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 416: Monday, October 28, 2002
- "Web Ready For National Alerts"
Investor's Business Daily (10/28/02) P. A6; Howell, Donna
Terra Lycos CTO Tim Wright suggests that an Emergency Online Broadcast System be organized, either in imitation of or with the cooperation of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Wright says that voluntarily running alerts--delivered in XML--on the main portal pages of Terra Lycos, Microsoft, AOL Time Warner, and Yahoo! would allow them to reach the largest number of online users. Terra Lycos thinks that national alerts should at least be posted on top Web sites and shown to everyone, while another suggestion is the broadcast of local alerts through personalized Web user settings. Wireless carriers are worried that the drive to post alerts on cell phones or pagers could lead to a capacity overload, and sending emergency alerts to the Web could mitigate this problem. A proposal Terra Lycos sent to the Office of Homeland Security would involve the year-long development of a system that could alert many users simultaneously, in keeping with the need to refine communications in light of terrorist threats. The enormous amount of Web traffic that resulted from Sept. 11 forced many companies to come up with bandwidth-saving emergency strategies, and firms such as Terra Lycos are contracting with companies to supply more capacity if traffic becomes excessive. "Now systems servicing news could be quickly supplemented to double capacity within an hour," declares Wright. Herbert White of the National Weather Service reports that his organization uses an EAS-based warning infrastructure, and is collaborating with the Partnership For Public Warning to improve the system.
- "Light-Emitting Silicon Shines Much Brighter in New Invention"
New York Times (10/28/02) P. C2; Markoff, John
STMicroelectronics claims that its scientists have boosted the efficiency of light-emitting silicon by a factor of 100 through the patented implantation of ions of rare-earth metals into a special layer on the surface of the silicon substrate. The researchers are expected to make an official announcement on Monday. The goal of such a breakthrough is to improve the timing of electronic circuits with light, a critical consideration in the transition to system-on-a-chip technology, according to Envisioneering President Richard Doherty. Another potential benefit of optical timing is a significant acceleration of processor speed. STMicroelectronics said the technology spawned by this breakthrough will first be applied to the assembly of power control devices that electrically separate control circuitry from power switching devices without adding cost or weight by making them external; this would be a boon to the automotive industry. The company is also researching the possibility of employing the technology to dense wavelength division multiplexing, hoping to bring lower cost and faster data network speed through the direct integration of the light source with the silicon circuits. Although STMicroelectronics acknowledged that light sources could be built using the new technology, it would be hard-pressed to rival gallium arsenide and other materials that can be mass-produced at little cost.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Tech's Future Lies Beyond Silicon"
ZDNet (10/24/02); Spooner, John G.
HP Labs quantum science research director Stan Williams believes that computer chips 15 years from now will no longer rely on silicon as their basic component, and that molecular grid technology, which he co-developed, will help usher in this transition. He predicts that the initial application will be molecular-silicon hybrid circuits, with the silicon supplying electrical power and the input-output for the molecular memory contacts. Williams says that chip manufacturing plants are becoming more and more expensive, and cost is rising because of the need to precisely align photolithographic layers. The solution is to eliminate the need for mechanical precision by switching over to components that self-assemble and self-align. Williams describes his research as "an insurance policy" designed to increase scalability after the use of silicon reaches a physical or economic threshold. His group is considering the use of rotaxane molecules as a basic material of molecular circuits, combined with metal wires into a two-terminal switch. In Williams' opinion, machines with molecular circuitry will clear the way for "conversation-active" devices that users can operate by voice command, rather than rely on a keyboard--a development that is 10 to 20 years away. Key to this development is a high-density, low-power architecture in which battery power is conserved by performing many operations in parallel.
- "Analysis: The Golden Age of Hacking Rolls On"
IDG News Service (10/25/02); Johnston, Gretel
The past six months shows that the hacking culture is thriving, computer security consultant Ed Skoudis said recently at a SANS Institute conference, and is continuing to make gains on vendors and companies trying to make their networks secure. He said several new hacker tools demonstrated that "The Golden Age of hacking rolls on." A new LibRadiate coding program, for example, could be used in conjunction with WLAN sniffing programs such as NetStumbler to find and break into wireless networks, even ones employing Wired Equivalent Privacy measures. LibRadiate lets hackers easily tap transmissions on the wireless network using C code. Skoudis also identified the as-yet unreleased Setiri Trojan horse program, which uses an invisible Web browser window on a victim's computer to communicate with a remote hacker. Because Setiri goes through anonymizer.com so its Web traffic is cleansed, end users can protect themselves by blocking access to that site, or by configuring Internet Explorer to not allow invisible browsers. The Defiler's Toolkit is already available, and lets hackers destroy or cover up evidence of their attacks; the program was especially designed to foil the Coroner's Toolkit, which is popularly used to gather computer forensic evidence of hack attacks. Skoudis said the recent distributed denial-of-service attack on the Internet's main root servers nearly caused the entire system to collapse, and added that ISPs would soon have to enforce better security among their clients in order to mitigate the threat of such attacks in the future.
