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


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Volume 4, Issue 378: Friday, July 26, 2002

  • "New Bill Allows Tech Measures to Fight Peer-to-Peer Piracy"
    IDG News Service (07/25/02); Pruitt, Scarlet

    New legislation proposed by Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) on Thursday would give copyright owners the right to use assorted technological applications to safeguard their works, as long as the measures do not damage users' files or computers, or incur more than $50 of economic loss for each impairment. Berman told Congress that he hopes his bill will "enable responsible usage of technological self-help measures to stop copyright infringements on [peer-to-peer] networks." Furthermore, copyright holders would be required to alert the Justice Department of the types of anti-piracy technologies they intend to employ prior to use. In addition, all information on prohibitions should be freely available to file traders and ISPs affected by the legislation. However, critics are worried that Berman's proposal would grant copyright holders license to hack into the computer systems of file traders. The solutions offered by Berman's bill are technological rather than regulatory, a characteristic that the Association for Competitive Technology praised in a statement. File blocking, redirection, spoofs, and decoys are among the tools copyright holders would be allowed to implement under the proposal.

  • "On Trial: Digital Copyright Law"
    CNet (07/25/02); McCullagh, Declan

    The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of programmer Ben Edelman on Thursday, calling for a federal judge to overturn parts of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) on the grounds that it unconstitutionally hampers researchers' rights to circumvent the copy protection of Internet filtering software in order to test its effectiveness. Edelman testified as a witness in another ACLU lawsuit that challenged the federal law requiring public libraries to deploy such software, and his own research involves bypassing copy protection in order to review blocking programs from N2H2, Websense, Secure Computing, and Surfcontrol--programs that he concludes are "fundamentally unable" to consistently filter out pornographic Web sites. The ACLU lawsuit strives to grant Edelman immunity from any legal action taken against him by N2H2, which sells filtering software containing a "blacklist" of prohibited Web sites that Edelman wants to decrypt and publish; he also wants to distribute the decryption utility he uses. The ACLU also wants the judge to rule that N2H2's licensing agreement cannot be enforced because it represents an "unconscionable" abuse of copyright that contravenes federal and state public policy. Every lawsuit that questions the constitutionality of the DMCA has failed thus far, but the ACLU hopes that the sympathy Edelman elicits and the socially beneficial implications of his research will work to his advantage. However, legal experts such as University of Minnesota professor Dan Burk call the ACLU's claim a long shot. In October 2000, the Library of Congress declared that there should be an exemption that allows researchers to compile lists of Web sites blocked by filtering software, but the ACLU argues it is insufficient to cover Edelman's case.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1023-946266.html

  • "Experts Say Liability, Antitrust Protections Needed to Improve Cyber-Security"
    Associated Press (07/24/02)

    Computer security experts argue that companies will only be able to properly address cybersecurity if certain legal safeguards are in place. Financial security specialist Stanley "Stash" Jarocki explained to a government panel on Wednesday that companies should be granted exemptions from liability for sharing information about security breaches among themselves and with the government, under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and antitrust laws. He and other experts testified that companies link essential systems to the Internet to realize efficiency gains and cost savings, which elevates security risks. KEMA Consulting's Joseph M. Weiss notes that the government is less focused on beefing up cybersecurity and more involved in securing airports and other facilities. Meanwhile, Jarocki stated that foreign hackers represent a growing threat to the security of computer-based systems that regulate the nation's vital infrastructure.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Time to Hop on the Gridwagon"
    Wired News (07/26/02); O hAnluain, Daithi

    Grid computing is moving from the scientific to the commercial sphere, as attested by the growing number of IT vendors at the Global Grid Forum (GGF) in Edinburgh, Scotland. GGF chair Charlie Catlett says "were seeing attendance double for every conference," while GGF's Mary Stada says vendors are now looking for ways to make money on grid computing Tom Hawk, IBM's general manager for grid computing, says the technology is getting a big boost from the new Open Grid Services Architecture, a protocol allowing the integration of Web services and grid computing. The intersection of those technologies creates super-powerful Internet applications, such as heightened security for one-stop Web authentication. Although grid computing has been around for 10 years, only recently has it made big headlines, an indication the technology is set to explode worldwide. IBM vice president of technology strategy Irving Wladawsky-Berger says grid computing technology fulfills the potential of the Internet by providing nearly limitless processing power on demand. IBM's Hawk notes that grid computing is part of a shift toward a post-technology world where computing becomes ubiquitous. "Soon people won't have to worry about the technology," he explains. "Grid computing is what will make that happen."
    http://www.wired.com/news/infostructure/0,1377,54098,00.html

