Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

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


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Volume 4, Issue 355: Friday, May 31, 2002

  • "Linux Vendors Stand Behind UnitedLinux"
    ZDNet (05/30/02); Broersma, Matthew

    Linux vendors Caldera, SuSE, Conectiva, and Turbolinux on Thursday announced plans to merge their Linux versions into a single Linux distribution called UnitedLinux in order to fight fragmentation and to create a stronger product to compete with Red Hat, the leading Linux distributor. The companies say UnitedLinux should be ready by year's end and should help companies adopt Linux by not forcing them to "reinvent the wheel" for each different Linux implementation. The move also helps lower Linux development costs. Each of the companies will offer UnitedLinux along with their own value-added products and services. Red Hat developer Alan Cox says the move is good for the Linux industry in general because it will help software creators to more easily write applications. He says there will be just five major Linux vendors for developers to write their specifications to if the product merger goes through. All of the companies are also part of the effort to create the Linux Standards Base (LSB), which creates some basic standard platform aspects and is backed by the Free Standards Group and major IT vendors such as Hewlett-Packard and IBM. Version 1.1 of the LSB was released in January. However, analysts say implementation of LSB will take time, and Red Hat is likely to benefit the most from it; its basic Linux offering is expected to support LSB this year. Still, Red Hat CEO Bob Young has said that standards can hold back innovation and it could be late 2003 before the company's high-end Advanced Server Linux OS supports LSB.
    http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1104-928518.html

  • "FBI Analysis: We Don't Compute"
    Wired News (05/30/02); Manjoo, Farhad

    FBI director Robert Mueller called for an extensive reorganization of the bureau, a key point of which will be the updating of its technological infrastructure. He said such an effort would involve not only additional hardware, but all bureau personnel becoming familiar with the computer and its capabilities. In his speech, Mueller noted that it was critical for the FBI to acquire computerized analytical systems and artificial intelligence capability that can extensively search a morass of documents in order to "connect the dots" of criminal activity and prevent its occurrence. One such pattern could have outlined the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks before they happened, for example. However, critics such as information security consultant William Knowles say that one reason the FBI has not increased the IT talent in its stable is because it does not offer competitive salaries. Furthermore, he warns that time may not be on the FBI's side. Mueller offered no specific strategy on how the bureau will beef up its IT personnel, or whether higher salaries will be implemented. He also promised that the FBI would establish deeper links to the CIA and the rest of the government, and channel more resources into "data mining, financial record analysis and communications analysis."
    http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,52853,00.html

  • "In Search of the Green PC"
    Medill News Service (05/30/02); Ju, Anne

    PC vendors are coming under pressure from environmental groups and an increasingly aware consumer base to reduce the amount of computer waste that is disposed of each year. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that 315 million computers will be trashed in 2004, up from 20 million in 1998, in addition to an estimated 130 million cell phones by 2005; only 11 percent of the 20 million computers thrown out in 1998 were recycled, according to an NSC study. These products contain dangerous chemicals and metals that can leak toxins into the environment when put into landfills. The Calvert Group, a mutual fund group with significant interests in major technology companies, is introducing shareholder proposals at PC manufacturing firms such as Hewlett-Packard that would require stricter controls on the way PCs are reclaimed. For their part, the major PC vendors all say they are doing enough currently through recycling, donation, PC buy-back programs, and researching less-toxic materials and processes. Dell, for example, is looking for ways to reduce the amount of lead used in monitors and working with The National Christina Foundation, which takes used PC donations. Gateway is considering other solutions to reducing PC toxins, such as producing only flat-screen monitors, which contain mercury but no lead.
    http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,101556,00.asp

  • "Bush Criticized on Digital Divide"
    Associated Press (05/30/02); Hopper, D. Ian

    Consumer and civil rights groups are pressing the Bush administration to change its tack on bridging the digital divide, which Commerce Department Deputy Director Michael D. Gallagher says is now focusing on opportunities, not divides. In February, the Commerce Department released a study showing more Internet access via libraries, work, and schools, giving the administration reason to cut back on programs established during the Clinton presidency. The Technology Opportunities Program, for example, has been cut, since the administration says low-cost computers, cheap Internet access, and increasing public Internet access all alleviate the need for inner city computer training. The Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, and the Civil Rights Forum have released a paper that says the Bush administration's analysis of the most recent numbers is a misinterpretation, and points to the large, persistent gap in home access between rich and poor. Their report also says broadband Internet access is creating a second-tier divide and that looser restrictions for telephone monopolies, favored by the FCC, are only raising prices.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "EPA Plans to Promote Ways to Recycle Old TVs, Computers"
    SiliconValley.com (05/29/02); Borenstein, Seth

