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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 401: Friday, September 20, 2002

  • "Cybersecurity Plan Lacks Muscle"
    CNet (09/19/02); Lemos, Robert; McCullagh, Declan

    Critics of the White House cybersecurity strategy, unveiled on Wednesday, contend that it lacks teeth, because it simply recommends that industry and individual users be more responsible rather than proposes new legislation to implement security measures. Earlier drafts of the plan required ISPs to supply users with security devices and called for the prioritization of wireless security, among other things--but such suggestions have been eliminated due to industry pressure. Avoiding government regulation is the report's mantra, and cybersecurity czar Richard Clarke pointed out during the report's unveiling at Stanford University that the Internet infrastructure is almost exclusively a private-sector domain. Secure Information Systems CEO Steven Kirschbaum and others lauded the report as a significant first step toward securing the Internet, but Kirschbaum admitted that "Without [enforcement]," it's just a nice press release." The plan does suggest, however, that companies that provide secure software should be awarded government contracts. The report also recommends that businesses deploy network authentication, manage their configuration, educate employees in smart security strategies, build incident response and security management teams, conduct network analysis at regular intervals, and employ smart procurement to guarantee that products boast appropriate safeguards. The plan's most significant effect could be to bring Internet security to the attention of the public, but Foley and Lardner partner Michael Overly laments that the present draft "offers little more than a rehash of ideas that have been expressed many times in the past." CSIS Council of Technology and Public Policy's James Lewis argues that there will be little progress in cybersecurity improvements using a strictly voluntary approach.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1023-958545.html

  • "Senate Scrutinizes U.S. Nanotech Investments"
    Computerworld Online (09/18/02); Thibodeau, Patrick

    Nanotechnology's increasing importance to the United States' global economic strength was illustrated when the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space held the first official nanotech hearing yesterday. Testimony from experts indicated that the field is beset by research and funding problems that increased corporate and federal investment alone cannot solve. "Funding is not enough; there has to be careful planning to make sure the funding is used for sound science," declared subcommittee Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who introduced a bill this week calling for the establishment of national nanotech research facilities, better coordination of federal nanotech funding initiatives, and a yearly assessment of both national and international nanotech research efforts. Meanwhile, the White House is lobbying for a 17 percent increase in basic nanotech research spending for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, or $679 million. NanoBusiness Alliance executive director Mark Modzelewski and Stanley Williams of Hewlett-Packard testified yesterday that academic nanotech research efforts are being compromised by entrepreneurism; Williams said that university researchers are forming startups based on research funded by major companies. Northwestern University professor Samuel Stupp argued that most schools are very fair when it comes to granting intellectual property licenses, and suggested that the subcommittee examine the situation on a national level first. Meanwhile, Williams noted that the United States is engaged in "a dogfight" with other nations over nanotech--in fact, Japan, EU members, and others are matching America in investment levels.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Computing in Indian Language Could Help Other Countries Too"
    India Abroad (09/19/02)

    Indian language-based computing could help IT penetrate the mainstream in other Asian countries besides India. Pat Hall of Britain's Open University notes that Southeast Asian languages such as Myanmarese use variants of Brahmi, which shares similarities to Indic scripts. He says that he recently met experts from Laos and Cambodia that are interested in India's progress in local language computing. The Indic Computing Group, the International Institute of Information Technology, the Indian Institute of Technology, and the National Center for Software Technology are among the groups developing Indian language computing. Other activists in this area include local GNU/Linux users' groups, volunteer open-source software advocates dispersed across the Indian continent, and organizations such as the Simputer network, which are working to bring IT solutions to rural regions. Expert Tapan Parikh says that cultural and linguistic barriers as well as engineering obstacles will have to be overcome. Recent progress includes a Tamil-enabled version of Mandrake GNU/Linux software, which Indian expatriates living in Canada have found very useful.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "No Keys, Just Soft Light and You"
    New York Times (09/19/02) P. E5; Marriott, Michel