- "Smart Routing Could Stop Distributed Net Attacks"
New Scientist Online (10/25/02); Knight, Will
Concerns over distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks in which servers are flooded by bogus traffic were reinforced by the Oct. 21 assault on the root domain name system (DNS) servers, and one solution that Steve Bellovin and colleagues at AT&T Labs are working on involves programming routers to detect excessive levels of traffic and then attempt to block it. These routers would also talk to other routers to block the flow of data close to the source. Meanwhile, UCLA researchers have developed D-Ward, software that would be deployed on a network gateway to look for suspicious outgoing traffic. This method could facilitate the easier control of potential DDoS traffic, according to researchers Jelena Mirkovic, Gregory Prier, and Peter Reiher. Bellovin comments that it would be a formidable challenge to convince router manufacturers to switch to such tools. "The hard part is that putting this into routers probably requires some hardware modifications," he notes. Conventional network defenses are useless against a DDoS attack because the traffic originates from so many sources, so the only solution is to block all traffic, even that which is legitimate. @Stake security consultant Phil Huggins says the Internet's current network infrastructure cannot forestall DDoS attacks, which necessitates people to study it carefully.
- "Taking a Quantum Leap"
Boston Globe (10/22/02) P. B6; Voss, David
MIT researchers are working on the next generation in computing, using quantum bits instead of binary digital bits to perform powerful, near-instantaneous computations. Quantum bits have extraordinary powers, such as the ability to be both "true" and "false" at the same time, whereas traditional computing relies on clearly defined bits. This increases the power of quantum computers exponentially with each qubit, or quantum bit added. To date, the largest quantum computer built was at MIT under the direction of professor Isaac Chuang, who used the seven-qubit computer to factor the number 15. This is significant, especially since a more powerful computer working on the same principle could in theory help with modern cryptography, which utilizes the prime factors of huge numbers. Quantum computing also allows for the quality of "entanglement," which means the qubits in a quantum computer or in a quantum photonic signal are inexorably linked together, no matter the distance or barrier between them. This allows quantum computer engineers to, for example, search vast databases instantaneously since all the qubits react at the same time, no matter what the scale of the system. Another MIT project is working on splitting photons so that they also have the entangled quality. Professor Jeffrey Shapiro, who is heading the research, says this could be used to transmit communications with unbreakable encryption. The development of practical quantum computing is critical as transistors shrink to a single atom, which is predicted to happen within 18 years.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "European IT Skills Progress Stalling"
VNUNet (10/28/02); Fielding, Rachel
Despite a wealth of initiatives designed to help give Europe a superior knowledge-based economy within eight years, European commissioners such as Anna Diamantopoulou are concerned that there has been little progress in the push to remedy IT skills shortages. She told delegates at last week's eSkills summit that "Access to new technologies may be growing in Europe but if we look behind the figures we see that the spread has been far from even and that huge gaps persist." Diamantopoulou explained that Europeans that earn high incomes are much more likely than low-income earners to have Web access, while only one in three workers has been trained on digital technology. She said the IT shortage cannot be fixed just by bringing in young, fresh talent; companies must provide their existing staffs with the technology, training, and motivation necessary to further their IT skills. In addition, Diamantopoulou warned that there are not enough women in IT, and urged that companies institute gender policies to rectify this situation. She also noted that IT skills alone do not ensure success--they must be supplemented with teamwork skills, self-management and communication skills, and cognitive and interpersonal skills. Meanwhile, Enterprise and Information Society commissioner Erkki Liikanen cautioned that some member states were in danger of losing focus because of the economic slump and a drop-off in IT recruitment. "IT remains a huge opportunity but the case needs to be made convincingly," he explained.
