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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 402: Monday, September 23, 2002

  • "A Cybersage Speaks His Mind"
    CNet (09/19/02); Festa, Paul

    Internet legal expert David Sorkin of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago and an ICANN board member was one of the first academics to offer courses dealing with cyberlaw. Sorkin's views are relatively widely publicized, through the Spam Laws Web site he maintains and the lesser-known Don't Link to Us site. He says in an interview that privacy and intellectual property have both come to the forefront in terms of Internet-related law, but that there is little need for new legislation. Instead, Sorkin argues that most problems relating to the online world can be solved using laws intended for the offline world. He criticizes the regulatory approach in the United States, where too many states pass inconsistent and off-the-mark laws, and favors broader frameworks, such as the European Data Protection Directive implemented on that continent. Solutions to the spam problem should not be targeted at peripheral issues, such as creating false message headers, purveying illicit content, or failure to allow opt-outs, but should instead work on comprehensive solutions. Sorkin says policies restricting linking to publicly available Internet content are nonsensical and that regulation in that area could potentially damage the utility of the Internet. He says that he does not know if Congress will pass anti-spam legislation, but thinks that the bills being considered will have a more negative than positive effect if enacted. Sorkin also says that ICANN has "done little to earn the public's trust" and he has "grave concerns" about the job the organization has done so far. He says ICANN "isn't open or accountable or stable" and may be biased in some ways.
    http://news.com.com/2102-1082-958576.html

  • "Tech Companies Fight The Law That Dictates Mature Industries Slow"
    Wall Street Journal (09/23/02) P. B1; Gomes, Lee

    Technology business spending is growing at a snail's pace, despite rapid advances leading to faster computing speed, lower costs, and smaller PCs. The annual growth rate of PC sales surpassed 25 percent at the peak of the Internet boom, compared to the current rate of approximately 3 percent, according to Goldman Sachs. Engineers continue to ramp up computing speed despite the inertia of PC sales: The Ethernet's transmission rate since its debut about 30 years ago has skyrocketed from one MP3 every two seconds to 500 MP3s per second. The data transfer rates of Wi-Fi wireless networks, FireWire connections between PCs and digital cameras, and ATA interfaces are also rapidly accelerating. Although signs indicate that the sales slump is transitory, Web services and other technologies once touted as the drivers of the next upturn have yet to fulfill their promise; in fact, they are declining rather than building momentum. The technology itself also appears to have a dampening effect on sales, especially when it does not perform to expectations and is riddled with errors. Meanwhile, there is hope that 9/11 and the resulting security push will boost PC sales and revitalize the industry.

  • "Interview: Wyden Eyes Nanotech"
    United Press International (09/22/02); Burnell, Scott R.

    In an interview with United Press International, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) talks about the importance of nanotechnology and legislation to make it more of a priority. He stresses that policymakers need to expand awareness of how nanotech can positively impact all scientific fields and lead to good-paying jobs, and the government could play a critical role in funding nanotech startup research. Wyden thinks that health care and agriculture could be among the earliest beneficiaries of nanotech development. His 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act would channel $446 million of National Nanotechnology Initiative operations that are not centered around Defense Department agencies into regular program reviews by presidential and independent panels, a nanotech educational push, and global assessments of nanotech efforts from international rivals. Wyden is particularly excited about the educational effort and its potential to get women more involved in science, among other things, and he favors nanotech funds being distributed through undergraduate and graduate grants. He advocates smart spending rather than increasing budgets in order to outpace international competitors: "To me, going to the question of these [business-academic] relationships, before you spend more, you've got to make sure you have a game plan and you're spending wisely the dollars that have been appropriated," he says. Wyden's bill, introduced on Sept. 17, was passed by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee two days later, and will soon move to the Senate floor.
    http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20020920-030036-4843r

  • "A Bid to Overcome Patent Backlogs"
    New York Times (09/23/02) P. C2; Chartrand, Sabra

