Timely Topics for IT Professionals
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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 327: Monday, March 25, 2002
- "Copyright Protection Bill Creates Furor in High-Tech Industry"
Computerworld Online (03/22/02); Thibodeau, Patrick
Sen. Ernest Hollings' (D-S.C.) Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Act would require the high-tech industry to create a technical anti-copying standard to be embedded into hardware and software within a year, otherwise the FCC will be authorized to do so. David J. Farber of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia considers the legislation to be a bad idea that would "essentially emasculate the PC as a useful device." Giga Information Group's Rob Enderle predicts that, if approved, Hollings' bill would hamstring consumer PC sales, given that many people purchase new PCs so they can copy songs and other content online. The lack of a standard makes it harder to determine what impact the legislation would have on PC performance in the workplace, where applications and digital rights management technology may converge. Recording Industry Association of America President Hilary Rosen told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month that although common standards are necessary for stopping online piracy, hardware manufacturers have no marketplace incentive to develop them. High-tech industry groups are also adamant that private-sector venture capital for digital rights technology could dry up if such legislation is passed.
For information regarding ACM's activities in the area of intellectual property, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/IP.
- "Makers of PCs Fear Wrath of Microsoft"
Washington Post (03/25/02) P. A4; Krim, Jonathan
Computer manufacturers such as IBM, Dell, and Compaq have shown reluctance to use the alternative Linux operating system in their new PCs due to fear of Microsoft, according to Red Hat CTO Michael Tiemann. He says that Dell backed off its agreement two years ago to use Linux because it was worried about ruining its relationship with Microsoft if it worked with Red Hat for a PC version of Linux. Because it does not run Microsoft's Office software, Linux has a significant disadvantage in the consumer market, but Microsoft says it would be a waste of resources and illogical for them to port their intellectual property to another system just to give it a boost. Currently, Microsoft only licenses its Office program for one other operating system, Apple's Macintosh. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly showed little sympathy for what she said could simply be hearsay on the part of Tiemann, but Microsoft documents produced by the nine states suing the company partially support his story.
- "IT Workers Left Out of Economic Rebound"
ZDNet (03/21/02); Konrad, Rachel
Although the Federal Reserve is more optimistic about the prospects of the economy and the stock market is improving in certain segments, IT workers do not have much to smile about these days. Large numbers of tech workers have lost their jobs and have not been able to find new work in the industry. And the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon. Unemployment, which tends to trail other economic indicators after a recession, is expected by many economists to climb up to 7 percent, which would be its highest level since 1993. However, the IT industry could have an unemployment rate that is higher than the unemployment rate of the population at large. The Association for Bay Area Governments expects unemployment to rise to as much as 8 percent in the months to come, and other tech markets, such as Boston, Austin, Texas, the Research Triangle area in North Carolina, and Colorado are struggling as well. Some observers say there will be fewer tech hires because companies can get by with fewer workers as a result of the productivity gains that come from using high-speed servers and automated Web services. Other experts cite the impact of the decline in corporate spending on new hardware and software, as well as the decline in venture capital to startups for "expansion" rounds, which would lead to new hires.
- "Wanted: A Peace Envoy to End Net's Bickering Over Address System"
Wall Street Journal (03/25/02) P. B1; Weber, Thomas E.
