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Volume 4, Issue 383: Wednesday, August 7, 2002
- "U.S. Copyright Law Has Hackers On the Defensive"
Reuters (08/05/02); Abreu, Elinor Mills
Attendees and participants at the DefCon hacker conference in Las Vegas this weekend were more wary of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which led to the arrest of a Russian programmer at the same event last year. However, some were willing to risk it in order to demonstrate the erosion of fair use rights that the DMCA represents. Adam Bresson detailed how to make copies of copyright-protected videos using a device from Canopus, and said, "There's a fine line between creating technologies that bypass copyright protections and demonstrating them." The 2001 incident that had everyone alert at this year's conference involved the apprehension of ElcomSoft's Dmitry Sklyarov, who was held for writing and selling software that decrypts electronic books; although Sklyarov was released, his company is facing trial. Furthermore, many copyright holders have demonstrated an eagerness to arrest or sue researchers and programmers for allegedly violating the DMCA: Princeton University's Ed Felten, for instance, was ordered by a federal judge not to publish research on technology designed to thwart digital music piracy after the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) complained.
- "Presidential Advisers Adopt Antiterror Research Plan"
Computerworld Online (08/05/02); Verton, Dan
The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) on Monday approved a draft report for the president suggesting that technology play a prominent role in the new Department of Homeland Security. In addition to the creation of an undersecretary of science and technology within the new department, the report's authors also proposed the creation of an extensive research and development program meant to develop new national defense technologies. However, the advisors said research at the new Homeland Security Department should not be cut-and-dry technology development, but should also involve interdisciplinary approaches incorporating social science, for example. A proposed Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency would be modeled after a similar unit that develops new technology for the Defense Department, and a network of national laboratories could be set up within the existing government research infrastructure. The council's report also suggested that programs be set up to recruit new researchers and scientists to join, including university fellowships, scholarships, and intergovernmental assignments. PCAST co-Chairman John H. Marburger III wrote in the report, "Our terrorist enemies are technically savvy, and continued technological progress is required to better defend the homeland and stay one step ahead of their technical capabilities."
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- "Group OKs Changes for Net Commerce"
Associated Press (08/06/02); Bridis, Ted
The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws approved of revisions to the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) last week. The amendments, announced Monday, forbid software companies from responding to consumer criticism by revoking the licenses customers agree to in order to operate their products; furthermore, the changes allow consumers to reverse engineer software so that its compatibility with other technology can be ensured. The revisions would be enacted on a state-by-state basis if the state legislatures approve of UCITA-based laws. Only Virginia and Maryland have passed such laws so far, and UCITA revision boosters such as conference of commissioners general counsel John McCabe warn that technology companies could declare that those states' amendment-free provisions apply to their products, regardless of what state their customers reside in. The head of the Americans for Fair Electronic Commerce Transactions says the proposed changes are too narrow, and would not stop companies from disabling users' software for "perceived misuse" of a product, provided the companies issue "reasonable notice."
- "As Roller Coaster Dips Again, They Want Another Ride"
Washington Post (08/06/02) P. A1; Booth, William; Cha, Ariana Eunjung
Silicon Valley venture capitalists and engineers are optimistic despite the economic slump, which has worsened with recent indictments of executives and revelations of insider trading, stock market manipulation, and accounting fraud. Draper Fisher Jurvetson co-founder Tim Draper notes that East Coast entrepreneurs have a bleak outlook, while the prevailing attitude in the Valley is, "'I lost my job, so it frees me up to do something entrepreneurial.'" Shoring up the area's tolerance for misfortune is several decades' experience with boom-and-bust cycles, including those centered around the military industrial complex, the silicon wafer industry, and the PC industry. Valley entrepreneurs are still on the lookout for the next technological wave, and nanotechnology and pharmaceuticals are highly popular areas of interest. Many venture capitalists are reorganizing, which is leading to a resurgence of small mom-and-pop Internet startups that follow more practical goals, an example being Adrian Scott's Rhyze.com Web site, which helps customers connect to business contacts with similar backgrounds and interests. Scott maintains that "The key to building a business in this kind of downturn market is to really focus on what's vital." Meanwhile, others are taking advantage of the latest down cycle to rest up in anticipation of the next wave. Borland Software CEO Dale Fuller says, "We're very, very familiar with peaks and valleys...this is still the place everyone in the world wants to come to."