  • "Women Look to Shape the Future"
    BBC News Online (07/25/02); Smith, Emma

    Wired Woman Society founder Emma Smith notes that more women are using computers, but fewer are taking computer science courses in their university education. Technology experts can wield an enormous amount of influence, and Smith recommends that women in various fields can make revolutionary changes if they incorporate technology into their agendas. For example, female psychology experts could design computer interfaces by understanding human computer interaction; female historians could accelerate the emergence of interactive museums by becoming well-versed in knowledge management, archiving, and content storage; teachers could help develop e-learning systems; and law experts could shape policies that relate to privacy, free speech, child safety, and the digital divide. Smith notes that there has been a long tradition of women developing new technologies against terrific odds, and adds that those odds have improved considerably for women today. But a major stumbling block for women is their preconception of technology careers as "geeky, anti-social and even boring." In reality, however, such careers involve creative thinking, collaboration, and developing new modes of communication. Smith says that this lack of understanding is preventing women from making an enormous contribution to the advancement of technology.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/technology/2132168.stm
    To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women

  • "In the Wings, Rugged Rivals to an Aging Memory Standard"
    New York Times (07/25/02) P. E5; Buss, Dale

    Cutting-edge flash memory that the wireless industry depends on has drawbacks: It does not boast adequate density for applications that require a lot of memory, and it degrades after it is read from or written to approximately one million times. There are other potential successors to flash under development, one of them being ferro-electric random access memory (FRAM), which is being looked into by IBM, Ramtron, and Texas Instruments. FRAM, which depends on the polarization of minuscule magnets, can be read or written to billions of times before wearing out, but IEEE Spectrum editor Linda Geppert notes other electronic components could be affected by it, a factor that may be inhibiting its commercial impact. Another alternative memory with promise is magnetic random access memory (MRAM), which can read and write data in a matter of nanoseconds and offers easy integration with existing industrial chip assembly methods. MRAM achieves data storage by applying an electric current to several layers of magnetic material; backers of the technology include IBM and Motorola, which plans to release its latest 1 MB MRAM chip for testing in 2003. A third technology under development is ovonic unified memory (OUM): The brainchild of Stanford Ovshinsky, the 32-year-old technology allows rewriting of DVDs and CDs. OUM involves the application of an electric current to induce memory cells to shift to either a crystalline or amorphous state, enabling them to be read and written to trillions of times. The memory's density could potentially be multiplied as much as 16 times, but Saied Tehrani of Motorola questions whether OUM can withstand extreme phase change temperatures, or support multibit memory cells.
    Click Here to View Full Article
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  • "Atom-Level Memory Points to Speed Limit"
    EE Times Online (07/25/02); Sowah, Sara

    A team of American and Swiss physicists has created a memory in which data is stored through the detection of a single silicon atom's presence or absence. The device can store 250 Tbits of data per square inch, although Professor Franz Himpsel of Switzerland's University of Basel says that it will take decades to reach this limit. He explains that a silicon substrate is coated with "a touch of gold," which induces atoms to array themselves into five-atom-wide tracks. "We can format the memory by depositing extra atoms, write it by removing atoms with a scanning tunneling microscope, and read it on-the-fly by scanning along the tracks," Himpsel notes. The advantages of this system over prior atomic manipulation systems include stability at room temperature and compatibility with conventional magnetic hard-disk readout methods. Drawbacks include slow writing and reading functions and the fact that the memory is only viable if it is created and maintained in a vacuum. Ratcheting up the system's speed will be the team's next challenge, Himpsel says. The American portion of the team is based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
    http://www.eet.com/at/news/OEG20020725S0006

  • "Future Wireless 'Net to Change Telecom"
    United Press International (07/24/02); Burnell, Scott R.

