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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 4, Issue 393: Friday, August 30, 2002
- "Hackers Being Jobbed Out of Work"
Wired News (08/30/02); Shachtman, Noah
It is hard for hackers, especially those who have been convicted of a cybercrime, to find "straight" work, given the current job market and political atmosphere. A recent Information Security poll found that just 14 percent of American companies were willing to recruit former hackers for network security projects, according to magazine editor Lawrence Walsh. Max Ray Butler, who once went by the persona "Max Vision," has had trouble landing a legitimate job, even though his reputation as a "good" hacker attracted a large following and once allowed him to command $250-an-hour salaries for his security services. Butler's contributions include a stint as an FBI informant and the creation of the Whitehats.com Web site, which categorized hacker intrusions and offered detection methods. He also spent a year in a federal prison for breaking into government and military computer networks four years ago, even though he claims he was trying to patch a security flaw in the BIND domain-name server program. Some hackers, such as "The Pull," believe that people like Butler, with their extensive knowledge of computer security, will always have a place to work. However, SecurityNewsPortal.com's Marquis Grove comments that there is a surplus of talent fighting over a limited number of openings. Adding to hackers' problems is the USA Patriot Act, which gives federal agencies broader powers to monitor them, while a law passed by the House of Representatives would send convicted hackers to prison for life.
- "Security Officers Split over Chances of Terrorist Cyber-Attack"
The results of a CSO survey issued on Thursday show that 49 percent of corporate security officers fear that terrorists will launch a major attack from cyberspace in the next 12 months. CSO editor in chief Lew McCreary says that these respondents' opinions hold considerable weight, because some have ties to the intelligence and law enforcement communities. Respondents are almost evenly divided over whether American government and businesses now have a better cyberattack response strategy than they did on Sept. 11, while 95 percent believe technology vendors must significantly improve their products' security. Next month the White House will introduce a broad plan to secure cyberspace that requires everyone who uses a computer to contribute to the effort, according to officials. Tiffany Olson of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board says the blueprint, which will be unveiled at Stanford University on Sept. 18, will include recommendations to PC users, small and large enterprises, industrial groups, and federal, state, and local governments. She contends that average Americans are unaware that they have a responsibility to secure the networks they use by installing and using firewalls, anti-virus software, and other tools.
- "Lessons: Keeping Networks Alive in New York"
CNet (08/28/02); Junnarkar, Sandeep
Engineers are trying to fortify New York City's communications networks against catastrophes that threaten to produce the kinds of disruptions the city experienced on Sept. 11; unfortunately, they must still rely on key network interchanges centralized in one location, as well as new technologies built atop old ones, which makes the networks especially vulnerable. Governments and businesses around the world are monitoring the engineers' progress, because every major metropolitan area follows a similar scheme. So that New York can assure major companies that networks are sufficiently diversified, officials are considering several options, including using unused underground water pipes as fiber conduits, setting up a wireless data and cellular network over tens of thousands of rooftops and light poles, and the installation of lateral fiber conduits. Some firms may only be able to switch to other networks in case of disaster by building auxiliary offices outside the Manhattan area, a strategy that would also allow staffs to avoid physical obstacles. Meanwhile, the New York Stock Exchange is adding resiliency to the infrastructure of its Securities Industries Automation subsidiary via the deployment of trackable dedicated fiber-optic lines. Some companies are also acquiring early warning technologies, such as sensors designed to detect structural weaknesses, leaks, building intrusions, and even explosives. However, Rae Zimmerman of the Institute for Civil Infrastructure cautions that such measures could cause an information overload that actually inhibits security systems.
- "Tech Lobbyists Remain Powerful in D.C."
Investor's Business Daily (08/30/02) P. A5; Angell, Mike
The technology industry has gained considerable clout as a political lobbyist, as evidenced by the pro-tech bills that Congress passed this year and the anti-tech bills it suppressed. Center for Responsive Politics communications director Steve Weiss characterizes tech's rise to major lobbyist as a sign of the industry's maturation; between 1998 and 2002, tech climbed from the No. 25 spot to the No. 8 spot among the 80 largest political donors. Between 2001 and 2002, computer and Internet firms alone made $16.1 million in political contributions, according to Weiss' organization. Among the issues and legislation that tech has supported is China's admission to the World Trade Organization, the tax ban on Internet sales, and an increase in temporary worker visas for foreign tech talent. Weiss adds that the tech industry also fervently supports the new Department of Homeland Security because it is likely to reap profits from selling products and services to that unit. Meanwhile, TechNet's Connie Correll notes that her organization has lobbied for fast-track trade authority, more academic promotion of math and science, wider broadband distribution, a ban on stock option accountability, improved national computer network security, more government Internet use, additional funding for the National Science Federation, and tax credits for research and development expenses. Congressional members Correll considers to be allies include Reps. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Dick Armey (R-Texas), and Sens. George Allen (R-Va.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). Weiss says the tech lobby splits business contributions evenly between Democrats and Republicans, a strategy that "makes the industry appealing to both parties."
