Timely Topics for IT Professionals
About ACM TechNews
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.
To send comments, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 4, Issue 324: Monday, March 18, 2002
- "Company Town Keeps Indians at Home"
New York Times (03/18/02) P. C3; Rai, Saritha
Catalytic Software, based in Washington state, is creating a community of software developers near the technology hub of Hyderabad in India. The company is building a small city for its Indian employees, paying the ones who live there a housing benefit that covers part of the rent. In this way, Catalytic expects to keep employees in India or help draw talent that moved overseas back to their native country. "We will go after people who will deliver world-class work by providing all the conveniences to streamline their lives," declares Catalytic CEO Swain Porter. Such conveniences include microwaves, dishwashers, washers, and dryers, while the concrete domed houses can be constructed in less than a week and are energy efficient, which suits the region's harsh climate. The town, which has been christened New Oroville, currently consists of 40 employees situated on 50 acres, but Porter and co-founder Eric Engstrom anticipate an additional 1,000 professionals to come aboard in the years ahead, with the community eventually spread out over 500 acres. In addition to housing, Catalytic also offers employees stock options. The government of Andrha Pradesh, where Hyderabad is located, also has a stake in New Oroville: It granted Catalytic land development rights in exchange for company stock.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Hacker Attacks Are Traced To South Korea"
Wall Street Journal (03/18/02) P. B4; Clark, Don
A study of data culled from intrusion detection devices in the fourth quarter finds that 91 percent of cyberattacks that did not originate in the United States involved Pacific Rim countries. Predictive Systems, which prepared the report, estimates that 34 percent of those attacks came from South Korea, 29 percent came from China, and Japan and Taiwan accounted for 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively. The findings do not mean that these countries are the precise point of origin of the attacks; rather, South Korea and the other Pacific Rim nations are being used as jump points, says Predictive's Richard S. Smith. TruSecure CTO Peter Tippett says the hackers responsible for many attacks are actually operating from regions other than Asia, including the United States and Eastern Europe. But the presence of Asian hackers is not being discounted--South Korea, Japan, and China boast large numbers of Internet users, while South Korea has deployed more broadband than most other nations. Furthermore, Tippett says that "[Asian countries] have a much larger proportion of poorly maintained machines that are abused by others." Still, the United States leads the rest of the world in terms of its involvement in hacker attacks.
- "S.V. Students "Just Say No" to Dot-Com Careers"
InternetNews.com (03/15/02); Singer, Michael
Silicon Valley students' interest in high-tech careers needs to be spurred if the Bay Area's workforce gap problem is to be solved, concludes a new study from A.T. Kearney and Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network. In 2001, the workforce gap accounted for 25 percent of the labor market demand, despite the recession. But 39 percent of 2,500 surveyed students between grades 8 and 11 said they consider high-tech jobs to be uninteresting, while 25 percent were intimidated by such careers. The study also found that Hispanic students lagged behind African-American, Asian, and white students in their understanding of high-tech professions, while 23 percent of female students reported interest in high-tech jobs, compared to 42 percent of males. A.T. Kearney's Praveen Madan says such results indicate that access to technology alone is not a sufficient enticement; a better effort must be made to attract more students to high-tech careers so that they can become productive contributors to the Bay Area's economy and stave off workplace shortages. "We need to tap [the Bay Area community's] energy and provide them with opportunities to create, produce, learn, express and connect," notes Plugged In executive director Magda Escobar. Joint Venture Board of Directors member Rebecca Guerra says that up-to-date information about high-tech jobs must be made available to youth, who must also be able to find adult mentors to advise them on their career choice. The report will comprise a portion of the 2002 Workforce Study.
- "Tech Crisis Adds to Israeli Uncertainty"
Financial Times (03/18/02) P. 17; Machlis, Avi; Chung, Mary; Labate, John
Israel's technology sector is badly affected by the current political and social upheaval, despite its history of counting itself apart from those disturbances. Comverse Technology, a telecommunications software firm founded in Israel, recently lost 17 percent of its Nasdaq valuation after reporting disappointing first-quarter results. This has prompted a re-examination of the Israeli market and adds to the fear that the current Palestinian conflict could put the squeeze on U.S.-dependent startups already hurt by the global technology slowdown. The booming number of Israeli technology startups helped boost the economy by nearly one-third during the boom, but recently caused the national economy serious harm as they were more susceptible to the downturn. Venture capital is now focusing more on diversified investments rather than small companies promising large returns, and travel to the country is down due to fears of violence. Israel technology expert at UBS Warburg Jonathan Half says the current situation will test the mettle of these companies, though he notes that most have significant cash reserves on their balance sheets, such as the $1.9 billion Comverse has hoarded.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Fiber Optics, as Never Been Seen"
Wired News (03/18/02); Anderson, Mark K.
