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 email@example.com.
Volume 4, Issue 391: Monday, August 26, 2002
- "UCITA Still Haunts IT"
Computerworld Online (08/23/02); Thibodeau, Patrick
IT departments in businesses around the country are still warily eyeing the Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (UCITA), the controversial law set for another push in state legislatures next year. Despite reworking on the part of the National Conference on Uniform State Laws, UCITA would still upset the balance between vendors and corporate users. UCITA allows for built-in software restraints that could be activated by the vendor in case of alleged contract breach, but without prior consultation. Prudential Financial chief security officer Ken Tyminski says such software restraints introduce instability into IT systems and could be exploited by hackers. The Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers adds that provisions within UCITA would allow software vendors to create back doors to their applications. Although the use of such measures would make vendors' products unpopular in a competitive market, they might be more readily adopted for specialty applications, such as engineering computer programs. Alan Plastow of the International Association of IT Asset Managers says UCITA is meant to move the software market toward a yearly subscription model.
Click Here to View Full Article
For information regarding ACM's UCITA activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/IP.
- "Fight Continues over H-1B Visa Program"
Cox News Service (08/26/02); Geewax, Marilyn
Employers claim that the H-1B visa system, which is supposed to shore up the U.S. technology industry by hiring foreign workers, is fulfilling its goal, but opponents say there are still too many foreigners taking jobs away from available Americans. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA President LeEarl Bryant estimates that "There are not fewer than 180,000 experienced and available computer scientists who are unemployed." She says it is not a matter of unwillingness on the part of these workers to learn new skills or relocate, but rather employers' urge to automatically give the positions to foreign workers without even requesting interviews from domestic applicants. Under the visa law, employers are not allowed to pay salaries below the market rate, but Bryant comments that salaries are stagnating because of the high levels of employees the law maintains. Jobless Virginia tech worker Kathryn James contends that foreign workers take the skills they learn back to their native countries to compete against the United States, which means further unemployment. However, Information Technology Association of America President Harris Miller argues that there is still a shortage of skill sets that foreigners are needed to provide. The Immigration and Nationalization Service reported last week that the number of H-1Bs issued this year should account for less than 50 percent of last year's total, and Miller says this is proof that the system is working.
- "Israeli Tech Slump Hits Workers Hard"
The global technology downturn has made a sizable impact in Israel, where formerly high-paid IT workers--at least, those who were able to find employment after being downsized--must accept smaller salaries and fewer, if any, job perks. Israel attracted engineers from around the world in the 1990s when the country was considered second only to Silicon Valley as a high-tech center. However, the tech crash and the constant threat of terrorist attacks have dramatically cooled Israel's economy. A laid-off tech worker who calls herself "Maya" says that "The [jobs] situation is bad, even if you are well qualified and have lots of experience." Israel's economy is now in a recession because of its dependency on the high-tech sector, and Israeli tech unemployment has climbed more than 10 percent. In 2003, 11.5 percent of the population could be unemployed, leading to a total of 300,000 jobless. Startups are being hit especially hard by the tech implosion: The Israel Venture Capital research center estimates that 200 startups have closed this year, causing as many as 6,000 workers to lose their jobs. Another tech worker who uses the alias "Ronen" adds that the difficulty of finding employment, the tax burden, and rampant terrorism could prompt many unemployed tech workers to seek work outside of Israel.
- "Q&A: Fred Baker, Chairman of the Internet Society"
The Internet Society elected Cisco Systems engineer Fred Baker as its new chairman in early August, and Baker says that if the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) cannot be reformed into a "clear-headed organization," it should be replaced. However, Baker does not believe the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) nor the Internet Society (ISOC) itself should take over ICANN's functions. He says the ITU is not an organization built around discussion, and the ISOC itself wants to avoid the agenda battles currently being waged within ICANN. Baker says ICANN has evolved into a battleground for various agendas, and that at ICANN, "They're trying to combine international politics, raw capitalism, and hyper-libertarianism all in the same discussion." He notes that while events last Sept. 11 did not change the way people use the Internet, they have increased law enforcement's interest in monitoring Internet transactions. Baker believes law enforcement needs should be balanced with privacy concerns, and not overwhelm them. Likewise, he believes record company rights over copyrighted music need to be balanced with the free flow of information on the Internet, and that the music industry should view the Internet much like radio, in which the playing of music does not kill sales of CDs. Baker says one of the Internet Society's roles is to help spread the Internet, and when the ISOC is confronted with oppressive cultures and regimes, it still must be responsible in considering all members of society, and not simply privileged members.
