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 430: Wednesday, December 4, 2002
- "Patent Holders on the Ropes"
CNet (12/02/02); Festa, Paul
Technology standards bodies are writing new rules excluding patented technologies, a change that some see as a recompense for years of abuse by patent holders. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) rejected patented technology that required royalty payments for use in the group's recommended standards earlier this year after 14 months of debate. Even where patent holders have managed to get their technology included in new standards, caps are being placed on the amount of income they can collect. The MPEG LA group has already signed such a deal with companies providing audio and video technologies, and cell phone technology firms are pushing for the same limitations for the W-CDMA mobile standard. Bruce Perens, a leader in the open-source movement, says technology companies should not look to standards bodies for revenue, and that open standards should be free for anyone to use. He is recruiting open-source developers to join the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) so that there will be more people voting against the inclusion of patented technology at the next meeting. IETF member and Harvard University consultant Scott Bradner says the group did not accept as many patented technologies into its recommendations in the first place, and that many of the claims against the existing policy are unfounded. Proponents of royalty-free standards say that companies should be content with the strong market position afforded by the inclusion of their technology and not seek payments from those standards. "The standards organizations are putting a stop to the games that patent holders were playing in the past, trying to get their technology adopted and then saying, 'Oh, by the way, we have a patent,'" says Eric Goldman of Marquette University Law School.
- "Sun's Microsoft Remedy Praised"
Los Angeles Times (12/04/02) P. C3; Rowley, James
Sun Microsystems is seeking a preliminary injunction from a Baltimore court to prevent Microsoft from shipping Windows without including Sun's Java, a programming language that can be used to develop Internet services software much like Microsoft's .Net Framework. Microsoft argued in court yesterday that Sun is already a dominant player in the Internet services software market and that the .Net Framework will not undermine Sun. In addition, Sun could pay PC makers "a little bit of money" to package pre-installed Java within all PCs, says Microsoft lawyer David Tulchin. Most industry and outside experts view .Net Framework and Java as rivals, and presiding federal judge J. Frederick Motz has noted Microsoft's past pressuring of software developers to shun Java. Sun's challenge to Microsoft shows that Microsoft's antitrust problems are not over despite Microsoft's recent settlement with the U.S. government, a deal that is being challenged by the states of Massachusetts and West Virginia for not being onerous enough on Microsoft. The Sun hearing with continue through Thursday, and Motz already has said that forcing Microsoft to include Java is "an attractive remedy" in light of Microsoft's past anti-competitive actions. Motz also is overseeing a trial involving a billion-dollar-plus lawsuit by Netscape claiming Microsoft used illegal means to shrink the market share of Netscape Navigator.
Click Here to View Full Article
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Xerox Says New Material Will Allow Plastic Transistors"
New York Times (12/03/02) P. C6; Markoff, John
Cheap, lightweight, and flexible displays for cell phones, TVs, and laptops could one day become a reality thanks to a new material that facilitates the fabrication of organic transistors on a plastic substrate. The material, developed by Xerox, will be detailed by research fellow Beng Ong of the Xerox Research Center of Canada today at the Materials Research Conference in Boston. With the material, "Making a cell phone or a PDA that you could sit on is a no-brainer," notes Raj Apte of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center. The material, polythiphene, could exhibit the electronic characteristics of silicon while being highly resistant to oxygen degradation. Its performance has also surpassed that of current polymer materials. Tony Paine of Xerox's Toronto-based innovation group says one of the material's initial applications could be the manufacturing of the transistors that power liquid crystal displays. The Palo Alto Research Center, with the help of a grant from the National Institute for Standards and Technology, is collaborating with Motorola and Dow Chemical to devise a fabrication technique to print out polymer-based circuit patterns via roll-to-roll material handling and deposition. About six to eight other companies are also pursuing plastic transistors, notes Dr. Michael D. McCreary of E Ink, which has built a prototype plastic display with the help of Lucent Technologies.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Somewhere Over the Virtual Rainbow"
News-Gazette Online (12/01/02); Kline, Greg
An extracurricular project that allows middle school girls to explore the possibilities of the University of Illinois' 3D virtual reality CAVE environment aims to get more girls interested in science and less averse to using technology, among other things. The project, which is supported by the UI Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, involves a collaborative effort between the center's Umesh Thakkar and officials, educators, and students at Urbana Middle School. Students are given the opportunity to build virtual worlds using CAVE, an activity that has an inherent "coolness" factor as well as artistic and creative aspects that appeal to girls. Besides giving girls hands-on experience with technology, art, and geometry, the program is also supposed to foster teamwork and mentoring skills, Thakkar explains. The girls are split up into teams, each of which is tasked with creating a virtual environment, while veteran participants mentor newcomers. Thakkar and the other major participants have submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation requesting that the project be expanded and refined. Research has demonstrated that most girls start withdrawing from science and technology during their middle school years, according to studies by the Association for Computing Machinery and other groups. This has resulted in a serious lack of female tech professionals, grad students, and university faculty members.
