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


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Volume 4, Issue 354: Wednesday, May 29, 2002

  • "Instant Messaging at Work Can Open Door to Hackers"
    USA Today (05/29/02) P. 1A; Kessler, Michelle

    Free instant messaging (IM) systems pose a security risk for corporate computer networks, especially since employees may use them to send and receive messages of a sensitive nature. Such systems lack fundamental security components in order to promote ease-of-use; most, for instance, do not scramble messages that are transmitted over the Internet. International Data (IDC) estimates that 54 million people will use free, security-lax IM systems at work this year. Furthermore, more than half of the companies that use such systems opt for free ones, according to INT Media Research. IDC analyst Robert Mahowald believes the use of such systems will fall as more companies realize the risks they run. Some companies are unaware that their employees are installing personal IM systems that can provide hackers with a convenient back door. It has already been demonstrated that hacker exploitation of free IM systems can have devastating consequences: Hackers stole hundreds of instant messages from the CEO of startup eFront, no longer in business, and published them online. Free IM system suppliers AOL and Microsoft claim that their products were never meant to carry sensitive information, and both have developed or are developing secure IM products and services for corporate clients.
    http://www.usatoday.com/money/tech/2002-05-29-im-security.htm

  • "Supreme Court Bolsters Protections for Patents"
    Los Angeles Times (05/29/02) P. C1; Colker, David

    The Supreme Court on Monday unamiously overturned a 1999 appeals court ruling that did not allow investors to amend their patent applications and still retain access to protection from the "doctrine of equivalents," which prevents the creation of a similar product that is already patented. However, the Supreme Court did rule that investors who amend their patents must show the changes are substantial and deserving of access to the doctrine of equivalents protection. The ruling could affect about 90 percent of the 1.2 million patents now in force. Response was favorable from companies in industries that are rapidly evolving, such as Pfizer, Dow Chemical, and Sun Microsystems; however, large companies, such as Genentech, IBM, and Intel believe the new Supreme Court ruling will lead to increased frivolous patent lawsuits. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that the appeals court decision would "risk destroying the legitimate expectations of inventors in their property."
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  • "ITAA's Job Stats Doubted, Questions Raised About H1-B Quotas"
    Search400.com (05/27/02); Evans-Correia, Kate

    American IT professionals are criticizing the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) of providing false statistical projections as evidence of the need to maintain or raise the cap of H1-B visas granted to foreign workers. The ITAA released a report earlier this month estimating that 1.1 million new IT positions will become available in 2002, and that almost 600,000 of them will remain vacant. Many IT professionals claim that those figures are not an accurate reflection of an economic downturn, and are merely an excuse for the ITAA to keep the H1-B visa quota, which currently totals 195,000. Furthermore, there have been past instances where the ITAA's projections did not pan out: For example, the number of new jobs that opened up in 2000 turned out to be far less than the 1.6 million positions predicted. Dr. Norman Matloff of the University of California at Davis goes on to say that employers claiming to be in desperate need of IT workers can still afford to be choosy, and notes that only about 2 percent of software applicants are hired. "The big companies only want to raise the [H1-B visa] limits so that they can be sure of a cheap IT labor force," complains unemployed independent consultant Philip Hawkins. The ITAA responds to such criticism by claiming that its projections are statistically accurate.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Tech Companies Vie for Billions in Homeland Security Deals"
    Knight-Ridder Wire Services (05/27/02); Boyd, Robert S.

