internet Safety, a group tasked with setting standards for disclosing software vulnerabilities that may threaten Internet security. The group is currently finalizing its rules and membership with other software companies, according to sources close to the matter. One source says the group will announce its ultimate name and structure in the next few months. The organization, which was announced last November at Microsoft's Trusted Computing conference, wants to solve a debate between security researchers and software providers--namely, whether software security holes should be publicized as quickly as possible to spur software makers to solve the problem, or whether they should be given time to remedy the flaws before disclosure, and thus reduce hackers' opportunities to take advantage. A draft proposal concerning vulnerability reporting standards was released by a pair of security researchers this week. The proposal instructs researchers to alert software makers of the flaws they uncover, either directly or through third parties. Software makers then have seven days to respond, while those that use automated responses have 10 days. Furthermore, software makers have 30 days to try to fix the problem, providing researchers with regular updates every seven days.
- "OLED Displays See a Bright Future"
Investor's Business Daily (02/21/02) P. A14; Wilkinson, Stephanie
Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are poised to take over the display market within 10 years, say industry experts. A number of large technology companies are teaming with pioneering OLED firms to make the first products, which will eventually lead to wearable, molded, and folding displays. OLED displays shine brighter than liquid-crystal displays, do not fade out when viewed at oblique angles, and eventually will be cheaper to produce since they involve less materials and production steps. One key to the success of OLEDs in the mainstream market is the build-out of mass production facilities, says Stanford Resources analyst Kimberly Allen. Until then, she says OLEDs will be available only in the high-end niche market. Pioneer has already produced a OLED-screen radio for Mercedes-Benz and Motorola has incorporated an OLED screen in a $250 cell phone. Other hurdles to OLED technology are their relatively short life span--just 10,000 hours--and their sensitivity to air and moisture, which requires special packaging. Janice Mahon, vice president of technology with Universal Display, a Sony OLED partner, says Sony will unveil OLED screens for its VAIO line of notebook computers this year. Eastman Kodak, which invented OLED technology, is planning to incorporate OLEDs into digital cameras soon as well.
- "Nanotech Initiative Will Focus Next Year on Developing Instruments, Advisor Says"
United Press International (02/11/02)
National Science Foundation (NSF) advisor on nanotechnology, Mihail Roco, says the agency will spend its portion of fiscal 2003's National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) funding on sensors to fight biowarfare, nanoscale manufacturing, and pioneering new instrumentation. President Bush boosted NNI funds by 17 percent in his fiscal 2003 budget proposal to $679 million, $221 million of which will go to the NSF. Roco says the NSF has a clear role to help the country's nanotechnology efforts and should focus on developing new instrumentation methods for measuring delicate nanoscale machines, especially biological ones. Traditional measuring devices destroy or incapacitate nanotechnology. He also notes that industry is continuing to pump more and more money into nanotechnology, and that the NSF's role will be to build up a future nanotechnology workforce. He estimates 800,000 nanotechnology workers will be needed in the next 10 to 15 years.
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- "Girls Warm Up to IT"
Computerworld (02/18/02) Vol. 36, No. 8, P. 62; Hayes, Frank
The general perception that girls tend to shy away from computers, have little faith in their technology skills, and are not qualified for IT may be reversed through the advent of instant messaging (IM). Statistics have painted a gloomy picture of women's IT prospects: Women currently account for only 25 percent of the IT workforce, while Colorado School of Mines' Tracy Camp notes that the number of female computer science undergraduates has fallen from 37 percent in 1999 to 20 percent in 2000. The prevailing wisdom is that girls' interest in computers is sparked at a later time than boys, who are drawn in via violent computer games; nor can girls reach the same levels of desire or enthusiasm to pursue programming that boys can. But IM may be for girls what computer games are for boys. A Girl Scouts survey of young women between 13 and 18 finds that IM is important, and is getting more of them on the Net. Two-thirds of the respondents report that they go online several times a day, seven days a week. There are also indications that IM is not only encouraging girls to join chat rooms, but to create Web pages and study programming languages. For girls, IM is primarily a tool for socializing, which can translate into business skills.
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To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Vanishing Act"
InformationWeek (02/18/02) No. 876, P. 22; Chabrow, Eric; Khirallah, Diane Rezendes
The IT industry has lost a substantial number of workers over the course of the past year. The U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the IT industry has lost about 270,000 workers from Jan. 2001 to Jan. 2002, 9.1 percent of the tech workforce, with a number of workers leaving the field altogether for other careers. Although some question the bureau's numbers, many former industry workers say they do not intend to return to the tech field. Still, IT managers and other industry observers are confident that tech companies will be able to find all of the IT workers they need once the economy turns around. In the meantime, former IT workers have turned to remodeling homes, teaching, and doing administrative work for insurance companies, for example. Many are now reevaluating their lives after having to endure the dot-com collapse, industry layoffs, the Sept. 11 tragedy, and the downturn in the economy. And many former IT workers now believe they will be happy in other careers that are not as hectic as the tech industry, and in fields that will allow them to work more with people and have a greater impact on society. Still, some former IT workers would not mind returning to the industry. Some experts even believe former IT workers will be called on to apply their IT skills in other roles in the corporate world.
- "Partners for Protection"
Intelligent Enterprise (02/01/02) Vol. 5, No. 3, P. 50; Doll, Mark W.
IT has boosted American productivity and market share, but it has also increased the vulnerability of the country's IT infrastructure, writes Mark W. Doll of Ernst & Young. An assault on the infrastructure could seriously damage computer-controlled systems, such as those that handle proprietary data and information related to personal identities, criminal records, and medical records, he notes. Doll urges that public and private concerns work together to remedy this situation, since both sectors' productivity stems from the same IT systems. The Bush administration has made a move in this direction through its Executive Order on Critical Infrastructure Protection; meanwhile, hardware and software firms are standardizing the posting of security holes and patches for customers, and corporate leaders are conducting infrastructure vulnerability tests. However, Doll maintains that appropriate systems and standards for authentication, authorization, interoperability, recovery, and validation must be in place as well. The last process is especially important, as it keeps track of the other systems' effectiveness. Doll warns that "The failure on the part of an individual organization to properly maintain the security of its IT systems could have a potentially disastrous ripple effect on the nation's collective security."
- "Social Networks"
Internet Computing (02/02) Vol. 6, No. 1, P. 91; Raghavan, Prabhakar
Social network theory can be applied to the Internet, and has become so significant that developers are incorporating it into the design of search engines and enterprise portals. Web portals can be used to model relationships between people, the Web pages they build and access, and the interactions between them. In an adaptive ranking model, the value of a document is raised by the frequency with which it is accessed in previous searches. Role-based recommendation engines incorporate the user's place and context in the company to make more detailed and precise document suggestions. Meanwhile, the tendency of users to converge into overlapping communities could be exploited by portals, if they can outline groups that relate to the user's context. The resulting system would then be able to locate the documents or experts that have the closest contextual match. Overall, the Web will continue to serve as a testing ground for social theory that can be translated to enterprise information management, although the translation is not seamless.