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 337: Wednesday, April 17, 2002
- "Tech Visionaries Push the Semantic Web"
San Francisco Chronicle (04/16/02) P. B1; Baker, David R.
The Semantic Web will be the focus of discussion at a Stanford University forum sponsored by the nonprofit MIT-Stanford Venture Laboratory. The goal of the Semantic Web, as envisioned by Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee, is to give computer programs the ability to understand words and interpret their meaning. This would facilitate the automation of many clerical chores that are currently done manually. Stratify CTO Ramana Venkata explains that "The Semantic Web really tries to understand the limitations of the current Web and fix them in an evolutionary way." Bob Krause of the MIT-Stanford Venture Laboratory says the goal of the discussion is to encourage Silicon Valley firms to pursue Semantic Web-related projects that could yield significant profits. "Educating the high-tech community about the Semantic Web is a long-term challenge, and we're trying to lay the groundwork," he says. Making such a dream a reality will require meeting certain challenges, Krause says, including building a shared set of meanings that can be embedded in Web sites and recognized by many programs.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Perplexing Argentine Hack Law"
Wired News (04/17/02); Delio, Michelle
Argentine federal judge Sergio Torres' ruling that Web site defacement is not prosecutable because it does not harm material objects does not give the country's hackers license to commit cybercrimes, according to sources close to the matter. However, those sources are also worried that Argentine virus coders could be encouraged by the decision to wreak similar havoc. Attorney Gustavo Moreno, for one, says the country's growing hacker community is cause for concern. Torres' ruling stems from a case in which a group of hackers defaced the Supreme Court Web site to protest an alleged court cover-up of the murder of journalist Jose Luis Cabezas. The judge cautioned that Argentina is home to a "dangerous legal void" because the law cannot be applied to crimes that do have a direct impact on people, animals, or things. "The kids are quite familiar with the law," warns an anonymous, reformed virus writer. "They know they will not be arrested for releasing viruses unless there is a huge international incident that embarrasses Argentina." On the other hand, Moreno and others note that the ruling is not precedent-setting, since Argentine judges do not have to adhere to previous rulings.
- "Bill to Revive Political Battle Over Net Privacy"
Los Angeles Times (04/17/02) P. C6; Sanders, Edmund
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) could introduce his Online Personal Privacy Act as early as Thursday, while privacy boosters and business groups are gearing up to square off over the legislation. The importance of the online privacy issue has cooled in recent months, given Congress' concentration on other issues as well as consumers' increased willingness to disclose personal information for the sake of better security and the anti-terrorism push. Hollings is seeking bipartisan support for the bill, which would require that companies obtain consumers' permission before collecting certain data online. This opt-in policy only covers information that is classified as sensitive, such as finances or Social Security numbers; all other information is covered by an opt-out policy in which consumers can refuse to allow companies to collate data only after the collection has started. The bill would also require ISPs and Web sites to post their information collection policies, alert consumers to any policy changes, and let them see what information is being collected. Furthermore, consumers would be able to sue Web sites for privacy violations, and receive $5,000 in compensation for every proven breach. Business groups claim that self-regulation and current law accommodates Net privacy well enough, while Joe Rubin of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce cites a FTC report demonstrating consumers' lack of interest--just about 3 percent of consumers bother to read Web sites' privacy policies, according to the report.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Privacy Worries, Net Activism Top Privacy Show Agenda"
Newsbytes (04/16/02); MacMillan, Robert
The Computers, Freedom, and Privacy (CFP) 2002 conference sponsored by ACM and underway in San Francisco will host debates on the changes in online privacy since Sept. 11 as well as the limits of online activism. There is concern that the post-Sept. 11 world is less conducive to upholding users' privacy rights thanks to mandates such as the USA Patriot Act, and Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy & Technology hopes that users can use the CFP to get a better handle on the ramifications of such legislation. He describes the goal of this year's conference as being to "get people together so they can network, and get the basics [of Internet privacy] down." Electronic Frontier Foundation staff director Cindy Cohn says there must be an educational push so that both online users and activists will be able to define the boundaries between lawful and potentially unlawful online expression. She adds that speakers at the conference will also focus on what routes activists can take to promote Internet privacy causes offline, such as lobbying, demonstrations, etc. Speakers slated to talk at the CFP include FTC Chairman Timothy Muris and Princeton University Professor Edward Felten, who will discuss the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
- "In the Digital Age, 'All Thumbs' Is Term Of Highest Praise"
Wall Street Journal (04/17/02) P. A1; Fowler, Geoffrey A.