    Technology companies want a piece of the homeland security pie by developing and marketing new technologies designed to aid the war on terrorism. Such technologies include facial recognition systems currently being used in about a dozen airports; biometric cards that contain personal identification information in embedded computer chips; an electronic body scanner that sees through clothing; and digital cameras worn on eyeglass frames with face-recognition technology. The anti-terrorism crusade has also led to a raft of proposals for new or revised government policies. For example, under the USA Patriot Act, the Department of Transportation could build a database of "trusted travelers" who could bypass long security lines at airports by carrying electronic ID cards. Another Department of Transportation initiative seeks to bolster the Computer Assisted Passenger Screening (CAPS) program by integrating airline reservation systems, government databases, and private databases into a central file that would contain intimate personal data about every air traveler. However, these innovations have sparked concerns of privacy violations: The body scanner, for instance, would reveal significant details about the body in addition to objects underneath clothing, while privacy experts are worried that biometric cards could lead to the development of a national ID system. The use of video surveillance cameras to scan public areas is also spreading.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Down in the Valley"
    Financial Times (05/27/02) P. 10; Abrahams, Paul

    Silicon Valley's business model may not recover from the current tech slump, which has led to a precipitous tumble in sales, venture capital, and new businesses. The factors that previously made Silicon Valley an unrivaled financial success and center for innovation are now disappearing, including its unique mechanism for commercializing technology. Silicon Valley fostered a network of elite experts and consultants that catered to the business needs of a fast-growing new company, along with the capital to fund its expansion. As a result, Silicon Valley firms used to score between 25 percent and 40 percent annual revenue growth. But the fall in the Nasdaq market has frozen the opportunity for companies to release successful initial public offerings, which were the venture capitalist's method of a quick return. Although business cycles have caused downturns in the valley before, the severity of the latest drop-off will severely test the strength of the area's infrastructure. One key problem for any comeback is the loss of engineers as unemployment rises; many are returning their own countries or relocating to more promising locations. Still, Garrett Gruener of Alta Partners says that although the current downturn is the repercussion of unhealthy growth, the Valley's ability to capitalize on new technology will save it. He touts biotechnology and nanotechnology as two upcoming sources of innovation.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "A Changed IT World"
    Minneapolis Star Tribune Online (05/27/02); Patterson, Gregory A.

    The technology job market in Minneapolis has changed significantly as a result of the dot-com and telecom meltdowns, as well as Sept. 11: Salaries have fallen, finding a job takes longer, and employers now call the shots in terms of negotiation. Techies.com's Nick Doty says the growth of the Twin Cities market is even slower than that of the national average; this is because Minnesota lacks a core of pure tech companies, while 90 percent of tech professionals work in hospitals, retail stores, and other enterprises that are not tech-oriented. Despite predictions from industry and economic experts that tech skills will be in greater demand in the future, executives such as Computer Network Technology CIO Barbara Schmit note that most companies are concentrating on maintaining their tech assets and not planning on increasing their IT staff any time soon. This lack of recruitment is evident at the job and internship fair at the University of Minnesota's Institute of Technology, where corporate attendance fell from 90 companies to 16 over two years. Fewer openings translates into lower salaries--for example, CBS MarketWatch CTO Jamie Thingelstad says that contract workers now earn less than $100 an hour, compared to $200 an hour in the past; top level executives are not exempt from this salary markdown, either. Among the tech workers that are highly sought-after are those with wireless application and computer security skills, and to a smaller degree Web-based skills. There is cause for optimism: Manpower's Marc Bronsweig notes that there is more demand for IT professionals, at least on contract, which could indicate a future resurgence of full-time hires. Meanwhile, Jeanne Boeh of Augsburg College says that U.S. businesses will have to ramp up their IT investments if they wish to maintain their productivity edge.
    http://www.startribune.com/stories/535/2859019.html

  • "A Sudden Host of Questions on Bell Labs Breakthroughs"
    New York Times (05/28/02) P. D1; Chang, Kenneth

