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 email@example.com.
Volume 4, Issue 350: Friday, May 17, 2002
- "Shoring Up Software Is New Group's Aim"
CNet (05/16/02); Wong, Wylie
In an effort to improve the security and reliability of software, Carnegie Mellon University has joined forces with federal agencies, technology companies, and others to form the Sustainable Computing Consortium (SCC). "We have a broad scope, from developing methodology, tools, specifications and standards to public policy recommendations," explains Ken Jacobs of SCC member Oracle. The organization's goal is to build business practices for software creation and devise tools to test software for glitches and security holes. SCC director Bill Guttman says the consortium will work out an agenda this summer; thus far, $30 million in funding has been poured into the organization. He notes that SCC members can freely use whatever technology is developed from the initiative--at least internally. However, they must pay a royalty to Carnegie Mellon if they wish to add the technology to their products. This has made the open-source software community uneasy, and Guttman says the organization is "engaged in discussions" to smooth out any wrinkles. Other SCC members include Cisco Systems, Pfizer, Merck, NASA, and Microsoft.
- "Breakin' the Law: Without Nano, Moore Is No More, Experts Say"
Small Times Online (05/15/02); Pfeiffer, Eric W.
Moore's Law could end in as little as 10 years, and many people believe nanotechnology is the key to extending its life. A key nanotech development that IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and others are working on is self-assembling nanoscale transistors; IBM recently created a double gate transistor that IBM Research's Thomas Theis believes will be a major milestone. Speaking at the Nanotech Planet Spring 2002 conference, Theis said, "[Self-assembly] will enable more efficient and vastly less expensive manufacturing processes." HP has also made a self-assembling transistor that features parallel wires linked by a quantum switch. The wires form spontaneously when a material placed on a silicon substrate is heated, according to HP Labs fellow and Nanotech Planet speaker R. Stanley Williams. He anticipates that the first commercial nanoelectronic products will debut in about five years, while Theis thinks that sensors built on silicon chips will be the first such devices to proliferate widely. Theis goes on to predict that logic and memory devices will start to be supplanted by nanotech in a little more than a decade, while it could be 20 to 50 years before microelectronics is replaced by nanoelectronics. In order for this to happen, nanotech must receive adequate funding from both the federal and private sectors.
- "The DMCA Is the Toast of D.C."
Wired News (05/17/02); McCullagh, Declan
D.C. politicians and lobbyists toasted the health of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) at a celebration on Thursday, praising its success at curtailing piracy and encouraging innovation. "Creativity--and the economy--thrive when copyrights are strong," argued Business Software Alliance President Robert Holleyman. "The DMCA is proof of that." Other DMCA proponents at the celebration included Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti, Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), and Hilary Rosen of the Recording Industry Association of America. The turnout at the reception demonstrated that content owners draw a lot of water in Washington. Meanwhile, the DMCA continues to come under fire for allegedly stifling creativity and fair use: Its prohibition on the bypassing of anti-copying technology has led to lawsuits against people and organizations for distributing such services. For example, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday said it would not revisit an earlier ruling that 2600 magazine had broken the law by offering DVD decoding technology. Movie studios want to further anti-piracy measures by making the installation of copy-protection technology in most hardware and software a requirement.