    Virtual keyboards are under development that promise to eliminate the need for mobile input devices such as portable keyboards or thumb keypads, and could eventually liberate users from the "legacy of desktop computing," says DEMOmobile executive producer Chris Shipley. Canesta will soon introduce a virtual keyboard that can be projected onto practically any surface from a handheld device. The device features electronic perception technology to track the movement of the user's fingertips using infrared light, and process the keystrokes. Canesta engineers say the system uses minuscule chips that are integrated into the electronics of existing devices. "The initial importance of this is that it is going to give you a virtual keyboard in a cell phone or PDA without having to carry an extra piece of hardware," notes Gartner G2 analyst Van Baker. Canesta executives say the chipset is relatively cheap, and add that the system lacks moving parts and should not tax batteries. They expect the keyboard to show up in handheld digital organizers in the first quarter of 2003. Company founders Nazim Kareemi and Cyrus Bamji have stated in interviews that the machine vision their virtual keyboard system uses could also be applied to the improvement of security devices and automotive sensors used to deploy airbags. Canesta will demonstrate the virtual keyboard system today at the DEMOmobile conference in San Diego; Jerusalem's VKB and the U.S.'s Virtual Devices have also recently announced similar technologies.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/19/technology/circuits/19KEYS.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Engineers Meet for Mass Mind Meld"
    Wired News (09/20/02); Dean, Katie

    Approximately 100 engineering experts distinguished by their work in industry, academic circles, and government have been selected to attend this week's Frontiers of Engineering symposium in Irvine, Calif., which is organized to promote cross-discipline communication. "We want to establish linkages between...future [engineering] leaders," explains William Wulf of the National Academy of Engineering, which sponsors the annual conference. Participants are usually between 30 and 45 years old, fulfilling the conference's mission to draw younger engineers. The symposium covers four topics: 21st-century chemical and molecular engineering, future developments in nuclear energy, quantum information technology's engineering challenges, and technology for human beings. Discussions between attendees revolve around a variety of subjects, including fuel cells, scalable quantum computing, cryptography, and computational fluid dynamics. James Blanchard of the University of Wisconsin-Madison praises the conference as a place where experts in certain fields can draw insights from those in other fields. For instance, John Weatherly of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Lab says quantum computing could potentially help his work in global climate simulation and forecasting. Cryptography specialist Matt Franklin of the University of California at Davis maintains that the presence of so many knowledgeable people generates an enthusiasm to learn.
    http://www.wired.com/news/school/0,1383,55267,00.html

  • "Crypto-Chip Boosts ID Security"
    MSNBC (09/19/02); Ham, Becky

    Researchers from MIT and ThingMagic report in Friday's issue of Science that they have developed a physical mechanism that can supply cryptographic security to smart cards, sensors, and other forms of ID. The mechanism is an epoxy token filled with glass spheres that disperse laser light as a one-way function--an equation that is easily computed in one direction but is difficult to compute in the opposite direction. The internal structure of the token provides a specific speckle pattern that can be converted into encrypted data. The laser light acts as an input, while the speckle pattern acts as an output; furthermore, these inputs and outputs could be entered into a database, allowing the tokens to be read at a terminal that checks the database and verifies their ID. The researchers report that the tokens are immune to tampering and copying. "This research illustrates the fact that there is a lot to be gained by treating information and its physical embodiment as a coherent whole," explains ThingMagic's Ravikanth Pappu. Although it is doubtful that the tokens will supplant current encryption techniques, they could be useful providers of cheap, secure authentication. "Smart card security is likely to be the most important application of this technology, but another significant one could be in authenticating a device, rather than just data," notes Neil Gershenfeld of MIT.
    http://www.msnbc.com/news/810083.asp?0si=

  • "DemoMobile Highlights the Hopefuls"
    InfoWorld.com (09/19/02); Schwartz, Ephraim

