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Timely Topics for IT Professionals

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


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Volume 4, Issue 379: Monday, July 29, 2002

  • "Technology Climate Is Gloomy, But Its Future Still Seems Bright"
    New York Times (07/29/02) P. C1; Lohr, Steve

    Technology continues to pervade today's cultural, scientific, and business realms, despite the continued slump in the industry. While the business metrics of IT companies continue to degrade, the situation has resulted in a consumer bonanza as companies cut prices and compete technologically. Dan Bricklin, who co-invented the VisiCalc spreadsheet application in 1979, says the core group of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs are still enthused about technology, even if there is less money to be made. Venture capital, the lifeblood of America's startup culture, has not disappeared altogether either, having dished out around $6 billion in the first two quarters this year. Although that figure is far less than the $27.4 billion spent the second half of 2000, it is more than was seen in the decade before the last half of 1999. Andy van Dam, a pioneer in the computer graphics field, points out the lasting quality of technological progress. He says graphics technology that renders entirely digital scenes in films is being pressed forward by the same type of people who struggled with him in the 1960s to get an ACM SIG established in this field. And as computer science works its way into more fields, it is taking on more of a interdisciplinary feel and attracting more women, who now make up a growing 19 percent of computer science majors.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/29/technology/29POKE.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "FBI Plans to Fight Terror With High-Tech Arsenal"
    Los Angeles Times (07/29/02) P. A1; Piller, Charles; Lichtblau, Eric

    The FBI is working to reengineer its tremendous pile of disparate information into an efficient data mining system by Sept.11, 2004, while the planned incorporation of artificial-intelligence software will hopefully facilitate the prediction of terrorist acts by 2011. With the current system, one must comb through 42 databanks of case files, memos, video footage, fingerprints, and mug shots to carry out an electronic search. The bureau says it intends to transition from paper files and text-only electronic databases to a "virtual case file" system, and has asked for $76 million for database consolidation in the next fiscal year. The FBI is taking its cues from corporate projects that are gaining popularity in the intelligence community, and experts cite federal initiatives such as the Defense Department's Global Command and Control system, which uses off-the-shelf commercial hardware and software, as a model. Critics of the proposal argue that competence levels of FBI personnel are a problem, one that will only worsen with the addition of new technology; adding to the difficulty is the fact that much of the bureau's Web content is still out of date or inaccurate, while privacy issues over FBI computer programs such as Carnivore are exacerbating the situation. Also raising concerns is President Bush's directive to transfer the FBI's cyber-crime unit to the newly created Homeland Security Department. The formidable task of information management will be dwarfed by the bureau's need to secure the data, according to former technology transition manager Robert J. Chiaradio. Intelligence experts also say that predictive data mining is still a very young science.
    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-techno29jul29.story
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Linux Poised to Plug in USB 2"
    CNet (07/26/02); Shankland, Stephen

    USB 2 support will be included in the upcoming 2.4.19 kernel of the Linux operating system, demonstrating that the open-source community can keep abreast of the latest technology changes. USB 2 connections transfer data at speeds up to 480 Mbps, far more than the 12 Mbps allowed with the first version of USB. Linux version 2.4.19 will allow programmers to create the software interfaces necessary to make USB 2 compatible with Linux-based machines. The Linux development kernel, the 2.5 series, has included USB 2 support for some time, and custom patches from major Linux vendors have been available. Meanwhile, Microsoft added USB 2 support through its online Windows Update service earlier this year. Linux vendors had different expectations for USB 2 support, with Red Hat kernel engineering manager Michael K. Johnson saying he expected some bugs to be worked out since USB 2 is new to the 2.4 production kernel. Although USB 2.0 will not be instantly compatible with Linux-based devices, the new version will make the writing of "drivers" more practical, according to programmer David Brownell.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1001-946510.html

  • "Grants Awarded to Forward-Looking Tech Vendors"
    IDG News Service (07/25/02); Niccolai, James

    California's Technology, Trade, and Commerce Agency has awarded Next Generation Internet (NGI) grants to seven small IT firms in the state in order to boost California's technology edge. In addition to the cash grants, the companies will have access to government-affiliated projects and resources, such as the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) and the California Research and Education Network, an advanced high-speed network used for academic and scientific purposes. The program awarded money to Saltare, a company developing real-time supply chain management tools; San Diego-based StoragePoint, a maker of business-to-business e-commerce software; and other startups. Blue Titan Software, another recipient, will use part of the grant money on a collaborative project with the SDSC that will help the government respond more effectively to a disaster, such as a toxic spill. Blue Titan's product would enable officials to upload critical data more rapidly onto their supercomputing grid at the SDSC for analysis and scenario-modeling. Meanwhile, CRIA Technologies is creating software that service providers and corporations can use for IT services outsourcing management. Grant program manager CommerceNet said the amount each recipient received was "in the low six figures."
    http://www.itworld.com/Tech/2403/020725grants/

