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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 4, Issue 339: Monday, April 22, 2002
- "Media, Tech, and Bells Face Off in Bid to Shape Bush Net View"
Investor's Business Daily (04/22/02) P. A1; Krause, Reinhardt
The Bush administration remains silent on the dispensation of broadband and telecom deregulation, despite all the jockeying among copyright holders, media firms, and high-tech companies seeking to influence policy. Content providers such as film studios want anti-piracy safeguards incorporated into electronic equipment before broadband is allocated, and support proposals such as Sen. Ernest Hollings' (D-S.C.) mandate to make anti-theft devices a requirement. High-tech firms and associations such as TechNet are firmly opposed to such measures, and many executives are members of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Meanwhile, those same tech firms are lobbying the administration for deregulation, because local Bell companies say they will make more broadband investments if the White House eliminates the policy of network sharing. The Bush administration has made FCC Chairman Michael Powell the lead coordinator for broadband policy. Precursor Group's Scott Cleland takes the White House's silence as "an indication of internal conflict."
- "An Agreement in Principle To Recycle Old Computers"
New York Times (04/22/02) P. C6; Lee, Jennifer 8.
Local governments and producers have agreed in principle to establish a national electronic waste recycling program that would be financed by a proposed fee added to computer purchases and coordinated by private rather than public organizations. "The message to the consumer when they are buying the product is that responsibility of it is not only in the use, but also in the after-use," declares Product Stewardship Institute director Scott Cassel. A program framework is expected from the National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative by September. The product stewardship movement contends that manufacturers, government, retailers, and consumers must share the burden of recycling. Meanwhile, manufacturer responsibility for e-waste is the subject of many recycling proposals from state legislatures as well as legislation in Japan and Europe. Awareness of the need for recycling was raised by a report published by environmental groups estimating that 50 percent to 80 percent of U.S. e-waste is shipped to developing nations for disposal under hazardous conditions. The recycling fee could cost approximately $25.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Elite Programmers Prepare for Showdown"
SiliconValley.com (04/19/02); Dunlap, Kamika
TopCoder hosts tournaments that draw professional and collegiate programmers by offering them the opportunity to win cash prizes, polish their skills, and boost their job market profile. The brainchild of brothers Jack and Robert Hughes, TopCoder was originally devised as a way to rapidly assess the skills of prospective developers they wanted for their technology consulting company. The TopCoder Web site holds tournaments twice a week in which thousands of participants are invited to solve a trio of programming problems, while the annual TopCoder Collegiate Challenge pits 16 elite student finalists against each other for a $100,000 jackpot. Over 12,000 international programmers have registered as participants since the weekly tournaments started in 2001, and TopCoder has doled out almost $1 million in prizes. The site sells tournament sponsorships to corporations as well as contact information that potential employers can use to court hot programmers. The competitions are a good platform from which to spot the next generation of corporate coders, according to Reggie Hutcherson of Sun Microsystems. Eastern Washington University computer science lecturer Tom Capul is so impressed with TopCoder that he has incorporated certain components of the tournaments into his curriculum.
- "Intel's Quixotic Quest for Next Billion Users"
San Francisco Chronicle (04/19/02) P. A1; Yi, Matthew
Intel reigns as the world's leading chip manufacturer and as such has the luxury of employing some unique research. Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood says that although Intel does not make end-user products primarily, it still does significant end-user research because it is trying to grow the overall market for its products, not just its own market share. Hence, Intel's Everyday Life Designer researchers travel the globe in order to find niches of the world's population whose lives can still be revolutionized by computing in an effort to get the next billion people online. These teams, which hold psychology and anthropology degrees rather than engineering and computer science degrees, have gone to Alaskan fish canneries, the homes of suburban America, the slums of Rio de Janeiro, and elsewhere to investigate how Intel can help develop the next wave in computers. As a result of such research, Intel is backing Microsoft's ambitious Tablet PC concept, for example. Intel Everyday Life Designers saw the need in family homes for computers that were easy to pass around and use in more trafficked living spaces such as the kitchen and dining room.
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- "Japanese Computer Is World's Fastest, as U.S. Falls Back"
New York Times (04/20/02) P. A1; Markoff, John
The world's newest fastest computer was created in Japan using a design method different than that favored by most U.S. computer scientists and far outpacing competing machines in terms of sheer speed. The computer, financed by the Japanese government and built by NEC at the Earth Simulator Research and Development Center at Yokohama, processes 35.6 trillion mathematical calculations per second and is specially designed to model weather and earthquake patterns. In contrast, American computers have been focused on military research as of late, and the previous reigning fastest computer, IBM's ASCI White-Pacific, ran just 7 trillion calculations per second. Experts say the Japanese accomplishment is equivalent to the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik satellite in the 1950s. The Japanese machine uses fewer processors than leading U.S.-built supercomputers, but they are custom-tailored for specific applications, following a vector processing method pioneered by supercomputer designer Seymour Cray. That design has lost ground in the U.S. to massive parallel computing configurations that employ thousands more conventional processors.