- "Internet Traffic Flows Smoothly After Warning"
Reuters (08/06/02); Sullivan, Andy
The Internet continued to operate normally on Tuesday, despite an FBI warning Monday evening issued to network engineers and ISPs that "wide-scale hacker attacks" were being plotted against American Web sites and Internet providers from sources in Western Europe. The warning, issued by the National Infrastructure Protection Center, did cause Internet traffic to slowdown slightly early Tuesday morning, according to Abelardo Gonzalez, who monitors Internet traffic for Matrix NetSystems, but other firms that monitor the Net said they saw no abnormalities. Meanwhile, experts said that no Web sites were known to have been knocked offline. Gonzalez said the FBI warning could have provided ISPs and businesses with enough time to guard against any attacks, while Ravi Venkatesam of Atesto Technologies, which also monitors Web traffic, said the Web's decentralized design and abundant bandwidth helps to ensure against any major disruption.
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- "When Brains Meet Computer Brawn"
CNet (08/05/02); Frauenheim, Ed
A recent report from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Commerce summarizes the long-term outlook of national leaders in science and technology. The report, "Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology, and Cognitive Science," predicts that human society will eventually be changed for the better through technological progress. For example, advances in computing could allow for direct brain links resulting in collective consciousness or personalities stored on computers. Jeremy Rifkin, an author of books on biotechnology and globalization, says there is a definite downside to such advanced technology, even if it is indeed possible. For one thing, says Rifkin, the human mind may not be ready for "hive mind"-type neural network connections, while bio-engineered crops are already endangering natural ecology. The NSF leaders who compiled the report say that ethical considerations and concerns will need to be addressed upfront as technologies emerge, but Hewlett-Packard researcher Phil Kuekes says the report itself is a bold move to address these issues. He explains that such ambitious prognostication is something of a personal risk for the report's authors, but may itself contribute to the profile of these technologies and speed their development.
- "IT Workers Expected to Start Testing Waters"
Dallas Morning News Online (08/04/02); Godinez, Victor
The IT turnover rate has declined approximately 1 percent in the last year, according to META Group's 2002 IT Staffing and Compensation Guide, but META analyst Maria Schafer concludes that company loyalty is a thing of the past. "If anything, you have a situation where if a company is not doing well, people will bail faster," she says. On the other hand, Delta Dallas President Debbie Trevino observes that employed IT workers in the Dallas area are not ready to leave their jobs. But she and other analysts believe more IT employees, in search of better salaries and treatment, will be shopping for jobs once the economy recovers. Trevino notes that in many cases companies are trimming budgets and cutting salaries because they have no choice in the matter, a fact that IT workers must understand. Jon Davis of Matrix Resources suggests that employers would do well to give their employees incentives to stay on, such as ample training budgets and new technology investments. META finds that 58 percent of IT companies claimed their IT turnover last year was between 11 percent and 20 percent, while 54 percent this year report turnover being between 5 percent and 10 percent.
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- "Chip Trio Allows Glimpse Into 'Cell'"
CNet (08/06/02); Spooner, John G.