    Bell Labs scientist Dr. J. Hendrik Schon is under investigation for scientific misconduct because several papers detailing different experiments feature graphs with nearly identical data; this has prompted researchers to call into question Dr. Schon's entire body of work. For instance, although the papers being investigated cover advancements in organic transistors and molecular electronics, some scientists are now doubting unrelated research concerned with the superconductivity of carbon buckyballs. Adding to the skeptics' arguments is the inability of other researchers to reproduce the results Schon and colleagues reported. In the Nov. 30, 2000 issue of Nature, the Bell Labs' researchers reported building a buckyball transistor by placing a layer of aluminum oxide atop a crystal of buckyballs, and then installing gold electrodes on the aluminum oxide. The electrodes supposedly produced an electric field that could deplete the buckyballs of three electrons, giving them superconducting properties up to minus 366 degrees. In an issue of Science published one year later, Schon's team claimed they had raised the superconducting temperature threshold to minus 249 degrees with the addition of bromoform molecules. However, other teams have had no luck in achieving the same results because of technical barriers in creating the aluminum oxide layer. Supporters of the experiment's results, such as Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Dr. Arthur P. Ramirez, believe they can be reproduced, but admit it is a difficult challenge.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/28/science/28BELL.html
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  • "From Junkie to, Well, Junkman"
    Wired News (05/28/02); Kahney, Leander

    James Burgett heads the Alameda County Computer Resource Center, one of the country's biggest nonprofit computer recycling facilities. His company is refurbishing computers and freely distributing them to needy people worldwide, as well as building a supercomputing cluster from castoffs. A former ice cream plant in Oakland, Calif., is the center of Burgett's operation, which processes 200 tons of discarded gear every month; the equipment is stripped of useful components, and the rest is sent to raw-materials recyclers. Burgett, a former heroin addict, plans to buy a second warehouse, and is also seeking GSA certification so that he can process government waste. The money he makes by charging disposal fees is channeled back into his nonprofit operations. Refurbishing is handled by a staff of volunteers that consists of homeless people, prison parolees, and persons in rehab programs, although a few are underemployed professionals from Silicon Valley. The SuSe version of the free Linux operating system is installed on every refurbished computer. Despite Burgett's efforts, the California Materials Exchange reports that the number of computers being consigned to landfills exceeds the number being sold.
    http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,52669,00.html

  • "Lieberman to Visit Bay Area in Push for Broadband Strategy"
    SiliconValley.com (05/26/02)

    Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) will visit Silicon Valley this week to release a "white paper" report on the importance of broadband, and the need for government to help make high-speed Internet access available to all Americans. A draft copy of the report says that "A successful strategy to speed the deployment of broadband access will provide immeasurable benefits to the quality of life and economy of the American people." Economic growth and productivity could increase dramatically through broadband deployment, which could significantly impact how people learn, shop, and deal with the government, according to the report. For months, Congress has been discussing standards that local phone companies oppose on the grounds that they inhibit broadband deployment. Legislation calling for increased funding in broadband research and development and tax incentives for businesses that roll out broadband in rural regions is also being debated. The high price of broadband and a lack of vital content are partly to blame for why the number of broadband subscribers is so low, despite the fact that high-speed Internet access is available to more than 70 percent of consumers. A national broadband strategy is a key component of the tech industry's agenda, and Lieberman's support could benefit him later on if he decides to run for president in 2004.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/3345247.htm

  • "From Database to 3D, a New Vision Thing"
    CNet (05/24/02); Spooner, John G.

    Boston University has developed a large 3D display system that allows researchers to see their experiments before actually testing them out. The Deep Vision Display Wall, which costs less than $3 million, uses a massive amount of supercomputing power, made more available by the advent of clustered Linux systems and more efficient servers. IBM, which donated most of the hardware, says 3D research displays could be deployed in the commercial sphere in as little as five years, by companies such as auto manufacturers. Product developers would be able to test the aerodynamics of a design before they build a prototype, for example. Already, scientists at Boston University can use the 3D system to inspect the way a pacemaker interacts with human tissue in the heart and surrounding areas, and are working on new improvements that will make the process more user-friendly. This includes tripling the number of projectors, migrating the software to Linux, adding new control tools, and increasing the computing power and bandwidth so that virtual experiments can be updated on the fly.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1001-922122.html

  • "More Wireless Trends in the Making"
    Wireless Newsfactor (05/28/02); Hirsh, Lou