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- "The Hidden Toll of Patents on Standards"
Enterprise (04/18/02); Berlind, David
IBM recently backed away from its assertion of patent royalty dues on a key e-commerce standard, ebXML, being developed in conjunction with the United Nations. The issue illustrates the danger patent royalties pose to technology standards, as it endangers nearly any Internet technology launched by a small-scale company or an in-house technology not meant for resale. Especially worrying is the fact that Microsoft and IBM have worked closely on many next-generation technology standards such as SOAP, UDDI, and WSDL, and may in the future be able to control the development of the technologies through associated patents. One of the reasons Microsoft is currently in court over monopoly abuses is because the future of the company's Windows software is often used as a competition-killing weapon, making Windows-enabled software released by competitors less valuable than similar applications developed by Microsoft itself. For example, only Microsoft knows what features and specifications it will incorporate into future versions of Windows, and can use that knowledge to its advantage when charting the development of its software. The issue has implications for non-software companies as well, since nearly every Web application runs the risk of infringing on some patent that may not yet be disclosed or claimed.
- "Why IT's Not Seen as a Job for Girls"
Sydney Morning Herald Online (04/16/02); Yelland, Philippa
Young girls tend to shy away from IT because they consider IT careers to be boring and solitary pursuits. Approximately 50% of girls polled by Multimedia Victoria last year labeled IT as "too boring." Extensive travel was also seen as a turn-off to respondents, especially those with families. In fact, many women in the industry believe family obligations take a toll on IT career advancement, and vice-versa. This cuts to the heart of the issue of white collar workers being forced into working longer shifts, notes former Apple Computer Australia managing director Di Ryall. "Our society needs both men and women to have time to be involved with their children--we need to break the mold of 60-plus hour weeks being considered the norm," she declares. Some women believe that their dedication to their careers can actually benefit their children's perception of them as role models. Meanwhile, many young women see IT as having a more technical than creative focus, when in fact the industry takes the opposite view. "What's needed is the ability to see the real benefits for customers and businesses alike," says Inmarsat VP Camilla Shaughnessy.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Can Search Engines Track Down Terrorists?"
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. exposed the need for a better way to find information within the vast repositories of government agencies. For instance, government officials say hijacker Mohammad Atta may not have been allowed back into the country if the Department of Immigration had known there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest for a traffic violation in Florida. Although some government officials say relaxed privacy laws are needed in order to track down terrorists, others say a better filing system and information sharing between government agencies could be just as beneficial. Meanwhile, Internet search engines and software makers believe they offer the technologies government agencies need to organize the information they have collected over the years. AltaVista and Inktomi are among the Internet search engines that are targeting the government agencies with their technologies. Although providing searching capabilities for a single government agency may not be as daunting a task as delivering a search engine for the Internet, search engine companies face a number of new challenges. For example, government files are likely to exist in hundreds of different formats, and in obsolete computer languages. Internet search firms must know where to look for files, and locate files, while continuing to protect citizens' privacy.
- "Better Living Through Small Tech: MEMS and Nanotech Meet Real Life"
Small Times Online (04/19/02); James, Kyle
More companies are realizing that nanotechnology and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) can enhance their products significantly, as evidenced by the many products on display this week at Germany's Hannover Fair. In fact, Carlos Yahya-Vargas of PHS MEMS believes that small tech will eventually become so pervasive in everyday life that it will be transparent. He foresees it being incorporated into common objects such as coat hangers, clothing, and shopping carts. Applications for automobiles are one example: The Audi A4 features glass that screens out UV rays because it is treated with thin film technology, while an anti-reflective coating on the instrument panel's glass maintains the speedometer's clarity. Furthermore, Germany's Institute for New Materials (INM) produces windows programmed to change color thanks to ultra-thin layers of tungsten oxide and cesium titanium oxide, and has developed a nanomaterial-laden lacquer that dramatically increases the scratch resistance of vehicle paint. INM receives a minimum of 1,000 contracts every year to enhance existing products with its thin film technology, notes the institute's Carsten Becker-Willinger. Thin films are also applied to CDs so that foreign material such as oil does not affect performance. Telecommunications, automotive, medical household appliances, and kitchen and bathroom suppliers are the industries spurring the development and implementation of MEMS technology, explains PhotonicNet's Anja Nieselt-Achilles.
