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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 4, Issue 371: Wednesday, July 10, 2002
- "The Clouds of Digital War"
ABCNews.com (07/08/02); Eng, Paul
There is concern among experts that the next major terrorist assault on the United States will take place in cyberspace, and could wreak actual physical damage. Officials have disclosed that many critical infrastructure systems are being probed anonymously online, and some of these probes involve "digital switches" that give authorized parties the ability to monitor and direct the operations of intricate machine networks. Computer Associates VP of security Simon Perry notes that many such systems are vulnerable because they are based on the widespread UNIX software and communications standards. Peggy Weigle of the Sanctum software security firm believes that Internet-based terrorist attacks could be especially damaging when they are combined with conventional attacks, such as coupling an attack on a power station with a hack into the 911 emergency system. However, some experts say that it is very difficult to pull such attacks off, while others note that companies and public institutions have started to seriously address network security issues. Still, the government and the corporate sector have their work cut out for them, and many experts think that enterprises need to significantly ramp up their IT security budgets. "Most organizations spend more on coffee than IT security," Perry laments. Furthermore, such money shouldn't go toward security solutions alone, but be used to hire knowledgeable network managers.
- "More Life in Moore's Law, Creator Says"
CNet (07/09/02); Kanellos, Michael
The chip industry will continue to follow Moore's Law, which states that a computer chip's transistor density doubles every two years, although its creator Gordon Moore says that the rate of this doubling will decelerate slightly as it comes up against physical laws. Design limits will start to be reached when processor features are scaled down to 30 nm in seven to eight years. Features currently measure 130 nm, and next year will see the introduction of 100 nm features. Packing more transistors onto a chip to ratchet up performance is the primary driver of the computer industry's technical and economic growth. Moore says that nanotechnology is not advanced enough yet to overcome the limitations of silicon chips, but he is positive that designers will eventually discover a method that provides "multibillion-transistor budgets." He does not expect the telecom or PC sector to bounce back from the downturn in the immediate future. Moore, a co-founder of Intel, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday.
- "House Favors Funds for Science Study"
A five-year grant to improve math and science programs at colleges and universities has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives; almost $400 million in funding will go toward the program, which will be administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF). "In today's world, just about every job has a component that is informed by science and technology, from the assembly line to the boardroom," asserted bill sponsor Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.). He said U.S. schools have a responsibility to produce knowledgeable graduates who can function in a tech-savvy workforce. An earlier NSF report says U.S. undergraduate science and engineering degrees make up about one-third of all degrees earned, which marks a significant decline in the last decade. To qualify for the NSF grants, colleges and universities must increase the number of their math and science graduates.
- "Reality Tempers Tech Firms' Dreams for China"
San Francisco Chronicle (07/07/02) P. G1; Yi, Matthew
For all its promise, tech investment in China poses serious risks, according to experts. Many companies that have set up shop in China with plans to sell their products domestically have not turned a profit, while manufacturing operations that export products out of China have proven more lucrative, according to University of Tennessee associate professor of international business Usha Haley. She also says that regional government officials often do not share the free trade aspirations held by the country's leadership in Beijing. China recently won acceptance into the World Trade Organization, but still grapples with issues sensitive to high-tech firms, such as intellectual property protection. The latest monthly figures from the Semiconductor Industry Association show that Chinese demand for chips has risen dramatically, helping to boost the Asia-Pacific region's overall demand while demain in other major markets--Europe, North America, and Japan--has slackened. Haley notes that China does pose a tremendous opportunity, but that success is largely dependent on speculation. "A lot of it depends on how the dice falls in the future," she says.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Rep. Boucher Outlines 'Fair Use' Fight"
Rep. Rich Boucher (D-Va.) says he plans to introduce new legislation that would modify existing copyright law to ensure consumers' "fair use" rights and give more leeway to Webcasters. If his bill passes unaltered, it would also prohibit the music industry from issuing copy-protected CDs because of a provision that guarantees users' right to make personal copies of purchased music. That same provision would also involve amending the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) so that pay-per-use rules regarding copies are eliminated. Boucher, speaking at the Plug.IN digital music conference, also seeks to encourage legitimate online music distribution and Webcasts by erasing rules that restrict the number of copies Webcasters can make for each song. When broadcasting online, Webcasters often have to make up to 80 copies with different bit-rate download specifications, for example. Boucher's law would also require music labels to grant song licenses to online competitors whenever a similar license is granted their own online distribution channels. Although many of his proposals are already backed by the U.S. Copyright Office, Boucher expects the last one--requiring non-discriminatory licensing--to meet the most resistance from music industry lobbyists.
