Association for Computing Machinery
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 390: Friday, August 23, 2002

  • "She Wants P2P for the People"
    Wired News (08/23/02); Boutin, Paul

    Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), who has publicly opposed peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing networks, will face competition when he runs for reelection. His opponent is Tara Sue Grubb, a real estate agent running as a Libertarian candidate who has established a loyal base of online fans. Although Libertarian Party press secretary George Goetz thinks it unlikely that Grubb will beat Coble, supporters say that it is an important step toward the tech community's increasing political involvement. Coble has drawn criticism for his support of Rep. Howard Berman's (D-Calif.) bill that would allow copyright owners to hack into consumer computers in order to remove or disable pirated content. Grubb says she is running because she is exasperated with "individual rights sacrificed for big corporate politics." Coble's chief of staff Ed McDonald says that Coble's advocacy of Berman's bill does not necessarily mean it will be accepted in its current form. However, he also told News & Record Columnist Ed Cone that Coble himself is unfamiliar with how a computer works, and digital rights proponents say such statements indicate that politicians do not really comprehend the issues over which Hollywood is pushing legislation. Grubb, however, demonstrated her tech savvy this week when she set up her own Weblog.
    http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,54693,00.html

  • "Firms Team to Push OLED Displays"
    ZDNet (08/22/02); Shim, Richard

    Intellectual property company Cambridge Display Technology (CDT) and chip-design firm MediaWorks will embark on a joint venture to help device manufacturers incorporate polymer organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays into future products. This will help save time and money in the design and marketing of OLED-equipped cell phones, handhelds, and other products that currently feature liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. OLED displays can operate without a backlight, and thus can be thinner, brighter, and perhaps less costly than LCDs. Polymer-based OLEDs' ability to be sprayed or printed onto a substrate could streamline the manufacturing process. However, OLED technology currently lacks a solid infrastructure. The partners intend to supply designs and chips that will facilitate smoother OLED display integration. The collaboration is part of CDT's goal to expand the market for its polymer OLED technology; last month, the British government's Department of Trade and Industry awarded CDT a research and development grant for commercial, OLED-based plastic solar cells. Competing with polymer OLED display technology is small molecule OLEDs, which Eastman Kodak is incorporating into displays.
    http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1103-954900.html

  • "IBM To Build Network to Link Emergency Services in Crises"
    Financial Times (08/22/02) P. 2; Abrahams, Paul

    IBM has been awarded a $20-million contract to develop a wireless network that will link about 40 different organizations in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., to help agencies communicate in cases of emergency. The project, which is scheduled for completion in two years, is a direct response to difficulties encountered during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, in which emergency responders were hampered by inundated radio channels, failing cell phones, and a lack of pagers. The text-based instant messaging initiative will allow communications between PCs, laptops, personal digital assistants, and wireless phones.

  • "Linux, the Cheap Chic for Computer Fashionistas"
    Reuters (08/22/02)

    The semiannual LinuxWorld conference has confirmed that corporate IT departments are embracing the rogue operating system as a way to drive "business value," in the words of Doug Elix, chief of IBM Global Services, who delivered a keynote address at the meeting. The number of business-types at the show has noticeably increased since a few years ago, when the vast majority of attendees were IT gurus of startup dot-coms and programming hobbyists. International Data (IDC) reports that 20 percent of all server computers were shipped with the Linux operating system installed last year, and that companies paid just $80 million for software, just 1 percent of global operating system expenditures. Because it is open-source, Linux offers a low-to-no-cost way for businesses to run their standard IT systems, such as email management applications. Fears over the security, scalability, and stability of Linux have subsided as more and more big-name companies have signed onto the platform. Even Sun Microsystems, known for selling million-dollar server systems, has introduced a low-end Linux machine equipped with a commodity Intel processor.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/news/editorial/3917251.htm

  • "Rivals Envy Chinese Mix of High Tech, Cheap Labor"
    Reuters (08/22/02)

    Zhang Hongjiang of Microsoft Research Asia's Beijing Laboratory says that China's high-tech effort and educational investment of the last two decades has produced an exceptionally skilled and inexpensive domestic workforce that may have no other international equivalent. Fifty percent of Chinese computer science graduates choose to remain in China rather than find outside jobs because of a strong economy and better research and career options, according to Hongjiang's colleague Harry Shum. As a result, multinational companies are more attracted to China as a place to establish research and development centers. Foreign businessmen are also eager to gain a foothold--for example, more mobile phones are sold in China than anywhere else. Beijing estimates that China's entry into the World Trade Organization will prompt managers and bureaucrats to institute reforms so the country can become more economically competitive, but National Economic Research Institute director Fan Gang expects the country will be too busy handling its domestic problems to make an impact on global economic policy for quite some time.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/news/editorial/3915130.htm

