Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

About ACM TechNews

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


ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either HP or ACM.

To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.

Volume 4, Issue 380: Wednesday, July 31, 2002

  • "FCC Chief Cites Internet Weak Spot"
    Wall Street Journal (07/31/02) P. A2; Dreazen, Yochi J.

    Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell told the Senate Commerce Committee yesterday that he might not be able to stop WorldCom from shutting down its Internet backbone service, UUNet. Although Powell was confident of his ability to prevent phone services from being abruptly dropped, he said telecommunications and bankruptcy laws were at odds, and made his authority over Internet services unclear. Powell also said the current consolidation going on in the telecommunications market was unavoidable and might necessitate a previously untenable merger, such as one between long distance carrier WorldCom and one of the Baby Bell companies. Committee Chairman Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) said he was set to introduce new legislation that would give the FCC more control in cases of bankruptcy. Hollings, however, said he would block one bill coming in from the House of Representatives that would give the FCC more powers because it would also make the Baby Bell local monopolies more dominant in the broadband arena. Powell noted that backbone companies may be legally able to ignore FCC directives and start cutting service to customers before they have a chance to switch providers.
    http://www.msnbc.com/news/788023.asp

  • "States Spar Over Stalled Software Act"
    CNet (07/30/02); Festa, Paul

    At this week's annual meeting of the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL), representatives plan to address several amendments to the controversial Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA). The amendments aim to make the proposed law more palatable for consumer groups and the raft of others voicing opposition to UCITA, which is meant to provide standard software licensing. Some of the changes include, for example, the elimination of self-help provisions for software vendors, so they cannot disable applications remotely if there is a contract dispute. Companies who bought software would also be able to reverse-engineer it for the express purpose of creating interoperable applications. UCITA would also be trumped by existing state consumer laws and not protect vendors who sell products with known defects. However, NCCUSL representatives caution that a watered-down UCITA would receive less backing from groups that had previously pushed it, including the Business Software Alliance, Microsoft, and other software companies. To date, UCITA has only been passed as law in Maryland and Virginia, while the effort to implement it has been stymied by widespread opposition elsewhere.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1023-947182.html

  • "Ailing Valley Searches Its Soul"
    SiliconValley.com (07/28/02); Quinn, Michelle; Dunlap, Kamika

    Residents of Silicon Valley are questioning what role their culture played in the current economic crash and the euphoria that led up to it. Whereas foreign countries previously sent delegations to come study Silicon Valley, much of the country now views the dot-com mania that was fostered in the region as the cause for the nation's general economic malaise. Even people who were a part of the Valley engine are severely disillusioned, such as Nick Rafati, a network engineer whose qualifications and certifications are becoming less marketable the more time he spends out of work. Some, however, are resolute optimists and see the current travails as just an episode the Valley is going through. Christine Cory, still actively looking for work after three months, remains optimistic and notes that "we still have cultural diversity and brains here. I think technology is here to stay." Pepperdine University research fellow Joel Kotkin says that current predictions of the Valley's demise are not the first, but that they have persisted for 20 years unfulfilled. Jim Collins, who wrote the book "Good to Great," says that although the relative value of Silicon Valley in the eyes of the public has changed, its real value has remained the same as it was five years ago.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/news/local/3751793.htm

  • "White House Sounds Call for New Internet Standards"
    TechNews.com (07/30/02); Krebs, Brian

    White House chief cybersecurity adviser Richard Clarke said on Tuesday that the 20-year-old protocols supporting the Internet may need to be upgraded in order to address the potential security vulnerabilities of increasing numbers of wireless devices. He added that policy suggestions to boost wireless security will be included in a national cybersecurity defense strategy currently being drafted by the White House and private industry. The World Information Technology and Services Alliance and the Wireless IT Research Group recently estimated that almost 81 percent of major enterprises use or intend to use wireless networks. Clarke warned that shoddy network configuration is practically an invitation to hackers, and declared that wireless network providers are required to disclose any product-related security risks to their clients. "The hope is that [Clarke's] words will stimulate work in this area so that the bulk of devices out there will one day have better security than they might have otherwise," noted computer scientist Vinton Cerf. The telecom sector's current prospects may prompt the government itself to fund the research and development of more robust security and communications protocols, Clarke said.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A22535-2002Jul30.html

  • "IT Professionals Feel the Pressure"
    InformationWeek Online (07/29/02); D'Antoni, Helen

