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 325: Wednesday, March 20, 2002
- "Merger Could Chain HP to the Past"
Los Angeles Times (03/20/02) P. C1; Piller, Charles
Yesterday's Hewlett-Packard announcement that is has won the battle to merge with Compaq Computer has renewed analysts concerns that the combined company can prosper. Although analysts say the combined firm will become the world's largest PC manufacturer and make them even stronger in the server and IT services markets, the changing nature of technology could ultimately work against them. New technologies have always placed leading companies in critical positions, but a few, such as Intel and Microsoft, have used those pressures to expand their enterprises. Taking that frame of mind, many observers see HP's merger with Compaq as a move backward toward the very problem that is pressuring both companies--weakness in the PC market. Microsoft has re-engineered its entire product line around the Internet instead of depending on licensed sales that go along with new PCs. Intel, when faced with undercutting Japanese competitors in the 1980s, deftly switched from making memory chips to microprocessors, a move that proved extremely profitable. Both examples show that HP might be better off positioning its research and development and current market assets toward future hot areas, such as nanotechnology, mobile computing, high-tech security, and life sciences computing. For its part, those focuses have been part of the argument for the merger, since Compaq owns the increasingly popular iPAQ handheld computer, which is a leading contender in mobile computing innovation as well as biotechnology.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "House Leaders Delay Vote on Government High-Tech Bills"
Newsbytes (03/19/02); Krebs, Brian
The leaders of the House have put off a vote on several bills, one of which would have authorized an exchange program for federal and commercial IT workers. That bill, which was approved by the House Government Reform Committee less than a week ago, will have to wait until April 9 for a vote, when the House reconvenes after spring break. The postponement was necessary because the chairmen of the House Judiciary and Ways & Means committees wanted time to consider the proposal and present their opinions. An aide to the bill's chief sponsor calls the move "a flexing of jurisdictional muscle." The House leadership also postponed a vote on the Freedom to Telecommute Act, which would prevent federal agencies from not giving work to contractors that use telecommuting workers. The bill was originally to be considered on March 19 under suspension of the rules, but will instead get a floor vote on Thursday.
- "Programmers Pumping Up"
SiliconValley.com (03/18/02); Dunlap, Kamika
Every year, the Association of Computing Machinery hosts an international competition for computer programming students. Corporate recruiters place a lot of stock in the competition, which is designed to exhibit the technical and social skills of programmers. Teamwork is an especially desirable trait for employers, says Stanford University participant Choung Do. William Poucher, executive director of ACM's International Collegiate Programming Contest, says the purpose of the contest is "to shine the spotlight on the next generation of leaders." Over 27 countries will be represented by 64 teams participating in this year's contest, which is taking place in Honolulu. Collegiate programmers will be challenged to solve enough programming problems to account for an entire semester. This year's contest is also notable for hosting record numbers of female programmers, an important development for a group that is underrepresented in education. For contestants, the competition is also a good way to meet fellow programmers and become familiar with their methods, notes Stanford team member Jon McAlister.
For more information on the ACM's International Collegiate Programming Contest, visit http://icpc.baylor.edu/icpc/.
- "Building Trust Into Open Source"
CNet (03/20/02); Lemos, Robert
Open-source software has suffered from the revelation of three major software bugs recently, at the same time that Microsoft has launched its Trustworthy Computing initiative meant to strengthen code review at the company. One problem, says WireX Communications chief scientist Crispin Cowan, is that open-source coders often take it for granted that free peer review by thousands around the world makes for secure software. However, he says the reality is that the majority of open-source code is not looked at a second time because it is not glamorous. Cowan's Sardonix open-source auditing project is meant to counter that sentiment by organizing and doling out appreciation to people who review code. Serious flaws appeared in major Linux-associated applications, such as the PHP programming language that could possibly open up 9 million Web sites to an attack similar to the Code Red virus that struck at Microsoft-powered Web sites. Still, veteran Linux backers, including founder Linus Torvalds, insist open-source software is more secure than Microsoft's proprietary code. Torvalds says the recent security initiative from Microsoft is just an indication of how vulnerable their code actually was, and that flaws in open-source code are fixed quickly.