To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Video Game College is 'Boot Camp' for Future Designers"
USA Today (12/03/02) P. B1; Krantz, Matt
DigiPen in Vancouver, British Columbia, offers the only accredited four-year degree for people who want to make video games; the school is considered the Harvard for that industry. Other colleges and universities have launched single courses in game development, including the University of California at Irvine, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Georgia Tech. However, game makers say that regular computer science majors do not have the broad range of skills needed to create video games, which are fast catching up to movies as a prime form of entertainment. NPD Group says that last year, video games brought in $9.4 billion compared to $8.4 billion grossed at the box office, and video game companies have been steadily increasing their revenues while other firms founder in the down economy. Otherwise known as Donkey Kong U, DigiPen receives 24,000 applications each year but accepts just 200 new students. Last year, just 36 people graduated with a bachelor's of science in interactive simulation. DigiPen students seldom actually play video games while at school, and the curriculum is rigorous; students are required to take dozens of math classes and may spend 14 hours a day at school. Claude Comair, who in 1991 turned the 3D graphics production company into a school, calls DigiPen "boot camp for video games." Students receive hard-core training in digital animation, advanced computer programming, math, and physics during the day, and work on game development at night. The school reports that its graduates receive an average of two job offers, and many start with salaries ranging from $50,000 to $60,000 per year.
- "Spy-Sized Gizmos Built Into Clothes and Glasses"
NewsFactor Network (12/02/02); Woolsey, Mark
Technology forecasters such as Wayne Pethrick of the Futures Lab and Paul Saffo of the Institute for the Future expect "wearware"--electronics embedded in apparel--will be a major trend of the coming years. "It's basically the computer as fashion," Saffo explains. Pethrick predicts that clothes of the future will be equipped with plastic polymer screens that can display messages, while another possible application of wearware are programmable video tattoos. Saffo foresees practically everything being outfitted with global positioning satellite (GPS) processors; for example, cell phones with GPS chips could be used to pinpoint not only the user's location, but the location of other people. Experts also expect the use of Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) tags to expand: Whereas today RFIDs are embedded in cards to enable drivers to pay tolls without stopping, in the future they could be used to describe product usability, instruct microwaves how long to cook a dinner, or tell a washing machine the proper way to launder an item of clothing. Virtual reality and online learning are also expected to be more fully integrated into college courses in a few years. For instance, history classes could use virtual reality to simulate historical events and make lessons more engaging, while advancements in video, computer, and holography could lead to more virtual or interactive guest lecturers. The futurists also predict that "social reality virtual environments" will significantly enhance experiences for users of video games and other forms of entertainment, while computer-generated characters on TV could become commonplace.
- "In Switch, HP Announces Support for E-Waste Bill"
SiliconValley.com (12/03/02); Schoenberger, Karl
In a reversal of an earlier position that prompted Gov. Gray Davis (D-Calif.) to kill an e-waste recycling bill in October, leading global PC manufacturer Hewlett-Packard announced its support for the legislation, which encouraged Sen. Byron Sher (D-San Jose) to re-submit the measure on Monday. At a Nov. 25 hearing hosted by the California Environmental Protection Agency, HP product recycling solutions manager Renee St. Denis introduced a proposal to have all U.S. PC manufacturers co-pay for e-waste recycling based on their California market share. She said that her company wants to play a key role in legislation that is likely to extend into national policy. If passed into law, advocates believe it could be adopted by the federal government as a regulation that applies to all computer recycling programs, thus removing the burden of e-waste disposal from developing nations. HP's decision comes on the heels of a three-part Mercury News expose detailing how America's e-waste is increasingly exported to China, where the environment and laborers are not adequately protected from the toxic materials contained in such discards. HP's support of industry sharing recycling costs could make other companies more accepting of policies that would trigger a price increase on electronic products. "The fact that they have changed their position vastly improves the likelihood we'll get a very good e-waste bill in the new session," declared Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition Director Ted Smith.