- "Shortage of Tech Personnel Hampers Appalachia, Study Says"
Associated Press (08/24/02); McCormick, Gavin
The Appalachian region spanning 13 states has a small technology economy that grew only 75 percent as fast the region's general economy between 1989 and 1998, according to a new University of North Carolina report. The region, which covers 200,000 square miles from New York State to Mississippi, lacks IT professionals in its urban areas, and produces less industrial engineering degree holders than other U.S. areas; the region's two-year colleges also graduate significantly fewer computer science degrees than other U.S. regions. Most federal research grants for Appalachia are awarded to organizations in Ithaca, N.Y.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Huntsville, Ala.; and Blacksburg, Va. State-funded programs for Appalachia are avoiding the areas of information technology and biotechnology, though these two fields are expected to be the most robust IT fields through 2010.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Shortcuts Lighten Wireless Load"
Technology Research News (08/21/02); Patch, Kimberly
By establishing more remote relationships between nodes in a wireless network, one researcher from the University of Southern California has been able to make wireless networks much more efficient. Existing wireless network technologies use hierarchical methods to locate specific nodes in a network, but assistant professor Ahmed Helmy's technique employs special links between peer nodes that are accentuated as the mobile nodes move throughout the network. Instead of mobility becoming a liability, with key nodes moving out of range and upsetting the hierarchy, the network is made more efficient, because the nodes that move to other sections of the network make the ad hoc links more effective. Helmy's system mimics the famous social research done by Stanley Milgram in 1967, which found that nearly all the people on the planet are separated by six degrees of personal relationships. Nodes in Helmy's wireless network schema, whether they be PDAs, laptops, or other devices, are separated into zones, which are analogous to social spheres for people. When the mobile device moves into another zone, the link between that device and its former zone is highlighted, creating more efficient connections within large networks. Helmy plans to deploy his technology in a wireless network consisting of tens of thousands of small wireless devices, a scenario possible in as little as five years, he says.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Researchers Turn Scrap to Strength with Nanocrystals"
NewsFactor Network (08/22/02); Lyman, Jay
Purdue University researchers have learned that the metal shavings produced from machining processes for automobile and metallic components are also nanocrystals that are strong, wear-resistant, and inexpensive to make. They say the process will work with silicon, and could supply the building blocks needed for electronic devices that are only a few billionths of a meter in size. Purdue industrial engineering professor Srinivasan "Chande" Chanderasekar says the process could lead to computing products such as more robust substrates for hard disks and minuscule, high-precision disk drive bearings. The nanocrystals could also be integrated with plastics and other metals to form composite materials that could be incorporated into electronics and automobiles. The scientists, who will report their findings in the October issue of the Journal of Materials Research, note that the nanocrystals can be drawn from diverse metals, such as steel, tungsten, copper, nickel, and titanium alloys. The production process could yield nanocrystals at a maximum cost of $1 per pound, in addition to the cost of the bulk materials; researchers say it currently costs at least $100 per pound to produce nanocrystals.
- (This Article Has Been Withdrawn.)
- "'Animals' Grown from an Artificial Embryo"
New Scientist Online (08/23/02); Graham-Rowe, Duncan
University of Zurich AI researcher Josh Bongard has developed a computer simulation that grows virtual creatures from artificial embryos that are capable of pushing a simulated box. The genome of each embryo cell is represented by a string of random numbers that determine whether the cell will divide or mutate to include new abilities of moving within or sensing its environment. These genes are activated or deactivated by virtual chemicals, and some of the genes may generate chemicals used to trigger more genes. Bongard "grew" his creatures until they were composed of up to 50 cells, then tested them to see which could push the virtual box most effectively. He then blended the most successful box-pushing genomes to form new embryos. Instead of a brain, the artificial organisms possess neurons connecting each cell. Bongard believes that giving the creatures more complex tasks will help them develop a centralized neural system, thus crossing the divide between artificial life and artificial intelligence. He presented his findings at the International Workshop on Biologically Inspired Robotics at HP Labs in Bristol.
