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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 4, Issue 316: Wednesday, February 27, 2002
- "Hiring of Foreign Workers Frustrates Native Job-Seekers"
Washington Post (02/27/02) P. E1; Johnson, Carrie
The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimates that 28,000 foreign workers were approved for H-1B visas in the fourth quarter of 2001, while George Washington University scholars calculate that the United States currently plays host to as many as 710,000 H-1B holders. Although fewer workers are receiving permits than they were last year, the figures still irk trade groups who complain that foreign employees are taking jobs away from Americans, especially in the technology industry. "The principle behind the H-1B visa is they [foreign workers] would not be taking the place of permanent residents," explains former IEEE-USA President Ned Sauthoff. "We know that unemployment in fields that we foster has more than doubled. There's capacity there that's not being applied." Companies such as Texas Instruments counter that there is a shortage of qualified American workers, so overseas labor is needed to fill the void. Furthermore, foreign workers say the economic recession is affecting them as well: Computer programmer Amar Veda, for example, notes that many of his associates are out of work or have left the United States because they could not get jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the number of U.S. tech jobs will increase from 3.3 million to 5.5 million between 2000 and 2010.
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- "Congressional Broadband Fight Intensifies"
New York Times (02/27/02) P. C4; Labaton, Stephen
The Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act, broadband deregulation legislation better known as the Tauzin-Dingell bill, is set for a vote in the House of Represenatives today. The bill, after millions of dollars in campaign contributions and other lobbying efforts, is expected to pass easily in the House, but faces insurmountable opposition in the Senate, say Senate leaders. The Baby Bell companies--Qwest, Verizon, SBC Communications, and BellSouth--are vying with long-distance carriers, cable operators, and independent ISPs over restrictions on the digital subscriber line (DSL) market. If the deregulation bill passes, the Baby Bells say they will be able to invest more money in broadband rollout without worrying about diluting their investment by opening up the new lines to smaller competitors. But opponents charge that the Baby Bells are trying to solidify their death-grip on the local phone market, and would be able to unfairly compete on long-distance service. Analysts say debate over the legislation has been extended partly because the politicians involved benefit from competition between two large political donor groups. Ironically, the recent passage of campaign-finance reform legislation is meant to curtail money's influence on politics.
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- "House Subcommittee OKs Cybersecurity Bill"
The Cyber Security Enhancement Act has been approved by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime. Sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), the bill would require the U.S. Sentencing Commission to adjust its criteria for passing judgments on people convicted of online crimes. The revised criteria would include the sophistication of cyberattacks, whether government networks were targeted, and whether the assaults were carried out for private or commercial gain. In addition, the bill would grant ISPs exemption from liability if they aid law enforcement agencies in tracing suspects online. Boehlert also supports the Cyber Security Research and Development Act, a bill that earmarks $880 million for research coordinated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill was passed by the House 400-12.
- "W3C Removes RAND From Patent Policy"
InternetNews.com (02/26/02); Olavsrud, Thor
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) says it has revised its Patent Policy Framework draft to exclude technologies that could imply royalties for patent-holding companies, and instead suggested all W3C standards should be created royalty-free. W3C Patent Policy Working Group Chairman Danny Weitzner said the document was almost entirely different from the previous version in terms of the reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND) licensing provision. Some RAND licensing could still be included, says Weitzner, but only in pressing circumstances where a standard that has been in development for several years faces conflict with a new patent. In that case, he said, an exception for a RAND license might be made, if the W3C could not convince the company to offer the technology royalty-free. The Working Group is still drafting a final version of the Patent Policy Framework and will continue to take public comments. Another issue that has yet to be resolved is how to deal with open-source licensing arrangements such as the General Public License.
- "PC Makers Soon May be Forced to Recycle"
USA Today (02/26/02) P. 1B; Kessler, Michelle
With electronic waste building up, electronics manufacturers are under increasing pressure to reclaim obsolete equipment. Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) will propose a bill requiring California's manufacturers to recycle their electronic castoffs or pay a fee to the state. Her proposal also requires all of the state's "hazardous" electronics to be recycled by 2006. Legislators in Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Nebraska are considering similar bills. E-waste is not only a growing problem in the United States, but in developing countries such as China, India, and Pakistan; these three nations recycle 50 percent to 80 percent of this country's collected e-waste, usually under poor safety conditions, according to a report from environmental groups. It costs about $20 to recycle a single PC, and manufacturers are afraid of losing sales by passing that cost on to the consumer. "The same arguments were made when we started talking about recycling plastic bottles," notes Romero. "And we're still drinking Coke and Pepsi."
- "Can the World Be Copyrighted?"
