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Volume 4, Issue 412: Friday, October 18, 2002
- "Tech Will Be Back, Past Slumps Suggest, as Innovators Revive It"
Wall Street Journal (10/18/02) P. A1; Thurm, Scott; Brown, Ken
The technology industry is likely to reinvigorate itself, even if it takes some time, and if history proves to be an accurate guide. Since the introduction of the first personal computer in 1975, the technology industry has experienced several periods of tremendous growth followed by a lull, only to launch off again on the heels of technological advances. Today, experts point to several fast-growing technologies that could provide lift: Wi-Fi wireless networking technology, digital movies, cheap sensor chips networked online, and forever-increasing PC capabilities. Earlier technology revolutions could provides clues to future industry booms. By the late 1970s, for example, the computer industry was dominated by big computer firms such as IBM--the company that made the materials, systems, and software all itself--and threatened to turn Silicon Valley into the Detroit of the computer business. However, with the introduction of the PC, two new rules breathed life into the industry. Entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Steve Wozniak helped build a new paradigm where computers were made out of piecemeal hardware and software components instead of being built from ground up by the same vendor. In 1981, IBM realized this shift and entered the PC market with the fledgling Microsoft as a junior partner and processors from Intel. That paradigm made it possible for individuals and small groups to contribute innovative ideas and change the industry, as scientist Tim Berners-Lee did with the World Wide Web, and Marc Andreessen and colleagues did with the Mosaic browser. Stanford economist Timothy Bresnahan, who is writing a history of the PC industry, warns that today's technology giants may actually work to hinder such innovation by quickly absorbing nascent efforts or squelching them altogether. Furthermore, there are those who see no evidence of a forthcoming "killer app."
- "Town Hall Meeting on Cybersecurity"
IDG News Service (10/17/02); Roberts, Paul
The White House is soliciting feedback to its National Plan to Secure Cyberspace by holding a series of town hall-style conferences across the nation. One of them recently took place at MIT, where presidential cybersecurity adviser Richard Clarke fielded questions from security vendors and analysts, students, faculty, and corporate technology staff. He started off the meeting with an overview of the draft plan, which calls for individual users to use antivirus software and firewalls to secure their home PCs, while companies protect their networks to ensure their own security, boost customer confidence, and promote the reliability of e-commerce. Clarke said the government could encourage both corporate and individual users to invest in cybersecurity through public information campaigns. He acknowledged that the government is hesitant to regulate IT security in areas where it has traditionally followed a hands-off approach, because the Bush administration does not think regulation is necessarily the best strategy. Clarke's proposed solution was for the government to spur market forces by enforcing security standards with its procurement power, and several attendees applauded this suggestion. He also approved of the IETF and other governing bodies, and declared that research funding would be more effective in developing a secure Internet than regulation. Clarke reported that the government had held a "frank and friendly" dialogue with Microsoft, and though he thought its trustworthy computing initiative was a sign of progress, he did not rule out the possibility that the government might have a hand in ensuring the security of the company's products.
- "Senate Approves Almost $1B for Cybersecurity Research"
InternetNews.com (10/17/02); Mark, Roy
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved the Cyber Security Research and Development Act, which authorizes a five-year cybersecurity research budget of approximately $978 million. The bill would apportion funding to initiatives coordinated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) designed to promote cybersecurity research and education at universities and other institutions. The legislation would also create a NIST Office for Information Security Programs; require NIST to furnish a report on recommended cybersecurity safeguards for federal information systems; call for analysis and reports to Congress on critical infrastructure vulnerabilities; and authorize the Office of Science and Technology Policy to come up with a plan to better coordinate federal research and development, as well as encourage the government, educational institutions, and the private sector to collaborate on cybersecurity projects. A spokesman for Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) said the legislation is similar to a proposal the House passed earlier this year, but includes more funding. The House is expected to pass the bill during a lame-duck session following the mid-term elections in November; President Bush is expected to sign the legislation before year's end. Sen. Allen, who introduced the bill with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), said the growing sophistication and frequency of cyberattacks and America's increasing reliance on technology and the Internet makes it vital for the country to secure cyberspace.
