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 336: Monday, April 15, 2002
- "Battle Stirs Over Copyright Laws"
Los Angeles Times (04/15/02) P. C7; Shiver Jr., Jube
The entertainment and technology industries are engaging each other closer in their battle over anti-piracy technology. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) recently added coals to the fire with the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Act that would force technology vendors' hands to form an agreement or face government regulation. The movie industry is playing a large role in the current fracas, and Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti says the U.S. government should get involved to protect an industry that represents over 5 percent of the gross national product and the only industry where the United States has a trade surplus with every other country. Although film studios have been negotiating with tech firms for over a year to devise anti-piracy solutions, an agreement has been elusive, and Valenti says the threat of government regulation is needed to push hardware vendors to reach an accord. Technology executives want more digital content put online because that would unleash a flood of consumer dollars for equipment and broadband services. But Business Software Alliance President Robert Holleyman cautions that there is no perfect solution to protecting digital content, and that being forced by Congress to agree to a standard within 18 months would be folly. Holleyman points out that the software industry itself loses about $2.6 billion each year to piracy and so has a vested interest in formulating a solution. Valenti wants to reach a copyright protection agreement within the next few weeks.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Tech Job Training May Be Cut in Favor of More H-1B Funding"
SiliconValley.com (04/14/02); Bjorhus, Jennifer
The White House national budget proposal contains provisions that would move $138 million allocated for technology training grants to the Labor Department, so it can speed up pending paperwork for the H-1B program. Information Technology Association of America President Harris Miller says the move is bad for the economy and the IT workforce because it weakens America's domestic IT worker pool. The H-1B Technical Skills Training Grants program was created to appease opposition in 1998, when Congress raised the cap on foreign technology workers admitted to the country. Technology companies are remaining largely quiet regarding the new budget allocation, since they have come to rely on H-1B workers to immediately fill job openings while also supporting job training. The Bush administration says that many of the skills taught through the grants are for low-level technology jobs, while foreign H-1B applicants sometimes have to wait up to five years because of certain paperwork. Still, the reallocation of funds would gut the training program and likely will anger laid-off tech workers looking for jobs. Others say taking money away from job training programs will come back to hurt the U.S. in the long run if the country fails to upgrade the skills of its own citizens.
- "Microsoft Is Poised to Launch Antitrust Defense"
Reuters (04/14/02); Kaplan, Peter
Microsoft this week will present its defending arguments in federal court, with upwards of 30 witnesses--Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates among them--testifying that the sanctions demanded by the nine states opposing the antitrust settlement between the company and the U.S. Justice Department have no legal authority and represent a serious threat to the "PC ecosystem." Microsoft's Jim Desler says the witnesses will tell U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that the sanctions would split up the Windows operating system and authorize improper confiscation of Microsoft's intellectual property; the main thrust of their argument will be that Windows will have to be taken off the market as a result. Microsoft will also hold to its contention that the states lack evidence that competing products were harmed by the company's dominance, and thus have no legal right to impose such sanctions. The states' witnesses claimed that Microsoft needs to be reined in, otherwise it will have license to stamp out rivals in many technology sectors, including handhelds, interactive television, and telephones. However, some state witnesses, such as economist and final witness Carl Shapiro, had trouble convincing Kollar-Kotelly that their solution was best, according to Howard University law professor Andrew Gavil.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Has Grammar Lost Its Technological Edge?"
