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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 4, Issue 331: Wednesday, April 3, 2002
- "Judge Weighs Dismissal of Charges in Digital Copyright Case"
New York Times (04/02/02) P. C4; Gaither, Chris
Federal District Court Judge Ronald M. Whyte listened to arguments from both sides concerning a request to dismiss charges brought against Russian software company ElcomSoft for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) by selling an e-book decryption program. [On Tuesday, Judge Whyte denied a motion for dismissal, ruling that the U.S. did have jurisdiction to try the case.] The company is charged with conspiracy and trafficking in technology designed to bypass copyright protections. Lawyers for the defense argued that the DMCA is too vague and contravenes the First and Fifth Amendments. Attorney Daralyn J. Durie proposed that the law inhibits fair use, while Joseph L. Burton contended that the DMCA "does not define the tools that it purports to prohibit." Both lawyers also claimed that suppressing computer code constitutes a violation of free speech. Federal prosecutors countered that what the buyer uses the software for has no bearing on the case if the vendor markets the product as a copyright circumvention tool. Assistant U.S. attorney Scott Frewing declared that the defense's constitutional argument is a ploy to add "unnecessary emotion" to the case. Whyte could relay his decision on the dismissal request in writing, or by announcement on April 15, when the next hearing is scheduled to take place, according to lawyers.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
To read more about ACM's argument against DMCA, visit http://www.acm.org/felten.
- "Stealth P2P Network Hides Inside Kazaa"
CNet (04/01/02); Borland, John
Brilliant Digital Entertainment disclosed in a federal securities filing that it has been developing a peer-to-peer network using technology bundled with Kazaa software. All machines that use the Kazaa software can act as nodes--provided Brilliant has their owners' permission--for rapidly hosting and distributing content such as music and advertising from other companies. The same technology could also be used to recruit the machines' idle computing power for problem-solving. The P2P service will be offered through Brilliant's Altnet company, which has licensed technology from Blastoise, a new venture from the Dutch founders of Kazaa BV. "This will be an opt-in program...We're trying to create a secure network based on end-user relationships," explains Brilliant CEO Kevin Bermeister. Computer owners who give Brilliant permission to use their machines in the network will be rewarded, according to the filing; compensation could include free videos or gift certificates. Privacy boosters such as Privacy Council CEO Larry Poneman are concerned that the age group that the software appeals to--teenagers or college students--are less aware of their privacy rights, and subsequently may not know what they could be giving up by agreeing to Brilliant's and Kazaa's terms of service.
- "CompuMentor Helps Non-Profits Get Wired"
SiliconValley.com (04/02/02); Boudreau, John
Nonprofits that want to upgrade their technology but do not know how can look to San Francisco-based CompuMentor for advice, an organization started 15 years ago with the goal of matching tech volunteers with charities. Organizations can tap into a wellspring of resources--volunteers, articles, etc.--to develop an effective tech strategy through CompuMentor's TechSoup.org Web site. The agency also provides affordable consulting, while its online DiscounTech store supplies computers and software to nonprofits at about 10 percent of their retail value; the products are donations from tech companies such as Microsoft, which is contributing $25 million in software this fiscal year. CompuMentor will have distributed approximately $27 million worth of software by the end of this fiscal year, and could deliver about $60 million in donated material next fiscal year. The agency is especially helpful to organizations that wish to deploy computers they have received through donations, but lack the expertise to do so. Its Bay Area consultation service is planning an expansion that will include tech installation and maintenance. CompuMentor estimates that the nonprofits it has helped through its Web sites number in the hundreds of thousands.