To learn more about ACM's activities in the area of security, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Living In an Artificial World"
Wired News (10/18/02); Dean, Katie
The chief subject at the annual PopTech conference is technology's effects on society and culture, as well as the reverse, notes conference co-founder Anthony Citrano. Roughly 400 CEOs, academic figures, entrepreneurs, and innovators will attend the conference, taking place this weekend in Camden, Maine. The theme this year is entitled "Artificial Worlds--Expanding Human Horizons," and will involve discussions about how people are using technology to change the world around them. PopTech speaker and author Bruce Damer says the development of the technology used to manipulate the world is being threatened on almost every front. "I would say that the message of today is the health and viability of cybersociety in the face of large monopoly players; laws that may restrict freedom of expression or content; intellectual property restriction on innovation such as software patents; a dry well of investment capital and a government-perceived need to control and monitor communications," he notes, adding that this year's PopTech will hopefully cover some of these topics. PopTech program director Harvey Ardman explains that forecasting such changes could help people better understand societal trends as well as influence their direction in the future. This year's PopTech speakers include researcher Stephen Wolfram, author Howard Rheingold, inventor Ray Kurzweil, and governor of Maine Angus S. King Jr.
- "A Chip of Rubber, With Tiny Rivers Running Through It"
New York Times (10/17/02) P. E5; Eisenberg, Anne
The emerging technology of microfluidics involves circuits that feature rubberized channels instead of silicon pathways along which pressurized fluids, rather than electrons, flow; Dr. Stephen R. Quake of the California Institute of Technology explains that his team is developing fluidic microchips that aim to supplant huge robotic workstations used for multiple fluidic analyses and tests. His chips utilize microfluidic multiplexing, in which a small quantity of interconnections can control thousands of valves, rather than individual valves. Quake says hundreds of thousands of valves can be incorporated into a single silicone chip, compared to thousands that can be supported on a chip made of silicon. The plastic multiplexers are dual-layer: One layer is the control layer, featuring the channels needed to activate valves, while the second layer, the flow layer, contains a fluidic channel network. "The valves are analogous to the logic gates in an electronic circuit," notes MIT mechanical engineering professor Todd Thorsen. "If the valves are open, liquid can flow just as current can flow through an electronic circuit." Quake's group designed a fluidic memory storage device, and demonstrated it by filling its chambers with blue dye and selectively purging individual units with water to spell out "C.I.T." Other potential applications Quake sees for his chips include drug scanning and liquid crystal displays, and he says the technology will be commercialized through the Fluidigm company in San Francisco.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "XML Spec Moves Ahead Despite Complaints"
ZDNet (10/17/02); Festa, Paul
XML version 1.1 was approved by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) this week despite accusations from critics that IBM has unfairly influenced the new XML specification to fit its own purposes, adding backward-compatibility for an IBM-specific Unicode character. IBM's older mainframes have a special character attached at the end of each Unicode line that is unreadable by the current XML 1.0 specification, and the new XML 1.1 version would alleviate that problem. The W3C working group on XML 1.1, code-named XML Blueberry, approved XML 1.1 for the proposal stage, just one step from finalization. Despite the complaints, experts say that IBM has a valid argument, given that the change would benefit the many IBM mainframe customers but not really serve any strategic purpose for the company. IBM, for its part, says the XML standard needs to support Unicode text in full and that the company was exempted from talks that set the XML 1.0 specification. W3C's Janet Daly notes that the change will not only help IBM users, but will also ensure no further changes are necessary to adapt to Unicode, which will be a boon for international users not employing the Western character set. "The truth is that this is not really for IBM's benefit, it's for IBM's customers' benefit," insists ZapThink analyst Ronald Schmelzer. "And I think that's fair. An international standard shouldn't change for the benefit of a company's future project, but it's clear that end-of-line characters are not a strategic business strategy for IBM."
