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 374: Wednesday, July 17, 2002
- "Computer Security Standards Ready"
Washington Post (07/17/02) P. E5; Henry, Shannon
Government agencies such as the Pentagon and the National Institute of Standards and Technology have joined forces with private-sector firms such as Intel, Visa, and Pacific Gas & Electric to establish a set of anti-hacking guidelines, which are expected to be announced today. The announcement comes amid worries from pundits such as national cyber-security adviser Richard Clarke of a "digital Pearl Harbor" in which America's enemies assault the nation's critical networks through the Internet. "It's support for the homeland security strategy," declares Clint Kreitner, CEO of the Center for Internet Security (CIS), the nonprofit consortium administrating the initiative. All organizations that use the Microsoft Windows 2000 operating system are recommended to follow the technical standards, while a freely available CIS-created software "scoring" program checks for compliance. In addition to this effort, leading technology executives such as Oracle's Larry Ellison and Microsoft's Bill Gates have announced plans to beef up the security of their products. Shannon Kellogg of the Information Technology Association of America says the success of the accord hinges on increased communication and a reliance on performance-based standards rather than specific technologies.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Talks Weigh Big Project On Wireless Internet Link"
New York Times (07/16/02) P. C1; Markoff, John
Intel, IBM, AT&T Wireless, and several wireless carriers are discussing the possibility of a nationwide 802.11, or WiFi, network dubbed Project Rainbow. Intel's newly established communications division is one of the most vociferous proponents of the new initiative, and says it wants to integrate WiFi capability into 20 million of its mobile processors for notebook computers in 2003, and then 40 million more computers in 2004. IBM Global Services would set up the actual hotspot nodes necessary to link the network and develop the technology that would make the system possible. One major concern is how users would be able to seamlessly travel through available coverage areas without major disruption of service, and how providers would be able to sort out the billing and authentication issues. Wireless carriers are also hesitant about the deal because it dilutes their plans for high-speed mobile data services, although those would be adjunct to the WiFi network under the Project Rainbow scheme. DSL and cable Internet providers may lose out as well, since public high-speed Internet access would cut into their market. Motorola, one company that has not jumped onto the WiFi enthusiasm, has been developing its Canopy technology that would enable wireless high-speed Internet links over a much broader range than allowed by WiFi. The Project Rainbow service, intended for mobile professionals not home users, could "jump-start the industry if all the components are in place," says Wireless Internet and Mobile Computing publisher Alan Reiter. WiFi technology, originally developed for use in offices, has quickly gained a strong grass-roots following for use in local high-speed wireless networks; major corporate backing would provide a big boost to the data standard.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "House OKs Life Sentences for Hackers"
CNet (07/15/02); McCullagh, Declan
The House of Representatives approved by almost unanimous vote the Cyber Security Enhancement Act (CSEA), under which computer hackers can draw a life sentence for carrying out intrusions that "recklessly" endanger the lives of others. Such a penalty is designed to discourage terrorist cyberattacks on the nation's economy and critical infrastructure. Hearings on the CSEA were held by a crime subcommittee chaired by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas); Microsoft and WorldCom executives, as well as a leading Justice Department official, endorsed the bill. The CSEA also includes provisions that allow law enforcement officials to conduct Internet or telephone eavesdropping without court orders, and broaden the circumstances under which Internet providers can disclose email messages and electronic records. This does not sit well with critics such as Free Congress Foundation analyst Brad Jansen, who says, "Congress should stop chipping away at our civil liberties." The CSEA is not expected to confront any major resistance in the Senate. Following Senate approval, the law would call for the U.S. Sentencing Commission to amend sentencing guidelines for computer crimes in order to take into account malicious intent, intrusions' level of sophistication, and the involvement of government computers. Furthermore, the CSEA would formally acknowledge the existence of the National Infrastructure Protection Center and clarify that online ads are subject to an existing prohibition on the "advertisement" of any device that is mainly used for clandestine electronic monitoring.
- "Layoffs Shrink in Some Sectors"
Boston Globe (07/15/02) P. C2; Howe, Peter J.