    IT professionals are as vulnerable to the mental pressures of work-related stress as any other worker, and a survey of 5,174 IT employees in InformationWeek's 2002 National IT Salary Survey finds that more than 50 percent note an escalation of stress in the last 12 months. Three in five IT managers agree that workdays have become more stressful. Some of this pressure may stem from job uncertainty, but half of 120 business-technology professionals polled by Optimize claim that their staffs have been saddled with increasing responsibility for showing returns on IT investments in the last 12 months. The temperamental nature of technologies geared to boost corporate productivity is an added source of pressure. Only two out of five respondents to the Optimize survey say that their systems and products are flexible enough to smoothly adjust to fluctuating business demands. Work-related stress and remedies for it are likely to become more important as profitability and productivity are impacted by projected increases in workplace pressures. One possible solution is for business management to modify new or existing business processes, but 5 percent of Optimize survey respondents indicate that their IT departments ignore such requests. On the positive side, over 50 percent of business executives list their IT departments as very responsive.
    http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020725S0006

  • "Virtual Real Estate Is a Buyer's Market"
    Los Angeles Times (07/29/02) P. C1; Huffstutter, P. J.; Kaplan, Karen

    In the past, cybersquatters made millions from domains like business.com, wine.com, and WallStreet.com, but today both sex247.net and PopeOnline.net are being hawked on GreatDomains.com for just a few hundred dollars. Companies have been releasing unused addresses, and IT corporate failures have also brought some domain names back to market. "The .com land grab is done," says US Bancorp Piper Jaffrey analyst C. Eugene Munster. BulkRegister's Tom D'Alleva says the domain name industry needs to reinvent itself to serve the changing market landscape, and that although the speculative boom is softening, "the days of hunting out a real business opportunity are here." The tapering of the dot-com boom represents the end of a brief, frenzied era. Domain name owner Lynn Atkinson has had YoursForTheMoney.com for sale for six months now without a reasonable offer; Kraft Foods recently allowed AmericasCheeseExperts.com to lapse; and Johnson & Johnson has also shed names. Dot-com, .net, and .org domain names peaked at roughly 30.7 million registrations in Sept. 2001, but have since shrunk 11 percent to 27.3 million registrations as of June 1, 2002. NetNames reports that registrations are around 31 million names if ccTLDs are included, and according to Nua.com, Internet use around the world has grown to 581 million people as of May 2002, compared with 463 million in May 2001.
    http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/front/la-fi-netnames29jul29.story
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "ACLU Pushes for Open Access"
    CNet (07/30/02); Wolverton, Troy

    Open access between rival cable companies' broadband networks is essential if people are to enjoy wide availability of online content, according to consumer advocacy organizations who conferred at a town hall meeting on Monday. "Without open access, there will be fewer choices, fewer ways of getting to the Internet," warned Center for Digital Democracy executive director Jeffrey Chester. The ACLU commissioned a report detailing ways cable companies could open their networks to competing ISPs while incurring only minor maintenance and upgrade costs. Keeping networks closed off would stifle competition among cable Internet providers and block or slow down access to consumers, while the companies themselves could accelerate access to their specific sites and those of their partners. Furthermore, limited access will mean less opportunities for free speech. Consolidation is growing in the cable industry, and in March the FCC decided to allow cable companies to deny smaller rival operators access to their networks. Chester noted that technical or geographical limitations will keep competing broadband technologies such as DSL, wireless, and satellite from threatening cable's domination of the market.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1033-947274.html

  • "Humpty Dumpty Restored: When Disorder Lurches Into Order"
    New York Times (07/30/02) P. D3; Chang, Kenneth

    An experiment that Australian researchers reported in the current issue of Physical Review Letters apparently violates the second law of thermodynamics, demonstrating that molecule-scale machines may run backward. Scientists at Australian National University and Griffith University suspended a minuscule, transparent bead in a puddle of water and then used a laser to slowly drag it through the puddle. For the most part, the water resisted and slowed the bead's movement, but for periods of up to two seconds water molecules assumed a more orderly arrangement and pushed the bead ahead, demonstrating a violation of entropy, according to chemist Dr. Edith M. Sevick. The test upholds the paradox of the spontaneous order effect, which states that the laws of physics run fine forward and backward at the atomic level but do not in everyday life. "It's unexpected there could be an experimental verification of this theorem," notes Dr. Peter T. Cummings of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He adds that this breakthrough "puts it squarely in the realm where it may have practical significance," particularly in the field of nanotechnology.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/30/science/physical/30ENTR.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Tiny Device Traps Electrons for Quantum Computing"
    NewsFactor Network (07/29/02); Lyman, Jay