- "Experiment Points to New Spin on Storage"
CNet (12/02/02); Hansen, Evan
Oklahoma University researchers reported in the Oct. 15 issue of the Journal of Chemical Physics that they were able to successfully encode and retrieve a 1,024-bit image of a test pattern onto a liquid crystal molecule by changing the spin states of its constituent atoms with radio waves. The test molecule was contained in a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer and subjected to two consecutive radio wave pulses. The scientists believe the second pulse created a readable frequency with sufficient resolution to imprint and replicate the image. The pattern represents the largest set of data to be encoded and decoded on a molecule to date. Oklahoma University professor and report co-author Bing Fung declared that the "molecular photography" experiment is a significant step toward molecular information storage. However, practical applications will not be realized until a technique is worked out to control atomic spin states for a longer period of time. The Oklahoma researchers were only able to keep the spin states of the test molecule's atoms locked into a readable pattern for roughly one-tenth of a second.
- "Schneier: No "Magic Security Dust""
ZDNet (12/02/02); Gilbert, Alorie
U.S. security expert and Counterpane Internet Security chief technologist Bruce Schneier believes that the continued migration of infrastructure to the Internet, advances in computer power and usability, and the growing complexity of networking systems will lead to an increase in computer intrusions, and the only truly effective defense is vigilance, not technology. He says, "The best thing we can do in cyberspace is exactly what we do in the real world: do our best to manage the risks." Describing security as a "process," Schneier thinks that people have matured to the point where they realize that products alone do not ensure a secure network. Furthermore, he argues that there will never be a "secret weapon" that will make unauthorized computer break-ins a thing of the past. Schneier also believes that the government should be more assertive, and enact legislation that makes software companies liable for flawed products. He says the government is exaggerating the so-called cyberterrorist threat, when what is truly at risk are privacy and financial security. Schneier does not think that people should be licensed to use the Internet, even though they are the most unpredictable factor in Internet security. He concludes that neither small nor large companies are equipped to handle network security by themselves. "We outsource because we have a common problem and need to share in a common solution," Schneier says.
- "Fractals Add New Dimension to Study of Tiny Electronics"
Research at Ohio State University (OSU) and the University of Utah has uncovered an organic material that emits fractal magnetic fields. As digital devices using magnetic fields--such as computer hard drives and magnetic strips on ID cards--become smaller in the future, these fractal fields are likely to come into play, according to OSU professor of chemistry and physics Arthur Epstein, who co-authored the research published in the Physical Review Letters. Traditional three-dimensional magnetic fields are used in today's devices, but future devices may require magnetic fields of different dimensions, such as one- or two-dimensional fields. By modeling the behavior of a plastic magnet at super-cooled temperatures, the researchers found that magnetic fields ranging between 0.8 dimensions and 1.6 dimensions were emitted, depending on the temperature. The material took on glass-like properties at temperatures around minus 450 Fahrenheit. The magnetic fields continued to branch out in fractal shapes, unlike normal magnetic fields that eventually line up in accordance with one another. The fractal arrangement of the fields eventually formed a natural order, like sprouting cactus branches with interlocking needles. Epstein dubbed this new material behavior "fractal cluster glass."
- "Copyright Cartel Still Winning Most of the Time"
SiliconValley.com (12/02/02); Gillmor, Dan
Copyright owners are winning most of the battles in their war to control how content is consumed. Adobe Systems is in court this week in the first criminal case for an alleged violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The Russian company defending itself in the suit created a technology allowing legal e-book owners to make personal copies of titles using Adobe's technology. The U.S. district judge presiding over the case, Ronald M. Whyte, has so far indicated that fair-use laws allowing such personal copies will not play a major roll in his decision. Meanwhile, the entertainment industry continues to pursue copyright violations with zeal, and recently was able to convince the Naval Academy to search midshipmen's laptops for pirated music and videos. Such a hard-line crackdown is unlikely at most other colleges and universities, however, where students are constantly developing new ways to share copyrighted digital content.
- "'Grid Computing' Is the Next Wave in High-Performance Computing"
Chronicle of Higher Education Online (11/27/02); Olsen, Florence
Research organizations and governments are working to create supercomputing grids that will provide the aggregate computing resources of the group to any connected node. Intel's Rick Herrmann says universities that have for the last few years invested in supercomputing clusters are taking the next step to link those facilities with other sites. Software will play a large part in the uptake of future grid computing efforts, and grid researchers are working to create an easy-to-use Web interface so that experts in other fields can tap computing power as a utility, like electricity or water. Besides several grid computing projects being developed among research institutions in the United States, Herrmann says that China is also building a grid network linking 100 universities in that country. He notes that in the future the availability of grid resources will play a large part in attracting research talent. The Extensible Terascale Facility, funded by the National Science Foundation, is one of the largest planned grid infrastructures. It will connect five U.S. sites and have the capability of processing 20 trillion operations per second. Moreover, the network connecting the different facilities will speed information at 40 billion bits per second, or four times the speed expected for the Internet2 after that backbone is upgraded in 2003. North Carolina Supercomputing Center scientist Jack DaSilva says that many other scientists have not yet begun to think about the applications of grid computing in their fields, but expects they will find uses for the technology as it matures.
