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Timely Topics for IT Professionals

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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Volume 4, Issue 334: Wednesday, April 10, 2002

  • "Windows Features Not Vital, Expert Says"
    Washington Post (04/10/02) P. E2; Krim, Jonathan

    States pressing Microsoft to release an "unbundled" version of Windows so computer manufacturers can implant competing versions of certain applications yesterday received support from Princeton University computer science professor Andrew W. Appel at Microsoft's antitrust hearing. Microsoft argues that removing certain applications from the operating system would hamstring its performance, but Appel testified that the company is in fact producing a modular Windows release that allows application removals for certain devices, Windows XP Embedded. Microsoft also contended that consumers prefer the bundled version of Windows. The bundling issue lies at the heart of the states' proposal to impose tougher restrictions on Microsoft than those outlined in the settlement the company reached with the Justice Department. When cross-examined by Microsoft attorney Steven Holley, Appel acknowledged that under the state provisions Microsoft may have to produce over 1,000 versions of Windows, but said the company has exaggerated how burdensome that job would be.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22498-2002Apr9.html

  • "Andreessen: Copy Protection Efforts are Doomed"
    SiliconValley.com (04/09/02); Chmielewski, Dawn C.

    Delivering his keynote speech to the National Association of Broadcasters convention, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen said the entertainment industry will not succeed in copy-protecting material such as music, movies, or TV shows distributed on digital devices. Rather than go to elaborate extremes to halt digital piracy, the industry should exploit it as a golden business opportunity, he urged. Andreessen said the software industry's failed attempts to rein in piracy should serve as an object lesson at the futility and redundancy of the copy-protection plan: Volume increases and price reductions led to explosive growth, with the result that piracy lost its prominence. The recording and broadcast industry could follow the same strategy and offer cheap digital music, for example, while simultaneously reminding consumers that file swapping constitutes piracy through ad campaigns. Andreessen said that the storage space of digital devices will double every 18 months, in keeping with Moore's Law--a factor that will similarly drive demand for digital entertainment content. Meanwhile, he predicted that households will feature networks of smart equipment that can support digital media, also boosting the demand for entertainment.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/3031836.htm

  • "Are Coders Getting Careless?"
    IDG News Service (04/09/02); Costello, Sam

    Buffer overflow errors that have left computer programs vulnerable to viruses such as Code Red and Nimda are a long-standing problem, and there are a variety of factors why they were not prevented earlier, even though they could have been. Responsibility for this problem's persistence can be found not just among programmers, but among consumers, educators, and students as well. Shawn Hernan of the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) notes that most colleges and universities do not offer courses in security programming in their undergraduate, and in some cases graduate, curriculums. He also claims that industry is pressuring schools to produce students who can write code that meets a certain requirement rather than boasts security. Stanford University's Dan Boneh adds that market demand, time-to-ship, and the addition of features to maintain competitive edge is causing companies to skip over critical audits and security tests. SEI has posted a list of software development methods that developers can use to avoid common errors. SecurityFocus CEO Arthur Wong says that consumers also need to take action and urge providers to develop more secure products. On a positive note, Boneh says that more and more students are getting interested in security, and adds that his students are seeing security knowledge as an important job qualification.
    http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,93164,00.asp

  • "Networking Execs See Brighter, Faster Future"
    InfoWorld.com (04/05/02); Lawson, Stephen

    Panelists at a Silicon Valley Internet networking roundtable last week said the U.S.'s high-speed voice and data networks are poorly used and behind many other countries. The panelists said Internet investment is improving, but several panelists said the FCC was to blame for not enforcing the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and accepting monopolies in broadband access. Juniper Networks CEO Scott Kriens said that although there are different broadband service options available--satellite, cable, and digital subscriber line--consumers often do not have access to all three. And when they do, said Kriens, there may be only one or two companies offering service in their area. As a result, the United States is laden with inefficient infrastructure and is ranked twelfth worldwide in broadband connectivity. Gartner vice president John Coons said the current doldrums in the communications equipment market was a good opportunity for startup companies, because they would not be burdened with inordinate expectations of profit until 18 to 24 months in the future, exactly when analysts say the market will pick up. Allegro Networks CEO and former Intel executive Dave House expressed confidence in the future of the market, and thought that new applications would drive bandwidth growth, just as more demanding PC applications drove the development of faster processors. The panel discussion was hosted by Silicon Valley nonprofit the Churchill Club.

