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 413: Monday, October 21, 2002
- "Feds Planning Early-Warning System for Internet"
Computerworld Online (10/18/02); Brewin, Bob
The Global Early Warning Information System (GEWIS) that the U.S. National Communications System (NCS) plans to create will be designed to monitor the Internet's performance and alert federal and industrial users of any threats. Such a system "will provide broader and more robust protection against attacks that could bring the nation to its knees," according to Suss Consulting analyst Warren Suss. Speaking at a Federal Wireless User's Forum (FWUF) meeting in Las Vegas, NCS deputy director Brenton Greene commented that GEWIS will be used to observe the Internet's health on a global scale so that it can detect performance degradations and issue warnings when appropriate. He insisted that the system will not monitor specific Internet traffic, but will focus on general performance and status. The system will be constructed around a suite of existing Internet performance applications that will facilitate a top-level view of system performance. Greene noted that viruses such as Nimda and Code Red could be caught early with GEWIS. He also said that the performance of e-commerce Web sites will be among the areas GEWIS will watch. "GEWIS will be useful for early warning of attacks against the Internet's underlying structure, like DNS and big core routers and the like, which is a good thing, and needed," remarked Gartner security analyst John Pescatore, who added that the system will be able to prioritize traffic so that parts of the Internet are shielded against an attack on the entire network.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Global Organization Seeks Voice in Internet Addressing System"
Wall Street Journal (10/21/02) P. B4; Delaney, Kevin J.
Last week at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) organizational conference, ITU member representatives voted for a resolution calling on the ITU to take an active role in all "discussions and initiatives" involving domain names and the domain-name system (DNS). Some view the ITU vote as a move to step into the uncertainly surrounding domain names and the DNS, both of which are overseen by ICANN, a group that has been criticized even by ICANN allies. The ITU is affiliated with the United Nations, is a global organization, is dominated by international telecom companies, and must seek member government approval for ITU policies; some domain name industry observers believe the massive ITU structure would further marginalize domain name industry and public advocate voices. The U.S. government as well as the tech community have opposed ITU involvement as being too cumbersome. In contrast, ICANN ostensibly is free from government involvement in day-to-day decision-making. The domain name industry is estimated to be a $2.5 billion industry, and control of a domain name, such as amazon.com, is vital to the many businesses that own them. Because governments are involved in the ITU, analysts such as Syracuse University professor Milton Mueller believe that governments could use ITU power over DNS issues as "a convenient point of leverage for enforcement regulation." The disarray at ICANN is leading some to conclude that private-sector management of the DNS cannot work, while Yale Law School instructor David Johnson notes that ITU's foundation in governments would provide "enforceable global regulations." Some experts say ICANN should be structured to focus on technical issues, while the ITU could be responsible for public policy; however, others say such issues often overlap.
- "Little Gain Seen in Patent Filings"
Los Angeles Times (10/21/02) P. C1; Shiver Jr., Jube
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office logged only 350,000 new patent applications for fiscal year 2002, which ended in September, compared to the 345,000 patent applications submitted the year before. Some say this relatively anemic growth in patent applications is indicative of how deep the current economic slowdown has impacted businesses' ability to compete, and worry that the lack of innovation could put off a recovery. Businesses increased research and development budgets by just 3.2 percent this year, according to the Battelle Memorial Institute, compared with a 10.8 percent increase in 2000. Since the mid 1990s, the number of patent applications had been growing annually by double-digit percentages, especially since the government allowed for business method patents in the late 1980s. There is still a backlog of 420,000 patents, notes James E. Rowan, head of the Patent and Trademark Office. He says examiners are applying stricter standards to such applications, which gave rise to Amazon's controversial claim on "one-click" online shopping, among other things. But industry experts say the drop-off is the result of stymied innovation, and that personal computers and cars, for instance, have not had significant breakthroughs for some time. Computer Economics analyst Michael Erbschloe says something such as a voice interface could lift the PC market, but such technology is not feasible for the next decade at least. However, MIT visiting scholar James Bessen says the number of patent applications is not as important as the quality of the ideas presented, and that low-quality patents stymie innovation by preventing better products that are based on the same idea from entering the market.