Using one's thumbs in certain capacities is becoming vogue among teenagers, young adults, and businesspeople thanks to handheld devices with miniaturized keyboards. British culture and technology researcher Sadie Plant notes in a cross-cultural study that technology is having an impact on the thumb, making it stronger and more nimble. Thumb users must learn to use the tip of the thumb, otherwise they could hit more than one key at once, a phenomenon known as "splat." Thumbs began to overshadow index fingers in terms of technological interactions in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the advent of joysticks and handheld controls for playing video games. The development of mobile-phone text messaging shortly after made thumb usage common among adults. Thumb-based texting is especially hot in Europe and East Asia, and American cell phone carriers and handheld manufacturers expect to capture a piece of this growing market by introducing products that boast thumb boards, either as accessories or built-in features; the BlackBerry wireless email device is one such product. Ambidextrous thumbs are prevalent among the young and experienced, according to Plant's study. However, there are concerns among doctors and users that
repetitive-strain injuries could result from overuse.
- "Cooking With Leftovers"
Financial Times (04/17/02) P. 9; Kehoe, Louise
IT vendors selling to corporations are adjusting their rhetoric and offerings to meet new buying strategies; namely, making more of less, writes Louise Kehoe, who says an information technology depression has forced tech vendors to back off promoting the "next big thing." Businesses are shying away from much-hyped trends such as Web services in favor of cost-saving implementations with guaranteed results. Kehoe says the tech slowdown has even raised doubts that businesses are open to new technologies and processes. However, IBM and others say they are finding support for grid computing technology, which aggregates existing computing power so that it is used more efficiently. Corporations would also be able to tap computing resources from the grid much as other utilities. Meanwhile, Web services firms such as Bowstreet are revising their forecasts and strategies. Bowstreet Chairman Frank Moss predicts a four- to five-year wait before fully integrated Web services are launched en masse, and his company has now targeted technologies that help companies build applications in-house instead of services that span the entire Web. Microsoft also seems to be yielding to criticism of its planned .Net infrastructure, which would enable Web services based on Microsoft resources. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison also tempered his outlook for corporate IT, admitting that his company's databases required serious investment in terms of implementation at a recent presentation.
- "Tech Recession Worst in Silicon Valley's History"
San Jose Mercury News (04/16/02); Sylvester, David A.
The San Jose Mercury News annual survey of the top 150 public companies in Silicon Valley shows that they lost a collective $89.8 billion during the last year, a figure that is larger than the companies' total profits for the last eight years. Revenue fell during the last year for the first time since data was first collected by the Mercury News in 1985; overall, revenue was down by $55 billion. VLSI Research analyst Risto Puhakka notes that being a tech startup is becoming increasingly more difficult. "Size does matter, because all of the operations are pretty much global," says Puhakka. Excluding one-time costs, these "SV 150" companies posted an $8.3 billion operating profit. In terms of one-time losses, JDS Uniphase wrote off $57 billion during the past year; VeriSign, $13 billion; and Cisco, $1.7 billion. JDS Uniphase, Inktomi, E.phiphany, and Redback Networks are all losing money from their operations even when not considering one-time charges.
