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 434: Friday, December 13, 2002
- "Tech Jobs Become State's Unwanted Big Export"
Los Angeles Times (12/12/02) P. A1; Iritani, Evelyn; Dickerson, Marla
The worldwide technology bust is forcing many California high-tech companies to outsource overseas in order to remain competitive, but the trade-off is a decrease in employment and tax revenue that could seriously affect the state's economy. From its 2000 high of $61.4 billion, California's exports of high-tech products fell 18 percent in 2001 and 23 percent in the first three quarters of 2002; meanwhile, companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, and Advanced Micro Devices have slashed over 12,000 positions in recent months. The American Electronics Association reckons that over 100,000 of the roughly 500,000 U.S. layoffs that took place since early 2001 have been in California. Outsourcing companies such as Flextronics International and Solectron, which many California high-tech businesses rely on for manufacturing, are moving their operations overseas, where labor is cheaper. The state's budget deficit is getting deeper because of falling tax revenues, and the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group estimates that it will take at least five years for regional employment to return to December 2000 levels, when it was at its zenith prior to the recession. Critics warn that Silicon Valley's leadership of the tech sector could be threatened if too much manufacturing moves out-of-state, but high business costs and ballooning taxes from the deficit crisis discourage high-tech manufacturers from setting up shop. In the meantime, more and more U.S. companies are transferring IT service operations offshore to be more cost-effective, and countries such as China and India could one day trounce the United States' cutting-edge tech development because they have better-educated high-tech workforces, and are producing more science and engineering experts.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Spam to Overtake Real E-Mail in 2003"
MSNBC (12/11/02); Sullivan, Bob
Unsolicited commercial email will outnumber real email in 2003, according to an annual report from email filtering firm MessageLabs issued on Wednesday. MessageLabs CTO Mark Sunner says the increasing availability and improvement of technology is making it easier for spammers to send more email. He estimates that, on average, one in 12 emails were spam for 2002, while one in three were spam by November. MessageLabs also reports that the staying power of computer viruses is increasing: The Klez virus is the most common bug in the world, and some 50 million copies of it have been captured by MessageLabs thus far. The report calculates that one in every 212 emails sent this year contained a virus. Furthermore, Sunner indicates that spam has started to exhibit virus-like traits. This October saw the release of "Friendgreeting," which is spam disguised as greeting card that, once opened, transmits copies of itself to everyone in the recipient's address book. Spoofing, in which spammers fool recipients into opening their emails by pretending to send a note from an uninvolved third party, is also on the rise. The MessageLabs report may appear to be at odds with a recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which concludes that most Americans who receive email at work aren't bothered by spam. However, the spam they receive is reduced considerably by filtering services and other technologies companies employ.
- "Researchers Crack Security System"
Computer scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have cracked a security feature meant to stymie Web bots that automatically create free email accounts, enter sweepstakes, and otherwise impersonate real people online. The security system, Gimpy, was developed at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and is based on the premise that computer programs have a difficult time distinguishing visual patterns. By generating a word that is distorted or is placed over a mottled background, free email providers such as Yahoo! have prevented Web bots from creating email accounts from which they send spam messages. Although people can easily distinguish the word, the bots cannot recognize the non-standard characters among the other visual clutter. To crack the Gimpy security feature, the UC Berkeley researchers applied previous research in character recognition. Each of the characters in the image is assigned three to five possible letters in the alphabet, then all possible words are found that could be made from combining those letters. Each of the possible words is compared to the image again, and then ranked, with the No. 1 word chosen. The UC Berkeley crack succeeded against the EZ-Gimpy version used by Yahoo! 83 percent of the time, while it worked just 30 percent of the time against the advanced version, which superimposes several words on top of one another. With the advanced version, people are supposed to identify just three of the words in the mix. UC Berkeley professor Jitendra Malik says the character recognition technology they are developing will eventually allow computers to accurately identify people and objects visually.