Click Here to View Full Article
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Slowdown Sending Tech Jobs Overseas"
SiliconValley.com (10/21/02); Bjorhus, Jennifer
Experts note that more technology jobs are being shifted overseas as a result of the economic slump. Giga Information Group's Stephanie Moore reports that roughly two-fifths of Fortune 500 companies ship software operations overseas, and reckons that global revenue from this sector will total $7.68 billion in 2002. Furthermore, the practice has begun to migrate to non-technological industries. U.S. companies are finding it cheaper to outsource overseas, especially as their budgets shrink and the need to generate profits increases, but Congress has been asked by a major engineering organization to study whether the unemployment of American engineers is partly attributable to this trend, along with the import of foreign engineers to the United States on H-1B visas. IEEE-USA estimates that overall engineering unemployment rose 2 percent in the second quarter of 2002, and climbed even more for electronics engineers and computer scientists. However, Norman Matloff of the University of California-Davis says the number of software positions moving overseas is much smaller than assumed, and will remain so. Basic maintenance and applications development comprise the majority of software work shipped overseas, but software architecture, strategy, and systems design is also being offered by vendors. Some experts attribute the uptake in offshore tech services to fervent marketing campaigns by India-based companies such as Wipro Technologies, Infosys, and Tata Consultancy Services, while U.S. firms such as Electronic Data Systems, IBM Global Services, and Accenture are scrambling to set up overseas branches.
- "Nanotechnology Takes Off"
Miami Herald (10/21/02) P. G24; Garcia, Beatrice E.
U.S. researchers believe the next three to five years will witness nanotechnology breakthroughs that will revolutionize medicine, environmental controls, and manufacturing. However, such advancements can only be achieved by thoroughly understanding the behavior of nanoscale particles and developing new manufacturing methodologies--in fact, the University of Florida's Brij Moudgin estimates that 80 percent of the nanotech research being done today involves nano-particle behavior and control. Nano-particles are already being incorporated into consumer products and generating revenues: They are found in such items as stain-resistant apparel, sunscreen, optical components for telecom gear, and self-cleaning window glass products; CMP Cientifica calculates that nano-component sales earn about $30 million annually, while National Science Foundation nanotech adviser Mihail Roco believes that the nano-component market will one day reach $1 trillion. The National Nanotechnology Initiative has appropriated $710 million for fiscal year 2003, and Nathan Tinker of the NanoBusiness Alliance reports that $1.2 billion in venture capital will be available for U.S. nanoscience research and development over the next 12 to 14 months. In September, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee passed legislation that calls for the creation of an inter-agency program to coordinate nanoscience and engineering research and development between the private sector, federal agencies, and academic labs. Among the nanotech applications being researched are drug delivery systems and pollutant reduction; Roco says that nano-particles produce less waste and could be used to make cleaner filter systems. Meanwhile, IBM is investigating nanoscale data storage with its Millipede project, which could raise current data storage density by a factor of 20.