IBM, Sony, and Toshiba have collaborated on the design for a new multimedia processor dubbed the Cell that will soon be passed to engineers for sample manufacturing. The "supercomputer on a chip" is described by sources as having "multiple personalities," meaning that it will not only be capable of graphics processing, but multiple-device operations and high-bandwidth communications; this flexibility is facilitated by building multiple processing cores or cells on the chip. Cell's designers, who have poured $400 million into its development, claim the chip will be able to conduct more than 1 trillion mathematical calculations per second. Although Cell could be incorporated into Sony's PlayStation 3 game console, IBM research fellow Jim Kahle says the technology's applications could be extended to general entertainment--for instance, living-room-based devices could have the computing power to interact more smoothly. Meanwhile, Envisioneering Group analyst Richard Doherty thinks that Cell will yield a new extensible computing platform, but adds that developing software for it will be a major challenge. He notes that building an operating system and multiprocessing and peer-to-peer computing applications will also be formidable. The chip's designers are busy developing these systems to test Cell's features. Commercial production of Cell technology could begin in late 2004.
- "Engineer Looks to Human Brain"
Associated Press (08/05/02); Rathke, Lisa
As computer chips become smaller and denser with information, they consume more energy, so a more efficient approach is needed. Computer engineers such as IBM senior technologist Kerry Bernstein are turning to the human brain as a computing model. He notes that the brain is capable of massive parallelism, operates at approximately 12 KHz, and consumes far less power than computers; in fact, computers and the brain share the same fundamental physics, but the brain has developed a much more efficient way to compute problems. Bernstein says that processors' performance and capability is expected to double every 12 to 18 months, while mammalian brains grow a cubic inch every 100,000 years. Electronic breakthroughs inspired by the study of the brain include quantum computing and the grafting of neurons onto computer chips, and Bernstein predicts such research could eventually lead to direct enhancement of the nervous system or the brain itself. The convergence of neuroscience and computing also has potential benefits for neurosurgeons, such as improved brain surgery and imaging.
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- "New Supercomputer to Simulate Internet Apps"
NewsFactor Network (08/06/02); Lyman, Jay
Rice University's new 1-teraflop supercomputer will help researchers there create development tools for applications that scale to hundreds of connected computers over the Internet. Rice Computer and Information Technology Institute director Jan Odegard says the Rice Terascale Cluster will also work on software that will adapt to the changing availability of wireless infrastructure. Odegard says that both the grid computing and wireless connectivity development tools will simplify the software necessary to run pervasive computing applications in the future. He says, "The key application areas that will benefit from the system are efficient supercomputer software, complex mathematical simulations, and large-scale, data-intensive simulation." The Rice supercomputer is built from 70 Hewlett-Packard servers with Itanium 2 64-bit processors. It is funded by the National Science Foundation, and ranks among the 10 fastest supercomputers in the United States used for academic purposes. Craig Stewart, director of research and academic computing for the University of Indiana, says the Rice supercomputer and his own school's supercomputer grid, a collaboration with nearby Purdue University, still cannot compare to ASCI (accelerated strategic computing initiative) machines operated in national laboratories.
- "Quantum Computer Called Possible with Today's Tech"
EE Times Online (08/06/02); Johnson, R. Colin
University of Wisconsin, Madison, scientists declare that they have successfully modeled the architecture of a quantum computer using existing equipment for silicon fabrication. "Our technique may enable quantum computers to actually begin performing calculations that can't be performed any other way," boasts Mark Eriksson of the university's physics department. However, the researchers admit that the computer would only be able to run at megahertz speeds due to pulse generator requirements, and have started developing a prototype of enhanced device features that would solve leakage errors and achieve gigahertz operation. Eriksson says silicon fabrication equipment can supply enough quantum dots to provide the 1 million qubits necessary to build quantum computers with practical real-world applications. The researchers' model involves the alignment of quantum-dot requirements to silicon germanium fabrication, and employs vertical and horizontal tunneling to ensure that the quantum dots contain a single electron each and are capable of tunable coupling with neighboring dots. The dots capture their electrons from a back gate via vertical tunneling, while an insulator above and below the silicon quantum-well layer gives the dots enough size to accommodate one electron. Horizontal separation between dots is achieved through electrostatic repulsion from a grid of top gates. Adjustment of these gates weakens the force between specific dots so that they can interact, facilitating calculations.