- "Senator Prevents Action on Online Privacy Bill"
New York Times (05/17/02) P. A14; Clymer, Adam
An online privacy bill has been stalled in the Senate Commerce Committee by Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who has objected strongly to provisions allowing consumers to sue over infringement and releasing offline companies from the rules. Although the solid Democratic bloc on the committee is likely to guarantee that the bill will make it to the Senate floor for a vote, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned that it would be mired in debate because of the controversial points. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), allows individual lawsuits against online companies that gather and share personal information, but would exclude offline firms from the same liability. Republicans want the lawsuit provision waived and the rules to extend to offline companies as well. Democrats are likely to pursue the debate because it would put Republicans in a compromising position in regards to privacy protections, costing them political points with consumers.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Dell Readies PC Recycling Program"
ZDNet (05/16/02); Skillings, Jonathan
Dell Computer, the world's No. 2 PC vendor, will release the details of its PC recycling program within a few days, according to spokesman Bryant Hilton. The new program would provide another option for Dell customers. Under the DellExchange system, in operation since late 2000, consumers can trade in old computers or monitors, auction them off, or donate them to nonprofits. The effort is an attempt to staunch the flow of electronic waste containing toxic substances that can leak into the environment. Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition executive director Ted Smith notes that Dell's nonparticipation in the National Electronic Product Stewardship Initiative (NEPSI) is "a major focus of contention." NEPSI is trying to set up a national electronics recycling infrastructure, and is discussing the possibility of embedding recycling costs in the purchase of new PCs, TVs, and computer peripherals. Other electronics vendors, such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard, charge fees to consumers who wish to exercise their recycling option. The Calvert mutual fund company has put forward a proposal for Dell to take more responsibility for recycling discarded computers, which could come up for a vote at Dell's annual shareholder conference in July. Calvert environmental analyst Julie Frieder says that if Dell can prove that it can furnish a feasibility study that fulfills Calvert's needs, then the proposal might be withdrawn.
- "Teaching a Search Engine"
San Jose Mercury News Online (05/16/02); Plotnikoff, David
Teaching search engines to customize their results for users would solve a lot of headaches, according to David Plotnikoff, whose theory was inspired by a special report on the adaptive Web in the May issue of Communications of the ACM. He envisions a search engine that monitors the user's smallest activities, assembles a history database of all viewed pages, and automatically notes similarities between relevant pages so it can pattern the user's search habits. XML data within the history database would note specific content traits that help the search engine determine relevance. Plotnikoff suggests that search engine developers could take their cue from e-commerce efforts such as Amazon.com's collaborative filtering software, which re-tunes the product selections the Web site offers to consumers based on their preferences. He believes the key to crafting a teachable search engine is processing a vast amount of meta-tags and cached Web pages with brute-force computing. However, one of the drawbacks is that the engine would essentially be making guesses, a function that today's computers are ill-equipped to carry out.
- "At MIT, They Can Put Words in Our Mouths"
Boston Globe (05/15/02) P. A1; Cook, Gareth
Using artificial intelligence, MIT scientists are able to convincingly doctor videos of people so that they speak words and sentences they never actually said. MIT team leader Tony F. Ezzat explains that the computer studies between two to four minutes of video to capture the mouth and face's full range of motion, combining the images into facial expressions. By analyzing the video, the machine learns how the subject expresses each individual sound. To produce a face to go with a new sound, the computer superimposes a virtual mouth area onto the face, according to a project document. The retooled video is so realistic that viewers cannot tell whether the clips are authentic or computer-generated, according to the researchers. The method is limited--the person on the video must remain still and face the camera, and no new audio is generated. But MIT team member Tomaso Poggio says the technology could be refined to handle moving heads positioned at any angle. The commercial prospects for the technique include video games and film special effects, but scientists warn that it could also be used for fraudulent purposes, such as discrediting or embarrassing people with doctored footage, or having well-known figures make unauthorized product endorsements.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Net Clearinghouse for Creatives"
Associated Press (05/15/02)
A Stanford University-based online clearinghouse where creative people can contribute selected works will be launched on Thursday; artists could share the donated material without obtaining permission from and paying royalties to copyright owners. The Creative Commons, as it is known, is seen as a counter-agent to strict intellectual property laws that Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig says are choking innovation. Almost $900,000 has been raised by the Creative Commons, its chief contributor being the nonprofit Center for the Public Domain. Among the organizations that have promised material and administrative support to the project are the Electronic Frontier Foundation, O'Reilly and Associates, and the Internet Archive and Prelinger Archives. Creative Commons executive director Molly S. Van Houweling says startup bands and relatively unknown authors could use the clearinghouse as a platform for their works, while more well-known creators could contribute material that would help noncommercial projects. Contributors to the commons retain ownership of their works and are free to sell them outside the commons.
