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 HP or ACM.
To send comments, please write to email@example.com.
Volume 4, Issue 370: Monday, July 8, 2002
- "Reported Internet Attacks Rise"
Washington Times (07/08/02) P. C15; Lemke, Tim
Internet attacks in the past six months have risen 28 percent over attacks recorded in the previous six months, according to a new report from Riptech, which monitors over 400 government agencies, private companies, and nonprofit groups. Most of the attacks targeted technology, financial services, and power companies because they are larger and have more money, according to experts. Over 40 percent of the 180,000 confirmed attacks were conducted through computers in the United States, and 80 percent of the crimes were launched from the same 10 countries as those perpetrated in the previous period. The most popular day for Internet attacks, according to the report, was Wednesday, while cyberattacks during the weekend fell. Seventy percent of power and energy companies suffered one attack during the first six months of 2002, which is up from 57 percent for the previous period. Riptech noted that tracking cybercrime in Iraq, North Korea, Syria, and Libya was difficult because there are no Internet infrastructures present there, or the infrastructures are primitive. Although there is little evidence that terrorist groups are launching hacker attacks, Riptech's Elad Yoran said "there are several observations that point in that direction." About 96 percent of the 1 million possible attacks Riptech analyzed were considered nonsevere, meaning the attack did not warrant attention from the victim.
- "Intel to Begin Shipping a 64-Bit Microprocessor It Developed With Hewlett-Packard"
New York Times (07/08/02) P. C4; Lohr, Steve
Intel today begins shipping its Itanium 2 chip, a second-generation microprocessor jointly developed with Hewlett-Packard and targeted at the upper echelons of the server market. Although Intel currently sells over 85 percent of all processors used in server computers, those are almost all for commoditized lower-end systems, not the high-end server machines that make up half of all server revenue. Major computer manufacturers such as IBM, HP, NEC, Fujitsu, and Siemens plan to build systems using the Itanium, along with corporate software companies that say they will issue Itanium-specific versions of their applications. Sun Microsystems, which already owns a large part of the high-end server market that Intel is trying to break open, stands to lose if Itanium succeeds. However, experts say Itanium will not become pervasive until 2004 because corporate IT establishment has to overcome the inertia of rewriting their software to make use of a 64-bit chip. Intel says the Itanium is far superior to rival Advanced Micro Devices' upcoming Opteron chip, which can run either 32-bit or 64-bit applications. Intel says that Itanium is built on an entirely different architecture that takes full advantage of 64-bit computing and is not a simple upgrade, as they claim the Opteron is.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Linux Standard Gets the Go-Ahead"
ZDNet UK (07/02/02); Broersma, Matthew; Shankland, Stephen
Major Linux vendors are attempting to hasten the corporate adoption of the open-source operating system by launching the Linux Standards Base (LSB) certification program. LBS certification will ease software companies' enablement of applications for Linux, and hopefully avoid fragmentation of Linux into incompatible versions, which was the fate of the Unix operating system. The program, announced by the Free Standards Group half a year after the release of Linux Standards Base 1.1, will be managed by interoperability certification provider The Open Group. The initiative will target developers, software vendors, and Linux distributions, and will make the identification of standardized software a simple matter for customers. Caldera International, SuSE Linux, Conectiva, and Turbolinux are collaborating on UnitedLinux, a single distribution that adheres to LSB and is designed to complement LSB 1.1. But Linux distributor Red Hat's LSB compliance program is proceeding at a more leisurely pace: The company announced that this year will see the release of an LSB-compliant basic version of Linux, while its Advanced Server version will not be immediately compatible. The LSB standard controls the availability of reusable software components, basic executable commands, and the location of certain programs in the file system. Red Hat claims that LSB will simplify upgrades for software companies.