  • "Copyright's Next Chapter"
    San Francisco Chronicle (04/08/02) P. E1; Evangelista, Benny

    Copyright law is set for another upset with the introduction of a bill in the Senate that would impose technological limitations on digital media devices--hardware or software that plays, records, or copies digital media. The Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act of 2002, introduced by Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), would allow Hollywood studios and the music recording industry to introduce advanced media services to consumers, spurring broadband Internet and high-definition television adoption, according to proponents. The bill would force equipment and software companies to include anti-piracy technologies in their products and eliminate the threat of file-sharing to digital music and movies. Critics of the law point to the sea change it would mean for copyright law, moving the focus from restricting the use of technology to restricting the technology itself. Equipment manufacturers such as Intel, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dell, and groups such as the Consumer Electronics Association ardently oppose the legislation, which would force vendors hands in working to create copyright protection standards. Not only would such a rule impede on fair use doctrine, which says consumers have the right to make copies for personal use, but critics also claim it would hamper technological innovation and make digital devices less useful.
    Click Here to View Full Article

    For information regarding ACM's work in the area of copyright, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/IP.

  • "How Do You Spell E.T. in Swahili?"
    Wired News (04/10/02); Patrizio, Andy

    Software engineer Brian McConnell is busy developing the World Wide Lexicon (WWL), an online dictionary that features a protocol designed to translate words and phrases--technology terms especially--with an emphasis on non-common language pairs. The project will also feature a distributed computing client that will detect when idle WWL registrants are on the computer, and request that they dedicate some of their time to provide translation services in order to compile the dictionary. Rico Innovations chief scientist David Stork notes that McConnell will have to find some way to effectively prevent malicious contributors from entering intentionally faulty data. The dictionary will be accessed with a Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP)-based interface that McConnell plans to release into the public domain once it is ready. Once the system has been perfected, he will approach dictionary sites and online encyclopedias with the hope of convincing them to add support for his protocol; the next step will be to get software vendors to embed support for the WWL SOAP interface in their applications. McConnell will get assistance from David Anderson, director of the SETI@Home and United Devices distributing computing projects.
    http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,51563,00.html

  • "Tech World Sees Pendulum Swing Back to Decentralized Computing"
    NewsFactor Network (04/08/02); Van, Jon

    Centralized computing has fallen out of favor while decentralization is making a comeback, according to some computer experts. IBM's Irving Wladawsky-Berger says the shift to decentralized computing began in the 1980s with the emergence of microprocessors and PCs. "A lot of people found it much easier to develop applications on these computers that were under their control all the time," he recalls. Spirian Technologies CEO Al Wasserberger sees a further push toward decentralization via outsourced personnel, while RapidApp President Mitchell Northcutt expects Microsoft's Windows .NET to also contribute to this trend. However, centralized computing, in the form of server-based computing, has recently been on the rise: Northcutt says it suits mobile workers particularly well, while its perks include better security and lower costs. On the other hand, Thomas Magnon of Andersen's business consulting group notes that centralized computing can raise data center costs because of the hardware and skills required to run the intricate network. Wladawsky-Berger predicts that both centralized and decentralized computing will make significant progress, with the development of supercomputers and utilities to more effectively manage smaller computers, as well as new technologies that will be used in distributed networking.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/17143.html

  • "Senator to Offer Wireless Spectrum Bill"
    Reuters (04/08/02)

    Speaking to television broadcasters at the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) declared his intention to introduce a spectrum reform bill that aims to overhaul the way the government allocates airwaves to commercial and federal interests. "We don't think we should be [fracturing] how we make spectrum [available]," he explained. A Burns aide said the bill should be proposed in late 2002, while Burns reckoned that it will probably take two or three years for advocates and opponents of the legislation to work out a compromise. Government agencies take up a significant portion of spectrum, but the Sept. 11 attacks have dampened plans to transfer them to other airwaves; meanwhile, TV broadcasters are expected to eventually adopt new digital signals, thus opening up more spectrum. Burns also told his audience that he hopes the Senate will settle the issue over who will fill one of two Democratic seats on the FCC this week: Republican Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) opposes Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's (D-S.D.) aide Jonathan Adelstein for being too young and inexperienced, while Lott's choice, Rep. John Dingell's aide Andy Levin, lacks the support of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.).
    http://news.com.com/2100-1033-878387.html

