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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 4, Issue 422: Wednesday, November 13, 2002
- "House OK's Computer Security Bill"
Wired News (11/13/02); Grebb, Michael
The $903 million Cyber Security Research and Development Act, which will fund cybersecurity projects and training programs over the next five years, was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday. Under the bill, the National Institute of Standards and Technology will allocate funding to academic-industry partnerships, while the National Science Foundation will set up new centers for cybersecurity research, as well as undergraduate program grants, community college grants, and fellowships. A virtually identical bill was passed by the Senate in February, and chief sponsor of the House bill Rep. Sherman Boehlert (R-N.Y.) is confident that President Bush will sign the measure into law "post haste." He adds that he will tirelessly lobby other members of Congress to approve of the funding when it reviews the budget. The funding will be used on initiatives that aim to prevent future cyberterrorist attacks on critical computer infrastructure. Advocates warned at a press conference that such a scenario could be catastrophic if it transpires in conjunction with a physical terrorist attack, especially given the currently insufficient levels of cybersecurity funding. The private sector is applauding the passage of the bill: Red Hat CTO Michael Tiemann remarked that "The federal government is awakening to the fact that national security depends, in part, on computer and software security."
For learn more about ACM's activities in regard to cyber security, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "An Innovation Recession?"
ABCNews.com (11/11/02); Dizikes, Peter
A study estimates that tech spending on research and development fell 8 percent between mid-2001 and early 2002 because of the economic recession, and analysts are troubled that this will impact technological innovations, which are regarded as vital to industry growth. However, some key industry figures say the downturn is an opportunity to get back to research basics, and has triggered two major changes in the R&D process: Researchers are less isolated within labs and have a more collaborative relationship with product developers, and research projects place a greater value on customer needs. Jim Mitchell of Sun Microsystems' labs says that he makes sure that researchers invest as much as 20 percent of their time working with the company's products division to accelerate time-to-market, and tries to have at least four "harvestable" projects on hand each year. The increasing savvy of tech customers has forced companies to deal with them on a more direct level. Hewlett-Packard and IBM are giving security products a higher profile as a result of customer needs, for instance. General manager of ITT's Harrisburg Design Center Andrew Dawson notes that U.S. research labs will continue to invest in long-term research projects. At IBM, nanotechnology efforts such as "Millipede," which may not be ready for the market for five to 10 years, are still going ahead. Meanwhile, Microsoft and General Electric have contributed a lot of publicity to the expansion of their research initiatives.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "New Tech Taps Solar Power to Deliver Broadband"
NewsFactor Network (11/12/02); Martin, Mike
Researchers at the University of Southern California, San Diego (UCSD) have developed broadband microwave antennas powered by solar panels to deliver wireless connectivity to remote areas. "The use of solar panels to power wireless broadband equipment--radios, antennas and the like--is especially feasible and cost-effective in areas where traditional electricity is not available," notes UCSD researcher Kimberly Mann Bruch. The High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN) stations are equipped with a quartet of 80-watt panels that can yield a maximum of 320 watts, while four 94-AH cell batteries that can support as many as four 2.4 GHz radios for five days act as backup. The batteries receive most of the power tapped by the panels, while a small amount of energy is diverted to the radios and amplifiers, explains HPWREN designer Todd Hansen. UCLA computer science professor Leonard Kleinrock says the solar technology will facilitate the creation of "smart spaces," in which Internet capabilities will be embedded practically anywhere, including household objects, walls, eyeglasses, etc. Principal HPWREN investigator Hans-Werner Braun notes that the need for such technology comes not only from a dearth of electricity, but a lack of interest among providers to set up broadband connectivity in far-flung regions. The UCSD product is funded by the National Science Foundation. The HPWREN stations operate in the San Diego County mountains in the vicinity of the La Jolla Native American Reservation, and supply wireless access to several learning centers.