- "Cutting-Edge Communications: Pen and Paper"
NewsFactor Network (03/20/02); Hirsh, Lou
Pen and paper is coming back into vogue as a communications tool, but with considerable modifications, according to technology displayed and discussed at the CeBIT exhibition in Hanover, Germany. The pens are wireless, equipped with sensors and storage capacity that maintain portability while capturing text or drawings that can be transmitted to PCs. The paper makes the transmission more precise via dot patterns that enable "absolute positioning," says Logitech's Chris Bull. Logitech and Anoto have teamed up to produce the pens and paper, respectively. The dot patterns can be used to assign certain commands or operations--information retrieval or order placement, for example--to specific areas of the paper, according to Anoto officials. The digital pen will be capable of porting into a PC for data transfer. The universal familiarity of pen and paper will offer more ease of use than most tech gadgetry, says Logitech's Nathan Papadopulos. Other devices of interest showcased at CeBIT include OTM Technologies' Vpen, an optical pen-mouse integrated with Bluetooth, and Sony Ericsson's Chatpen, which can reportedly allow users to send email transmissions of handwritten notes to PCs, cell phones, or PDAs.
- "Nanotechnology's Potential Needs Decades of Work Before It's Realized, Expert Panel Says"
Small Times Online (03/19/02); Stuart, Candace
Although nanotechnology could have a tremendous impact on the world, it will be several decades before viable products emerge, according to a panel of experts speaking to the D.C. Science Writers Association. The key to manufacturing nanomaterial and nanodevices is to manipulate atoms precisely, but panelist Richard Smalley, a co-director of Rice University's Center for Nanoscience in Biological and Environmental Engineering, believes it could take up to 40 years for atomic precision to fully develop. Motorola's Physical Research Laboratories is working on molecular memory technologies, but director and panelist Herb Goronkin says the technology is still "unreproducible and unreliable." Richard Siegel, who directs Renssalaer Polytechnic University's Center for Directed Assembly of Nanostructures, predicts that nanotechnology will eventually eliminate traditional integrated circuit fabrication methods, such as lithography and etching. Meanwhile, National Nanotechnology Initiative overseer Mihail Roco says that nanotechnology cannot be developed without significant funding and long-term commitment from the federal government. All four panelists agree that a distinction must be made between workable long-term nanotechnology projects and the more popular visions of minuscule devices that can perform amazing but unrealistic functions. "The list of things that nanotechnology can do reads like the New Testament ... It all but raises the dead," notes Smalley, who calls such miraculous properties "ridiculous."
- "Finding a Wealth of Uses for Global Positioning System"
Boston Globe (03/18/02) P. C4; Herbert, Meg
The Pentagon-developed Global Positioning System (GPS) is becoming cheaper, more powerful, and enhanced by a number of new applications. Automotive manufacturers such as General Motors and Nissan are already working to supplement GPS locator and directional systems available in cars with location-based advertising. GPS could also play a large role in helping telecommunications firms fulfill federal requirements that they provide E911 services, which would enable emergency workers to pinpoint distress calls made from a cell phone. An MIT research group led by Bill Hall of Cambridge's Draper Laboratory is working on a GPS tracking system using a two-way radio for the MIT shuttle. Currently, phone makers and carriers are building the capabilities using cheaper but less accurate technologies, though GPS boosters say their solutions eventually will become cheap enough and small enough to embed in handsets. Law enforcement also uses GPS technology to track dangerous ex-convicts, and devices have also been integrated with environmental sensors to let parents know the location and status of their children. Other uses for GPS being investigated include military applications that widen the range of bombs, and increased security for civilian air travel.
- "Execs: Government Not Shying Away From Tech Innovation"
Washington Technology Online (03/18/02); LeSueur, Steve
Experts at an information technology conference in New York last week say the government's renewed interest in cutting-edge technologies will help boost the fortunes of companies serving the government IT sector for years to come. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, government IT vendors say officials are more eager to try out new technologies that could aid them in the war on terror. IBM government sector general manager Anne Altman gave the example of grid computing, which creates ad hoc supercomputing power, as one new technology that government is pioneering. She said, "There is much greater interest in government and industry for technology innovation." President Bush also dramatically revised upward his request for IT expenditures at the federal level, cranking it up 15 percent to $52 billion. Experts note that intelligence department IT spending is not disclosed, but will also likely receive a large increase. Besides leading technology innovation, the government will look to IT contractors to help it fill the gap left after many veteran IT workers leave, as many of them are reaching retirement age. Veterans Affairs CIO Ed Meagher said the government's slowness in hiring IT workers since 1990 will force agencies to outsource functions and development to private companies. At least one analyst, Andrew Paremtier of Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co., expressed caution over the enthusiasm in the government IT sector, saying it would likely subside over the coming months.