- "FCC Seeks More Spectrum for Wireless"
InternetNews.com (12/12/02); Mark, Roy
The FCC has proposed a new rule that would open up the spectrum for Wi-Fi networks and other unlicensed wireless devices, and is seeking public comment on the feasibility of the matter. Such devices would be allowed to share TV broadcast spectrum at times when that spectrum is idle, and operate in other bands at higher power levels than other unlicensed transmitters while only requiring a bare minimum of interference prevention. "Technological advances now allow 'smart' low power devices to communicate in spectral open spaces that were previously closed to development," declared FCC Chairman Michael Powell on Wednesday. "Our goal...is to allow for the more efficient and comprehensive use of the spectrum resource while not interfering with existing services." However, FCC commissioner Kevin Martin said he is concerned that additional interference problems could be generated by such allowances, and wondered why this latest proposal was made before the commission received any comment from November's Spectrum Policy Task Force report. The FCC noted that equipment that monitors spectrum to identify open frequencies could be designed thanks to computer technology breakthroughs, and such devices could locate any licensed operations in close proximity through the use of databases and inexpensive Global Positioning System (GPS) gear. If the FCC approves the rule, more than a year may pass before it is enacted.
- "U.S. Firms Move IT Overseas"
CNet (12/11/02); Frauenheim, Ed
The growth of competing Indian technology services firms are prompting U.S. IT services companies to shift their offerings overseas, where wages are cheaper, says Gartner analyst Frances Karamouzis. Forrester Research says the development of low-cost, high-bandwidth telecommunications connections, online collaborative tools, and standardized business applications are also influencing the move offshore, and estimates that 3.4 million U.S. jobs and $136 billion in wages will migrate to India, Russia, China, the Philippines, and other countries by 2015. Hewlett-Packard already supports several thousand IT services workers in India, and services chief Ann Livermore announced that the company intends to transfer a significant portion of its IT services operations to that country. Meanwhile, IBM and Electronic Data Services are currently employing "Best Shore" strategies and boosting the number of IT staff and resources in nations such as New Zealand, Brazil, Venezuela, Canada, and China. Gartner predicts that over 80 percent of U.S. firms will have considered outsourcing IT services to other countries by 2004, while more than 40 percent of American corporations will have carried out an overseas IT pilot program or will be using partly-offshore IT services by that time. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of computer jobs moving overseas will skyrocket from 27,171 to 472,632, according to Forrester. Norm Matloff, a computer science professor at the University of California at Davis, notes that these trends may not necessarily be calamitous for the U.S. IT industry--programming projects will still have an essential need for face-to-face interaction.
- "Wireless? You Bet. Compatible? Well, Maybe."
New York Times (12/12/02) P. E5; Fleishman, Glenn
Several standards are under development to ensure that Wi-Fi devices possess high bandwidth capacity, security, and quality of service, but in the meantime manufacturers are releasing products that use interim standards that may not be compatible with each other. "If you release a product before it's ready and before all the interoperability issues among the multiple vendors have been worked out, it can lead to problems," warned Wi-Fi Alliance Chairman Dennis Eaton at the Jupitermedia 802.11 Planet conference. This month, Linksys intends to debut a line of adapters and access points enabled for 54G, a faster Wi-Fi iteration based on the developing IEEE 802.11g standard; it uses the 2.4 GHz band, which makes it interoperable with current Wi-Fi devices, but devices that use an earlier protocol, 802.11a, are incompatible because it operates in the 5 GHz band. It may be two years before 802.11g is officially approved and the Wi-Fi Alliance devises a formal testing standard. To address security concerns, the interim Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), or 802.11i, standard was developed, which strips down the Wi-Fi security activation protocol to a single password rather than a string of digits in the base 16 system. Since the announcement of WPA in November, at least 12 companies have declared their support and promised to WPA-enable existing hardware and software next year. A third interim standard, 802.11e, is designed to ensure quality of service to guarantee the clarity of phone-call-quality voice conversations and continuous playback of streaming audio and video on Wi-Fi devices. These various standards are expected to be compatible once they are approved, and merge all their advantages on a single device.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Australian Court's Upside-Down Internet Ruling"