    A single electron transistor devised by University of Wisconsin scientists snares individual electrons for quantum dot semiconductors, a breakthrough that could be a significant step toward quantum computing. The quantum dots are composed of one electron each and a small amount of silicon-geranium, which instills compatibility with conventional silicon-based microelectronics, according to UW project researcher Mark Eriksson. Aligning the quantum dots turns them into viable qubits, the building blocks of quantum computing. "The first prerequisite to building a large computer is to have a lot of bits, and we think we have a way to get a lot of them," Eriksson explains. He says the device could also help facilitate advanced encryption and decryption, and the construction of large databases. However, the transistor is only operable in the presence of a magnetic field and extremely cold temperatures, but Eriksson is confident that these design limitations will eventually be eliminated. There are other projects edging toward quantum computing, such as a spintronic transistor developed by Ottawa's Institute for Microstructural Sciences, which also requires a magnetic field and cryogenic temperatures to function. Eriksson says the variety of quantum computing initiatives proceeding simultaneously is an important factor for identifying and overcoming engineering challenges.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/18794.html

  • "Quantum Net for Atom Angling"
    Nature Online (07/30/02); Ball, Philip

    Roberto Diener and fellow researchers at the University of Texas at Austin report that physicists should be able to trap exact numbers of atoms from Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) using a device called a quantum dot. Up to now, they have used scanning tunneling microscopes to pick up atoms from the surfaces of solids, but Diner's team clearly demonstrates a technique for delicately snaring single atoms in a BEC. The quantum dot is "dipped" into the BEC, where it draws in atoms, and the number of atoms it holds on to depends on how quickly the dot is pulled out. The research team shows that one atom will remain in the dot within a certain range of speeds, while two atoms could be caught in a faster range of speeds, etc. In addition, the atoms trapped in the quantum dot would retain their interdependent quantum state. BEC manipulation is an important step toward quantum computing. Physicists worked out a way to manipulate a BEC suspended above a microchip last year. Quantum dots, which typically are just a few millionths of a millimeter across, exhibit quantum mechanics-based properties that are determined by their size.
    http://www.nature.com/nsu/020729/020729-1.html

  • "Wi-Fi Honeypots a New Hacker Trap"
    SecurityFocus Online (07/29/02); Poulsen, Kevin

    A new defense against Wi-Fi hackers, a wireless honeypot, was launched on June 15 by Science Applications International (SAIC) under the aegis of the Wireless Information Security Experiment (WISE). WISE head Rob Lee says the purpose of the initiative is to survey the magnitude of wireless hacking in Washington, D.C., with its ultimate goal being a way to passively identify the diverse scanning tools hackers use to find network vulnerabilities. An 802.11b network at an undisclosed location in the nation's capital serves as bait; it features five Cisco access points from which connection data is extracted via a logging host on the back-end, while intruders are sensed by a passive 802.11b sniffer with a specially tailored detection system. A pair of omnidirectional high-gain antennas will allow any hacker within a radius of a few blocks to enter the trap. The SAIC honeypot has not snared any notorious hackers since becoming operational, but approval from the honeypot community may lead to similar deployments in other metropolitan areas. Security researcher Peter Shipley is doubtful that wireless honeypot projects will be able to truly distinguish between accidental and intentional intruders on a wireless network.
    http://online.securityfocus.com/news/552

  • "Bill Would Allow 'Ethical' Hacking to Track Copyright Theft"
    Boston Globe (07/29/02) P. C2; Bray, Hiawatha

    Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) seeks to outlaw peer-to-peer (P2P) file swapping of copyrighted materials by introducing a bill that would grant copyright holders the right to legally hack into P2P networks, a proposal that has sparked protest among digital community members. But a spokesman for Berman declares that the legislation would not allow copyright owners to damage the computers or erase the files of the systems they hack into. Companies would only be able to halt the transfer of their specific intellectual property, while legal P2P transactions would go unmolested. Furthermore, companies would be liable for any damage to the victims' computer systems that exceeds $50. However, although companies will be required to inform the U.S. attorney general on the hacking techniques they wish to employ, they do not have to disclose that information to the public--nor do they have to identify themselves to network users. Chris Wysopal, @Stake director of research and development, believes that companies will launch denial-of-service attacks to stem illegal file sharing, since the method carries the lowest risk of inflicting damage. But he adds that the P2P networks would not have much difficulty in installing countermeasures that can detect such intrusions and eject intruders. "It's going to be a cat-and-mouse game, and I don't see how [copyright owners] can win," Wysopal notes.
    http://digitalmass.boston.com/news/globe_tech/upgrade/2002/0729.html

  • "Tabletop System Generates Extreme-UV Laser Light"
    EE Times Online (07/30/02); Johnson, R. Colin