- "Security-Flaw Guidelines Hit Pothole"
CNet (03/18/02); Lemos, Robert
The authors of a proposed software security flaw disclosure protocol decided to withdraw it from the Internet Engineering Task Force because of critical comments from members who argued that the draft was not appropriate for the agency. The standard tries to strike a balance between the interests of software vendors and security researchers in the handling of software holes. Researchers would give companies 30 days before notifying the general public of bugs in their software, providing them with an opportunity to repair them. There is also no repair deadline, so researchers would not make the bugs publicly known as long as the company acts in good faith. Draft authors Steve Christey and Chris Wysopal will look for another organization to submit their proposal to. One possible group could be the Organization for Internet Safety (OIS), a joint venture between security companies and software makers that wants more room to fix flaws before public disclosure. The guidelines may be especially welcomed by Microsoft, a founding member of the OIS and a major supporter of such standards.
- "Tilting at ICANN"
Salon.com (03/19/02); Cave, Damien
ICANN publicly-elected board member Karl Auerbach says he joined ICANN to foment reforms, but he now finds that ICANN has suspended all further board-level elections and is moving toward creating a closed, self-perpetuating institution. Auerbach says that within five minutes of being elected he asked to see ICANN's financial records but was denied this request for a long time, prompting ICANN President Stuart Lynn to draft a number of restrictive rules for record-viewing that in Auerbach's opinion are not only full of hidden conditions but are illegal as well. Lynn says that ICANN is broke, but Auerbach says his plan to revamp ICANN boosts ICANN's budget from a couple million dollars to $23 million. Auerbach says viewing ICANN's financial records would enable directors to understand where all ICANN's money is going. Auerbach questions why the approval of seven new TLDs required $2.4 million generated from 47 applicants paying $50,000 application fees apiece. In addition, Auerbach believes that the current budget of a couple million dollars and a staff of 20 is overblown for an organization responsible for mostly technical issues. Auerbach says the real reason behind Lynn's proposal is that ICANN management wants to build itself into a closed-door empire. He says that Lynn's plan for government involvement is unrealistic not only because it asks world governments for money, but because it would force ICANN to work with the U.S. legislative branch since only Congress can appropriate money for ICANN.
- "Whatever Happened to 64-Bit Computing?"
Enterprise (03/14/02); Seltzer, Larry
Despite the dramatic improvement the change to 32-bit processing made to computing systems over 16-bit processing, Microsoft and Intel have been slow to migrate their products to 64-bit systems. Businesses do not see the need for 64-bit computing yet and the nearly unlimited amount of physical memory access it provides, and so technology vendors have been complacent to release many 32-bit applications that can run on 64-bit systems. Intel's new Xeon processors still incorporate old work-arounds to addressing problems posed by 32-bit computing rather than port applications entirely over to the 64-bit architecture, which would provide virtually unlimited address and registry capabilities. Still, the move to 64-bits is underway, although the transition now is likely to be evoluationary, not revolutionary. Users with computation-intensive applications will be the first to switch, while others are currently more concerned with making their 32-bit applications more secure and easier to handle. Moving enterprise computing to a new architecture will take a few years, when the hardware and software changes will be so negligible that companies will have little reason not to make the transition.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Workers Can't Wait to Go Mobile--Study"
Newsbytes (03/18/02); Bartlett, Michael
Over 50 percent of the national U.S. workforce will either telecommute or do their jobs remotely by 2006, according to a study from Access Markets International Partners (AMI). Company connections will be maintained by wireless data/Internet (WDI) technology that many of these mobile professionals will use, although AMI notes that issues over pricing, performance, security, commercial applicability, and implementation standards still need to be ironed out. Meanwhile, the report forecasts that the next four years will see rapid growth in the consumer availability of WDI-enabled devices; by 2006, the WDI commercial user base will comprise more than 26.4 million people. AMI predicts that businesses with less than 500 employees will be among the earliest adopters of mobile technology, totaling almost 16.3 million WDI users by 2006. AMI managing editor Eric Shuster wrote that "The probability of a mobile employee developing into a WDI user will more than quadruple from 2001 to 2006, driven by several critical factors related to the small and medium segment." Those factors include the advent of flexible packet-based data networks and enterprising pricing schemes, as well as a "greater ability to stimulate wide ranging applications deployment," according to Shuster. AMI expects the number of remote or telecommuting workers to reach 67 million by 2006.