    MIT Media Lab researchers expect new forms of wireless Internet communications to trigger a dramatic shift in the way telecoms operate. The 802.11 standard is allowing more and more people to access wireless networks without significantly straining them or adding costs, said Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte at a Congressional Internet Caucus conference. "[As this continues] you'll find a seamless broadband telecommunications system built for the people, by the people," he predicted. Negroponte says 802.11 is spreading throughout both metropolitan and rural areas, while the enablement of PDAs, cell phones, and other wireless devices could extend the Internet's reach without requiring additional infrastructure. Media Lab researcher Andrew Lippman declared that each device in such a system could act as a node, allowing more users to access the network without overburdening it. He predicted that telecoms will adopt a decentralized resource allocation model as a result. "[The telecom industry is] going to be revived a la Internet, in an incremental end-user sense, where every consumer decides what they will buy," he said. This development will also spur federal agencies to revamp their policies.
    http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20020724-040156-8926r

  • "New Robot Has Basic Social Skills"
    Associated Press (07/24/02); Lin, Judy

    GRACE (Graduate Robot Attending Conference) will have the opportunity to demonstrate its social skills at this weekend's American Association of Artificial Intelligence's National meeting in Alberta. The autonomous robot uses a combination of artificial intelligence, cameras, and speech recognition software to identify people's gestures and speech, and react accordingly. Among the actions it is expected to perform is signing-in at the registration desk, finding a conference room, delivering a speech, and responding to spoken questions. GRACE, a research product of Carnegie Mellon University, Swarthmore College, the Naval Research Laboratory, Northwestern University, and defense contractor Metrica, has a 50 percent chance of fulfilling all its functions, according to CMU computer scientist Reid Simmons, who recruited drama students to help educate the machine on the finer points of acting human. The Biclops vision system GRACE uses to determine physical gestures was developed by Metrica's TRACLab division, Alan Schultz of the Naval Research Laboratory worked on the speech recognition component, and Simmons covered the registration function.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Senate Bill Would Increase NSF's Spending for Technology Research"
    Chronicle of Higher Education Online (07/26/02); Carnevale, Dan

    The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a bill boosting the National Science Foundation's 2003 fiscal budget by 11.8 percent, which includes earmarking $102.1 million for computer, information science, and engineering research. This year's allocation for those fields is $514.9 million. The additional money is targeted to broadband research and protecting networks from hackers, while research into supercomputing will drop from $35 million in 2002 to $10 million in 2003 under the bill. A pilot program to increase U.S. graduates with technology degrees will jump from $2 million this year to $20 million in fiscal 2003. Meanwhile, the budget for advanced-technology education would climb from $39.6 million this year to $43.2 million in 2003. The bill awaits full Senate approval; the House's NSF funding bill is still pending.
    http://chronicle.com/free/2002/07/2002072603t.htm

  • "What Has Your Floppy Drive Done for You Lately?"
    PCWorld.com (07/24/02); Spring, Tom

    Windows-based PC makers continue to support the floppy drive, despite waning consumer demand. Floppy drives are still a standard component of most consumer desktops, while attempts from IBM and Dell to market "legacy-free" systems were failures. Gateway's Lisa Emard says the floppy disk fulfills a psychological rather than practical need, "because people have always had one they felt like it's a checklist item they need to have." PC makers such as Dell claim that a small number of consumers still need the drives to make emergency boot disks and transfer files, and also argue that it costs less to retain the floppy drive than get rid of it. But floppy disks are losing their appeal as backups--for instance, Microsoft's Windows XP operating system incorporates backup capacity into its installation CD, and it would take six floppy disks to equal such capacity. Experts believe the floppy drive will eventually be phased out by the emergence of more efficient storage technology, such as USB storage devices, CD burners, and removable storage media; email is also gaining strength as a file-transfer format. Although PC makers think the floppy disk still has a few years of life left, its decline is apparent: Disk/Trend estimates that about 5 billion floppy disks were sold annually in the late 1990s, compared to about 1 billion expected for this year.
    http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,103037,00.asp