- "Electrochemists are Facing a Battery of New Challenges"
Philadelphia Inquirer (05/17/02) P. B1; Flam, Faye
The Electrochemical Society of Philadelphia is celebrating its centenary this week, with approximately 2,000 chemists, engineers, physicists, and Silicon Valley innovators convening to discuss the issues and challenges of the day. One such challenge is to devise cleaner processes to generate energy and manufacture goods. A century ago at the founding of the society, the major issues concerned battery design, plating metals, and chemical manufacturing. Many trend-setting technologies--television sets, laptops, and Palm Pilots among them--would not have been possible without electrochemistry. Conference attendee and speaker Carver Mead of the California Institute of Technology predicts that in three decades silicon chips will have shrunk to the point where they can be significantly affected by quantum mechanics. He expects new technologies to come to the fore once silicon's threshold has been reached, among them: Carbon nanotubes, optical computing, ultrasmall transistors, and systems that function much like the human brain.
- "The Technology Behind Napster Is Far from Dead"
SiliconValley.com (05/14/02); Gillmor, Dan
Napster may be on its last legs, but the peer-to-peer (P2P) technology it popularized is thriving, as evidenced at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. For instance, Onion Networks has unveiled a P2P "content-addressable Web" that offers people at the network edge an easy, cheap way to distribute large files. Onion CTO Justin Chapweske says the technology will be offered free to open-source and public-domain projects, as a way "to give something back to the open-source community." Meanwhile, Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig is helping initiate Creative Commons, an organization that will provide a database of works contributed by people who wish to share certain creations with others. For now, the organization is developing technology that lets people license their work on their own terms. Others who wish to use such work will be able to easily search for it on the Creative Commons database. Creative Commons will premiere at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference on Thursday; on hand will be 15-year-old Aaron Swartz, who is developing the software that will bring the database to life.
"'Dork' Duo Finally Get Noticed"
Wired News (05/16/02); Shachtman, Noah
The hacker group known as "The Deceptive Duo" is responsible for defacing many public- and private-sector Web sites in an effort to bring the electronic infrastructure's vulnerability to the attention of the nation, but it may have worked too well. One member of the duo, 18-year-old Robert Lyttle, has been placed under house arrest following an FBI raid that involved the seizure of his computers as well as those of his partner in crime, a hacker known as "The-Rev." Lyttle, whose hacker name is "Pimpshiz," was arrested for defacing over 100 Web sites two years ago, and received two years' probation. The duo claimed that they carried out their assaults in the name of patriotism, and the need to strengthen the country's critical systems from enemy cyberattacks. However, security experts and other members of the hacker community believe the duo is either misguided or merely showboating. "Jericho" of the security Web site attrition.org dismisses Lyttle as "one of those dorks that think getting popped for hacking is a path to a good job." Companies and agencies whose sites were defaced by the duo include NASA, the FAA, the Gartner Group, Midwest Airlines, and the Department of Transportation.
- "Three Wireless Trends to Watch"
Wireless Newsfactor (05/15/02); McDonough, Dan
Analysts believe a trio of trends--mobile hard drives, fuel cells, and global roaming--could make a significant impact in the wireless sector. Gartner's Phil Redman forecasts that practically all mobile computing and consumer applications that need at least 1 GB of storage space will be equipped with miniature hard-disk drives within eight years. What is more, he expects 1-inch mini drives to be able to store up to 10 GB by 2005, while 1.8-inch mini drives will boast maximum capacity of 30 GB. Redman also believes fuel cells that rely on chemical rather than electrical power will become an important component in mobile consumer devices, once safer technology is developed. He projects that refuelable cells will hit niche markets in 2005 and become embedded in about 30 percent of mobile devices by 2010. Meanwhile, Yankee Group analyst David Berndt sees much potential in global roaming--in fact, he believes users will one day be able to make mobile phone calls from just about any location that is serviced by a wireless operator, via subscriber identity module (SIM) cards. These trends, while important, are often overshadowed by well-known technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 3G.