- "Tech Hiring's Spring Thaw?"
Business Week Online (03/15/02); Wahlgren, Eric
Technology employment offices are starting to get calls from companies again, though demand is nothing like in previous years, when businesses would hire 20 employees at one time, according to Eric Wheel, general manager for the Silicon Valley branch of Management Recruiters International. Silicon Valley last year lost an estimated 25,000 workers due to layoffs, resulting in the first broad decline in employment there in nine years. Still, recruiters say the thaw in technology hiring is dependent on corporate spending, which will not likely pick up until the end of 2002, says Information Technology Association of America President Harris Miller. Some hot sectors, such as wireless networking, fiber optics, data storage, and computer security are seeing greater demand for new hires than other areas in technology. MBA holders, once the most in-demand group for technology companies, are now seeing a slight resurgence in job offers after a long period of layoffs. Analysts say workers with management skills that focus on cost-cutting, quality control, supply-chain management, and the ability to code in C++ and Java are the most desirable. Companies are also less likely to turn to inexperienced workers and instead are increasingly using contract workers.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Welcome to Your Future Internet"
MSNBC (03/17/02); Boyle, Alan
Wires, the Web, and the PC are no longer boundaries for the networked world, according to Internet pioneers who are fast at work building the Internet of the future. In addition to making the Internet faster and more connected than what is available today, Internet pioneers are accomplishing other amazing feats, such as making it possible to chat on the Internet using high-definition television. The Wi-Fi revolution, which has enabled communities to build and own their own wireless networks, is seen as a way to bring the Internet to places such as Alaska, Africa, or Guatemala, according to Matt Westervelt of the Seattle Wireless Group. Wi-Fi, or 802.11b, is a high-speed wireless standard used to build these wireless networks; users can connect to the Wi-Fi network with about $200 worth of hardware, software, and an antenna. Meanwhile, corporations, academic institutions, and government agencies are using Internet2 to improve videoconferencing and to test applications such as shared virtual-reality environments. Internet pioneers are also working to take the Internet to outer space, as well as to the dashboards of automobiles and the products of supermarkets. The effort to bring the Internet to cars and grocery stores is part of the wider strategy to connect all sorts of devices and gadgets to the online network; the use of Internet-savvy chips could mean intelligent products will be everywhere, with consequences both good and bad. For example, plugged-in products can be used as tracking devices, but there are some concerns about their impact on personal privacy.
- "Plenty of Groups are Accepting Donations of Used PCs"
Investor's Business Daily (03/19/02) P. A7; Shaw, Russell
There are many organizations that accept donations of old computers to aid the poor and other disadvantaged people, and many can be accessed over the Internet. The National Cristina Foundation supplies computer technology to disabled people, at-risk students, and low-income households, and is a partner with the Computer Technology Industry Association. Referral sources such as the Share the Technology Computer Recycling Project and Parents, Educators and Publishers (PEP) direct donors to various programs online. The PEP Web site connects to donation sites in over 35 states, one example being Think Detroit Computer Recycling, which provides donated computers to participants in its basic computing courses. Other equipment that these groups accept include printers, monitors, fax machines, copiers, and scanners.
- "Electronics Makers Forge Recycling Pact With Government, Environmentalists"
Waste News (03/18/02) Vol. 7, No. 24, P. 1; Toloken, Steve
The National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative (NEPSI), a group of 16 prominent electronics manufacturers, announced that it has reached preliminary consensus with environmental organizations and government officials regarding recycling computer waste. Governmental bodies are concerned about the buildup of dangerous chemicals in dumps, and environmental concern over computer waste has been heightened by a recent report on U.S.-originated electronic trash being dumped in developing countries. Although the exact details of the system have not been worked out, it will likely include either added costs to computer and electronics equipment passed onto the consumer or paid upfront by the company. In addition, representatives said they would work with the plastics industry to develop better ways to manufacture environmentally friendly computer components, stemming waste at its source. NEPSI, backed by such major industry firms as Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, and Sony, has been working on the current agreement since January 2001. Plans are to have a more concrete framework completed as soon as possible, as well as federal legislation on the matter out by September.