- "End User Licenses Keep Getting More Intrusive"
SiliconValley.com (08/07/02); Gillmor, Dan
Dan Gillmor writes that operating system vendors are increasingly encroaching on users' rights through End User License Agreements (EULAs). Microsoft's latest agreement gives the company permission to automatically check the Windows OS and/or its features as well as upgrade them if so desired. The alternative is to go without updates and patches that the company issues whenever a security hole or bug crops up. However, with the extra security comes such irritating inconveniences as pop-up ads facilitated by advertising spyware, and software alterations that change the functionality of hard-disk video recorders, for example. Gillmor contends that EULAs are intentionally impenetrable so that users will skip over them in their eagerness to install applications. He notes that Microsoft's latest EULA only serves to further the view that the company follows an unethical business strategy and sells insecure products. Microsoft's Jim Cullinan promises that the company will make the installation of such fixes or upgrades an option rather than a license requirement, although he will not say when. Gillmor remains doubtful, arguing that Microsoft is too much of a monopolist to allow such a policy.
- "NSF, Intelligence Community Work on Data-Mining Research"
NewsFactor Network (08/02/02); Wrolstad, Jay
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is working to coordinate technology development efforts in the research community and national security interests. Researchers at the Intelligence Technology Innovation Center (ITIC) are working with the NSF to create new data-mining techniques that circumvent restrictions on domestic intelligence gathering. NSF's Gary Strong, a program officer for the agency's Directorate for Computer & Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE), says the technology will be able to pull relevant information from sources with massive amounts of real-time data, such as television broadcasts and a large number of Web sites. The programs' inherent logic will isolate only that information which gives intelligence officers "probable cause," and therefore avoid breaches of privacy law. This data-mining technique could also be used by law enforcement to pull evidence from other sensitive data, such as medical records, and could even be used for applications in the bioinformatics field. Other projects under NSF supervision include a speech identifier technology being worked on at SRI International, and an aggregate news-tracking technology under development at Columbia University.
- "I Come to Bury IAmCarbonatedMilk.com, Not to Praise It"
Salon.com (08/03/02); Cochran, Heather
Looking at domain name expirations presents a portrait of the dot-com boom in all its high hopes and deepest follies. BuyClamsOnline.com expired on April 12, 2002, which means someone thought that people would buy clams online rather than from a local store, and therefore imagined this domain name and registered it. DeletedDomains.com offers a searchable pool of 15 million expired domain names. If one estimates that these domain names cost between $15 and $30 per registration, than this pool reveals that people across the world invested between $225 million and $450 million in domain names that represent discrete ideas for online commerce or expression. Domain name speculation during the dot-com boom meant that people registered domain names to coincide with their wildest imaginings of what could be possible. Others banked on domain name value residing in misspelled domain names such as chrisymas.com, curistmas.com, chrostmas.com, lovehapens.com, and freebaloons.com. Interestingly, during the last 60 days leading up to Aug. 3, 2002, 1,934 URLs using the letters "xxx" expired, and in fact 20 percent of expired domain names surveyed for this Salon.com article were orientated toward the pornographic. After a domain name expires, its imprint may linger in a database of expired domains for a few months, and then all records of the domain name are deleted, only to be remembered by those who believed in it.
- "Would-Be Math Teacher Ended Up Educating a Computer Revolution"
New York Times (08/06/02); Lohr, Steve
Frances Allen, who retired last week as a research fellow of IBM's T.J. Watson Laboratory, has enjoyed many fruitful years as a computer scientist, and her distinguished career encompasses much of the field's history. Projects she has been involved in include the training of programmers in the Fortran programming language, software design for the Blue Gene supercomputer, and the creation and refinement of the Alpha system for the National Security Agency's Stretch-Harvest computer. Allen spent much of her career working toward the goal of boosting computer efficiency, and for 15 years led a team that developed compiler software for parallel computers. Her work in this area was instrumental in the company's critical transition from traditional mainframes to parallel systems. She also supported the idea of sharing her company's breakthroughs with other researchers, and inspired other programmers as well. "Programming is still way too low-level," Allen complains. "They still force the programmer to focus on the procedural details of making the machine work instead of the human intention of the problem to be solved."