SiliconValley.com (12/11/02); Gillmor, Dan
Recent court rulings, such as the one made this week by the High Court of Australia, threaten free-speech on the Internet, writes Dan Gillmor. An Australian businessman won the right from the High Court to sue Dow Jones for defamation because of a story posted on the Web site of Barron's, a Dow Jones weekly published in the in the United States. The case sets a precedent that will have a chilling effect on the Internet, causing people to refrain from posting their opinions or other content online for fear of prosecution abroad, Gillmor writes. He says it "is an invitation to abuse" to allow defamation suits to be based on where something was read rather that where it was posted. The judges in Australia accepted the reasoning that the man in question suffered harm there because of the Internet story, and therefore could sue there as well. Well-known multinational companies and famous people have interests worldwide, and therefore could claim the same type of local damage and take advantage of the local laws that suited them best. Similar cases are also playing out in America, where the movie and music industries are suing Australian-based Sharman Networks over the peer-to-peer network it operates, which facilitates the sharing of pirated content. The U.S. federal judge presiding over that case is likely to let the suit proceed. If this type of scenario were to play out fully, then either a multilateral treaty would be required to mitigate global litigation or the Internet would have to be divided to reflect different governing jurisdictions, Gillmor postulates.
- "Biology Aiding Nanotech Researchers"
United Press International (12/11/02); Burnell, Scott R.
A recent conference hosted by the National Science Foundation highlighted academic nanotechnology research efforts that involve biological materials and systems. Such a strategy allows for bottom-up assembly, noted Cornell University's Barbara Baird. Vicki Colvin of Rice University's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology extolled the potential of crystallized proteins, which show a remarkable degree of stabilization, even when subjected to high temperatures and dehydration; experimentation has demonstrated that the crystals can bind to certain metals, which in turn cause other elements to form into wires and other structures. Colvin explained that the water contained in many crystals supports nanotech materials chemistry, while the number of existing protein patterns far exceeds those available via polymers or other techniques. Angela Belcher of the University of Texas at Austin detailed a project that aims to engineer organisms such as viruses to coexist and cooperate with inorganic materials. Viruses have been modified to adhere to germanium, cobalt, and other elements, and can be induced to grow in sheets; this characteristic could be used in the fabrication of flexible displays, among other things. Meanwhile, Nadrian Seeman of New York University discussed nanotech work with DNA. Research has led to the synthesis of artificial, repeatable DNA strings that self-assemble into geometric structures, while changing the molecule's chemical pattern is a relatively simple procedure.
- "Better Display Screens Exist"
Investor's Business Daily (12/13/02) P. A7; Angell, Mike
Display screens composed of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) are expected to one day replace liquid crystal displays (LCDs), once certain technical and financial issues are resolved. Unlike LCDs, OLED screens do not require backlighting, they offer better contrast, motion capture, and multiangle viewing, and they can run on less power. Eighty-five companies--IBM, Sanyo, DuPont, and Philips Electronics among them--are developing OLED screens, and iSuppli/Stanford Resources' Kimberly Allen thinks the OLED panel market could jump from about $112 million to $2.3 billion in the next six years. However, LCD users are waiting for OLED screens to become less expensive, longer-lasting, and more energy-efficient before they embrace the technology. Nokia's John Barry says that OLEDs must prove that they can last at least two years, which is how long users usually keep cell phones. Meanwhile, OLED screens typically cost twice as much as LCDs. Barry anticipates that the OLED industry could hit its stride by 2004 or 2005, while Kodak's Leslie Pulgar believes that OLED-equipped handheld computers could be ready for public consumption by late 2003, with OLED laptop and desktop screens debuting two years later. In 2000, Motorola tried out a cell phone with a color OLED screen, but discontinued its production, while some high-end phones in Japan include an OLED screen that displays callers' phone numbers.