- "Voiceprints Make Crypto Keys"
Technology Research News (10/23/02); Patch, Kimberly
So that users can upgrade computer password security without making it more difficult to access computing resources, Bell Labs researchers are developing cryptographic keys by merging passwords and voiceprint technology. Prototype software developed by Bell Labs' Fabian Monrose and colleagues authenticates a user's identity by studying both the password uttered and the user's voice. "The randomness of [a] key is drawn from both the pass-phrase that is spoken and the speech patterns of the user...speaking it," Monrose explains; Philip Robinson of Germany's University of Karlsruhe adds that this method will increase the password's randomness. The key is built by a mathematical descriptor derived from 60 specific features drawn from a given voice sample, which allows the system to take errors such as background noise or vocalization changes into account. "The challenge...is to find the right balance of eliminating environmental effects early via signal processing versus relying on the error correction in the key generation step to compensate for the effects of noise and silence that may occur in the user's utterance," Monrose notes. He adds that should a protected machine be stolen, the scheme has software that keeps the key from being reverse-engineered via a secret-sharing scheme that splits secrets into several pieces. Monrose reports that the system could not be deceived by recorded and synthesized speech, but warns that advancements in such technologies could lead to more successful breaches. The researchers are now attempting to produce cryptographic keys of 80 bits or higher in order to boost the scheme's security, Monrose says.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Tiny Atomic Battery Developed at Cornell Could Run for Decades Unattended, Powering Sensors or Machines"
Cornell News (10/16/02); Steele, Bill
Speaking at a meeting of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) investigators, Amil Lal and Hui Li of Cornell University described a prototype microscopic battery that taps energy from a radioactive isotope that could last for decades and power future nanomachines and electronic circuits. The battery is a much smaller, MEMS version of a device Lal created during his tenure at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and involves an ultra-thin copper strip cantilevered above a film of nickel-63. Beta particles or electrons released from the decay of the isotope builds a negative charge on the strip, which bends down toward the isotope as the latter's positive charge increases; the charge is equalized by the current that flows between the oppositely-charged elements once they are close enough, and the strip springs back up. The cantilever can drive other components, such as a cam or ratcheted wheel, while attaching magnetized material to the end of the strip can produce an electrical current as it moves through a coil. Lal has also built a version of the device with a piezoelectric cantilever that releases an electrical pulse when the strip springs up, while a radio-frequency pulse also generated by this method could be used to transmit data. The device can operate across a wide temperature spectrum. The battery could be used in medical devices implanted within the human body, as well as remote sensors used in battlefield conditions or to monitor missiles. The nickel-63 isotope has a half-life that exceeds 100 years, and Lal estimates that such a battery could supply power for at least half that time.
- "Council and Parliament Agree on Electronic Waste Directive"
Environmental Data Interactive Exchange (10/18/02)
The European Parliament and the European Council reached agreements on Oct. 11 regarding two environmental directives--the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS). Under the WEEE, manufacturers of electrical and electronic products will be required to finance collection programs for discarded goods, and label new appliances to help facilitate their disposal; European member states will work out how to separate electrical and electronic products from other kinds of domestic trash. The WEEE authorizes that at least 4 kilograms of e-waste must be collected annually for each person in private households. Meanwhile, RoHS will prohibit certain materials--lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, and brominated flame retardants--from being incorporated into new products as of the beginning of July 2006. "This will be an important incentive to producers to take the environmental consequences into account already when they stand around the design table," declared Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom. The Parliament will vote on the proposal for the final time in December, and a spokesman for the institution expects approval from MEPs. The EC estimates that every European currently produces an average of 14 kilograms of e-waste per year, and 90 percent of such trash is buried in landfills or burnt without pre-treatment.
- "A Boon for Nonprofits With Software Needs"
New York Times (10/21/02) P. C3; Flynn, Laurie J.
