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Timely Topics for IT Professionals

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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Volume 4, Issue 435: Monday, December 16, 2002

  • "Group Is Launching New Types of Licenses"
    Los Angeles Times (12/16/02) P. C1; Streitfeld, David

    Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society is helping to launch a new licensing program that aims to increase the amount of intellectual property in the public domain. The Creative Commons will allow content owners to offer three new licenses for their work with different types of restrictions. Some licensed works made available will allow free use as long as credit is given, others allow copying but not the creation of a derivative product, while still others offer licenses to noncommercial organizations. Content owners have the incentive of increased circulation when they license works to the Creative Commons, but board member Eric Eldred says that others will do so for entirely altruistic reasons. He cites the existence of the World Wide Web as evidence that people are willing to freely contribute to an endeavor benefiting everyone. Creative Commons Chairman and Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig represented Eldred before the Supreme Court this past October. Eldred, a publisher of Internet content, had sued after Congress approved a 20-year copyright extension in 1998 that would keep famous works produced in the last century from the public domain until 2019. A decision is expected this summer. Other organizations also support forums where people can license content differently, such as the Free Software Foundation, which itself creates free software and licenses programs made available by others. Since 1978, all intellectual property has been automatically assigned copyright safeguards upon its creation.
    Click Here to View Full Article
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  • "Digital Pearl Harbor Is More Marketing Ploy Than Real Threat"
    Wall Street Journal (12/16/02) P. B1; Gomes, Lee

    Both the government and technology companies are issuing warnings about possible cyberterrorism incidents in the hopes that it could spur people into buying and investing in anti-terror products and tools, which would give billions of dollars to commercial interests and the homeland security initiative. However, the electronic infrastructure appears to be stronger than most tech companies claim, which indicates that the well-publicized threat of a "Digital Pearl Harbor" is an attempt by tech companies to exploit people's fears for financial gain. A study conducted by Gartner Group and the U.S. Naval War College last summer determined that the country's telephone system and electrical grid are well-protected, while the banking system could be problematic. Furthermore, most of the security holes in the Internet could be fixed if companies regularly keep their software up-to-date, while protections set up against average hackers could just as easily thwart terrorists. "The idea that a terrorist somewhere could push a button and bring down the system--that has been thoroughly debunked," declared Gartner VP Richard Hunter. Hewlett-Packard chief security strategist Ira Winkler adds that most terrorists would be more likely to generate terror through a physical attack. "A terrorist wants to go after a visual target, something that puts fear into people's minds," he observes. "If you take a computer down, people will just say, 'Oh, those damn computers.'"
    http://sg.biz.yahoo.com/021216/72/35qjm.html

  • "IDC: Cyberterror and Other Prophecies"
    CNet (12/12/02); Frauenheim, Ed

    International Data (IDC) chief research officer John Gantz made a dire prediction for 2003 at a Thursday teleconference, in which he detailed a cyberterrorist attack that will cripple the Internet for at least 24 hours and wreak economic havoc. The assault, which could manifest itself as a denial-of-service attack, a network break-in, or even a physical attack on network assets, could be sparked by a possible military conflict with Iraq. Among the other 2003 predictions from IDC is a more than 6 percent increase in IT and telecommunications spending; slow adoption of 64-bit computing and a 27 percent boost in online messaging; the Unix operating system's market share being eroded by Linux; a surge in wireless LANs that will postpone the deployment of 3G wireless communications networks; and a flattening or decrease of the project-based IT services market as a result of rising IT outsourcing. Gantz expects spam to increase as email messages jump to 40 billion a day, while corporate instant messaging users will top 30 billion. IDC predicts that more digital images will be captured per day than film images by the end of the year, but film will remain the industry favorite because it is easy to use and is available everywhere. Gantz estimates that global software growth will amount to just 7.5 percent, while midrange server computer sales will start showing positive growth in 2003. He says that seven out of 10 IDC predictions come to pass, on average. Forecasted trends for 2002 that were borne out include the adoption of streaming media and revamped corporate security initiatives.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1001-977780.html

  • "New Tactics Could Stave Off Digital Pirates"
    Investor's Business Daily (12/16/02) P. A4; Howell, Donna

