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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 4, Issue 315: Monday, February 25, 2002
- "Technology's Toxic Trash Is Sent to Poor Nations"
New York Times (02/25/02) P. C1; Markoff, John
Electronic waste is being sent to third-world countries for recycling, where poor regulations threaten the environment and people's health, according to a report from five environmental groups. E-waste exports often go to poor nations because developed countries have stricter environmental rules, according to the study's authors. The report concentrates on the Guiyu region of Guangdong, China, where electronic gear is recycled: The operation has polluted the groundwater while children are often employed as laborers. "They call this recycling, but it's really dumping by another name," says report co-author and Basel Action Network director Jim Puckett. Fifty percent to 80 percent of obsolete electronics from the United States is shipped to India, Pakistan, China, and other developing nations, the report finds. Unfortunately, the authors say that an accurate account of how much waste has been exported is impossible to determine. EPA scientist Robert Tonetti says the European Union may require manufacturers to take responsibility for product recycling and disposal, but the United States is hesitant to impose similar regulations. The groups furnishing the report, in addition to the Basel Action Network, are Toxics Link India, Pakistan's Society for the Conservation and Protection of the Environment, Greenpeace China, and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.
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- "Wounded High Tech Bleeds More Jobs"
San Francisco Chronicle Online (02/23/02) P. A1; Zuckerman, Sam
The unemployment rates in San Francisco and Santa Clara County last month were 7 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively, according to a report from the state Employment Development Department; this raised California's unemployment rate to 6.2 percent, a 0.1 percent upgrade from December and a 1.5 percent increase from January 2001. The trend reflects the Bay Area's heavy reliance on a weak technology industry, while Southern California is relatively stable thanks to a more diversified economy. In fact, 30,200 jobs were added in Southern California last month. Meanwhile, the Bay Area is suffering from its highest jobless rates since the mid 1990s, although the job market shows improvement along the fringes of Silicon Valley. Some 81,200 layoffs took place in Santa Clara in the year ending in January. Paul Greenblatt of Cupertino's Career Action Center notes that more unemployed hardware production and technical personnel are availing themselves of job skills training services. "The cuts are so deep core people are being let go," he remarks. Many laid-off workers hail from startups whose venture capital has dried up.
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- "U.S. Digital Copyright Law Under Attack"
Reuters (02/24/02); Abreu, Elinor Mills
Lawyers representing groups in support of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) defended the law in a debate sponsored by Internet security firm RSA Security recently. Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder and Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow and an ElcomSoft lawyer attacked the law as compromising free speech and limiting consumers' fair use rights. ElcomSoft is being sued by the Justice Department for its software that copies e-books coded in Adobe software. One lawyer for the Business Software Alliance said intangible products should receive the same copyright protection as tangible products and presented a vision where consumers would be able to access all types of Internet content--for a flat fee and for a limited time. The ElcomSoft lawyer said DMCA limits legitimate rights of consumers and legitimate products, such as the e-book software currently being debated; consumers should be able to make copies of their e-books for personal use, and software firms should not be held accountable for anyone who misuses their software.
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To read more about ACM's argument against DMCA, visit http://www.acm.org/felten.
- "Seeking to Bridge the Science Gap"
Financial Times (02/25/02) P. 10; Guerrera, Francesco; Cookson, Clive
European Union research commissioner Philippe Busquin is pushing for more research and development spending by European governments and businesses in order to eliminate the huge spending disparity between the Continent and the United States in that area. He has set a target that the EU as a whole will increase its R&D spending as a percentage of gross national product from 1.9 percent to 3 percent in eight years. The United States currently spends 2.6 percent of its gross national product on R&D and is increasing that number at a rapid clip. The report accompanying Busquin's framework says the EU can accomplish this goal through tax breaks, government subsidies, bank loan guarantees, and building up an American-style venture capital base. Among these options, tax breaks and venture capital seem the most likely to succeed, as the other measures would find opposition from EU fair competition regulators. Busquin's report also singles out private investment as one of the most important factors in the transatlantic research gap, since American companies spend 73 percent more than European counterparts, with the gap continuing to widen. The EU Commission is already working on a shared patent system that would cut red tape and allow startup companies to more easily protect their innovations, thus encouraging more private venture capital investment.