There has been a huge climb in staff cutbacks in the telecom sector this year, while layoffs in other high-tech sectors have fallen compared to last year, according to a new study from Challenger, Gray & Christmas. CEO John Challenger says the portion of telecom industry layoffs, which account for nearly 25 percent of the 735,527 Americans let go in the first half of 2002, is a record-breaker. Telecom layoffs have risen 27 percent over last year, while major telecom equipment providers such as Nortel Networks and Lucent Technologies have cut more than 50 percent of their staff in the last two years. On a more positive note, the study finds that computer industry layoffs fell from 74,723 in the first half of 2001 to 55,398 as of June 30; in the same period, electronics industry firings declined from 59,181 to 20,221. However, the number of computer industry layoffs in June exceeded the cumulative job reductions of the previous four months, and Challenger attributes this increase to uncertain business customers and consumers reluctant to buy new computer gear. American Electronics Association research VP Michaela D. Platzer maintains a sober perspective despite the layoff shrinkage, saying that "in most cases, you're coming off pretty strong years in 2000 and 2001, so you're not even back to 1999 employment levels" in certain tech industries. Still, she adds that employment in the computer and data-processing services segments remains robust. Thus far, telecom and technology layoffs have totaled 243,000 this year, compared to 313,939 in the same period in 2001.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Race Bias Suits Are Few at Tech Firms"
SiliconValley.com (07/15/02); Lubman, Sarah
Despite suspicions of Silicon Valley companies exhibiting a racial preference for Caucasian and Asian employees, the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) has yet to find a definitive test case in the three years since its investigation began. Contributing to the difficulty in determining racial bias in the technology sector is the nebulous nature of tech employment and a low frequency of race-based complaints filed against employers by workers. National statistics also show that there are fewer black and Latino engineers than white and Asian engineers, and Thom Stohler of the American Electronics Association attributes this disparity to "inadequate education opportunities." Although the tech industry accounts for over 5 percent of all private-sector employment throughout the United States, only 2 percent of all race-based complaints originate from this sector, according to the EEOC. Few racial discrimination claims are being filed with the agency because many people have found the EEOC to be ineffective--Nedra Jones of the NAACP's San Jose office describes the agency as "a storefront." EEOC Vice Chairman Paul Igasaki says that his agency rarely sees a need for government involvement, and lacks the resources to join many lawsuits; furthermore, the majority of the complaints the EEOC follows are resolved by out-of-court settlements. Job-hopping employees, nonspecific job descriptions, and a dearth of hiring histories--typical of startups--also hamper bias claims, according to Rutgers University law professor Alan Hyde. In addition, Saperstein, Goldstein, Demchak & Baller partner David Borgen says the industry downturn has left many companies without the financial resources to settle, discouraging lawsuits.
- "Undergrad Brain Drain Imperils U.S. Industry, Educators Say"
EE Times Online (07/12/02); Murray, Charles J.
Educators say that if the United States does not increase the number of engineering school graduates soon, it will lose out in the global marketplace. In 2000, America brought in 90,000 foreign engineers and computer scientists, compared to the 65,000 engineers and 15,000 computer scientists that graduated domestically, according to Ben G. Streetman, dean of the engineering school at the University of Texas at Austin. Streetman says, "Every year we're educating about half the number of engineers that the country needs and importing the rest." Although observers have noted the stigma attached to engineering and science by some high school students, more recently they have begun focusing on the large number of undergraduate students that drop out of engineering schools. Analysts say the percentage of students that opt out of engineering degree programs has remained mostly constant over the years, but part of the problem may be that undergraduate engineering students are engulfed in theoretical classes before they are able to do any hands-on design work. Textbook publisher Prentice-Hall says about 20,000 students graduate from electrical engineering programs every year compared to the 60,000 students who enter, for example. Several university programs, such as those at the University of Texas at Austin and Drexel University, are adopting a more blended approach, teaching math and science skills as needed and introducing project-based courses as early as the freshman year. Streetman says producing more home-grown engineering talent is "a problem of national importance."