- "Study Reveals Nanoscale Structure in Amorphous Material"
EE Times Online (10/17/02); Johnson, R. Colin
Experiments indicating that the structure of amorphous materials may not be as disordered as previously thought, especially at the nanoscale level, could pave the way for new engineered materials with diverse industrial applications, according to University of North Carolina researcher James Martin. He and his research partners arrived at this conclusion by studying amorphous zinc chloride glass, which Martin theorized was an intermediate state between liquid and crystal. When solids change into glass or liquid, there is very little difference in volume, a phenomenon that led Martin to assume that the atomic affinities binding the molecules in liquids, glasses, and crystals were similar. Controlling this intermediate structure could direct semiconductivity and other properties for displays, sensors, and silicon-based circuitry. "What I'm calling 'amorphous-materials engineering' will allow us to design nanostructures and then go in there and make them, [just as] we do with crystalline engineering today," explains Martin. "Instead of using trial and error to discover new materials, amorphous-materials engineering will enable the properties of the bulk material to be fine-tuned by custom-tailoring the molecules used to manufacture it." Applications that Martin envisions include optical information storage devices that use molecules in the 5-angstrom to 5-nm range. Near-future prospects Martin predicts include amorphous semiconductors that can "pattern control pathways of conductivity."
- "EU Debates Skills Shortage"
VNUNet (10/17/02); Fielding, Rachel
Ministers, academics, IT sector representatives, and public sector organizations have gathered for a two-day eSkills summit this week to address a IT skills shortage among European Union member states and the threat it represents to their position in the world economy. "Investment in human capital is crucial to allow Europe to seize the opportunity to improve its productivity through greater use of new technologies," said EC commissioner for enterprise and information society Erkki Liikanen. IT investments cannot offer any significant returns without parallel skills investments, according to Danish Minister for science, technology, and innovation Helge Sander. Denmark is also instituting academic reforms to bridge the gulf between universities and industry, and cut the time it takes to commercialize concepts developed at research centers. The summit will ask the other EU member states to adopt a similar strategy. Industry and social partners will be tasked with promoting continuing education and widening the drawing power of IT and e-business careers. At the climax of the summit, a declaration will be signed calling on member states to fulfill certain criteria in order to successfully avert the skills shortage. Measures include improving digital literacy, bringing in and holding on to highly competent workers, and making Europe the best place for skilled IT people to reside.
- "Chemists Brew Tiny Wires"
Technology Research News (10/23/02); Smalley, Eric
Self-assembling electronic components, or nanoelectronics, will supposedly revolutionize the industry by offering a cheap way to manufacture devices in mass quantities, but unfortunately, self-organizing materials are not very conductive. However, University of Pennsylvania researchers have induced the combination of electrically conductive molecules and electrically insulating polymers into insulated nanowires roughly 10 nm in diameter. "The conductivity isn't quite as good as a single-crystal organic material, and the processing isn't quite as easy as [that of] more disordered polymer material, but [the nanowires have] a combination of conductivity and processability that is unmatched by either," comments Vincent Crespi of Pennsylvania State University. The conductive molecules are joined to the base of wedge-shaped branched polymers, or dendrimers, that attract each other and cohere into spiral cylinders around the conductors, explains University of Pennsylvania researcher Virgil Percec. He says the nanowires are capable of self-repair, and the scientists have arranged them perpendicular to surfaces as well as between surfaces. Improving the wires' conductivity and incorporating them into technological applications is the next challenge, notes Percec. Potential applications he sees for the nanowires include photovoltaic cells and smaller transistors, and he expects them to be used practically in a few years. The National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Office of Naval Research, the Army Research Office, the Humboldt Foundation, and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research contributed funding to the project.
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- "Lucent, Rogers Look for Nano for Innovation"
Nanotech Planet (10/15/02); Bernard, Allen
Lucent's nanotechnology research at its Bell Labs facilities will likely be spared from funding cuts, says Nanotechnology Research Director John A. Rogers, because the group is already applying ground-breaking research to Lucent products. He adds that much of the work done is not funded by the company, but through research grants. Lucent's RightWave TDC (tunable dispersion compensator) uses nano-scale circuit-printing technologies to print circuits directly onto optical fibers, allowing engineers more control over the network. With circuits imprinted on the fibers, they become more than just passive components on the network. Lucent research into nano-scale circuit-printing is also behind the electronic paper effort pioneered by E Ink, which licensed the technology in exchange for shares in the company. Rogers says another nanotechnology application being studied is the use of special strands of nano- and micron-sized tunnels to improve network dependability and speed. These tunnels are filled with air and fluid, and smooth out variables in power. Even more forward-looking nanotechnology research being done at Lucent is in the field of DNA-based nanodrives and molecular circuits, which Rogers says has much more application potential than the nano-printing technology already discovered. "All of nanotechnology relies critically on the ability to build those structures and the techniques that are used to build them typically determine the kinds of systems you can look at and they also, ultimately, will dictate their potential applications, their manufacturability," he declares.