  • "New Breed Spam Filter Slashes Junk Email"
    New Scientist Online (04/09/02); Knight, Will

    The Folsom spam filter developed by Vipul Ved Prakash and Jordan Ritter (of Napster) can reportedly intercept junk email with unprecedented accuracy by using a combination of machine learning and peer-to-peer communications. The peer-to-peer element, based on Prakash's Razor tool, assigns specific signatures to spam, while the machine learning component probabilistically evaluates the content of new messages by looking for words and phrases found in previous emails. Folsom's inventors say the technology, when tested on email streams whose spam content ran as high as 60 percent, reduced the spam to "near zero." Furthermore, very few "false positives" that block authentic email were generated. Bristol University machine learning expert Tim Kovacs says Folsom could prove very useful for defining spam, but John Mozena of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email doubts the system will be able to lock out spammers indefinitely. "There have been any number of tools that has been good for a while, but then spammers adapt," he notes. The U.S. startup Cloudmark will license Folsom to email-handling companies in May.
    http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99992141

  • "Network in a Dust Storm"
    EE Times Online (04/05/02); Collins, Luke

    Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are creating "smart dust"--minute, low-power sensor network nodes that could be used for a variety of monitoring applications. In theory, they could be consumed to screen health conditions within the body, incorporated into house paint to form a home sensor network, or widely distributed from aircraft to analyze battlefield conditions. Under the direction of Professor Kris Pister, the research team is working on integrating mechanisms into a working node that is only a single cubic millimeter in volume. Those mechanisms include an energy processor with low power requirements and an instruction set tuned for distributed sensor networks; an optical receiver that can detect laser transmissions as high as 1 Mbit/s; a passive data transmission system that uses corner cube retro-reflectors; and an analog-digital converter. Pister estimates that a smart dust mote would only require a few nanoJoules of power to get a sample, process it, and send out the resulting data. Such motes could be operational for years, since a cubic millimeter battery can store 1J and draw power from a solar cell or vibrational energy source. The node schematic consists of two chips--one will house the microelectromechanical systems and sensor arrays, while the other will contain the control circuitry. The mechanisms should be integrated in the next six months.
    http://www.eetuk.com/story/OEG20020405S0015

  • "A Unified Theory of Software Evolution"
    Salon.com (04/08/02); Williams, Sam

    Imperial College of Technology's Meir Lehman has seen his theory on software evolution move from relative obscurity to major academic focus, especially as software's scalability limitations become plain in the face of climbing microchip performance levels. His work sprang from his years as an IBM researcher, when he studied the development of the OS/360 mainframe and discovered that debugging activity was declining as lines of software code were increasing, and predicted that the product would be mired in over-complexity; his warning was largely ignored, and his prediction came to pass. Lehman has formulated eight software laws that often use a physical template: The Second Law of software evolution, for example, takes its cue from the Second Law of Thermodynamics. More recent laws include the Law of Continuing Growth, which states that "the functional capability of E-type [evolutionary] systems must be continually increased to maintain user satisfaction over the system lifetime." By expanding the graphs and data he compiled 30 years ago, Lehman demonstrates that the growth rate of large software programs follows an inverse square pattern before over-complexity cripples them. Getting a handle on the feedback loops that direct software development--such as internal debugging, desires of individual developers, and market demand--will rein in the software's complexity, he postulates. "I believe that a theory of software evolution could eventually translate into a theory of software engineering," Lehman says. Other researchers are applying and refining his theory to gain insight on the development of open-source software and invent new technologies, such as the Beagle tool created by Rick Holt of the University of Waterloo.
    http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2002/04/08/lehman/index.html

  • "Federal Lawmakers Scored on Tech-Friendly Votes"
    Newsbytes (04/09/02); Krebs, Brian