- "White House Cyber Czar Describes Next Phase of Internet Plan"
GovExec.com (04/17/02); Harris, Shane
The Govnet initiative of the Bush administration could evolve in a number of directions, according to Richard Clarke, President Bush's top advisor on national cybersecurity. On Wednesday, during a conference attended by hundreds of federal technology personnel and industry officials, Clarke said the Bush administration could move in the direction of improving security on existing computer-based networks, switching agencies over to existing standalone networks, or allowing agencies to build their own secure networks. Other options are creating a multi-agency intranet, or creating a back-up network that would enable critical government operations to continue in the event of a terrorist attack. Clarke did not indicate whether the White House favors a certain approach, and did not back any particular strategy. The goal of the Govnet initiative is to create an information network for the federal government that would be impenetrable. A General Services Administration team says such a standalone network is technologically feasible, although some companies have criticized the initiative as being unclear and underfunded. The Bush administration acknowledges that Govnet is simply a "concept," and not a real project at this stage.
- "Hydrogel-Based Nanoparticles Make Photonic Crystals"
UniSci (04/18/02); Toon, John
Georgia Institute of Technology researchers reported at the 223d national meeting of the American Chemical Society that they have created hydrogel-based nanoparticles that could be used to fabricate photonic crystals with adjustable optical properties. This optical tuning can be accomplished via the thermal adjustment of the water contained within the particles. The nanoparticles could be used to make crystals designed to transfer a narrow range of wavelengths, so that data carried on optical fibers at specific wavelengths can be retrieved. The medical applications could include new diagnostics tools based on particles that react in the presence of certain biological molecules. "We have a very simple and easy processing method for taking one type of particle and creating a whole host of optical materials from it, as opposed to having to synthesize a new particle for each optical material you would like," boasted Georgia Tech researcher Andrew Lyon. Heating the material above the transition temperature converts it to a fluid state that can be cast, molded, or spin-coated with standard processing methods.
- "3-D, and Ditch the Glasses"
Wired News (04/19/02); Tapellini, Donna
Several 3D display technologies that can be used without the need for special glasses are being developed or marketed in the U.S. The potential uses for such technologies range from the advanced study of medical imagery and simulation to more sophisticated video games. Director of NYU's Center for Advanced Technology (CAT) Ken Perlin says the autostereoscopic, multi-angle display his facility is developing could be particularly useful to surgeons, who cannot afford to have their vision impeded in their work. The CAT display is based on what Perlin calls temporal multiplexing, and involves two displays positioned one behind the other; small cameras track viewers' eye movements, while microstripe patterns simultaneously flash across the front display. The view of 3D imagery on the screen changes according to the users' head movements, while the viewing zone itself extends 45 degrees to the left or right of the screen. Perlin predicts that autostereoscopic technology will be used by the medical and scientific community in the next couple of years. Meanwhile, Actuality Systems is working on a project that involves volumetric technology, in which a transparent image is projected in "slices" onto a screen spinning within a sphere.
- "Internet2 Attracts Research Centers"
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Online (04/17/02); Shinkle, Peter
Researchers at Washington University, St. Louis University, and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, all St. Louis-based institutions, have announced a collaborative effort to establish a connection to Internet2, an improved, high-speed variation of the Internet. The purpose of the Internet2 consortium is to promote research and develop and refine new networking technologies, such as the IPv6 Internet protocol and sophisticated video teleconferencing. Over 200 U.S. universities and research centers are linked up to the Abilene backbone network, a major component of Internet2; Qwest Communications announced last year that $300 million will be poured into a five-year initiative to enhance the network. Jerry Cox of Washington University says the Abilene network's convenient route through St. Louis prompted the three research institutions to set up a local connection as a cost-cutting measure. He adds that Southwestern Bell will furnish a connection to the Abilene operations center in Indianapolis that the three participants will use for the first four months, and then hopefully establish a direct connection via a telecommunications facility in downtown St. Louis. "These activities and resources will quickly lead to new applications in research and education that will benefit our students, faculty and community," declares St. Louis University CIO Thomas Moberg.
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- "Debate Over ICANN Reform Rages On"
Computer Weekly Online (04/19/02)
The Computers, Freedom, and Privacy (CFP) conference held in San Francisco on April 18 debated the ICANN reform issue, with CFP's ICANN panel reaching consensus that major reform is needed, but without the disbanding of ICANN. ICANN President Stuart Lynn's proposal has received little outside support so far, and Wilmer, Culter & Pickering attorney Susan Crawford says that "ICANN has been hijacked from within...from its staff." Crawford believes that ICANN should outsource some of its responsibilities, as well as reduce its structural size, so that government-dependent funding is not needed. ICANN board member Karl Auerbach suggests breaking ICANN into six parts, each responsible for six different tasks. SRI principal scientist Peter Neumann notes that no complete-picture proposals have yet been published as alternatives to Lynn's. Neumann would like to see such proposals put forth.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.