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- "Laptops and Mobile Users: Everything Old Is New Again"
InformationWeek Online (10/14/02); Zetie, Carl
Laptops may be bulkier and less power-efficient than PDAs, which continue to become more popular and sophisticated, yet they remain the most oft-used tool of mobile users. The size of laptop displays, for example, is optimal for tasks that require a wide representation of data, while a mouse and keyboard help ensure effective data entry and graphics manipulation. Furthermore, it is becoming more commonplace to reconfigure desktop applications for mobile use, a task that has become more challenging as more contemporary generations of applications are built with layered architecture and distributed via Web servers and application servers. A relatively thin client may be all one needs if the application only has to work when the network is available, but responsiveness could be improved and network demands lowered if functionality is embedded in a local Web server. On the other hand, application availability can be ensured if it is isolated from the network, and this could require a laptop that has the power to run applications locally. This still requires less effort than redesigning the application for a laptop or rewriting it for a PDA. Another advantage laptops have over PDAs is wireless enablement--whereas PDAs can only be enabled for wireless via cumbersome external sleds or a subscription to a specific carrier and network technology at the time of purchase, wireless capability for laptops is a simple matter of adding a wireless card. Still, PDAs are making headway among enterprises because of their low cost, considerable battery life, light weight, and convenience.
- "MIT: Smart Tech Ideas Mean Biz"
Wired News (10/17/02); Mayfield, Kendra
This week marks the launch of MIT's new Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, which is designed to address what MIT professor Charles Cooney describes as "a gap between early-stage ideas and a point at which small companies and venture capitalists would be willing to invest in commercialization and further stage development of technology." The facility, which was funded by $20 million donated by Sycamore Networks co-founder Desh Deshpande and his wife, will distribute over $15 million in research grants to emerging technology projects at MIT over the next five years. The center will bring in mentors, entrepreneurs, and business community figures to collaborate with MIT researchers and students on their projects, and offer encouragement. Research will include a focus on nanotechnology, energy and environmental innovation, unique materials, and information technology. Nine grants were recently awarded by the Deshpande Center, which allocated a total of $1.25 million to projects that include tissue engineering, high-speed 3D imaging, software debugging technology, and protein detection. Directors expect the local economy to benefit from faster innovation, spinoffs, and technology licensing encouraged by the center. Two kinds of grants are authorized by the center: Ignition grants that award a maximum of $50,000 for early-stage projects, and innovation grants that provide up to $250,000 to projects that have established proof of concept and outlined a research and development track and an intellectual property approach. "We believe that this is a new opportunity to establish a new paradigm for funding," declares Cooney.
- "Claude E. Shannon: Founder of Information Theory"
Scientific American Online (10/14/02); Collins, Graham P.
As today's computer scientists pioneer quantum computing, the landmark digital computing work of Claude E. Shannon still lingers. Shannon was the first, in 1948, to describe information passed over a variety of channels in mathematical terms, either "true" or "false," "1" or "0." He may have been the first ever to use the term "bits" to describe these binary digits in the information stream. Shannon discovered that every mode of transmission had a maximum capacity, or bandwidth, and was the first to develop error-correcting schemes that enabled data to be transferred error-free even across noisy channels. Quantum computing scientists today still use Shannon's principles of data transmission as they try to figure out how to derive clean signals from quantum bit (qubits) streams resulting from quantum machines. Shannon was also a pioneer in the field of cryptography, working at Bell Labs during World War II, and proved conclusively that the only unbreakable code scheme ever discovered was actually possible. Today, quantum cryptography draws on that same scheme, the Vernam cypher, and couples it with the unique characteristics of quantum particles. The Vernam cypher, or one-time pad, is unbreakable as long as only the sender and recipient are the only ones holding the encryption key, which must be at least as long as the message and not repeat any section. Meanwhile, the entanglement characteristic of quantum particles ensures that any eavesdropping to the data stream is necessarily detected since it is essentially a read-once transmission.
