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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 320: Friday, March 8, 2002

  • "U.S. to Tighten Cyber Security on Foreigners"
    Los Angeles Times (03/07/02) P. A1; Piller, Charles

    The Defense Department has announced it will implement tighter restrictions for IT contracting work that involves non-classified but sensitive projects, limiting the employee pool to U.S. citizens. Keeping foreign nationals from working on Defense projects will drive up costs and possibly lower the number of competing firms, since American IT workers are harder to come by. The National Science Foundation has estimated 46 percent of the computer science doctoral degrees awarded in the United States go to foreigners, many of whom stay on to work in the United States. Congress created the H-1B program in 1990 especially for such skilled foreign workers and last year admitted 163,000 through the program. Although larger defense contractors say they have a large and diverse enough workforce to deal with the new requirements, smaller IT contractors may have trouble meeting requirements for new, larger projects. Other federal agencies have implemented similar restrictions, especially since Sept. 11, but analysts say the effort may be misguided. White House cybersecurity advisor Richard A. Clarke says agencies should focus on creating more secure infrastructure and systems that will preclude security breaches from all sources, instead of looking solely at one source. Notably, the most egregious information security breaches in recent history have been perpetrated by U.S. citizens, namely CIA agent Aldrich Ames and FBI agent Robert Hanssen.
    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-030702ban.story

  • "Stimulus Bill Would Help Tech Firms"
    Washington Post (03/08/02) P. E1; Krim, Jonathan

    The economic stimulus package the House passed yesterday includes a tax incentive that could help high-tech companies pull themselves out of the recession. The three-year provision would allow companies to take a 30 percent write-off on software, hardware, and other purchased gear in the first year of operation, and then take 20 percent in the remaining time. The accelerated depreciation was one of the few tax cuts to survive a retooling of the stimulus bill enacted to resolve a congressional stalemate between Republicans and Democrats. The hope is that the higher write-off will boost procurement, but the costs to the Treasury will be enormous--$35.3 billion in fiscal 2002 and $126.7 billion by the end of the provision's three years. Democrats such as Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) were against a three-year term, saying it gives companies plenty of time to delay spending when the point of a stimulus is to effect immediate economic change. He attributes the House's swift approval of the term to "the power of irrationality and the detachment of reality that exists in this town." Tech community representatives such as Ralph Hellmann of the Information Technology Industry Council counter that most corporate purchasing cycles need more than a year; he adds that three years could also fuel extended economic growth because more technology procurement boosts productivity. Insiders say the Senate will probably pass the package quickly, but is unlikely to allow further revisions.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Export Bill Approval Roils PC Makers"
    Newsbytes (03/07/02); Krebs, Brian

    The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed H.R. 2581, a bill that reauthorizes the Export Administration Act but which critics say turns back the clock on export control reform. The bill differs significantly from a Senate-approved bill that would ease restrictions on sensitive technology exports, much to the dismay of computer industry representatives. President Bush has encouraged more trade in high-power computers and other technologies that could pose a threat to the United States, but are already widely available on the international market. The House bill contains many amendments, including provisions that give more discretion authority to the Defense Department in deciding which technologies U.S. firms can sell overseas on the mass market. Companies would also have to inform the military of exactly who their customers are for sensitive technologies costing more than $250,000. But House leaders, who still have considerable sway over the future of the bill, have promised that the final version will closely resemble the one passed by the Senate.
    http://www.newsbytes.com/news/02/175043.html

  • "Washing Machine the Key to Low-Power Processing"
    EE Times Online (03/06/02); Edwards, Chris

    Intelligent personal area networks will be able to operate possibly hundreds of small processors at flexible speeds to achieve superior performance. In what he calls a software "washing machine" technique, Catholic University of Leuven's Professor Hugo de Man says the application-specific instruction processors would be able to use ambient energy created by physical movement. He predicts wearable computing devices will include up to a hundred of these processors that can scale their power consumption. "They would be 100 to 1,000 times more complex than today's microprocessors," he explains. "But the difference between programmable microprocessors and the intrinsic power of silicon is that silicon is more than 500 times more power efficient." Hugo de Man cites one experiment with his multiple processor framework using data parallelism to run 25 frames-per-second MPEG-4 video at just 170 MHz, whereas the same code was designed to perform similarly on a 900 MHz Pentium chip.
    http://www.eedesign.com/story/OEG20020306S0001