New York Times (04/15/02) P. C4; Markoff, John
Computer scientist Bruce Wampler, principal author of the once highly popular grammar-checking program Grammatik, recently published an online complaint in which he blamed the decline of grammar-checking technology on Microsoft's PC monopoly. Users' enthusiasm for grammar-checking programs eroded when Microsoft added grammar checking to its dominant Word writing program, he contends. Many people find Word's grammar checker so unhelpful that they do not use it, while an English professor who recently compared Word's grammar checker to that of WordPerfect discovered that the former failed to take even the most common grammatical mistakes into account. Wampler laments in his posting that grammar-checking programs have not made any significant improvement in the last 10 years because of Microsoft, even though significant developments could be made with a modest investment. Wampler's ex-business partner Dick Brass, who now works for Microsoft, expects grammar checkers to improve once the company's tablet computing initiative gains momentum; the effort involves handwriting recognition technology, which has a heavy reliance on grammar analysis. Other grammar experts argue that grammar checking will make no significant gains until versatile speech recognition technology arrives on the scene. Wampler's complaint illustrates what has become a sore point for many critics in Microsoft's antitrust trial--that the company's practice of embedding rivals' products into Windows and Office as features dampens desktop PC innovation.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Mozilla Poised for Revival"
CNet (04/12/02); Hu, Jim; Hansen, Evan
The Mozilla open-source project expects to bounce back from obscurity when the first official version of its Web browser is issued in the next few weeks. The forthcoming release has generated speculation as to whether Mozilla's fight with Microsoft over browser dominance will be rekindled. Coinciding with the release is AOL Time Warner's testing of Mozilla technology in its America Online software; if it pans out, 35 million Web surfers could switch from Internet Explorer to Mozilla's browser. Mozilla advocates say the technology's multi-platform operability will be the key attraction to major players, but the project needs the support of large software companies to succeed. The primary target for Mozilla designers are Web devices whose proliferation depends on Internet-enabled software and related applications--non-PC devices such as next-generation PDAs, set-top boxes, cell phones, and pagers. The project has been stymied by a prolonged development period, while the first Mozilla-enabled product from parent company Netscape was criticized for being incomplete and prone to bugs. Mozilla's development was set back even further by a mandate to jettison its source code and implement a bottom-up rebuild. The technology will have to do battle with competing handheld browser technologies from the likes of Handspring and Palm, while Giga Information Group analyst Ken Smiley doubts that Mozilla's flexibility will be a primary consideration for non-PC device manufacturers.
- "Awareness: Mystery of the Mind"
Wired News (04/15/02); Anderson, Mark K.
The mechanics of human awareness and efforts to simulate awareness in robots were the subject of the latest Toward a Science of Consciousness conference in Tucson, Ariz. Fred Travis of the Maharishi University of Management disclosed findings that unconscious awareness does take place even when the brain is asleep, as documented by EEG studies of people who practice transcendental meditation. Meanwhile, Randolph Blake of Vanderbilt University backed his argument that subjects can possess basic awareness even when there is no conscious awareness with the results of a test in which subjects were shown different images in each eye. It is demonstrated that whenever an image is dominant in one eye, the visual input of the other eye is not conscious to the viewer, but Blake's study showed that mental responses can be provoked by changing images in one eye while the mind is concentrating on what the other eye sees. Rodney Blake of MIT reported his lab's progress in infusing awareness protocols in its Kismet robot. The machine was programmed to locate all eyes in its field of view so it could pick up awareness patterns: Kismet was cued to find oval-shaped objects with human skin tones and isolate eyes with geometrical models. The next step was to enable Kismet to distinguish between ballistic objects and those manipulated by a conscious hand via motion-detecting software. As a result of this programming, the robot can engage in simulated conversations with people and follow hands pointing at objects.