- "Entering the 'W' Zone"
InfoWorld (03/11/02) Vol. 24, No. 10, P. 1; Johnston, Stuart J.
Companies can save a lot of money in IT costs if they couple wireless LANs (WLANs) and Web services, and several standards are competing for the wireless market. Wi-Fi appears to be ahead of the others: A growing trend to install wireless Wi-Fi access points in buildings instead of threading cables, combined with XML- and Java-based Web services, could facilitate the implementation of flexible, compatible online applications that can communicate without the need for extensive reprogramming. Microsoft's .Net initiative features Wi-Fi support, as do high-end Palm devices. Of all the standards, Wi-Fi appears to be a sure thing, even though burning issues over billing schemes, security, radio interference, and WLAN consolidation still need to be resolved. Bluetooth has a shorter range than Wi-Fi, but its low cost and the promise of being able to port into any Bluetooth-enabled appliance is spurring adoption by Microsoft, IBM, Sony, and Toshiba. Bluetooth proponents expect chips that enable the technology will fall in price and become commonplace, to the degree that they will be incorporated into anything and everything. Mobile phone manufacturers and cellular phone carriers are busy creating 3G cellular technologies, which promise guaranteed connectivity to users and, like Bluetooth, could prove very helpful to users in special circumstances, such as delivering consistent text-based data in any location.
- "The Engines of Lilliput"
Economist (03/16/02) Vol. 362, No. 8264, P. 30
Research into micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) is yielding tiny machines that could significantly reduce the size and efficiency of equipment in many fields, but such devices need microscale engines to drive them. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is one of the staunchest advocates of microengines, and the potential applications include minuscule sensors that can transmit information to low-flying aircraft, and butane-fueled microengines that can produce 10 to 20 watts of electrical power and could supplant hefty battery packs carried by soldiers. An MIT team led by Alan Epstein has fabricated a prototype microscale jet engine out of a pile of silicon wafers with a spinning turbine: He theorizes that a 2-centimeter by 3-millimeter engine could produce 10 watts with hydrogen fuel, and even more with hydrocarbon fuel. Meanwhile, Wei Yang at Honeywell is developing a free-piston MEMS that can burn fuel in a small volume through rapid fuel compression while operating at an air/fuel ratio of about 40 to 1; possible applications include a propeller-driven "micro-air-vehicle." Microthrusters such as those being developed by TRW are both robust and easy to assemble, and could enhance rocket propulsion by enabling lightweight satellites to adjust their orbits with remarkable accuracy. One of the key challenges of MEMS devices is creating a chip-sized power source. Proposed approaches include a microscale nuclear reactor that collects particles generated by radioactive decay and boasts long battery life, and such devices could be used to power minute airborne surveillance systems, according to Kris Pister of the University of California at Berkeley.
(Access for paying subscribers or a pay-per-view charge for the article.)
- "Planet Internet"
Technology Review (03/02) Vol. 105, No. 2, P. 80; Pfeifer, Eric
Larry Smarr, a pioneer in the development of the Internet backbone and Mosaic Web browser, has a four-year plan to create a $400 million "living laboratory" that will attempt to cross-fertilize emerging technologies such as the wireless Internet, digitally enabled genomic medicine, and sensor nets, extrapolating future technology that has a three- to five-year head start on the market. Smarr is director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, an organization that facilitates collaboration between federal agencies, private industry, and academia, and helps maintain California's leadership position through advances in IT, nanotech, biotech, and the Internet. His institute received $100 million in funding from Gov. Gray Davis on the proviso that it could get two dollars for every one dollar provided. Smarr says his organization has amassed about $100 million in federal government proposals for projects in quantum computing, optical networks, biomedical imaging, and other areas. He adds that roughly 60 percent of his budget is earmarked for technologies that are two to five years away from commercialization, such as intelligent transportation: For instance, vehicles equipped with a variety of smart sensors and Web connections, thus effecting real-time traffic management. In conjunction with San Diego State University and the High-Performance Wireless Research and Education Network, the institute is testing sensors that are being used to study environmental and wildlife factors, and that could help form an early-warning ecological damage system. In the field of digitally enabled genomic medicine, a UCSD professor has secured $25 million from NIH to build a Biomedical Informatics Research Network, which would enable 3D visualization of brain studies using software and networks developed by UCSD.