- "Cyber-Security Is Underplayed, Industry Says"
Washington Post (07/04/02) P. E1; Cha, Ariana Eunjung
Some of the biggest industry organizations and high-tech companies in the United States want the White House to more clearly define cyber-security priorities in its recent proposal to create a Department of Homeland Security by combining six government agencies that control various aspects of electronic safeguarding. "Cyber-security and electronic infrastructure are such a pervasive foundation of everything in our country that we need to raise the focus of that in the legislation," declares IBM's director of public affairs Tim Hackman. These lobbyists have made proposals of their own: The Information Technology Association of America and the Business Software Alliance recommend that an independent Bureau of Cyber Security be founded, while Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.) insists that the nation needs a more focused research and development program if it is to adequately shield itself from Internet-based threats. Thus far, many industry groups have approved the merging of four of the six government agencies, but questions have been raised in regard to the inclusion of components of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) and the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). There are worries that moving NIST's computer-security division to the new department would stifle the development and adoption of industry standards that depend on the largely academic organization. Meanwhile, the NIPC would be without its outreach and education divisions under the proposal. Government sources close to the matter say that homeland security director Tom Ridge is considering recommendations to give the Homeland Security Department a broader cyber-security element.
- "Nanoscale Sensor Could Increase Data Storage Capacity"
InternetNews.com (07/02/02); Pastore, Michael
A thousandfold expansion of data storage capacity could be facilitated by a nanoscale magnetic sensor, according to the scientists who developed it at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The device is fashioned out of nickel and exhibits ballistic magnetoresistance (BMR), which shores up the electrical resistance of the sensor by more than 3,000 percent, enabling shrinking bits of data to be read more reliably. Current data reading technology in sensors relies on giant magnetoresistance. It is projected that the device could ultimately store approximately 1 terabit per square inch, which is 20 times the capacity offered by current highest-density magnetic storage technology. Wristwatch-sized supercomputing devices could one day become a reality thanks to this breakthrough. Other applications of BMR include enhanced magnetic measurements, improvements in the resolution and sensitivity of scanning probe imaging methodology, and more research into the effects of magnetism on the atomic, molecular, and nanoscale level. The device was developed with the support of the National Science Foundation.
- "Hackers Target Energy Industry"
Los Angeles Times (07/08/02) P. A1; Piller, Charles
The energy industry is the target of an increasing number of hacker attacks, leading some to speculate that terrorists could be casing energy company networks in preparation for a cyberattack. Security firm Riptech, which has a number of clients in the energy sector, says the number of hacking attacks perpetrated against those customers is up 77 percent over last year. Hackers could be targeting those companies because of recent scandals, such as the collapse of Enron and the California power crisis, that show the industry to be weak administratively. Energy and gas companies have also connected their remote control systems, called Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems, to the Internet, making them available to hackers. The FBI director in charge of cybercrime, Ronald Dick, says that his greatest fear is a coordinated physical and cyberattack against critical infrastructure, such as power grids. However, Riptech chief technology officer Tim Belcher says the growing number of hacking incidences originating in Arabic, oil-rich regions may also be due to industry espionage and the growing pool of hacker talent in those countries. Hong Kong, for example, is the base of many hacking attempts targeting banks because it is itself a center of financial services.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "New Spin on Transistors"
Nature Online (07/05/02); Ball, Philip
In what might lead to far smaller computers than are available today, researchers at the Institute for Microstructural Science in Ottawa have built a tiny "spintronic" transistor that could enable quantum computing. The discovery is similar to two other recent scientific reports that base their computing research on electronic spin and single atoms or molecules. The Canadian effort utilizes a quantum dot, which gathers electrons in a well to form an artificial atom. By applying a magnetic field, the researchers were able to change the spin of electrons passing through. The quantum dot acts as a transistor that blocks electrons with the wrong type of spin, a quality that is irrelevant in traditional transistors. With this characteristic, quantum computers would be able to perform calculations much faster and save data in the spin of trapped electrons so that it would be stored even if the computer loses power.
- "Roll Up for a Fold-Away Screen"
Financial Times (07/08/02) P. 8; Harvey, Fiona
Flexible computer displays that can be folded and rolled up will be available in a few years, according to David Fyfe of Cambridge Display Technologies (CDT), which has been developing products based on light-emitting polymers for over a decade. The pioneering work was done by Cambridge researcher Richard Friend, whose team discovered that the polymer p-phnylenevinylene emits yellow-green light when placed between two electrodes. Further research was able to boost the polymer's efficiency, and led to the creation of polymers that emit red and blue light. The polymers are lightweight and flexible, which means thin layers of the material can be deposited on flexible substrates. Fyfe expects roll-up displays to premiere sometime in 2004 or 2005. The polymers are already featured in screens in some of Philips' electric razors, while CDT-based mobile phone screens should be commercially available in 2003. Companies that have licensed CDT technology in the hopes of making displays in the next couple of years include Delta Electronics, DuPont Displays, Seiko Epsom, Osram, and MicroEmissive Displays. CDT will be awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering's Mac Robert prize today.