Fiber-optic researchers gathering at the Optical Fiber Communications Conference and Exhibit are preparing to unveil new technologies that will increase the efficiency and usefulness of light-bearing data connections. One fiber-optic innovation from MIT doctoral student Bishwaroop Ganguly would separate the file-transfer tasks for electrical and optical components in routers and Internet communications. Under his integrated scheme, parts of the devices that use electric signals would handle small packets of data such as Web pages, while optical components would handle large chunks of data such as MP3s and huge files used in research. Another project pursued by Jia-ming Liu of UCLA's electrical engineering department is configuring lasers attached to each end of the fiber-optic line that would synchronize to allow encrypted communications. Liu explains that a small section of the laser beam would be siphoned off to a mirror and would then run in a closed circuit, creating an erratic signal. Only the laser and mirror identically situated at the receiving end would be able to reproduce that signal, and so be able to extract the information from what would seem to hackers to be nonsensical data.
- "Teens Ace IT Shortcuts"
InformationWeek Online (03/11/02); Colkin, Eileen; George, Tischelle; Kontzer, Tony
Technology in education is helping create a generation of tech-savvy students, but it is also giving them more tools to plagiarize and cheat. The problem is whether they will do the same in the work environment. Academics are concerned that students who take such shortcuts will impair their critical thinking skills, and future employers will need to factor this in. A survey of 4,500 students by Duke University's Center for Academic Integrity found that 70 percent cheated extensively on written work, while 52 percent admitted that they cut and pasted sentences from Web sites. Some forms of electronic cheating are even more sophisticated, such as the use of language translators, or calculators and PDAs programmed with test answers. "[Tomorrow's workforce] may be more prone to use technology to solve problems, but that's a bad thing if you're expecting detailed work and they're not used to that," explains Ernst & Young partner Jonathan Shames.
- "UNCF Campaign Raises $90 Million"
SiliconValley.com (03/13/02); Boudreau, John
A year ago, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) launched a campaign to raise $80 million with which students and faculty at black colleges could receive training and equipment to help them bridge the digital divide. Since then, major corporations such as Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard have contributed over $90 million. UNCF President William Gray cites a 1998 study that found that just 15 percent of UNCF students owned their own computers, compared to 55 percent at majority colleges. The study also found that just about 50 percent of UNCF faculty had computers, whereas roughly 71 percent of faculty did nationally. The most recent donation to the campaign was a $10 million gift from Oracle, which includes $1 million in cash. The Oracle commitment will provide internships and scholarships, as well as database certification training for 30 UNCF faculty members and 675 UNCF students. Gray believes that African-Americans and other minorities will account for a greater portion of the tech sector through such efforts.
- "World's Most Interesting Computer In Jeopardy"
Register (UK) (03/12/02); Orlowski, Andrew
Cray has halted production of its MTA-2 multithreaded supercomputer because of falling R&D development levels, according to spokesman Steve Conway. The MTA is one of the most unusual pieces of hardware ever created: It is a uniform flat shared memory system, and an MTA processor can accommodate as many as 128 hardware threads, with a virtual register file and program counter included in each thread. A single MTA system can handle eight system boards, each with 4GB of memory. The machine offers faster synchronization, while the lack of a data cache eliminates cache coherency. Conway says Cray has shipped a pair of MTA-2s, and the development of an even more advanced model is dependent on the market. But for now, Cray will sell clustered commodity Dell systems in order to boost services revenues. "It didn't make a whole lot of sense for us to develop that kind of machine, while Dell is one the best in the world for its economics," Conway notes. PC cluster customers, he explains, face considerable difficulty in assembling the systems themselves, and the Cray T3E series is the model everyone bases their system on.