    The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has long been criticized by lawmakers and inventors for taking too long to process applications, awarding patents of poor quality, and being burdened with an overwhelming backlog; patent examiners with bad communications skills are often cited as the main reason for such inferior service. Patent and Trademark Office commissioner James E. Rogan, who was appointed by the White House last year, is backing a strategic proposal to overhaul the office, and institute an electronic filing system, random spot reviews of applications processes, the addition of more than 2,000 patent examiners, the certification of outside contractors to research prior art, and fee increases for applications and the examination process. The goals of the plan include cutting the backlog by 75 percent, eliminating paper-based processes, reducing the application response time from 12 months to six, lowering the average patent-pending period from two years to 18 months, simplifying and accelerating procedures, and devoting more attention to customer needs. The proposal's success hinges on a processing methodology that avoids mistakes or redundant or needless labor, and the effort promises savings of almost half a billion dollars through 2008. Rogan blames excessive claims for the slowdown of patent processing and the increase in poor-quality patents, and he expects to discourage such practices by inserting a sliding scale of fees for applications with over 20 claims. Furthermore, the 2,000-plus new patent examiners will be tested prior to hiring, and continuously trained and re-certified throughout the course of their employment. The plan is awaiting congressional approval of the 2003 fiscal budget as well as new legislation.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/23/technology/23PATE.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Official: Cybersecurity Not Watered Down"
    ZDNet (09/20/02); McCullagh, Declan

    White House National Critical Infrastructure Protection Board vice chairman Howard Schmidt says claims that the White House cybersecurity plan was watered down due to pressure from the IT industry is 100 percent unfounded, untrue, and unfair. The report itself abstains from proposing new regulations or laws in favor of exhortations, while earlier draft versions--including an August draft seen by CNet--called for stricter measures. Schmidt, a former Microsoft chief security officer, notes that the report is not finalized and will be taken to eight town-hall style meetings before being submitted to President Bush. Schmidt himself is against governmental regulation in private sector affairs. At the same conference where Schmidt made his assertions, speakers declared that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was fulfilling its mission, with Mark Bohannon of the Software and Information Security Administration insisting that the law is "a force of stability" that fosters "an environment that promotes everyone's interests." In other tech news, FTC official Orson Swindle said at a recent conference that legislation aimed at controlling how Internet companies collect and handle data would backfire by smothering industry innovation.
    http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1105-958775.html

  • "Revised In-Vehicle Electronics Spec Due by Year's End"
    EE Times Online (09/19/02); Murray, Charles J.

    The Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration (AMI-C) announced this week that its revised specification will be introduced in December. Its adoption by automakers will supply a common platform for adding in-vehicle electronics such as cell phones, CD players, navigation systems, video screens, DVD systems, digital radios, and so on. Developers promise that the revised edition will provide more than just a general strategy, and offer engineers technical details that they could use to start designing interface products. The release will feature enabling standards for vehicle interfaces, communication models, common message sets, and physical layers; performance and design specs for Bluetooth networks, MOST networks, 1394 automotive networks, and Java-based host platforms; and standards for core Java application interfaces, vehicle services APIs, and human-machine interface APIs. Engineers believe that automakers will be able to shave significant development time and lower product prices using a standards-based strategy. Furthermore, the AMC-I spec will support modular hardware and software systems that can be easily configured and expanded. At a recent press conference, AMC-I members declared that release 2's introduction is appropriate, since market expectations are now on a par with advancements in automotive multimedia technologies. AMI-C plans to start work on a third release in 2003; incorporated into it will be new profiles for Bluetooth devices, Internet data access profiles, and phone access profiles.
    http://www.eetimes.com/story/OEG20020919S0059

  • "Beyond Bar Codes"
    Wall Street Journal (09/23/02) P. R10; Delaney, Kevin J.

    It is becoming cheaper to install and manufacture radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and advocates say this will lead to the technology being used in a wide variety of applications, including tracking groceries and other retail items throughout the entire span of the supply chain--from manufacture to purchase and beyond; wireless identification and information sharing without the need to remove items and read them separately; and more efficient business operations and customer tracking. Frost & Sullivan expects the RFID application market to grow at a yearly rate of 29 percent and be worth around $7.25 billion by 2008, drawing most of its strength from manufacturing, logistics, transportation, and security. RFIDs are being fabricated by over 50 companies, and the simplest form of RFIDs are passive tags, which are powered by radio signals rather than batteries and can store approximately 100 bits of data. RFID tags are currently being used to track animals, locate and prevent theft of library books, turn on European cars via electronic keys, and optimize industrial processes, among other things. The proliferation of the technology into the retail sector depends on the development of RFID standards, as well as a greater corporate commitment to the technology. MIT's Auto-ID Center and the Cambridge Institute for Manufacturing are engaged in RFID infrastructure development, while some retailers and suppliers have embarked on pilot programs. RFID tags still remain too costly to incorporate into many mass-market goods, and Donna Schollard of the Unilever Digital Futures Laboratory says that it could take over five years to reach the ideal goal of 1 cent per unit.