  • "Tech Companies Look to Ignite IT Recovery"
    Reuters (03/08/02); Knight, Sarah

    Technology companies hope that the upcoming CeBIT 2002 show in Hanover, Germany, next week will herald new innovations that will help bring about a technology revival. Corporate IT spending is down and focused on productivity and cost-saving products and services, so integration standards discussed at the show could be one potential area for a breakthrough. Mobile software will also be a big issue as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer discusses Microsoft's vision for wireless entertainment and communications. Microsoft is squaring off against Finland's Nokia for dominance in the emerging market, while analysts will also be watching for signs of delays in telecommunications firms' 3G network rollouts. European telecommunications companies have suffered heavily after spending billions on spectrum licenses in that region. CeBIT is the largest IT exhibition in the world, drawing 850,000 visitors last year and hosting thousands of companies from every IT sector, and from all over the world.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Shrinking and Rethinking the Old Vertical Antenna"
    New York Times (03/07/02) P. E9; Gallagher, David F.

    Integral Technologies general manager Tom A. Aisenbrey has created a hybrid metallic/plastic substance that is moldable, and whose conductive properties could enable it to serve as an antenna that consumes less power and offers improved signal reception. The antenna of a phone or similar device could also serve as a casing with this material. The combination of metallic compounds and plastics is already being used by the military as shielding material, but Integral wants to market it with the help of GE Plastics. Aisenbrey is currently testing prototypes using his own cell phone, and Cetecom's Lothar Schmidt says that the antenna more than doubles outgoing signal strength in some cases. Among the products Integral CEO William Robinson says the company is considering are flat antenna strips that could be used to track containers; Aisenbrey adds that such devices could also be embedded in cars and boats. Furthermore, Integral is discussing the possibilities of incorporating such antennas into truck bumpers to track vehicle location by satellite. Meanwhile, SkyCross CEO Alan L. Haase notes that his company is considering a printing process for cell phone antennas. Researchers have also taken a shine to metal-free conductive plastic, which is being applied to electronic products such as laptop batteries.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/07/technology/circuits/07NEXT.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Certifiable: SF, NY and DC"
    InternetNews.com (03/07/02); Mark, Roy

    In the United States, the San Francisco metro area holds the largest concentration of certified IT professionals, according to the Brainbench Global IT IQ Report. In second place is the New York/Northern/New Jersey/Long Island/Connecticut area, followed by the Washington/Baltimore area; both areas are new additions to the list. The IT professionals surveyed fell into 10 skills categories, including programming languages such as C++ and Java, network technical support, and computer technical support. Nearly five million tests and certifications were administered in these skills areas in the United States, and Brainbench estimated all certified IT professionals in over 200 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas. Rankings for each area were determined by the number of certifications received. Brainbench CEO Mike Russiello says the report indicates that IT professionals are taking certification more seriously. "When you couple this data with the fact that in our recent salary survey of certified IT professionals out-earned their non-certified counterparts, it becomes clear that people are receiving certifications because they have true professional and economic benefits," he adds. Russiello also says that many employers are finding certifications to be a great tool for promoting their training programs and redeploying their staff resources.
    http://www.atnewyork.com/news/print/0,,8471_987081,00.html

  • "New Flaws May Hasten Hack Attacks"
    Investor's Business Daily (03/07/02) P. A8; Howell, Donna

    Internet security focus is shifting from end-of-the-line corporate sites to operators of routers, the directors of traffic on the Web. A new security warning highlighting weaknesses in routers last month has caused significant worry among computer security researchers who are able to write patches and fixes to faulty software, but often face an uphill battle to get the multitude of organizations to implement them. The new weaknesses show that an individual can change a small, critical part of routing operating code so that it redirects Internet traffic to dead-ends online, effectively blacking out a portion of the Web. Such was the situation in 1997, when one small ISP made such a change and stopped much of the traffic flowing on the Internet for about 20 minutes. Analysts say e-commerce sites can lose up to $10,000 for each minute of downtime, and businesses are becoming increasingly reliant on the Web for critical business processes. At the root of the problem, say experts, are the same common standards that have made the Web a success, such as the border gateway protocol, that are easy to adapt to and use in hack attacks.