- "Defense Industry Has Old Roots in Silicon Valley"
Reuters (04/14/02); Orr, Andrea
Silicon Valley has had a long tradition of defense contracting that dates back to World War II, when companies such as Hewlett-Packard were called up to provide components to the military: HP's contribution was oscillators that were used in radar, while 10 years later Lockheed made a land purchase in what would later become Silicon Valley so it could build a facility for its Missile Systems Division. The military appeals to Silicon Valley companies because of its reliability, and a recession makes the extra business all the more desirable. In fact, Vice President Dick Cheney seemed to take advantage of this when he addressed a crowd of high-tech employees in San Jose, calling on them to contribute to the higher good by helping create precision-guided missiles, remote, crewless aerial vehicles, and "a comprehensive secure system that allows intelligence to be shared among the relevant officials." However, military analysts and consultants are not entirely convinced that warfare will be a major focus for Silicon Valley, given the formidable size of its commercial effort and feelings that the Defense Department is slow to adopt new technologies. Ray Bjorklund of Federal Sources notes that one of the disadvantages of federal contracts is protracted competitive bidding processes.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The Futuristic Segway Scooter Is a Publicity Success"
New York Times (04/15/02) P. C2; Riordan, Teresa
Although Dean Kamen's Segway scooter has captured the imagination of the general public, patent applications reveal that the real innovation may come from Kamen's version of a Stirling engine, a nonpolluting, heat-driven device that the Segway will use for propulsion. "One of the unique things about a Stirling engine is that it's an incredibly versatile platform that one can do many things with," says Kamen's lawyer Maureen Toohey. Kamen claims in the May issue of Vanity Fair that he has built a pair of Stirling prototypes, and his New Power Concepts company has received at least three Stirling engine design patents. The most recent application seeks to patent the manufacturing process itself, according to Stirling experts. This development hints that the mass-production technique that has eluded Stirling engine designers for so long has finally been worked out. Another patent application indicates that Kamen's engine can run on a multitude of fuels, from cow manure to nuclear material. One key difference between Kamen's design and that of other Stirling engines is that the heat exchanger can be cast instead of welded.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "IBM Leads Charge on Holistic Computing"
CNet (04/11/02); Kanellos, Michael
IBM is promoting autonomic, or holistic, computing to deal with an inevitable shortfall of computer systems managers. Human costs are also increasing, according to Alan Ganek, IBM's vice president of autonomic research; he estimates that in five to six years human expenses will be double that of hardware and software acquisitions. Holistic computing will facilitate self-configuring, self-optimizing, self-healing, and self-protecting systems. "Systems have to work together, and they have to work together in a way that manages itself for [our] benefit," Ganek declared during a three-day conference at IBM's Almaden Research Center. Stanford University President and MIPS Technologies founder John Hennessy says creating holistic computer systems will be no easy feat: There is much about computers that remains unknown, and there have been no significant software improvements. Furthermore, consumers are losing patience with system failures while simultaneously putting more pressure on technology. Ganek expects autonomic research's first significant perks to hit the market in the next several years, while numerous academic institutions have autonomic initiatives.
- "Photonic Computing Takes a Quantum Leap"
Red Herring Online (04/10/02); Williams, Mark
In his book, "Mind at Light Speed: A New Kind of Intelligence," Purdue University professor David Nolte writes that photonic computing offers vast improvements over current microprocessor models in terms of speed and computing power. Photonic computing, he postulates, is a necessary step if microprocessors are to keep pace with Moore's Law. Nolte proposes that "an intelligent optical fabric that will drape the world" will be the end product of three generations of photonic computers. Fiber-optics is the building block of the first generation, but it carries with it speed limitations: The maximum speed of electrons in optoelectronic devices is only 0.03 percent of the speed of light. The second generation is an all-optical Internet that relies on laser beam modulation. Since some optoelectronic systems have already been supplanted by pure optical amplifiers, Nolte contends it is a short step to substitute holography for silicon transistors. The resulting photonic computers would be capable of reconfiguration by the nanosecond, and photon modulation would take place on the quantum level. The third generation of photonic systems Nolte foresees is the quantum computer, which he believes will emerge in the second half of the 21st century.
- "Sneak Peek: PDA Keyboards of the Future"
Wireless Newsfactor (04/10/02); McDonald, Tim
It seems inevitable that one day computers will no longer need a keyboard interface once voice technology is sufficiently developed. Until then, most keyboard advancements are being applied to non-PC devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs). Among the more notable innovations are foldable keyboards that promote portability. Think Outside's Stowaway is considered to be the best portable keyboard currently offered--it is lightweight and features accordion-like foldability; Think Outside has built keyboards for PDAs from Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, and Palm, among others. Meanwhile, Logitech makes a keyboard fashioned from ElekTex, which spokesperson Nathan Papadopulos describes as fabric with bundled conductive fibers. The fabric acts as a protective cover, but Papadopulos admits that the product needs to be calibrated before usage and lacks the tactile feedback of desktop keyboards. Pocketop Computer recently debuted what it claims is the world's first wireless PDA keyboard, which features a one-fold design. Gartner mobile analyst Ken Dulaney says that shrinking keyboards will not solve the physical limitations of human digits. "Our fingers aren't going to get smaller," he says.