  • "Q&A: U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson on PC Recycling"
    Computerworld Online (07/26/02); Thibodeau, Patrick

    Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) has proposed legislation calling for EPA-coordinated PC recycling centers funded by an upfront fee attached to every PC purchase; end users would be required to pay as much as $10 for every monitor and another $10 for every computer. In an interview with Computerworld's Patrick Thibodeau, Thompson argues that a solid recycling program is needed in order to efficiently recirculate or dispose of a huge number of computers without threatening the environment or overtaxing landfills. He states that all end users will be responsible for contributing financially to the solution. The recycling centers furnished by the collected fees would be organized by local communities that apply to the EPA for a grant, Thompson explains. Although he acknowledges that private-sector companies are making an effort to properly dispose of electronic waste, it is not, in his opinion, effective enough. Thompson says, "There are still people who are shipping these things primarily to Asia where they have, in many cases, children taking them apart and they dispose of them in environmentally inappropriate places and the kids who are taking them apart are exposed to all the toxic materials." He does not believe that his bill will be approved this year, but it will hopefully spark the PC recycling debate.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Movie Studios Press Congress in Digital Copyright Dispute"
    New York Times (07/29/02) P. C3; Harmon, Amy

    Copyright holders such as movie studios are applauding congressional legislation calling for the institution of digital copyright protections to stem piracy, while consumer proponents and technology executives worry that such measures could severely curtail the use of digital content. Reps. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.) and Howard Coble (R-N.C.) proposed a bill allowing copyright owners to legally disable or impair a "publicly accessible peer-to-peer network" to forestall the swapping of their digital works, as long as users' computers are not damaged. File-sharing software providers have decried the bill, arguing that it promotes "vigilante justice." Meanwhile, a draft Senate bill from Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) designed to prohibit the forging of holograms and other watermarks that software producers use to authenticate CDs now encompasses consumer products such as movies and music; such legislation would impose fines on consumers who remove digital watermarks. Particularly disturbing about the bill is its exclusion of allowances for research, satire, or commentary. Last week, several members of Congress lobbied the FCC to require that computer, TV, and recording device manufacturers incorporate digital rights management technology into their products so that TV viewers would be unable to redistribute digital broadcasts online. Motion Picture Association of America President Jack Valenti says such protections will encourage the entertainment industry to disseminate its content digitally, but Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn claims that high cost and a lack of a business model are the real reasons copyright owners have not put their assets online.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/29/technology/29DIGI.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Optimism Returns to Indian IT Firms"
    BBC News Online (07/26/02); Sharma, Anil

    India-based Infosys reported a 14 percent increase in net profits during the first quarter of 2002, which represents part of the resurgence of India's IT economy after two years in the doldrums due to the global economic slowdown. Many global multinationals are outsourcing work to India's software companies, and over $5 billion in contracts is estimated to be awaiting India-based firms. India's hardware sector is also showing growth, and Indian IT hirings recently spiked upward. Both hardware and software companies appear to be hiring, including Reliance Infocom, which plans to hire 5,000 people, and Infosys, which plans to wrap up a 1,000 person hiring drive in September 2002. Tata Consultancy Services plans to add 3,000 software professionals over the course of this year. The diffusion of tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir has also enabled once-hesitant international companies to re-enter the Indian market with confidence, according to Jaipur software executive Anshuman Deb Burman. Total 2002-2003 revenues for India-based software companies will be about $12.3 billion, reports an Indian software trade association. In addition, IT exports should grow by 22 percent, and IT services exports by 65 percent.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/business/2153083.stm

  • "Unheralded Hard Drives a Catalyst for Better Gadgets"
    Associated Press (07/28/02); Wong, May