- "Talking Up the Technology"
Financial Times (04/02/02) P. 8; Harvey, Fiona
Forrester Research Chairman and CEO George Colony's projections of future technological trends have been undeterred by setbacks among tech firms and a distrust of analysts engendered by the Internet explosion and subsequent implosion. He argues that innovation continues to gain momentum and companies would be wise to adopt new technologies. Colony likens new technology to a foreign language that businesses must learn. He blames the failure of dotcoms on flawed business models rather than Forrester predictions that did not pan out. Unlike other analysis companies that catered chiefly to dotcoms, his company is not a "cheerleader" that would often overestimate market potential. Furthermore, Colony cites an internal audit revealing that Forrester's numbers following the market's peak were usually conservative--for instance, the company forecast in 1999 that online business revenues for 2000 would total $406 billion, while the U.S. Census Bureau pegged the actual figure at $620 billion. Colony contends that directors and marketing departments must embrace technology and integrate it with business practices, while technology workers need to be more visionary. Despite the losses his company sustained from the contraction of IT budgets, he believes the growth rate of technology companies will climb back to double digits by 2003.
- "Now Comes the Hard Part"
Boston Globe (04/01/02) P. C1; Bray, Hiawatha
Although the $20 billion merger between Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer has apparently been approved, the company must face a number of challenges, including rivals eager to exploit the situation and lure confused HP-Compaq clients into their corner. Strengthening their position is a survival imperative, since the merger would create a juggernaut with a competitive edge in the PC, commercial server, and printer sectors, as well as a growing presence in the computer services market. Consolidation is another challenge, one that has prompted the partners to refine their strategy by studying the failed attempts of others--including Compaq's Digital Equipment acquisition. The teams responsible for consolidation have been assigned to an office that operates independently of the companies' regular business functions. Customers are concerned about how the transition will affect the systems and products they already rely on, such as Compaq's Unix version, Tru64. The Urban Institute's Jim Becker says it is possible that HP-Compaq will switch from True64 to HPUX, and it is the company's responsibility to make the switch as smooth as possible for users, or lose them to rivals such as IBM. Further challenges HP-Compaq faces include effecting the merger without disrupting the day-to-day operations of each company, and deciding which employees to retain and which to lay off. Other troubles are looming on the horizon, such as a lawsuit filed by HP shareholder Walter Hewlett, who alleges that the company secured the vote of major shareholders through unlawful means.
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- "Shanghai JiaoTong University Wins ACM's Programming Contest"
Software Development--DevTalk Online (03/02) Vol. 3, No. 3; O'Connell, Laurie
Sixty-four teams of university students from 27 countries competed to develop software that could solve enough programming problems to comprise an entire semester at the World Finals of the ACM's International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) last week. First place was captured by a team from Shanghai JiaoTong University, while second and third place went to MIT and Canada's University of Waterloo, respectively. Stanford captured fifth place while Duke University finished eighth. Participants were given five hours to design, write, and evaluate their software, and prizes included scholarships, software, and ThinkPads from IBM. The winning team's software solved the most real-world problems in the shortest time and with minimal attempts. The final 64 teams were selected from over 3,000 candidates who participated in the ICPC's regional contests in the fall. Participation in ICPC, sponsored by IBM, has climbed threefold since the tech giant signed on. "This contest provides us with a great opportunity to build relationships with the next generation of IT talent," says IBM's John Swainson.
For more information on ACM's programming contest, visit http://icpc.baylor.edu/icpc.
- "Showing Off the Future of Artificial Intelligence"
IDG News Service (03/29/02); Miyake, Kuriko
The Robodex 2002 exhibition in Yokohama showcases the work of university robotics engineers, whose creations offer a foretaste of developing technologies and their capabilities. The Tokyo University of Science's Saya robot uses artificial facial muscles driven by compressed air to display happiness, anger, and surprise; an anonymous project contributor said that Saya's interactivity could be boosted with the installation of voice recognition and video monitoring technology. Meanwhile, Chiba University researchers are developing Comet II, a six-legged machine designed to detect and pinpoint land mines using Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology. Waseda University student Yuki Suga says that engineers are attempting to incorporate a sense of values and reactive capacity into a robot using artificial intelligence. One of the more interesting robots on display at Robodex is the work of a single individual, rather than a large laboratory or organization: Kyoto University student Tomotaka Takahashi has built a remote-controlled, two-legged walking machine independent of his studies, and for only $75. Takahashi's Magdan is capable of left-to-right rotation and forwards-backwards ambulation, can swing its arms, and uses magnetic feet to walk on an iron-plate base. Its creator has made a deal with a toy company to produce a commercial version, to debut in May or June. Meanwhile, Nippon Engineering College of Hachioji plans to train future robot engineers through its soon-to-open Robotics Department.