- "Wireless Watchers Eyeing Mesh Networks"
PC Magazine Online (11/25/02); Rupley, Sebastian
Wireless mesh networking is gaining in popularity because of the success of the 802.11 wireless standard (Wi-Fi). MeshNetworks in Florida created technology that forms a larger peer-to-peer network from several independent multipoint networks. By identifying central devices to act as nodes in the larger network, the MeshNetworks technology can extend Wi-Fi coverage to an entire building. Intel is also developing a wireless networking technology for home use that would provide users with greater bandwidth depending on their proximity to any of several access points in the house. Mitsubishi and Deutsche Telekom's Detecon have also developed mesh networking technology, called Mobile Telecommunications Radio and Relay Network (Moteran), that turns any network-connected device into a node extending network range. Other technologies are also coming forward to enhance the capabilities of Wi-Fi networks, such as the phase array antenna technology from Vivato, a Wi-Fi startup firm in San Francisco. Vivato's switches locate individual Wi-Fi users and send them a concentrated network signal using the antenna, rather than the wide signal cast by regular Wi-Fi access points. Analyst Rajeev Chand says the technological differentiation among Wi-Fi startups shows vibrancy in that market.
- "Xerox Hopes Small Technology Copies Innovations of the Past"
Nanotech Planet (11/27/02); Pastore, Michael
Xerox spun off its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) at the beginning of this year in order to cut costs at the company, but Xerox researchers are still at the cutting-edge of nanotechnology, having developed several new devices that promise to improve quality, and save time and money. Xerox has already begun using a process called emulsion aggregation to build smaller, uniform particles used in color printer toners. By building particles using nanotechnology instead of grinding down larger ones, Xerox is able to make its toner cartridges 30 percent to 40 percent more efficient while improving resolution. Patricia Burns, a Xerox research manager in Canada, says the technology could create even smaller particles, but that copier hardware is not yet ready to handle them. Xerox is also using micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) technology to build tiny mirror devices, called micro-opto-electro-mechanical systems (MOEMS), that direct lasers used in laser printers. Other Xerox-developed MEMS technology includes an ink-dispensing device that allows for faster, better prints, and a vibration signature analyzer that detects machine malfunctions before they actually break down. The Xerox Business Development Group is working with companies that have similar needs in order to join up for production of MEMS devices, since the benefit of that type of technology lies in economies of scale.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Winning the Cybersecurity War"
NewsFactor Network (11/25/02); Howes, Tim
In the post-Sept. 11, 2001 world, cyber-security has become the paramount issue for network administrators. Internet attacks are rising, and CERT reports that while 52,000-plus attacks were documented in 2001, the first six months of this year has seen 43,136 attacks, putting 2002 on pace to shatter 2001's numbers. The Internet Security Alliance reports that three well-known computer virus attacks--Love Bug, Code Red, and SirCam--caused $13 billion in aggregate corporate costs. However, implementing network security is more than applying technical fixes; network security includes administrative processes, policies, and people who work with a corporate network. One of the most vulnerable aspects of any corporate network is network servers, because many large networks use numerous servers, there are a mountain of patches issued for servers each year, and network staff are pressed to keep up with server-system updates. In 2001, Microsoft alone released more than 100 patches, according to Attrition.org. Attrition.org reports that 99 percent of 5,823 reported Web sites defacements in 2001 were accomplished through vulnerabilities that could have been patched with then-available updates. Keeping up with server security is becoming the No. 1 problem area, and many companies are looking beyond simply adding network staff to redesigning network administration strategies in order to ensure security alerts pertaining to servers and patches are acted upon promptly.
- "Growing Smaller"
eWeek (11/25/02) Vol. 19, No. 47, P. 34; Carlson, Caron
Nanotechnology continues to attract negative publicity, including the recently released Michael Crichton novel "Prey," a story about bacterium-size machines reproducing into a swarm of flesh-eating predators. The concern over nanotechnology even prompted the Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration in Canada to pressure world leaders over the summer to institute an immediate moratorium on the commercial production of nano-materials. However, a few weeks ago, the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy addressed several regulatory alternatives to a moratorium. According to "Forward to the Future: Nanotechnology and Regulatory Policy," University of Tennessee College of Law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds says an outright ban on nanotech research is the least feasible option, but relegating nanotechnology research to the government and crafting a regulatory framework for commercial production with protections against abuse are other alternatives. A regulatory framework, which is more preferable, would need to include design constraints that would prevent scientists from developing the kinds of machines that could reproduce in the wild on their own and present a "gray goo" problem. Nanotech developments could be kept classified from the government, and thus reduce their potential for being used for malevolent purposes. There is also concern from policy-makers that a moratorium will cause the United States to fall behind other countries also pursuing nanotech initiatives.