    Companies large and small are showcasing, demonstrating, and discussing innovative technologies at the DemoMobile conference in California this week. Wireless mobility, wireless network management, smart displays, and support for home-based networks are just some of the technologies circulating throughout the conference. Some of the products being demonstrated include Logitech's Personal Digital Pen, which comes with an optical sensor and is designed to work with paper pre-printed with dot patterns--the implement stores handwriting in Flash memory, and the data can be transferred to a proprietary .pen format that can be downloaded into nearly any standard software package. Wireless solutions featured at DemoMobile include SONbuddy peer-to-peer technology from GreenPacket, which enables wireless users to exploit their network connections to rapidly reach targeted users across a network; a PocketThis data service that executives classify as an interactive, wireless Post It Note; and a 802.11x-based instant voice communications system from Vocera Communications. Meanwhile, Sony and Qualcomm executives are promoting their VaioMedia and Brew 2.0 handset development environment, respectively. Sony's Jamey Gottlieb says that VaioMedia can wirelessly link up to 16 PCs and notebooks into a home entertainment network. Geophoenix's Zoominator interface allows content providers to relay complex information on small displays, while managers will be able to manage wireless network traffic via Cyneta Networks' Intelligent Packet Control Node network analyzer. Microsoft is demonstrating a slew of technologies, including Smart Displays with embedded IEEE 802.11x capability and touch-screen monitors, and Broadband Networking, a Wi-Fi tool that is designed to simplify the establishment of a local area 802.11x network.
    http://www.pcworld.com/resource/printable/article/0,aid,105105,00.asp

  • "Computer Signals Size Up Earth"
    NewsFactor Network (09/19/02); Martin, Mike

    The Earth's dimensions can be rapidly and easily measured by reading computer signals conveyed by fiber-optic cables buried under the oceans, according to a recent paper from Michael Crescimanno of Youngstown State University. He claims that students can estimate the planet's size, using only a piece of string, a globe, and a computer linked to the Internet. "The traceroute utility on any computer connected to the Internet can be used to record the round-trip time for small Internet packets between major Internet traffic hubs," Crescimanno notes. He says he devised the traceroute methodology to educate students about data systematics and give them experience in the practical use of scientific notation. A traceroute signal can circumnavigate the Earth over a glass fiber-optic line in a fraction of a millisecond, but the impracticality of producing such a signal prompted Crescimanno and his students to opt for shorter signals spanning between Seattle and Hawaii. The physics professor says that students can convert the distance between those two locations to a global radial estimate, provided that their classroom globe is accurate; however, perfect distance measurement is impossible, because Earth's topography is uneven. Crescimanno has tried to mitigate the margin of error by comparing road and straight-line distances between eight cities in the state of Ohio.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/19454.html

  • "Building Ideas"
    Boston Globe (09/18/02) P. G1; Kirsner, Scott

    Numerous companies and academic research laboratories in the Boston area are pursuing technologies that promise to spur growth, demonstrating the resiliency of the region's research infrastructure despite the sluggish economy, according to Donald Fraser of Boston University's Photonics Center. The 50-year-old BBN Technologies is hiring despite the slump; it has played a substantial role in the development of email, ARPANET, and computer time-sharing; technologies it is currently working on include speech recognition and language comprehension systems, and what President Tad Elmer calls a "quantum mechanical network for secure key distribution." Fraser says the Photonics Center's mission is "to harvest good research and turn it into good companies," but admits that the facility is struggling to prove its viability. Many companies being incubated at the center are focusing on the medical applications of optical systems. One of the Boston area's youngest labs is the Orange Innovation Centre, which hires researchers with entrepreneurial experience to prototype new data applications for mobile phones. The purpose of Mitsubishi Electric Research Lab (MERL) is to improve human/machine interfaces, says director Joe Marks; projects in development include DiamondTouch, an interactive table that features projected images that can be manipulated by finger movements, software that supports multiple use of LCD projectors, and advanced facial image analysis. Meanwhile, MIT's Media Lab is trying to transition to a dependency on federal funding, and has had some success in garnering money for its Center for Bits and Atoms, a nanotechnology research facility. Finally, although the highly secretive data storage company EMC remains generally mute about its research, senior VP Chris Gahagan does hint that there is a greater focus on software than hardware, as well as how to improve the efficiency of technology EMC clients use.
    http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/261/business/Building_ideas+.shtml