- "New Chip Process Fuels 'Fantastic' Products"
NewsFactor Network (07/09/02); Lyman, Jay
Oregon State University (OSU) scientists report that they have hit upon a water-based chemical process for manufacturing crystalline oxide films at room temperature, a breakthrough that could lead to "fantastic products" such as credit card-sized MP3 players and advanced flat panel displays, glass insulation, and batteries. "Most substrates, such as plastic or glass, that you would want to put a thin film of crystalline zirconium oxide onto would vaporize or melt [with current production methods]," explains OSU electrical and computer engineering professor John Wager. The development, which the researchers report on in the journal Science, could dispense with extreme manufacturing conditions such as high temperatures and vacuum environments, enabling inexpensive production of smaller semiconductors. The project is funded via the National Science Foundation and partners ReyTech and Hewlett-Packard. Wager says the ideal implementation of the oxide film process would be a cluster-tool setup involving processing chambers loaded by robots, and notes that ReyTech is researching this area. Meanwhile, OSU chemistry professor Douglas Keszler expects future photonics and optical networks to be significantly impacted by the process, and says the technology could be ready for mass production within three to five years.
- "Cable Companies Cracking Down on Wi-Fi"
CNet (07/09/02); Charny, Ben
Cable Internet providers AT&T Broadband and Time Warner Cable have begun a crackdown on subscribers that let others tap into their Wi-Fi networks. Time Warner sent letters to 10 people in New York City telling them their accounts would be cancelled within one week unless they stopped sharing access. The 10 subscribers are listed on the NYCwireless Web site, which is a grassroots effort to promote free Wi-Fi access throughout that city. Other providers, such as Covad Communications, have more lenient policies toward sharing wireless broadband Internet access, and it remains to be seen what AT&T Broadband and Time Warner Cable will do about the increasing number of hotels, airports, and even city governments that are touting free Wi-Fi access for their patrons and residents. Earthlink and Atlas Broadband, meanwhile, have made deals with wireless network integrators Boingo and Joltage to create widespread Wi-Fi networks that users can log onto for a fee. In order to comply with the letters from Time Warner Cable, users would have to turn on security settings on their Wi-Fi router. Finding open Wi-Fi networks, of which there are now at least 15 million in the United States, is getting easier thanks to wireless networking community groups, sniffer programs, and "warchalking," or marking access points with street-style graffiti symbols.
- "'Random Walkers' May Speed Peer-to-Peer Networks"
New Scientist Online (07/05/02); Knight, Will
Computing and networking researchers at Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley have discovered a more effective search algorithm for peer-to-peer networks. Currently, peer-to-peer networks send out broad-ranging searches for files, which can slow the network when too many users are added. By designating between 16 and 64 "walkers" to randomly search the network, everyone is able to find their data much faster. The research teams, which collaborated with Cisco and AT&T as well, also discovered that storing files randomly throughout the network made searches faster. Princeton researcher Qin Lv says the new approach would enable peer-to-peer networks such as Gnutella to scale much bigger and provide supercomputing power on tap just as reliably as traditional supercomputers. Still, the system has some drawbacks, since rare files could take even longer to find with the random walkers approach and searches would naturally be drawn to computer nodes that are fast and powerful, but not necessarily data-rich.