- "P2P Hacking Bill May Be Amended"
CNet (10/23/02); McCullagh, Declan
A proposed bill by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) allowing copyright holders to damage peer-to-peer networks will be modified, said the congressman's aide, Alec French, on Oct. 23. The original bill introduced in July would have allowed copyright owners to hack into and disable a peer-to-peer node if they suspected it was being used for illegal distribution of their copyrighted material. The bill does not specify which modes of interference would be permitted, such as viruses, denial-of-service attacks, or domain name takeovers. French says the bill would be rewritten to "accommodate reasonable concerns before reintroduction in the 108th [Congress];" Congress re-convenes in January 2003. Consumer groups, scholars, and technology specialists are largely critical of the measure. Meanwhile, assistant secretary of state Bruce Mehlman hoped a based-based solution could be reached that would protect intellectual property without requiring the federal government to step in. French says that most of today's peer-to-peer networks are developed mainly to distribute illegal copies of copyrighted works.
- "Computer Aids for the Blind"
Baltimore Sun (10/24/02) P. C1; Hirsh, Stacey
Although several products debuting today aim to provide visually impaired persons with the means to use computer technology more efficiently, advocates claim that the technological chasm blind people face is widening. National Federation of the Blind director Curtis Chong notes that visually handicapped job seekers must make sure that the companies they are applying to use software that is interoperable with technology for the blind, even if they are not looking for a technical position. Blind employees who cannot interface with graphics displayed on computer screens, for instance, are at a significant disadvantage, and have even been denied advancement in some cases. Microsoft, in conjunction with Freedom Scientific, will launch the PAC Mate, a handheld PC that will enable the blind to send email to desktops. However, Hewlett-Packard reports on its Web site that the PAC Mate is far more costly than the iPAQ pocket PC. Meanwhile, the National Institute of Standards and Technology will introduce a computer-connected device that allows the blind to feel graphics such as maps or pictures. Microsoft's Madelyn Bryant McIntire feels that this decade will witness many technological advances that will positively impact people with disabilities, but Susie Stanzel of the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that the rate of technological development is outpacing that of accessibility tools. Proponents say that solving accessibility problems for blind people will involve considering those problems during the design process rather than after.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Industry Experience Bolsters Reed's Research"
Nanotech Planet (10/23/02); Pastore, Michael
Yale University professor and Molecular Electronics (MEC) co-founder Mark Reed leverages his industry experience at Texas Instruments (TI) to further his own research and better understand how industry approaches new technologies. The lessons he learned from studying technologies to see if they could boost the company's revenues help him balance colleagues' announcements of supposedly revolutionary breakthroughs with a healthy dose of skepticism. Reed also applies his industry experience to MEC, where he makes scientific contributions as a member of the Technical Advisory Board, but leaves answering questions about daily corporate operations to the CEO. He says the field of molecular electronics is competitive, but is also characterized by cooperation between rival labs, which is an encouraging sign. The revelation that former Bell Labs researcher Hendrick Schon falsified published data on molecular electronics was a blow to the field's credibility, but Reed believes that the incident will ultimately fade from memory, and will also make co-authors more cautious and lead to a reconsideration of the review process, while the science behind such research will be more thoroughly tested. He advocates that researchers change fields every five to 10 years so that they stay fresh, while students need to look beyond their disciplines as well. Molecular electronics actually fulfills this need very well, since it is an interdisciplinary field. MEC is tasked with creating a molecular memory prototype, and is collaborating with Amphenol to make molecular coatings for stereo and computer connectors.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Public Advocate on Key Internet Board Loses His Voice"
Associated Press (10/24/02); Jesdanun, Anick
ICANN board member and vociferous critic Karl Auerbach will soon leave his ICANN board seat as ICANN prepares to approve a reform proposal that ends all elected seats on the ICANN board. ICANN officials such as Chairman Vint Cert and former Chairwoman Esther Dyson describe Auerbach as someone with good ideas but whose style is polarizing and confrontational, while former ACM President Barbara Simons says, "He's a hero to some people, a villain to others." Auerbach says that when he joined ICANN he expected his opinion would be in the minority, but he did not expect that the board would look at all his proposals as fundamentally hostile simply because he proposed them. Auerbach would like ICANN to explore naming systems that could supercede the domain name system if future needs call for a different Internet structure, and Auerbach feels ICANN may resist any such innovations. Auerbach's vision of ICANN is an organization that does not get involved in Internet issues unless intervention is absolutely necessary.