- "OS X Upgrade Leaps Closer to the Finish"
ZDNet (07/03/02); Wilcox, Joe
Apple's newest version of its OS X operating system is nearing completion, more than a month ahead of when observers had expected it to be released. Mac OS X 10.2, code-named Jaguar, fulfills many of the promises made by Steve Jobs about the system at the original release announcement. Improvements in the Aqua user interface and Quartz Extreme graphics engine have been made, according to beta testers, as well as a special "digital hub" row under the "system preferences" heading. That consolidates applications that Apple intends to use as part of its digital hub effort, which aims to make the Macintosh the central point in coordinating different peripheral devices and media. The digital hub software, which includes Apple's iTunes 2, iMovie 2, iDVD 2, and iPhoto 1.1, is more easily controlled with the new Jaguar system. In addition, Jaguar fully supports Bluetooth--something Microsoft's Windows XP has yet to do--and boasts a new, fully integrated chat client that works with AOL Instant Messenger. Apple's Inkwell handwriting-recognition technology is included in Jaguar in order to attract tablet users, many of them graphic designers who mostly prefer the Macintosh over Windows-based PCs; Microsoft last week at the TechXNY trade show announced that its Tablet PC with handwriting-recognition software would ship November 7.
- "Can Computers Fly on the Wings of a Chicken?"
Washington Post (07/08/02) P. A7; Jacobson, Louis
Richard Wool of the University of Delaware's Affordable Composites from Renewable Sources (ACRES) project filed a microchip patent last month that replaces the standard silicon wafer with a composite of chicken feathers and plant oils, his theory being that feathers, which are lightweight and mainly comprised of air, can significantly ramp up transmission speed. When tested, the researchers discovered that electrical signals travel twice as fast on the composite as they do on silicon. Peter Preuss of the EPA's National Center for Environmental Research, which funds Wool's work, notes that Wool's effort differs from other initiatives to reuse waste materials--his approach is to study existing products and then find a way to build them using waste products or easy-to-grow crops, whereas most researchers study the waste material first. Wool says that growing the raw materials is simple and cheap, and can reduce global warming by scaling back the amount of petrochemicals and lowering carbon dioxide emissions. Other projects Wool is working on include a soybean-based composite that can be used in John Deere harvesters, and an effort to replace petroleum-based car parts with renewable materials. "The greatest thing for a truck or a car from an environmental point of view is to make it lightweight, because you'll make a significant impact on fuel consumption," he explains. Meanwhile, Tyson Foods' Barry Griffith says his company is collaborating with Wool and other researchers to make products based on chicken feathers.
- "Florida CIOs, Educators Team Up to Improve Workforce"
Computerworld Online (07/03/02); Thibodeau, Patrick
Florida IT managers and state educators believe they should collaborate on improving training for the future IT workforce. A number of initiatives have this goal in mind, among them O-Force, an Orlando-based public-sector effort. Meanwhile, Siemens Information and Communication Networks CIO Hugh Moore relayed a message to the Society for Information Management's Florida chapter, saying that "We want to be able to draw on people who have been steered by our leadership and vision so they are one step ahead of the game." A study released last week by the American Electronics Association (AEA) estimates that employment in the high-tech sector increased by about 1.5 percent last year, and the growth of Florida's high-tech workforce this year follows the national average; the state's tech workforce is the fifth largest in the country. Dixon Ticonderoga VP of information services and O-Force participant Garrett Grainger notes that many students from local schools lack critical skills concerned with midrange and large systems, and projects an interim of 36 to 48 months before graduates emerge with such skills. Local IT managers are offering technology internships and training to educators, and advising on high school and college curricula. Among organizers' short-term goals is the creation of an online database of technologies local firms use and training available from Florida schools. The state's workforce training program is part of an overarching national initiative to foster partnerships between employers and academia, according to Marjorie Bynum of the Information Technology Association of America.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Angry Engineers Blame Shortage on Low Pay, Layoffs and Age Bias"
Wall Street Journal (07/05/02) P. A9; Begley, Sharon
Many engineers and engineering experts complain of age discrimination, boom-and-bust cycles, and insignificant salary growth as reasons for a projected engineer shortage. Steve McMeekin, a 24-year engineering veteran, claims that many engineers are let go because they are considered obsolete when they reach 40; companies see age as an excuse to replace experienced professionals with younger graduates skilled in the latest methods and willing to work for less. Another discouraging factor is the periodic layoffs of engineers, particularly in industries that are highly sensitive to economic forces, such as aerospace, electronics, and defense, according to engineer turned stock analyst Mark Miller. Critics also single out salary stagnation, which many attribute to the flood of foreign workers encouraged by the high-tech industry. "[Industry] lobbied Congress for an endless supply of H-1B visa holders to work long hours at below-market wages, [with the result that] programmers and engineers saw their wage growth suppressed and careers shortened," says Mark Mendlovitz, a former Southern Methodist University engineering educator. Some engineers consider the field to be such a poor career choice that they are discouraging students from entering it, while others such as Mendlovitz recommend pursuing careers in law, medicine, and business.
