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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.

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Volume 4, Issue 319: Wednesday, March 6, 2002

  • "Copyright Protection Reinforced"
    Financial Times (03/06/02) P. 6; Williams, Frances

    An updated version of a 1996 treaty authored by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) toughens up copyright regulations designed to protect copyright holders on the Web and clarifies enforcement rights. The new rules, which go into effect today, will discourage piracy and give recording artists and others more impetus to put their works online. A sister treaty that offers protection to sound recordings will come into force in May. The music industry says improved copyright security will encourage record companies to implement a plethora of Web-based services that include "listen-only" and permanent copy downloading. However, civil libertarians in the United States and Europe argue that such measures threaten the right to practice freedom of speech and expression online. U.S. courts appear to be paying little attention to this argument, as demonstrated by the shutdown of Napster and a ban on the posting of DVD decryption software. The International Publishers Association describes the WIPO treaty as a solid legal platform for digital content protection, and wants to swell the ranks of the 34 nations that have ratified it. The treaty is expected to be ratified by the European Union and the 15 member states once implementing legislation has been approved.
    http://globalarchive.ft.com/globalarchive/article.html?id=020306001747

  • "Dot-Com Job Cuts Near Two-Year Low"
    E-Commerce Times (03/04/02); Regan, Keith

    Fewer than 1,000 dot-com jobs were cut in February, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas (CGC), the lowest level in almost two years. The technology sector lost just 110 jobs in February, the first time since October it was not the leading sector. Still, a big rebound in hiring is not around the corner, according to Challenger CEO John Challenger, since despite the dramatic employment cuts, many firms are still not profitable. Challenger doubts that a hiring binge similar to what occurred in the late 1990s will ever be repeated, and he says it may be "years" before the Internet begins to meet expectations. Challenger says the decline in the number of lost jobs in February could indicate there are just fewer jobs left to cut.
    http://www.ecommercetimes.com/perl/printer/16596/

  • "In 19 Years, Virus Will Hit Robotic Pets, Says Futurist"
    Investor's Business Daily (03/06/02) P. A5; Graham, Jed

    BTexact Technologies futurologist Ian Pearson is making predictions on the next three decades' technological developments using a time line first organized in 1991. The time line tracks some 500 developments spurred on by the advent of artificial intelligence, "ultrasmart" computers, and other technologies. Researchers and managers at British Telecommunications use the time line so they can see "what the operating environment is likely to contain at any future date, so that our products and services can be better targeted to the needs of the customer," Pearson explains. Upcoming technologies predicted by the time line include smart clothing capable of temperature adjustment, light bulbs that can brighten or dim according to mood, and chips that can assist chefs in avoiding cooking mishaps. Among the time line's more unusual forecasts is the proliferation of intelligent pet robots in 2005, followed by an electronic epidemic that wipes out half their population in 2021. Other predictions that carry the trappings of science fiction include underground Japanese cities by 2020, and chips that control criminals by adjusting their emotions by 2030. Pearson says that the world of the future will open up more possibilities for people to be productive and contribute to society, as well as enjoy improved health, more wealth, and more sophisticated entertainment.

  • "Lawyer Says Internet Outside U.S. Law"
    Reuters (03/04/02)

    Moscow software company ElcomSoft was charged with breaking the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of the United States for distributing a program that bypasses copy-protection technology for electronic books, but lawyer for the defense Joseph Burton has asked U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the Internet has no borders. Because the Internet lies outside the United States, "the statute did not apply because Congress did not authorize the DMCA to have extra-territorial impact," Burton argues. He has also filed two other motions for dismissal claiming that the DMCA violates the First Amendment; those motions will be considered at an April 1 hearing. On Monday, Whyte struck down a motion Burton filed to dismiss the conspiracy charge against ElcomSoft, although without prejudice. If convicted of violating the DMCA, ElcomSoft could be forced to pay $2.25 million in fines.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1001-851418.html

    To read more about ACM's arguments against the DMCA, visit http://www.acm.org/felten.