- "Va. Legislators Look Ready to Pull the Plug on Tech Training Program"
Washington Post (02/25/02) P. E1; Johnson, Carrie
A major initiative in Virginia that offers technology training to those seeking careers in the tech sector may have its funding reduced or cut completely due to state budget concerns. "[The Northern Virginia Regional Partnership] has been the cornerstone of what we have attempted to do for the last five years in bringing workers into the technology workforce," says Science Applications International President Michael Daniels. NVRP has helped 9,000 adults gain skills in computer programming, networking, and other tech areas through inexpensive courses, while 2,600 middle-school students have been drawn to NVRP's summer technology camp program, hosted at local community colleges. If the program's funding is pulled, it is unlikely that government or the private sector will support it, some people say. On the other hand, only 2,349 out of 9,164 NVRP graduates say they were able to secure IT jobs. Meanwhile, Dice.com reports that tech workers in the Washington-Baltimore corridor receive the fifth-biggest salaries in the United States. Regional employees receive an average salary of $75,373, while the national average is $68,400. IT management, systems developers, and project managers typically enjoy the highest salaries nationally, according to the study.
- "Tech Transformation: Once Dependent on Agriculture, Ireland Has Carved a High-Tech Niche"
SiliconValley.com (02/23/02); Lee, Dan
Ireland's technology economy is maturing, despite the economic downturn plaguing the technology sector worldwide. The country attracted many leading technology companies, including Intel, Oracle, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and Hewlett-Packard, to set up their European operations centers there because of the low-cost, English-speaking workforce. Ireland also boasted the lowest corporate tax rates in Europe. As a result, 60 percent of European packaged software and about one-third of European PCs hail from Ireland, and the unemployment rate has dropped to half of many European neighbors' rates. Irish executives also say the country is getting more development work while manufacturing is moving on to cheaper sites in Asia and Eastern Europe. Microsoft's Paul Rellis says that although the Europe-Asia-Middle East manufacturing process of the Xbox game console has been moved to other locations, testing, development, and services for the Xbox are based in Ireland. Nevertheless, Ireland is still vulnerable to the global economy: Ireland's Economic and Social Research Institute reports that growth of the country's gross domestic product has fallen from 11.5 percent to a projected 3 percent between 2000 and 2002.
- "ICANN Chief Proposes Major Overhaul of Domain-Name Body"
Reuters (02/24/02); Sullivan, Andy
ICANN President Stuart Lynn proposed on Sunday, Feb. 24, to a closed-door meeting of ICANN's board that ICANN's publicly-elected board members be abolished and replaced with governmental representatives who would be considered as representing the typical Internet user. Lynn argues that his proposal would allow ICANN to focus on Web browser and email issues rather than on internal issues, that it would stabilize ICANN funding, and would be a better means to achieve public representation because national governments would be more representative of people than would officials who are elected through costly, worldwide elections. ICANN board member Karl Auerbach had only scorn for the proposal, while ICANN board member and European representative Andy Muller-Maguhn noted that few board members asked Lynn any questions--a quiescence that struck Muller-Maguhn as surprising. Lynn's proposal would also downsize the ICANN board to 15 members, with five coming from governments, five from technical and business groups, and five nominated by a special committee.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Security: 3 Confabs' Killer App"
Wired News (02/21/02); Delio, Michelle
Security was the focus of most of the software and hardware products on display at three large technology gatherings in New York recently. The Internet World Wireless East and Pocket PC conferences catered to business interests while the Seybold Seminar is a meeting for graphic artists. At Seybold, an entire day was given to discussion of digital rights management, as artists weighed the need for art in the public domain with payment for their work. Much of the talk and products at Internet World Wireless East and Pocket PC centered on network and wireless security and making content accessible by wireless devices. Judging by the new PC-cum-phone devices abounding at the Wireless World and Pocket PC shows, wireless-delivered data will be increasingly important. Microsoft's Brian Shafer said future PDAs will come equipped with keyboards, global positioning systems, and phones.
- "The Murky Debate Over an Internet Address Database"
New York Times (02/25/02) P. C4; Stellin, Susan
The Whois database stores the name, mailing address, email contact, and phone number of domain name owners, though many domain name owners input fake data in order to safeguard their privacy, a practice that is sparking debate over the future of the Whois database. On one side is law enforcement, marketing companies, and trademark lawyers, all of whom want a more accurate and accountable Whois database so that they can track down domain name owners engaging in illegal activities, or activities that infringe upon trademarks. Marketers want increased access also, and often buy Whois data from registrars while promising not to email or phone the names they receive--but do so anyway, say some registrars. Privacy advocates would like restrictions on who can access Whois contact information. Registrars do not want to be made responsible for verifying domain name-owner contact information, but with registration revenues receding, some registrars now see the Whois database as a source of marketing income and may want to see that Whois information is made more accurate. Congress is concerned with the accuracy of Whois information, though verifying such information would be close to impossible, according to both DomainRegistry.com President Larry Erlich and Register.com's Elana Broitman. Privacy advocates are especially concerned about a global Whois database being developed by VeriSign that would include ccTLD ownership records. VeriSign director of international policy Miriam Sapiro says that "a lot of people want a better system for accessing information...about domain name registrants on a universal basis," though Miriam adds that what type of information has yet to be decided, and that VeriSign's work is going forward in accordance with ICANN.