- "IT to Fight Terrorism"
Computerworld (11/25/02) Vol. 36, No. 48, P. 34; Anthes, Gary H.
Former Defense Department intelligence analyst and former Network Solutions CTO David Holtzman, now a professor at American University, says the U.S. government views IT as its primary weapon in the war on terror, though he says it may not always be the best method. He says that some aspects of national security can be improved through new technology, such as the installation of radiation and chemical sensors, digital security cameras, and GPS devices. To make use of the data generated, however, government officials have to be ready on the software-side with effective methods of data analysis. Other steps may prove effective, but have worrying consequences for privacy, such as the integration of government and commercial databases using Social Security numbers as the common identifier. With data homogeneity, the government would have a much easier time gathering comprehensive dossiers on individuals. Holtzman also says software will allow the government to classify individuals and groups based on their activities, conversations, and other factors, similar to how credit card companies assign people a credit rating. In the end, however, Holtzman says that IT alone probably will not be able to prevent an event such as the Sept. 11 attacks, but is more useful gathering information for prosecution. For fighting terrorism proactively, he says, "One $70,000 human agent at the CIA to penetrate al-Qaeda would be more effective than $1 billion of IT."
Click Here to View Full Article
- "IM Means Business"
IEEE Spectrum (11/02); Cherry, Steven M.
The market for instant messaging (IM) applications is thriving, and currently consists of a customer base of over 100 million unique home users and 18 million office users; stock brokerages, the military, e-tailers, law enforcement, and customer service are just a few of the sectors availing themselves of IM products. Senior U.S. naval officers send messages to their staff via IM, and more than 300 ships are connected by the IM-based Collaboration at Sea system. The technology is migrating from laptops and computers to mobile devices such as cell phones and PDAs, while employees at Accenture and IBM are using IM to remotely share documents and exchange notes. Key to IM's success is its presence protocol, which allows people to announce their availability on specific devices, and is being embedded into collaboration tools, email directories, word processors, and other products. It is hoped that IM will significantly reduce the clutter of emails that are overloading communications channels, although Victoria Bellotti of the Palo Alto Research Center is worried that IM has the potential to become just as overloaded. Security is another issue, because freely available IM tools, which are also highly popular, are not equipped with features to protect messages from prying eyes or defend against viruses. IM's disruptive potential could make it an imposition to users, and Microsoft's Eric Horvitz advocates the development of sensors that determine the user's focus and can advise senders as to the best time to contact recipients. Meanwhile, Alias/Wavefront chief scientist Bill Buxton believes IM would be more manageable if it could automatically handle away messages.
- "Received Wisdom"
CommVerge (11/02); Miller, Matthew
The use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is much more pronounced than most people realize, because they are unaware of its widespread presence. RFID tags are used to monitor the health of trees and livestock, track the location of car keys to prevent theft, keep tabs on pets in case they run away, and follow the progress of goods throughout a supply chain, among other things; most people, however, know of RFID through high-profile applications such as key chain fobs used for electronic payments, and electronic toll tags. Most RFID applications concentrate on delivering near-term returns-on-investment, and thus far the most useful application has been in making supply chains more efficient and less costly, a benefit that could lead to reduced inventory shrinkage and higher sales. Although some RFID tags are relatively cheap, their price will have to fall even further, to about 5 cents or 10 cents per tag, if they are to become ubiquitous. RFID is expected to be particularly popular for the electronic transactions market, with companies such as ExxonMobil, 2Scoot, and FreedomPay investing in new applications for tools such as Speedpass. Expected benefits of such a system include not just increased sales, but spending habit analysis and offers tailored to specific customers. Allied Business Intelligence (ABI) predicts that the number of RFID tags sold will jump from 220 million to 1.6 billion between 2002 and 2007, while ABI senior analyst Edward Rerisi forecasts that more than $1.1 billion will be spent on RFID infrastructure over the next five years. However, he warns that the hyped expectations of RFID technology are causing a development slowdown as most potential customers adopt a wait-and-see attitude.
Click Here to View Full Article