- "Activists Take on Hollywood Cartel"
SiliconValley.com (08/25/02); Gillmor, Dan
Activists are going online to challenge legislation backed by the entertainment industry that would give copyright owners absolute control over the use and distribution of copyrighted works, as well as what related technologies can be marketed. Such a move would stifle free speech and technological innovation, writes Dan Gillmor. Tara Grubb, a North Carolina Libertarian candidate running for Congress against seasoned Republican Rep. Howard Coble, has gained a following among Net activists by creating a weblog where she clarifies her opposition to the entertainment cartel's wishes. She also is against a bill Coble sponsors that would allow entertainment companies to interfere with peer-to-peer networks and computers. Furthermore, journalist and blogger Ed Cone wrote a column about Coble's bill that inspired an editorial challenge. Gillmor recommends that people visit the Web sites of other organizations opposing the cartel, and support them if they find a common ground. Such organizations include DigitalConsumer.org and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
- "PipeRench Gives Leverage on Reconfigurable Computing"
EE Times Online (08/21/02); Wilson, Ron
Computer chip researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh unveiled their reconfigurable computing design, called PipeRench, at the recent Hot Chips conference. By using a virtual machine combined with a data pipeline, the team was able to achieve better power performance than other reconfigurable chip designs. Data is first organized in the virtual machine as it is processed through progressive stripes of computing elements, such as storage registers and interconnects. The hardware itself is also based on a pipeline approach, and was built in conjunction with STMicroelectronics on a 16-element by 16-stripe array and runs at 120 MHz, using just three watts. Adaptive Silicon, a reconfigurable chip design firm bought up by LSI Logic, is currently refining a similar reconfigurable computing architecture that uses a virtual machine.
- "Researchers Develop Software to Combat Terror Attacks"
Siliconindia Online (08/16/02)
Alok Chaturvedi and Shailendra Raj Mehta of Purdue University's e-Business Research Center have devised a simulation program designed to prevent terrorist attacks, and were recently invited to the White House to demonstrate the program's homeland defense applications. The technology was originally built for telecommunications, and the researchers say it could be applied to business processes as well. With the help of two IBM supercomputers, Chaturvedi and Mehta used the program to build a "synthetic" model of the United States with a population of 250,000 artificial citizens, or "agents." Nine teams of human "players" interacted with the agents by making real-time homeland defense decisions--road closures, resource allocation, quarantines, and so on. Chaturvedi says that the simulation allows the participants to learn from the mistakes they make. "We can...move backwards and forwards in time to decision support, forecasting, scenario planning and strategy planning, all in an integrated environment," Mehta explains. He adds that the program takes such factors into account as host-to-host and environment-to-host communicability of diseases, and transmission rates determined by population density, mobility, social structure, and lifestyle. The National Science Foundation, Intel, and the Office of Naval Research are among the project's backers.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "It Pays to Play With the CIA"
Wired News (08/23/02); Borin, Eliot
The CIA-backed venture fund In-Q-Tel is setting a new standard of thinking in how government stays abreast of the latest technology. Originally incorporated as a nonprofit organization, In-Q-Tel doles out $1 million to $2 million grants to small technology companies out of an annual $30 million budget. The goal is to obtain access to cutting-edge technology, which is best done by focusing on small companies because of their agility and keen focus on innovation. Specifically, In-Q-Tel aims for technologies that can be used in CIA operations, such as knowledge management, security, meta search, data collection, and geospatial information products. So far, In-Q-Tel has reviewed around 2,000 business plans and awarded funds or other sponsorship support to more than 20 companies, resulting in 19 projects currently being deployed in the agency itself. Already, Congress is pressing the Navy to start up a similar agency, and the Army's technology venture fund is already in the works.