  • "Coming Soon: New Alloys With Shape Recall"
    ExtremeTech (09/16/02); Salvator, Dave

    Shape memory technology developed by pioneers such as Peter Salmon could usher in a new paradigm of form-factor computers. Salmon's SysFlex technology, which integrates shape-memory alloy (SMA) with dense, flexible motherboards, could be used to create rollup devices such as displays, keyboards, and sensors, and it could also act as the building block for a new generation of smaller PDAs, cell phones, and mobile PCs with more features. A prime application for SMA would be bendable laptops, but certain design challenges would need to be met prior to commercialization. For one thing, the laptop would have to be highly durable, while alternate input technologies such as voice recognition would serve people not used to typing with flat touchpad-style keyboards. The portability and compactness of such devices could also make them valuable as home network nodes. Key to Salmon's rollup display scheme is the develop of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), while SysFlex could also lend itself to the creation of small but expandable high-performance desktops, such as machines with multiple device bays compatible with PCI-Express device modules. A rollup display modeled after a fountain pen is another application involving the combination of OLEDs and shape memory. Producing dense motherboards with SysFlex technology costs considerably less than with traditional manufacturing methods.
    http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,3973,533779,00.asp

  • "A Gathering of Big Crypto Brains"
    Wired News (09/19/02); Lillington, Karlin

    Well-known cryptography experts met in Naas, Ireland, this week for the annual COSAC conference, which gave them the opportunity to pick each other's brains, demonstrate their research, and discuss such topics as wireless security, forensics, and the corporate attitude of ignoring security matters. COSAC attendees have included Data Encryption Standard breaker Michael Wiener and public key cryptography inventor Whitfield Diffie. Inforenz director Andy Clark participated in this year's conference, where he disclosed that "evidence eliminator" software that supposedly deletes computer files is faulty. Meanwhile, Yokohama National University professor Tsutomu Matsumoto and a team of graduate students demonstrated how biometric fingerprint scanners could be fooled using artificial fingers. Revealed was a technique in which silicone fingers containing a conductive material derived from carbon powder can unlock the devices. Matsumoto has also shown that gelatin "gummy fingers" with moisture content similar to real fingers can also be used, while a third method involves lifting a fingerprint from glass and placing it on a bogus digit using an electron microscope, an inkjet printer, and Photoshop software. COSAC organizer David Lynas, who works for the QinetiQ computer security company, described the conference as "the only environment in which [leading computer security figures] actually learn."
    http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,55209,00.html

  • "Space Particles Hit Logic Chips"
    EE Times Online (09/17/02); Edwards, Chris

    As clock speeds increase and chip functions operate on smaller platforms, chip designers are working out how best to deal with logic errors resulting from radiated alpha particles and neutrons. French firm Iroc Technologies is partnering with several chip companies to test their products and gather information on how often logic errors are introduced by radiation, which is measured by failure in time (FIT). Iroc CEO Eric Dupont says that, to date, there is no definite data on how radiation affects logic and memory functions, a need already established by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors. So far, Iroc's Sertest Shuttle project has shown that errors increase in accordance with clock speed. Radiation-induced errors are a major concern for network chips, one reason manufacturers build in error-correcting circuits, and also hardware governing e-commerce transactions. Dupont notes that his company's collaboration will involve 130-nm and 90-nm features, with results expected in 2003. "Error correction has to be built into on-chip memories," says Don MacMillan of Synopsys. "Particularly in network chips, it is mandatory at 130 nm and probably at 180 nm."
    http://eetimes.com/semi/news/OEG20020917S0055

  • "Farewell to Face-to-Face"
    Boston Globe (09/16/02) P. C1; Howe, Peter J.