Although major software companies have been smarting from the technology downturn, especially in Silicon Valley, they can still maintain visibility and keep their products widely distributed by donating them to nonprofits. Microsoft, for example, contributed $25 million in software to the DiscounTech nonprofit in fiscal year 2002, and expects to donate $30 million in fiscal year 2003; DiscounTech, in turn, sells the software it receives at reduced prices to other nonprofits, such as the Family Stress Center in Concord, Calif. Paul Bongiovanni, the center's business manager, can purchase top-of-the-line products at about 10 percent their retail price. DiscounTech, a subsidiary of CompuMentor, operates nationally, and frees up nonprofits from relying exclusively on grants, foundations, and direct donations. The organization also hopes to have donated computers and networking technology available for its customers by year's end, according to director Rebecca Masisak. CompuMentor's chief goal is to pair up technology industry mentors and nonprofit agencies, but it keeps itself afloat financially by selling software through DiscounTech, and also receives funding from Microsoft, AOL Time Warner, and various foundations. The dissolution of the San Francisco Internet economy has also allowed CompuMentor to use vacant offices. In addition, the nonprofit sector is benefiting from technology layoffs, which have provided a better class of applicant or volunteer in unemployed hardware or software professionals.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "The New Software Controversy"
CNet (10/17/02); Junnarkar, Sandeep
Washington, D.C., attorney Joel Wolfson and Carnegie Mellon University professor Stephen Cross have different opinions on the effect of the proposed Uniform Computer Information Transaction Act (UCITA), which seeks to amend the rules regarding the licensing of software in different states. Wolfson supports UCITA, and insists that "the purpose [of the proposal] is not to change the fundamental law, but to provide a uniform foundation that restates current law or sets protection better for licensees than are under current law." Software makers and vendors want the same rules that other goods providers follow under UCC Article 2 to apply to them: To be free of liability for failing to disclose defects, and the right to sell goods "as is;" opponents supposedly are trying to deny them these freedoms. Wolfson agrees that the passage of UCITA in a number of states might inspire other industries to push for similar legislation. He argues that the issue of reverse engineering is not encompassed by UCITA, and adds that current law, not UCITA, is responsible for the curtailing of consumers' fair-use rights that opponents are protesting. "The opponents want UCITA to [regulate industry], but that is not UCITA's job," Wolfson contends. Cross, on the other hand, says the opposition's chief objection to UCITA is its support of "unprecedented" warranty protection based on the premise that software cannot be written without defects--an assumption that he insists is untrue. As a result, the development of better software suffers, and the marketplace is inundated with products of inferior quality. Cross also disputes the assumption that UCITA will protect American industry--instead, he says it will allow overseas rivals to catch up with and overtake the United States in their own software efforts.
To learn more about ACM's activities regarding UCITA, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Scientists Build Musical Search Engine"
Electric News (10/17/02); McLindon, Andrew
Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London say they have created an online search engine for musical pieces that could one day be as popular as the Google search engine. Users may soon be able to locate songs just by singing tunes into their PCs, the researchers envision. The recently demonstrated OMRAS system, or Online Music Recognition and Searching, currently allows Internet surfers to find music in a database of 3,000 classical pieces. The database is based on polyphonic and symbolic technology, and queries also take the form of polyphonic audio. Polyphonic refers to several sounds at the same time and permits the retrieval of orchestra recordings and other complex pieces, scientists say. A university spokesperson said the technology could act as a reference tool in music schools as well as help children explore and take interest in music. The team of UK and US researchers also forecasts that computers will soon be able to analyze a piece of music and transform it into sheet music, locate different versions of a song, and track down unauthorized use of musical samples. However, scientists would need to work out copyright issues for such uses.
- "Challenges: Speed Bumps Ahead For Semantic Web"
InformationWeek Online (10/14/02); Ewalt, David M.
Architects of the Semantic Web are now occupied with developing an XML-based computing environment even though XML is still an emerging business tool. Developers have largely accepted XML as the lowest-level language for recognizing such concepts as cost or price. A data dictionary will help programs understand that such concepts have similar meanings. According to an earlier InformationWeek survey, about half of the 375 IT managers polled said they are currently using XML, a markup language. But Gartner analyst Alexander Linden warns that developers should first establish an XML standard before attempting to create a Semantic Web. He says, "As long as the XML standards are still immature, it's premature for the Semantic Web...First we have to have an XML standard; then, we can build a Semantic Web." Meanwhile, the World Wide Web Consortium is working on RDF (Resource Description Framework) as an intermediate layer in the Semantic Web. It is designed to help computers understand that price is measured in dollars or Hawaii is a part of the United States. The consortium will also need to create an additional language to tackle logical concepts and queries from users. Still, various business groups will eventually need to work with the W3C to develop industry-specific XML ontologies; it could take up to six years before a Semantic Web is operational.