ICANN has gone from cacophonous bickering to a stupendous meltdown, and now needs a peace process to right the organization responsible for overseeing the Internet's domain name addressing system. Some ICANN board members are calling for ICANN's own abolishment, one ICANN director is suing ICANN itself, and ICANN's CEO is calling for almost total internal reform. Former ICANN chairperson Esther Dyson envisions ICANN's role as the role of a public utility, while ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn has declared ICANN's current structure "impractical." So far, ICANN has been responsible for balancing the diverging interests of companies and consumers in regards to domain names, and in achieving consensus on technical issues, but has become mired in internal issues of procedure. Influential technologist and University of Pennsylvania professor Dave Farber has signed an open letter calling for ICANN to be abolished and for the creation of a permanent replacement--but Farber's idea would simply open up too many pre-ICANN issues, and ICANN should simply be fixed. ICANN needs a white knight to present and implement a compromise proposal, which may not include elected board members, but which must guarantee ICANN maintains open records of meetings and documents like any accountable public body must; and Farber himself would be a qualified choice for this role.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "Lilith: Geek Music to Girls' Ears"
Wired News (03/23/02); Dean, Katie
Middle school girls in Madison, Wis., are getting more involved in computers through the Lilith Computer Group, the brainchild of student Susannah Camic, which was co-developed by the Madison Metropolitan School District and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Camic says the group was originally founded "to increase the comfort level and confidence of girls in relation to computers." An online survey of 60 girls shows that the club has had a significant impact, according to the group's chief coordinator, Kathy Konicek. Eighty-seven percent of the respondents are regular participants, while 80 percent report increased confidence around computers and 50 percent report improved grades as a result of their participation. Ten of Madison's 11 middle schools host Lilith clubs, which boasts approximately 150 members in the city. The various clubs come together at a computer fair in the spring. To help participants maintain their interest in computers when they reach high school, the club is instituting a mentoring program this year.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Bleak Future Looms If You Don't Take a Stand"
SiliconValley.com (03/23/02); Gillmor, Dan
Only a few large corporations will end up controlling access to the Internet, entertainment, and media content in a short while, if current trends continue, predicts SiliconValley.com columnist Dan Gillmor. Even as free speech and technological innovation is threatened by laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the music industry is pushing for more controlling legislation, such as Sen. Ernest Hollings' (D-S.C.) proposal to include digital copyright protection in all entertainment electronics. With the telecommunications industry in financial shambles, the largest players are collaborating to divvy up the market, resulting in fewer choices for consumers in the future. One of the most egregious affronts to Internet innovation and public interest is the music industry's attack on Internet radio broadcasting stations. Rather than change their way of doing business and adjust to new distribution technologies such as the Internet, the music industry has decided to wipe out the competition. Gillmor recommends that consumers pressure Congress and media companies to stop pursuing anti-competitive legislation.
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- "After College, A High Degree of Job Anxiety"
Washington Post (03/25/02) P. E1; Johnson, Carrie
Some tech college students facing imminent graduation are not ready to confront a job market that is less energetic than it was three or four years ago. Frustrated that there are fewer openings because of the recession and employers' preference for more experienced workers, these students have taken to classic avoidance behavior, such as part-time jobs and graduate school. Although key indicators suggest that the economy has started to recover, there may still be an increase in the unemployment rate this summer. Students who lack U.S. citizenship face an even tougher market, especially in the Washington area, with its concentration of government contracts. Still, the odds favor students with technical skills, according to experts such as Lloyd Griffiths of George Mason University. Gaining work experience through internships or consulting is another recommended strategy, says Raytheon college recruiter Len Green. There are also signs of hope at technology fairs, which are drawing high numbers of employers and students.
- "Are You Being Served?"
Technology Review Online (03/15/02); Nickell, Joe
Customer service and digital technology could meld even further with the advent of virtual agents. Indeed, "service bots" could be so helpful as to fool customers into thinking they are flesh and blood. The ideal software-hardware hybrid would be capable of understanding the customer's language, be familiar with company products and customer habits, respond to vague queries, and generate answers to inquiries in an intelligent manner that takes both context and customer emotions into account; accomplishing all this would take the combined powers of voice recognition technology, natural language understanding engines, artificial intelligence, and text-to-speech synthesizers. Still, consumers are not yet warming to such technology, given the poor performance of automated customer service to date. Challenges that bot developers need to meet include customization, not to mention keeping company knowledge that the bot draws upon consistent and up to date, says IBM Research's Joe Bigus. MIT's Dr. Rosalind Picard acknowledges that programs which respond to emotional needs by reading body language and other sensory hints would be extremely valuable. Meanwhile, Norman Badler of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Human Modeling and Simulation notes that behavioral consistency is also key: Bots that display vocabulary, knowledge, or physical reactions that are inconsistent with interactions will engender distrust among customers. Current service bots may be limited, but they can still be useful, according to researchers--for one thing, they offer sharper, faster problem-solving capabilities.