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- "Human Rights Application Not Finished"
CNet (02/19/02); Lemos, Robert
The Peekabooty program unveiled at the CodeCon in San Francisco is designed to offer a way for people to access online information that may be suppressed in some countries, but project leader Paul Baranowski says it needs six more months of refinement. Using the peer-to-peer network model, Peekabooty sends anonymous data requests by not including the originating Internet address. It also masks the censored data as an e-commerce transaction, a move that Baranowski says should make it difficult for oppressive nations to halt such activity. Baranowski, copying the success of the SETI@Home model, has also incorporated a screensaver into Peekabooty: It uses gagged cartoon bears to represent censored machines, while anonymous network nodes are signified by bears wearing shades. Peekabooty was originally developed by the Hacktivismo hacker group, and was passed on to Baranowski and programmer Joey De Villa.
- "Intel Explores Ultrawideband Technology"
ZDNet (02/19/02); Spooner, John G.
Intel is looking at uses for new ultrawideband (UWB) technology that sends wireless data short distances at speeds of up to 500 Mbps. Intel Labs' Communications Interconnect Technology researcher Kevin Kahn says the technology could be put into commercial use in five years' time and could replace wired high-speed connections such as USB 2.0, which currently sends data at 480 Mbps. Another popular wireless standard, 802.11b, already has wide adoption rates and sends signals up to 150 feet, but transfers data at only 10 Mbps. Kahn says that standard would likely remain the dominant choice for office networking because UWB would require separate radios for each computer, though Intel is also working on an integrated radio computer chip that could be manufactured cheaply. Some aspects of UWB still need clarification, says Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds, such as how different UWB data streams would be kept separate and protected. Reynolds says the technology has promise, but that it could be eclipsed by yet another new wireless technology before its initial commercial rollout, which he sets at three years to four years.
- "Blah, Blah, Blah and Blog"
Wired News (02/18/02); Manjoo, Farhad
Weblogging, or blogging, is gaining popularity and has garnered attention from major news outlets such as National Public Radio, Time magazine, and London's The Times. However, along with the new acclaim has come new criticism, especially as the quality of blogs declines as more people try their hand at the new medium. Blogger, the most popular blogging Web site people use to write their daily online logs, has registered 41,000 users. Recently, two established bloggers, Dave Linabury and Leia Scofield, released their second annual Anti-Bloggies awards for the worst blog writing. Despite the decline in overall quality, many blogging enthusiasts maintain that the medium be made even more popular and easy to use. Dave Winer, founder of blogging tool developer Userland Software, says the real value of blogging will come when professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers are able to put their knowledge into daily Weblogs for everyone to peruse. His company also demonstrates the potential commercial value of blogging, which Winer says should supplant email in the workplace, as his seven geographically dispersed
employees collaborate through blogs.
- "Firms Fear Computer Enemy Within"
London Guardian (02/25/02) P. 20; Bowers, Simon
According to a survey of 100 U.K.-based businesses with yearly revenues exceeding 50 million British pounds sterling, more than half of the companies polled said that fraud and industrial espionage committed by an employee presented more of a threat than outside hackers or email viruses. Last year, the San Francisco-based Computer Security Institute estimated that insider breaches cost businesses an average of $2.7 million per incident, as compared to $57,000 per outside hack. Many companies refuse to discuss internal breaches, and the problem is compounded by companies' failure to employ proper encryption technology and password protection.
- "The Future of Computing: Let Battle Commence"
Economist (02/16/02) Vol. 362, No. 8260, P. 64
Microsoft has launched new tools to develop Web services and a software framework to run them, and the new offerings have put the software giant's .NET plan on an equal footing with the Java-based software platform, Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE). The release could have a major impact on the future of digital technology, if Web services live up to all of their hype. A demand for Web services would encourage companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and Sun to pursue efforts to use the Internet as a tool for turning a network of machines into one huge distributed computer. The competitors envision Web services as a way to offer all kinds of electronic offerings, such as a virtual travel agent that uses the various services of providers to book flights, ground transport, hotels, and entertainment. Ideally, Web services should make use of open standards, but applications for .NET will only run on the Windows operating system. Java is seen more as an open standard because its applications will run on any popular operating system. Down the road, .NET could become the platform of choice for PC users and small businesses, but large businesses and users of set-top boxes and mobile phones are likely to use J2EE. Interoperability is still a possibility, if the Feb. 7th announcement of the Web Services Interoperability Organization for testing vendor compliance with XML standards is an indication.