    Researchers at the University of Colorado have reengineered a $100,000 commercial laser into a device that upconverts visible laser light into the extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) spectrum and could be used to directly image nanostructures. "What this technology allows us to do is to take the same high-quality laser beam in the visible [spectrum], and translate that into much shorter wavelengths, which is normally very difficult to do," explains University of Colorado physics professor Margaret Murnane. The field of study that produced the laser is called high-harmonic generation (HHG), in which visible or ultraviolet laser light is fired into a gas, causing ionization and a transfer of energy from the basic frequency into higher harmonic orders. The tabletop system, which can built from off-the-shelf components for a mere $5,000, generates a coherent 13-nm EUV beam that could one day benefit VLSI lithography with further development. For this to happen, the laser's output of approximately one milliwatt will have to be raised to about 100 watts. Integrating the light source with a microscope would allow engineers to not only observe nanoscale structures, but also witness molecular level processes, such as atomic bonding, as they occur. Murnane adds that even with its 1-milliwatt power limit, the laser's high peak power and tunable wavelength would make the device useful for photo inspection, microscopy, and holography.
    http://www.eetonline.com/at/news/OEG20020730S0041

  • "Anemone of the Smart People"
    Wired News (07/30/02); Stroud, Michael

    Robots, sensory enhancement, and augmented reality illustrated the theme of human-machine interaction at the Emerging Technologies Exhibition--a featured highlight of the 2002 ACM SIGGRAPH conference in San Antonio last week. MIT Media Lab researchers showed off the "Interactive Window," a sheet of glass connected to sensors that displays images in response to touch; its potential applications include enhanced retail-store windows and museum displays. The Media Lab also demonstrated "Public Anemone," an artificial creature with fiber-optic tentacles that respond to external stimuli such as touch, motion, and light. The robot category featured a machine named Lewis programmed to identify people and extract their faces from their skin tones, and snap digital pictures of them. Bill Smart of Washington University in St. Louis said Lewis' purpose is to show how well such a system functions in real-world situations. Meanwhile, the Japan Science and Technology Corp. brought out "SmartFinger," a chip attached to a person's finger that transmits sensations to the skin when the finger touches printed words and diagrams; such technology could be advantageous to the visually handicapped, according to the researchers. The most popular exhibit was a virtual environment that simulated--via head-mounted displays, earphones, and other wearable gear--a 20-foot hole that participants were asked to drop a virtual ball into. The "Effective Virtual Environments" project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is funded by the Office of Naval Research and the National Instititutes of Health.
    http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,54194,00.html

    To learn more about ACM's Special Interest Group on Graphics (SIGGRAPH), visit http://www.siggraph.org.

  • "Dot-Org Decision Looms Large for Noncommercial Speakers"
    TechNews.com (07/29/02); McGuire, David

    Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program, says the .org domain is one of the few spaces online devoted to non-commercial speech, which makes the selection of the next .org operator extremely important. "If [.org] were to be turned into just another .com, that would be a blow to speech," says Steinhardt. In fact, ICANN initially was only going to consider non-profit candidates for .org, but before accepting bids ICANN changed its criteria to considering all possible bidders. Dot-org as a domain remains associated with non-profit companies, though .org names can be purchased by anyone. Center for Democracy and Technology analyst Rob Courtney says that the Internet is clogged with commerce, and that "there always needs to be a space for non-commercial comment and expression." VeriSign currently sells .org names for $6 per year wholesale, and over 2.3 million .org names have been registered to date. ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn says that stability will be the top value in choosing the next .org registry, especially because ensuring DNS stability is ICANN's primary mission. ICANN non-commercial constituency member Harold Feld backs .org as an online zone protecting non-commercial speech, and he is part of the ICANN group that drafts evaluations of all .org bidders for submission to the ICANN board, which will make the final decision.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A12982-2002Jul28.html

  • "IT Pros May Face Background Checks"
    Computerworld (07/29/02) Vol. 36, No. 31, P. 1; Verton, Dan

    Corporate IT and other employees in critical industries could be subject to background checks, if a panel convened by the Bush administration has its way. The panel will be set up to establish guidelines for "necessary background checks for personnel with access to critical infrastructure facilities or systems" in the chemical, medical, telecom, and financial industries, among others. President Bush's National Strategy for Homeland Security report states that such personnel could act as "terrorist surrogates" by disclosing exploitable data on "vulnerabilities, operating characteristics and protective measures." The plan has aroused criticism from certain IT professionals, who are concerned that such background checks will circumvent civil liberties and have a destructive effect on innovation and the economy. "[It] could put shackles on an industry that is critical to the growth of our country," declares Jonathan Blitt of ITT Industries. Other professionals, such as ReliaStar Life Insurance analyst Eric Johansen, approve of the strategy, arguing that it will help ensure that critical systems employees are trustworthy. Outlining a way to guarantee that trustworthiness could give the Bush administration an opening to create a position of chief privacy officer at the proposed Department of Homeland Security. WorldCom's Vinton Cerf is ambivalent toward the plan: He notes that background checks alone are not an effective solution for homeland security, and the compromise of civil liberties is unavoidable through such measures.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Building America's Anti-Terror Machine"
    Fortune (07/22/02) Vol. 146, No. 2, P. 99; Brown, Stuart F.