  • "Secret Service Expands Cybersecurity Task Forces"
    IDG News Service (08/22/02); Johnston, Gretel

    Electronic Crimes Task Forces (ECTF) set up by the Secret Service will facilitate quarterly meetings where corporate IT experts can convene and confer on their companies' cybersecurity strategies. Secret Service members say their involvement will ensure that the information that attendees discuss will remain secret. Officials who participated in the Sectors cyberterrorism conference this week say that nine metropolitan Secret Service offices are readying their own task forces, using the seven-year-old New York task force as a model. Bob Weaver of the New York group notes that both his force and the one operating in Washington, D.C., will concentrate on encouraging open discussion of security and assist with collaborative cybersecurity initiatives between companies, academics, and government IT experts. Other cities hosting task forces include Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston. Weaver adds that the Patriot Act passed earlier this year calls for the establishment of an ECTF in every major American city. Furthermore, an appropriations bill earmarks $17 million in additional funding for the Secret Service to deploy the first series of new task forces. Special agent John Frazzini declares that the task forces are the "only vehicle of their kind" in law enforcement.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "White House Officials Debating Rules for Cyberwarfare"
    Washington Post (08/22/02) P. A2; Cha, Ariana Eunjung; Krim, Jonathan

    In an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters, Office of Cyberspace Security head Richard Clarke declared that the real threat of cyberattacks comes from nation-states rather than terrorist groups, and this danger has sparked an internal debate in the White House over how the United States should wage its own cyberwar against these foes. He noted that cyberwarfare could be advantageous to poorer nations because it is cheaper and easier to conceal than conventional warfare, but a lack of guidelines complicates America's strategic position in regards to how it can carry out its own online offensives. For example, to launch an electronic attack on an enemy country's financial infrastructure or electricity grid carries with it the threat of harming innocent people, which opens up a legal can of worms because the Geneva Convention forbids attacks on uninvolved parties. Furthermore, the United States, with its heavy dependence on technology, has much more to lose if these poor nations decide to strike back. Up until now, the U.S. military has only used cyberwarfare for information gathering and other defensive purposes. However, evidence is mounting that these nation-states are sponsoring cyberattacks: Federal investigators traced hacker intrusions against national laboratories in 1999 and 2000 to an undisclosed foreign country, while officials suspect that a foreign government had a hand in the development of the Code Red virus. Meanwhile, the United States' electronic defensive measures still leave a lot to be desired, although Clarke acknowledged that some progress has been made. He is working on a national cyberattack defense strategy that involves government, citizens, and the private sector, which is slated to be unveiled in September.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46967-2002Aug21.html

  • "A New Way to Type With Your Eyes"
    MSNBC (08/21/02)

    Cambridge University researchers have developed software that could significantly aid disabled and mobile computer users because it enables text to be entered without the need for fingers. Dasher, created by David MacKay and David Ward of the university's physics department, can be controlled by an eye tracker that monitors what parts of the screen the user is looking at. However, rather than scanning keys on an onscreen keyboard, users can scan boxes that feature the most likely letters in a series. By anticipating which words users are trying to write, Dasher can significantly accelerate the writing process to up to 25 words per minute; in comparison, other tracker-based methods generate up to 15 words per minute. "The software works like a video game in which the user steers ever deeper into an enormous library," notes MacKay. "A language model is used to shape this library in such a way that its quick and easy to select probable sequences of characters and hard to make spelling mistakes." In fact, MacKay says that the frequency of misspellings is about five times less than it is for alternative writing systems. The Dasher software is being licensed as an open-source model, and the researchers say the open-source community will release a consumer version within a year.
    http://www.msnbc.com/news/797461.asp?0si=

  • "As Threat of Cyber Attacks Grows, Security Specialists Blame Faulty Software"
    NewsFactor Network (08/21/02); Landers, Jim