- "New Specs Released for Wireless Speech, Text Delivery"
Computerworld Online (07/15/02); Weiss, Todd R.
The SALT Forum announced today that it has released its first specifications for Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) to an undisclosed standards group. The specifications are designed to promote the further development of text-to-speech capabilities for wireless devices. Desktop-based voice capabilities follow voice XML standards, but the SALT 1.0 standard aims to enhance portable wireless devices such as PDAs, cell phones, and laptops with more sophisticated capabilities. "The SALT 1.0 specification provides application developers with a documented way to leverage existing Web markup languages," explains The Kelsey Group's Daniel Miller. "Its release by the SALT Forum marks a major milestone that should accelerate integration of automated speech, multimodal and telephony applications." The forum is also developing a royalty-free specification that aims to enable spoken access to content via numerous devices, in conjunction with existing Web markup languages. Yankee Group analyst Philip Marshall expects the SALT specifications to draw more developers and firms into the fold as users demand expanded wireless device functionality.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Getting a Pixel Fix on the Enemy"
Wired News (07/17/02); Baard, Erik
With backing from the Office of Naval Research, the University of Minnesota's Guillermo Sapiro and Duke University's Andrea Bertozzi have developed an algorithm that can restore corrupted data of digital images and video. The Navy hopes this inpainting technique could be applied to refining real-time visual intelligence in battlefield conditions, repairing imagery degraded by transmission difficulties or bandwidth compression. The researchers' algorithm recovers missing data through an extrapolation of the color, shading, lines, and other visual cues of the area surrounding the gap. Sapiro says the approach is similar to that used by art restorers, but notes that close-ups of filled-in gaps are sometimes smudgy because the process is more rushed. "The program sees only pixels--it still takes organic intelligence to discern an artist's intent, or to mimic style like the scintillation of a Klimpt or the folds of fabric in a Vermeer," he explains. Despite this drawback, Sapiro still considers the algorithm to be useful, either as a fully automated or assisting tool. The Navy could also take advantage of the technology as a means to reduce bandwidth demands in field conditions: A source would transmit crude blocks of basic data, while the receiver would use the algorithm to sharpen and refine the image. Furthermore, Sapiro and Bertozzi think that photo enhancement could benefit from their tool.
- "It Slices! It Dices! Nanotube Struts Its Stuff"
New York Times (07/16/02) P. D1; Chang, Kenneth
The ultra-thin, super-strong carbon nanotube is being touted as a do-all material. Nanotubes are already being used to create cheap displays: SI Diamond Technology exploits them to make lighted billboards, while Samsung is applying the technology to flat-panel televisions. Scientists such as Dr. Philippe Poulin of France's National Center for Scientific Research believe that nanotubes can be spun into fibers, lengthened by adding electrical charge, and joined to a strip of material that resists shrinkage or expansion, forming a mechanical muscle that exerts up to 100 times more force than its human counterpart. An evenly rolled nanotube acts as a metallic conductor, while a twisted nanotube exhibits the electrical properties of a silicon-like semiconductor. Currently, the manufacturing process yields clumps of nanotubes of differing diameter and chirality, so filtering nanotubes for electronic devices remains a problem. IBM scientists have assembled nanotube transistors with the same performance levels of conventional silicon devices, while Dr. David E. Luzzi of the University of Pennsylvania has discovered that stuffing carbon buckyballs and other molecules into nanotubes can change their electronic properties. Nanotubes could also be applied to sensors by attaching molecules to the outside of the nanotube, which is charged with electrical current; whenever a target molecule is captured by the sensor, the current changes. Other scientific teams have discovered that the material can dissipate heat--a desirable property for computer chips--and both absorb and emit certain frequencies of infrared light.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "FCC News Isn't All Bad on Telecom"
SiliconValley.com (07/17/02); Gillmor, Dan