- "Digital Actors in Rings Can Think"
Wired News (12/13/02); Macavinta, Courtney
Adding epic splendor to the battles in the blockbuster "Lord of the Rings" films are armies of digital warriors, each of which acts individually thanks to an artificial intelligence-inspired program dubbed Massive. Created by programmer Stephen Regelous, Massive gives computer-generated characters, or agents, individual brains that determine what they see and hear, how fast they run, and how long it takes them to die. "Every soldier is drawing from their own repertoire of military moves and determining how they will fight the fight," explains Weta Workshop director Richard Taylor. The abilities of each agent are affected by its clothes, body type, and the weather, and stunt actors' movements were recorded so that the agents would be able to move realistically. Fuzzy logic is used so that each agent can subtly respond to its surroundings, and their brain nodes number in the thousands. Massive is used not only to simulate armies, but to create digital doubles of the film's stars and flocks of birds. Regelous drew inspiration for massive by studying how people on crowded streets avoid each other, and by growing digital plants.
- "'Smart' Jacket Warms, Lights Up at Night, Monitors Heart"
A prototype jacket designed by Cornell University graduate student Lucy Dunne for her senior thesis features embedded electronics that can illuminate it at night, heat it when cold, and monitor the wearer's heart and pulse rate. Warmth is maintained by a sensor-regulated electro-conductive textile in the upper back, while electro-luminescent wires light the jacket up, and the left wrist cuff is equipped with a physiological monitor. "One of my goals with the jacket project was to demonstrate that I could produce a working smart garment...that was practical, useful and attractive to users by using technologies that were currently available," Dunne explains. "I wanted to show people how possible it is to develop wearable technology so that commercial companies might be less afraid to leap in since apparel companies have no experience with electronics, and electronics companies have no experience with apparel." Dunne detailed her project at Zurich's International Conference on Pervasive Computing in August, and first modeled the jacket at the International Conference on Wearable Computers in October. More recently, she presented a paper about the jacket at the International Center for Excellence in Wearable Computing and Smart Fashion Products in Germany. Suzanne Loker, a professor of textiles and apparel at Cornell, says a variety of wearable technology products are in development or on the market, including snow suits equipped with Global Positioning System receivers and adjustable heating systems, bikinis outfitted with audio players, stain-resistant clothing, and shirts with built-in cell phones.
- "The Next Design Inspiration"
Red Herring Online (12/11/02); Bruno, Lee
Chip complexity is increasing because of the need to make smaller, faster, and more flexible semiconductors, but this complicates design confirmation. Engineers are working to come up with new designs for denser, lower-power circuits, says Palo Alto Research Center research fellow Dave Biegelsen, who adds that nonsilicon organic devices and three-dimensional architecture will be key to the next major breakthroughs. Addressing the Senate Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities Committee on Armed Services in April, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency director Tony Tether said the tech sector is developing the underlying technology for self-monitoring, self-repairing cognitive computers. Such systems will challenge the design paradigms that the chip industry has followed for the last four decades. Although an industry-wide retooling of chip design every five or six years is nothing new, design starts have fallen in the last year because of a sudden drop in the chip market, and designers are preparing for an uptick that should begin in early 2003. The huge costs of 90-nanometer chip fabrication plants are also forcing engineers to develop new designs. Adding to the new design push is the rapid proliferation of chips embedded in a multitude of everyday devices, including automobiles, consumer gadgets, and home appliances. At the Intel Developer's Forum, Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger declared that 300 GHz devices that measure approximately 10 nanometers should emerge by the end of the decade.