- "Targeting the Digital Criminal"
Baltimore Business Journal Online (04/04/02); Hughlett, Roger
Several colleges and universities in and around Baltimore, Md., are building computer technology courses that specialize in protecting and prosecuting cyber-criminals. The Sept. 11 attacks have pushed security to the forefront of technology, and prompted businesses and schools to re-evaluate the emphasis high-tech security receives. In response, schools have launched programs to provide specific security technology training. Anne Arundel Community College's Cybercrimes Studies Institute, for example, draws on various resident technology and criminal justice experts, as well as professionals from IT security firm Windermere Group, based in Annapolis. Their six-course certificate ensures graduates are trained to protect electronic systems and solve digital crimes. Towson University has launched a similar effort through its Center for Applied Information Technology (CAIT), a collaborative effort by the school's computer sciences and mathematics departments. CAIT executive director Jim Clements says Towson is applying for National Center of Excellence in Information Security Education accreditation, which so far has been granted to about two dozen institutions worldwide. Entrust CEO Bill Conner says, "Governments and businesses must go beyond basic Internet security to protect privacy and security, cornerstones of freedom and liberty."
- "ICANN Convenes Industry-Heavy Security Panel"
Newsbytes (04/12/02); McGuire, David
ICANN has established a security committee responsible for monitoring the security situation of the DNS. The 19-member committee is led by Internet pioneer Stephen Crocker and includes technical experts from VeriSign, AT&T, Yahoo!, Afilias, Melbourne IT, Network Associates, and others. The committee will make threat assessments and recommend security policy to the ICANN board. The committee was approved during the ICANN board's most recent meeting in Ghana, and is "rooted in engineering, rather than in law," says Crocker. The committee members are highly competent, Crocker says.
- "Legislation Is No Substitute for Parental Monitoring of Dot-Com Kids, Some Critics Say"
Medill News Service (04/11/02); Ju, Anne M.
House legislation sponsored by Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) that would authorize a "kid-friendly" Internet domain for children 13 and under within the .us country code was approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but faces uncertain support in the full House. Some private industry and public watchdog players fear that the .kids.us domain would set a bad precedent by establishing a government-directed child-friendly Internet zone rather than one created by industry, and that government definitions of what is child-friendly may infringe upon free speech. Software filtering company Net Nanny has reservations about the impact of .kids.us on the industry, and Center for Democracy and Technology staffer Paula Bruening says that "a scenario can develop where one family might think something is appropriate, whereas another may not." Rep. Shimkus says, "Dot-kids will be free enterprise because the Web site people have to pay to be there." However, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has reservations, and according to aides believes that parents should be the ultimate arbitrators of what is appropriate for their children.
- "Time to Think Small"
InfoWorld (04/08/02) Vol. 24, No. 14, P. 52; Vizard, Michael
The NanoBusiness Alliance unites many disparate players with interests in nanotechnology in order to successfully bring innovations from the laboratory to the commercial space. Executive Director F. Mark Modzelewski and board member Dave Holtzman, in an interview with InfoWorld magazine, say nanotechnology will definitely change many things in business and is already affecting the materials, bioscience, and pharmaceutical industries. Holtzman compares the emergence of nanotechnology to other disruptive technologies introduced to business after being developed through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency about 10 years ago. Although nanotechnology deployment so far has not been mired in legal entanglements, it does face barriers such as the disconnect between universities and business. Modzelewski says the purpose of the NanoBusiness Alliance is to bridge those types of gaps--providing researchers with support for their nanotechnology startups and financiers with a better understanding of university-owned developments, for example. Eventually, nanotechnology will have a huge impact in business via progress in computing, which is being pioneered by companies such as IBM. Nanotechnology will enable quantum computing and 3D storage technologies, which exponentially ramp up processing speed and storage capacity.