- "Neural Network 'In-Jokes' Could Pass Secrets"
New Scientist Online (03/23/02); Choi, Charles
Scientists have hit upon a new cryptographic technique involving neural networks that can train each other to solve problems. Ido Kanter of the Minerva Center in Ramat-Gan, Israel, and Wolfgang Kinzel of the Institute of Theoretical Physics in Wurzburg, Germany, discovered that two networks asked to categorize random pieces of data so that they could each arrive at the same answer became mirror images, with equal properties following opposite pathways. One of the networks' weightings can then be reversed, resulting in an identical answer. Such synchronized networks would essentially be using in-jokes to find answers, much to the chagrin of spies who are trying to decode their communications. The cryptographic method could find use in the rapid and secure transmission of data via mobile phones, videoconferencing, and online communications. Don Wunsch of the University of Missouri says, "I could see it becoming an alternative when users need to create a cheap and fast encryption with a minimum of shared communication, when security is of moderate, but not life-and-death, concern."
- "Microsoft Password Research Looks to Images, Not Text"
Computer users whose memory limits their choice of passwords could one day use new verification systems that are easier to recall and are less susceptible to hackers. Microsoft researchers are working on such systems, which use images as passwords rather than text. One system enables users to make passwords by clicking on certain areas of the image, which correspond to specific pixels; access is granted when users click on those same areas in the same order. Image doctoring would be necessary so that the software can translate the pixels to random, encrypted numbers. Microsoft researcher Darko Kirovski says the system could work with any image, and possibly even video. Image-based password systems have been a focus of research for more than 10 years, according to cryptographer Bruce Schneier.
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- "New Services Spur Growth of Public Access Wi-Fi"
Computerworld Online (03/21/02); Brewin, Bob
Mobile carriers and wireless Wi-Fi access companies are beginning to look at the intersection of their user-bases, according to company representatives at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association conference. Voicestream Wireless announced a new PC card that will combine its wide-area General Packet Radio Service used for cell phones with Wi-Fi service from its newly acquired Mobilestar Network, renamed T-Mobile Wireless Broadband. The technology will enable Voicestream users to easily access T-Mobile's Wi-Fi service at 650 hot spots around the country, in places such as coffee houses and airport lounges. High-speed Wi-Fi wireless Internet access allows mobile workers to download large files while their normal cellular service can provide always-on availability of other applications such as email. Gartner Group says there will be over 19 million mobile users of Wi-Fi by 2006, compared to 132.9 million cellular phone users. Other major carriers said they are also looking at Wi-Fi integration. Boingo Wireless announced a deal with Hewlett-Packard to include Boingo software with new HP notebooks, so users can automatically detect when they are in range of one of Boingo's 500 network nodes.
- "Will the Net Save China?"
Salon.com (03/21/02); Leonard, Andrew
Internet access and computer technology will bring social revolution in China, according to author David Sheff in his book "China Dawn." The book follows two Chinese entrepreneurs who see the Internet as bringing power to the masses and creating wealth in a country that last week saw demonstrations by up to 10,000 unemployed state workers. Edward Tian, one of China's most famous technology entrepreneurs, and Bo Feng, a Chinese venture capitalist who is neighbors with Sheff in California, visualize abundant Internet access for millions of Chinese in even the most remote rural areas, enabling them to communicate freely online without government control. However, in reality, although the Internet and technology startups offer real changes to China, but they may not be the catalysts of social change that Sheff proposes. Instead, technological innovation and advanced communication may only be a sign of China's opening up since former Premier Deng Xiaoping's reforms, writes Andrew Leonard. He argues that although the Internet ideal of grass-roots empowerment has possibilities in China, billions of Chinese are not yet online and the Chinese government retains firm control over the country
- "Crystals Advance Quest for Photonic Microchip"
NewsFactor Network (03/22/02); Lyman, Jay
University of Toronto researchers are working to create integrated optical chips by manipulating the formation of photonic crystals. The goal is to get the crystals configured on a microchip together with other optical components such as lasers, modulators, and multiplexers. Such an all-optical chip, which the researchers call the Holy Grail of optical communications, would be able to handle much more data than current electric-signal chips, and would enable all Internet networks to handle more traffic, more quickly, at less cost. Networks now employ fiber-optic cable that can shuttle terabytes of information very efficiently, making it necessary for routing equipment to scale likewise in performance. Leading the University of Toronto team is Edward Sargent, who also serves as Nortel Networks' research chairman of emerging technologies. He says the scientists are focusing on using the natural symmetries and order in crystal formation in order to build the right structures necessary for use in a microchip. Sargent adds that photonic microchip technology has dramatic implications for computing as well.