    As hard drives become denser, smaller, and less expensive, they are fueling the development of smaller and more powerful gadgets. International Data (IDC) projects that hard drive shipments will climb to 213 million in 2002 and 352 million in 2006; the incorporation of hard drives into non-PC devices--cable and satellite set-top boxes, game consoles, car accessories, home security systems, etc.--will be a major driving force behind this uptick. Seagate Technology, Toshiba, and Microsoft are among the companies creating products with built-in hard drives. The technology's reliability and speed is also increasing, while design improvements such as a switch to fluid- instead of ball-bearing motors is reducing noise. However, one of the drawbacks of hard drives is their limited durability: Analysts do not think most hard drives last as long as their typical three- to five-year warranties, and always recommend that users store critical data on backup copies.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "A Digital Nudge for Cocktail Conversation"
    ABCNews.com (07/26/02); Vida, Francine

    Accenture Technology Labs researchers have united speech recognition technology with wearable computing in the prototype Personal Awareness Assistant, which is designed to be a memory aide. The device consists of a wearable computer with an audio buffer and two wireless microphones, one worn in the ear and the other around the waist. The always-on system buffers the last 60 seconds of audio, and commits a portion of that audio to memory when it receives a spoken command from the user. For instance, if a person wanted to remember someone they meet again later on, the device can be programmed to recognize the phrase "nice to meet you," and store the 10 seconds of the recorded audio before the phrase is spoken, as well as the 5 seconds after it is spoken. The Personal Awareness Assistant uses a Global Positioning System to assign date, time, and location to the recorded audio. The device can also be used to enhance business meetings via wireless connections; for example, colleagues can remind a presenter about company figures by monitoring the conference and typing in data on computers, which is translated into audio and relayed to the speaker through the ear microphone. Accenture research associate Dana Le notes that the device is heavy, which could limit its commercial appeal until a more portable solution, such as attaching the device to a cell phone or PDA, is developed. IBM's Ozzie Osborne expects speech recognition products such as the Personal Awareness Assistant to hit the market over the next year.
    http://abcnews.go.com/sections/scitech/CuttingEdge/cuttingedge020726.html

  • "Deep Space Probes Could Communicate Better Using Laser Light, Researchers Say"
    United Press International (07/25/02); Brown, Irene

    Transparent Networks researcher Alex Harwitt and research colleagues are urging NASA to switch deep-space communication systems from relying on radio waves to using near-infrared lasers. Japanese and European space agencies have tested laser communications technology for space with success, and an article on the subject co-authored by Harwitt is appearing in the latest journal of Science. NASA Deep Space Network programs manager James Lesh says 20 years ago scientists did not feel comfortable with laser technology, but today lasers could be used in space to probe phenomena, such as atmospheric effects of planets. NASA is currently increasing its deep-space data transmission capacity exponentially by moving from x-band to ka-band; but Lesh says that lasers would boost capacity not just exponentially, but in terms of what can be transmitted, such as mapping imagery, which is a problem now. It would take about 10 to 15 years to develop a near-infrared-based system for NASA missions if work began today, Harwitt says.
    http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20020725-024400-8165r

  • "New Zurich Nanotech Lab Will Help Advance Industry"
    Small Times Online (07/23/02); Thompson, Valerie

    The FIRST (Frontiers in Research, Space & Time) laboratory which opened this month at Zurich's Swiss Institute of Technology is collaborating with private-sector partners on nanotechnology and microtechnology projects. GigaTera will use the lab to develop active photonic elements, says CEO Andros Payne. GigaTera-FIRST initiatives include the size reduction of a near-infrared laser for high-speed routers, and the fabrication of semiconductor mirrors for the same product. Other high-tech companies developing laser technologies with FIRST researchers include Avalon Photonics and OptoSpeed. The combination of basic and applied research that the lab follows will help commercialize technology, according to In-Stat/MDR MEMS analyst Marlene Bourne. Researcher Klaus Ensslin is conducting nanofabrication and nanolithography experiments using FIRST's atomic force microscope; he explains that he is trying to customize the size and shapes of semiconductor nanostructures with this technique. "Along with electron beam lithography, Ensslins technique represents the only way to achieve the extremely high resolution lithography required by future generations of processors," declares Peter De Wolf of Veeco Instruments. In the past five years, the Zurich campus has produced over 125 official spinoff firms, while published reports indicate that its commercial spinoff rate is equal to that of MIT or Stanford University in the United States.
    http://www.smalltimes.com/document_display.cfm/?document_id=4217

  • "Chinese Developers Place Confidence in Open Source"
    ZDNet Australia (07/25/02); Colley, Andrew