    Consumers must increasingly deal with software with built-in usability limitations, which many copyright holders are implementing in an attempt to curb digital piracy and counterfeiting. New versions of products such as Microsoft's Windows XP and Intuit's TurboTax require activation, in which the products are restricted to a single computer or can only be used a few times unless they are registered by phone or online. In addition, several companies are now selling digital rights management products that content providers and others can use. Macrovision, which counts Intuit and all major film studios as clients, licenses anti-piracy technology that, among other things, prevents copying of DVDs--in fact, the spread of DVDs has helped fuel Macrovision's growth. Record companies are expected to debut products with copy protection next summer. By that time, Macrovision's Brian Dunn believes his company will have rolled out more flexible copy protection that consumers may find more to their liking. Such an option will still keep music shielded from piracy, yet allow purchasers of music to make copies in a limited capacity. However, copy protection has its share of critics, including Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who says most digital rights management technology exists to limit consumers' rights. He also labels such systems as "ineffective" when it comes to deterring Internet piracy. Some copyright owners are deploying flexible protection schemes that will protect content without estranging consumers; Symantec, for example, sells anti-virus software that only works if it is constantly updated, but for now eschews digital rights management.

  • "In the World of the Very Small, Companies Make Big Plans"
    New York Times (12/16/02) P. C19; Feder, Barnaby J.

    More and more companies are investing in nanotechnology, with a focus on specially tailored molecules that can be incorporated into other substances. 3M and other manufacturers are marketing paper-thin optical films synthesized from nanoscale crystals that can filter light and brightness. Optiva uses such films to make light polarizers that reduce glare, and executive VP Greg King says the product can cut the thickness of liquid crystal displays by up to 40 percent. He adds that the films should show up in handheld computer displays and other screens in 2003. NanoBond from Pentron, which is used to bond caps to teeth, features a synthetic molecule developed by Hybrid Plastics that exhibits strength and a high degree of resistance to heat and inflammability when combined with other materials. Meanwhile, a metallic crystal produced by Quantum Dot can bind to a protein with a strong affinity for biotin, allowing researchers to use it as a tool to detect and measure biotin concentrations. This product is centered around quantum dots, nano-sized crystals that are luminescent in the presence of energy and whose color can be adjusted according to size. Other nanotech companies are concentrating on developing products that can tag biological agents--one such firm is Nanoprobes, which binds gold atoms to streptavidin and other biomaterials; the resulting probes can be located by focusing a stream of electrons on a sample, which produces a specific reflective signature.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/16/technology/16NANO.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Feds Invoked National Security to Speed Key Internet Change"
    Associated Press (12/16/02)

    The U.S. Commerce Department approved VeriSign's request to move one of the two VeriSign-managed root servers just two days after the request was made. VeriSign had asked the government to skip routine administrative decision-making procedures in the name of national security, according to internal government emails, and some government observers note that companies are increasingly citing national security issues as a way to speed up or skip administrative processes. Commerce spokesman Clyde Ensslin says the decision to grant VeriSign's request was not made in the context of a national security threat, and VeriSign's Brian O'Shaughnessy says that VeriSign never asked for emergency procedures. However, VeriSign's Tom Galvin says that VeriSign had been interested in moving forward with the change as soon as possible. Although technology experts say the change was needed and corrects design errors from an implementation five years ago, they say national security or the Internet would not have been threatened if the change took longer. VeriSign's request was presented to ICANN at the end of October; experts at the organization would have reviewed the proposal and offered recommendations by mid November. However, Commerce approved the request in just two days. Internet expert Stephen Crocker, head of an advisory committee that oversees the 13 DNS servers, says, "I really don't think there was a national security issue. I think this was more a desire to make it happen and an opportunity to cut through some of the normal bureaucracy.''
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/news/4750152.htm