  • "Computer Spy Methods Discovered in LED Lights"
    Reuters (03/07/02); Abreu, Elinor Mills

    Lockheed Martin Space Systems computer programmer Joe Loughry writes in an essay that he has discovered a low-tech way to spy on computer data by studying the flashes of LED lights, which are featured on modems, keyboards, routers, and other kinds of electronic equipment. "It requires little apparatus, can be done at a considerable distance, and is completely undetectable," he explains. All that is necessary is a telescopic viewer and a way to process the signal. Loughry says that he could read an optical signal from about 22 yards away with an optical sensor, and notes that LED-enabled devices most susceptible to this form of eavesdropping are those used in low-speed, long-distance networks, such as those found in electronic banking machines. It is relatively simple to prevent such spying by keeping equipment out of sight, obscuring LEDs, or shutting them off when inactive.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "For Personalized Beverage, Just Add Microscopic Liquid"
    United Press International (03/01/02); Choi, Charles

    A pair of Spanish researchers have created a method to encapsulate liquids within liquids on a nanoscale level. These liquids are mixed together via an electrified aerosol spray, and adjusting its voltage can regulate the amount of fluid in each layer. The resulting nanocapsule droplets are smaller in diameter than light wavelengths, and can be triggered to open by ultrasound or microwave frequency. A variety of applications are being investigated, including interactive beverages whose flavor and color can be adjusted, and wireless drug delivery systems that bind to the surfaces of specific cells. One of the scientists responsible for this development, Ignacio Loscertales of the University of Malaga, is collaborating with Yale University researchers to devise a means of satellite propulsion that uses electrical atomization and charged particle acceleration. "We're using this technology to cover water in oil so it will prevent evaporation in space," he explains. Loscertales and co-inventor Antonio Barrero of the University of Seville are also working with scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology on ways to use the electrical spray to fashion nanometer-sized wires and fiber-optics for handheld supercomputers.
    http://www.smalltimes.com/print_doc.cfm?doc_id=3174

  • "Alan Cox Hails 64-Bit Linux"
    ZDNet UK (03/06/02); Broersma, Matthew

    Linux pioneer Alan Cox says new 64-bit chips from Intel and AMD could boost Linux in the high-end market, but adds that work is necessary to adapt Linux to both the power processing and consumer markets. He compares the new chip technology, which brings 64-bit processing down to PC-level prices, to the advent of the 386-series chips, the first home desktop processors capable of running industrial-strength operating systems such as Unix and its Linux derivative. AMD's Hammer chipset runs applications for both the common x86 framework and in new 64-bit architecture, making powerful processing readily available to the legions of independent open-source software developers. On other fronts, Cox says that recent moves by the Internet Engineering Task Force to more strictly regulate reporting of software flaws was a mistake. He said the one-month period currently allotted software vendors to address problems was amply sufficient and that any more time would be endorsing their incompetence. Cox also notes that Linux has a good shot at the PC software market because the current Microsoft paradigm of a single homogenous operating system was inefficient. He says most home users would benefit from cheaper, more stable computers that ran simple productivity applications and a robust Web browser built using open-source standards.
    http://news.zdnet.co.uk/story/0,,t269-s2106032,00.html

  • "Stop. Pay Toll. Download"
    Salon.com (03/06/02); Cave, Damien

    The open-source community hopes the decision by the MPEG-LA alliance to introduce fees for the compression technology MPEG-4 convinces developers and the market to try open-source alternatives. For open-source advocates, the bottom line is why would anyone want to pay for next-generation compression technology when they can get it for free. Market observers say the move to charge software companies using MPEG-4 in programs 25 cents for each copy they sell, as well as a 2 cents an hour "use fee" for users or software firms, has rocked the industry. MPEG-4, a standard for digital audio and video compression, was supposed to be an open standard. However, the change in direction by the 18 consumer electronic companies in the MPEG-LA alliance means the proprietary versions of compression technology offered by Microsoft, Real, and Apple in their media players could one day dominate the market. Content companies had hoped to avoid a situation in which users had to pay an extra fee for playing games, listening to music, and watching TV shows and movies online. For big content companies, the fee structure could double their streaming costs. Some observers believe companies that support open standards such as Apple, an MPEG-4 patent holder, and Sun, as well as content and entertainment firms, will seriously look to open-source alternatives.
    http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2002/03/06/mpeg/index.html