- "Meta Report: Hit the 'Refresh' Button on Employee Skills"
EarthWeb (05/08/02); Poe, Jonathan
The convergence of IT strategy and business goals will continue until 25 percent of Global 2000 firms can form virtual project teams on an as-needed basis by 2007, according to the META Group. This dynamic structuring and restructuring in the workforce will make employee training and management all the more important, says the META Group. Highly-skilled workers are increasingly in demand, thus keeping IT workers' skills sets current is vital; for example, software engineers have a half-life of 18 months, say some professors. Whereas an average IT worker currently receives 40 hours of training annually, companies are finding that the resources invested in their best-performing employees yield tremendous results. As a result, the best workers at Global 2000 firms will receive an annual average of 80 hours of training by 2005. Conversely, IT organizations will jettison marginally performing workers while increasing their hiring standards, providing less skills training for new hires. Skills gap analysis, development plans, and measuring personality to fit with the company's culture and goals are all important to leveraging what will be IT firms' most important asset--human capital.
- "VOIP: the Latest Word in Networking"
Wall Street Journal (05/16/02) P. B4; Heinzl, Mark
Voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) technology promises to merge data and voice networks, cutting costs for large organizations while increasing functionality by transmitting voice calls in digital packets over converged networks along with emails and Web pages. Even as the technology becomes more advanced and robust, current users tout VOIP's capabilities, including voice mails that can be accessed through an email inbox, and voice connections that offer simultaneous online document collaboration or videoconferencing. Dan Mangelsdorf of Nortel, one of the leaders in VOIP technology, says he was able to tap his company's intranet while on a business trip from Australia, check messages, and answer and make calls as if from his office in North Carolina. However, Forrester Research says just 13 percent of the 693 companies it recently surveyed are installing or using VOIP technology, although many companies are interested in the technology. Forrester analysts say corporate adoption is slow because existing circuit-switch voice networks work fine and are more reliable, even if they are more expensive. Forrester analyst Maribel Dolinov says VOIP technology is "still not as good as the existing circuit-switch network." Still, Bell Canada's Charles Salameh predicts VOIP will eventually take over not only in the business sector, but in home use as well, as home networks emerge. Salameh says one possibility is that users could see who is calling while watching television, because a video box would pop up with the caller's live video feed.
- "Revival Drives India's Tech Firms to Hunt Chip Skills"
As the global semiconductor sector bounces back from recession, India's major technology companies are seeking out workers with expertise in chip software and hardware development. Among those trolling for such candidates, as evidenced by want-ads in Wednesday's Times of India, are Honeywell, Intel, Alliance Semiconductor, Infosys, Sasken, and Satyam Computer Services. "Embedded systems has been a focus area for us even in the downturn last year and we continue to add and train people in this area," says Wipro's Pratik Kumar. Gartner expects global semiconductor revenue to grow 3 percent in 2002; last year, revenue fell 31 percent because of chip surpluses, slackening economies, and too much investment in telecoms infrastructure. Analysts also believe the Indian tech workforce will benefit from a flood of native engineers returning from the United States as a result of last year's economic implosion. As of March, India's software services exports had risen 29 percent in the past year, and industry officials anticipate a 30 percent gain this year.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "IT Changes Everything"
National Journal (05/11/02) Vol. 34, No. 19, P. 1378; Freedberg Jr., Sydney J.
The Sept. 11 attacks and the U.S. government's response highlight the increasingly critical nature of how organizations manage information. What is evident from both the hijackers' standpoint and the military operation in Afghanistan is that the hardware is taken for granted--how information is used is more important. Information available on the Web, in flight simulators, and manuals gave the hijackers the tools they needed to carry out their plan, while the Allied forces in Afghanistan relied primarily on precise information coordinated from ground troops, GPS devices, and other networked mechanisms. Since the attacks, government leaders have made tremendous efforts to make use of existing data, linking databases and networks in order to add depth of meaning to their information: The Immigration and Naturalization Service, for example, is merging its database of criminals and fingerprints together with the FBI. The U.S. Customs Service is piloting a cross-checking system in Arizona that automatically flags suspicious vehicles crossing the border based on data from state and federal registries and previous crossing information. And the Joint Forces Command at the Pentagon is testing a system that would link a minimal deployment of personnel to remote specialist centers that can be called on ad hoc--similar to outsourcing in the business world. Besides military and security functions, managing information promises great yields in the civilian sector, where bureaucracy is being challenged to change from linear to parallel processes. Instead of documents and projects being passed up the chain of command in a paper-based system, they can be put online and collaborated on simultaneously.