Recent rulings by the FCC that favor the phone industry's monopolization and control of customers' information have left a bad aftertaste, but there may be a glimmer of hope on the horizon in terms of the commission's position on airwaves allocation, writes Dan Gillmor. This past weekend, FCC Chairman Michael Powell provisionally approved the hypothetical purchase of WorldCom's long-distance unit by one of the Baby Bells in an interview with the Wall Street Journal; such a move would give regional carriers even more power with almost no regulation. On Tuesday, the FCC extended mobile carriers' deadline to institute number portability--required by law--for another year, and announced that phone companies can exchange customers' information, such as the numbers they call, with affiliated communications firms unless customers opt out of such a policy. On a more positive note, public comments on the FCC's creation of a task force to examine its policy on communications spectrum allotments indicate strong support by major companies and industry figures on continued airwave deregulation, which is seen as critical to innovation; the development of the Wi-Fi wireless standard in the 2.4 GHz band is a case in point. "It is important to the communications sector, to the economy, and to the nation that wireless broadband networks be built that have at least the same capacity as cable and wire networks," wrote Microsoft's Craig Mundie. "Such networks can develop in unlicensed spectrum--using technologies, network architectures, and financing models that are different than those used by the existing networks." It is likely that the major carriers will vehemently oppose an environment where such competitive networks can thrive.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Marcelo Tosatti: The Future Is Linux"
ZDNet UK (07/11/02); Broersma, Matthew
Brazilian developer Marcelo Tosatti took over the maintenance of the 2.4 Linux kernel, the current stable one, from renowned Linux guru Alan Cox late last year. He says the biggest problems with his Linux version are with virtual memory on high-end computers and with IDE difficulties, where some chipsets are corrupting data. Tosatti, who also works for Linux firm Conectiva, adds that embedded Linux and Linux in the enterprise space are two of the largest opportunities for the open-source operating system. He says the recent formation of the UnitedLinux standard was mostly a business issue aimed at reducing the number of Linux certifications that independent software vendors have to obtain down to just two, one from Red Hat and one for UnitedLinux. Recent releases of enterprise server systems from Red Hat and SuSE require fewer updates and patches, which Tosatti says appeals to users in a business environment. He notes that one of the major challenges of his job is making the right decision and staying responsible, since so many people are also using Linux. Although Tosatti considers the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to be a major issue, he does not see it having much impact on Linux developers.
- "Holograms Grounded By Reality"
Investor's Business Daily (07/17/02) P. A6; Tsuruoka, Doug
Three-dimensional light-generated images or holograms that float in midair are not currently possible because of fundamental scientific restrictions. "There's no law of physics that lets light travel in space and come back in midair without striking an object that turns it around," explains Hologram Universe President Larry Lieberman. Current hologram methodology includes projecting images into smoke or water vapor, or into a cylinder containing a spinning object. Another technique is to bounce the light source off a transparent screen and reflect it back to the viewer. These approaches preclude animation of the hologram, while laser projection produces a conical light that distorts the image. More promising applications that may be commercialized in the next five to 10 years include film projectors with multiple lasers that facilitate the projection of hologram movies onto screens treated with a special emulsion or fluid. Holograms could be projected by laser into a domelike planetarium coated with reflecting material. Holographic televisions also have great potential, although viewers will have to sit at a specific angle to get the optimum viewing experience; this necessity makes the creation of giant holographic billboards designed to be viewed by many people at different angles a formidable challenge.
- "Q&A: The Science Behind 'Friendly Fridges'"
ZDNet Australia (07/12/02); Dawson, Ed
The psychological research behind the revolutionary artificial intelligence system EMIR (Emotional Model for Intelligent Response) enables scientists to imbue devices with emotions similar to those exhibited by humans, such as "angry robots" or "friendly fridges." Dr. Albert Mehrabian of the University of California says his research into emotions dates back to 1972, when he began setting up the system he now uses to define emotions. The basis of his work is the research of Charles Osgood, who established emotion as the lowest common denominator of human response to any situation. Under Mehrabian's framework, complex emotions can be described in 3D using the axes of pleasure, arousal, and dominance to map an emotion's specific location and relation to other emotions. The system employs 259 emotion terms--tied, sleepy, empowered, etc.--which are positioned on each axis. Dr. Mehrabian says the ability to communicate and interpret emotional signals is a critical component of human-like intelligence. EMIR can invest emotional capacities in devices that operate in certain situations: For instance, an airplane control system encountering strong winds could be programmed to respond in a submissive manner, or political campaigns' effectiveness could be predicted by quantifying each candidate according to his or her PAD (pleasure, arousal, dominance) values.