    Sales of videoconferencing and teleconferencing systems were expected to skyrocket after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the growth rate appears to have returned to normal levels in the past 12 months. An informal poll of major Boston area companies and analysts indicates that the growth in conferencing services is chiefly driven by the need to lower corporate costs rather than avoid air travel. Netspoke CEO Scott D'Entremont also lists the need to increase productivity as a major factor. AT&T reported that use of its conferencing services grew 20 percent immediately following Sept. 11, but spokesman Jeff Roberts notes that levels have since reverted to "slightly over 2001." Frost & Sullivan forecasts that worldwide sales of videoconferencing systems will jump to $1.55 billion by 2005 from $819.9 million in 2001. However, videoconferencing adoption is still hampered because many people believe it is too cumbersome. Audioconferencing services, by contrast, are being embraced more: Bob Moore of British Telecom says that voice-only phone meetings account for 80 percent of teleconferencing today, with as much as 80 percent of those conferences facilitated via automated "reservation-less" systems. Analysts such as Wainhouse's Andy Nilssen insist that face-to-face meetings are still highly valued, and he attributes their importance to executives as the reason why businesses are slow to invest in videoconferencing systems.
    http://digitalmass.boston.com/news/tech_innovation/news/0916_face.html

  • "Government Program to Get Women Back to IT"
    silicon.com (09/16/02); Hayday, Graham

    As part of the UK government's Teaching Company Scheme (TCS), 10 women will be placed in positions involving science, engineering, and technology (SET) to encourage other women to return to those industries. Coventry University will manage the project while funding will be provided by the government's Promoting SET for Women Unit. TCS says the 750,000-pound pilot project will produce case studies from which other firms can learn. "This regional pilot will improve representation [and] showcase the positive impact women returners can have," says Coventry University Enterprises' John Latham. In 2000, there were 290,000 working-age women with SET degrees, up from 240,000 in 1992, according to the government's Promoting SET for Women Unit. However, the number of females with SET degrees working in SET occupations has remained constant at about 25 percent since 1992; for men, the figure is 40 percent. It is estimated that the United Kingdom has a pool of some 50,000 potential women returners in SET fields.
    http://uk.news.yahoo.com/020916/152/d9pey.html

    To learn more about ACM's Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Building a Better Workplace"
    Sydney Morning Herald Online (09/16/02); Cochrane, Nathan

    Australian researchers are creating office technologies that promote ad hoc collaboration and interactivity between co-workers. Existing workplaces often stifle the free flow of ideas and face-to-face meetings that can improve business productivity and competitive advantage, according to the team from the University of Queensland's Distributed Systems Technology Center (DSTC). By installing smart, wireless systems within a building, workers would be able to immediately reserve meeting rooms or obtain other resources when they want to call up colleagues for discussion. Presence technology would also alert others to when workers are free to chat, extending the opportunity for idea exchange that often takes place around the office water cooler. These applications are made possible by a set of disparate but interoperable technologies developed at the DSTC and marketed by private firms. Pegamento, for example, is a Web services middleware that allows applications using Microsoft's .Net to communicate with those running on Java. Organizations can use Pegamento to build modular and open systems that are not tied to one particular technology, and the middleware is currently being deployed by Australia's electronic medical records project, HealthConnect. Another technology is Elvin, a messaging system that automatically routes messages to appropriate recipients according to whether or not the content is relevant.
    http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/09/16/1032054755618.html

  • "Small Wonders"
    Economist (09/12/02) Vol. 364, No. 8290, P. 76

    Both IBM and Hewlett-Packard have developed circuitry with unprecedented component density using new technologies, vastly raising the bar of potential memory storage. HP's Stanley Williams recently announced at a Royal Institute of Technology conference that his quantum science research unit had built an electronically switchable memory circuit of unparalleled density using so-called molecular electronics. In addition to being the first notable demonstration of the technology, it also establishes the reliability of a new contact-printing method that should facilitate the cheap assembly of molecular-electronic elements, and certifies the economy of reading and writing to such components. So far, the memory bits are composed of molecular clusters rather than individual molecules; bits are written by applying a voltage to the clusters, which changes their molecular structure via quantum tunneling. The circuitry should have a memory capacity of 6.4 GB per square centimeter. The device produced by this technique is nonvolatile, so memory can be preserved even after shutdown. HP estimates that it will be at least five years before the first commercial molecular electronic products become available. IBM's Millipede technology, which the company introduced earlier this year, demonstrated even higher storage densities, but the presence of moving parts requires a much more delicate manufacturing methodology.
    http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=1325210
    (Access for paying subscribers, or pay per view.)