- "Broadband Bill Misses Senate Panel OK"
Many members of the Senate Commerce and Science Committee were unmoved by arguments from Reps. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) that their broadband deregulation bill would boost the number of households with high-speed Internet access, and said they would not support it. The Tauzin-Dingell bill was approved by the House of Representatives in February, but Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) said he favors bills that would offer tax incentives and low-interest loans to broadband providers. The bill would have allowed Baby Bells SBC Communications, Qwest Communications, BellSouth, and Verizon Communications to supply broadband without opening up their local networks to competitors. Hollings argued that deregulation would enable further monopolization of the broadband market by the Bells. Tauzin and Dingell responded to the committee's decision by challenging the panelists to devise a better solution.
- "Web Sites Told to Delete Data"
Washington Times (03/21/02) P. A1; Sammon, Bill
The White House has issued a memo to all federal agency heads that they should remove "sensitive but unclassified" data that might provide terrorists with information about weapons of mass destruction or how to carry out biological attacks. The message caps a campaign by the government to remove more than 6,000 documents from the Internet, according to OMB Watch executive director Gary Bass, who suggested some of the information removed was of little use to terrorists, but of great importance to government watchdog groups. The Federation of American Scientists' Steven Aftergood said the memo was worrisome, despite the instructions to agency heads that they should also take into account the scientific and technical value in leaving information open. One federal official, requesting anonymity, said balance was a key factor in judging whether or not information should stay online. According to the memo, agencies have 90 days to report back to the Office of Homeland Security about their re-examination and any subsequent actions.
- "Funding the Future"
InfoWorld (03/18/02) Vol. 24, No. 11, P. 59; Jones, Jennifer
CTOs could use the U.S. Department of Commerce's Advanced Technology Program (ATP) as a source of funding for high-risk projects that their companies are not willing to pursue or venture capitalists are not willing to support. The National Institute of Standards and Technology runs the ATP, which provides about $60 million in grants each year, with each grant averaging about $2 million. However, the IT industry has not taken advantage of ATP as it could have in the past, considering IT has obtained just 25 percent of all of the program's awards. "The CTO in the technology company is often an engineer or technologist with great ideas they want to pursue aggressively, and that is a fit for our mold," says ATP program manager David Hermreck. Funds from the ATP certainly would come in handy especially today, when companies and venture capitalist are turning their backs on projects that do not promise to deliver an immediate return on investment. The ATP does not limit R&D to defense or other government-related interests, and does not take an equity stake in companies. Meanwhile, the program has come under fire for serving as "corporate welfare," and there is likely to be a substantial cut in the ATP budget in 2003. Critics want ATP dollars to be spent on research, rather than product development or marketing.
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- "Java: Potent Security"
eWeek (03/18/02) Vol. 19, No. 11, P. 45; Coffee, Peter
IT managers are hesitant to deploy Web services, because existing and soon-to-be-released versions of the Simple Object Access Protocol standard have a shortage of integrated security measures. This has led to delays in the release of Microsoft's .Net servers. Meanwhile, enterprises may find Java to be more promising because its security strengths have already been proven, plus the industry has been improving security over the last six years. "If you have to do Web stuff today, use Java; it's there, it's mature, and it works," declared a member of eWeek's Corporate Partner Advisory Board. The high cost of actual authentications that transactions hinge on prompts developers to build a one-time authentication scheme via a single sign-on approach, and hackers could take advantage of errors that crop up when the protocols are re-implemented for different platforms. The Java platform's wide presence reduces that possibility. The September terrorist attacks have made physical security an important consideration for enterprise IT, and one promising application is portable security tokens with Java-based encryption processors. Among the topics to be discussed at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco next week is DaimlerChrysler's DealerConnect application environment, a Java-based application integration portal whose security infrastructure lowers the requirements for security-related code in applications.