  • "Coming Soon: Attack of the Super Worms"
    Internet.com (07/23/02); Gaudin, Sharon

    Security experts warn that advanced Internet worms capable of wreaking even more havoc are on the horizon. Symantec's Stephen Trilling expects to see worms that can propagate via instant messaging over the next year or two. "They can steal documents and information from your machine," he notes. "They can create new holes in your system, and once they've taken over your machine, they can launch attacks from it." George Bakos of Dartmouth College's Institute for Security Technology Studies expects hybrid worms to proliferate, and analysts say that recent worms such as Frethem.E and Simile.D are harbingers of this imminent threat: Simile.D, for instance, has the ability to attack both Linux and Windows operating systems. Administrators should be on the lookout for polymorphic worms that can conceal their own presence and worms that can contaminate machines and then establish communication channels with their controllers, according to Bakos. SilentRunner's Dan Woolley predicts the emergence of sleeper worms that infect computers, but activate only when they receive the signal to do so; Trilling is especially concerned by this threat, since such worms could be widely distributed throughout the Internet and then triggered en masse to attack targets as big as whole countries. Worms capable of attacking multiple vulnerabilities, or super worms, are another coming threat.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Open-Source Movement Fueled by Community Spirit"
    SiliconValley.com (07/23/02); Gillmor, Dan

    Community spirit is a key driver of the open source and free software movements, writes Dan Gillmor. Source code is open to the general public, and programmers tweak the code and share it with the rest of the community. This spirit of volunteerism runs counter to economic theory, and Gillmor describes it as "one of the last remaining constraints on monopolists like Microsoft." Not surprisingly, Microsoft has balked: CEO Steve Ballmer once referred to open source as a cancer, while executive Craig Mundie intimated that Microsoft would leverage its patent portfolio against open source developers at the O'Reilly Open Source conference a year ago. However, the company recently appeared to be inching toward the open source model, albeit on a limited basis. For example, its "shared source" project would allow people to view Windows source code in specific circumstances, a move that acknowledges the importance of community feedback. On the other hand, Microsoft's Palladium system, which is designed to enhance computer security, could also be used to block open source software. Nevertheless, there are experts who think that such efforts will come to naught: New York University law professor Yochai Benkler believes that open source could be the template for "a new, third mode of production in the digitally networked environment."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Students Still See Careers With IT Leaders"
    InformationWeek Online (07/24/02); Khirallah, Diane Rezendes

    The computing industry's leading companies are the most popular career choice for today's IT students, according to a survey of 6,000 undergraduates at 56 U.S. colleges by Universum Communications. IT students expect to make $50,000 annually when they start their careers, and expect to stay at their first job at least three to five years. Although Internet firms were the most popular choice last year, they were 16th in the latest survey; entertainment and media companies were the top choice of more ambitious students.
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020724S0001

  • "Britain Gives a Boost to Science"
    Associated Press (07/23/02)

    On July 23, the British government approved a $1.97 billion increase in the Department of Trade and Industry's annual science budget in the hopes of ramping up the nation's capitalization of cutting-edge research. "At the same time that we renew the physical fabric of U.K. science and technology, we need to inspire the next generation of innovators through better technology, science and mathematics education...and a better deal for scientific postgraduate researchers," declared Chief Treasury Secretary Paul Boateng. A significant portion of the money will be used to boost the salaries of researchers who are just starting out, while another part of the plan involves the establishment and funding of a National Center for Excellence in Science Teaching designed to keep science educators abreast of the latest developments in their field. Science research opinion leaders such as the Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine's Sir Richard Sykes praised the plans. "If we are going to compete internationally we need this cash injection to start leveling the playing field," he said.
    http://www.msnbc.com/news/784614.asp

  • "The Endless Search for a Crystal Ball"
    Newsweek Online (07/25/02); Rogers, Michael