- "Quantum Computer Data Readable, Even as Cooper Pair"
Swedish researchers at Chalmers University of Technology have proven that superconductor quantum computer readouts can be produced even though only two present or absent electrons, better known as a Cooper pair, comprise the signal. Reading the data lies with the rapid metering of tiny charges via so-called monoelectron transistors. The research team, with the help of theoreticians led by Goran Wendin, was able to capture the information before it was destroyed by the metering process. Even with this progress, Chalmers' Goran Johansson predicts it will be at least a decade before a simple quantum computer is produced. Chalmers coordinates SQUBIT, a pan-European consortium of laboratories working on quantum computing projects that is ahead of all other research efforts. "Chalmers has just applied for EU funding to extend our collaboration and to actually build an elementary quantum computer," declares Wendin, who adds that the university plans to participate in a larger EU initiative that involves quantum informatics, quantum computers, and nanotechnology. A quantum computer's potential capabilities include modeling molecules for the pharmaceutical industry and rapid decryption of computer codes.
- "Software Industry Touts Value of Web Services at Annual Trade Show"
Investor's Business Daily (04/16/02) P. A6; Seitz, Patrick
Web services were highlighted at the annual Software & Information Industry Association conference for their value in facilitating application integration, which Borland Software's Ted Shelton described as the first phase of adoption. In the second phase, Web services software will be used to establish stronger connections between companies and trading partners, while the third phase will be the development of specialty software applications that companies can rent in lieu of developing their own in-house. Web services adoption could be complete within five to 10 years, according to Kevin Green of TripleTree investment bank, which estimates that at least 40 pure Web services companies have received over $583 million in venture capital in the last two years. Web services software development products will be the first cash cow for software companies. There are two major Web services being hyped--Microsoft's .Net products and Java products from IBM, Sun Microsystems, and others. However, concerns about security could prove to be a major barrier for Web services adoption.
- "Dismal Numbers Still Leave Room for Optimism"
SiliconValley.com (04/15/02); Gillmor, Dan
Despite the bleak estimates of the Silicon Valley 150 report, SiliconValley.com columnist Dan Gillmor is positive that technological development and the creation of wealth in the Bay Area will continue to grow. He notes that the incorporation of IT into our daily lives has only just begun, while innovation in biotechnology and miniaturization is proceeding at an accelerated pace. The valley's research universities and institutions, not to mention its expansive labor pool, will help nurture development, while Gillmor notes that the risk-taking culture has not been lost, but tempered to a more rational approach. However, there are still drawbacks: Silicon Valley and California lack serious arts institutions, housing is overpriced, the public school system is in disarray, traffic is likely to become worse, and the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to yawn. Gillmor widens his scope to national abuses, among them a corrupt financial system that is not being policed, intellectual property holders exercising unfair leverage that threatens the public domain and the pace of innovation, the growing threat of hackers and terrorists, and policy makers that he says are "actively promoting a cartel economy."
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Microtechnology Road Maps Point in Different Directions"
Small Times Online (04/16/02); James, Kyle
About 350 companies developing microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) gathered this week at the Hannover Fair 2002 in Germany to discuss the direction of the industry. Although experts generally agree that MEMS are poised to make a big impact on all types of businesses and generate billions of dollars in revenue, the international gathering demonstrated the difference in European and American microtechnology development road maps, or strategies for development and commercial implementation. For one, European estimates for the microtechnology industry are much higher than American estimates--the European group Network of Excellence in Multifunctional Microsystems (NEXUS) predicts $68 billion in MEMS-driven sales while the MEMS Industry Group based in Pittsburgh says the industry will earn between just $8 billion and $15 billion by 2004. Other technical differences are apparent as well, but generally reflect divergent research and business cultures on the two continents. Howard Goldberg of Applied MEMS says American efforts represent a much more competitive drive than the Europeans. "From what I've seen the Americans look at road maps from a technology evolution standpoint, whereas the Europeans look at them from a product evolution standpoint," he says. For example, NEXUS Chairman Gaetan Menozzi says discussion over standards is largely unnecessary, while design, production, and interoperability standards have been laid out by a U.S. industry road map, now being finished by Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International and the Micro and Nanotechnology Commercialization Education Foundation.