  • "The Networked Car"
    Technology Review (09/02) Vol. 105, No. 7, P. 22; Talbot, David

    Bosch prototype cars illustrate cutting-edge advances in automotive electronics; they feature Cartronic software that can regulate electricity, keep engine temperature at optimal levels, and give braking and down-shifting unprecedented precision. One Bosch vehicle comes with software that the company's Rainer Kallenbach claims can consume up to 5 percent less fuel than traditional systems that rely on the gas pedal, brake pedal, and gearshift. It also comes with a joystick that controls multiple systems, while a video camera and radar can detect oncoming obstacles and decelerate the car automatically in case of collision. Another Bosch auto features a software-controlled thermal management system that precisely controls engine temperature. Software controls could also be applied to steering and air conditioning systems. Coordination software must be supported by backup systems as well. Bosch plans to market its Cartronic technology as early as 2005, while Lino Guzzella of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's Measurement and Control Lab expects automotive systems such as Bosch's to stream into the marketplace at a steady pace over the next 10 years. Guzzella believes that falling technology prices and intensifying competition will drive the adoption of such systems. Guzzella says, "This is where the future is for everybody in this business."
    http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/innovation10902.asp

  • "Does IT Favor Men?"
    Enterprise Systems (09/02) Vol. 17, No. 9, P. 56; Doty, Nick

    A recent Techies.com survey of 2,067 IT professionals in the United States shows that, although women are being promoted to managerial positions more often, they still do not have equal footing with men in this area. The survey drew a huge response from women themselves, with 64 percent of the respondents being female. This, perhaps, shows the frustration and across-the-board impact of gender bias issues in IT. Some of the reasons given for gender bias in IT promotion included executives' fear that women managers would take time off to bear children, and doubt as to whether women would be able to manage a predominantly male team. According to the survey, women managers were more common in larger companies than in smaller ones. The survey also found women ranked nearly the same as men in key managerial attributes, such as loyalty, reliability, and skills, although 68 percent of respondents also said they were better organized than male counterparts. Approximately 70 percent of respondents said that the promotion of women to managerial positions has either improved or remained the same in the last two years, but 76 percent concluded that men still have better odds of being groomed as managers.
    http://esj.com/departments/article.asp?EditorialsID=71

  • "'Arguing A.I.' Barely Scratches Surface of Intellectual Debate"
    IBM Systems Journal (09/02) Vol. 41, No. 3, P. 540; Fahlman, Scott E.

    Sam Williams' book "Arguing A.I." presents both sides of the debate over artificial intelligence: Ray Kurzweil's contention that machines capable of surpassing human intelligence are inherently good as well as inevitable, and Bill Joy's argument that AI has far more sinister implications, such as moving beyond the control of human beings, with negative consequences. Williams profiles other AI experts, such as Jaron Lanier and John McCarthy, and uses their opinions to further define the issue. McCarthy, for instance, notes that AI researchers do not think that faster machines alone will usher in an age of computers that boast human-level intelligence, while Lanier thinks that AI has diluted computing of much of its humanity, which has resulted in error-prone software and poorly designed user interfaces, among other things. Other figures profiled in the book include Alan Turing, David Hilbert, Hubert Dreyfus, and Marvin Minsky, and science fiction such as "2001: A Space Odyssey" is also credited as an influence. Scott E. Fahlman describes Williams' book as "fun to read," but writes that it does not deeply explore the issue by any means. He says that Williams barely devotes any attention to technical matters, and seems more interested in the personalities of the people he profiles than their viewpoints. Fahlman concludes that "Williams has succeeded pretty well in the task he set for himself: providing intelligent, nonexpert readers with a road map for this particular fragment of a much larger debate."
    http://researchweb.watson.ibm.com/journal/sj/413/books.html