- "Karl Auerbach: ICANN "Out of Control""
O'Reilly Network (12/05/02); Koman, Richard
ICANN board member Karl Auerbach, in a wide-ranging interview, argues that the Oct. 21 DDoS attack on the Internet's root servers shows that a decentralized management of the DNS would be the best option for preventing any future concentrated attacks. However, Auerbach also notes that ICANN needs to maintain a centralized DNS system in order to maintain its authority over the DNS, an authority that Auerbach believes is also being used by trademark-holders to assert UDRP rights over the legitimate rights of some domain name owners. Auerbach says that from a technical perspective, IP address allocation does need central coordination, but the DNS system does not. "The DNS is really an optional service on top of the basic functionality of the Internet," says Auerbach, who adds that there can be different DNS versions operating everywhere as long as these versions are simultaneously different but compatible. Auerbach also says that ICANN has been slow to implement post-Sept. 11, 2001, security reforms; that ICANN's dictum that only one DNS root should exist in defacto makes the DNS vulnerable at one access point; that his own security action-plan has been ignored; and that an ICANN plenary committee focusing on post-Sept. 11 security-issues has yet to offer any recommendations or reports. Auerbach notes that the technical aspects of the Internet are administered by VeriSign and Regional Internet Address Registries on a daily basis without ICANN input and that the Internet can continue without ICANN's presence.
For more information on ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "The Future of Computer Interfaces"
Tech Update (12/06/02); Linden, Alexander
The development of simpler, intuitive, and flexible computer interfaces will spur the integration of technology and everyday life, and technologies that could usher in a new age of ubiquitous computing include input interfaces, output interfaces, and advanced interaction metaphors. Gartner predicts that display screens will proliferate everywhere, thanks to the near-term development of products such as digital paper, organic light-emitting diodes, and light-emitting polymers, which could supplant mobile screens and paper displays; by 2012, CRT-based screen manufacturing will likely be phased out by liquid crystal displays and alternative technologies, while screens that display dynamic data will be installed in new areas. Although use of the keyboard and mouse will account for 95 percent of human-to-computer information input through 2012, handwriting and speech recognition technology will enhance pen-based interfaces, and over 70 percent of new PDAs will support such technology by 2005. IT executives with longer-term strategies should consider these options as early as next year, while speech recognition is likely to have a greater impact on business-to-consumer transactions. Forecasts indicate a transition from the "push" mode of general information supply to a "pull" mode by 2012 as concepts such as personalization, knowledge mapping and taxonomies, search functions, and Active Alert come into their own and enterprises gain a clearer picture of users' and clients' specific information needs at various touchpoints. The computer's ability to pre-select options based on what it knows about user requirements will streamline user choices. However, a dearth of clear industrialization surrounding interfaces will cause interface design to trail overall computer capabilities. Advanced user interface metaphors will lead to better and more rapid input for decision-making in the intra-enterprise domain, though their impact will be more accurately measured in the customer domain.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Autoimmune Computer Systems"
Computerworld (12/09/02) Vol. 36, No. 50, P. 38; Anthes, Gary H.
Several research initiatives are underway to develop computers that are capable of automated and adaptive defense. Hewlett-Packard researchers in Bristol, England, are focusing on "resilient infrastructure," whereby computers remain in operation even when they are under attack. HP's "virus-throttling" software is designed to slow down the proliferation of computer worms; it does this by allowing familiar machines to connect to the network at a slow rate, while holding up or barring connections of unfamiliar machines that transmit 200 to 500 requests per second. Meanwhile, Stephanie Forrest of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque is engaged in several projects based on the human immune system. One project is a host-based intrusion-detection system that builds a picture of normal activity by studying short sequences of calls by the operating system kernel over time. The system learns to detect atypical behavior in this way and issue alerts or take evasive action if warranted. Another intrusion-detection system follows the body's process of randomly creating immune cells that represent deviations from the norm in order to teach the body to recognize intruders; the software randomly creates "detectors" to represent deviant behavior in a computer network. Norman Johnson of Los Alamos National Laboratory notes that Forrest's systems are advantageous because they are capable of self-maintenance and require little updating. However, he says that differentiating between normal and potentially harmful activity remains a key challenge of computer security. "The common solution is to identify the threat and protect against it, but...it can be quite inefficient in environments that are rapidly changing," Johnson explains.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Crossed Signals"