- "Winners...and Losers"
Smart Business (03/02) Vol. 15, No. 2, P. 66; Jerome, Marty
Ziff Davis Smart Business asked a panel of business and technology experts to consider the life expectancy of certain technologies over the next 18 months to see which are worth investing in. Pagers, Web phones, Linux, XML, and Wi-Fi seem like sure things because of their widespread popularity and superior performance, even though technologies such as Wi-Fi have a limited market. The Palm OS, Windows XP, Java, peer-to-peer networking, broadband, and voice browsers are likely to be solid bets whose success curve will be mostly gradual as upgrades and innovations are implemented; peer-to-peer and broadband seem inclined to experience sharper growth. However, a majority of experts say WAP is destined for the scrap heap, despite the support of industry heavyweights. The cumbersome nature of handhelds being used to read Web pages is a major turn-off. Some technologies--Pocket PCs, boxed software, and Bluetooth--have equal chances of success or failure. Bluetooth devices have generated little enthusiasm, for example, but the technology could be jump-started by price reductions and innovative hardware developers. Meanwhile, the odds seem long that Transmeta Crusoe chips and the Macintosh platform will succeed; Crusoe is pitted against seemingly unstoppable chip giants Intel and AMD, while Macintosh boasts longevity but experts disagree about its viability.
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- "The Worldwide Computer"
Scientific American (03/02) Vol. 286, No. 3, P. 40; Anderson, David P.; Kubiatowicz, John
Peer-to-peer applications that exploit idle machines connected to the Internet could make cheap, unrivaled computing power available to all, but such applications cannot break into the mainstream until an end-all solution to infrastructure problems is worked out. An Internet-scale operating system (ISOS) would use economic theory to distribute Internet-wide computing resources equally among users and allocate reimbursements to the owners of those resources. The ISOS would have to define a resource's fundamental elements, its particular method of financial transaction, and its pricing structure, while at the same time taking steps to prevent fraudulent data storage and service provision and keeping tabs on resource usage--and still cost only a fraction of the hardware cost. The ISOS would tap into a resource pool of over 150 million hosts; the integrated system's processing speed and storage capacity would therefore be that of a single computer, multiplied 150 million times. Furthermore, this pool is capable of self-maintenance, offers terrific security, and yields more speed and capacity via hardware upgrades. However, the ISOS must contend with the pool's various quirks--such as heterogeneity and the fluctuation of hosts entering and exiting--and be careful not to alienate the hosts' owners by becoming inconvenient or not adhering to usage guidelines. An ISOS' design should include two basic components: A minimal core operating system, or microkernel, that acts as a platform for user-software-based higher-level operations; and central servers run by the ISOS provider. Programmers can build new applications using a software toolkit that includes such facilities as location independent routing, persistent data storage, and secure updates.
- "ACM SIGCHI Conference to Explore Transforming Technologies"
ACM, New York (3/25/02); Virginia Gold
"The upcoming ACM conference on Human Factors in Computing"
(SIGCHI) will host a series of technical tracks that range from current usability and design issues facing today's practitioner, to radical visions of computing in the future facing generations to come. CHI2002 (April 20-25, Minneapolis) offers 32 modules---from software architecture problems, to designing for the mobile Internet, to Web sites that work. A practitioner's track will present usability experts reflecting on their experiences with methods in practice. Collaborative teams will work on design challenges throughout the conference, with all participants invited to join in as experimental subjects. Since "emerging technologies" is the interwoven theme of the conference, this year's events are designed to generate greater interactivity, turning attendees into participants.
For program and registration information, visit http://www.sigchi.org/chi2002.