- "The Tiniest Building Blocks"
Philadelphia Inquirer (04/01/02) P. C1; Flam, Faye
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have identified a new carbon molecule structure that promises to provide nanotechnology with a useful building block when creating nano-size computers, customized drugs, and a number of other materials applications. Scientist David Luzzi has already published his report of the new structure--named peapods for their shape--in the journal Science, to much acclaim. Before nanotechnology research caused scientists to look more carefully at nanostructures through powerful microscopes, there were only three known forms of carbon, including diamonds and graphite. Nanotechnology led to the discovery of a fourth form, the buckminsterfullerene, or bucky ball, which had no immediate use but was nevertheless a breakthrough. The latest revelation has been carbon nanotubes, which are basically sheets of carbon molecules that would be graphite if not rolled up into tube-like structures. It is this form that many researchers hope to use for electronics, heat conductors, and other applications, since it has many conducive properties and is very strong. Luzzi's peapods are a new and relatively rare spin on the nanotube because bucky balls are nestled within the tube just like a peapod. Luzzi says the presence of separate carbon forms inside the tube could be used to control the flow of electricity, much like impurities added to silicon is used for better computer chip material.
- "3D Computer Screens, TVs One Step Closer"
NewsFactor Network (04/02/02); Hill, Kimberly
UCLA researchers led by Miguel Garcia-Garibay have produced crystalline molecules whose behavior closely follows that of liquid crystal displays. "Although there are many scientists designing novel electro-optic materials, as far as we know, we are the only ones pursuing this line of work," says Garcia-Garibay. He explains that light passing through the molecules can be blocked or bent, and such a property could one day be applied to 3D computer screens and TVs. Electric and magnetic fields can stimulate certain areas of the crystal to brighten, darken, or shift in color in billionths of a second. Other possible applications of this technology to computers include ultrafast optical switches, astronomical upgrades in storage capacity, and higher access speeds. Garcia-Garibay projects that the molecules could be commercialized in several years.
- "Classes Formed to Develop Video Game Developers of Tomorrow"
Associated Press (03/31/02); Schiffmann, William
Schools such as Georgia Tech and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) have started offering courses in game development to students in order to feed a burgeoning video game industry hungry for expertise. The coursework is considerably more sophisticated than playing video games: RIT's program, for example, covers 2D and 3D graphics, digital media programming, multimedia writing, and applications that support multiple players over a network. Some students who join the program originally planned to be computer engineers, such as RIT student Zachary Welch. "It's not going to be that big a jump," he says. The DigiPen Institute of Technology is reputed to be one of the foremost providers of game developers, and has a relationship with Nintendo--it supplies talent to the game giant in exchange for equipment and know-how.
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- "Phone Makers Copy PCs"
CNet (04/02/02); Kanellos, Michael; Charny, Ben
Mobile phones will soon incorporate many PC-like features, such as DRAM and browsers, and flash memory that will act more like a hard drive. Many phones will also use dual processors to run more complex applications, made accessible and empowered by 3G services. Having two processors will cut down on power consumption, since sometimes one processor can lie dormant. Samsung Electronics' Tom Quinn says the challenge will not be in creating the specifications for phone computing, but in how to fit it into phones. Samsung and NEC are two phone manufacturers currently in talks with phone browser developer Picsel Technologies, which expects to have a PC-like browser interface available for cell phones by the end of this year. Still, some analysts warn that users in the United States have not yet caught on to text messaging, the most basic of smart phone applications, though IDC wireless expert Scott Ellison says new interoperability will help overcome that barrier. Only recently have carriers allowed messages to be sent between different companies' phones, he explains. Intel, the dominant PC chip maker, is also aiming for the phone computing market with its Xscale processor that the company says allows PC applications to run on the popular ARM phone chip specifications.