To read more about ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Industry Attacks IT Tuition"
Times Higher Education Supplement (10/18/02) No. 1560, P. 4; Leon, Pat
Only a fifth of computer science graduates in the United Kingdom work in the information technology sector despite a current shortage, says a new report from e-skills UK. Of the 27,648 students in 1998 who began their studies in computer science, computer systems engineering, software engineering, and artificial intelligence, only 4,962 entered the IT field three years later after earning degrees, according to e-skills Regional Gap-UK. The sector is often criticized for its failure to attract women, demanding schedules, and job instability. "It's a huge loss," says e-skills UK researcher Andrew Henry-Price. E-skills UK COO Terry Watts adds that universities often fail to keep abreast of the changing technology and infrastructure. Furthermore, as IT becomes more ubiquitous, the distinctiveness of IT professionals is blurring, he says. E-skills UK, which seeks to boost the IT sector through collaboration between employers and the government, recently launched four projects to help IT education providers. They include developing an IT Web portal for higher education and establishing a graduate apprenticeship program.
- "Palm-Tops to Guide Tourists"
Nature Online (10/24/02); Clarke, Tom
A new pilot project funded by the European Union is meant to revive investor interest in the mobile communications industry there. The EU and 17 businesses from six European countries are collaborating on the Mobile Tourism Guide project, which will offer tourists special handheld computers to use for sight-seeing, hotel, food, and transportation information. The pilot project will build special PDAs for the system, although off-the-shelf wireless devices would also work. The devices will be equipped with global positioning system and general packet radio service (GRPS) wireless technology so that relevant services can be delivered as needed, depending on where the users are located. Much of the content will be delivered in audio form, and the pilot will be launched in London, Madrid, and Sienna, Italy, by next summer. Users will be able to secure such guides from airports or travel agents. The pilot program will feature guides with generalized tour information, while tours involving more specific subject matter can be purchased individually. GRPS is the same technology used by most European mobile carriers and allows for small monetary payments, as well as always-on Internet access. Nathan Clapton of Lonely Planet travel guides says that the Mobile Tourism Guide will not replace paper guides, but will be successful if it offers other value-added features. The Lonely Planet also offers downloadable city guides for PDAs from its Web site, and is in consultation with mobile firms about an on-the-go wireless service.
- "Tech's Newest Trend--Decentralization"
ZDNet (10/24/02); Werbach, Kevin
It is no surprise that today's most successful technologies are decentralized in nature, because decentralized systems are much better suited to take on the tasks required in an increasingly complex and demanding IT environment, writes technology analyst Kevin Werbach. The Internet itself, for example, is not hindered by its own growth because its infrastructure and content are widely distributed, unlike centralized systems that crash when burdened with too much content or too many users. Moreover, decentralized systems free individuals from many of the artificial constraints imposed on them, such as departmental, national, and industrial boundaries. Werbach says Wi-Fi is a good example of a decentralized system that is being rapidly adopted because it is easy to deploy, inexpensive, and innovative. Several technology companies are moving in the direction of decentralized computing, and the entertainment industry should take heed as well. Just as IBM has had to unfetter itself from dependence on building mainframe computers, the entertainment industry needs to change its business model from being the sole source of content. More decentralization, however, does not equate with better systems, since equilibrium needs to be found in each application. Ray Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes and his own Groove collaboration software, says his peer-to-peer system is best applied to groups of sizes between two and 25 people, since social dynamics limit benefits in wider deployments. Similarly, by supporting the semi-decentralized .Net on the Windows platform, Microsoft keeps its proprietary desktop operating system relevant.
- "Will the U.S. Fall Behind in Tech?"
Fortune Online (10/22/02); Kirkpatrick, David
Leading tech executives at the recent Agenda technology conference voiced concerns that the United States may lose its competitive edge against global IT rivals, and attributed this trend to three factors: A severe reduction in national IT research and development; a profound shortage of engineering graduates; and a much lower broadband penetration rate than other countries. Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger and Microsoft CTO Craig Mundie were both concerned by the falloff in IT R&D. Mundie said that less than 50 percent of the gross domestic product spent on government-funded R&D in the 1950s is being spent today. Gelsinger added that the United States' broadband deployment effort lags behind that of many Asian countries, including China, Korea, and Japan. He observed that broadband access in Japan is faster, and is also in many cases cheaper than it is in the United States. Broadband adoption is seen as essential to economic growth, because it will spur enormous spending in hardware and software, and will be a platform for many future applications. Meanwhile, Cadence Design Systems CEO Ray Bingham estimated that China churns out 200,000 electrical engineers annually, while the total number of U.S. electrical engineering degrees handed out last year, including graduate, doctoral, and undergraduate degrees, was 107,000. Furthermore, many U.S. graduates are foreigners who eventually go back to their native lands.