- "'Rewiring' File-Sharing Networks May Stop Attacks"
New Scientist Online (11/11/02); Knight, Will
Stanford University researchers have developed a network design model that would prevent attackers from crashing peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks, including movie studios and music labels that want to stop pirated works from being traded online. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) are both pushing for new legislation that would allow them to launch Internet attacks against computers that are sharing copyrighted material over P2P networks. After infiltrating the file-sharing network and identifying copyrighted work being offered illegally, it would be easy to disable those nodes by flooding them with fake requests. The Stanford team, from the school's Database Research Department, says that forming smaller local groups within P2P networks and discriminating between file requests from different sources would avoid the potential damage from such attacks. Researchers Neil Daswani and Hector Garcia-Molina tested their design on a model of the Gnutella P2P network. The best arrangement they came up with involves refusing second requests from a specified supernode until all other linked supernodes also made a request. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) is redrafting the P2P Privacy Prevention Act in response to criticism from civil liberties groups and P2P supporters, and the new legislation is expected to be introduced next year.
- "U.S. Hopes to Check Computers Globally"
Washington Post (11/12/02) P. A4; O'Harrow Jr., Robert
Former national security adviser John Poindexter, who runs the new Information Awareness Office, has proposed a global computer surveillance system that would be used to study commercial and government databases worldwide for evidence of terrorist activity. He says the technologies his office is developing would, for example, help analysts make random scans for signs of risky travel, unusual fund transfers, unlikely medical activity, and suspicious emails; such data would be gathered by computer "appliances" that intelligence agencies would use to routinely draw out information, once permission from governments and businesses has been secured. The tools Poindexter is proposing would also provide a visual representation of the meaning of the information gathered, as well as identify people at a distance using profiles of their faces and how they walk. Among skeptics and critics of Poindexter's proposal are Paul Werbos of the National Science Foundation, who says the huge amount of personal data processed could lead to innocent people being identified as suspects while actual terrorists slip away. Meanwhile, former senator Gary Hart (D-Colo.) calls the initiative a "total overkill of intelligence" that could be immensely expensive. Other specialists wonder whether the focus on privacy around the world would even allow such a system to function diplomatically. Poindexter insists that the limits on how the system should be used is a matter for Congress and policymakers to decide. His proposed system will be financed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) at a yearly maintenance cost of about $200 million.
- "Photonic Crystals in Uniforms"
New York Times (11/11/02) P. C3; Riordan, Teresa
MIT researcher Yoel Fink has conceived of polymer-based photonic crystals that could be used as part of a $50 million Defense Department contract to create an exoskeleton that would give soldiers enhanced abilities. Fink's planned contribution to the project is a polymer thread that would selectively reflect or absorb specific light wavelengths that soldiers wearing special headgear could spot to identify friendly troops. Most researchers have been trying to create photonic crystals by etching them out of silicon, but Fink proposed building them from a block co-polymer, a self-assembling plastic that combines two kinds of polymers with differing reflective characteristics. "What's keeping us from flying with it right now is that we need a clever chemist--which I am not--to synthesize the polymer," Fink explains. He notes that his research is likely to first be used in a light-transmitting fiber for an ultra-secure military communications network. Beyond military applications, photonic crystals could be used to make color-tunable apparel, clothing equipped with optical communications systems, and more optical components in computers. Fink received a patent for his photonic crystals in August, while he and several colleagues were awarded a patent for a fiber that directs light beams across long distances in October.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Tech Futures: Where Workers and Investors Will Find Opportunities in the Years Ahead"
San Francisco Chronicle Online (11/07/02); Plotkin, Hal
