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 408: Monday, October 7, 2002
- "Debate to Intensify on Copyright Extension Law"
New York Times (10/07/02) P. C1; Harmon, Amy
Striking a balance between consumer rights and those of major media companies lies at the heart of a debate the Supreme Court will hear this week concerning a 1998 law that extends the terms of copyright by 20 years. Advocates such as the MPAA's Jack Valenti claim that the law spurs creativity and benefits the public good in the long run by promising more economic rewards to investors, but critics counter that it actually hurts innovation by complicating people's efforts to obtain and build upon existing works, and ignores rights that the public is entitled to. Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig plans to argue that the growing penetration of the Internet means that copyright law affects a greater number of people, making it even more critical to uphold the limits on terms of copyright, as set forth in the Constitution. He subscribes to the view that extending copyright for deceased artists does not promote creativity because the artists can no longer create, and estimates that a mere 2 percent of works covered by copyright law generate continuing revenue for their holders. The government is expected to take the position that not even the Supreme Court can arbitrarily define "limited times" on copyright, and courts have repeatedly repudiated the argument that the First Amendment should be leveraged to check to see if the extension is excessively restrictive on the free-speech rights of potential users of copyrighted works that otherwise would be in the public domain. Among those supporting the proposed overturning of the extension law are Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund founder Phyllis Schafly, Intel, the Free Software Foundation, and numerous economists, artists, intellectuals, and elected officials. Those who will argue for the law in the hearing include First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and several members of the House Judiciary Committee.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Standards Patent Strife Spreads"
CNet (10/03/02); Festa, Paul
When the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) attempted to herd through an exception to its royalty-free standards policy, a host of engineers and corporate representatives protested, blocking the measure; now anti-royalty advocates in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) plan to use the creation of a newly formed working group to enact similar policy changes in their own organization. The IETF does not currently offer its working groups any specific guidelines on whether to incorporate patented technologies into its standards. Rather, members are required to disclose whether the technologies they are considering are "encumbered" by patents, but this causes confusion. Eliminating such confusion is the purpose of organization's new intellectual property rights (IPR) working group. "A network with a lot of royalties...has an enormously chilling effect on invention and use, because if you don't know how much you're going to be charged, you'll probably use something else," contends Sun Microsystems director of standards Carl Cargill. The new IETF group has not been tasked to consider a prohibition on patented technologies, but it does leave room to consider reassessing the group's current usage policy. IPR working group co-chair Steve Bellovin says, "If the WG determines that there should be a change, we'll recharter and try to broaden our membership--this is an issue that affects the whole IETF, so we need very broad consensus."
- "Internet2 Gurus Deploy New Protocol; VoIPv6 is Born"
ISP-Planet (10/04/02); Thompson, Jim
Academic, government, and industry engineers in charge of Internet2 have deployed Internet Protocol version 6, or IPv6, parallel to the older IPv4 on the Abilene network backbone. Abilene connects more than 200 universities and other research institutions in the United States and also links to high-speed research networks in other parts of the world, such as Renater in France, SURFnet in the Netherlands, and the Esnet, also in the United States. Besides allowing for a nearly infinite number of Internet addresses, the new protocol also makes way for much faster data transfer speeds, as evidenced by the recent breakthrough in land-borne data transmission speeds. Working with other Abilene staff, researchers at the University of Oregon were able to set a new record by sending 3.47 GB of data across the United States--over the 3,000 miles distancing Eugene, Ore., from Syracuse, NY.--in just one hour. "There's no question that routine delivery of real-world production information services of this sort is the best tangible proof that native IPv6 service stands ready to meet the current and emerging needs of the higher education high performance networking community," declares Joanne Hugi of the University of Oregon. Separately, Swiss firm Telscom has been able to capitalize on the new Java2 version to create voice-over Internet protocol technology specifically for IPv6, called 6VOICE. The new application is based on Session Initiated Protocol and is touted as one of the possible commercial opportunities available through IPv6. 6VOICE was successfully tested using Linux systems for both fixed and mobile IPv6 networks.