- "Intelligence for the Open-Source War"
Sydney Morning Herald Online (07/02/02); Turner, Adam
Open-source advocates in Australia this week are gathering for a conference hosted by Queensland University of Technology to discuss the legal issues businesses have to deal with when using open-source software. Speakers from RedHat and Samba, as well as a number of other IT legal buffs, will address issues such as security and how to integrate open-source and proprietary software. Open-source software is usually governed by the GNU General Public License, which requires that any applications that uses parts of GNU GPL code also take on the GNU GPL license and become open-source. Queensland University of Technology law researcher Graham Bassett says the conference will help dispel doubts over open-source in business, and will combine the expert advice of lawyers with IT professionals who have experience in implementing large open-source projects.
- "India's Tech Capital Expects 60 Percent Growth in Exports"
Bangalore is racking up more outsourcing contracts than the rest of India, with projected growth of 60 percent in software and services exports this year, compared to 30 percent in the rest of the country. U.S. firms continue to flock to India in order to cut costs, and more are bringing back-office functions over and not just software development. Back-office outsourcing, or business process outsourcing, includes functions such as accounting and bill processing and is enabled by cheap international high-speed telecom infrastructure. Vivek Kulkarni, IT secretary of Karnataka state, of which Bangalore is the capital, says the area gains about one new overseas outsourcing customer a week, with more than 1,000 foreign companies keeping software development labs in Bangalore. For the year ending in March, Bangalore made up one-fourth of India's $7.5 billion in IT exports. Kulkarni says, "The majority of the companies in the U.S. are under cost pressure and that's why we expect them to continue to move into India, which offers them a ready-made talent pool."
- "Russia Looms as Software Service Successor to India"
EE Times Online (06/27/02); Quan, Margaret
American computer programmers will lose out in the trend to outsource software development overseas, according to John Miano, founder of the Programmers Guild, which has 1,300 members. He says the United States will eventually lose its expert edge in software engineering if work continues to be farmed out to foreign countries. He accuses companies such as PWI of chasing after the lowest wages. PWI is an advocate of overseas software development, especially in Russia, where the company has facilities at Moscow State University. PWI says large firms need to diversify their overseas software outsourcing so as not to be too dependent on one market. Russian programmers make more than Chinese or Indian counterparts, and could be at a disadvantage in that regard, according to analysts. But the country has a large concentration of technical professionals, ranking alongside Japan and the United States in the number of mathematicians, scientists, and engineers per capita.
- "Light Turns Into Glowing Liquid"
New Scientist Online (07/02/02); Samuel, Eugenie
Spanish researchers theorize that a method for making light exhibit water-like characteristics could revolutionize optical computing. A team led by Humberto Michinel at the University of Ourense explains that light can be perceived as a gas and thus can be condensed into a liquid. The scientists are focusing on non-linear materials, which usually slow light down when the beam is increased in intensity; but Michinel speculates that a material in which the light slows less when intensity is raised would allow a laser beam to be focused into a tight column, and Jose Ramon Salguiero of the University of Santiago de Compostela says this column would display liquid behavior. The scientists have demonstrated through computer simulation that such concentrated light has surface tension, and can be shattered into droplets when bounced off surfaces. Successful production of liquid light could pave the way for an optical computer that uses light "blobs" at its core. Michinel has found an ideal candidate material for producing liquid light in a "chalcogenide" glass created by researchers at France's University of Rennes, but Demetrios Christodoulides of Pennsylvania-based Lehigh University is skeptical, arguing that the material/light interaction would be so strong that the droplets would most likely be absorbed before they could be transmitted. His team is also working on a competing non-linear material approach, one that involves the adjustment of optical pathway design to better accommodate ordinary light pulses.