    When it comes to why the United States has become even more vulnerable to electronic attacks after Sept. 11, experts list bad software as the No. 1 reason. Watts Humphrey, formerly of IBM, attributes more than 90 percent of security holes to faulty software, and defines "reasonably good software" as software that has no more than one defect per million lines of code. There is little software, either off-the-shelf or in computers, that is up to such a standard. Jim Gerretson of Affiliated Computer Services explains that software companies roll out buggy products because of the pressure they face to put those products on the market. Speaking at a Las Vegas hacker convention, White House cybersecurity adviser Richard Clarke said that error-riddled software "is no longer acceptable," and he has been urging vendors such as Microsoft, Novell, and Oracle to make improved products. He is also considering the possibility of suggesting a consumer and government boycott of all insecure software applications. Several factors could contribute to increased user demand for better-quality software--federal standards, competition from other countries offering better products, product liability lawsuits, etc. Meanwhile, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is trying to develop improved quality-assurance testing tools, and announced a new encryption specification for federal government software in December.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/19104.html

  • "Cyberterrorism Scenarios Scrutinized"
    IDG News Service (08/21/02); Johnston, Gretel

    Government and industry IT professionals hashed out plans to prevent terrorists from harming critical Internet communications at the first-ever SECTOR5 conference held in Washington, D.C. Representatives of the National Infrastructure Protection Center, the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office, and the Secret Service--all components of the emerging Department of Homeland Security--were on hand. IT security firms and general software vendors want the government to establish minimum security standards for their products as soon as possible, though Qinetiq President Michael Corby estimated it would take about six months as the Department of Homeland Security gets up to speed. Secret Service agent John M. Frazzini said that the three agencies in attendance would be working together more often and provide a much-demanded single point of contact for IT vendors. Sanctum CEO Peggy Weigle also said that companies themselves needed to do a better job of securing their IT infrastructures. Her consultants were able to break in to 98 percent of the 350 corporations the company has audited, often accessing sensitive data such as application source code and comprehensive password lists using just a Web browser.
    http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,104271,00.asp

  • "DOJ to Prosecute File Swappers"
    ZDNet (08/20/02); McCullagh, Declan

    Speaking at the Progress and Freedom Foundation's annual technology and politics summit on Tuesday, deputy assistant attorney general John Malcolm announced that the Justice Department is ready to start prosecuting people who swap illegal copies of copyrighted products online. "There does have to be some kind of a public message that stealing is stealing," he said. Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) President Cary Sherman declared that the industry would certainly appreciate such a move. Malcolm said that criminal prosecutions can be a much more effective deterrent for file-swappers who have little to lose should they get sued by copyright holders. Several weeks ago, senior congressional members lobbied that the Justice Department leverage the No Electronic Theft (NET) Act against peer-to-peer users. The NET Act, which has already been used to jail noncommercial software pirates, makes it a federal crime to swap copies of copyrighted works that are valued at more than $1,000; such a crime carries a one-year prison sentence, while theft of content that exceeds $2,500 can draw a maximum sentence of five years. Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro does not agree that unauthorized peer-to-peer exchanges should be a crime. "If we have 70 million people in the United States who are breaking the law, we have a big issue," he explained.
    http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1106-954591.html

  • "'Bell Telegraph' May Enable Cosmic Communications"
    NewsFactor Network (08/19/02); Martin, Mike

    Using telegraph-like dots and dashes, a quantum mechanic device may one day allow people to communicate with each other from across the galaxy at speeds faster than light. Einstein himself said the quantum mechanic properties enabling this communication were "spooky," in that one entangled particle will respond automatically to manipulation of the other, no matter how far apart. John Bell first proposed that this quality could enable a quantum telegraph device unhindered by extremely long distances. Physicists and other researchers are currently working on the necessary engineering to create such a device, called a Bell telegraph. Daniel Badagnani of Argentina's National Research Council is looking for a way to easily read the quantum state of particles. Currently, it is difficult to obtain reliable data from quantum measurement because of the delicate measurement process itself. However, Paul Werbos of the National Science Foundation says that he and other knowledgeable scientists believe that efforts such as Badagnani's will one day bear fruit and enable a working Bell telegraph.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/19055.html

  • "Vaunted Technologies That Don't Measure Up"
    Business Week (08/26/02) No. 3796, P. 128; Crock, Stan; Crockett, Roger O.; Port, Otis