- "Control Freaks Tightening Their Grip on the Internet"
SiliconValley.com (07/08/02); Gillmor, Dan
Speakers at the recent "Internet Law Program" at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society offered differing opinions on the situation regarding the control of information and creativity on the Internet. Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig maintained his prediction that the Net will be overrun by control freaks implementing restrictive rules that choke innovation. He said that rules and restrictions on the use of technology stem from the architecture of hardware and software. Yochai Benkler of New York University had a more positive outlook: The open-source software movement and other self-organizing systems offer a ray of hope that industry authority could be conquered by the application of humane values and human innovation. Meanwhile, Berkman Center co-founder Jonathan Zittrain expects certain rules will be instituted in any circumstances. One such possibility is the zoning of online content, in which people from different countries view different things on the same URL. There was general consensus at the conference that the utter freedom many assumed cyberspace would offer is a pipe dream, and the Internet is being divided up by governments and businesses eager to maintain a vise-like grip on intellectual property.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Software is Often Sold, Not Licensed, Despite What License Agreements Say"
Wall Street Journal Online (06/27/02); Hart, Jon; Blumenthal, Steve
To control their intellectual property, software vendors are requiring customers and distributors to sign licensing agreements that limit buyers' rights to do what they please with the products, yet this runs counter to the basic fact that customers are purchasing copies of the software. A court recently ruled that Los Angeles-based Softman Products had the right to unbundle and resell a boxed collection of Adobe software despite Adobe's objections that it could not do so under its licensing agreement, because the distributor successfully argued that it had bought the programs and was therefore entitled to use them as it saw fit. Copyright law grants copyright holders the right to sell a copy of their property once, after which the right of ownership passes on to the buyer. However, the downstream market for the software industry is limited by the rapid production of new versions of software that render old programs obsolete. The emergence of e-commerce has caused a considerable acceleration of downstream transfers, and this has sparked controversy: Amazon.com promotes the sale of used books alongside that of new books, and the Authors Guild has opposed this policy by asking its members to sever their Web site links with Amazon. Meanwhile, the music industry is trying to guard its intellectual property online by selling music services, but with provisions that severely limit consumers' usage rights--for example, MusicNet subscribers can only play streamed songs once, are forbidden from transferring songs to CDs or portable players, and must renew their subscriptions in order to prevent the songs they download from vanishing after a month.
(Access for paying subscribers only.)
- "Quantum Computing Puts Encrypted Messages at Risk"
NewsFactor Network (07/08/02); McDonald, Tim
The advent of quantum computing will render many current encryption measures obsolete, because the dramatic increase in computing power will be able to easily cut through the standards' computational complexity. Security systems installed by the financial, commerce, and government sectors would be vulnerable. However, other people believe quantum encryption offers salvation, if it is developed first. "Between the intrinsic weaknesses of classic cryptography and the advanced research and development--both commercial and academic--that is being conducted around the globe, quantum encryption will be a widespread security tool sooner than you may think," predicts Andy Hammond of MagiQ Technologies. Indeed, quantum encryption is already being tested and implemented as a security measure in some enterprises. For example, Hammond says that MagiQ will have a "commercially available solution" by next year, one that can be used on telecom fiber and is invulnerable to eavesdropping. The need for more secure encryption is obvious, as conventional cryptographic methods such as RSA algorithms are becoming more susceptible. For instance, Daniel Bernstein of the University of Chicago-Illinois recently detailed a process that could be used to rapidly factor RSA-based public encryption keys comprised of as many as 1,024 bits.
- "Trouble for Telecom Isn't Slowing Down Popularity of Fiber Optics Classes"
Investor's Business Daily (07/08/02) P. A4; Angell, Mike
Although the telecommunications sector has fallen on hard times, academic interest in fiber optics is still going strong. The International Society for Optical Engineering's Eugene Arthurs notes that "Telecom may be on the ropes, but there's many new technologies being spun out of it and going into new devices." Such devices include DVD players, defense products, airplane safety systems, and blood scanners. The number of optics courses offered by colleges continues to grow, and Santa Clara University's Garrett Okamoto notes that enrollment remains strong, adding that many students are workers who are either laid off or wish to boost their skills. Duncan Moore of the University of Rochester says that engineering is a particularly attractive field to students because of its stability, even during a downturn. In addition, more seasoned engineers are expressing desires to enter the academic fold and become educators, a trend that could fuel new research and advancements. Stanford University has enhanced its curricula with six optics courses over the last couple of years, and professor David Miller reports that enrollment has actually climbed during the industry slump. Meanwhile, Boston University has added 10 optics engineering courses and established a photonics research center.