    Experts and analysts predict that the coming decade will see wireless become more personalized and mobile devices evolve into natural extensions of consumers. Datacomm Research's Ira Brodsky foresees wireless local area networks (WLANs) proliferating throughout campuses, households, and public areas. Others believe that WLANs and third-generation (3G) wireless services, when integrated with location-based technologies such as the global positioning system (GPS), will lead to precise content services that can be provided on demand. One trend Texas Instruments' Carl Panasik expects is "data fusion," in which a single device will give users seamless accessibility to all kinds of information. Businesses could benefit significantly with such devices, according to Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney: For example, office meetings could be conducted without the need for chalkboards or whiteboards thanks to networked PDAs that can share presentations and update themselves. As wireless becomes more and more embedded into everyday life, wireless devices could move away from the phone handset model into new iterations and applications; Panasik believes such devices could become wearable and supplemented with voice interaction technology, while Brodsky projects that digital cameras, MP3 music players, and other appliances could be equipped for wireless communications. Yankee Group research director David Berndt thinks that detachable memory such as subscriber identity module cards could usher in devices that consumers use based on their lifestyle habits. "Just like you have different kinds of clothes you wear in different places, you could have a device for the office, a weeknight device for when you go out, and a weekend device for when you might be far from home," he explains.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/17944.html

  • "Waiting for Wi-Fi: Europeans Trail U.S. in Wireless Net Hubs"
    International Herald Tribune (05/27/02) P. 17; Oakes, Chris

    European telecommunications firms and Internet service providers are taking the lead in that region's fledgling Wi-Fi access market, having set up about 600 hot spots throughout the continent, while operators in the United States set up 1,000 hot spots in 2001 alone. In Japan and Korea, Wi-Fi is also taking off, with programs such as that by McDonald's, which wants to equip 4,000 of its Japanese restaurants with wireless broadband. Part of the lag time in Europe, say experts, is because of problems reconciling billing and authentication models between different operators. Currently, Scandinavian telecommunications firms and ISPs are leading while groups in the rest of Western Europe are slowly testing how Wi-Fi will affect the market for their upcoming 3G networks. BT Group in Britain, for example, has already set up 400 hot spot sites in that country, but has not marketed the service aggressively. In the coming years, analysts say there will be many more players in the Wi-Fi access market, including airport and hotel owners, startup companies, and even free neighborhood access networks.
    http://www.iht.com/articles/58988.htm

  • "Venture Capitalists Still on the Lookout for New Technologies"
    New York Times (05/27/02) P. C4; Tedeschi, Bob

    Venture capital investments in new Internet technologies may no longer be proceeding at the breakneck pace that characterized the years 1998 to 2000, but experts such as Polaris Ventures partner Robert M. Metcalfe say the slowdown reflects a return to normal business cycles. For example, he notes that "time-to-liquidity" has fallen from an average of 18 months at the height of the dot-com frenzy to five to seven years, which gives venture capitalists "time to do evaluations based on profit and revenues." In fact, Metcalfe sees the development rush of the late 1990s as a testbed for future technologies that may not necessarily have any relationship to the Web; the development of grid computing software firms is one example he mentions. Practices such as gaining first mover advantage and building customer bases with no regards to debts incurred are extinct, while Paypal CTO and Technology Review magazine's Innovator of the Year Max R. Levchin attributes the innovation slowdown to cultural changes. He says that successful Internet entrepreneurs reaped their rewards early so they could take time off to devise new ideas, while Endeca CEO Steve Papa believes that many companies needed time to work out "organizational issues." This more measured way of handling innovation lies at the core of Barnes & Noble's new book-browsing system, which uses Endeca technology so that customers can find books along a more serendipitous route. Andrew McAfee of the Harvard Business School notes that corporate efficiency could be significantly improved thanks to enhanced communications between enterprises facilitated by the Internet infrastructure.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/27/technology/ebusiness/27ECOM.html
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  • "Talking Heads Get Real Mouths"
    NewsFactor Network (05/24/02); Lyman, Jay