  • "Premier 100: UCITA Software Transferability Rights Raise Concerns"
    Computerworld Online (03/05/02); Hoffman, Thomas

    Software licenses in Virginia are not transferable when one company is acquired or merges with another, complained Cambrian Communications CIO H. Jameson Holcombe while speaking at Computerworld's Premier 100 conference. Various states have differing laws regarding software license transferability under the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA), and create a problematic situation for interstate companies when dealing with vendors. However, for the most part attendees representing business customers did not seem too concerned, as many of them were more worried about the possibility of such a problem. Jim Jones of the Information Management Forum said it seemed unlikely software vendors would spoil their customer relationships by forcing strict compliance with different state UCITA laws, if any are present. Most states have yet to adopt standard software licensing frameworks and UCITA has come under severe criticism from business customers because of some broad language that is advantageous for vendors.
    http://www.computerworld.com/storyba/0,4125,NAV47_STO68815,00.html

    For more information about ACM's UCITA activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/IP.

  • "Politicians Are Meddling With the Net, and They Really Ought to Stop It"
    Wall Street Journal (03/04/02) P. B1; Weber, Thomas E.

    Wall Street Journal columnist Thomas E. Weber writes that he is disturbed by the federal government's attempts to influence the Internet, and is concerned that consumers appear to have little say in the matter. The Tauzin-Dingell bill and an FCC proposal would allow the Bells to monopolize broadband and give consumers only two options--the phone company or the cable company. "We're in for higher prices and mediocre service, courtesy of the cable-phone duopoly," Weber writes. Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) supports legislation that the government direct product design by requiring electronics manufacturers to embed copy-protection technology in all PCs, a move that primarily serves the entertainment industry. Meanwhile, the Copyright Office is considering policies that could inhibit the growth of Internet radio by charging artist royalties that could strip Web radio stations of the money they need to stay afloat. Furthermore, penalization of independent Webcasters would cut off consumers from talk-free musical content. Weber concludes that the economic recession is the impetus for all this government involvement.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Follow That Bug"
    Australian IT (03/05/02); Jones, Cheryl

    Cognitive science experts are no longer limiting the definition of intelligence to a single human. Indeed, scientists at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra are studying the insect world as part of their research into artificial life and complex adaptive systems. The researchers hope to create computer programs that make use of the intelligence and self-organization of social insects in a way that will allow computers to solve complex optimization problems involving large numbers of variables at a much faster pace. Until now, most programs made use of supercomputers or years of processing time as they produced solutions, but by that time the solution to the real-life problem had likely changed. The focus of the ADFA team is to produce intelligent computer programs that can quickly get to about 5 percent of the absolute optimal solution to a problem and adapt quickly to changes in the environment. The well-known traveling salesman problem, in which the salesman must find the shortest route between a large number of cities, represents many optimization problems. Evo-Ants, based on ant behavior and genetic algorithms, are an example of this area of research. The software has been used to find an optimal breeding strategy for a herd of dairy cattle, taking into account variables such as age and relatedness of bulls and cows. This approach to artificial intelligence one day could be used to find the best path for deploying expensive optical cable networks, or optimizing manufacturing processes and airline scheduling.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Scientists Develop Plastic That Mends Itself"
    New York Times (03/05/02) P. D3; Chang, Kenneth

    In the current issue of Science, Dr. Fred Wudl of UCLA's Exotic Materials Institute reports that he and his colleagues have developed a self-healing plastic. Called Automend, the substance consists of two molecular building blocks that bond quickly to each other to form a three-dimensional network. When plastic usually cracks, the chemical bonds at the site of the fracture react with oxygen or other airborne molecules. Automend can heal any cracks if the broken pieces are placed close to each other and heated to about 250 degrees; about 60 percent of the plastic's original strength is retained. Wudl says one could use a hair dryer to effect repairs on the plastic. Wudl says Automend would be ideal for use in electronic components subjected to frequent heating and cooling. Meanwhile, Dr. Scott R. White of the University of Illinois has created a plastic that releases a healing agent in liquid form when it is broken, forming the polymer equivalent of a blood clot over the damage. Heat is not needed, and more strength is retained. White says he is working on creating composite materials embedded with his self-healing plastic and glass or carbon fibers that would be able to withstand cracking. Such materials could be used in cell phones and circuit boards.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/05/science/physical/05PLAS.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Scientists Take Art Into Fold"
    Baltimore Sun (03/03/02) P. 2A; Stroh, Michael