    Two key high-tech trade measures still await action in Congress, according to the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), but the organization praised Congress for passing education reform, providing businesses with tax breaks for purchasing computer products, and extending the Internet tax ban, and said that overall 2001 "was a good year for the tech industry." ITI says the tech industry still wants to see Congress pass legislation that would ease high-performance computing export controls as well as a bill granting the president greater trade negotiating powers. ITI yesterday also released its mid-term High-Tech Voting Guide, which rates individual lawmakers on their votes on a variety of tech-related bills. ITI named Sens. George Allen (R.-Va.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Reps. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and William Jefferson (D-La.) as their "Legislators of the Year" for their pro-IT voting record. ITI President Rhett Dawson says 2002 also is shaping up well. He says, "We had good bipartisan victories and hopefully that's a sign of good things to come."
    http://www.newsbytes.com/news/02/175757.html

  • "'Crappy' WAP Bridging Gap"
    Wired News (04/08/02); Batista, Elisa

    The technical limitations of wireless application protocol (WAP) has given it a bad reputation among consumers, and even developers and vendors admit that it is not well suited for cell phone-based Internet browsing. But Openwave's Thomas Reardon believes that WAP, through a little fine-tuning, will ultimately prove its value. The forthcoming WAP 2.0 release will use XHTML--a blend of XML and HTML--and allow users to access more colorful WAP sites with better navigability. A network upgrade means faster connection times, while the networks themselves are always on, so consumers will not have to pay for WAP content by the minute. Openwave, a founding member of the WAP Forum, produces a WAP browser found in 70 percent of all handsets on the market. Jupiter Media Metrix analyst Joe Laszlo is not as confident that Openwave's bet will pay off: For one thing, the company does not own the protocol. "They won't be the Microsoft of the wireless world," Laszlo says. Furthermore, Openwave is competing with the likes of Microsoft, Sony, and Nokia for the mobile phone market, as well as with companies that already have multimedia messaging service infrastructure in place, according to Zelos Group analyst Seamus McAteer.
    http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,51516,00.html

  • "Options Needs Right Changes"
    SiliconValley.com (04/06/02); Gilmor, Dan

    Corporate stock options are a tremendous mechanism for productivity and enhancing employees' stake in the success of their company, but the current system is in dire need of reform, writes Dan Gillmor. Currently, federal legislation introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) aims to bridge the gap between actual costs and expense disclosures on balance sheets. And there is serious debate over the effect of stock options on shareholder value, as the amount of options granted dilutes the worth of existing shares. Technology companies often gloss over this effect in their financial disclosures and do not allow shareholders any substantive voice in the issuance of shares. Furthermore, today's tax law allows fast-moving businesses, such as Enron was, to manipulate stock options so that they count both as tax write-offs while not declaring them expenses in front of shareholders and those to whom they are financial accountable. This behavior also places an unfair tax burden on traditional companies. Shareholders need to be able to benefit from employee stock options, but should not be deceived by the companies that they are supporting.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Thumbs Up for Handheld Gadgets"
    Associated Press (04/07/02)

    Small, thumb-operated keyboards are proving very popular for people who use handheld devices to enter data, and offer more ease of use than touch-screen keyboards and handwriting recognition software. Research in Motion's BlackBerry wireless email device heralded the emergence of thumb-computing, and since then handheld manufacturers such as Handspring, Nokia, and Sharp Electronics have been adding miniature keyboards, either as accessories or built-in features. Palm has come out with a thumb keyboard that snaps onto its i705 handheld; Hewlett-Packard has been shipping a Pocket Keyboard that interfaces with its Jornada PDA since December; and Sharp and Nokia have both introduced products with built-in thumb keyboards. However, increased reliance on thumb-based input raises the risk of repetitive stress injuries, according to consultant Deborah Quilter. "Sometimes many people have to become injured before people realize it's not a good idea," she says.
    http://www.msnbc.com/news/734739.asp

  • "Computerizing Common Sense"
    Computerworld (04/08/02) Vol. 36, No. 15, P. 49; Anthes, Gary H.