  • "ICANN President: Reforms Not Set in Stone"
    Newsbytes (03/04/02); McGuire, David

    ICANN President Stuart Lynn has posted an open letter stating that his proposal to restructure ICANN will not be voted upon during ICANN's March meeting, and ICANN spokesperson Mary Hewitt is assuring Internet users and interest groups that Lynn's proposal "is still malleable" and that "it can still be fixed and improved." Hewitt says there have been dozens of responses to Lynn's proposal--most positive--but that many have concerns about Lynn's timing and certain policy details. Center for Democracy and Technology policy analyst Rob Courtney says that the timing of Lynn's proposal has derailed the debate over how many At-Large members should be elected to the ICANN board. Courtney fears that the ICANN board will not vote on the At-Large issue during the ICANN March meeting. Because the terms of current At-Large board members expire in Nov. 2002, Courtney says that non-action in March on the At-Large matter will basically shut down the At-Large.
    http://www.newsbytes.com/news/02/174939.html

  • "India to Build Grid of Supercomputers"
    Reuters (03/05/02); Madhavan, Narayanan

    India's Center for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) is planning to build an I-Grid, a nationwide network of supercomputers to be used for data-heavy applications such as environmental simulation, satellite image analysis, chip design, and equipment modeling. C-DAC executive director R.K. Arora says the project resembles Napster's peer-to-peer file-sharing system, only larger and more complex. He adds that the Indian institutes of technology (IITs), the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, and other academic I-Grid members would be connected to the grid by C-DAC. C-DAC has pressed on with its supercomputing initiatives despite 10 years of sanctions imposed by the United States on India's technology exports. Other fields that Arora and officials say the I-Grid could be used for include bioinformatics and analysis of capital market derivatives and data.
    http://uk.news.yahoo.com/020305/80/ctd8o.html

  • "High-Tech Training Program on Ropes"
    Washington Technology (03/04/02) Vol. 16, No. 23, P. 12; Emery, Gail Repsher

    The political balance for H-1B visa support could change now that the Bush administration has proposed eliminating the H-1B Training Grant Program, which provides U.S. workers with high-tech training. Next year, the Bush administration wants to redirect the money used to fund the high-tech training program toward helping foreign workers obtain permanent employment status instead because it believes the program has not been successful--and some tech industry officials agree. Nevertheless, tech industry officials are concerned about the potential impact of such a move on H-1B visa support. "A lot of congresspeople who were reluctant to support the H-1B program did sign on reluctantly because they saw the fees as a way to deal with the worker training issue," says Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America. The high-tech training program is funded by the $1,000 fee that employers pay for each H-1B visa holder they employ. The training program had $185 million in funding in 2000. The General Accounting Office is conducting a review of the training program, and is expected to complete its report in September. The Labor Department, which is heading the effort to draft legislation to redirect the program's funds, expects to have the bill in front of Congress this spring.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "The Glass Ceiling: Barrier or Challenge?"
    Computerworld (03/04/02) P. 36; Melymuka, Kathleen

    A recent survey of 19 women and 11 men employed in leadership positions in IT show that supposed barriers can be used as an advantage and challenge, and that preconceived ideas about how to succeed are not always correct. Many of the women interviewed by Catalyst, a nonprofit business women's group, said their gender kept them from having the close mentorship that many male IT leaders benefit from, but that it increased their visibility and allowed their accomplishments to stand out. They roundly stressed the importance of networking, people management skills, delivering on assigned tasks, and developing focused expertise early on. Surprisingly, more than half of those interviewed did not graduate in IT-related fields such as computer science, math, or engineering, dispelling the idea that fewer women graduating in those fields is the principle reason why they are a minority in the IT workplace. The "Careers in High Tech: Wired for Success" report included the experiences of leaders at companies such as AOL, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Nortel, and Yahoo!.
    http://www.computerworld.com/storyba/0,4125,NAV47_STO68711,00.html

    To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Security"
    CIO Insight (02/02) Vol. 1, No. 10, P. 55; Kirkpatrick, Terry A.