- "Will Quantum Computing Ever Become a Reality?"
NewsFactor Network (08/20/02); Lyman, Jay
Some experts say that the transition to quantum computing is upon us, but others say that its practical applications are still a long time off, given the technology's complexity and the fact that scientists still do not fully comprehend the quantum processing model. University of Wisconsin professor and quantum dot developer Mark Eriksson says that the application of quantum computing to problems that today's supercomputers are working on is "far enough away that anyone who guesses a timeline is doing just that--guessing." Still, he maintains that working quantum computers have already been built, albeit on a limited scale: MIT's Isaac Chuang has created a 7-qubit device based on atomic spin that has successfully factored the number 15. Other breakthroughs include the Institute for Microstructural Science's development of spintronic transistors, and the creation of spintronic materials by University of Buffalo researchers. Meanwhile, Eriksson is working on a single electron transistor that can be used for quantum computing. Quantum computing could yield an exponential increase in computing power and a computer on a chip, according to Bruce McCombe of the University of Buffalo, who estimates that it will be three to five years before the technology can be incorporated into consumer and industry devices. However, he adds that room-temperature spintronic building blocks could be developed within 12 months. Eriksson notes that research into quantum building blocks could help scientists better understand quantum computing, but it is too early to tell which approach will yield the most practical quantum computer.
- "Tablet PCs Will Provide New User Interfaces"
ITWorld.com (08/13/02); Gold, Jack; Kleynhans, Steve; Cearley, David
Microsoft and partner companies Hewlett-Packard, Acer, Toshiba, and Motion have unveiled a Windows Tablet PC device that can recognize and transform handwriting into electronic images within documents. Microsoft's Tablet also includes a new version of Windows XP Professional, as well as voice recognition and voice-interactive applications. The Tablet PC--which will hit the market during fourth quarter--is similar to a notebook device, except it features pen-recognition technology and clipboard-style functionality. META Group analyst Jack Gold notes "some activities are easier, quicker, and more natural to do with a stylus or microphone than a keyboard," which some computer users still find awkward. Initial Tablet PCs will range between $2,000 and $2,500, and lower-priced versions targeting consumers are planned for the future. Meanwhile, IBM plans to introduce its own Tablet PC device sometime during the middle of 2003, and Dell--though taking a wait-and-see approach--is likely to offer a one in 2005. META Group analyst Steve Kleynhans says Microsoft's Bill Gates is a key driver of the Windows Tablet PC, and that "Microsoft sees the Tablet PC as a key to revitalizing the knowledge worker market."
- "Linking With Light"
IEEE Spectrum Online (08/02); Savage, Neil
Some researchers predict that the electron-driven data flow of copper computer connections will be supplanted by the photonic transmission of optical interconnects. "We're already projecting that for certain system requirements data rates are going to be high enough and the link length long enough that we're going to have to use optics," notes Modest Oprysko of IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center. The technology--lasers, detectors, etc.--is already available; what remains is for production costs to drop and performance to be perfected. A significant portion of optical interconnects research stems from a $70 million grant program administered by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which wants to develop massively parallel computers for nuclear reaction simulation. Research overseer Ravindra Athale says the technologies yielded from the initiative will eventually be commercialized for the consumer market. Most optical interconnect systems use vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) to generate photons, which are channeled through a waveguide to a detector. DaimlerChrysler Research has successfully tested prototype waveguide-based optical backplanes that feature a channel rate of 1 Gb/s across distances less than 100 centimeters, and has systems with 2.5 Gb/s and 10 Gb/s channels in various stages of development. Although fiber-based interconnects have hit the market, they have yet to show up inside computers: One optical connector sold by Agilent Technologies can connect computers separated by a maximum distance of 300 meters. Also being developed by engineers are free-space interconnects that communicate signals between chips through the air, which could raise chip-to-chip data throughput a thousandfold and enable high-performance computing.