    There are a number of technologies that promise more than they can actually deliver in terms of reliability and performance. Although firewalls can repel 99 percent of computer intrusions, relying on them as a sole means of protection is folly, especially since hackers can bypass them by going through other network vulnerabilities. It is unlikely that America's transition to high-definition TV (HDTV) will be complete by 2006 as TV stations, hardware manufacturers, and the entertainment industry squabble over equipment costs, limited content and transmission range, piracy issues, and competing copy-protection standards. Tests of face-recognition technology in crowded airports and communities have been plagued with errors and false alarms generated by people's movements, as well as discrepancies between the captured video image and database photos. Meanwhile, poor deployment of encryption has undercut the technology, and led to pirating of DVD movies, among other things. The security promised by national ID cards--even those with biometric identifiers--is false, especially since it is easy to counterfeit the documents they are based on. Computer simulation is rife with "shortcut" algorithms to speed up number-crunching, which causes inaccuracies in many computer modeling applications in such fields as biology, weather forecasting, and physics. Finally, digital archives promise perpetual preservation of documents, when in fact they suffer from fairly rapid degradation, or can only be read by out-of-date playback hardware in some cases.
    http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/02_34/b3796633.htm

  • "Doing It With Meaning"
    CIO (08/15/02) Vol. 15, No. 21, P. 102; Edwards, John

    More companies are turning to semantics-based integration tools to resolve conflicting meanings among diverse data sources, which can hamper effective interpretation by conventional middleware. Many of the tools boast state-of-the-art cognitive technologies, such as artificial intelligence, pattern recognition, and natural language analysis. Most of these products feature a core technology designed to eliminate the requirement to manually study and map the meanings from each source, and then remap them with the arrival of a new data format. Contivo CTO Dave Hollander expects the technology to become more intuitive and easier to use as semantics developers more fully comprehend techniques to mediate conflicting meanings. Network Inference founder and COO Michael Lees notes that semantic integration is in an early stage of development; the current generation of semantic integration tools cannot operate without manual input and configuration, so training and implementation are key issues. Meanwhile, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and others are developing the Semantic Web, a project designed to unify the disparate data distributed throughout the Internet and make it comprehensible to all systems. This would essentially turn the Web into one big database. If semantics integration technology and Web services applications could be blended, "It would mean the elimination of application-specific knowledge needed to integrate enterprise applications together," according to AMR Research's Eric Austvold.
    http://www.cio.com/archive/081502/et_article.html

  • "The Approaching Age of Virtual Nations"
    Futurist (08/02) Vol. 36, No. 4, P. 24; Dillard, Mike; Hennard, Janet

    Virtual nations (v-nations) are online masses of individuals, unified by a common cause or ideology, that mirror real nations in the inclusion of and progression toward leadership, laws, power, security, monetary systems, and other elements. They will act as both a threat to and a hope for global resource allocation, cooperation, and security. The accessibility and technical infrastructure of the Internet gives such groups the tools to quickly amass tremendous collective power: For instance, in its 14-month existence, the Lifecast community rapidly aggregated enough wealthy, influential members to form an entity that would have ranked 23rd among the world's economies. V-nations need to be organized around a leader who will rally others to a significant cause and glue them together using the communications access offered by the Internet. V-nations with enough power and sway could acquire and form services and agencies designed to benefit their citizenry--stock exchanges, health-care facilities, security forces, educational centers, airlines, financial institutions, and even land. The sinister aspects of v-nations are demonstrated by al-Qaeda, which used the Internet to grow from a nationless band of far-flung extremists into a world-spanning terrorist organization with formidable economic resources and horrific destructive power. The emergence of v-nations will wreak profound changes: Citizenship will no longer be grounded in geography or restricted to one organization, and many people's allegiances will shift toward the virtual entity; the quality of life could improve, since v-nations allow people to go outside inadequate laws to obtain health care and other benefits, which could lead to the adoption of a virtual currency. Networked societies such as v-nations are seen as a natural evolutionary trend, but the real test will be whether they can share the stage with traditional nations.

  • "Faking Intelligence"
    Discover (08/02) Vol. 23, No. 8, P. 20; Smalley, Eric

    Pseudo-smart robots are not really intelligent, but are capable of feigning intelligence. Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center has created Horatio "Doc" Beardsley, an animatronic robot made from off-the-shelf components, including a speech-recognition program developed by the university. Beardsley responds to key spoken words by consulting a database of questions and their most likely responses, which he delivers via prerecorded statements and sounds that help impart a natural, conversational quality. He can also appear to address speakers directly through the use of microphones, and evoke the illusion of autonomy by speaking spontaneously after 6.5 seconds of silence have elapsed. Meanwhile, Cynthia Breazeal of MIT's Media Lab predicts that as theatrical robots become more sophisticated, they will have applications beyond entertainment. Such applications could include aids to disabled people and taking orders in restaurants. Breazeal is working with animatronic maven and film creature-effects master Stan Winston to develop a robot that will be equipped with adaptive software to give it advanced social skills. The MIT researcher is concentrating on robots' capacity to exhibit realistic social behavior and elicit normal human responses in social situations.
    http://www.discover.com/aug_02/feattech.html