    The Japanese art of origami is helping scientists solve problems in sectors as diverse as spacecraft design and molecular biology, while also attracting the interest of mathematicians and computer scientists. Recently, physicists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory contacted former NASA researcher and master origami artist Robert Lang to help design a huge folding telescope lens at least 160 feet wide. The team was able to use Lang's origami software, TreeMaker, to figure out how to fold 72 glass panels so they would blossom open in space to form the humongous lens needed to view planets in other solar systems. Other origami-research collaborations have sprung up in commercial research, helping to design better airbag simulation software, for example. The American Association for the Advancement of Science held a meeting last month in Boston to celebrate the merging of origami art and science, heralded as "origami mathematics." Origami was used to help solve engineering problems as early as 1970, when Japan's space agency used it to fold its satellite solar panels. The Palo Alto Research Center recently held an origami exhibition, while the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has its origami club.
    http://www.sunspot.net/bal-te.journal03mar03.story

  • "He Hacks by Day, Squats by Night"
    Wired News (03/06/02); Shachtman, Noah

    Possible hacking genius Adrian Lamo has continued to make headlines for sneaking into corporate networks and then telling those companies, and the media, about it so they tighten their security holes. Excite@Home, AOL, Yahoo!, WorldCom, and, most recently, the New York Times' intranet have all fallen to his relatively simple tactics. Lamo's exploits and the fact that he is homeless and refuses to take money from advising companies he targets have earned him a romantic mystique. Critics have called his exploits simplistic, yet they are undeniably effective. Chris Wyspoal, an executive for the @Stake security firm, explains Lamo's common method of using widely available hacker tools to breach unsecured connections in network firewalls, which are used by employees to access the outside Internet. Long-time friend Ira Wing says before Lamo became notorious, he tried unsuccessfully to alert negligent companies of their weaknesses. Lamo, who accesses the Internet via university libraries or Kinko's computer stations, may be prosecuted for hacking into the Times' network, as the publisher is considering pressing charges against him.
    http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,50811,00.html

  • "Text Mining Seen as Research, Security Tool"
    Associated Press (03/04/02); Dalesio, Emery P.

    Text mining software is designed to imitate the way the human brain deals with unfamiliar input by learning, analysis, and drawing conclusions. Products that carry out text mining can serve businesses in numerous says, such as studying information from multiple sources--email, customer comments, medical reports, etc.--to determine courses of action or prioritize data. Former META Group analyst Alessandro Zanasi predicts that text mining will be used by companies to study customer feedback from any source by 2006; other functions text mining could provide include sorting through resumes to find the most qualified employees, and extrapolating sales trends, corporate rivals, and research from patents, articles, and news reports. A text mining tool that SAS Institute will start selling in a couple of months could possibly be used to detect falsehoods in written material, although the company says its primary purpose will be to enhance business intelligence. Experts such as Paul Ekman of the University of California at San Francisco are skeptical that such an application, if it is based on speech, will yield much accuracy.
    http://www.nandotimes.com/technology/story/282593p-2542675c.html

  • "Music Services' Bid to Dismiss Lawsuit Is Rebuffed"
    SiliconValley.com (03/04/02); Chmielewski, Dawn C.

    A federal court judge this week dismissed a plea from several online file-trading services to throw out the case against them. File-trading services Morpheus, Grokster, Kazaa, and their parent companies are under attack by a broad coalition of 29 Hollywood studios and music recording labels that allege the networks enable piracy of their content. An attorney for Morpheus said precedents set in the Napster case show that a company should be held liable for what it does, not what its customers do. Unlike Napster, which ran a centralized network, the other file-trading services used FastTrack peer-to-peer software that allows users to trade files directly. Interestingly, one of the main defendants, Morpheus' StreamCast Networks, said its system was shut down by a denial-of-service attack originating from Kazaa as a result of a software-licensing fee dispute. Morpheus is now running on different software that sends users' files over the older Gnutella network, which is slower but even more decentralized because it lacks the super-nodes that enable FastTrack users to conduct faster searches.