In order for the technology sector to start selling its products again, it does not need to introduce revolutionary products, but simply further the penetration of existing ones throughout the economy. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan noted last week that the technology gap between leading-edge firms and companies with average levels of technology was still very large. Consequently, he said the productivity increases that would result from existing technologies being implemented ubiquitously would allow for up to 3 percent annual growth for the rest of the decade. Technology still offers tremendous benefits to the vast majority of social institutions besides the private sector, such as in education and government. After the invention of the electric motor and internal combustion engine, the resulting economic growth did not occur overnight, but over the next several years as shopping malls and movie theatres, for example, were made possible by air conditioning, which was in turn made possible by the electric motor. In the same way, dairy farms became modernized and more important with the introduction of gas-powered engines, which powered the milk trucks that brought fresh milk to many more consumers. If the economy is able to increase productivity through the use of technology, it will grow and have more money to expand, which will in turn create more demand for technology workers. It is also worthwhile to note that, despite the equities market bubble, actual productivity growth during the period from 1995 to 2000 was about 2 percent each year.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Silicon Hogs"
Salon.com (11/13/02); Mieskowski, Katharine
Growing e-waste resulting from more and more electronic equipment being junked is a well known problem, but a new study to be published in the December issue of Environmental Science & Technology indicates a huge amount of materials and energy is consumed during the manufacturing process. Producing a single silicon microchip devours 2,130 kilowatts per hour of electricity for every kilogram of silicon, while the refining process uses up chemicals and ultra-pure water for doping and rinsing, respectively. The study estimates that a wafer weighing two grams consumes 3.7 pounds of fossil fuels and other chemicals and 70.5 pounds of water; the ratio of resources to mass is 630 to 1. The analysis also finds that fabricating wafers out of quartz is over 100 times more energy-intensive than it is with regular silicon. Although the dematerialization theory states that technological advancements should lead to less resource usage, the decreasing size and increasing speed of chips may require higher energy intensity to avoid defects, argues study co-author Miriam Heller of the National Science Foundation. Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition executive director Ted Smith says that his organization has been struggling for a decade to get semiconductor companies to disclose their usage of resources per unit so they can make comparisons, but manufacturers fear that their competitive edge would be threatened if consumers or the government learned through such comparison that their rivals were making chips more efficiently. However, some researchers, including the study's authors, acknowledge that the conclusions only deal with chip creation, not use. There are some who contend that the use of the product could potentially outweigh the cost of resources.
- "CMU Work Aims to Change Relationship Between Vehicle, Driver"
Associated Press (11/10/02); Spice, Byron
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are working to make interaction between drivers and electronic vehicle systems easier and safer, given the risk of distraction caused by both the increasing sophistication of vehicle electronics and the personal electronic devices--cell phones, PDAs, etc.--that drivers often bring with them. In spring 2001, students in Asim Smailagic's rapid prototyping lab equipped a Pontiac minivan with gear designed to enhance the driving experience by making the vehicle aware of both the driver's situation and its surroundings: Innovations included a camera-computer integration and a fingerprint reader to verify the driver's identity; a microphone on the shoulder belt that allows the driver to place phone calls or call up information by voice command; a heads-up windshield display on which data can be projected; and an on-board Global Positioning System (GPS) unit that can be used in conjunction with software to remind the driver of important destinations and errands. The CMU researchers have also created and are further developing a "gesture interface" in which cameras watch for driver hand movements that trigger specific commands, such as calling up computer menus for operating the radio and navigation systems. Some vehicles are wirelessly connected to computer networks that drivers can use to read email and get data and roadside assistance, and Ed Schlesinger of CMU's General Motors Collaborative Laboratory projects that one day vehicles could use such networks to communicate with each other so they could exchange information that might be helpful to drivers. Smailagic suggests that vehicle cameras could be further used to determine the mental state of the driver, such as whether he is overburdened with tasks or is getting tired.