    The Longbets.org Web site allows participants to post bets on future technological developments and trends, with winners receiving public credit, while financial winnings go to a charity of their choice. For instance, editor Jason Epstein bet Internet expert Vinton Cerf that over half of the books sold globally will be printed on demand by 2010. Other bets include pilotless passenger planes by 2030 and an intelligent machine capable of passing the Turing Test by 2029. But prediction, as Practical Futurist columnist Michael Rogers points out, is a hazy business--not even researchers closest to the technology may necessarily be able to make accurate guesses. For example, one of Rogers' professors envisioned a laser that could erase typographical errors from typewriter paper, a development that has not come to pass. On the other hand, the same professor predicted the advent of a laser potato peeler, which has been developed. Many people, including corporations, place a lot of stock in science fiction writers as predictors of future trends, but Rogers notes that this is no guarantee. For him, an especially positive aspect of Longbets.org is its recently broadened discussion area. "Its really talking about the future, rather than predicting it, that helps us come up with the best ideas about how to shape it," he writes.
    http://www.msnbc.com/news/772198.asp

  • "Only the Strong Survive"
    Computerworld (07/22/02) Vol. 36, No. 30, P. 34; Anthes, Gary H.

    Computer science ought to draw on biology in order to create more efficient and intelligent systems, says Santa Fe Institute researcher Melanie Mitchell. She says that evolutionary computing is already emerging in many real-world applications, such as for job scheduling, supply chain optimization, and automatic circuit design. More available processing power has been one of the main factors behind the growing use of evolutionary computing, which is made possible through computation-intensive algorithms. Mitchell's research in evolutionary computing and artificial intelligence involves dynamically creating new test cases for systems in order to make them more and more robust, as opposed to using a fixed set of pre-fabricated examples. She says that, eventually, computer science needs to learn how to compute using many simple components completing simple tasks, as is done in biological computation.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Inventor of E-mail, A New Discourse"
    Discover (07/02) Vol. 23, No. 7, P. 78; Newman, Judith

    Email inventor Ray Tomlinson of BBN Technologies is hailed as the winner of the 13th Annual Discover Magazine Award for Innovation in Science and Technology in the field of computing. His invention has fundamentally changed the way people structure their time and communicate, and accelerated the speed and efficiency of discourse. A major turning point in email's creation involved Tomlinson's combining the file-transfer protocols of the CPYNET program with the SNDMSG program's send-and-receive message capacity into a program that enables the transmission of messages between computers. The next step was the establishment of the "@" symbol that keeps the sender's name separate from the host machine. BBN network operator Jerry Burchfiel recalls that when Tomlinson first demonstrated email, his first impulse was not to tell anyone, but Larry Roberts of the Advanced Research Projects Agency was impressed with it and made it a standard tool for all his contractors. Email is one of many projects that Tomlinson has undertaken that have impacted PC development and Internet growth. Such projects include network protocols such as telnet, TCP/IP, and artificial intelligence programs.
    http://www.discover.com/awards/02_awards/computing.html

  • "Waste Not, Want Not"
    Electronic Business (07/02) Vol. 28, No. 7, P. 36; Roberts, Bill

    Roughly 45 participants from the corporate sector, environmental groups, and U.S. federal regulatory agencies have been meeting as part of a National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative (NEPSI) to hammer out a voluntary program for the recycling of electronics products, especially computers and televisions. NEPSI has been meeting since April 2001 under the stewardship of the Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and includes representatives from Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Panasonic, and the EPA. At the same time, legislation in various states is proceeding to mandate the recycling of electronic equipment, especially computer monitors that contain lead. Lead protects computer users from radiation emanating from a computer's cathode ray tube, but in a landfill this lead could decompose and infect ground water. Some NEPSI participants hope to forestall legislation through the adoption of a national voluntary recycling program, and the current debate within NEPSI is over how to fund such a program--through fees embedded in the purchase price, or through fees at the tail-end, when a consumer wants to junk old equipment. The private industry has problems with up-front fees, says Electronics Industries Alliance official Heather Bowman, who adds that legislation would be needed to institute up-front recycling fees across the industry. Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition director Ted Smith says a voluntary program will not work and will penalize responsible companies with extra costs and "put the good guys at a competitive disadvantage." Meanwhile, cell phones will soon become a recycling question and toxic concern; U.S. citizens will discard about 130 million cell phones per year starting in 2005, predicts Inform.
    Click Here to View Full Article