Wired News (02/26/02); King, Brad
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a U.S.-based consumer advocacy group, says it is teaming with similar organizations internationally to stop the worldwide implementation of national laws such as the United States' Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). That law, spurred on by the music recording and Hollywood industries, was passed in 1998 after the United States and other countries in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) formulated two treaties on international copyright protection. Those same two treaties have now been ratified by 30 countries, the minimum needed for implementation, though Japan, China, and the 15 countries of the European Union have not approved them internally yet. In response, the EFF is working with England-based Eurorights.org, Electronic Frontier Canada, and advocacy groups in Germany to counter the efforts of the recording industry. Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) CEO Hilary Rosen says the industry lost $600 million in sales last year due to piracy enabled by file-trading networks such as Kazaa. Efforts to prosecute companies and individuals propagating those technologies have been hindered outside the United States.
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- "Security, Defense Push is Making Government a Key Tech Customer"
Investor's Business Daily (02/27/02) P. A6; Howell, Donna
The need for security spurred by the terrorist attacks is encouraging the federal government to reach out to tech firms more directly. In October, the government issued a call for anti-terror technology proposals, and Association for Competitive Technology President Jonathan Zuck notes that the CIA and Department of Defense have been establishing venture capital organizations. It remains to be seen whether a balance can be reached between the government, tech firms, and contractors that dominate the government market. Greenberg Traurig tech attorney Harry Glazer observes that tech firms and government could get together with the assistance of lobbyists, who could replace contractors in some capacity. Firms believe companies with long-standing government relationships will flourish in the security-conscious atmosphere. For example, CACI CEO Jack London expects his company to net contracts as a result of budget raises for homeland defense projects and intelligence. Glazer advises companies to know the intricacies of federal contract bidding, or face losing out on intellectual property rights, among other things.
- "Bringing 3D to the Web"
CNet (02/26/02); Festa, Paul
Backers of the new open-standard 3D technology, Extensible 3D (X3D), say it will drive the future of 3D-based computing. Many of the same voices said the same thing about X3D's predecessor, VRML, seven years ago. Now, says VRML co-author Tony Parisi, computing and bandwidth speed are able to take full advantage of advanced open-standard 3D technology. Parisi is part of a X3D working group established by the Web3D consortium. The X3D protocol is also receiving support from the World Wide Web Consortium and the makers of the MPEG-4 video-streaming standard. Although e-commerce applications are likely, truly important applications will only be developed after 3D makes its way into operating systems, says W3D President Neil Trevett. He believes the shift to 3D interfaces would mirror the shift from text-based prompts to graphical interfaces in impact. Support by Microsoft would be a huge boost to X3D, especially inclusion in its next version of Internet Explorer, though the company may not adopt it because it prefers proprietary technology, says one analyst.
- "'Valley' in the Alps"
Financial Times (02/27/02) P. 10; Johnson, Jo
France is putting its technology and scientific expertise to work in the private sector in Grenoble, located in the Rhone-Alpes region. A 1999 law that eased restrictions on government research spinoffs has begun to show fruit. Memscap, a micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) firm, was created out of France's National Center for Scientific Research (NCSR) and has already established 22 patents and hired about 240 workers with business expertise. Jean-Michel Karam, the NCSR researcher that founded Memscap, says he has not hired any of his former colleagues on a permanent basis because he wants to push toward private-sector contracts, but employs NCSR researchers on a contractual basis. The French government, in addition to passing the 1999 law allowing significant leeway to entrepreneurial efforts such as Karam's, is also aiming to set up a new center for micro- and nanotechnologies in Grenoble in conjunction with the local government and a nearby technical university. One drawback to the government's encouragement, Karam notes, is the provision that allows government researchers to return to their old positions should their startups fail. He says that determined entrepreneurs must burn their bridges in order to succeed.
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- "Chip Advances Chase Moore's Law"
Wired News (02/26/02); Manjoo, Farhad
IBM and Intel both announced new semiconductors on Monday that promise to significantly boost computing speed. IBM's silicon germanium chip will operate at 110 GHz, a tremendous advance in speed. "This could theoretically process 3 million pages of text per second as it moves across a network," boasts IBM's Michael Loughran. However, the chip can only transfer data, not process it, which could limit its functionality. The company will allow other chipmakers to "peek behind the curtain" and incorporate the technology in their own chips instead of building its own chips based on the technology. Meanwhile, Intel announced that its Pentium 4 Xeon server chip will run up to 10 GHz and use simultaneous multi-threading, better known as "hyper-threading." Hyper-threading will ramp up computer response time by making a single chip look like two chips to the operating system. Both chip breakthroughs further extend Moore's Law, which Intel CEO Craig Barrett says is crucial if the tech industry is to break out of its recession.