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- "Clubs Foster Computer Skills for Young Girls"
Potomac Tech Journal (10/14/02) Vol. 3, No. 41, P. 6; Anderson, Tania
Former lawyer Eileen Ellsworth decided to create a program to teach computer skills to middle-school girls after seeing national statistics on female students' lack of interest in technology. Also contributing to her decision was the fact that her son has a fondness for computers while her daughter considers them to be utilitarian and less interesting. In Fairfax County, Va., boys accounted for 70 percent and girls composed 30 percent of a seventh grade course in Inventions/Innovations in the 2001 school year, while an eighth grade course in Technology Systems had a female student portion of 24 percent. Meanwhile, high school professional and technical studies courses in basic engineering and communications systems had male student percentages of 90 percent and 94 percent, respectively. Ellsworth organized after-school technology clubs for girls in fourth and fifth grade; four Fairfax County public schools participate in the program and provide computer labs for club activities. Club members are taught computer skills in a fun way appropriate to their ages: For example, girls use Microsoft PowerPoint in one session to design a club logo, and the design they elect is printed on t-shirts. Other activities include Internet scavenger hunts, creating a newsletter in Microsoft Word, disassembling a computer and studying its inner workings, and writing their names in ASCII binary code and fashioning necklaces from them. The clubs meet once a week for 10 weeks, with about 30 girls enrolled in each.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Privacy Algorithms"
Computerworld (10/14/02) Vol. 36, No. 42, P. 30; Hamblen, Matt
Government control over the exploitation of personal information by business is a source of controversy, but a group of computer scientists has been trying to solve the problem of data privacy by developing software that maintains the secrecy of personal details--names, addresses, health status, etc.--while revealing data patterns that can be used to anticipate demographic trends, purchasing behavior, disease epidemics, or terrorist threats. Latanya Sweeney, director of Carnegie Mellon University's Laboratory for International Data Privacy, is commercializing technology she developed through her company, DatAnon; her applications study an individual record in a database, establish the record's unique characteristics, and alter those necessary to establish anonymity--for instance, a birthday might be modified to a year of birth. Sweeney, in conjunction with CMU students, is also developing a video anonymity system that protects the identity of innocent people on surveillance tapes by blotting out their images. The IBM Privacy Research Institute has created a methodology to randomize data: Each user who enters his age, salary, or weight would be assigned a unique digit produced when the number entered is subtracted from a random value. IBM officials say that businesses could extract demographic information with the software, which would calculate a close approximation of the actual distribution by using the randomized values and randomization range. Chris Clifton of Purdue University has conceived of a privacy protection strategy in which different pieces of encrypted data are stored in separate databases.
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- "Wired For Success"
Nature (10/10/02) Vol. 419, No. 6907, P. 553; Appell, David
The problem of maintaining the performance of computer chips as they shrink is one reason why scientists are investigating smaller-scale solutions such as carbon nanotubes, but difficulties in controlling their composition to yield precise electronic properties has prompted some researchers to refocus their efforts on nanowires, which are even smaller, easier to synthesize, and can be based on a variety of materials. Most of all, their composition is easier to control, notes James Ellenbogen of MITRE. Harvard University researcher Charles Lieber reported a breakthrough at the Nanotube 2002 conference that involved crossing nanowires into a tic-tac-toe grid that acts as a 4-bit memory; this development could be of great use to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Molecular Electronic Program, which aims to create 16 kilobits of nanocomputer memory that can connect to macroscopic devices by September 2004. Just last year, Lieber and fellow Harvard chemist Yi Cui synthesized and connected a pair of differently doped silicon semiconductor nanowires, and in January 2002 Lieber group member Yu Huang announced that he had made a transistor by crossing two nanowires of different material. Three academic research groups, including Lieber's, report progress with striped nanowires that have multiple properties, including fluorescence and sensitivity to temperatures. Manipulating nanowires so that individual components can be connected into a single device is a major challenge, complicated by their tendency to stick together because they possess both positively and negatively charged areas. Other possible nanowire applications being studied or developed include fundamental components of high-definition TV, optical system elements, chemical and biological sensors, and memory units.