- "Robots Are Cute, But Can You Put Them to Work?"
IDG News Service (07/05/02); Williams, Martyn
Robots that can perform household duties are the focus of research efforts of several Japanese companies. PaPeRo from NEC's Central Research Laboratory can view its environment and identify up to 10 people with CCD cameras, receive audio input through four microphones, and can recognize as many as 650 phrases. The robot can receive, carry, and play back messages, turn on a television, and switch channels--all by voice command. PaPeRo is undergoing trials with 70 families to see how the machine functions in real-world conditions, as well as how it interacts with pets. Yoshihiro Fujita of the Central Research Laboratory's Personal Robot Center says that software improvements based on such tests are a continuous process. Meanwhile, Evolution Robotics recently introduced its ER1 Personal Robot System at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in May. The machine is being touted as the world's first Internet-enabled, autonomous consumer robot, which owners can assemble around a notebook PC; it moves around and tracks people and objects via a USB-connected PC camera. And an automatic vacuum cleaner from Matsushita Electric Industrial is designed to detect and negotiate around obstacles, avoid drops, and make power adjustments based on the amount of dirt to be cleaned. NEC's Fujita says that although the PaPeRo robot is based on a simple design, the project's underlying aim is to improve the "human-machine interface through introducing robots into our everyday lives."
- "IT Training Funds Dry Up"
eWeek (07/08/02) Vol. 19, No. 27, P. 45; Wilkinson, Stephanie
A slowdown in corporate spending on IT training spurred by the economic downturn has forced many professionals to pay for their certification maintenance without reimbursement, but there are other options. Workers can elect to invest in CD- and Internet-based courses, which is a less expensive alternative to classroom-based training. For instance, a site-based Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer course runs for $2,700, but opting to learn it via CD foregoes travel expenses and time away from work, and costs just $2,200. Professionals can also apply for loans and grants from the government or the private sector. Bob Koenig of New Horizons Computer Learning Centers notes that knowledge of federal loan programs is not widespread. For example, there is the North American Free Trade Agreement-Transitional Adjustment Assistance grant, which the Department of Labor apportions to employees of firms negatively affected by open-trade agreements. In California, disabled employees can qualify for a retraining grant administered through a workers' compensation program, although qualification can be a lengthy process. Such alternatives are becoming more and more attractive in a situation where corporate spending on external IT training and education has fallen 8.5 percent between 2001 and 2002, according to International Data.
- "Fortune Telling"
CIO (07/01/02) Vol. 15, No. 18, P. 98; Margulius, David L.
Predictive intelligence applications are being used by many large enterprises in numerous capacities: With it, sports teams can anticipate player injuries, financial institutions can uncover insider trading and money laundering, manufacturers can design products and predict equipment malfunctions, and retailers can forecast product demand and refine their marketing efforts appropriately. Predictive intelligence applications combine complex algorithms, faster processing speeds, and data mining infrastructures so that enterprises can study large amounts of data cheaply while taking more external variables into account. Aberdeen Group analyst Bob Moran notes that the technology "requires a fluid combination of multiple technologies," including older techniques such as regression studies, neural networks, and workflow-based applications. The algorithms follow probabilistic models that forecast the future effects of an event or series of events; these so-called adaptive models can often reside in a data warehouse or existing transactional system. Both startups and seasoned veteran firms offer predictive intelligence software and services, and predictive features are being bundled into customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and supply chain management (SCM) applications. In order to best deploy predictive intelligence technology, users recommend following three guidelines--setting clear project goals that follow solid models, having the right data inputs, and hiring personnel who are familiar with the models and can help convert their output into action. "You need to take it a little bit at a time, set some short-term objectives and understand exactly what you're looking to get out of it," explains Allen Brewer, AIG e-business risk solutions group CIO.