- "Defense Spending Boosts Information Technology Sector"
Boston Globe (03/14/02) P. E1; Kerber, Ross
Vendors that provide integration services and technology to government are expected to benefit from President Bush's proposed $52 billion IT budget for fiscal 2003. Defense IT will be the largest single portion, since it traditionally amounts to half of all government IT spending, but civilian IT spending will also be boosted as homeland security efforts work to link databases and increase communications capabilities. Stock valuations of companies providing defense technology have shot up since Sept. 11 and a number have announced plans to issue more, or enter the market for the first time. CIBC analyst Stephen Murphy says he expects 10 percent annual growth for the next four years in defense IT contracting, up from the average 7 percent growth the sector registered since 1997. Federal e-government chief Mark Forman says there is a push to move agencies from an integrator mindset to outsourcing more contracts. However, critics warn that new regulations will be needed to prevent overcharging due to lax procurement oversight. Bureaucratic issues also can get in the way of government IT projects. Last year contractors for the $6.9 billion Navy-Marine Intranet project pushed for an easing of restrictions usually placed on all Pentagon IT spending. Regulators had wanted contractors to test every piece of equipment implemented, but the contractors argued that the costs and time needed to do that would have been enormous.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Industry Ponders Government Role in Digital Identities"
IDG News Service (03/11/02); Garretson, Cara
A conference hosted by the Information Technology Association of America and the Center for Strategic and International Studies is discussing the possibility of government involvement in the establishment and management of online identification services. Spearheaded by Microsoft and Sun Microsystems' Liberty Alliance, the IT industry is quickly moving toward getting people secured IDs and authentification for use in carrying out online transactions. Government could play a role in integrating and policing the use and interoperability of these services, said Microsoft's Craig Mundie, who co-chairs a collaborative study on the topic along with Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig. Another option is the establishment of a third-party institution such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers that governs online addressing issues. However, NASA deputy CIO Dave Nelson noted that government involvement in identification has previously been limited to processes originally intended for sole government use, such as the Social Security system and driver's licenses.
- "Polymers Want a Fabric"
Wired News (03/18/02); Taggart, Stewart
Intelligent polymers that can conduct electricity in response to certain factors--heat, stretching, or exposure to sunlight--are being researched for many potential applications, particularly in the area of enhanced fabrics. The University of Wollongong in Australia has developed the first intelligent polymer prototype device, the "knee sleeve;" worn over the knee, the device's conductivity is altered whenever the fabric is stretched, triggering a buzzer to alert the athlete wearing it that he is at risk of knee injury. The knee sleeve was tested last year by the Geelong Football Club, and team doctor Hugh Seward hypothesizes that it could form the basis for other fabric devices that prevent injuries and improve athletic habits for tennis players, skiers, runners, and golfers. Intelligent Polymer Research Institute director Gordon Wallace believes that intelligent polymers could one day be used to generate solar power. He adds that this development could yield clothing capable of powering small electronic appliances, which could be beneficial to soldiers bearing low-power communications and navigation equipment, among others. Other applications include temperature- and humidity-sensitive clothing programmed to adjust insulation and waterproofing properties, and bed sheets that detect the user's heartbeat.
- "Inside Track: A Storm Brews for Surfers"
Financial Times (03/18/02) P. 16; Harvey, Fiona
The scarcity of domain names has placed ICANN and its function on center stage. Although ICANN has been instrumental in creating a dispute-resolution process for domain names, and for alleviating domain name scarcity and an overreliance on .com by introducing new TLDs, ICANN President Stuart Lynn's proposal to turn ICANN into a private-public hybrid organization has embroiled ICANN in controversy. Lynn says ICANN funding is inadequate, and that "we are not making progress in fulfilling the range of agreements necessary for [the Internet's well being]." In the end, management of the Internet and domain names is a crucial task because the demand for domain names will grow in the future, which also means domain name scarcity and other problems will likewise grow. CcTLDs such as .co.uk have not proved to be as popular as .com, and so far the performance of new TLDs such as .biz and .coop have failed to fulfill the needs of users. Analysts say the failure of ICANN to act on internal reform issues at its March 2002 meeting will impede ICANN from focusing on management tasks in the near future.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Once Crucial to PCs, Floppy Drive Now a Waste of Space"
Boston Globe Online (03/18/02); Bray, Hiawatha
Floppy drives are becoming increasingly irrelevant to computer users, and their numbers have been steadily declining since 1995, when sales of disks peaked at 5 billion units. Newer technology, especially cheap and now nearly ubiquitous CD burners, allow computer users to store hundreds of times more data. Small, key-chain USB devices with 64 MB capacity are also selling for about $70 and can allow users to quickly port their data around on what amount to personal, portable hard drives. Even larger capacity disks, like Iomega's Zip format, are losing ground in the marketplace. Windows XP comes with the emergency boot-up on the installation CD-ROM disc, the first for what Microsoft says will be the common practice for now on. Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs acted presciently with the elimination of the floppy disk drive in the first iMac almost four years ago, although the company failed to foresee the switch to CD storage fast enough.
- "FCC Gives Cable Firms Net Rights"
Washington Post (03/15/02) P. E1; Stern, Christopher
The FCC voted 3 to 1 yesterday that cable companies can offer high-speed Internet service without opening their networks to competing Internet providers, a ruling that provoked criticism from rivals and public interest groups concerned about monopolization and loss of competition. Media Access Project President Andrew Jay Schwartzman promised to challenge the ruling in court, arguing that the FCC is "allowing a system that permits restrictions on where you can go and what information you can access." The vote determined that high-speed Internet service is an information service that needs little government control, as opposed to a telecommunications service classification that consumer proponents and public interest groups were lobbying for. Other critics of the decision include Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who said yesterday that it violates the Telecommunications Act of 1996. National Cable and Telecommunications Association President Robert Sachs said the ruling will give broadband Internet services a much-needed "national policy framework." FCC Chairman Michael Powell supported the ruling as well, claiming that it will spur competition and investment, benefiting consumers.