- "IBM Engineer Looks to Brain for New Technology"
Associated Press (07/06/02); Rathke, Lisa
A discussion with a neurosurgeon prompted IBM senior technologist Kerry Berstein to realize that the operations of computers and the human brain rely on the same fundamental physics, but the brain is a much more efficient device: It runs at approximately 12 Hz but requires much less power, and its rate of efficiency is 10 to the sixth times greater than the fastest computer. Berstein notes that electronics cannot yet achieve the "massive parallelism" that the brain is capable of. The performance and capability of processors is expected to double every 12 to 18 months, while it takes 100,000 years for mammals to expand their brain capacity by 1 cubic inch. Berstein says the growth of electronics cannot be maintained for much longer. Collaboration between IBM and neurosurgeons has yielded some useful developments for both sides--industry can learn effective ways to design circuits by studying the brain, while the insights neurosurgeons draw from the industry can be used to enhance brain analysis and brain surgery, and could one day lead to the physical convergence of the brain and computer technology.
- "Wireless Workhorse"
Washington Post (07/06/02) P. E1; Noguchi, Yuki
Ultra-wideband (UWB) is being touted as a high-speed radio technology that will enable wireless connections between a wide variety of appliances; potential applications include collision avoidance systems for vehicles and detection of objects behind other objects. UWB deployment costs are considerably lower than those for establishing cellular and land-line telecom networks. UWB signals have a maximum range of 328 feet, and exhibit less signal degradation when encountering physical obstacles, compared to conventional laser signals or cell-phone signals. The low-power technology utilizes frequencies shared by federal agencies and wireless-telephone companies. The FCC approved commercial development of UWB in February, provided that UWB systems operate between 3.1 GHz and 10.6 GHz in order to quell worries that the technology would interfere with radar detectors, air-traffic-control systems, and Global Positioning System devices, among other things. The order could be revised within a year, after the FCC evaluates how initial UWB implementation turns out. The technology's marketing potential is uncertain, since development is in a nascent stage. One company that plans to offer an UWB product is XtremeSpectrum, which has developed a chip for transmitting video over home-based wireless connections. UWB will compete with such wireless standards as Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) and Bluetooth.
- "Waiting, Waiting and Waiting for IPv6"
InternetNews.com (07/03/02); Wagner, Jim
The proliferation of Internet-enabled mobile devices has led to a paucity of IPv4 address space in the European and Asian sectors, but the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has delayed migration to the more expansive IPv6 standard in order to extensively study numerous migration tools. Careful testing of such applications is required even though IPv6 core standards are ready for deployment, according to IETF next-generation and IPv6 transition working groups co-chair Margaret Wasserman. The IETF's shutdown of IPv6 migration tool development in March has aroused the ire of critics, who claim the move chokes off innovation. Also hindering IPv6 adoption is the United States, where deployment is less urgent, notes Sage Research President Kathryn Korostoff. A significant driver of IPv6 implementation in that sector would be the negative impact of dwindling IPv4 space on domestic businesses and customers. Despite these hurdles, China and India are proceeding with IPv6 migration anyway, since they have already run out of IP addresses. IPv6 addresses come with four times as many octets of 8-bit blocks as IPv4 addresses, and are capable of sufficiently packing in data to facilitate secure transmissions, prioritizing data packets, and supplying security tags. Korostoff forecasts that global IPv4 addresses will be used up in the next two or three years, if current conditions remain the same.
- "High-Tech Leaders: America Needs Better Math, Science Education"
eSchool News (07/01/02); Branigan, Cara
Science and math education were among the top concerns voiced at a recent White House forum on the future of technology held by President Bush that included over 100 IT executives. Consensus from the participants--which included luminaries such as Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, and AOL Time Warner CEO Steve Case--was that a better math and science program for students would benefit both the national economy and strengthen security, since foreign workers would not be needed for critical positions. President Bush said that broadband rollout also played a roll in education, and cited an example in Texas where a well-to-do school district was partnered with a poorer one via broadband link-ups. He said the creation of the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology would also help steer policy on broadband rollout. The No Child Left Behind education reform law provides $160 million this year for a Mathematics and Science Partnerships program, the first installment in a $1 billion, five-year push to bolster math and science partnerships between higher education and secondary and elementary schools.