    Chinese software developers are embracing open source technology more than their U.S. counterparts, reports the first-ever Evans Data survey of the People's Republic of China. About 70 percent in China plan to write programs for Linux in 2003, compared to 40 percent in the United States; Chinese developers are also more bullish on open source's use in mission-critical applications. Still, the Evans report notes that this enthusiasm signifies an intention to act rather actual ongoing development. Windows 98 pushed ahead of Windows 2000 as China's most used platform, reports Evans. In terms of the future, the Chinese government is interested in developing a rival platform free of proprietary shackles. Evans researcher Esther Schindler notes Chinese developers average about 12 years less experience than their U.S. counterparts, and so their curiosity and enthusiasm for open source and other new technologies may be novice. Schindler also noted that the country's socialist culture may influence their preference for open source. Schindler says, "I raise my eyebrows in curiosity and wonder at the delightful interest that Chinese developers have in every technology and every thing that we've asked of them."
    http://uk.news.yahoo.com/020725/152/d5y66.html

  • "Esther Dyson Defends ICANN"
    Salon.com (07/25/02); Manjoo, Farhad

    Esther Dyson, the founding chair of ICANN and currently a member ICANN's at-large study committee, says the institution needs to change its method of operations, but that critics are unreasonable in some of their calls for reform. In an interview with Salon.com, Dyson says she believes that the best way to improve ICANN's operation is to work from within to change the attitudes of board members and foster an at large organization. Critics such as board member Karl Auerbach are being unproductive by filing lawsuits and making claims of financial misuse, she remarks. Dyson hopes that the Department of Commerce will step in to resolve some of the problems by forcing ICANN directors to respond to suggestions. The current architecture for Internet domains is inherently flawed, says Dyson, because it is based on names rather than identifiers, such as a bank account number. Identifiers are much more informative and unique, and are not encumbered by many of the issues surrounding ownership of names. Responding to calls for more top-level domains, a move she supports, she says even with many more TLDs, "you'd end up with the same issues." Another reason for ICANN's problems is its lack of resources to conduct adequate public relations, Dyson says. Dyson supports the election of board members, as well as input from users when establishing ICANN policy. She says ICANN has an important role in settling global policy issues, but argues that "the less power it has, the better."
    http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2002/07/25/dyson/index.html?x

  • "ICANN Delays Naming .Org Successor"
    InternetNews.com (07/26/02)

    ICANN missed a self-imposed deadline this week when it failed to publish a preliminary evaluation of the merits of all 11 .org bidders, and now ICANN has announced a delay in its decision concerning management of .org. ICANN plans to publicize its merit evaluation on Aug. 19, and award .org to one of 11 bidders in late September. Dot-org bidder Register ORGanization has enough funding to get .org off the ground, but company president Jonathan Wales says that further delays will derail the possibility of some bidders to be effective. Dot-org is scheduled to be transferred from VeriSign to the new .org registry on Jan. 1, 2003, and according to Wales, many bidders need ample time before that day to create a business plan, organize, and secure funding. Many .org bidders are relying on VeriSign's pledged donation of $5 million for migration costs to help fund their registry, says Wales. If the ICANN-chosen .org registry cannot take over .org on Jan. 1, VeriSign could be in a position to renegotiate its pledge to donate $5 million to the next registry.
    http://siliconvalley.internet.com/news/article.php/1433501

  • "PGP on Shaky Ground"
    Computerworld (07/22/02) Vol. 36, No. 30, P. 33; Radcliff, Deborah

    Phil Zimmerman authored Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) in the early 1990s, but decided to sell the encryption technology to Network Associates two years ago when it became obvious that it was not a money-making endeavor. This past February, Network Associates dropped its support for PGP, even though large businesses such as Lockheed Martin use PGP on a small scale for critical communications and file encryption. PGP has been a popular technology with German businesses, according to Werner Koch, lead developer at GNU Privacy Guard (GNUPG), which markets a product that is similar in concept to PGP. "In the past year, a lot of companies have installed PGP for their email encryption because of demands from their suppliers to encrypt business-to-business communications," says Koch. Now that PGP has been discontinued, these same companies find themselves in a tight spot, as PGP patches and updates are no longer being issued, says Koch. Supporters of PGP believe more options will develop from the PGP open standard. Former PGP developer Jon Callas, who now works as a senior systems architect at a San Francisco Bay-area technology company, strongly believes that within half a year there will be more commercial support for PGP end users.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Are You Blogging Yet?"
    InformationWeek (07/22/02) No. 898,; Foley, John