  • "Library Of Congress Goes Grid"
    Internet.com (09/19/02); Shread, Paul

    The Library of Congress wants to test how Storage Research Broker (SRB) Grid technology from the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) can preserve the library's digital collections. The library's American Memory collection alone contains some 7.5 million digital items from more than 100 topics from history and culture, totaling 8 terabytes of digital data in the form of encoded text, image, audio files, and video files. The library will work with the SDSC to not only preserve the artifacts but also facilitate discovery of the information, says Reagan Moore of SDSC. Moore says, "We're entering an era in which digital libraries can be used to preserve intellectual capital." By "repurposing" the collections, users will be able to access more relevant information. For example, a user wanting to get information on the Mars landing could retrieve information on space vehicles from NASA, Congressional materials on budget debates, and other materials to put the subject into historical context. The first phase of the project involves installing SRB software and Metadata Catalog at the library. Then, library staff will build a pilot collection to test the capabilities of the SRB data Grid middleware for preserving and merging collections, enabling a naming convention, and controlling access.
    http://www.gridcomputingplanet.com/news/article/0,,3281_1466541,00.html

  • "Diamonds Improve Quantum Crypto"
    Technology Research News (09/25/02); Smalley, Eric

    Scientists at the French National Scientific Research Center (CNRS) and Ecole Polytechnic report that they have significantly improved quantum cryptography methodology using a 40-nm diamond nanocrystal. "We have developed an efficient, stable, all solid-state, room temperature single-photon source [and] we have used this single-photon source in a quantum cryptography setup," declared CNRS researcher Alexios Beveratos. Conventional quantum cryptography systems are slow and have limited range because they rely on heavily filtered lasers that generate pulses that rarely contain a single photon. The French researchers were able to send 9,000 secure bits through the open air across 50 meters using their diamond-based device, which can transmit a maximum of 116,000 single-photon pulses each second. The device can send transmissions at greater distances than other systems because it emits fewer two-photon pulses than weak lasers, Beveratos explains. He adds that quantum dots also emit single-photon pulses, but only at cryogenic temperatures. The researchers are aiming to develop a system that can send quantum-encrypted keys between the earth and orbiting satellites, but Beveratos notes that this will involve raising the diamond device's efficiency to 10 percent up from 2 percent.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Organic Displays May Supplant LCDs"
    ExtremeTech (09/16/02); Salvator, Dave

    A number of large technology firms, and many more smaller ones, are working on next-generation organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays, which will allow for greater versatility and less power consumption than even LCDs. The advantages of OLEDs include faster response times, less power usage, better viewing at an angle, and no need for a backlight. One company is even working on flexible OLED displays. OLED technology involves charging special organic material with electric current so that it emits light; the color depends on what type of material is used. So far, however, only very small screens have been produced commercially, for cell phones and car stereos. Displays up to 17 inches in diameter have been prototyped, but are very expensive and suffer from relatively low resolution; Sony demonstrated a 17-inch panel with a resolution of 800 by 600 pixels at the recent Society of Information Display's annual conference. A number of players are pioneering their own OLED technology, while Eastman Kodak, which first published OLED research in 1987, has begun licensing its OLED technology to other firms. Other companies engaged in OLED display development include Sanyo, Cambridge Display Technology, Philips, Dupont Displays, Universal Display, Toshiba, Sony, Opsys, and IBM.
    http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,3973,533865,00.asp

  • "State's Technology Employment Slows But Still Grows"
    San Francisco Chronicle (09/17/02) P. B1; Kopytoff, Verne

    In spite of the weakened economy, the number of technology jobs in California still grew in 2001, according to a recent study by the American Electronics Association (AEA), although the rate dropped to 1.3 percent, after hitting 13 percent at the height of the dot-com wave. The job growth in cites such as Oakland, Sacramento, and Los Angeles helped offset the declines in other cities, according to the report. Last year, San Jose lost 4,961 technology jobs, leaving a total of 280,842 jobs. San Francisco's technology jobs fell by 2,139 to 98,354. Orange County lost 1,075 jobs, leaving 104,618. However, in Oakland, Sacramento, and Los Angeles technology jobs grew by 2,140, 581, and 2,764, respectively; total jobs grew to 82,421, 38,741, and 174,523, respectively. AEA's Mark Albertson believes companies may turn to Oakland and Sacramento looking for cheaper locations. The Sphere Institute's Michael Dardia says Oakland and Sacramento are in a better position to cope with the downturn since they do not rely heavily on Internet and telecom firms.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "The New Power Generation"
    Boston Globe (09/16/02) P. C1; Kirsner, Scott