- "Few Firms Have Figured Out How to Make MEMS Quickly and Cheaply"
Small Times Online (11/13/02); Marcum, Melissa
The road to mass production of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) is paved with obstacles, including high cost, a still-developing infrastructure, packaging difficulties, and a lack of standards. Despite these hurdles, WTC forecasts that the MEMS market will experience rapid growth in the next several years, and ship more than 2.8 billion units and generate over $1 billion in revenues by 2007. The company expects high-volume, inexpensive communications products such as Global Positioning System (GPS) devices and mobile phones to lead the market, with low-volume applications such as those used for space and military projects staking out the rest. The rapid proliferation of MEMS owes most of its strength to the automotive industry, where manufacturers are implementing the technology in a wide array of products. For example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program (ATP) awarded Corning IntelliSense $2 million to devise embedded digital interface and control circuits for MEMS systems. Meanwhile, Analog Devices' integrated microelectromechanical systems (iMEMS) manufacturing process has set a new high watermark for high-performance analog and mixed signal technology, and the company recently sold 100 million units; vehicles use Analog iMEMS acceleration sensors for airbag crash detection. "The biggest challenge for MEMS producers is developing a cost-effective product, since the cost of developing a process technology and manufacturing capability for a MEMS product is so high combined with relatively low volumes," explains MEMS Exchange founder Michael Huff, who thinks that a modularized production methodology is one solution.
- "Government-Backed Software Security Study Takes Off"
Computerworld Online (11/07/02); Verton, Dan
As part of the U.S. government's Software Protection Initiative (SPI), the Air Force Research Laboratory awarded Network Associates with a $1.8 million research contract focusing on projects such as the production of a secure development repository and the engineering of software that is shielded from reverse engineering. Network Associates Laboratories' Pete Dinsmore says the repository project's overarching purpose is to devise information assurance methods and give software production systems the ability to scan for malicious code; the overall effect will be improved security for software development and a reduction of software security holes. The reverse-engineering protection project will involve Air Force and Network Associates researchers conducting a feasibility study of new safeguards and how to incorporate them into vital software. Dinsmore says, "We're also focusing on advancing the state of the art in developing software by developing a secure [change management] repository that can ensure that the code that comes out of the repository only goes to the people it's supposed to go to, and only the code that was supposed to go into [the application] was actually integrated." The goal of the SPI is the research and development of state-of-the-art technologies to protect software critical to national and defense capabilities. However, SANS Institute research director Alan Paller notes that government-backed research such as that being carried out by Network Associates could also benefit the private sector.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Map Data Goes Live with Voice, Gesture-Based Computer System"
Penn State News (11/08/02)
With funding from the National Science Foundation, Penn State researchers have developed a prototype interface technology that allows people to access Geographic Information System (GIS) map data using gestures and vocal commands. Emergency management teams could use the system to prepare for disasters and other impending crises, and respond to them faster, while planners and transportation engineers would be able to study the potential environmental effects of planned highways and development projects. More users would be able to access information and collaborate using the system. The first generation of the system, which is called the Dialogue-Assisted Visual Environment for Geoinformation (DAVE_G), can zoom into specific map areas and display relevant data such as local landmarks, hospitals, and highways of note, as well as locate emergency shelters and flood areas. Principal project investigator Alan McEachren says that later generations will possess a wider scope of data and speech capabilities. Two people can interact with a large map on DAVE_G via cameras and microphone domes, while data is available immediately because no teaching session is necessary to start the system. "We use intelligent agent technology to enable the information systems to be cooperative partners in the users' problem-solving process," notes Guoray Cai of the School of Information Sciences and Technology. DAVE_G is based upon the iMap technology created by co-investigator Rajeev Sharma, who developed it with software support provided by Penn State speech-gesture spinoff Advanced Interface Technologies.