  • "Life on the Edge"
    Salon.com (12/13/02); Rosenberg, Scott

    The Supernova decentralization conference showed the tension between business mindsets and technologists who are committed to building out equalizing, networked systems. Topics included blogs, Web services, and Wi-Fi--all of which are technologies that do not rely on centralized management. Some worry that too rapid a commercialization of these technologies will warp their development, since other standard and liberating technologies such as the Internet and Linux took many years to mature. More and more enterprises are jumping onto the Wi-Fi bandwagon, for example, threatening grass-roots efforts to make ubiquitous wireless Internet access possible. Another more obvious worry at the Supernova conference is the continuing war between decentralized technologies and the content industry in Hollywood. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Cory Doctorow said that a proposed Broadcast Flag Initiative moving ahead at the FCC would create technological roadblocks where commercial interests would once again become power-brokers on networks. Appropriately, in light of the escalating legal conflict, next year's Supernova conference is set in Washington, D.C.
    http://www.salon.com/tech/col/rose/2002/12/13/supernova/index.html

  • "Designing a Robot That Can Sense Human Emotion"
    ScienceDaily (12/16/02)

    Vanderbilt University researchers Nilanjan Sarkar and Craig Smith are working on a robot that can determine a person's emotional state from physiological cues, and respond appropriately; they detail their work in the December issue of the journal Robotica. One stage of the project involves the development of a system that can read a person's psychological state via physiological sensors, while a second stage involves creating a technique to process this input in real time, in a format that the robot or computer can comprehend. Building on a methodology used by voice and handwriting recognition systems, the Vanderbilt scientists are collating baseline data about each subject and using it to identify responses associated with various psychological states. In the initial experiments, participants playing video games were subjected to stress by changing the level of difficulty, and their anxiety levels were measured by a heart rate monitor; in this way, Sarkar and his colleagues identified two frequency bands that show predictable variations when stress levels change. Sarkar says the experiments revealed subjects under stress exhibit more sympathetic activity and less parasympathetic activity. The researchers later combined the heart rate data with skin conductance and facial muscle readings so that a robot could better measure a person's emotional state, and have since programmed a mobile robot with these guidelines. The device randomly wanders throughout a room, approaches anyone it finds exhibiting high anxiety levels, and inquiries whether it can be of assistance. Sarkar says such research will be invaluable, for the time is coming when robots will be ubiquitous, and need to interact naturally with people.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/12/021216070618.htm

  • "Nanoparticles Could Aid Biohazard Detection, Computer Industry"
    Newswise (12/11/02)

    Purdue scientists have discovered a new way of creating metal interconnects on chips that saves money, time, and even has antiterrorism applications. By dipping semiconductor chips into a solution of dissolved metal salts, the researchers are able to build up a precise layer of metal nanoparticles. These nanoparticles can be used to carry electronic signals to and from the chip, but also are much cheaper to create than traditional methods of connecting metal to chips. Whereas traditional metal interconnects are made of high-grade gold or platinum, the metal salt solution can be formed from the lowest possible grade gold or other metal. The longer the semiconductor remains in the solution, the thicker the layer of metal nanoparticles built on its surface, making it easy for manufacturers to learn and apply the technique to their processes, says Purdue graduate chemistry student Lon Porter. Furthermore, the team already found ways to isolate where on the chip the nanoparticles are deposited, allowing them to build up metal layers in a grid pattern or along lines. Because the surface of a thick metal layer created with the technique has a rough surface, the team also found they could deposit organic molecules on top of the metal surface. Special organic molecules that react to dangerous chemicals would send an electronic signal through the metal layer to the chip in case of a terrorist biohazard attack. Purdue associate professor of chemistry Jillian Buriak, who leads the new research, says the metal nanoparticles let computers receive direct input from biological elements.
    http://www.newswise.com/articles/2002/12/NANOPAR.PUR.html