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- "Demand for Java Begins to Percolate"
InformationWeek (08/05/02) No. 900, P. 59; Greenemeier, Larry
Demand for expertise in Java and XML Web development is rising, according to DevX's 2002 Java/Application Development Market and Brand study, which polled 14,000 IT developers. Seventy-seven percent of respondents say their sites use Sun Microsystems' Java 2 Enterprise Edition, while fewer than 50 percent use the Java Development Kit 1.x., which Sun no longer supports. The Java 2 Micro Edition, which supports PDAs, cell phones, pagers, and other portable devices, is used by only 13 percent of the respondents. The survey finds that 69 percent say their companies are implementing database management and access applications, while Web-based data entry and retrieval applications are being deployed by 66 percent. Over half of the polled developers cite product reliability and downtime as primary considerations of Java vendor selection, and almost one in five list price as a key factor. Twenty-five percent of respondents note that the Web's effectiveness as a platform will be the principal driver of Java adoption over the next 12 to 18 months, while one in five developers list other drivers such as Java's ability to meet performance specifications and the need to cut development costs. The DevX report forecasts that all developer segments will experience robust growth, but legacy applications and a dearth of staff expertise with Java development platforms could stall deployment.
- "IT Workers on Way to Joining Unions?"
eWeek (08/05/02) Vol. 19, No. 31, P. 41; Vaas, Lisa
Layoffs and falling salary levels are making IT unionization a more and more appealing prospect, although director of UCLA's Institute for Labor and Employment Ruth Milkman notes that "Some workers in this industry see themselves as being on the cutting edge of technology and associate unions with blue-collar workers." However, there is evidence that such resistance is eroding, according to union officials. Alliance@IBM union president Linda Guyer notes that "programmers, engineers, [and] scientists" are among the members her organization is bringing in. IT unions are making a deeper impact in European countries that host strong labor movements, but headway is being made in the United States. For example, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) picketed Amazon.com when it tried to force laid-off workers to sign separation deals that required them not to disparage the company in order to receive severance benefits. WashTech editor Mike Blain reports that the organization has 250 members and 1,700 subscribers, while the Programmers Guild has accumulated 1,246 members since starting out in June 2001. Still, ITAA President Harris Miller says these unions are not making that much of an impression. "Traction is still relatively small" in unions such as WashTech and Alliance@IBM, he contends.
- "Why Software Is So Bad"
Technology Review (08/02) Vol. 105, No. 6, P. 32; Mann, Charles C.
Engineers posit that software quality is declining because it suffers from a profound lack of design. The increasing size and complexity of programs have significantly reduced the effectiveness of the "code and fix" method, in which programmers write code and use compilers to detect errors, which they then correct. And although component-based programs made up of modular elements are considered to be very useful, critics say their usefulness is canceled by the numerous features wired into software because of marketing pressures. Former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold adds that constant customer demand for new software and new features is contributing to the reliability shortfall. Software vendors have also turned defective software into a profit center by accompanying it with poorly developed help files that give users no choice but to seek expensive customer support. Some software companies, such as Microsoft, believe they can reverse the decline in quality by dramatically reforming their engineering processes and implementing higher standards of reliability measurement, but there are coders who think that product liability lawsuits will be even more effective in spurring developers to improve their software. "It's either going to be a big product reliability suit, or the government will come in and regulate the industry," forecasts Cigital Labs chief scientist Jeffrey Voas. Critics contend that commercial software developers must stop making quality a secondary priority, which they say is a practice deeply ingrained in corporate culture.