    To prevent a half-billion old TVs and computers from being consigned to the junk pile in the next five years, the EPA announced plans on Wednesday to tweak regulations so that electronic discards can be more properly recycled. Plastics, lead, chromium, mercury, and cadmium are some of the hazardous materials contained in computers. Furthermore, environmental activists claim that manufacturers' so-called recycling programs merely ship unwanted electronics to countries such as India and China, where they are often improperly disposed of. As the first step in this regulatory adjustment, the EPA wants to re-classify cathode-ray tubes as "products" rather than "waste." EPA administrator Christie Whitman says the purpose of this rewording is to "protect public health and the environment by providing better methods for reusing, recycling and managing materials containing hazardous substances." Many activists feel that recycling should be mandatory, with its costs incorporated into the purchase of new equipment. Authorization of such a regulation lies with Congress rather than the EPA. Reggie Caudill of the New Jersey Institute of Technology's Multi-lifecycle Engineering Research Center says an EPA advisory committee will suggest the establishment of a collection system designed to ensure the recycling of e-waste.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/3363368.htm

  • "'Radio on a Chip' Debuts"
    NewsFactor Network (05/30/02); Lyman, Jay

    University of Florida researchers have built a tiny radio transmitter and receiver into a silicon chip, leading the way for vast improvements in computer performance and sensor networking. Because broadcasting information across the chip simultaneously is faster and more consistent than depending on wire transmission, the research team expects to boost chip speed. A consistent clock signal that is not impaired by the relatively low data-transmission rate of wires, for example, would dramatically improve performance, especially in larger chips. Lead researcher Kenneth O says that because the new chips make communication simple and inexpensive, it will allow for new types of devices and faster computers. He says, for example, that radio-equipped sensors would be of use to the military, allowing them to disperse a number across a battlefield and create a environmental sensory network. He also predicts that chip-based radio technology will be an integral part of a different type of wireless local area network, one with a multitude of base stations.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/17990.html

  • "Linux Grows on Government Systems"
    Associated Press (05/30/02); Krane, Jim

    More and more government organizations are taking on Linux as a cost-effective and secure operating system that is improving all the time and has bigger backing from the biggest IT vendors. IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Red Hat all are reporting new sales of Linux systems to government customers, both in the United States and overseas. Military and intelligence agencies have especially taken a liking to Linux because it is more resistant to cyberattack and cost-effective. Although Linux has not made much of a difference on the desktop, it has continually gained market share in servers, especially Web servers. Clustered Linux systems are also taking on more high-end supercomputer tasks, such as the Department of Energy's $24.5 million system that performs biological and environmental simulations. IBM reports that military and intelligence units in eight countries are using Linux systems, and that the operating system is becoming better all the time as people add functionality and fixes.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Enforcing Laws in a Borderless Web"
    CNet (05/29/02); Bowman, Lisa M.

    The rapid expansion of the Internet has left international legal affairs in its wake, and disagreements over how to apply local laws to the World Wide Web are increasing despite treaties such as the World Intellectual Property Organization, which went into effect in March. Cross-border Internet issues such as the French case against Yahoo! make it risky for anyone doing business online. Human rights groups in France are preparing a second case against Yahoo!, citing French war crime laws that make the American-based site liable for posting Nazi memorabilia for sale through its online auction. The first attempt fizzled after a U.S. judge ruled that French laws were not enforceable in the United States, although former Yahoo! CEO Tim Koogle would probably do well to avoid traveling to France. In the United States, the federal government has let Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov go free in exchange for testimony in a trial against his employer, Russia-based ElcomSoft, which is accused of selling software compromising the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the United States. Although there are some striking differences between the two cases--ElcomSoft, for example, sells its software in the United States through servers based here while Yahoo! has a non-offending French site--Internet lawyer Doug Isenberg says the United States is being hypocritical when it comes to enforcing its laws on foreign Internet firms. Nearly all of the U.S. suits against foreign companies doing business online have focused on protecting copyrights, contrasting with draft legislation from the Council of Europe that actually censors what Americans consider free speech.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1023-927316.html