  • "Hacker Claims Web Worm Meant to Combat Sexism"
    Reuters (03/04/02); Abreu, Elinor Mills

    A 17-year-old girl has written a worm called "Sharpei" targeting Microsoft's .Net platform in order to prove the point that females can also be proficient hackers. U.K.-based Sophos said the worm was sent to them and has not been propagated outside by the girl, who goes by the handle "Gigabyte" and claims the anti-virus community is sexist. The worm is sent via the Outlook email client and looks for programs written on the .Net platform and infects Windows directories with an executable file. The newest version of Outlook and Microsoft Security Update block the worm, which was written using the .Net-specific C-sharp code. Microsoft's Mike Kass says the worm is a threat only to users who neglect to use readily available protections from Microsoft. Sophos and other security firms have also released blocks to the worm.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Batteries Fail to Keep Pace With Technology"
    Associated Press (03/04/02); Krane, Jim

    Battery technology should be obsolete, when considered next to the advances made in digital technology. But battery researchers say the comparison is unfair because battery innovation is bound tightly by the laws of physics and chemistry, and usually can manage only a 5 percent increase in capacity every two years, according to Rayovac engineer Jim Pilarzyk. Device designers, especially for personal electronics, have focused on making the best of battery power for the last 20 years, says Institute of the Future director Paul Saffo. Product engineers either have to reduce the capabilities of their devices or add bulky power supplies. Recent innovations in battery technology were accompanied by swift and dramatic changes in consumer electronics--notebook computers with rechargeable nickel-metal hydride and nickel-cadmium batteries, and tiny cell phones and handheld computers with lithium-ion batteries most recently. Although some say lagging battery technology is part of a conspiracy on the part of battery manufacturers, Energizer scientist Lew Urry, who pioneered the alkaline battery in the 1950s, says fierce competition between makers keeps technology on the cutting edge.
    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-000016169mar04.story

  • "Breyer Seen as Key Justice on Copyright"
    National Law Journal (02/25/02) Vol. 24, No. 25, P. A1; Slind-Flor, Victoria

    The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear an appeal to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. Stanford University professor Lawrence Lessig, on the behalf of Eric Eldred, a former government computer systems analyst who heads the Internet book publishing company Eldrich Press, will challenge the law. In 1999, Lessig appealed the new term extension in a District of Columbia suit, but the trial court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the law. Named after the late congressman and former pop singer, the law extends copyright protection for works of art to 70 years after the death of the creator and to 95 years for work done for hire. Those opposed to term extension believe the law will have a negative impact on the Internet because fewer works will be found online. However, Bart A. Lazar, a partner in Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago, maintains that "there is so much content on the Internet today that to pull 100,000 pieces a year off won't harm the Internet." High court justice Stephen G. Breyer could play a key role in the decision of the Supreme Court. As a professor in 1970, Breyer published an article in the Harvard Law Review that seems to indicate that he opposes longer copyright extensions, and he suggested during his confirmation hearing in 1994 that his views on the issue have not changed.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "The Future of App Integration"
    InfoWorld (02/25/02) Vol. 24, No. 8, P. 1; Yager, Tom

    Respondents to InfoWorld's 2002 Application Integration Survey find that enterprise application integration (EAI) remains an expensive prospect, eating 24 percent of annual IT budgets on average. IT staff must patch together software and services from more than one vendor, since no single provider or consultancy has emerged as an EAI market leader. Forty-five percent of respondents say that Sun Microsystems' J2EE will have no impact on their EAI strategy, while 56 percent say the same for Microsoft's .Net; they are instead banking on standards-based Web services to lower EAI costs and accelerate delivery of integration--in fact, 39 percent of respondents say they are already deploying Web services. Web services still lack standards for security and data integrity, but 58 percent of those polled expect these issues to be ironed out. Most shops have a sound EAI infrastructure, but CTOs should plan some kind of Web services investment now, albeit cautiously. IT managers should find out what kind of Web services strategies application vendors and consultants are implementing in order to determine their role in the integration project. The move to Web services will go much easier if XML is used for inter-application data exchange. A combination of EAI and Web services will lower the cost and intricacy of projects.
    http://www.infoworld.com/articles/fe/xml/02/02/25/020225feintro.xml