- "Work Force Summit Could Miss Key Labor Issues, Critics Say"
EE Times Online (10/16/02); Quan, Margaret
The National Academies conference in November is designed as a forum where electronics industry organizations, academia, and professional associations can talk about critical American science and technology workforce issues and recommend government policies. Topics slated to receive key attention include an anticipated shortage of engineers. "We want to demonstrate this issue is of strong interest, gather all the thoughts and positions of the different groups and find commonalities to form a political agenda, and get the community used to the idea of working together on this issue," explains Government University Industry Research Roundtable (GUIRR) director Merrilea Mayo. However, critics such as American Engineering Association President Bill Reed fear that the issue of increasing engineering unemployment will be given short shrift. A September report from the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) finds that demand for IT professionals has slowed down since the beginning of the current year, and ITAA President Harris Miller expressed concern that the slowdown could derail the career track of potential IT and computer science students, which could lead to a major IT shortage later on. IEEE-USA will present a position paper at the summit detailing how unemployment among electrical engineers is climbing and how the situation has been affected by H-1B visa holders and offshore outsourcing. Among those invited to the summit are 50 congressmen who are involved in appropriating and approving science and engineering funding.
- "They'll Be Registering .Org Names in Horsham"
Philadelphia Inquirer (10/18/02) P. C1; Cooper, Porus P.
ICANNWatch.org editor and University of Miami Professor Michael Froomkin believes that Afilias will do a good job of making the .org domain work, but he says that ICANN's process for selecting the .org registry to succeed VeriSign was "a lost opportunity to create greater competition." Froomkin believes that because Afilias runs .info, someone else should have been selected to administer the back-end of .org. ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn says that ICANN wants to ensure that Internet users do not experience "any blips in the transfer," which is set for Jan. 1, 2003. Afilias considers itself technically advanced, and Afilias CTO Ram Mohan says that when someone registers a .info name, they can access their domain name online within two minutes. Mohan says that in the past it has taken between 12 hours and 36 hours for a domain name to appear online after being purchased. The Internet Society plans to use some .org proceeds to fund education programs to promote the Internet, according to Internet Society board member David Maher, but some observers worry that .org could be used as a cash-cow for funding various projects. ICANNWatch.org founder David Farber equates this type of funding to a "tax" on Internet users.
- "Technology Needs to Change Us"
CIO (10/01/02) Vol. 16, No. 1, P. 80; Prewitt, Edward
Technology futurist Esther Dyson says the hallmark of long-lasting technologies is that they change society in some way. In contrast to many dot-com technologies, which simply glossed over existing business processes or products, technologies such as HTML and the SQL database are truly useful and work well. Still, she notes that superior technology does not mean it will be adopted, or at least widely, if it is not coupled with a good business model. If Apple, for example, had chosen to share its operating system source code as Microsoft did with DOS, then perhaps it would have risen as the predominant computing platform today. Windows is also a long-lasting technology because its functionality is only as limited as the number of applications written for it, the number of which continues to soar. Dyson notes that some technologies are slow to catch on, and need catalysts such as industry collaboration or widespread user uptake. In the case of email, the commitment of MCI and CompuServe to adhere to newly-fashioned Internet standards was the enabler that eventually led to significant societal impact, once enough people started using it. Instant messaging needs the same industry collaboration, Dyson says, in order to be of more use to businesses. In the future, Dyson predicts that wireless technologies will play a large role in wiring people to the broadband Internet by bridging the "last-mile" gap, and that they will also have tremendous business impact in conjunction with location-based services. Another area of interest for Dyson is identity management.