- "More 3GIO, SCSI Fireworks Expected at IDF"
EE Times Online (02/22/02); Merritt, Rick
Intel is working to gather industry approval of its 3GIO system interconnect that will allow computer manufacturers to design revolutionary computer form factors. The new standard would allow, for example, computer modules that could use a TV as a monitor as well as allow literally plug-and-play, on-the-fly hardware upgrades. Device Bay, a similar platform concept proposed several years ago by Intel, Compaq, and Microsoft, was unsuccessful because it could not gather industry consensus. For now, Intel's 3GIO plans will be up to the PCI Special Interest Group consortium, which will likely push for the next generation PCI interconnect, PCI-X 2.0, to be used in servers while allowing 3GIO implementation to start on desktops. Intel is also going against the grain with its Serial ATA II high-speed interface, which boosts speeds for the upcoming Serial ATA to 300 Mbps and goes head-to-head against the broadly supported Serial Attached SCSI specification.
- "ICANN President Defends Proposed Reforms"
Newsbytes (02/25/02); McGuire, David
ICANN board member Karl Auerbach predicts that ICANN President Stuart Lynn's restructuring proposal will be approved by the ICANN board, which has been criticized in the past for allegedly rubber-stamping proposals by Lynn and the internal ICANN staff. The ICANN board plans to discuss an At-Large membership proposal at the March meeting in Ghana, a proposal that will set aside 33 percent of board seats for publicly elected members. However, if Lynn's proposal is eventually adopted, the proposal would void any At-Large restructuring. Lynn's proposal needs approval both from the ICANN board and the U.S. Department of Commerce, which must sign off on any ICANN policy-decision. Responding to critics who say that the proposal will eviscerate public-participation in ICANN, Lynn commented that "ICANN is not an exercise in global democracy," but rather more about getting results. Auerbach is more blunt in his assessment of the restructuring proposal. "I think it's a stupid plan," Auerbach says. "I think it's going to kill ICANN."
- "When Will AI Get Down to Business?"
NewsFactor Network (02/25/02); McDonald, Tim
Artificial intelligence (AI) research is being applied to the business world, but in subtle ways, experts contend. "AI has been eclipsed as a source of hype--a good thing--but the state of the science and the practice, including application to business, has never been healthier," insists Michael Wellman of the University of Michigan's Artificial Intelligence Lab. Online companies are enhancing customer service through Web robots or virtual personalities, which are based on a form of AI called relationship modeling. Companies such as Banter, Kanisa, and NativeMinds could cause AI investment for customer service systems to surge from $100 million in 2001 to $1 billion in 2005, reports Gartner. Meanwhile, advanced personalization technology from ChangingWorlds.com has enabled PTVPlus to furnish customers with online TV listings tailored to their viewing preferences, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) uses AI-based "expert advisors" to detect work site safety risks as well as determine how OSHA rules apply to them. AI has also found use in a HNC Software product that detects fraud, while natural language processing and information extraction software is used by MetLife to draw out medical and occupational information from insurance applications. The more popular visions of AI, such as advanced robots that are capable of thought, self-repair, and reproduction, are not too far off, according to Rodney Brooks of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
- "French System Ensures Good Research Translates Into Marketable Products"
Small Times Online (02/21/02); Oger, Genevieve
The French government has created a special committee charged with identifying promising scientific-business partnerships in nano and micro technologies. The National Network on Micro and Nanotechnology (RMNT) does not directly provide funding for the projects, but helps staff in the Ministry of Research and the Ministry of Economics and Industry to target promising endeavors. Businesspeople and scientists make up the committee, which meets three times each year and has approved 41 out of about 100 applications in its three years of existence. French Ministry of Research micro and nanotechnology official Alain Brun says French businesses need this type of strategic assistance to help them develop products that have a horizon past three years. RMNT director Claude Sonrel says the French scientific process is competitive with other countries' efforts, but that there is a gap between scientific and commercial development. One example of a project approved by the RMNT is a radio frequency microswitch that could be used in mobile phones in the future. The projects approved by the RMNT must have commercial promise, proven market demand, and the involvement of at least one business partner who can produce it.
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- "'Hackers' Find No Barrier to Files for Indian Fund"
New York Times (02/26/02) P. A1; Markoff, John
Court-appointed investigator Alan Balaran has proven that the Bureau of Indian Affairs has mismanaged the enormous Indian trust fund accounts. After reading that Interior Department CIO Dominic Nessi admitted that his agency, which houses the bureau, had serious network security problems, Balaran looked into the matter. He found that the data center in Reston, Va., had gaping holes in its physical security, allowing him to walk into the building and retrieve sensitive information from the paper shredder. Three months later, Balaran hired computer security firm Predictive Systems to break into the Bureau's Indian trust fund files, and later did so a second time, using a different route of attack, to set up an account in his name. That last incident proved that skilled hackers with no insider knowledge of the Interior Department's systems could steal money from the Indian trust fund. The federal judge that had appointed Balaran ordered the Interior Department's entire network to be shut down, affecting many subsidiary agencies whose networks could be used to gain access to the Indian trust funds. The department is now working with Balaran and Predictive Systems to ensure the security of its computer networks and has succeeded in restoring 52 percent of its systems after properly protecting them. Experts say the network security problems at the Interior Department were particularly egregious, but not isolated, and that similar vulnerabilities could be revealed at other federal agencies.