- "Linux App Writer Wows Skeptics"
Wired News (04/02/02); Delio, Michelle
- "Quantum Cloning Nears Perfection Limit"
New Scientist Online (03/29/02); Anderson, Mark
The principle of quantum cryptography is that any attempts to precisely copy quantum information would destroy the original and give the copier away. But Oxford University's Antia Lamas-Linares leads a group which reports in Science that they have conducted an experiment in quantum cloning that involves copying a photon's quantum state with 81 percent accuracy. The threshold of quantum cloning, in theory, is 83 percent. The photonic duplication was accomplished by injecting single photons into a crystal that had its atomic state stimulated by laser pulses. But 100 percent copying was hampered due to the crystal's spontaneous light emission, which was triggered by the original photon. Richard Hughes of the Los Alamos National Laboratory does not think this experiment reveals any chinks in quantum cryptography's armor, but Magiq Technologies' Hoi-Kwong Lo is not as sure. "There are many attacks against quantum crypto systems out there that might be feasible with current and near future technology, but that may not be obvious even to experts," he cautions.
- "Dot-DNS Could Be the First Step to Loosen ICANN's Grip on Net"
San Jose Mercury News (04/03/02) P. BU1; Gillmor, Dan
When ICANN President Stuart Lynn declared ICANN broken, many ICANN critics who believe that ICANN favors corporation and trademark-owners agreed. The emergence of .com as a commercial domain has led to multiple conflicts over domain names, such as ford.com. The use of words to route Internet users to numeric IP addresses may continue to generate conflict about who owns what word as a domain name. Internet pioneer Bob Frankston has proposed creating a .dns domain that would only allow numeric addresses, such as 123456789012345.dns, in order to separate political conflict from the technology of domain names. Search engines like Google could help users find the .dns Internet addresses. However, under a .dns scenario, directories would grow more powerful, and companies like Microsoft could use them to exert abusive control.
- "IT's a Guy Thing"
Human Resource Executive (03/02) Vol. 16, No. 4, P. 36; Raimy, Eric
The Commission on Technology, Gender, and Teacher Education reports that the female portion of the IT workforce has shrunk from 40 percent to 20 percent in the last 15 years. Another alarming trend is that women with science and technology careers have a much higher exit rate than men, as documented by the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development. Many young women perceive computing to be an uninteresting and solitary vocation, according to experts. This stereotypical, misrepresentative view is chilling the desire for IT careers among women, and is one of the reasons firms are having more and more trouble securing female programmers, network engineers, and systems analysts. To combat this trend and get more female IT personnel, employers need to admit that job-seekers can easily find out whether women employees are happy in their work, and take advantage of this transparency in order to correct business practices that denigrate women, such as lack of respect from co-workers and less flexible work arrangements. Growth and Retention of Women (GROW) is a national effort to encourage better business practices designed to bolster the female IT workforce, such as mentoring and better work assignments. GROW managing partner Nancy Pechloff explains that meaningful relationships and personal connections are an essential ingredient for women in the IT field; mentoring programs and networking forums can fill this void. Meanwhile, IBM, Intel, and some other tech firms are trying to develop the future female IT labor pool through mentoring programs, such as technology camps for female students at elementary schools, middle schools, and universities.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Competition v. Innovation"
Potomac Tech Journal (03/25/02) Vol. 3, No. 12, P. 13; Quarles, James L.
A debate is raging in the Supreme Court and the FTC over whether innovation or competition fuels the U.S. economy, which is increasingly dependent on technology. Innovation advocates claim the substantial rewards offered by broad patents drive research and development, thus leading to more products on the market. Competition proponents are pushing for more narrow patent protection, arguing that such measures give companies the impetus to "design around" patents or make their path to market more certain. The Supreme Court is adjudicating the case of Festo v. Shoketsu Kinzoku Kogyo Kabushiki, in which the patent holder argues that it can prohibit sales of a product if it features something that equals something in the patent, even if it is not literally claimed in the patent. Innovation boosters are cheering this as an example of broad patent protection. Meanwhile, the FTC is holding hearings to determine a balance between competition and innovation. The agency is studying in great detail the myriad ways that patents and competition law converge, and appears to favor the argument that competition is the key to technological progress. Chances are that the warring sides will eventually meet in the middle in terms of policy.