- "Showdown Time for E-Waste Recycling Bill"
SiliconValley.com (08/29/02); Levey, Noam
With the California legislature just days away from ending its current session, Silicon Valley's technology industry is sparring off against city government leaders and environmentalists over a bill that proposes a fee for new electronics purchases in order to fund the recycling of e-waste. Manufacturers claim that such fees will drive customers to purchase products from out-of-state companies, putting them at a competitive disadvantage. Hewlett-Packard's Gary Fazzino says his company is worried that Dell Computer, based in Texas, will be able to avoid fees, which is why Dell and IBM, among other companies, are withholding their support. Thus far, the only tech vendor to back the bill is Apple Computer. To allay the tech industry's concerns, Sen. Byron Sher (D-Stanford) and Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) have amended the legislation to cover only TVs and computer monitors, reduced the recycling fee from $30 to $10, and eliminated the requirement to have new computers sport warning labels that list the hazards of lead-based monitors. They have also suggested that fees should be imposed on both in-state and out-of-state manufacturers. Observers expect the vote on the bill to be close. "You never know what will happen this time of year," notes Assemblywoman Elaine Alquist.
- "NetTrends: Computer Grids Promise Leap in Computing Power"
Reuters (08/28/02); Henderson, Peter
Grid computing is seen by experts such as IBM's Dan Powers as an important evolutionary step toward the goal of supplying computing power on an as-needed basis, like a utility. Sun Microsystems' Wolfgang Gentzsch believes that the grid schema will be this century's "time machine," a device that significantly accelerates the general pace of the world. The gaming industry could be one of the first to benefit financially from grid technology; Butterfly.net CEO David Levine notes that the technology could enable more online gamers to interact with each other in virtual wars. Other industries that could find grids very useful include biotechnology and automobile manufacture, which do work that could be divided into smaller chunks. Globus project co-leader Ian Foster envisions a grid that uses open standards to allocate computing resources controlled by diverse organizations, but he says such resource sharing will only be possible once security, accounting, and technical problems are resolved. Powers says, "The longer term vision of what grid is is basically about virtualization of IT resources."
- "A Universal Tool to Rescue Old Files From Obsolescence"
New York Times (08/29/02) P. E5; Eisenberg, Anne
Dr. Raymond Lorie of the IBM Almaden Research Center has proposed a system that could act as the computer equivalent of Esperanto--a universal language that would enable future computers to read files written in obsolete formats. A prototype of his universal virtual computer was tested for the National Library of the Netherlands, and the library's director of information technology, Johan Steenbakkers, gave it high marks, saying that a proof of concept was successfully demonstrated. Lorie explains that a computer program written for his system extracts the data stored in a file, using tags to read and display the contents in a way that minimizes user confusion. The system's success would depend on whether the computer industry adopts it as a standard. Developers who write software with new file formats would have to add software capable of reading and displaying files in the universal computer's language, while future computer developers would need to have easy access to descriptions of the system. With this accomplished, all future users would have to do is write a simple set of instructions that allow their machines to emulate Lorie's system. Meanwhile, Jeff Rothenberg of RAND calls Lorie's data extraction program too limited, and favors the preservation of the original software. He insists that "This is the only reliable to way to recreate a digital document's function, look and feel."