- "Internet Turf War Playing Out"
Globe and Mail (11/07/02) P. B15; Geist, Michael
The ICANN reform decisions approved at ICANN's Shanghai meeting make the meeting ICANN's most eventful ever by launching ICANN into a new era free of user-participation mechanisms and publicly elected board members, writes Michael Geist. ICANN has chosen the restructuring as a way to insulate itself from problems while not actually solving problems--an tactic that may buy time and a U.S. contract extension, but which will also lead to a future crisis. European ccTLDs are uncomfortable with U.S. dominance over ICANN, and the U.S. government is reluctant to release its hold, yet at ICANN's Shanghai meeting the European Commission was awarded leadership of ICANN's governmental committee, and this move will increase Europe's influence over ICANN policy. The Bush administration has been nonchalant in its approach to ICANN, while the Canadian government came out in support of publicly elected ICANN board seats during the summer of 2002, and several members of the U.S. Congress have been advocates of further U.S. control over ICANN and the Internet. Canada itself has expressed mild reservations about U.S. dominance while applauding increased governmental roles within the ICANN structure. If governments continue to press for influence, the 189-country organization ITU, which has been promoting itself as a better forum for Internet management, may move to the forefront as a formidable ICANN rival. In this context, a recent ITU resolution concerning multilingual domain names can be seen as an assertion of territory. ICANN's June 2003 meeting in Montreal may feature turf battles between private industry and governments over stewardship of ICANN and the Internet.
Click Here to View Full Article
To read more about ICANN activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Three New 'Net Domains Could Be Added Next Year"
TechNews.com (11/11/02); McGuire, David
ICANN President Stuart Lynn has recommended the creation of three more top level domains, but they will probably be reserved for specific online communities, and Lynn says that such limitations could help avoid the huge domain rush that occurred during November 2000. Sponsored domains are generally noncommercial and operate on a smaller scale. "The appeal is that it is a way of moving forward that is not going to raise large obstacles...my belief is that we can do it relatively quickly, relatively smoothly," Lynn explains, adding that ICANN's choice of new domains will be based on public comment. But ICANN board member Karl Auerbach disagrees with Lynn's plan to encourage sponsored domain names alone, arguing that there should be as many new domains as the system can handle. Auerbach contends that ICANN has created artificial scarcity and is giving in to domain name sellers and intellectual property interests. "Stuart Lynn is making a down-and-out decision about who can be in business on the Internet and who cannot," says Auerbach.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "IBM's 3D IC: No Funny Glasses Needed"
InternetNews.com (11/11/02); Boulton, Clint
IBM announced today that it has developed a new fabrication technique for three-dimensional integrated circuits (ICs) that would significantly boost the density, performance, and functionality of chips. The company said the slow adoption of 3D chips is due to difficulties in the assembly process, because many research groups build the chip's layers from the bottom up. In a statement, IBM noted that such a method causes layers of decreasing quality to be deposited or grown atop existing devices, and can also adversely impact the devices themselves. IBM utilizes a "wafer-level bonding approach" in which functional circuits are transferred between wafers and multiple layers are linked electrically. The devices are preserved on the silicon wafers because the layer transfer takes place at low temperatures. 3D design shortens the length of transistor-to-transistor wires, increases bandwidth between logic and memory, allows more transistors to be placed on a chip, and helps integrate heterogeneous materials, devices, and signals. "Rather than making [chips] bigger, and then putting them in packages where they're assembled and analogous to suburban sprawl, 3D technology has active device layers at more than one level, which is very significant in the road to this technological change," remarked Ron Guttman of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
- "New Software Cages Hacker Attacks"
United Press International (11/05/02)
Experts at Pennsylvania State University have developed a program that lures prospective hackers into fake databases, confines any altered data, and almost instantly repairs the database. As a result, legitimate users can continue to operate the database without interruption. "We can't prevent attackers from getting in, but with this technology, the database can heal itself on the fly," says Penn State researcher Peng Liu. The program developed by Liu and his associates involves algorithms that track the activities of users in real time. Any suspicious behavior prompts the program to move a questionable user's operations into a bogus database, says Liu. Meanwhile, the altered data is quickly restored to its original form. Liu says the program enables a medium-sized database to repair up to 1,000 data objects per second. If the user's activities are later found to be legitimate, most of the transactions can be saved by merging the effects of the transactions into the central database, he says.