  • "Europe to Compete With U.S. Global Positioning System"
    Washington Post (05/30/02) P. E4; Chaumont, Caroline

    The $3.2 billion Galileo project, approved by the European Union's 15 transportation ministers in March, is a network of 30 satellites that could rival the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) by enabling people to pinpoint their exact geographical locations. The European Commission says Galileo will play a key role in the future of Europe's high-tech industries, while supporters such as French President Jacques Chirac have noted that the project is essential to keeping Europe from becoming a "vassal of the U.S." EU officials claim that Galileo will boast more accuracy and reliability than GPS, and be placed under civilian control. Civilian use of GPS, in contrast, could be limited in times of emergency because it is controlled by the Pentagon. U.S. officials such as the State Department's Ralph Braibanti believe GPS can accommodate the world, obviating the need for a competing system. They also think that Europe should be more concerned with improving its military strength, especially with the war in Afghanistan currently raging. Nevertheless, officials on both sides are now discussing how to make GPS and Galileo compatible. The Galileo satellites will start launching in 2006.

  • "Anti-Snooping Operating System Close to Launch"
    New Scientist Online (05/28/02); Knight, Will

    Privacy advocates in Britain are worried about an upcoming third part of that country's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which will allow police to demand access to electronic information, including encryption keys, from criminal suspects. In response, mathematician and activist Peter Fairbrother is developing the M-o-o-t operating system, which will use encrypted communications to store and retrieve all PC data overseas, outside of British jurisdiction. The system uses a steganographic security technique created at the University of Cambridge to disguise the remote data, including encryption keys, if users do not have the right password. M-o-o-t will also include a word processor and email client accessed through a graphical user interface. Communications with other M-o-o-t users will employ temporary encryption keys. Britain's Home Office has condemned the secretive operating system as a tool for criminals, but Fairbrother says argues that "The benefits far outweigh the problems." M-o-o-t is expected to be ready in about two weeks, and will work off a CD that can run on most Macintosh and Windows PCs.
    http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99992335

  • "Telecom Companies Put Tiny Tech on Hold"
    CNet (05/27/02); Kary, Tiffany

    Telecommunications startups believe that nanotechnology-based gear could give the communications sector a much-needed shot in the arm after last year's meltdown, but their hopes for the technology are dampened by inventory surpluses, not enough cash, and carriers' focus on reducing costs and maintaining their networks. "We're more interested in meeting customer demands than having bragging rights to being the first to implement some new technology," explains AT&T's Dave Johnson. Entrepreneurs claim that micro and nanoscale technologies offer more power and cost-efficiency than current components: NanoOpto, for example, mass produces subwavelength optical elements via nanoimprint lithography. Other promising areas include microelectromechanical systems (MEMS)-based switches that Discera VP Clark Nguyen says could effectively replace cell phone transistors and improve frequency selectivity, increase battery life, and possibly allow networks to accommodate more customers. However, addressing power requirements and integrating the smaller components with existing gear are barriers that have yet to be overcome. Charles Gerlach of the IBM Institute for Business Value predicts that these new technologies will be highly disruptive--for example, technology that enables full spectrum accessibility could scuttle European carriers' plans to license spectrum, an effort that is costing them billions of dollars. There are approximately 900 startups developing nanotech or microtechnology, according to analysts; but little attention is being paid to them.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1033-923014.html

  • "Flexible Virtual Reality Environment Unveiled"
    NewsFactor Network (05/29/02); Wrolstad, Jay