- "Enterprise Play"
InfoWorld (10/14/02) Vol. 24, No. 41, P. 44; McCarthy, Jack
The gaming industry is rapidly rolling out advancements in data speed, graphics, and interactive computing that have attracted the attention of corporate computer users. Video cards that game developers use to deliver 3D graphics have been adopted by Macquarium so that it can enhance the Web sites it designs for clients. Internap Network Services has developed a private network access point platform in response to gamers' demands for real-time, high-bandwidth, multiplayer gaming, according to CTO Ali Marashi; the platform, which optimizes routing from service providers, is being deployed for Charles Schwab, Travelocity, and other corporate customers whose real-time and delivery requirements are critical to business. Meanwhile, Estco Medical CTO Seth Berger has channeled his game development expertise into a Web-based collaborative platform that medical device providers, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and biotech firms can use for online marketing purposes. "Just as community building allows game developers to hear what's important to the gamers and develop better products, [the platform] facilitates communication among patients, physicians, and other clinicians so that better treatment modalities can be developed," he explains. Butterfly.net has implemented a grid networking scheme to facilitate scalable multiplayer games, and CTO Mark Wirt remarks that it demonstrates that efficient, inexpensive networks can be deployed in a way that generates revenue. TransGaming Technologies CEO Gavriel State says that software portability elements that foster cross-platform game compatibility can also lay the groundwork for enterprise application development. Microsoft and Sony, meanwhile, are adding technology such as broadband and enhanced networking to their respective Xbox and PlayStation systems that could be adopted by others.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Unplugged U."
Wired (10/02) Vol. 10, No. 10, P. 120; McHugh, Josh
Dartmouth College's campus-wide wireless network, which consists of over 500 Wi-Fi antennas distributed over about 200 acres, is significantly influencing education, study habits, social interaction, and security. The importance of knowledge sharing to university life is partly responsible for the rapid rollout of new systems; in return for early reports on network performance and usage patterns, Cisco is selling its equipment to Dartmouth and other colleges at a discount. Although the network can be a platform for students to make mischief, professors such as G. Christian Jernstedt are using it to transform learning--for instance, lessons he teaches that make use of the network are marked by greater student participation. There are security concerns: Other institutions, such as UT Dallas, have had to implement safeguards to keep students from tweaking their grades, while Dartmouth students have developed tracking projects since the wireless network went live a year ago. Wireless data traffic analysis also shows evidence of sociological impact--students, for example, usually log on in preferred locations for a median average of 16 minutes per session. Surveillance of student computer use is expressly forbidden at Dartmouth, except when complaints are filed. This has given students the freedom to maintain secrecy about their activities. The network was the brainchild of Dartmouth alumni such as professor David Kotz and Cisco's Bill Rossi, and connectivity was deployed at the campus for a relatively cheap $750,000.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Super Soldiers"
Technology Review (10/02) Vol. 105, No. 8, P. 44; Talbot, David
The U.S. military is investing $50 million in a project that seeks to enhance the performance and capabilities of soldiers through nanotechnology. MIT earned this contract after demonstrating actual products, such as an "artificial muscle" that could be used to bind wounds or increase strength; a microscopic chemical sensor; and optical threads that could be applied to remote infrared communication. The Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies that MIT is founding with the grant will act as a testbed where distinct technologies can be brought together. The institute plans to have nanotech applications that can be added to existing military systems ready in five years, while integrating them all could take 10 years or longer. A major goal of the institute is to embed strength into uniforms through such technologies as the artificial muscle, which is composed of an electroactive polymer whose shape and length can be adjusted by electrical voltage; a person wearing a uniform with 1.4 kilograms of this material could conceivably lift 80 kilograms to a height of one meter, and the incorporation of carbon nanotubes will reduce electrical resistance, allowing such feats to be performed rapidly. MIT chemist Tim Swager has developed a prototype sensor that uses conductive nanoscopic polymer wires to take readings of nitric oxide concentrations in a person's breath, a critical first step toward remote health monitoring systems. Meanwhile, the optical threads have an organic/inorganic coating that can selectively reflect or absorb specific wavelengths of light, which could lead to an "optical bar code" that soldiers could use to identify friends using night vision goggles. The most formidable challenge will be integrating all these nanotechnologies, and MIT partner DuPont is researching new nano-integration techniques that solve the nanomaterials' inherent incompatibility with each other.