- "Heart of the Matter"
InformationWeek (11/11/02) No. 914, P. 33; Foley, John; Garvey, Martin J.
Companies and government agencies are rethinking IT infrastructure in order to boost efficiency, functionality, performance, and flexibility, and the factors fueling this trend include the need for real-time computing, collaborative business, and security; the development of new technologies such as grid computing, server blades, IT appliances, and open-source software; and the advent of Web services as the glue that binds together the myriad applications, programs, and tools that comprise IT architecture. In a white paper detailing its "On-Demand Business" strategy, IBM states, "To realize the benefits of On-Demand Business, customers will need to embrace a new computing architecture that allows them to best leverage existing assets as well as those that lie outside traditional corporate boundaries." Achieving this requires IT environments that boast data integration, "open" standards-based computing, virtualization via grid computing and utility-like delivery, and autonomic systems capable of self-repair and self-maintenance. Motorola is deploying Web services not only to make the addition of functionality rapid and cheap, but to more closely align applications to business processes and raise the potential for novel reuse. The company's services-based architecture involves the delivery of business requests for IT support as XML- and other Web services standards-based reusable services. With such an approach, Motorola saved 30 percent of its budget for a project that enhanced the sales and operations of its infrastructure business, and implemented the project 30 percent faster. The goal of such initiatives is to relieve the burden of application integration as well as simplify it to the point that businesses will seek value-adding ways to connect data sources.
- "A Scientific Funding Fight"
National Journal (11/02/02) Vol. 34, No. 44, P. 3218; Munro, Neil
A congressional proposal to double the National Science Foundation's $5 billion budget over the next three to five years has been halted by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which contends through officials and other opponents that the measure is too arbitrary. "You can't just say, 'I need another billion dollars, and don't ask me what is the usefulness of what I discover, just give me the money,'" argues White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger. Lobbyists for high-tech firms, scientific organizations, and universities are touting the doubling plan in Congress, but Carol Guthrie, a spokeswoman for bill supporter Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), alleges that the Bush administration's opposition is murky, given that its position was not made through the usual Statement of Administration Policy. She says the importance of scientific development to economic growth and national security makes it unclear why anyone would oppose the plan. Supporters claim that without a doubling plan, spending on electronics, engineering, and physics research will continue to lag behind life-sciences research spending. Marburger counters that a better solution would be a thorough audit of the federal agencies that finance hard science research. One supporter of the doubling bill contends that the opposition really comes from "a cultural issue." An Oct. 23 conference between Marburger, OMB Director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., and eight university chancellors belonging to the Association of American Universities went well, according to Ralph Cicerone, chancellor of the University of California, Irvine.
- "Why 6-Legged Bots Rule"
Wired (11/02) Vol. 10, No. 11, P. 188; McNichol, Tom
Robert J. Full of the University of California at Berkeley is using his expertise in animal locomotion to advise technology developers such as Segway Human Transporter inventor Dean Kamen on how to create more effective, stable, and mobile mechanisms. He envisions future robots that are more arthropoid in their movements than bipedal, and his Poly-Pedal Laboratory studies insects and other specimens to gain insights on more efficient machine designs. The lab's goal is not to design systems that mimic nature, but systems that combine multiple biological principles into something much more refined and versatile. Full says that humanoid robots such as Honda's Asimo are limited because they do not follow a passive dynamic approach. Much more successful are robots such as Rhex, an agile, six-legged machine that emulates the self-stabilizing sprawled posture of cockroaches, and negotiates obstacles by spinning its legs like a windmill. The addition of sensors and other functions to the robot will increase its usefulness, and potential applications include search-and-rescue missions. Full believes that networking will also be incorporated into robots one day. His research is not restricted to robotics: While studying the tokay gecko's ability to cling to smooth surfaces, Full discovered a possible solution that could be applied to a self-cleaning adhesive, and he and his colleagues have filed a patent for such a product.