- "More Power in a Shrinking World"
Financial Times-IT Review (04/17/02) P. 4; Harvey, Fiona
Chip producers invest billions of dollars annually toward finding ways to miniaturize microprocessors so they can keep pace with and eventually surpass Moore's Law. Research and development falls into generally three fields of focus: New chip building materials, new lithographic methods, and new ways to control heat dissipation. Thus far, silicon remains the optimal material for its semiconducting properties and its cheapness, although gallium arsenide shows promise as an alternate; copper has better electrical conductivity than the aluminum used to make chip wires, and its adoption should be helped by IBM's breakthrough in getting the metal to bind to the silicon substrate. New lithographic techniques being researched to etch smaller circuitry patterns on chips include Intel's extreme ultraviolet lithography, which uses silicon and molybdenum reflectors to focus very short wavelengths of light. Meanwhile, IBM and Intel have both made progress in controlling power leakage and reducing heat through their respective applications of low-k dielectric and high-k dielectric insulation to chip wires, while French scientists have demonstrated that diamond could also be an effective insulator. IBM is hoping that carbon nanotubes will come to the fore as chip components, provided they can be made self-replicating. Manufacturers are setting their research goals by taking the long-term view, which projects the future of the industry by decades.
- "'Woz' Goes Back to Work"
Baltimore Sun (04/16/02) P. 1A; Marbella, Jean
Apple Computer inventor Steve Wozniak recently announced that he is starting a new company and will create wireless products appealing to the average consumer. The devices will use global positioning system technology and antennas, and be affordable. Wozniak's new company, Wheels of Zeus, or wOz, will not manufacture the devices itself, but resell the technology to other companies, which should start selling wOz-based devices in about a year. After a long hiatus from the technology business, Wozniak's return elicits upbeat responses from those in Silicon Valley, who are eager to restore the area's reputation for innovation and creativity. Mobius Venture Capital managing director Greg Galanos says that reputation was tarnished with the dot-com boom, in which easy money diluted the essence of back-to-basics creativity. Now, Galanos says, things are getting back to normal as investors test the waters again and there is an average amount of business failures mixed with the successes. "What was weird during the Internet boom was nobody was failing," he explains. Wozniak has not offered many details on the new devices, but says he likes the idea of a small company and getting back to making new products.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Federal Judge Puts Off Ruling in E-Book Case--Update"
Newsbytes (04/15/02); McGuire, David
U.S. District Court Judge Ronald M. Whyte was expected to issue a ruling on several motions to dismiss a government case against the Russian software company Elcomsoft, but instead postponed the hearing until May 6. Elcomsoft has been charged with violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for selling software that bypasses anti-copying safeguards in Adobe eBooks. Last month, the firm's attorneys contended that jurisdictional limits cancel prosecutors' authority, given that the software was published in Russia. In April, they added fuel to the fire by arguing that the DMCA violates the U.S. Constitution. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Legal Director Cindy Cohn said signs are good that Whyte will rule on the motions to dismiss next month. Last year, Elcomsoft programmer Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested and held in the United States for writing the e-book security circumvention program, but the case against him was withdrawn in December.
- "A Deal Against Digital Piracy"
USA Today (04/17/02); Snider, Mike
Fox and Universal studios, along with satellite TV providers DirecTV and EchoStar and electronic makers Hitachi, Matsushita, Philips, Sony, Thomson, and Toshiba, have reached a tentative agreement concerning anti-piracy efforts for high-definition broadcasts and digital televisions, a move that may open the way for Hollywood's participation. Silicon Image and Intel have co-designed the High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection system, which prevents piracy of copyrighted materials transmitted in High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) format. HDMI supports single, full-bandwidth audio and video file transfers. New cable and satellite boxes, as well as digital TVs, will include HDMI connections. The new format is not easily recorded because the data streams are not compressed.