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Fabricating the Future"
Christian Science Monitor (08/29/02) P. 11; Valigra, Lori
Proponents expect smart fabrics, or wearable computing, to be a key driver of the U.S. economy, while its diversity should advance technology overall. MIT Media Lab graduate and International Fashion Machines co-founder Maggie Orth anticipates commercialization of smart fabrics within three years. Her company is developing electronic plaid technology, in which wires and capsules of thermochromatic ink are incorporated into the fabric; the ink's hue shifts in response to temperature changes, and possible applications include military camouflage, point-of-purchase signs, cubicle walls, and clothes that change color in different environments. Infineon Technologies' Werner Weber expects wearable electronics will be stitched into textiles, obviating the need for users to carry around manuals. Projects his company is working on include a jacket with an embedded MP3 player, and technology that can covert body heat into electric energy for watches and other low-power devices. Future soldiers could use smart fabrics to send and receive battlefield data via a wearable electronic network, detect dangerous agents in the environment, and communicate with others through, say, a fabric keyboard weaved into the uniform's sleeve; such work is being done at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center, which is focusing on lightweight and flat fabric technology that is unobtrusive. The center's James Fairneny is leading a group investigating how to better integrate electronic technology into fabrics, as well as how to manufacture such products. Other areas of interest include textiles embedded with polymers that keep wearers and surfaces antiseptic, clothes and toys coated with a flame-retardant compound, and fabrics that monitor the user's vital signs.
- "CMU Robotics Pioneer Sets Sights on Old Mines"
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Online (08/28/02); Spice, Byron
Inaccurate mapping of disused mines is partly responsible for incidents such as the recent Quecreek mine collapse, and some technologists support the use of robots to probe and measure such unsafe mines to prevent future accidents. Carnegie Mellon University robotics pioneer William "Red" Whittaker believes that he can build a prototype amphibious machine that can enter a mine through a borehole, reconfigure itself into an operational mode, and measure the environment with sonar arrays or laser range finders. However, Penn State University's Christopher Bise dismisses robot mine surveys as ridiculous, arguing that seismic studies and other geophysical analysis techniques are adequate enough. Franklin Orr Jr. of the National Research Council and Don Steeples of the University of Kansas see the value in robot mapping, especially since robotics technology will get less costly over time. William Stone of the National Institute of Standards and Technology envisions such machines being used for rescue and aid operations, particularly for missions that require traversing through deep underwater tunnels that pose too much of a risk to human beings. Stone, Whittaker, and the Southwest Research Institute are seeking funding so they can build DEPTHX, an autonomous robot based on simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology that would be used to survey the world's deepest underwater cave, and could later be used to explore the Jovian moon of Europa. Meanwhile, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and state Sen. Tim Murphy (R-Upper St. Clair) will get a demonstration of the latest in mapmaking robot technology during a briefing at the National Robotics Consortium on Wednesday.
- "Can a Computer Have a Conscience?"
IDG News Service (08/27/02); Williams, Martyn
- "OLEDs Get Ready to Light Up the Market for Flexible Screens"
Small Times Online (08/29/02); Mason, Jack
Computer monitors, laptops, PDAs, televisions, and other products could one day boast thinner, brighter, and cheaper screens fashioned from organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs). The groundwork for OLED screens that have started to enter the commercial market was laid by companies such as Eastman Kodak and Cambridge Display Technology (CDT). Kodak has channeled its "small molecule" technology into OLED color screens that are being produced in conjunction with Sanyo Electric. Meanwhile, CDT's Stewart Hough notes that his company's inkjet-printed polymer screens are currently being used in an electric shaver from Philips; CDT also recently entered into an agreement with MediaWorks Technology to produce a hybrid display controller/polymer display. OLEDs, which generate their own light, weigh less than liquid crystal displays (LCDs), while DisplaySearch's Barry Young says that they also possess faster response time, higher contrast, and wider viewing angles. Hough says the commercialization of OLEDs relies on small technology: It plays a role in just about every aspect of OLED manufacture, including equipment that measures and analyzes light-emitting polymer films, and the refinement of organic chemistry that determines the displays' optical performance. By 2006, sales revenues from OLED screens will total $2.5 billion, according to Young. He adds that OLED screen life should increase from 10,000 hours to 20,000 hours in the next few years.