    Although some say that Web logging, or blogging as it is more commonly known, will replace conventional journalism, the majority's view is that it will actually complement traditional media with new voices and new forms of discourse, and extend it to a wider audience. Some people, such as UserLand Software's John Robb, believe the adoption of blogs as a corporate tool is likely--for instance, employees could use blogs as a medium for collaboration, as well as a way to record on-the-job observations, thus ensuring that they receive credit should these insights prove useful. Also favoring the corporate application of blogs is their ease of use, and they also have a less disruptive presence than email. However, blogging's collaborative potential can only be fulfilled through a shift in corporate culture to a more democratic, less authoritarian mindset concerning employee communication and opinions. The tendency of bloggers to link to other weblogs as well as news stories and other types of content has led to the formation of large-scale information networks accessible through portal blogs. People do not necessarily need to use technology from specialized blogging enablement vendors in order to build blogs. However, one of the disadvantages of blogs is that many people use them to jot down trivial--and sometimes embarrassing--details about themselves. Some people also think that the term "blogging" should be changed to reflect a more serious attitude, particularly if bloggers are to maintain a sense of propriety.
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020719S0001

  • "Server Blades"
    InfoWorld (07/22/02) Vol. 24, No. 29, P. 36; Yager, Tom

    Server blade technology offers a wealth of features that promise to give midrange customers the advantages of large-scale servers at affordable prices. Their small size makes them easier to manage than clusters, they are very energy-efficient and generate less heat, and they boast more expandability and resiliency than conventional multiprocessor systems. In an InfoWorld survey of over 500 readers, large blade vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and IBM are attracting a greater percentage of buyers than blade pioneers such as RLX. A lack of blade standards has also had little impact on the market's growth. This year will see the market debut of first-generation server blades, but vendors are already planning to introduce faster and denser servers in 2004. Adopters of the technology could be better served if they ask vendors critical questions about interoperability, projected product life spans, and standards involvement. But survey respondents are more concerned right now with blade reliability, availability, serviceability, and manageability.
    http://www.infoworld.com/articles/fe/xml/02/07/22/020722feintro.xml

  • "Driving Mr. Desai"
    Siliconindia (07/02) Vol. 6, No. 7, P. 26; Schram, Art

    IBM's Director of Worldwide Automotive Solutions Raj Desai is leading his company's effort to establish an open platform on which to build pervasive auto-based computing applications, but IBM is approaching the challenge from the auto manufacturer's and business application's point of view rather than from the consumer's. Desai, a stalwart advocate of pervasive computing, believes that telematics systems with diagnostic and defect detection capabilities can significantly reduce warranty costs and expensive recalls for automakers. The Java-based platform's open nature means that any number of present and future telematics applications can be quickly developed. Desai believes that trucks as well as cars can reap rewards from the technology--one money-saving telematics application he envisions is maintaining trucks' optimum fuel efficiency according to driving altitude, which can be easily facilitated by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and wireless technology. Telematics could also help reduce insurance premiums by keeping insurers abreast of weekly vehicle usage, and help prevent fraud by providing critical details in the event of accidents. Desai says the success of IBM's telematics initiative will greatly depend on value chain partnerships between the company and automakers, insurers, petroleum vendors, and others; such relationships will be key to providing innovative content and applications that attract customers. IBM, however, will leave content creation to its partners. McKinsey reports that certain analysts and executives think that the U.S. telematics market could be worth $40 billion by 2010, and Desai believes that technology components and software will soon account for as much as 45 percent of cars' high-end value.

  • "Collaborative Augmented Reality"
    Communications of the ACM (07/02) Vol. 45, No. 7, P. 64; Billinghurst, Mark; Kato, Hirokazu

    Augmented reality (AR) systems, in which virtual objects are superimposed over real-world environments via special interfaces, are being developed to enhance both remote and face-to-face collaboration. The advantages AR has over traditional desktop videoconferencing include better representation of spatial cues that improve users' shared understanding and promote group interaction, and the seamless way in which virtuality and the real world can be blended together. Face-to-face AR allows users to view virtual objects as well as each other at the same time, while co-located AR interfaces enables them to manipulate virtual content using familiar physical objects. One interface used for remote collaboration featured a head-mounted display that users wore, allowing them to see life-sized virtual images of remote collaborators on physical cards that were portable and could be arranged on any surface; multiple remote users could also be viewed at the same time. However, the current level of AR technology still has drawbacks--the wearable displays cover the user's eyes, thus cutting off an important communication cue. Furthermore, what the user sees through the display has limited field of view, resolution, and color depth, compared to what the naked eye sees. Tracking and registration techniques also need to be refined, while the effect of AR technologies on collaboration needs to be more thoroughly researched.