  • "Mainframe Skills, Pay at a Premium"
    Computerworld (03/04/02) Vol. 36, No. 10, P. 1; King, Julia

    As many IT workers skilled in mainframes and legacy systems near retirement age and the amount of information residing in those systems continues to increase, experts say they foresee a serious skills shortage in the near future. A recent Meta Group survey found 55 percent of employees skilled in mainframe technologies at more than 300 companies are over 50 years of age. Among those companies, over 90 percent have no plan to go about acquiring new workers trained in mainframe technologies such as Cobol, CICS, and newer skills needed for systems like IBM's zSeries systems. The telecommunications, finance, insurance, and government sectors will all be hard hit by the shortage, since they still keep critical data on mainframe systems on the back end and in data centers, even though they may push it out over Web-enabled front-end applications. Massachusetts state government CIO David Lewis says the problem is exacerbated because classroom instruction is not enough to learn mainframe skills, which he believes requires hands-on training. He says workplace experience is necessary to learn the intricacies of how certain mainframe applications interact and affect one another.
    http://www.computerworld.com/storyba/0,4125,NAV47_STO68764,00.html

  • "Mind Over Metal"
    New Scientist (02/23/02) Vol. 173, No. 2331, P. 26; Ananthaswamy, Anil

    Scientists are mixing electronic and biological systems in attempts to study brain activity and possibly develop more efficient machines. Peter Fromhertz of the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry is conducting research that lays the groundwork for digital-neural integration: He notes that snail neurons, when placed between two electrodes on a chip, grow extensions to allow the exchange of electrical signals between them or the electrodes; his research could yield insights on biological memory storage, and he hopes that further research will lead to the assembly of a small learning network. Meanwhile, Caltech neuroscientist Steve Potter is growing thousands of rat neurons in silicon-etched wells connected to dozens of electrodes so that he can study problem-solving processes and how they could be applied to artificial neural networks. Potter runs a program that scans the neurons' electrical output for repeatable patterns; these are applied to a virtual rat model that moves in specific directions when certain neurons are fired, while digital feedback from virtual organs of sight and touch are transmitted to the neurons via electrode, thus redirecting movement in a desired direction. Potter hopes that learning will be eventually be demonstrated. Northwestern University Medical School's Sandro Mussa-Ivaldi is also studying learning by hooking up lamprey brainstems to a robot that reacts to light, hoping that an adaptable neurocomputer can be developed. At Duke University, Miguel Nicolelis is seeking a way to develop interfaces for handicapped people to control artificial limbs, using electrodes planted within an owl monkey's cortex that directs the movements of a robot arm. The possibility of tapping living neural tissue for computing power raises numerous ethical concerns that are only just now coming to light.

  • "Fit or Miss?"
    CommVerge (02/02) Vol. 3, No. 2, P. 30; Suydam, Margot

    Java is being promoted as the programming language that glues together a wide variety of devices. Current client devices have less storage capacity and slower processors than PCs, and Java advocates claim that the language can streamline itself to seamlessly run on such products. Three different versions of Java--Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, and Micro Edition--have been distributed for the server, enterprise and developer desktop, and wireless markets, respectively, and Sun Microsystems' Richard Green says that each version has been very well received. The cellular wireless market that the Micro Edition serves has demonstrated the most acceleration, according to consensus. However, cross-platform implementation of Java faces obstacles. JP Mobile research director Alex Farcaisu says the market for client devices is not unified, while Hewlett-Packard's William Woo explains that it needs maturation. Several strategies have been formulated to improve Java's performance and shatter the assumption that the language is too big and slow for the embedded space. One strategy involves software integration, while the other involves compiler technology. These strategies compete with one another.
    Click Here to View Full Article