- "Maintaining the Internet"
eWeek (10/14/02) Vol. 19, No. 41, P. 33; Carlson, Caron
When WorldCom's UUNet backbone experienced system software problems on Oct. 2, the effects on the Internet were widespread. Critics link the problems to poor network maintenance and the incident has intensified concerns that the federal government is not doing enough to ensure the reliability of the Internet backbone. Matrix NetSystems vice president Tom Ohlsson, whose company monitors Internet performance worldwide, says, "Most carriers' Internet performance has degraded about 40 percent since the beginning of the year." He says there was up to 20 percent packet loss for traffic traveling over UUNet on Oct. 2, and warns that more interruptions are likely without better network maintenance. In July, Congress questioned FCC Chairman Michael Powell about what he was doing to ensure Internet reliability. He said that although the FCC has strict, long-standing mandates concerning voice networks, its authority to regulate data service providers was unclear, although carriers must provide adequate notice before stopping service. Despite encouraging customers to ensure reliability by skirting financially troubled network carriers, many competing carriers themselves were vulnerable to UUNet's difficulties. BellSouth.net, for example, currently uses UUNet as its single entry point to major Internet backbones, although the company says it is building its own regional backbone to gain direct access to a number of global Internet backbones. "Currently, there are no rules that would require an ISP like UUNet to submit outage data," explains Jeff Goldthorp of the FCC's network technology division. "The staff has been looking at issues like these and [asking], 'Are we doing enough?'"
- "Scaling Agile Methods"
New Architect (10/02); Murthi, Sanjay
SMGlobal President Sanjay Murthi writes that he finds agile development methods to be very useful; he discovered that employing eXtreme programming (XP) in a large project encouraged more enthusiasm among staff and resulted in early problem detection, good version control, improved integration, and more stakeholder satisfaction, among other things. He lists three key elements necessary to successfully effect agile development--the skills and enthusiasm of staffers, their understanding and compliance of development processes, and appropriate management and reporting systems. Murthi warns that skills and enthusiasm are useless without good communication, while keeping track of progress reliably is impossible without solid reporting and management. He recommends that agile methods are best suited for companies that are transitioning to a new technology platform or are engaged in projects whose scope, time, resources, or risks remain unknown or variable. If agile methods are selected, Murthi says that the next step is to determine the project's size and decide the number of participating teams, whether all development will be converted to agile methods, whether only one unique project will rely on those methods, and whether the entire system will be gradually transitioned to the agile methodology. Agile methods more easily accommodate special projects with small teams, while extending them to the rest of the company may require help from outside consultants. Murthi explains that picking the best practices from agile methods involves determining each team's needs by reviewing development processes, and then tailoring those processes accordingly. He writes that soft skills should not be ignored, all teams should use similar methods, and worker stress should also be considered.
- "The Great Liberator"
Wired (10/02) Vol. 10, No. 10, P. 140; Levy, Steven
Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig has become a leading figure of cyberlaw and the Internet copyright debate, thanks to his groundbreaking work through such books as "The Future of Ideas" and the Creative Commons project. He popularized cyberlaw with his book "Codes," in which he warned that code could be used to shield intellectual property while adversely affecting free speech and fair-use rights. Lessig's view is that copyright holders are already curtailing the public's use of intellectual property, and the situation is bound to get worse. Lessig will go before the Supreme Court on Oct. 9 to argue for the repeal of the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which keeps intellectual property from public release for 70 years after the authors' deaths. He contends that nothing new will enter the public domain as long as the terms of copyright keep being lengthened. Lessig claims that the law violates the U.S. Constitution because it extends copyright retroactively, which in turn hurts the cause of "art and science." One of his goals in challenging the extension law is to make up for a lost opportunity: In 1997, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson recruited Lessig to outline recommendations in the case of Department of Justice vs. Microsoft; Lessig conducted extensive research despite Microsoft's objection and attempts to interfere, and called Microsoft and the government to a public hearing, only to be dismissed by the Federal Court of Appeals before the hearing commenced. Meanwhile, the goal of his Creative Commons initiative is to supply content creators with the means to publish works free of copyright constraints.