- "Bill Aims to Trade Fed IT Managers"
Potomac Tech Journal (03/11/02) Vol. 3, No. 10, P. 1; Anderson, Tania
A bill introduced by Reps. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.) would foster the exchange of expertise between the public and private sectors by having mid-level federal and commercial IT managers swap jobs for a year, with the option of a one-year extension. It is hoped that the program would help federal IT professionals learn about private industry's best practices and foster more interest in federal government jobs. Meanwhile, private-sector workers would apply their skill to federal IT projects and relate their insights about the government to their employers. "We could gain a keener idea of the problems they face and insight on the things they think about," notes Booth Jameson of EDS, which worked on the legislation with Davis, IBM, and Microsoft. Participants would stay on their employers' payroll and receive the same health benefits. The bill also extends a pilot program that eases equipment and supplies acquisition for the government, and gives federal workers more space to telecommute. The benefits of such a program are obvious when over half of all federal workers will have reached retirement age in five years.
- "Secrets and Lives"
Economist (03/09/02) Vol. 362, No. 8263, P. 75
The war on terrorism could stifle academic freedom in the United States. Although the Bush administration is concerned with keeping certain information away from terrorists that may be used for biological weapons, the effect may prevent researchers from using the work of other scientists as they pursue their own advances. The Bush administration appears to be following the path of the Reagan administration, which wanted to keep research into the physics of explosive weapons secret as part of the Cold War. So far, the Bush administration has been able to place greater restrictions on who is able to handle certain toxins, viruses, and micro-organisms, and remains fast at work on creating an information-security policy for sensitive information. Government concern about certain areas of research could impact their funding. But scientists are more concerned about the government classifying the latest research into bioscience, reviewing research prior to publishing, or refusing the right to publish. The government could also seek to remove method sections from research papers, which would amount to partial censorship. An open debate could help find a balance where sensitive information can be kept away from terrorists, but not from scientists who need the research to counter the very dangers of terrorism. Meanwhile, British scientists are alarmed over a bill moving its way through parliament that would regulate the movement of "dual-use" technologies, not only to other countries, but within England as well. The bill would regulate technology ideas as well as things.
- "Riding Out the Storm"
eWeek (03/11/02) Vol. 19, No. 10, P. 41; Vaas, Lisa
IT certifications have become an essential qualification for prospective employees. Employers look upon them as a sign of commitment and credibility, and they better the chances for employees to make more money. A survey from Foote Partners finds that certified workers can earn an 8 percent to 8.6 percent bonus on average, whereas premium bonuses for all skills fell 13 percent between the third quarter of 2000 and the fourth quarter of 2001. Foote Partners President David Foote says that this new emphasis on skills certifications is a result of the recession, which has forced companies to be more selective. Most IT professionals have their certifications paid for by their employers, according to a survey by Certification Magazine. Certified employees are more productive and thus drive costs down, say Providence Health System officials. However, it is important to note that IT certifications do not guarantee an automatic raise, but rather are used today to "justify your existence," observes John LeBrun of Verizon Communication's Enterprise Solutions Group.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The Nanotube Computer"
Technology Review (03/02) Vol. 105, No. 2, P. 36; Rotman, David
Carbon nanotubes have the potential to significantly change the world of electronics over the next decade. Phaedon Avouris of IBM Research says that nanotubes can be fashioned into transistors that are superior in performance to silicon-based transistors. Molecular transistors based on nanotubes or nanowires could increase the number of devices that can be installed on a chip, boosting computer memory and logic circuits. Nanotubes are very compatible with existing semiconducting materials, and the possibility exists that they can be combined with silicon technology, although the dual metallic/semiconducting nature of nanotubes can complicate the fabrication of logic devices. They are also seen as an eventual replacement for silicon once it reaches the threshold of Moore's Law. Meanwhile, companies such as Nantero are pursuing nanotube-based nonvolatile memory, which could eliminate the need for people to repeatedly boot up their computers and supplant dynamic random-access memory (DRAM). Nanotubes can also emit electrons at low voltages, and this property forms the basis of thin but cheap flat-panel displays that project a high-quality image; Motorola and other electronics firms are competing to build a working nanotube display. Nanotube research has helped raise the profile of nanoscale materials and their commercial applications, which could include minuscule biological sensors and light-emitting diodes, fuel cell electrodes, and many others.