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- "Rising Internet Anxiety"
National Journal (03/23/02) Vol. 34, No. 12, P. 869; Sirhal, Maureen
As the economic power the of Internet expands, the issue of Internet governance is becoming more and more important, and the choices increasingly complex. Under current rules, if ICANN meets certain conditions, the organization will gain sole control of the "A" root domain name server currently run by VeriSign under a contract issued by the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration. However, in the age of global terrorism many in the U.S. government are hesitant to relinquish U.S. control of the Internet's primary domain name server to an independent organization. ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn's proposal to create government representation within a small, more effective ICANN is also raising fears that there will be less public input in ICANN; in addition others fear that foreign governments could use Lynn's proposed access to manipulate ICANN in order to exert control over the Internet. Lynn believes that if ICANN does not eventually gain control of the "A" root at some point, the world's governments will cease being interested in ICANN. Upcoming Senate hearings on ICANN will be chaired by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and plan to question whether ICANN is the right model for Internet governance. The general consensus among analysts is that ICANN is the right model, but that ICANN needs a strict and transparent policy structure. Under ICANN's current mandate, ICANN is supposed to develop its own structure in a way that builds international consensus for its policies.
- "Java Under Siege: Eyeing the Horizon"
InfoWorld (03/25/02) Vol. 24, No. 12, P. 1; Sullivan, Tom
Sun Microsystems' Java technology, which stresses portability across languages, platforms, and applications that run on J2EE, is being challenged by Microsoft's push to establish interoperability between systems and applications via the standardization of XML, Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Web Services Description Language (WSDL), and Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI). Adding to the irony is the fact that Microsoft has teamed up with Sun partners such as IBM and BEA Systems to set these interoperability standards while keeping Sun out of the loop. There is no need to have ubiquitous code with XML-based Web services, but they have limited use beyond data representation. Sun has been reluctant to adopt SOAP, UDDI, and WSDL, and is instead focusing on e-business XML (ebXML), which it touts as a broader e-business solution. EbXML aims to allow businesses to get together and do business regardless of size and location, which is a similar goal of the Microsoft protocols. Sun questions the standardization process Microsoft and IBM are pursuing: Whereas the traditional way, according to Sun's Ed Julson, is to submit an idea to a standards organization so its members can develop it, Microsoft and IBM are developing the technology first, then submitting it to standards bodies. Sun is planning to add SOAP and UDDI support to Java through products and specs such as J2EE 1.4 and XML Pipeline. "Ultimately, the best scenario is with J2EE and Java being the engine and XML being the fuel in that engine," says Hurwitz Group analyst Tyler McDaniel.
- "The Dot-Bomb's Silver Lining"
Governing (03/02) Vol. 15, No. 6, P. 30; Perlman, Ellen
Although the tech sector has tumbled, jobs remain available for IT workers. State and local governments have IT positions to fill, and an increasing number of laid-off tech workers are accepting jobs in the public sector. A late 2001 Gartner survey found that about 90 percent of state governments and 80 percent of local governments are in serious need of skilled IT workers. However, state and local governments now are enjoying hiring success because many tech workers are looking for employment security, even if the pay is not comparable to what is offered by tech companies. Still, state and local governments are taking steps to make salaries more attractive to tech workers. For example, Texas is giving state workers with a year's tenure a 4 percent pay raise, and California has altered its classification system and minimum qualifications requirements so workers can start off earning more money. Nonetheless, the success that state and local governments are enjoying in filling IT positions may not last for long. Gartner also has found that as much as 20 percent of state government workers are eligible to retire within five years.