    Two CIO Insight surveys conducted six months apart show that IT security is a bigger consideration among most companies in the aftermath of Sept. 11--but only slightly bigger. Ed Ruppel of Lincoln National says the tragedy has increased awareness of the need for security and made employees more accepting of security applications. However, most CIOs in the latest survey say their security operations have not been significantly impacted, while Giga Information Group VP Steve Hunt notes little change in companies' security budgets: The majority planned a 4 percent to 5 percent increase this year prior to Sept. 11, while a few have raised their budgets up an additional 1 percent to 3 percent. "These are companies that consider themselves part of the national infrastructure--defense contractors, telecoms--and thus at greater risk to cyberterrorism," Hunt notes. ObServitus cofounder Don Ulsch explains that many companies are holding off on raising their information security and disaster recovery budgets while they weigh their options and make sure they can incorporate such solutions into their overall business strategy. Still, Sept. 11 has prompted 50 percent of the survey respondents to boost their employee security training programs, while the number of security flaws being uncovered and cyberassaults being launched continues to rise. The portion of respondents hit by viruses has risen from 77 percent to 90 percent in the last six months. CERT Coordination Center director Richard Pethia says organizations need to prioritize essential data and understand what threats it may be under.
    http://www.cioinsight.com/article/0,3658,s=304&a=23102,00.asp

  • "Broadband Homeland"
    eWeek (03/04/02) Vol. 19, No. 9, P. 41; Fixmer, Rob

    Broadband's sluggish rate of implementation in the United States is being driven by consumers protesting against telecommunications deregulation, while leaders close to the matter have failed to agree over this issue. Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) are not doing many DSL rollouts because of open-access requirements imposed on them by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the FCC is under increasing pressure to change the rules so that the companies do not feel their competitive edge is being undercut. The FCC recently redefined broadband services transmitted over phone lines, a move that gives RBOCs the right to offer DSL without demonstrating open-access compliance. The Tauzin-Dingell legislation that recently went through the House would deregulate the Bells even further. A little over 10 percent of U.S. households had broadband connections as of Jan. 1, a penetration rate that makes the United States the seventh most wired country in the world. Both the TechNet coalition and a Criterion Economics study are urging for more investment in all forms of broadband, which will impact just about every aspect of the enterprise, including marketing of products and services, the workplace environment, and relationships among employees, suppliers, investors, and customers. Criterion study authors Robert Crandall and Charles Jackson warn that without the proliferation of broadband, "the evolution of the Internet to its full potential is temporarily blocked, and its contribution to the acceleration in economic growth may soon...end."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Humanoid Robots"
    Communications of the ACM (03/02) Vol. 45, No. 3, P. 33; Brooks, Rodney

    Humanoid robots have evolved from simple playback mechanisms to sophisticated systems used not only to replace people in certain capacities, but to investigate social interactions. At MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, the humanoid robotics group is using machines such as Cog and Kismet to study how human beings perceive and react to the world around them. Both robots feature active vision systems designed to mimic how humans use their eyes, while their visual attention mechanism determines the devices' coherence of behavior. The robots' higher-level behaviors determine how visual cues--the color or motion of objects, for example--are weighted, thus directing their eye motion and by extension social interactions. Kismet has an emotional system shaped by outside input such as visual and prosodic cues. Domestic robots would be highly visible in the household, but they must be nonintrusive so that they do not become a cognitive burden to users. Therefore they must comprehend human social interactions. There are two schools of thought as to whether such machines will be humanoid in appearance: One school predicts that the model will be necessary for researchers to understand human-robot interaction, but beyond that, robots will become more functional; the other school thinks that humanoid robots will be desired by the public should enough prototypes prove successful.