- "Making Sense of Mobile Data"
Wireless Newsfactor (04/15/02); Lyman, Jay
Despite the steady advance of mobile data applications, a number of barriers are preventing widespread adoption of the next-generation network services now being rolled out by U.S. mobile carriers. Although mobile enterprise employees like wireless Internet access, there are few must-have applications in that sector, says Yankee Group analyst Adam Zawel. For consumers, simple email access and Web browsing has not proven itself to be a big enough draw either. Zawel thinks U.S. users will be disappointed concerning the speed of so-called next-generation networks, which will clock in at just 56Kbps, the same as many dial-up modems. Since broadband Internet access is much more available in American homes than in European households, U.S. users will expect faster download and connection speeds. Similarly, the U.S. market will not have as many benefits as in Japan, where subscribers can access a bevy of useful data from the government and other sources. Mobile carriers and hardware vendors are still working to develop standards and have turned to Java as a de facto mobile programming standard. Gartner research director Phillip Redman says mobile firms will have to start taking the computing side of their business more seriously as they move toward data services. He says Sprint has done an exemplary job of bringing in more computing expertise to build up services from an architectural standpoint.
- "Guessing Secrets"
Science News (04/06/02) Vol. 161, No. 14, P. 216; Peterson, Ivars
Akamai Technologies boasts a computer network that can resolve Internet traffic jams by using mathematical models to manage and redistribute information, and there are several research efforts to boost its performance by analyzing the rules of Internet communication. Matching Web page requests to Akamai servers for maximum efficiency depends on how accurately users' computers can be geographically located, but requests are routed to the Web addresses of nameservers, with those of the nameservers' clients kept hidden. Akamai is applying a variant of 20 questions to guess clients' addresses by using models developed by Akamai co-founder Tom Leighton, the University of California, San Diego's Ronald L. Graham, and mathematician Fan Chung. Essentially, the variant consists of more than one secret that needs to be guessed through a sequence of yes-or-no answers, and the mathematicians caution that there is no guaranteed solution for determining all secrets, much less single elements of a secret. However, there has been positive progress. Madhu Sudan of MIT has been able to link list decoding with the problem of guessing secrets, while Chung, Graham, and others are studying questions that will allow the answers to be uncovered in the shortest sequence of steps.
- "EGov Challenges Tech"
eWeek (04/08/02) Vol. 19, No. 14, P. 47; Taschek, John
The federal government is pursuing an enormous task in making all relevant resources available electronically to citizens. However, the ultimate goal of electronic government will prove to be problematic for the federal government if technology companies are unable to meets its stringent technology criteria. As of now, the eGov initiatives are filled with specific acts and regulations that will prevent many technology vendors from even doing business with the federal government. What is more, the acts are likely to impact the development of the U.S. tech industry in the years to come. Among the federal government's electronic regulatory initiatives, the National Information Assurance Acquisition Policy has the potential to have the greatest impact on high-tech companies because the government will give preference to vendors that meet assurance levels for performance and security, and because there are plans to end the granting of waivers to firms that are unable to comply with the new regulation. NSTISSP is also a concern because its evaluation process can take more than a year, and it prohibits open-source products. Section 508 is another worrisome regulation because some segments of the high-tech industry believe it may be impossible to make all IT products usable and accessible to the disabled.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The Island of the Wireless Guerrillas"
Business 2.0 (04/02) Vol. 3, No. 4, P. 96; Schonfeld, Erick
Technology enthusiasts are out to prove that broadband access is a reachable and affordable goal by setting up wireless networks using the 802.11 standard, both in the United States and overseas. Some are entrepreneurs, while others do it for altruistic reasons: Bill Wiecking, for example, has set up a free Wi-Fi network on the island of Hawaii that teachers, wildlife regulators, researchers, and nonprofits are using. He has dotted the island's lava fields with Wi-Fi antennas, and boosted their signal range by combining them with various pieces of equipment. His project began two years ago as an attempt to cheaply Web-enable schools and improve Web surfing on the island. The Wi-Fi networks are affordable because they can be built on top of cable modems, DSLs, and other-high speed Internet connections. At the same time, the technology appears to be driving innovative uses--one of them is a bus that acts as a mobile 802.11 base station and computer lab for students on field trips. Wiecking's network is also being used by the Hawaii Preparatory Academy and a ranger station on the volcano of Mauna Kea to monitor threatened species, and it supports wireless cameras that observe sea turtles underwater. Some 802.11 boosters who like the standard being free are against its commercialization, while only time will tell how far telecoms may go to clamp down on Wi-Fi networks if customers use them to avoid paying for Internet connections.