- "The Shape of Bots to Come"
Wired News (10/07/02); Mayfield, Kendra
Self-reconfiguring robots that can adjust their shape to deal with changing environmental conditions could become the next step in robotic evolution. "For tasks in hard-to-reach areas like space or the ocean, where it is impossible to say ahead of time what the robot will have to do and when it will have to do it, it is better to use robots that can change shape because that gives the robots versatility," observes Dartmouth College's Daniela Rus, who was recently named one of this year's 24 MacArthur Foundation Fellows. Thus far, emergent self-reconfiguring robots fall into three categories--lattice, chain, and mobile. Lattice robots change their shape by shifting position, and Rus has helped build such a machine, a so-called crystal robot that can transform from an object resembling a dog to one resembling a couch; the reconfiguration process involves "smart building blocks" that are capable of limited computation, sensing, and communication. Rus is not the only roboticist developing modular robots--scientists at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) have created PolyBot, a machine composed of a chain of hinge joints that can shift itself from a snake-like configuration to one that is more spider-like. The chief advantages of self-reconfiguring robots are robustness, versatility, and affordable mass-production, according to PARC's Mark Yim. Challenges in building such devices include maintaining the functionality of millions of potential components and having better control over them. Potential applications of self-morphing robots range from search-and-rescue missions to less invasive surgery to space exploration.
- "Purdue Creates Self-Generating Nanotubes with 'Dial-up' Properties"
AScribe Newswire (10/04/02)
Researchers at Purdue University have developed a method of creating batches of nanotubes with customized qualities, a development that could lead to new types of information storage devices and other nanotechnology-based applications. The process uses synthetic organic molecules instead of carbon or other metal materials because they are easier to manipulate. How the nanotube structures form and what properties they have depends on the ambient additive ingredients and the environmental conditions surrounding the nanotubes at the time of their formation. Lead chemist Hicham Fenniri says the nanotubes are more utilitarian than any other nanotubes, because they adopt the special qualities of the molecules hanging onto their main molecular structure. Fenniri's team was also able to reverse the chirality, or direction of the twist, of nanotubes. In nature, all spiral-shaped tubes twist to the right, but the Purdue team made them twist to the left, which would mean even more versatility. Such simple adjustment of the nanotubes' characteristics lends them "dial-up" quality, where scientists can easily program characteristics into the nanotubes. Nylon molecules added to the nanotubes would create a stronger new version of nylon that could have applications for aircraft construction and armor, for example. Fenniri also said that the self-generating properties of the nanotubes was significant because it would allow for the mass creation of specialized nanotubes. Dial-up nanotube construction could lead to key nanotubes that have photonic and electric conductivity, making them useful in the construction of computer memory and display nanotechnologies.
- "Electrifying Duets"
ABCNews.com (10/04/02); Eng, Paul
The limitations of computers when it comes to accompanying musicians has prompted oboist and mathematician Christopher Raphael of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to devise Music Plus One, a software program that makes computers flexible enough to accommodate the musical interpretation of human players. The machine first receives the data code representing the musical sections to be played by both the human and the computer; microphones relay the music, as played by the human instrumentalist, to the computer, which analyzes this input using processing techniques similar to speech recognition. This procedure is carried over several practice sessions to give the computer a sense of the musician's individual style of interpretation, while artificial intelligence algorithms in Raphael's program enable the computer to anticipate how the performer will play. Thus, the computer can predict how it should play the accompanying music. Raphael adds that the software can process the data in real time, and does not need to operate on state-of-the-art computer systems to work. His research paper on Music Plus One indicates that his ultimate goal is to refine the program to the point where it could fool a listener into thinking the computer is a live musician. The Music Plus One program is the result of more than 10 years of research, and contains more than 40,000 lines of code.
- "Obscure Show With Small Products"
New York Times (10/07/02) P. C3; Feder, Barnaby J.