    The Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC) of Iowa State University has developed a flexible virtual environment that is a distinct improvement over an earlier system. VRAC associate director Carolina Cruz-Neira says the C4, or "cave," features a 36-foot by 9-foot interactive display area. 3D tableaus are kept in proper perspective thanks to a system that tracks the head and hand movements of users. Imagery can be projected onto the floor and three walls, turning the room into a virtual reality cube. One of the C4's advantages over the old system is the addition of hinges on the walls to expand or contract the viewing area depending on how the user explores the 3D environment, according to Cruz-Neira. VRAC is also home to even larger virtual reality systems, such as the six-sided C6 environment and a 260-foot auditorium. Users of all three environments wear special glasses to fully immerse themselves in the 3D tableaus, Cruz-Neira notes. The systems can be used to probe architectural models, automotive designs, and military battlefields, while Cruz-Neira says a Hindu temple and an interactive memorial to the Sept. 11 tragedy are under development.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/17943.html

  • "Linux Development Kernel Gets Bluetooth"
    ZDNet UK (05/28/02); Broersma, Matthew

    Version 2.5.14 of the Linux development kernel now includes a protocol stack for Bluetooth support, a sign that future Linux distributions will include native Bluetooth support. PC software vendors Apple Computer and Microsoft also are developing Bluetooth-compatible products, including Bluetooth peripherals and XP operating system with native Bluetooth support. So far, Bluetooth has made more headway with mobile devices than with PCs because of a perceived threat to wireless LANs. Still, In-Stat/MDR estimates that 100 million personal area networks will be deployed in 2002, with that number increasing to 900 million by 2005. The next standard Linux distributions from companies such as Red Hat, MandrakeSoft, and SuSE will likely include the new Bluetooth element in their version 2.6 kernel. Qualcomm had been working on the code, called BlueZ, before making it available to the open-source community.
    http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1104-923165.html

  • "Critics Say ICANN Should Compete for Net Governance Duties"
    Washington Post Online (05/29/02); McGuire, David

    Competition should be introduced to bid against ICANN for the privilege of managing the Internet's global addressing system, says a group of public interest groups that includes the ACLU, the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Consumers Union, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Requiring ICANN to compete against qualified bidders will provide a strong incentive for ICANN to engage in a thorough housecleaning and become more genuinely responsive to the comments of stakeholders," says the letter addressed to National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) chief Nancy Victory. The groups believe ICANN has not adequately allowed the international public to play a significant role in Internet governance. ICANN President Stuart Lynn responded to the letter by saying that the groups are asking ICANN to play a role for which it was never intended. He says they are "trying to transform ICANN from a limited technical body into a worldwide experiment in global democracy." ICANN critics argue that the organization's inability to create a democratic system is facilitating the belief that ICANN is not interested in creating the transparent and open processes that are spelled out in its agreements with the Commerce Department. NTIA's Clyde Ensslin claims that ICANN's agreement with the Commerce Department does not give Commerce the right to open up the process to bidding. The agreement ends in September, at which time Commerce will either renew the deal, renegotiate it, or end it, Ensslin says.

  • "Cheap Wireless Sees the Light"
    VNUNet (05/22/02); Millman, Rene

    Cheaper wireless and 3G networks could become a reality thanks to the efforts of BT researchers who claim to have built a machine that converts radio waves into light. The device is called an electroabsorption modulator (EAM), and features an optical semiconductor that can modulate frequencies between 0 and 40 GHz. The EAM simplifies protocol switching, and can be applied to wireless LANs, as well as reduce the cost of setting up third-generation (3G) base stations in metropolitan areas. A picocell base station contains the EAM, while fiber-optics link the station to a central switch or "hotel;" the stations do not require a power supply, since they do not conduct amplification or signal processing. They boast a maximum range of 100 meters and could cheaply boost wireless coverage and data rates for mobile users. Although analysts laud the EAM breakthrough, they caution that the wireless infrastructure will need to be thoroughly planned out. "One of the issues with these in-building solutions is that the radio planning is less trivial than the vendors would make you believe," explains Ovum wireless research director Jeremy Green.