- "Computers Without Clocks"
Scientific American (08/02) Vol. 287, No. 2,; Sutherland, Ivan E.; Ebergen, Jo
Sun Microsystems Laboratories and other research groups are working on asynchronous computing systems in which each component operates at its own speed rather than depends on the rhythm set by a clock, as is typical of synchronous systems. Asynchronous systems could increase computer speed, make chips more energy-efficient, generate less radio interference, and be used to connect synchronous computers with different clock speeds; furthermore, asynchronous design offers more flexibility. An asynchronous system relies on local coordination circuits, and the most critical circuits are the Rendezvous and the Arbiter. The Rendezvous circuit detects when the last of two or more signals have reached a specific stage, and are used in asynchronous systems to wait until all concurrent actions are complete before the next action is initiated. The Arbiter circuit prioritizes which actions to permit first when more than one request is made, and Arbiters that always reach a decision within a fixed time period cannot be produced. Sun Microsystems has discovered that simplicity is often the key to designing speedy asynchronous systems, and the company has started to incorporate asynchronous systems into products, such as the UltraSPARC IIIi processor. In addition, Philips is selling pagers that feature an asynchronous microcontroller developed at its Netherlands research facility, while England's University of Manchester, the California Institute of Technology, and the University of Tokyo have all demonstrated asynchronous microprocessors. Challenges to asynchronous development include a dearth of mature design tools, education, and standardized testing techniques.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Europe's New Air War"
Wired (08/02) Vol. 10, No. 8, P. 76; Morton, Oliver
Europe is planning a fleet of 30 satellites that will provide location-based services and enhance the precision of existing Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, but officials such as U.S. deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz see sinister connotations in this move. The Galileo fleet would end the U.S. domination of GPS, and could encourage others to use precision weapons and satellite navigation against America. Wolfowitz sent a letter to EU defense ministers, urging them to oppose Galileo, but the tactic was ineffective: European government heads approved Galileo in the spring. The project is Europe's attempt to declare independence from non-European space infrastructure, which the Bildt report lists as being essential to the future of European space policy. Positioning services will be a key element of commercial applications as well as transportation, according to European officials. The European Commission anticipates hundreds of millions of euros in yearly revenues from unique services Galileo will offer, such as encrypted, real-time performance monitoring and "integrity" messaging. The United States is worried that tensions between it and Europe over trade policies could encourage the EU to make Galileo the exclusive supplier for certain applications, while officials such as Wolfowitz contend that Galileo's signals could disrupt or be used to intentionally jam new military signals the United States will introduce next year. By launching Galileo now, the EU would take advantage of an opportunity to capture market share before the United States can put up new GPS satellites that may offer better services.
- "Swarm Intelligence: Power in Numbers"
Communications of the ACM (08/02) Vol. 45, No. 8, P. 62; Tarasewich, Peter; McMullen, Patrick R.
Examining the behavior of social insects and the architecture of their collective activities can be applied to heuristics, and used to solve combinatorial optimization problems that plague product design and other systems. Finding optimum solutions for even relatively small problems can be a challenge because of the enormous number of potential combinations of factors: For example, designing an automobile based on four attributes (horsepower, passenger seating, wheel size, and body style) with three different levels each means considering 81 possible configurations. The self-organizing behavior of social insects is built upon four elements--positive feedback, negative feedback, fluctuation amplification, and multiple interactions of individuals, either directly or indirectly--that can also be translated to heuristics, using, say, an ant colony as a model. Using pheromone trails, randomly moving ants can establish the shortest or most optimal route to a food source that other ants can pick up on and follow; likewise, a form of meta-heuristics known as ant colony optimization (ACO) uses artificial ants that also remember past actions to find the best solutions to combinatorial optimization problems. ACO has been utilized in bus driver scheduling, load balancing in telecommunications networks, vehicle routing, space planning, and packet-switched network routing, among other areas. Swarm intelligence is also exhibited by other types of insect behaviors, such as ants' ability to sort their larvae by developmental stage, their cooperation in moving prey or large pieces of food, and honeybees' allocation of tasks based on age. Problems that such behaviors can be or are being applied to include the sorting and grouping of database information, flexible manufacturing processes, product line design, and stock analysis.