The advancement of sensors is critical to taking full advantage of supercomputing processing power, increasingly sophisticated software programmers, and more skillful genetics engineers, and the little-known Sensors Expo and Conference is a springboard for the sensors industry. Last month's Sensors Expo featured Raymond C. Kurzweil, a distinguished inventor and author, as the keynote speaker; his vision includes merging electronics with biology so that human thought processes can be significantly enhanced, and the development of haptics technology that can enable one person to physically experience the sensations of another. In a demonstration of how far the integration of sensors and computing power has progressed, Kurzweil held a conversation with Ramona, an artificial persona he invented. He also displayed a video showing how a person can use a virtual character--Ramona again--to speak remotely to other people. Kurzweil addressed the debate over creating cyborgs by claiming that they have already been created by implanting devices in people's brains to combat debilitating neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease. However, the Sensors Expo show floor illustrated that current sensor technology has a long way to go before it can reach the future that Kurzweil predicts. For example, NASA's Dr. Paul A. Curto was on hand to explain that many U.S. airfields and helipads still use windsocks to read landing conditions, when more sophisticated equipment--a wind sensor that can deliver weather data to pilots via radio and the Internet--offer more accurate readings. "Our airfields are still in the 19th century," he lamented.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Ballistic Lighting"
Nature Materials Online (10/03/02); Gerstner, Ed
Japanese scientists have reworked field emission display technology to produce a low-power, high-quality flat-screen display that can be produced cheaply. Using nanocrystalline porous silicon, the research team led by Yoshiki Nakakima was able to create an emission display without the use of a vacuum. Normally, field emission displays accelerate emitted electrons through a vacuum before they hit the fluorescent film, but the new technique applies a perpendicular instead of a parallel electric field to stimulate the fluorescent film directly, without the need for a vacuum. The key is the nanocrystalline porous silicon substrate placed beneath the film, which accelerates the electrons in a manner similar to how a vacuum would. The result of the new discovery is a display that consumes little power, has high resolution, and would be able to take advantage of existing manufacture ring infrastructure, because it is silicon-based. And unlike traditional field emission displays, the new technology emits light uniformly. Flat-screen display technology is currently taking four tracks: Liquid-crystal, plasma, organic light-emitting diode (OLED), and field emission. OLED technology is touted as the least expensive and most easily constructed method, but researchers still have to overcome short life-cycles and instability issues.
Click Here to View Full Article
(Access for paying subscribers only.)
- "Bill Would Circumvent Foreign Censors"
CNet (10/03/02); Bowman, Lisa M.
A bill recently introduced by Rep. Chris Cox (R-Calif.) calls for the establishment of an Office of Global Internet Freedom to fight national Internet firewalls and censorship overseas. The proposed legislation earmarks $100 million to be distributed equally over two years to develop anti-blocking technology. Cox says that many foreign governments restrict people's freedom by blocking access to data found on the Internet and the proposed bill aims to equip Web users with tools to counteract censorship measures while avoiding detection. The tools mentioned in the bill include technologies such as Triangle Boy, Peek-a-Booty, DynaWeb, and Freenet-China. The legislation also calls for establishing a United Nations resolution for condemning countries that participate in Internet censorship; such countries would also be listed in an annual report. Recently, China increased its censorship efforts by blocking access to Google and AltaVista when a writer posted of information about its national problems online. However, the bill's efforts to stimulate anti-censorship technology could also clash with efforts to keep inappropriate Internet material from children in the United States.
- "Scientists in E-Material Breakthrough"
VNUNet (10/04/02); Greek, Dinah
Ghassan Jabbour of the University of Arizona is leading a team working on super-thin organic films that can act as transistors, solar cells, or light emitters. His lab has demonstrated that such nanofilms can be printed onto plastic, paper, and other materials with screen printing, laser printing, and inkjet technology. Recently, Jabbour was able to print the nanofilms on cloth, using that material as the substrate. Up to now, scientists have focused on developing single fibers that function as transistors and can be woven into cloth, but Jabbour says that process is more difficult than his technique. "Using traditional techniques reduces the cost and is one of the major reasons why this is really attractive," explains Jabbour. One possible application of Jabbour's breakthrough are uniforms featuring updateable printouts or maps that soldiers can view through special goggles. Other applications include inexpensive light-emitting curtains, ceiling tiles, and window blinds. The technology is being commercialized for PDAs, mobile phones, and other devices by such companies as Eastman Kodak and Samsung.
- "Can Democracy Be Improved Online?"
Sydney Morning Herald (AU) Online (10/01/02); Sinclair, Jenny
Australian officials are studying whether the Internet could be used to improve the democratic process and impact the way the government creates policy. The Victorian government Web site features a 75-page discussion paper on the issue, and a state parliamentary committee is taking comments on the report and related subjects until Oct. 25. The government expects to release a final report by the end of the year. E-democracy involves everything from online voting and holding public forums on the Web, to netcasting parliamentary proceedings and distributing information online. However, government officials and political experts will have to consider a number of issues, including whether increased participation as a result of technology could actually hamper policy development and the threat that the technology could be used to disrupt the political process. Additionally, large portions of the population lack computer access. Dr. Peter Chen, a lecturer at the University of Melbourne's Center for Public Policy, wonders whether government will be able to bring about e-democracy by empowering people with technology. Chen says, "This is not the e-democracy dilemma, it's the democracy dilemma: how do you get people to engaged?"