    To increase the realism of computer-generated talking heads, MIT researchers are teaching a computer to simulate mouth movements by studying and recreating digitized video images of a woman speaking. Software enables the computer to select and recombine a small number of mouth images into a "morph space," which features a learning algorithm the computer uses to determine mouth movements from the video footage; in this way, new utterances can be created. In testing, the system worked so effectively that viewers were unable to tell the difference between actual and artificial faces. However, to sell the illusion of realism even more, the other parts of the face must reflect emotion. MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research investigator Tommy Poggio says that emotional states are being added to the faces via the same example-based learning method used to perfect the mouth simulation. Movies, video games, interactive computer guides, teleconferencing, newscasts, teaching, and Web searches are just some of the technology's potential applications.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/17938.html

  • "The Incredible Shrinking PC"
    ZDNet (05/22/02); Kanellos, Michael

    Antelope Technologies' plan to build a handheld-sized PC based on IBM's Meta Pad illustrates what boosters call a growing market for small computing. Another startup, OQO, unveiled a PC the size of a PDA that it plans to market by year's end for less than $1,000. Major PC and consumer-electronics players will also introduce a pair of Microsoft-centric devices later this year--Mira, a screen that plugs into the Internet through a home PC, and the Windows XP-enabled tablet PC system. Antelope's Mobile Computer Core (MCC) will approximate the size and shape of Compaq and Palm handhelds. All of these mobile PC models run on elements that stretch out battery life and have fewer cooling requirements: The MCC utilizes a Transmeta Crusoe chip, and boasts a 256 MB memory capacity as well as a 10 GB hard drive. Most of these machines forego cumbersome keyboards and opt for alternative interfaces; the tablet PC software, for instance, allows data to be handwritten with a pen. However, these products still cost more than traditional notebooks, and IDC says non-traditional notebooks make up just 3 percent of the notebook market.
    http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1103-920889.html

  • "Graduate Tech Classes Slump As Creative Writing Courses Gain: Survey"
    Agence France Presse (05/22/02)

    Creative writing has emerged as the hottest graduate course today, according to a new survey from Gradschools.com, while interest in information systems is down significantly, followed by information technology and mechanical engineering. The survey was based on what graduate courses 700,000 visitors researched on the gradschools.com Web site. Gradschools.com President Mark Shay says it is the first time in the four years the tally has been conducted that IT interest fell.

  • "Passwords: The Weakest Link"
    CNet (05/22/02); Lemos, Robert

    It can take less than a minute for hackers to crack most passwords, since so many users share the same habits when it comes to choosing them: Picking them from Webster's dictionary and using personal information such as lovers' or pets' names are just a few examples. Studies show that badly-chosen passwords can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes for hackers with up-to-date programs to guess them. It is estimated that it would take over 13 years on average for today's programs to crack an 8-character password, if it were secure enough. That level of security can only be reached by using a completely random approach to select the password, a task that human beings find difficult, according to David Evans of the University of Virginia. What is more, attempts to teach people to memorize these random passwords through exercises such as mnemonics is not catching on. In addition, a study from PentaSafe Security Technologies finds that four out of five corporate workers are willing to reveal their passwords to others in the company, while a second study shows that some workers will hand out their passwords to total strangers under certain conditions. Some enterprises are opting for software products that use a single password to access all network services, thus reducing the burden of memorization for users; but inherent security risks have prompted some companies to institute two- or three-factor authentication, in which other tools, such as smart cards or biometrics, are used in tandem with the password to gain access. One proposed alternative to memorizing passwords is a graphical password system, and several corporate and academic research efforts are underway in this vein.
    http://news.com.com/2009-1001-916719.html

  • "The Incredible Shrinking Form Factor"
    CRN (05/20/02) No. 996, P. 46; Kenedy, Kristen