- "Real-World Bluetooth Applications"
Design News (07/08/02) Vol. 57, No. 13, P. 60; Normile, Dennis
The Bluetooth wireless communication standard has many potential applications, and the hundreds of companies that comprise its Special Interest Group are developing new products that use the standard. Japan's Murata Manufacturing and Kitano Symbiotic Systems Project are focusing on a mobile humanoid robot whose movements are coordinated by a Bluetooth host-controller and transmitting/receiving modules; Murata's Kazuhisa Mashita notes that Bluetooth enables two-way communication between robot and operator, while its advantages over radio, infrared, and hard wire control systems include less restrictive movement, real-time remote control (a critical plus for search-and-rescue missions), and less reliance on line-of-sight. Meanwhile, Mitsumi Electric is working on a Bluetooth universal serial bus (USB) adapter that enables information sharing between older computers and new Bluetooth-equipped devices. The prototype WatchPad from IBM Japan and Citizen Watch uses Bluetooth to exchange data with other Bluetooth-enabled devices, can be used as a universal remote control for TVs or stereos, and synchronizes PDA data with a computer or another PDA. Toshiba has blended voice recognition technologies and Bluetooth to create a wireless headset that allows users to control consumer appliances by spoken commands; the company thinks the device will be especially beneficial to disabled users and factory automation. Sony has created a Bluetooth-enabled digital video camera that can more easily move image data to a PC, and connect directly to the Internet. Finally, three Japan-based companies--Marubeni, Handspring KK, and Nippon Ericsson--are conducting trials that use Bluetooth to disseminate news and information in specific locales.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Have Your Objects Call My Objects"
Harvard Business Review (06/02) Vol. 80, No. 6, P. 138; Ferguson,Glover T.
Object-to-object communication via radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, or smart tags, has the potential to radically change businesses, vastly improving the tracking of inventory and work in progress. Most companies already using RFID systems are making sufficient return-on-investment. The technology has many advantages over bar codes, including: Wireless communication that gives readers the ability to read entire packages of tagged products instantaneously, and from a distance; richer embedded content, such as specific object history; on-the-fly data capture; and resistance to extreme temperatures and rough handling. Furthermore, tags can prevent theft and unauthorized equipment use or entry to restricted areas. Object-to-object communication can benefit customers as well--for example, stores can do a better job of stocking up on in-demand items, establishments can speed up the billing and checkout process, and transportation services can reduce transit time. When combined with sensors, RFID tags can report a wealth of data that can pinpoint such things as supply chain errors, improper handling, or external or internal interference. As the infrastructure for tracking and reading objects matures, a wide variety of sophisticated object-to-object applications will flourish, standardizing the "silent commerce" paradigm and paving the way for new business models. Such applications include end-to-end product tracking, variable pricing on a much higher scale, products able to adjust themselves to improve conditions such as safety, downtime, etc., and RFID implants that relay personal medical information.
- "Computer Games and Scientific Visualization"
Communications of the ACM (07/02) Vol. 45, No. 7, P. 40; Rhyne, Theresa-Marie
Computer gaming technologies could prove very useful to scientific visualization, but the game industry's emphasis on rapid product development and the sacrifice of data accuracy and reliability for the sake of entertainment is anathema to scientific computing. Successful deployments of computer-game-driven applications to OpenGL and other big application programming interfaces can only happen if game developers and the visualization sector can better understand each other's requirements. Developments in game-based graphics applications impact on advancements in graphics workstations and visualization software markets, but applying video games to visualization is an unsettling prospect for many scientists. However, the advent of cluster computing means researchers must contend with graphics acceleration and PC hardware platforms optimized for computer games. A major focus of development are games that can play on PDAs, mobile phones, and wireless devices, and there are other initiatives to deliver scientific-quality computer graphics on such handhelds. A likely development in the next couple of years is a reengineering of visualization and virtual reality technology for game consoles. Small-screen computer image rendering and wireless connectivity will be capabilities of high-speed collaborative computing. Already, several groups are taking advantage of video games to solve problems: The Institute for Creative Technologies aims to improve soldiers' combat readiness and decision-making skills with the development of military video games.