  • "How to S+m+a+s+h Your Strategy"
    Fast Company (08/02) No. 61, P. 90; Fishman, Charles

    IBM's simple, many, self-healing (SMASH) strategy involves splitting computer systems into small, interchangeable elements that have specific goals, watch their own performance, and solve hardware or software problems as they occur. This biological or autonomic approach can automate deployment and bridge the gap between corporate strategy and execution, and IBM is trying to drive an industry-wide revolution in this area and has even reached out to competitors Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft to help solve the problems automation generates. SMASH was inspired by IBM's million-processor Blue Gene supercomputer, which is expected to have an average failure rate of three processors per day. The strategy will enable Blue Gene to monitor itself and reroute work and internal communications in the event of failures, so that it can continue operating and solving complex modeling problems. A group led by IBM researcher Pratap Pattnaik has devised a server with memory capable of automatically apportioning the fastest memory chunks to the most important tasks, and this could prove useful to financial services companies that need to prioritize response times to requests from thousands of individual customers. Many other automated computing terms--introspective computing and recovery-oriented computing (ROC), for example--are competing with SMASH, and the phrase "autonomic computing" is generally favored by IBM now. Despite this, there is broad agreement that such computing concentrates on ensuring system stability and reliability rather than performance. IBM technical researcher Donna Dillenberger is particularly excited by a "visualization tool" that analyzes data and presents a view of system performance: Using the product to eliminate irrelevant data enabled a telecom company to localize a problem on their wireless field-service link in a matter of seconds rather than days, she notes.
    http://www.fastcompany.com/online/61/ibm.html

  • "The Mod Squad"
    Popular Science (08/02) Vol. 260, No. 8,; Kushner, David

    A community of hackers who like to tweak PC games to their own tastes has been a financial windfall to the gaming industry, since the mods, although usually free, cannot be played without the original game CD-ROM. A major development in the mod community's movement toward the center of the industry took place in the early 1990s, when id Software programmer John Carmack made the source code to the game "Doom" more amenable to alteration, and released it and the accompanying level editing and utilities program to mod makers. The level editing program enabled hackers to adjust the game environment--change the layout of rooms, move walls, and so on. The Doom Editor Utility that followed showed people how to create new game levels from scratch. The Doom follow-up "Quake" was also open for modification, and its release inspired Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology students John Cook and Robin Walker to create an online version that supported player interaction--specifically, cooperative multiplayer team action. Players could go online and compete in rival factions, selecting special character skills. The Quake mod, Team Fortress, was so popular that startup game developer Valve entered into a business agreement with Cook and Walker to release the sequel commercially.
    http://www.popsci.com/popsci/computers/article/0,12543,281377,00.html

  • "Out of Their Minds"
    Red Herring (08/01/02) No. 116, P. 50; James, Geoffrey

    Artificial intelligence (AI) advocates and startups are touting AI and its supposedly lucrative applications, but past experience has taught others--sometimes to their detriment--that the technology has yet to match the hype. AI remains too esoteric a market for venture capitalists, while the science underlying AI is still sketchy. Yet pundits continue to predict that a huge financial bonanza will come through the advent of self-programmable computers, cheap robotic workers, and other AI-based tools, many of which sound more like science fiction than science fact. Stanford University's Terry Winograd is worried that such promises, combined with a renewed interest in AI, could lead to rash and excessive investing. Japan, for example, pulled the plug on a multibillion-dollar AI project in 1995 because it demonstrated no significant progress since it was initiated in 1983. AI is categorized as either generalized or narrow, and the former kind of AI is used to publicize and attract funding for companies that supply the latter; however, generalized AI remains an unfulfilled goal because the science it is based upon is flawed. "AI researchers are chipping away at practical tasks for which emulating human behavior at a moderate level is good enough," notes Winograd. "But it's not real intelligence." Proponents such as Ray Kurzweil believe that neuroscience will lead to the development of generalized AI, but the University of Illinois' William Greenough contends that not enough is currently understood about the brain to successfully model a computer after it.