  • "Word to the Wise: Decentralize"
    Tech Update (12/11/02); Farber, Dan

    Technology analyst Kevin Werbach says enterprise IT systems will continue to decentralize in the future as centralized systems become too vast and complex to manage. However, better management, provisioning, and automatic features are needed for decentralized systems, and Werbach warns that efforts could be hijacked by software incompatibility. He says that companies that want to encourage collaboration between employees and business partners need to adopt a decentralized model of computing. Werbach predicts that businesses will focus on deriving value from their human capital instead of from IT systems themselves, which he says will become commoditized. In this sense, decentralized technologies such as Web services will come hand-in-hand with new business models and ways to work. Web services, if not waylaid by vendors' differences in standards, will allow companies to quickly adapt IT to suit their business needs. Werbach also admits that some firms will be more immediately suited to decentralized computing than others. Firms that emphasize order and uniformity within a large workforce, for example, will likely hold onto a centralized architecture longer than companies whose value lies in employees' creativity and ability to collaborate.
    http://techupdate.zdnet.com/techupdate/stories/main/0,14179,2901455,00.html

  • "Hollow Promise"
    Nature Materials Upate (12/12/02); Gerstner, Ed

    Burak Temelkuran and colleagues report in this week's Nature that they have constructed a hollow optical fiber that can transmit light through air rather than glass, a solution that may allow much more data to travel over fiber-optic lines. The interior of the hollow optical fiber is lined with a highly reflective multilayer dielectric mirror that allows light generated by a carbon dioxide laser to be channeled with lower losses than the best conventional solid-core fibers. Assembling the fibers begins with the deposition of a layer of arsenide triselenide onto a layer of poly(ether sulphone), or PES, a thermoplastic polymer. The multilayer mirror structure is scaled up by rolling the layers around several times, and then enclosed in a thick outer PES layer to make a "pre-form" from which hollow fibers with lengths ranging from tens to hundreds of meters can be drawn. The mirrors within the fibers allow design decisions to more directly affect the fibers' optical characteristics. The researchers' breakthrough, which is composed of 98 percent plastic, also gives new hope for the construction of polymer-based fibers. Hollow optical fibers could enable the spectrum of optical wavelengths to be widened, thus boosting performance and bandwidth capacity.

  • "W3C Proposes XML Encryption, Decryption Specs"
    InternetNews.com (12/10/02); Boulton, Clint

    The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has given its recommendation to the XML Encryption Syntax Processing specification and the Decryption Transform for XML Signature as ways to secure XML data within documents and aid organizations that are building Web services. Only W3C XML Signature, together with the W3C XML Encryption Recommendation, lets users sign and encrypt parts of XML data. "A user of a Web services protocol such as SOAP may want to encrypt the payload part of the XML message but not the information necessary to route the payload to its recipient," explains W3C XML Encryption Working Group Chairman Joe Reagle. He adds that the most difficult part of the project was pairing XML Signature with the XML Encryption Recommendation. "Recommending this standard removes a critical roadblock to the adoption of Web services security, and hence to Web services in general," says ZapThink senior analyst Jason Bloomberg. IBM CTO Kelvin Lawrence adds that "combining XML Encryption with XML Digital Signature provides customers with a strong, base security technology they can build upon and incorporate into their Web services applications."
    http://www.internetnews.com/dev-news/article.php/1554771

  • "ABA to Vote on UCITA Next Year"
    Computerworld (12/09/02) Vol. 36, No. 50, P. 8; Thibodeau, Patrick

    An American Bar Association vote on the controversial Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) in February is viewed as a turning point in the fate of the software licensing law. The ABA will on whether UCITA should be adopted by states; the vote is significant because its members represent businesses that both support and oppose UCITA. An ABA committee has already criticized the law, saying it needs to be rewritten, while the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws has amended the law and changed controversial provisions, including the condition that allowed vendors to remotely shut down systems in a dispute. Adopted only in Virginia and Maryland so far, the law is designed to set default terms and conditions in software and licensing agreements. Opponents of UCITA, who say the law gives too much power to software publishers, have been successful in blocking it in other states, which means it is still not a de facto national law. UCITA proponents say even if the ABA votes against it, state bar associations are not bound to follow ABA's lead.
    http://www.computerworld.com/softwaretopics/software/story/0,10801,76494,00.html

    To read more about ACM's activities in regard to UCITA visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "Integrating America"
    CIO (12/01/02) Vol. 16, No. 5, P. 44; Datz, Todd