    Author Scott Kirsner cautions that the United States fails to note that many of its troubles with the Middle East arise from our interest in oil and that the country has the technical skill to advance other types of energies. Kirsner contends, however, that the United States simply is not focusing on developing energy technologies based on wind, wave, solar, geothermal, or hydrogen. As Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley has said, we need more affordable, safe, and clean energy. Kirsner argues that we certainly cannot look to the government to promote it, and proposes consumer and businesses support increased high-tech interest in developing and applying new ideas. David Eisenhaure of SatCon Technology cites the problem of basing foreign policy so largely on the oil trade and the problem of pollution as a result of vehicle and power-facility operation. Kirsner says another issue is that we produce power at large facilities, which is inefficient. Eisenhaure projects a future network that uses smaller decentralized power production, perhaps with individual power facilities for each home, and Kirsner notes that while new, more efficient car technologies are already emerging, consumers need to be open to new developments.
    http://digitalmass.boston.com/news/globe_tech/at_large/2002/0916.html

  • "Technology Helps the Elderly Live Alone"
    Associated Press (09/18/02); Long, Colleen

    Surveillance technologies are helping adult children and caregivers keep tabs on elderly parents and patients. Using high-speed Internet connections, videoconferencing equipment and health-monitoring devices allow the elderly to live alone where they like, while enjoying the company and security of having someone watch after them. However, critics warn that the security of such systems could be compromised by outside parties if proper measures are not adhered to, and that the monitoring could in some cases constitute a breach of privacy. Nevertheless, University of Chicago gerontology researcher Gavin Hougham says that this type of technology is rapidly progressing. Researchers at Honeywell International are already piloting systems in Florida and Minnesota retirement communities that include temperature readings, motion sensors, software, and devices monitoring physical activity. That system would equip children who are watching after elderly parents with pagers that alert them when there are inconsistencies in the parent's pulse, for example. That same information could be streamed directly to a remote health care facility as well.
    http://www.nandotimes.com/technology/story/540959p-4277050c.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Forbidden Zone"
    New Scientist (09/14/02) Vol. 175, No. 2360, P. 34; Mullins, Justin

    The void between light and radio waves in the electromagnetic spectrum is occupied by terahertz radiation, and engineers are developing technology that exploits such rays for a variety of applications, including medical imaging and, more significantly, security. Terahertz waves render solid objects transparent and generate sharper images than X-rays, with no health risks. A video camera that Rutherford Appleton Laboratory is developing with astonishing rapidity will feature detectors that operate at 0.3 and 0.25 terahertz. Such cameras could be used to see through people and objects from a distance; the contents of packages and any weapons that air travelers are carrying could be detected remotely, for instance. Jim Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology says that such devices will inevitably run afoul of the U.S. Constitution, especially in light of recent legislation that prohibits searches by infrared camera without court orders. "That rationale, applied to terahertz imaging cameras, would suggest that they cannot be used to see through clothes without a specific suspicion or judicial approval," he declares. Another recent breakthrough involves the creation of a 4.4-terahertz laser developed by an international research team. Meanwhile, Cambridge-based TeraView plans to market devices that generate terahertz radiation by striking semiconductor crystals with a visible or infrared laser beam; such devices are designed to map out the molecular structure of materials, and company director Michael Pepper believes that they eventually could be shrunk down to the size of a TV remote control. The technology could be used to check for early signs of skin cancer, while other sectors that could benefit include the pharmaceutical and food-processing industries.

  • "Humanity, New and Improved"
    National Journal (09/14/02) Vol. 34, No. 37, P. 2633; Munro, Neil

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is promoting a plan to merge information technology, nanotechnology, and biotechnology, each of which has the potential to dramatically modify humanity at the biological level, according to advocates. Drafted by NSF adviser Mihail Roco, the initiative calls for more spending in the three sectors, and the establishment of a "Human Cognome Project" that aims to map out the workings of the human brain. Although tax cuts and the war on terrorism could lead to a budget crunch, several developments are in the convergence project's favor, including a 2003 nanotech budget of over $700 million that Congress seems ready to approve, and NSF budget increases authorized by the House and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. Roco intends to gain bureaucratic approval of the plan by working from the bottom up, a process that could take up to three years. The plan goes so far as to say that the convergence "could achieve a golden age...[in which] the twenty-first century could end in world peace, universal prosperity, and evolution to a higher level of compassion and accomplishment...[and] humanity would become like a single, distributed and interconnected 'brain.'" However, critics contend that such a scheme gives the commercial marketplace too much authority to reshape human beings to the point that it crosses ethical and political boundaries. Roco believes that enhancements to humans can be handled in a responsible manner, and insists that "The core objective [of the project] is to improve the human condition." The government, he adds, will help strike a balance between individual rights and the need for advancement.