- "Storm Clouds Rise Over H1-B"
eWeek (06/24/02) Vol. 19, No. 25, P. 61; Vaas, Lisa
There has been little activity from proponents of the H1-B visa program lately, but experts say a battle between supporters and opponents is likely to erupt before the annual H1-B cap reverts back to 65,000 visa holders in 2004. The opposition, in the form of IT professionals, has long argued that the program is an excuse to hire cheap foreign labor and discriminate against workers laid off in the economic slump. Workers have threatened lawsuits against employers for such discrimination, and various agencies and political figures are floating legislation designed to scale back the H1-B program or revoke it altogether. For example, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) introduced the High-Tech Work Fairness and Economic Stimulus Act of 2001, which calls for the H1-B quota's reduction to the 65,000 per year cap. Meanwhile, tech industry lobbyists such as TechNet remain mute on the subject, while firms such as Hewlett-Packard are filing fewer H1-B visa applications or instituting hiring freezes. However, Marcus Courtney of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers contends that "Even now, with the recession going on and hundreds of thousands of tech employees out of work, the [pro-H1-B-increase] lobby is still very effective in making its case to members of Congress in that this program is still required because the American educational system has failed to fill the types of jobs required." In addition, he says that politicians still subscribe to the erroneous assumption that technology will offer limitless jobs and growth potential. IT salaries and job security are also endangered by other issues, such as increased offshore outsourcing and employers' growing dependency on temporary workers.
- "Good Intentions"
Computerworld (07/01/02) Vol. 36, No. 27, P. 39; Solomon, Melissa
Some IT workers are choosing to take a hiatus from the corporate world and work on volunteer IT projects in response to corporate downsizing, long-term dreams, and the urge to try something beyond the office. However, while working in the non-profit sector may result in new skills, it rarely produces new contacts that can help in the corporate world. Catherine Bohill and her finance Jason Long recently ended a year in Cuba working on obtaining computers for Cuban orphanages and managing a ship's sonar equipment, and recently moved to Madrid, Spain, where they have found work with wireless companies on the strength of their corporate resumes. New Yorker Mark Santino, 48, choose to help New York Cares develop a long-term IT strategy after Santino was downsized by Mondex International. Santino says he was looking to contribute to society as well as "do good for myself," but his volunteer stint yielded no contacts or clients. Accenture in New York City has begun a program enabling employees to work for non-profits at a reduced Accenture salary as a way to avoid layoffs, and one Accenture employee, Farhana Ahmed, recently returned from a four-month stint at NPower NY, a clearinghouse that provides IT assistance to non-profit groups. Ahmed says that when he went to NPower NY, "being a technician, I just wanted to do what I wanted to do and be left alone," but that he has come away with a new paradigm and some pleasant acquaintances.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The Search for Perfect Memory"
Red Herring (06/02) No. 114, P. 62; Takahashi, Dean
It has long been a dream of the semiconductor industry to have inexpensive, fast, and dense memory chips that retain their information whether the machine is on or off and can record and erase data without wearing out. But no current chip technology--be it flash memory, dynamic RAM (DRAM), or static RAM (SRAM)--boasts all of these features, because of design compromises. Both startups and well-established chip manufacturers are developing next-generation memory technology, which Web-Feet Research estimates could be worth $2 billion in five years. Matrix Semiconductor is working on 3D memory chips that consist of transistors stacked together vertically thanks to the breakthrough of chemical mechanical planarization; such chips offer high density, while their small size cuts costs. Magnetic RAM chips, whose on-off switch is determined by the direction a magnet is facing, operate at high speeds and are being looked into by companies such as IBM, Infineon Technologies, and Motorola. Ovonic memory--in which electric current reshapes the chip material into different forms for on and off states--is another technology that larger companies such as Intel are investigating: Intel's Stephan Lai says the technology will not be ready for the commercial market for at least three years. Ferroelectric RAM, in which the polarity of metallic materials is changed via electric current, is a long shot--it applies mainly to niche markets because of limited storage ability, although improvements have been made. In general, DRAM, SRAM, and flash memory chip manufacturers are not unduly worried about these up-and-coming technologies: SanDisk CEO Eli Harari is confident that enhancements and improvements to traditional memory products will help maintain their competitive edge.