- "The Search Is On"
Computerworld (04/15/02) Vol. 36, No. 16, P. 54; Anthes, Gary H.
Several research efforts to improve data analysis methods have made significant progress, especially in light of last fall's terrorist attacks. Systems Research and Development (SRD) originally devised its Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness (NORA) technology so casinos could root out cheaters, but is now applying it to the identification of terrorists and other kinds of criminals, thanks to an injection of funding from the CIA. NORA collates data from multiple, disparate sources about people and their activities, and correlates it to find non-obvious relationships. The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University have co-developed the Real-Time Outbreak Disease and Surveillance (RODS) system, which uses distributed data mining to study information coming in from 17 local hospitals in order to predict the progress of epidemics. Project co-director Andrew Moore says RODS can take as many as 100 variables into account every few minutes, and broadening its scope to cover other sources of data (vehicle traffic and phone call records, for example) will require a tremendous effort. Meanwhile, Verity is working on software that will retrieve more accurate answers to searches using machine learning protocols that are enabled via logistic regression classification, and Streamlogic is focusing on inverted search engines. "Instead of archiving data and running search queries through it, we archive search queries and run data through it," explains Streamlogic's Val Jerdes.
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- "Moore's Law & Order"
eWeek (04/15/02) Vol. 19, No. 15, P. 39; Fixmer, Rob
According to Moore's Law, raw computing power doubles every 18 to 24 months thanks to technological innovations, but inventor and author Ray Kurzweil predicts such growth to ramp up significantly in the next several decades. The basis for this forecast is Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Intelligence, which posits that Moore's Law is actually the fifth paradigm in a much larger continuum that maps computing's exponential growth. Kurzweil expects 3D molecular computing to emerge as the sixth paradigm, and announcements of molecular-scale organic transistors from Lucent and IBM seem to support this projection. Moore's Law anticipates that the physical limits of silicon chips will be reached by about 2015, but chip manufacturers could hit the financial threshold even sooner, due to the rising costs of chip fabrication. Molecular transistors, with their low-cost chemical self-assembly, could forestall such a crisis and lead to computers capable of operations that approximate human intelligence. But the growth of computing power has followed Moore's law very closely for almost 40 years, to the point that it has become an economic as well as cultural cornerstone.
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- "Molding Atoms"
Science News (04/13/02) Vol. 161, No. 15, P. 229; Weiss, P.
University of Aarhus researchers in France and Denmark have managed to create copper strips just two atoms wide using a custom-created molecule as a template. Although the copper strips themselves are of little practical value, experts say the process of using molecule templates is crucial to linking nanoscale computer components to larger, traditional ones. The Aarhus scientists developed a 188-atom molecule several years ago with the intention of creating a conduit that could regulate electric flow to just one electron at a time. What the researchers were surprised by was the fact that this molecule insulated electrical flow from the substrate and somehow trapped copper atoms in the space between the substrate and electrified material. That process caused the copper atoms to realign in two-atom-wide strips. IBM researcher Ari Aviram says the self-restructuring is a significant development.
- "Can You Trust Your Car?"
IEEE Spectrum Online (04/02); Berger, Ivan; Bretz, Elizabeth A.
Automotive electronics must be reliable, both to justify the increased purchase expense and maintenance costs of vehicles and to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers. Reliability becomes a more difficult proposition as car electronics increase in sophistication; software and hardware have specific points of failure triggered by such factors as temperature, limited space, and the underhood environment, while electronics systems can be disrupted by electromagnetic interference that originates both inside and outside the vehicle. To ensure reliability, manufacturers now outline software and hardware models at the bidding stage. Infineon Technologies North America's Robert LeFort notes that "The trend is to devote more time in the development cycle to planning and simulation." Advanced development systems such as requirements management, the formal verification tool (FVT), and formal methods (FM) are becoming de rigueur, and some of these tools are proving to be even more effective than simulations. Also contributing to reliability are new, mostly de facto standards being established by auto industry consortia: Examples include time-triggered protocol (TTP), Media-Oriented Systems Transport (MOST), and K-Line, while the U.S. Council for Automotive Research is working toward the standardization of connectors, cigarette-lighter sockets, control-panel light bulbs, and other car components. Built-in redundancy, extra capacity, and thorough testing vastly improve the reliability of automotive devices such as integrated circuits. In addition to having a longer life cycle than mechanical and hydraulic parts, automotive electronics can facilitate easier diagnostics, both in the shop and on the road.