  • "Headed in Reverse"
    InfoWorld (09/13/02) Vol. 24, No. 37, P. 57; Foster, Ed

    The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that restrictions on reverse-engineering included in shrink-wrap software licenses precludes competitors from adding similar features in their own products. This establishes a dangerous precedent and is not in accordance with other court rulings, writes InfoWorld's Ed Foster. Bowers and Baystate Technologies have been fighting a back-and-forth court battle over features included in their competing add-on software applications for CadKey, a computer-aided design application. The most recent ruling says that Baystate violated the shrink-wrap software license included in a 1991 Bowers product by including similar features in its own subsequent release. "The biggest problem is that, the way the court wrote the decision, it seems to have found that a shrink-wrap restriction is not preempted," notes Jonathan Band of Morrison Foerster. "Having come up with this problematic decision, it could be followed by other courts." But it is well known that software companies often study their competitors products in order to better build their own releases, especially when making sure they are interoperable and secure. Foster argues that removing this freedom would cripple the American software industry and allow foreign firms, which are not subject to the same restrictions, to gain a critical advantage.
    http://www.infoworld.com/articles/op/xml/02/09/16/020916opgripe.xml

  • "Attracting Women"
    HP World (09/02) Vol. 5, No. 9, P. 22; Shor, Susan B.

    Executive director of university relations for Hewlett-Packard Wayne Johnson insists that industry must lead the charge to bring more women into IT by encouraging them to stick with science and engineering courses and share their technology ideas with their peers. To this end, HP has given the Institute for Women in Technology (IWT) a new home at HP Labs as well as equipment. IWT was established to increase the number of female technology graduates as well as give non-technical women a voice in technology development, and executive director Sara Hart comments that the dominance of men and male viewpoints in the IT sector is dictating product development. Leaving out the opinions of everyday women leads to technology that is useless to many consumers, and getting engineers to understand this trend is one of the goals of IWT. Activities that IWT sponsors include the Virtual Development Center, which brings engineering students and non-technical women together for brainstorming sessions that aim to outline a roadmap for future technologies. Meanwhile, the biannual Senior Women's Summit brings female leaders together to discuss how society can be affected by computing. Other organizations that IWT has collaborated with include the Center for American Women and Politics, the National Center for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and the Girl Scouts' Girls in Math, Science, and Technology Initiative.

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

  • "Welcome to Flatland"
    Computer Graphics World (09/02) Vol. 25, No. 9, P. 30; Ditlea, Steve

    Flatland, developed by the University of New Mexico's Albuquerque High Performance Computing Center (AHPCC), is an interactive software environment where users can visualize simulation program operations in order to better understand and debug them. Flatland is the brainchild of programmer Tom Caudell, who wrote its open-source core code so that he could better visualize the dynamics of neural networks and parallel processing related to his interest in robotics. Today, Flatland is used in a variety of applications: Research physicist Paul Alsing uses it to observe how water molecules interact in an electrical field; Los Alamos National Laboratory is using it to develop a simulation-based analysis tool for testing massively parallel computing platforms; and Caudell and Michael Healy of the University of Washington are using the environment to analyze the operations of cybernetic neural nets. From a dodecahedron-shaped virtual viewing platform, the user can navigate through the simulation, which can be adjusted via a virtual control panel. Different visualizations can also be run simultaneously in Flatland. "The default virtual world we often use acts like a 3D desktop or window manager, supporting multiple related or disparate applications in the same consistent virtual landscape," notes Steve Smith of Los Alamos. One of the Los Alamos projects Smith is working on involves a landscape representation of the lab's network, with the Internet and its various domains and regions symbolized by constellations; this setup is designed to make intrusion attempts easy to spot. Over the forthcoming months, a group of artists will join the Flatland project to enhance the environment's representations through the incorporation of sound cues, among other things.
    Click Here to View Full Article