- "New Hard-Drive Tech Overcomes Magnetic Memory Problems"
NewsFactor Network (08/28/02); Lyman, Jay
Seagate maintains that magnetic storage will continue to be the mass storage medium of choice, and announced a breakthrough in heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) technology that overcomes the paramagnetism limit. Seagate researchers think HAMR can allow up to 50 TB per square inch to be stored on one notebook computer disk drive, even though it was originally expected to store only 1 TB per square inch. The approach involves heating the disk and recording elements with a laser beam, which Seagate says significantly increases density and simplifies the writing of information. Cooling the medium stabilizes the data. John Paulsen of Seagate believes that it could take five to 10 years for the technology to be added to commercial products. At the opening of a Pittsburgh research center, the company demonstrated the HAMR technology. Meanwhile, IBM researchers recently declared that they could squeeze a vast amount of data into 1 TB per square inch, which represents a twentyfold increase in storage density over the most dense magnetic storage solutions available. And the University of Buffalo is developing a nanoscale sensor that can read shrinking data bits, a breakthrough that officials say could lead to the storage of DVD movies on small devices, or a wristwatch-sized supercomputer.
- "'Smart' Vehicle Program Hits Rough Road"
United Press International (08/23/02); Burnell, Scott R.
During a discussion of the Intelligent Vehicle Initiative (IVI) on Friday, members of a Transportation Research Board committee noted that progress has been made, but significant obstacles to development still need to be overcome. The purpose of the IVI is to improve driver safety by speeding up the development of accident prevention technologies such as radar-based collision avoidance systems. Raymond Resendes of the Transportation Department reported that the biggest impediment is automakers' reluctance to disclose proprietary information to the public. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's August Burgett said that car companies' refusal to make algorithms accessible, for instance, has forced the government to build its own impact-prediction software in order to test rear-end collision avoidance systems. Committee member and Ford retiree Helen Petrauskas commented that earlier attempts to address data availability issues resulted in a compromise in which automakers brief federal employees on sensitive data without providing copies of the information. Both Burgett and Resendes agreed that the IVI has kept to its mission to accelerate the delivery of technology to the consumer: For example, Burgett noted that when the government awards a research grant to a company, it often causes competitors to do similar research. Furthermore, Resendes said that another IVI project has resulted in automakers adopting standardized applications to build icons and other techniques that deliver data to drivers. Resendes said that the IVI plans to concentrate more on light-duty research, which focuses on cars, commercial trucks, specialty vehicles, and transit vehicles.
- "All-in-one Controller Would Talk to Myriad Appliances"
Associated Press (08/25/02)
Researchers are working on creating a system where all household electronics and appliances would be controlled with a single remote. The Consumer Electronics Association says the average American household has four remote controls, and users often complain about the complexity of using the existing universal remotes on the market. Jupiter Research's Michael Gartenberg says, "We have managed to take the worst of the PC industry and transplant it into home electronics." Carnegie Mellon University researchers are working in conjunction with Maya Designs on a new type of system that would remove the programming burden from users and place it on the devices themselves; they are pushing for intelligent chips and basic learning capabilities built into household devices that can communicate with the remote and with each other. For now, they have set up an ad hoc system using a wireless-equipped laptop. However, Gartenberg says the standards issue rather than the technology is the main obstacle, as is cost. He says, "The technology is all there and it could happen tomorrow." Currently, a number of technologies are available that are aimed at this home networking space, including two-way infrared, Sun Microsystems' Jini language, and Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play protocol. It could be 10 years before manufacturers include the necessary technology to enable "smart" appliances, according to analysts.
- "IT's Alive: Chips and Circuits That Mimic Cells"
NewsFactor Network (08/23/02); Martin, Mike
IT executives believe that the sector could evolve with the advent of biologically-inspired computers. IBM's Nick Donofrio says that current research in this area involves understanding how living systems self-organize, and then applying those principles to computers. He notes that IBM researchers are developing self-replicating carbon nanotubes that could be used as transistors in computer systems, and adds that these nanotubes, in addition to being super-strong and super-small, could boost processing capability a hundred-billion times that of current microprocessors. Donofrio also says that scientists plan to model computers after self-organizing insect societies such as ants, and self-improving organisms such as abalone. Meanwhile, IBM's Sharon Nunes notes that the company is refining the Regatta System, a computer capable of repairing itself. Among the challenges to perfecting such technology are giving these artificial cells the ability to stop replicating after a certain point. Kevin Gillis of the University of Missouri believes that biological computing research will eventually yield some useful things, although commercial applications are some time off. Jonathan Bell of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, estimates that it will be at least 100 years before truly living computer systems are developed.