- "The Shape of Things to Come"
Washington Technology (02/18/02) Vol. 16, No. 21, P. 18; Jackson, Joab
The fiscal 2003 budget proposal of President Bush sets aside a little more than $5 billion for the National Science Foundation. As for computer and IT research spending, there is a 2 percent increase from $515 million in 2002 to $527 million, which is nearly flat when inflation is taken into account. Although it does not appear that the IT industry has a lot to look forward to in terms of new spending on research, the NSF will be involved in some areas that will have an impact on computer technology. For example, the NSF will be able to use $221 million on nanotechnology, and $10 million could be funneled to computer and information science technologies experts to pursue projects on quantum computing, nanoelectronics, and biological-based computational systems. "Both [nanotechnology] and [IT] can only achieve their full potential hand-in-hand," notes NSF director Rita Colwell. Meanwhile, the NSF will use about $20 million on four multidisciplinary, multi-institutional learning centers as they pursue efforts to use IT for learning, and an increase in science and engineering graduate research fellowships to $25,000 should produce more engineers and programmers for the IT industry. The NSF plans to focus its IT research on large-scale networking, high-end computing, improved communications systems, classroom/IT integration, and digital archives for libraries. Other areas of interest include cybersecurity, which has received another $17 million in funding after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; middleware; and data mining.
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- "The Case Against Knowledge Management"
Business 2.0 (02/02) Vol. 3, No. 2, P. 80; Stewart, Thomas A.
Effective knowledge management does not settle on one particular resource, be it software, wetware, classroom training, hands-on experience, or a technical or social background. These aspects are all interdependent, and recognizing that fact will lead to success. For example, consultants and auditors can use PricewaterhouseCoopers' KnowledgeCurve system to access news services, online training courses, best practices, and so on. However, managing partner George Bailey notes that most people prefer to look to others for help rather than refer to the system first. He adds that the company's most commonly used knowledge management tool is a Lotus Notes email list nicknamed "Kraken" that any employee can use. Its advantages include easy accessibility, question-directed inquiries, the use of tacit and latent knowledge, and the easy processing of fuzzy or informal questions. "Knowledge management is much more effective if it is not a standalone button on somebody's PC but is integrated into a key business process," says Sopheon CEO Andrew Michuda. The knowledge to be managed must be specified at the outset; the work group, the knowledge it requires, and whether the company is a standardizer or a customizer must also be established.
- "Israel: High-Tech Haven"
Upside Today (02/02) Vol. 14, No. 1, P. 38; German, Kent
Israel has emerged as a high-tech giant over the last two decades due to a combination of factors. The Israeli government has taken an active role in high-tech development, with support taking the form of technology parks and incubators, tax holidays and loans for startups and research, and a durable currency. Check Point's Steven Schoenfeld says the Israeli workforce offers many advantages to technology companies, including an academic background, knowledge of English, and a solid entrepreneurial spirit. Israel is often compared to Silicon Valley as being an ideal location for creative, informal, and direct individuals, according to Jerusalem Venture Partners founder Erel Margalit. "Some of the best conditions for innovation [are] in a small place where the people are tight and influence each other in that way," he explains. It is also attractive to Russian emigres and others, whose scientific backgrounds tend to complement the engineering backgrounds of Israel's native workforce. Israel's military has also been critical to many of the country's technological innovations: Both men and women face a mandatory three-year stint in the military, during which time they can gain a technical background; this relationship has led to a strong Israeli presence in the telecommunications, semiconductor, and security sectors. Many Israeli companies admit that they lack vital marketing skills, and so are forging relationships with U.S. companies to close the gap.
- "Reduce Through Reuse"
Industry Week (02/02) Vol. 251, No. 2, P. 67; Vinas, Tonya
Companies are pushing for more reuse of software components as a way to save both time and money. Flashline, of Cleveland, Ohio, offers Component Manager, which assists firms in building an in-house repository of software component code for reuse. Flashline CEO Charles Stack says one of his customers implemented a "20 percent reuse" policy for 2002, and another major automaker is compiling a component archive for its supply-chain partners to use. Cisco Systems enterprise architecture senior manager Jim Cooke says his company is consolidating its reuse practices, noting that the benefit is clear when the development costs for an application are saved each time it is reused. Gartner predicts prewritten application frameworks and component code will be used in 70 percent of new applications by 2003. Gartner's Mike Blechar says application templates will become more commonplace, most often introduced by consultants or outside developers as a base framework that will be customized to fit the particular situation of each business.