U.S. News & World Report (12/16/02) Vol. 133, No. 23, P. 54; Amato, Ivan
As electronics become smaller and faster, they become more prone to electromagnetic interference (EMI); at the same time, the proliferation of wireless connections between computers and other electronic devices is causing interference sources to grow. Though EMI's potential for causing accidents is bad enough, some experts warn that it could be even more devastating if criminals, terrorists, or other malicious parties use it to deliberately disrupt or destroy electronic systems. GlobalSecurity.org head John Pike insists that interference issues could be resolved with basic design changes, but the fact remains that criminal elements as well as the military are flirting with EMI. In Japan in 1998, a group of criminals instructed a pachinko machine to dispense cash using a high-energy-radio frequency device, while in Russia a thief robbed a jewelry store by using a similar device to bypass the alarm. Such interference-generating gadgets can be built from off-the-shelf components. Depending on the degree of emission, microwave damage can range from "digital hiccups" to total circuit burnout, and this has prompted the U.S. military to test equipment for susceptibility and develop protection. "A lot of work has been going on in the military area around the world on electromagnetic sources that would be very, very powerful and could harm electronic equipment," notes Manuel Wik of Sweden's Defense Materiel Administration. However, the military also uses a lot of PCs, and Microwave Sciences President James Benford cautions that "The PC on your desk is probably the most vulnerable computer in the world right now."
- "Future Drivers"
GPS World (11/02) Vol. 13, No. 11, P. 28; Agnew, William G.
The annual Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition (IGVC) offers teams of college engineering students the opportunity to pit their robotic designs against each other to see how well they can integrate a variety of technologies, including vision systems, obstacle detection, range-finding, and global positioning. The autonomous vehicles, which are produced over a 10-month period, compete to see which one can best follow lanes, negotiate around objects, determine their position with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, and perform other exercises. The machines must adhere to strict physical dimensions and speed limits, and be propelled via direct mechanical contact with the ground. They are judged based on their ability to visit a specific series of waypoints while avoiding collisions with objects using GPS, negotiate a complex obstacle course, and pass detailed inspection--and they must do all this with a 9-kg load and no aid from human operators. The IGVC provides students with valuable training in product realization, and their designs can be applied to hazardous material handling, rescue missions, the military, manufacturing automation, and intelligent transportation systems. The vehicles are programmed with the latitude and longitude of each target in the waypoint maze, and are outfitted with GPS receivers that read their position from a group of satellites visible from the course site; the object of the exercise is to find the quickest route to hit every waypoint in the shortest amount of time. Vision systems typical of the 2002 IGVC were composed of color video cameras whose output was transmitted to frame grabbers, while the majority of vehicles were powered by electricity, although a few sported internal combustion engines. Range-finding technology incorporated into the robots usually consisted of lasers or ultrasonic detectors.
- "Seeing the Light"
Forbes (12/23/02) Vol. 170, No. 13, P. 274; Woolley, Scott
Up to now, microprocessors, memory, and hard drive technology has moved in leaps and bounds while displays have limped along, but organic light-emitting polymers could revolutionize the field and lead to the development of roll-up screens as thin as a sheet of paper, and the replacement of liquid crystal displays by organic light-emitting displays (OLEDs). At the core of this development is Cambridge University physicist Richard Friend's 1989 discovery of organic molecule chains that are luminescent when subjected to an electric current. Friend was also the driving force behind Cambridge Display Technology, a company spun off from his breakthrough. A year before Friend's discovery, Kodak researchers reported similar behavior in single organic molecules, but depositing them onto a screen is a much more difficult affair than it is with Friend's molecule chains. OLED pixels can generate more light than LCD pixels while using the same amount of electricity, and they require no backlighting. Furthermore, they are robust and can be inexpensively sprayed onto a flexible substrate. But large organic molecules could have applications that extend beyond OLEDs--they could, for instance, convert light into electricity and be used to make more efficient solar panels. Other potential uses include updateable newspapers, bodysuits that can camouflage themselves, and new forms of artistic expression.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)