    IT will be key to the success of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which aims to integrate 22 agencies and programs, and merge 170,000 workers into a cohesive entity. Office of Homeland Security CIO Steve Cooper and Treasury Department CIO Jim Flyzik say that this task can be accomplished by developing a homeland security enterprise architecture, updating legacy systems, building a workable knowledge sharing model, and closing the cultural gaps between the many agencies that will comprise the DHS. Devising an enterprise architecture requires a detailed study of the agencies' business processes as they pertain to prevention, warning, incident management, and other critical areas, and Flyzik and Cooper have set up a trio of working groups--border security, first response, and weapons of mass destruction--to focus on such processes; Cooper believes about 80 percent of the architecture can be completed in 18 months, while IT implementation could be finished in three to five years. Integrating legacy systems will require an evaluation of the myriad agencies' infrastructures and a stripping-down of current enterprise licenses, while technical problems are expected to be solved by middleware, EAI tools, and Web services. The sheer volume of data that the DHS will receive, both internally and externally, could threaten to swamp the department; Flyzik and Cooper believe a "capture once, reuse many" approach will stave off information overload, and are currently labeling "databases of record" that will be listed as official data sources. David Colton of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) is concerned that knowledge sharing could be clouded because intelligence gatherers such as the CIA and FBI will lie outside the domain of the DHS. The hardest challenge could be resolving the cultural differences between the 22 agencies, a job that Colton estimates could take four to five years.
    http://www.cio.com/archive/120102/america.html

  • "The Robot Evolution"
    Industry Week (12/02) Vol. 251, No. 12,; Jusko, Jill

    MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory director Rodney A. Brooks says intelligent robots will replace humans as a source for low-cost manufacturing labor in the future. In his latest book, "Flesh and Machines: How Robots Will Change Us," Brooks writes that in 20 years, robotic development will reach the level of today's science fiction, and that in just five years robotic technology will have surpassed people's practical expectations. Among Brooks' accomplishments at MIT have been the creation of Cog and Kismet, two interactive robots purported to be able to learn from experience. Brooks' startup company, iRobot, has also made headlines lately as the manufacturer of the Roomba commercial vacuuming robot and the Pyramid Robot that explored mysterious air shafts within the Great Pyramid in Cairo. Brooks predicts that robots will one day be endowed with human-like emotions and intelligence, in accordance with his belief that humans are in essence machines themselves. Meanwhile, some of the most challenging obstacles for futuristic robots are visual recognition and mechanical dexterity equal to that of the human hand, for example. While most animals are able to easily identify objects based on their shape, color, and surroundings, computer vision systems have trouble discriminating objects from one another and figuring out their purpose. And for robots to take over general assembly tasks from humans, Brooks says researchers need to develop low-cost ways to make them dexterous and teachable.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Multimodality: The Next Wave of Mobile Interaction"
    Speech Technology (12/02) Vol. 7, No. 6, P. 32; Colby, James

    Multimodality technology aims to integrate speech, touch, and vision to usher in a new age of mobile interaction that could enable spontaneous, intuitive communications and hasten the spread of value-added services, among other things. Multimodal applications will combine speech input, spoken output, visual output, and keypads. Multimedia messaging is likely to emerge as a hot multimodal application: Voice recognition, onscreen graphics, and textual displays will be merged without the need for manual input. The three-phase development of multimodality is currently in the first phase, in which users have the choice of either speech-based or visual interfaces; the second phase will make both types of interaction available to users all the time, allowing them to switch back and forth between either mode; the final phase will give users the capability of interacting by sight, speech, and touch simultaneously. Many currently available mobile PDAs, with their large color displays, are a starting point toward devices that will be embedded with networking services, while forthcoming Class A portables that merge voice and data communications will help multimodality penetrate the mass market. The Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) protocol currently under development will enable wireless PDAs and mobile devices to access data, applications, and Web services in multiple modes. Meanwhile, World Wide Web developers can enhance Web content with voice interaction thanks to the XHTML+Voice standard. To successfully deploy multimodal technology, mobile devices must be able to process multiple communications channels, existing as well as future data applications will have to be multimodality-enabled, and a secure, durable platform will need to be implemented.
    http://www.speechtechmag.com/issues/7_6/cover/1472-1.html