- "Women in IT Group Reaches Out to Feds"
Federal Computer Week (04/08/02) Vol. 16, No. 10, P. 21; Hasson, Judi
Women In Technology (WIT) wants to offer female professionals in the federal IT workforce a forum via an outreach effort at the Agricultural Department starting April 29. The initiative aims to boost WIT's percentage of federal representatives and try to interest women in federal IT careers. WIT has been trying to shore up its ranks with more D.C.-based federal IT workers, but the networking and mentoring sessions it hosts in Northern Virginia are not conveniently located for its target demographic. Co-chairman of the CIO Council's Workforce and Human Capital for IT Committee Ira Hobbs says the impending retirement of federal workers makes the need for new IT talent all the more pressing. In fact, Fred Thompson of the Treasury Department forecasts that 50 percent of federal IT personnel will reach retirement age in the next decade. Around 43 percent of Treasury's IT professionals are women. But National Council of Women's Organizations Chairwoman Martha Burk says, "If the government would like to have parity between women and men, it will mean more aggressive recruiting [and]...strategies for hiring and retention of women in the same numbers as men." The WIT conference will showcase government and industry IT employment opportunities for women.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "The Security Sentinels"
Computerworld (04/08/02) Vol. 36, No. 15, P. 34; Radcliff, Deborah
Martha Stansell-Gamm, Raemarie Schmidt, and Dorothy Denning have all made significant contributions to computer security and digital forensics that have influenced practices employed by both government and private industry. Stansell-Gamm heads the Intellectual and Computer Crime division of the Department of Justice, developed the agency's electronic search-and-seizure forensics procedures, and was the U.S. representative in the Council of Europe's Cybercrime Treaty for eight years; she is currently coordinating the department's representation in the development of international cyberlaws as well as its involvement in major cybercrime investigations. Schmidt used her experiences in law enforcement to develop a computer forensics department for the Wisconsin branch of the DOJ and work out standards for modern-day forensics. She now works as supervisor of curriculum development in the computer crime sections of the National White Collar Crime Center. Denning, an Association for Computing Machinery fellow and distinguished computer science professor at Georgetown University, has done research on many subjects that IT security leaders have heeded and should continue to heed, such as encryption, information warfare, and intrusion detection. "She's become a mentor for those of us who are operational in the field, even though she's an academic," notes Howard Schmidt of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The Tug of More"
InformationWeek (04/08/02) No. 883, P. 32; Khirallah, Diane Rezendes
As businesses reduce the number of employees amid a struggling economy, IT workers are required to complete more work in the same amount of time. Over 50 percent of IT workers and 60 percent of IT managers say they are under greater stress than a year ago, according to preliminary research from InformationWeek. Although new business technology promises to relieve some of the productivity burden, it also can make it worse. At GMAC Commercial Mortgage, for example, employees can use their phones to check their email, daily tasks, and meeting times, as well as send messages. Such technology blurs the boundaries between work and home and adds to stress, says Eileen Applebaum of the Center for Designing Work Wisely. Meanwhile, telecommuting is gaining ground as a way to increase work-life equilibrium. When Eli Lilly tested a telecommuting program for a group of scientific workers, it found they produced as much in the same amount of time but did not feel overworked, according to director of workforce partnering Candi Lange. Working from home also reduces property expenses such as office leasing. At Baxter International, employees use collaborative software to hold meetings (for problem solving, job training, project management, and information sharing) without having to travel. Ultimately, workers themselves must place limits on work in order to balance their work and personal life.
- "Handhelds of Tomorrow"
Technology Review (04/02) Vol. 105, No. 3, P. 34; Tristram, Claire
A multitude of wireless computer gizmos have reached the prototype stage or are being produced, all of them clamoring to be used by average consumers. Their success or failure will stem from how human-centered their design is, how easy they are to operate, and how much more useful they are compared to current models. For Andrew Odlyzko of the University of Minnesota, the ideal wireless device would be used for communication rather than entertainment, and its features would include a large display, a qwerty keyboard, Global Positioning System technology, email, voice, and instant messaging. Devices used for entertainment, according to Odlyzko and Nielsen Norman Group's Jakob Nielsen, would be content-rich and nonwireless, but existing products do not support either entertainment or communications very well. Nielsen believes that pen-based computing is a dead end and that voice recognition will not become desirable for two decades, because these two technologies lack consistency--in other words, they are not reliable enough to achieve predictable results. Other qualities that design companies such as Ideo are considering include durability, portability, multifunctionality, and familiarity. Most engineers are driven by the technology they can realize, regardless of its usefulness or usability, while human-factors specialists urge that human needs be considered before inventions are fleshed out.