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- "Computer Programmer Sentenced in NJ Sabotage Case"
A disgruntled computer programmer was sentenced to more than three years in prison and ordered to pay $2 million for setting off a cyber "time bomb" in his former company's system, in the first such case to be tried under the 1994 Fraud and Related Activities in Connection With Computers federal law. Timothy Lloyd was convicted of coding N.J.-based Omega Engineering's system so that important programs that were "the lifeblood of the company" were deleted when an employee randomly logged in on July 31, 1996. The damages resulted in more than $10 million in lost sales and future contracts. The culprit allegedly committed the breach when he was demoted after serving as the firm's chief programmer for 11 years.
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- "IPv6 Enters the Real World"
InfoWorld (02/18/02) Vol. 24, No. 7, P. 35; Lawson, Stephen
IPv6 implementations are currently in an early stage and are still dealing with unresolved security issues, according to participants. IPv4 users may find migration to IPv6 a difficult proposition because they do not fully understand the new protocol's capabilities and lack the IPv4 capabilities they have become used to. For the technology to proliferate, there must be IPv6 support in firewalls. Juniper Networks supports the standard in its hardware, but leading core router provider Cisco has yet to do so; hardware IPv6 support could come sometime in 2002, says Cisco's Patrick Grossetete. Check Point Software Technologies says it may release basic software support for IPv6 in the second quarter, while Windows XP from Microsoft features a dual IPv4 and IPv6 stack. A Windows XP upgrade will include IPv6 support, as will Windows .Net Server. The chairman of the IPv6 Forum's Technical Directorate, Jim Bound, says that basic applications such as DNS, file transfer, and email applications are IPv6-enabled. CAD programs and databases are awaiting an upgrade, he adds. The depletion of Internet address space is not a pressing concern in the United States, but it is in Japan and other areas of the world.
- "Really Special Forces"
Discover (02/02) Vol. 23, No. 2, P. 25; Lemley, Brad
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is investing $50 million to build an exoskeleton designed to enhance the wearer's strength, speed, endurance, and combat capability in response to the projected rise of urban warfare. The Sarcos engineering company, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Human Engineering Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley are participating in DARPA's Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation Project, which has set a 2005 deadline to have a full-body exoskeleton ready for trials. The chief hurdle to reaching this goal is developing a power source robust enough to allow actuators to move with the same smoothness and efficiency of human muscles. Sarcos' exoskeleton features joints with pistons driven by hydrogen or petroleum; an Oak Ridge team led by Francois Pin is investigating fuel cells; and the Berkeley lab is researching a pneumatic system that runs on hydrogen peroxide. A subtle force-feedback mechanism is another key component, and Sarcos has made strides using highly responsive sensors that control mechanical limbs. Pin believes that exoskeletons could extend beyond military applications, such as enhancements for construction workers. The machines could also find use as prosthetics for elderly and paraplegics.
- "The Network in Every Room"
Scientific American (02/02) Vol. 286, No. 2, P. 38; Gibbs, W. Wayt
This winter will see the debut of a new technology that enables high-speed communications over power lines, a major step toward the vision of a completely networked home. The key challenge was boosting the technology's speed and reliability while dealing with electrical interference from radio signals, static-generating appliances, and switches being thrown, etc. The HomePlug Powerline Alliance made meeting this challenge a priority, and a team led by Intellon's Larry W. Yonge worked around the technical difficulties by using multimegahertz signals, an 84-channel spectrum, and orthogonal frequency division multiplexing to deal with rapid line fluctuations. Intellon's head of engineering William E. Earnshaw says the prototype equipment was tested in over 25 firms and 500 homes worldwide, and that it easily fulfilled the alliance's mandate to supply full capacity to 80 percent of the homes. Competing standards such as Wi-Fi, which networks via radio waves, and HomePNA, which operates through phone jacks, are limited by cost and security issues in the first case and phone jack availability in the second. HomePlug's products feature automatic encryption, which gives it a security edge over Wi-Fi, says HomePlug President Tom Reed. However, Parks Associates' Kurt Scherf notes that the technology faces two challenges: A rival specification from the Consumer Electronics Association, which is at least a year away; and the wait-and-see attitude of audio, video, and telephone manufacturers, which could delay the introduction of highly desired forms of power-line communications.