    Information technology can be a critical component of homeland security, but furnishing a decentralized electronic network that can function as a nationwide central nervous system for emergency response efforts will involve an unprecedented, collaborative government initiative. The Office of Homeland Security has embarked on the creation of the Enterprise Architectures for Homeland Security, which is modeled on the networks of infotech-savvy companies. The Office is currently taking an inventory of government databases, and decision-management systems are the most probable method the government will choose to tap into its multiple data sources. Another project is a U.S. Geological Survey initiative to build an open, Internet-based system of hiking maps layered with various data that could be used for threat assessment, among other things. Meanwhile, anti-terrorist initiatives based on methods originally designed to address national disasters are already being undertaken: For example, to raise security levels at the winter Olympic games in Utah, the FBI recruited the National Imaging and Mapping Agency to produce concise maps for security teams by sourcing commercial, government, and spy satellite data via geographic information system (GIS) technology; cellphone software and architectural plans were also utilized to give agents the ability to see potential field of fire and building interior fly-throughs, respectively. Meanwhile, New York City was able to rapidly bounce back from a devastating blow on Sept. 11, when its cutting-edge emergency operations facility was destroyed, through the availability of GIS mapping expertise and multiple databases. Layering data into a single map or system maximizes its efficiency, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official.
    http://www.fortune.com/indexw.jhtml?channel=artcol.jhtml&doc_id=208640

  • "Small Wonders"
    Business 2.0 (07/02) Vol. 3, No. 7, P. 60; Harper, Tim

    Nanotechnology advocates have championed nanotechnology as the building-block for the next-great everything, and even if this expectation does not materialize fully, the government-backed National Nanotechnology Initiative still expects that nanotechnology will be a $1 trillion market by 2015. Today nanotechnology is occurring only on the level of scientific research, far from products and marketing. Nanotech received $2 billion in research funding worldwide during 2001, and excites scientists from a diversity of fields. Some question if this scientific development will be usable, though nanotechnology-based plastics using clay nanoparticles are already being used in some tennis balls, food packaging, and cars. Nano-based substances in car engines are 12 times lighter than materials being replaced. Nanotubes using carbon cylinders a few atoms wide may startle today's engineers by transforming the near future. Nanotubes are 100 times stronger than steel and function as heat and electricity conductors; Mitsui has announced plans to produce 120 tons of nanotubes per year soon. Televisions and computer devices will most likely use nanotubes first, and Samsung plans to market a nanotube-driven appliance in 2003. Nanotechnology is close to increasing battery power by a factor of 10, which may become crucial if solar power and electric cars grow in use.
    http://www.business2.com/articles/mag/0,1640,41548,00.html

  • "Breaking the Mold"
    Scientific American (07/02) Vol. 287, No. 1,; Stix, Gary

    Researchers such as C. Grant Willson of the University of Texas are investigating the commercial potential for nanofabrication techniques. Taking a cue from previous research on how the flawed nickel mold for a CD-ROM consistently produced the exact same surface defect, Willson and mechanical engineering professor S.V. Sreenivasan have devised a manufacturing method called step-and-flash imprint lithography: It involves a quartz bas-relief mold of circuit components being placed atop a liquid monomer layer on the surface of a chip, which is then hardened into the shape of the indentations when exposed to ultraviolet light, producing molecule-sized circuit features in some cases. The method is being commercialized by the Molecular Imprints startup, which expects to make machines for testing and research available to semiconductor industry clients by the end of 2002. For Willson, the commercial applications of such projects are secondary compared to their potential for inspiring students. Meanwhile, Princeton University's Stephen Y. Chou has created a nanomanufacturing technique similar to Willson's, only it relies on temperature changes rather than optical radiation to set the nanostructure molds. Chou founded NanoOpto to commercialize the nanoimprint lithography process and integrate optical elements such as filters, waveguides, and laser cavities on a chip, thus automating assembly and driving down prices; network performance is also enhanced with subwavelength elements produced by the process. Chou established a second company, Nanonex, that will offer clients the commercial equipment for them to carry out nanoimprint lithography themselves.
    Click Here to View Full Article