    In an interview with Computerworld's Gary H. Anthes, Cycorp founder and CEO Doug Lenat explains his company's attempts to codify common sense for computers. Thus far, Cyc has compiled a database comprised of 3 million assertions about real-world actions and around 300,000 concepts or words, which Lenat says constitute 600 person-years of effort. The database uses predicate calculus to categorize and standardize common-sense information, which is built atop the domain-specific knowledge contained in all applications. Lenat plans to gradually release all of the knowledge base's data to the general public through the OpenCyc initiative, and projects that Cyc will consist of 10 million assertions within a year. He says the knowledge base has been split into locally consistent areas so that anomalous and incorrect assertions can be weeded out. "If someone puts in 'Dining room tables are made of Jello,' that will contradict so many things in the 'normal' part of the knowledge base that it automatically will get pushed out into the boonies," Lenat explains. Meanwhile, the CycSecure application, currently in beta testing, aims to allow computers to run simulations of network hacks through hypothetical reasoning via common sense and artificial intelligence.
    http://www.computerworld.com/storyba/0,4125,NAV47_STO69881,00.html

  • "Nano Technology"
    BusinessWeek 50 (04/01/02) No. 3776, P. 181; Port, Otis; Crockett, Roger O.

    Companies large and small are investing in nanotechnology, while governments around the world are establishing nanotech research initiatives. Leading companies are not only funding their own nanotech efforts, but forming partnerships with nanotech startups. CMP Cientifica estimates that governments worldwide spent over $1.2 billion on nanotech last year, and expects them to shell out $2 billion this year; private industry spending is expected to equal that of government. Last year saw the formation of the NanoBusiness Alliance, an organization whose mission is to help nanotech migrate from the research phase to the business phase. Nanotech is expected to make an impact in practically every type of industry: Nanotubes, for example, with their high strength and low power requirements, could be applied to the construction of lighter vehicles, energy-efficient LCDs, and longer-lived batteries with more storage capacity. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry is researching how nanotech can be employed in painless, microscopic drug delivery systems. Other applications include sensors keyed to detect hazardous substances, and nanoscale electronic components, which may take about 10 years to fully develop. One of the most highly sought-after nanotech breakthroughs is the creation of "assembler" robots that can manufacture machine parts on the atomic level.
    http://www.businessweek.com/bw50/content/mar2002/a3776078.htm

  • "Flesh, Robots and God"
    Software Development Online (04/02); Glassie, John

    Leading roboticist and director of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory Rodney Brooks discusses the current state of robotics and his predictions on the field's development. He notes that artificial intelligence already has some real-world applications, although they are mostly invisible; robots have also begun to achieve a more noticeable presence in everyday life, a trend he expects to continue. Brooks says that labs are making progress in creating robots that display human characteristics, such as recognition of facial expressions, voice processing, nodding, and maintaining eye contact. Humanoid robots are unlikely to proliferate in the short term, given their high costs, although Brooks is not sure whether they will have more of a presence in the next 20 years. He does not believe robots will get out of control because they are designed in increments and can be embedded with safeguards. Whether robots can be invested with emotions--and the philosophical implications of free will and rights--is a tricky concept, one that Brooks says will become even thornier as more and more humans implant machines into their bodies; but he ultimately believes that humans and conscious machines will coexist on Earth. He also mentions the possibility of building robots with a survival instinct and the ability to reproduce.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Future Tech: Through the Looking Glass"
    Discover (04/02) Vol. 23, No. 4, P. 19; Ball, Philip

    Physicist David R. Smith and associates at the University of California at San Diego have fabricated a "left-handed" meta-material that bends light waves in an unusual manner. The material consists of a fiberglass printed circuit board with a series of double split rings on copper film on one side and an array of parallel metal wires on the other. The researchers configured the material into a left-handed prism by slotting the boards at right angles, then passed microwaves through it; the resulting negative index of refraction went as high as -2.7. Smith theorizes that such materials could enhance the performance and lower the cost of wireless devices. Imperial College's John Pendry, whose work helped inspire Smith's experiments, believes that a left-handed material for visible light could be used as a lens that relays images of unprecedented resolution. A lens that can bend visible light is particularly desired by engineers, who could use it to etch smaller semiconductor circuits or burn more data onto DVDs. Meanwhile, Smith and his team are collaborating with Lucent Technologies on antennas made from left-handed material that can accommodate high data-transmission rates.