- "Scheme Hides Web Access"
Technology Research News (10/09/02); Bowen, Ted Smalley
MIT researchers have announced a new anonymous way to access information on the Internet and bypass Internet censors, monitors, and firewalls. The solution, called Infranet, involves both client- and server-side software, and the transfer of public-private encryption and shared session keys. However, Infranet software would have to be installed on at least 50 distributed public Web servers for the system to offer reasonable anonymity. Once a connection between an Infranet server and an end user is established, requests for blocked or sensitive pages would be communicated in the frequency and order of requests for non-sensitive Web page requests. This code would be protected and known only to the Web server and the user's machine. The Infranet server would retrieve the requested information and embed it in ubiquitous JPEG image files, though the MIT researchers said a number of other common Internet files could be used in the future. Although Infranet provides significant protection and anonymity, there are several caveats, such as how end users can obtain Infranet software discreetly, how many servers would be installed with Infranet software, and the security of the Infranet scheme itself. The MIT team suggested that Infranet software could be distributed on physical disks and come bundled with common Web servers, such as Apache.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "The Next Big Thing"
Computerworld Online (09/30/02); Melymuka, Kathleen
When asked their opinion of the next technological advancement likely to significantly change the business paradigm, six major IT figures offered their own predictions. NASA acting CIO Paul A. Strassmann said that portals are likely to emerge as a major focus within the next five years, while Meta Group's Howard Rubin declared that a sense-and-respond system that can track global data will change companies' competitive abilities. He said such a system would utilize sensors positioned around the world that "will look at unstructured information globally and add structure so that a company can more effectively compete at levels never before possible." Hammer & Co. President Michael Hammer touted process interface standards that enable online system-to-system communication between companies as the next major technology. Meanwhile, Perot Systems consulting chairman Jim Champy thought that voice activation technologies will give companies new insights on "a whole, massive process change occurring in places where it does not happen now." General Motors CIO Ralph Szygenda predicted that the combination of ubiquitous access and leveraging the Internet will effect a new business landscape, and Feld Group President Charlie Feld believed that the next big breakthrough will not be so much technology-driven as leadership-driven. He argued that CIOs must achieve a greater understanding of the language that CXOs use, a better comprehension of principles such as return on investment, earnings per share, and return on assets.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Supercomputer Puts Research on Fast Track"
Tallahassee Democrat Online (10/01/02); Yeager, Melanie
Florida State University (FSU) has installed the new Eclipse supercomputer, which will enable researchers to obtain quicker results and to pursue more complex research projects. The Eclipse is an IBM eServer p690 that can perform 2.5 trillion calculations per second. The Eclipse is the 34th fastest supercomputer among the top 500 supercomputers used by governments, industries, and academic researchers, according to a survey by the University of Tennessee and the University of Mannheim in Germany. The Eclipse is the top supercomputer at a U.S. university, and the only academic computers in the United States that outrank the FSU supercomputer are two computer systems used at consortium sites. Researchers at the Center for Ocean Atmospheric Prediction Studies are using the supercomputer to study currents in the Gulf of Mexico, which should produce data that would benefit the fishing and oil industries, as well as rescue workers. "Basically, for the first time in my life, I have adequate computer power for the kind of science we want to do," says Jim O'Brien, the center's director. The Eclipse is also being used to study nanostructures. Researchers also view the supercomputer as a valuable tool for studying weather patterns; the school's three-year-old computational science program will train students on computational research methods using the Eclipse.