  • "Where the Jobs Are"
    Computerworld (05/27/02) Vol. 36, No. 22, P. 26; Dash, Julekha

    National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) employment information manager Camille Luckenbaugh says the slow economy is compelling companies to be choosy when evaluating college graduates for entry-level IT spots, unlike in previous years when graduates were in high demand. Most companies want a range of skills, and these days college graduates are competing with some experienced candidates who have been cast adrift by downsizing. A NACE survey of 230 companies reports entry-level hires are down 20 percent in 2002 from 2001. However, the need remains for "people to manage the systems and networks and develop applications in a company's IT department," says John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Challenger says students need to network and make contacts and not rely on Internet job boards; Northwestern University director of career services Lonnie Dunlap advises students to join professional organizations and make direct contact with employers. American Management Systems consultant Helen Anderson says Java and CRM are big plusses in the eyes of employers, while Web development, software programming, and mainframe experience are other in-demand skills. NACE reports that the average 2002 salary offer for a college graduate has fallen 3.6 percent from last year.
    http://www.computerworld.com/printthis/2002/0,4814,71373,00.html

  • "Keeping an Eye on Web Apps"
    InfoWorld (05/20/02) Vol. 24, No. 20, P. 1; Shafer, Scott Tyler

    With a massive wave of Web applications about to break, both new and established vendors are competing to provide IT staff with tools and services that sustain the applications' performance and availability around the clock. Meta Group's Corey Ferengul reckons that roughly 70 percent of Web applications are in a developmental phase, and believes that enterprise rollouts will begin within the next 12 months. Analysts say the dynamic, multitiered structure of Web applications complicates management and monitoring; management tools, in addition to handling performance and availability, should be able to detect errors in real time and pinpoint their origin, thus significantly cutting downtime. The Panorama tool from Altaworks traces the root cause of Web application errors, a function that has dramatically reduced the time and effort AMCC e-business analyst Bob Averill puts in to remedy slowdowns. TeaLeaf Technology's IntegriTea software is designed to facilitate the real-time capture of all Web transactions and the resulting published content. The most common variety of Web application management involves the use of agents that scan networks and capture data from the applications' individual elements. But there are drawbacks to these solutions: Current tools can only identify errors rather than fix them. Replacing existing management mechanisms with these tools is also a very expensive proposition.
    http://www.infoworld.com/articles/fe/xml/02/05/20/020520fewebapp.xml

  • "The 15% Solution"
    Software Development Online (05/02); Morales, Alexandra Weber; Reitano, John

    AspectJ, the brainchild of Gregor Kiczales of the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), is a Java extension that is designed to consolidate tasks that are often wildly distributed throughout source code. Kiczales says the development time from concept to product--seven years--was unusually short because his development team "pushed their own limits so hard." At the root of AspectJ is aspect-oriented programming (AOP), whereby objects are injected with aspects--snippets of code that can span across classes. The language snares crosscutting structure in code; thus its development environment support facilitates navigation throughout that structure. Placing AspectJ in Java promises immediate returns and a fast learning curve for users, which is key to the product's commercialization. Kiczales says the company will generate revenues by providing consulting services. He says the core AspectJ technology will be open to the public, while PARC will sell or license refactoring tools based on the standard. Kiczales notes that AspectJ is used by Checkfree.com for Web-based financial transactions, while other possible uses include security, platform, and production applications.
    http://www.sdmagazine.com/documents/s=7134/sdm0205a/0205a.htm

  • "The Toughest Transistor Yet"
    IEEE Spectrum Online (05/02); Eastman, Lester F.; Mishra, Umesh K.

    Gallium nitride transistors, with their high levels of speed, heat resistance, and power-handling, could pave the way for countless innovations that will enhance advanced communications networks and revive the flagging technology industry. There are many corporate and academic research and development efforts focusing on gallium nitride, which boasts ruggedness and portability far beyond those of all other semiconductor materials currently in use. Cellular base stations are one area that could benefit from gallium nitride: The deployment of gallium nitride transistors could increase base-station amplifier efficiency by a factor of three so that data can be transferred at a higher rate; it would also eliminate the need for cooling equipment, allowing base stations to be reduced in size. Other technologies that could be improved by gallium nitride include radar and satellite-communications links, hybrid electric vehicles, and electric grid controllers. Gallium nitride semiconductors became popularized in the 1990s thanks to pioneering work by Shuji Nakamura, whose discoveries helped usher the proliferation of nitride-based light-emitting diodes. For gallium nitride transistors to become pervasive, a cheaper and more compatible substrate material must be developed--the closest substrate matches, silicon carbide and sapphire, are very expensive to produce. A method to mass-produce gallium nitride must also be developed, while the price of gallium nitride devices will fall once larger silicon carbide wafers start being manufactured.
    http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/publicfeature/may02/gani.html