- "Coming: Failsafe Software"
Computerworld (05/13/02) Vol. 36, No. 20, P. 60; Anthes, Gary H.
Sun Microsystems' open source guru, Richard P. Gabriel, also heads the Feyerabend Project, which is dedicated to making computer programming and software more robust and adaptable. When code was being written for the first computers, programming talent was relatively cheap in comparison with the cost of the hardware--today, the opposite is true. The Feyerabend Project is named after Paul Feyerabend, a philosopher who noted that it was always necessary in at least one circumstance to ignore or adopt philosophies in contrary to an established scientific rule. Gabriel says that thinking, when applied to computer programming, means systems should be built to respond automatically to disruptions and return back to their normal state. He adds that programmers need to think how to harness the massive computing power available to them to make their job easier, as well as being more responsive to end users through processes such as extreme programming, where coders and users interact while applications are in development. Some of the projects Gabriel is currently working on include a rule-based version of Microsoft Word that would attach a number of rules to each entry of data, so that information would be easily incorporated with other data created using the same rules. He says the project is a proof-of-concept work that would show it is possible to get computers to actually help with the task of programming.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The Invention Factory"
Technology Review (05/02) Vol. 105, No. 4, P. 46; Schwartz, Evan I.
Microsoft Research founder and multimillionaire Nathan Myhrvold has embarked on an ambitious undertaking at his Intellectual Ventures firm: The Invention Factory, a collective of inventors recruited to brainstorm projects in numerous fields, including biotechnology, distributed computing, and business processes. "We want to create new stuff, either evolutionary or revolutionary stuff," Myhrvold declares. License fees and royalties would be split between the inventors and the company, while Myhrvold and partner Edward Jung hope to make the joy of inventing a prime attraction for its cadre of innovators. Their hopes are that the Invention Factory will profit from the American economy entering what Myhrvold calls the "fourth stage" of innovation, when "organized lone inventing" is enjoying a resurgence thanks to copious funding and many information tools being available to inventors. The Invention Factory will primarily be targeted to the dozens of independent inventors who already own lucrative patents but have not started their own companies; it will offer them access to a comprehensive legal and support infrastructure and group them on specific projects to increase the chances of a breakthrough. Myhrvold says the Invention Factory will not be an incubator of Silicon Valley-type startups, since it would be too expensive and take focus away from inventing. Professional Inventors Alliance President Ronald J. Riley says the success of Myhrvold and Jung's venture will be difficult to achieve, since it usually takes five to 10 years for solid patents to turn into profits. Furthermore, he adds, some inventors may balk that their independence is being encroached
- "Wireless Data Blaster"
Scientific American (05/02) Vol. 286, No. 5, P. 64; Leeper, David G.
Developers of the low-power, short-range ultrawideband (UWB) wireless technology envision many uses for it, including the transmission of wireless data between networks of portable electronic devices, motion detection, and location triangulation. The carrierless technology has the potential to handle more users by cutting power and distance, just as cellular telephony did. UWB could pave the way for revolutionary electronic devices, such as mass-storage units that can download films wirelessly, or 3D eyeglasses that provide streaming video input or interactive games. Engineers project that these gadgets will be less expensive, more compact, and consume less power than current narrowband radio devices. Key to UWB's success will be its spatial capacity, especially as the congestion of broadband users in airports, workplaces, and other public areas increases. Another attractive property of UWB is its low radiation output. There is concern that UWB could interfere with narrowband systems because the intermittent pulses that comprise UWB emissions use the same frequency as conventional radio services; but UWB receivers are more likely to be interfered with by other emitters until designers can boost their jamming resistance. The FCC approved of the use of UWB communications applications, provided they had "incidental radiation" power limits of between 3.1 and 10.6 GHz.