- "Cutting-Edge Cell Phones Focus of Intense R&D Push"
Nikkei Weekly (09/30/02) Vol. 40, No. 2049, P. 1; Naito, Minoru
At the Yokosuka Research Park (YRP) in Japan, engineers are carrying out third-generation (3G) cell phone technology research and development, and are even starting to push into 4G research. These joint R&D projects between industry and universities are conducted by experts brought in by leading Japanese telecommunications carrier NTT DoCoMo, whose annual YRP investment budget is $813 million, as well as other firms. DoCoMo has been operating at YRP since 1998, and its collaborative work with cell phone manufacturers helped it meet technical challenges and win the race to roll out a commercial 3G service first, according to the company's Yoshiyuki Yasuda. The service, Foma, offers excellent voice quality and better Internet features, and enables users to hold videoconferences in real time. To boost Foma adoption, which has been less than anticipated, DoCoMo is being assisted by fellow YRP tenants Hitachi, Toshiba, Nokia Japan, and Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications Japan. Other residing companies include Fujitsu, which is working on mobile devices that can run software applications via computer connection, and Matsushita, who believes that collaboration and resource sharing is critical to 4G development. Universities are also participating at YRP, partnering up with DoCoMo and others to develop high-speed 4G technology and the accompanying network infrastructure, among other things. However, skeptics remain doubtful that 3G will catch on both domestically and overseas, given drawbacks such as limitations in service area.
- "Open Source: A False Sense of Security?"
eWeek (09/30/02) Vol. 19, No. 39, P. 20; Fisher, Dennis
Advocates' position that open-source software offers more security than proprietary software was called into question when researchers discovered vulnerabilities in the OpenSSL toolkit that were later exploited by a computer worm. Furthermore, the security holes were buffer overruns, which are very common as well as highly preventable. Most open-source proponents maintain their assertion that such products are more secure, despite this line of inquiry. SRI International principal researcher Peter Neumann insists that without disciplined development, there is no difference between the security of open-source and proprietary software. Open-source boosters such as Weather Channel Enterprises' Dan Agronow claim that the software is developed by more security-conscious people than commercial software. "Part of the beauty of the open-source process is that they take into account that vulnerabilities will happen, so they're prepared for it," declares Avi Rubin of AT&T Labs-Research. But even the most strident defenders of open-source acknowledge that security is not ensured by the mere availability of source code. "What really makes a difference is having someone who knows what they're doing writing the code and looking at the code," explains WireX Communications chief researcher Crispin Cowan.
For read more about open source activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/News/OpenSource.htm.
- "Robotics With a Human Touch"
Maryland Daily Record: Innovator of the Year (10/02) P. 4; Dessoff, Alan
Corinna E. Lathan, founder of AnthroTronix in College Park, Md., was named 2002's Top Innovator of the Year by Maryland Daily Record for her work integrating robotics, telecommunications, and virtual reality to create a robotic telerehabilitation tool that aims to "harmonize humans and their environments." Wireless gesture-based interfacing between humans and machines is the core of Lathan's technology, and her company plans to market the technology as an interactive robot toy called CosmoBot. The robot's use of the Internet to enable therapists to monitor the body movements and gestures of children remotely differentiates CosmoBot from standard rehabilitation tools. Patients will be able to complete their therapy from home because CosmoBot uses a Web-based interface to deliver progress reports to therapists and doctors, and it allows doctors and therapist to go online and make adjustments to the program. CosmoBot can mimic the gestures of children that are made through physical motion or voice. Other modes enable children to record sound and movement and play it back, play interactive games, and participate in stories downloaded from the Web-based interface, CoswoWeb. Lathan has also worked to get more women involved in engineering by founding a program for junior high school girls called Keys to Empowering Youth (KEY) when she was a graduate student at MIT.
- "Optical Computing: The Wave of the Future"
Poptronics (10/02) Vol. 3, No. 10, P. 12; Pietromonaco, Peter
Optical technology promises massive upgrades in the efficiency and speed of computers, as well as significant shrinkage in their size and cost. The major challenge is finding materials that can be mass produced yet consume little power; for this reason, optical computers may not hit the consumer market for 10 to 15 years. An optical desktop computer could be capable of processing data up to 100,000 times faster than current models because multiple operations can be performed simultaneously. Other advantages of optics include low manufacturing costs, immunity to electromagnetic interference, a tolerance for low-loss transmissions, freedom from short electrical circuits, and the capability to supply large bandwidth and propagate signals within the same or adjacent fibers without interference. NASA's Dr. Hossin Abdeldayem maintains that optical computing will bypass current bandwidth limitations and accommodate the Internet's growth rate. By demonstrating that photonic storage is possible, researchers have rekindled interest in optical computing, according to Majari Mehta of the University of Houston's Information Systems Research Center. Dr. Donald Frazier of NASA reports that his agency is concentrating on thin films of organic molecules as optical components, and he believes that the current organic/inorganic hybrid systems are an intermediate step to all-optical computers.