- "Supercomputing: Suddenly Sexy"
Wired News (07/08/02); O hAnluain, Daithi
The intense rivalry between supercomputing initiatives is testament to the field becoming vogue. For example, the Japan-based Earth Simulator from NEC uses vector processors to model weather patterns, with its ultimate goal being disaster planning for typhoons that regularly buffet Japan's coast; ES-Center director Dr. Tetsuya Sato notes that the machine will improve geographical resolution from 100-km squares to 10-km squares. Test results announced in Heidelberg, Germany, estimate that the Earth Simulator's performance rate is five times that of IBM's ASCI White supercomputer. Director of the European branch of IBM's Scientific and Technical Computing division Ulla Thiel has responded to this ranking by claiming its machines are superior in terms of installed performance, and predicts that her company will lead the Top 500 supercomputing list with its upcoming 200 teraflop Blue Gene/L supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Labs. She adds that IBM microprocessor technology is less pricey than NEC's vector processors, while her NEC counterpart Joerg Stadler argues that vector chips exhibit a better performance rate for heavy calculations. Tonbu CEO Steve Chen expects the supercomputing competition to be based on boosting brute force for the next decade, with a major paradigm shift in computer science occurring afterwards. "While [Moore's Law] says that computers will double in power for the same price every 18 months, we're achieving that leap every 15 months," boasts Mannheim University mathematician and computer scientist Hans Meuer.
- "Computing With Molecules"
Computerworld (06/24/02) Vol. 36, No. 26, P. 36; Anthes, Gary H.
Silicon chips double in performance and transistor density every 18 months, but experts say that this approach will hit its limits in approximately 10 years. Scientists at Hewlett-Packard and elsewhere believe molecular switches are the key to improving chip performance beyond this threshold. HP Labs is conducting research focusing on switches fashioned from rotaxane molecules, and a one-function molecular switch has already been successfully demonstrated; further research aims to produce a circuit that features two Boolean operators. HP Labs director of quantum science research R. Stanley Williams expects molecule-based microprocessors that surpass the capabilities of silicon to be available within 10 to 15 years. He also aims to construct a molecular switch-based memory system that can store 1 trillion bits per square centimeter in seven years. In collaboration with UCLA, HP Labs has created an array of wires just a few atoms wide linked by single-molecule switches, but Williams says these devices are useless without comprehension of the underlying physics of their operations. "If you don't understand the fundamental physics of the device, you can't fix it when it breaks, or you can't fix the factory when it breaks," he explains.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The Rules of Innovation"
Technology Review (06/02) Vol. 105, No. 5, P. 32; Christensen, Clayton M.
Harvard Business School professor and entrepreneur Clayton M. Christensen believes that innovation is not a random phenomenon, but many consider it to be random because they do not fully fathom all of the variables that impact it. He writes that companies that enter the market with disruptive strategies have a better chance of success: Innovations that follow such strategies tend to be low-cost, simple, and convenient, and target small, initially unattractive markets; sustaining strategies, in contrast, rely on companies developing better products than leading competitors and selling them to the same customers. Determining a market's potential for disruption hinges on several questions--whether the innovation enables lower-class or less-skilled customers to do things otherwise limited to higher-class or skilled intermediaries, whether it is targeted at low-end customers who are willing to make do with less features, and whether the disruptive innovator can earn hefty returns at discount prices. Another factor that affects a new venture's chances of success is its degree of integration--Christensen maintains that integrated companies that develop and sell their own products are poised to do well in markets where optimum product functionality has not yet been achieved, while nonintegrated outsourcers that make modular products benefit in markets where functionality outpaces customer use. Managers must determine whether a company has the resources (money, technology, talent), processes, and values to make an innovation successful before implementation. Finally, Christensen notes that successful innovations disrupt competitors, but not customers. Studying customers and their behavior is key to avoiding customer disruption and identifying the desires that innovations are supposed to fulfill.