- "High Tech's Future Is in the Toy Chest"
Business Week (08/26/02) No. 3796, P. 124; Weintraub, Arlene
Significant technological advancements are being made in fields such as artificial intelligence, wireless communications, and virtual reality, and the pioneers are toy manufacturers. Their breakthroughs in such areas as video games and toy robots are being applied to other industries that prize them beyond mere entertainment value. A toy car that can climb over obstacles and reorient itself if flipped over is the basis for a robotic Humvee designed by Carnegie Mellon researchers that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding. In another military project, the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) is developing a virtual reality video game as a training tool for soldiers; the enormous detail the game boasts would not be possible without groundwork laid out by game makers. Meanwhile, medical students are being trained with technology used to add force feedback to games, and top tech companies are rethinking corporate backbones thanks to the proliferation of artificial worlds designed for Internet-based multiplayer games. The Aibo robotic dog has advanced to the point where it can download email wirelessly and film streaming video, and could herald robots that work in teams, according to Greg E. Blonder of Morgenthaler Ventures. Toy manufacturers are very desirable as industrial collaborators because they can accelerate the development of new technology and package it affordably. Toy technologies have the potential to radically change business processes throughout all industries.
- "Focus on the Process"
InformationWeek (08/26/02) No. 903, P. 30; Chabrow, Eric; Ewalt, David M.; Swanson, Sandra
The economic recession has given a new immediacy to the need for companies to change their business processes so that IT investments will yield maximum returns. Business partners must identify core business processes, study them to see if they can be significantly improved, and then discuss the technology to implement those improvements. Tech vendors also realize this, and are now marketing products designed to transform processes, although executives such as Partners Healthcare System CIO John Glaser say all they are really doing is adjusting their sales pitch. Choosing the technology to fit the business process is not necessarily the best course of action; businesses that already have sizeable IT investments may instead opt to align the processes to the technology. Process change can be accelerated by the Internet, which has become a platform for business collaboration. PeopleSoft CTO Rick Bergquist believes that Web services will ease business process modification, and his company plans to debut a suite of business process management tools that require minimal customization. Technology can also help companies strictly adhere to business processes.
- "Nano for the Nation: Mihail Roco"
Small Times (08/02) Vol. 2, No. 4, P. 14; Brown, Doug
National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) director Mihail "Mike" Roco has spent the last seven years using his federal clout to develop the nanotech field, and his advocates attribute his success to his intelligence, diligence, and political savvy. In 1991, he developed a nanoparticle research program that won a $3 million government grant and became the first nanotech-focused federal initiative. After joining the National Science Foundation in 1995, Roco networked with academic, industry, and government researchers in the hopes of organizing a nanotech coalition. He also outlined a study of international nanotech efforts and founded an inter-government organization, the Interagency Working Group on Nanoscience, Engineering, and Technology, which developed new nanoscale research guidelines. Nanotech's potential to revolutionize manufacturing, as promoted by the group, aroused the interest of White House officials, and Roco was invited to present nanotech proposals to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and other agencies in 1999. In October of 1999, the OMB announced the NNI as the sole national initiative it would promote for 2001, and the project was launched by President Clinton on Jan. 21, 2000. President Bush has proposed a $710 million budget for the NNI this year. Roco says the key to the NNI's success has been its bottom-up, grassroots approach; he notes that the project is driven by the promise of scientific innovations, whereas other government science projects are fueled by economic, military, or international factors.
- "Tongue Twisters"
CommVerge (08/02) Vol. 3, No. 7, P. 42; Quinnell, Richard A.
Computer systems are not only enabling international connections, but are also crossing the language gap through machine translation (MT). The technology has its drawbacks, but when properly implemented, it can save time and money. MT applications being used today are either translation memory or translation engines: Language Engineering CEO Glenn Akers explains that the former method involves a database of reusable sentences that is optimal for product user manuals and other documents that rarely change. Translation engines can effect high-speed, general text translation, which IBM Pervasive Computing's Brian Garr says is ideal for Web pages, email, and instant messaging. MT's slow rollout, at least in the United States, is due to high deployment costs coupled with little return on investment, while the translation itself is often inaccurate because of a lack of sophistication as well as quality input, according to Akers. This disadvantage makes MT inappropriate for critical correspondence important to company representation, but by understanding and accepting the technology's limitations, one can realize its value in interactive communications as well as situations where human translation is unworkable. For example, international development teams could collaborate more easily with MT, and would be willing to tolerate its flaws as long as they are aware of them. Meanwhile, MT's accuracy is being improved via the integration of translation memory and translation engines, while new applications, such as automatic voice translation, are being explored.
Click Here to View Full Article