- "Users Hoping SIP's the Answer"
Network World (10/21/02) Vol. 19, No. 42, P. 1; Hochmuth, Phil; Greene, Tim
Network executives believe that Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-enabled products could get the most from voice over IP (VoIP), streamline network management, and provide a platform for new applications, but only if they are compatible with each other. Positive buzz for SIP has been building thanks to the efforts of bodies such as the SIP Forum, and moves by vendors to promote the technology. Nortel's Succession Communication Server for Enterprise Multimedia Xchange (CSE MX) is slated to ship in late 2002, and the next revision of Siemens' Hi-Path IP PBX software, due in Q1 2003, will support both SIP and H.323. Cisco, the VoIP market leader, plans to add CallManager to its roster of SIP-enabled gateways, routers, and IP phones, but its dependence on proprietary protocols and the possibility they could hinder SIP product compatibility invites skepticism. Proponents have touted SIP's advantages over H.323, which is criticized as being prone to causing congestion and difficult to customize; yet H.323 is still the most prevalent VoIP call control standard. The protocol, for example, is used by the ViDENet IP and video network that links the Internet and Internet 2 to over 70 research institutions, corporate networks, and universities. H.323 is also being used to set up VoIP sessions by 50.47 percent of 634 telecom and IT professionals polled by VoIPwatch.com. However, a wide range of communications technologies running the gamut from voice to instant messaging to video can run on SIP. Click-to-dial calling and interactive voice response navigation of Web sites also promise to be supported by the protocol.
- "Eternally Yours at 8 Bits"
Electronic Business (10/02) Vol. 28, No. 10, P. 72; Lawton, Stephen
The 8-bit microcontroller unit (MCU) has become ubiquitous in the two decades since Intel introduced the 8051; designers of embedded systems often choose it because it is compact, cheap to manufacture, and can encapsulate all primary computer functions. Eight bits of data is "more than adequate" for computer functions that are not time-sensitive, observes Dave Yeskey of Microchip Technology. The chips can also function in real time: Examples include a body temperature monitor from Personal Electronics Devices and a cluster of 8-bit MCUs that position and focus telescopes from Meade Instruments. Today, 8-bit MCUs with flash memory, which has started to supplant mask ROM, mean that products can be upgraded or revised on the fly and put on the market faster, according to Meade Instruments' Ken Baun. Meanwhile, their size is decreasing as their functionality improves; 8-bit chips can be as large as a quarter or as small as one-third the size of a dime yet contain up to 20 times as many components as the Zilog Z-80 chip had 23 years ago. In addition, chip speed is increasing--In-Stat/MDR analyst Max Baron notes current chips can support 100 MHz frequencies, while their early predecessors could only manage 5 to 10 MHz. Geoff Lees of Philips Electronics North America projects that future 8-bit MCUs will boast more flash memory, better performance, and greater power efficiency, hastening their penetration into the mobile electronics market.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Can Public Web Services Work?"
New Architect (11/02); Asaravala, Amit
Public Web services can be a lucrative business opportunity, if properly deployed: Amazon.com's recently-launched Web service for Amazon.com Associates has proven to be a solid source of revenue, one that ServiceObject CEO Geoff Grow thinks could encourage rivals to open up their data. On the other hand, the free Google Web APIs beta program, which allows outside developers to access Google's search services via a SOAP interface, has not generated any revenue. Because major technology vendors such as IBM, Sun, Oracle, and Microsoft have a lot riding on Web services, they are determined to ensure their success. It is unlikely that distributed applications will evaporate, given several factors--a demand exists, Web services are based on simple protocols, and SOAP is familiar and easy to use for many Web developers. However, SOAP, WSDL, and other protocols are lacking in several critical areas, such as security standards and latency. Furthermore, such standards are riddled with ambiguity. Implementing them is subject to different levels of interpretation, and this is turn could cause the Web services community to be fractured. As a result, vendors and developers could be forced to rewrite code at great expense when the standards are clarified.