    Vendors are working to make personal digital assistants (PDAs) evolve from their square, flat-box model into much more flexible, customizable designs to accommodate the almost 100 million mobile workers that analysts expect to be around by 2007. Each worker will use a PDA for data management, telephone calls, or corporate network access, and each PDA must align with its user's unique work habits, style, and taste. Creative mobile form factors should stem from wireless capabilities for now; this year, wireless phones and PDAs are expected to be enhanced with Bluetooth headsets equipped with an earpiece and microphone for wireless communications, and later with speech recognition. Intel has several designs under consideration, including credit card-sized personal servers that store all of their users' personal data and business applications, and can wirelessly link to any display. Other designs being researched and produced include phones that can be worn around the neck, and flexible, low-power displays that can be rolled up and carried around in the user's pocket. If these new form factors are to successfully get a grip on the mass market, a balance must be struck between technology and usability, according to vendors. Because solution providers think that both corporate purchasing departments and individuals will influence enterprise decisions to purchase mobile devices, vendors should focus on creating software and applications that span across a range of devices. Cotelligent's Jim Collins says companies will demand more monitoring and management of remote devices in order to make sure they are not crammed with superfluous data.
    http://crn.channelsupersearch.com/news/crn/35321.asp

  • "Workforce Glass Half Full and Half Empty"
    Washington Technology (05/23/02) Vol. 17, No. 4, P. 30; Emery, Gail Repsher

    A report from the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) published in May finds that 500,000 IT workers were laid off last year, reducing the workforce from 10.4 million to 9.9 million between 2000 and 2001. The study found that tech workers employed by IT companies have a greater chance of being let go than those who work for non-IT firms--last year, IT companies laid off 15 percent of their tech staffs, while non-IT companies fired only 4 percent. However, new IT hires are expected to increase 27 percent, with hiring managers planning to fill 1.1 million vacancies in the next year. ITAA President Harris Miller says this finding hints that the economy is bouncing back. Still, hiring managers expect nearly 600,000 of the 1.1 million positions to remain vacant because applicants lack the necessary skills. This marks the second consecutive year that polled managers agreed that one out of every two jobs would go unfilled for this reason. C++ remains the most sought-after IT skill, according to an analysis of 30,000 technical job listings on Dice.com, but finding people that also offer functional expertise in other areas such as logistics remains a challenge, say hiring managers. The ability to get security clearance for federal IT jobs is also problematic.
    http://www.washingtontechnology.com/news/1_1/daily_news/18314-1.html

  • "Economic Bust, Patent Boom"
    Technology Review (05/02) Vol. 105, No. 4, P. 71; Jonietz, Erika

    Patent activity in the high-technology industry shows no signs of a downturn despite the economic recession, according to the latest Patent Scorecard from Technology Review. Semiconductor companies, telecoms, and computing firms applied for more new patents than any other sector in 2000, according to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office statistics. For nine consecutive years IBM has reigned supreme on the Patent and Trademark Office's list of top patentees, as well as Technology Review's technological strength rankings. IBM's Jerry Rosenthal says all of the licensing income generated last year was poured back into R&D, and Howrey, Simon, Arnold, and White patent attorney Alan Fisch expects patenting to continue as a result of R&D investment. The Patent Scorecard also lists smaller, upstart companies whose patents have had a broad impact: For example, No. 12 on the scorecard, Tessera Technologies, has patented an industry standard method for linking chips to circuit boards. Meanwhile, DNA-chip maker Affymetrix has secured the top spot in the biotechnology/pharmaceuticals sector in the last year--not for the number of patents it filed, but because of its strong position as an early manufacturer of DNA microarrays, chip synthesis devices, and analysis software. Promising patents cited by Technology Review include new magnetic media from IBM that stores more data onto hard drives by replacing single magnetic layers with two layers divided by a sheet of ruthenium; a technique to connect carbon nanotubes to other materials from NEC; Lucent Technologies' multi-antenna wireless communications system, which promises to improve data transmission speeds by approximately 300 percent; and primate embryonic stem cells from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
    http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/scorecard0502.asp