Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

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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.

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Volume 4, Issue 437: Friday, December 20, 2002

  • "Bush Administration to Propose System for Wide Monitoring of Internet"
    New York Times (12/20/02) P. A16; Markoff, John; Schwartz, John

    The final version of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace is expected to include a proposal requiring ISPs to construct a centralized system for Internet monitoring, supposedly as an "early-warning center" designed to offer antivirus safeguards and detect cyberattacks long before they become threatening, according to the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board. The technical challenge would be formidable, since independent ISPs number in the thousands, but service providers are concerned that such a system could blur the line between cybersecurity and surveillance of people's online activities. One official from a major data services firm says the system would be "10 times worse" than the FBI's Carnivore Internet wiretap system. ISPs are also worried about their liability, should they supply access to live feeds of network activity, notes Washington lawyer Stewart Baker. People who were briefed on the proposal say that it does not specify where the centralized system would be located, how much it would cost, or its operational requirements. Board deputy chief of staff Tiffany Olson explained yesterday that the proposal is still under development, but insisted that there is a great need for such a facility, because without one ISPs can only watch a small portion of the Internet. "We don't have anybody that is able to look at the entire picture," she maintained. The original National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace draft issued in September suggested that industry oversee the monitoring center, but the latest version hands that responsibility over to the government.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/20/technology/20MONI.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Terrorists on the Net? Who Cares?"
    Wired News (12/20/02); Shachtman, Noah

    A new report compiled by Jim Lewis of the U.S. State and Commerce Department for the Center for Strategic and International Studies discounts the theory that terrorists or malicious hackers could bring down the nation's infrastructure by launching an attack from cyberspace. Infrastructure systems have grown more adaptive to disruptions than early analysts give them credit for because service failures have become routine, he writes. Using the electrical grid as an example, Lewis argues that trees falling on power lines are far more damaging than cyberattacks, which so far have produced zero disruptions. "A hacker or even a large group of hackers would need to find vulnerabilities in multiple systems to significantly disrupt the power supply and even then, an attack might only disrupt service for a few hours," he reports. Lewis adds that terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida prefer to launch physical attacks on their targets. However, he does acknowledge that serious damage could be inflicted if cyberattacks are coordinated with physical attacks. Meanwhile, the threat of cyberterrorism still carries weight: The National League of Cities conducted a poll of municipal officials in September in which respondents listed Internet attacks as their third biggest fear. Speaking to the House of Representatives' Science Committee in October, Network Associates VP Terry Benzel warned that a successful terrorist cyberattack on U.S. infrastructure will result in death, economic destabilization, and a disablement of protective services systems.
    http://www.wired.com/news/infostructure/0,1377,56935,00.html

  • "Study Seeks Technology Safeguards For Privacy"
    New York Times (12/19/02) P. A15; Markoff, John

    In response to a request from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Pentagon yesterday disclosed a report from the Information Sciences and Technologies Study Group (ISAT) listing specific technologies that the government should invest in to prevent misuse of data-mining tools that could be employed in the Total Information Awareness system. The technologies mentioned include automated tracing of access to database records, database segregation, and blockage of access to unauthorized people--all of which can be adapted to enable the government to monitor citizens' electronic activities while keeping exposure of individual information to a minimum, according to the study. However, a representative of the Electronic Privacy Information Center declared that the report did not fully comply with its request for the military to publicly issue documents relating to any assessment of how the Total Information Awareness system would affect privacy. ISAT member Barbara Simons said that Total Information Awareness and policy issues were not the subject of the study. Other study participants noted that there was doubt within ISAT that technological solutions would effectively guard privacy, while the report called for "Strong Audit measures" to guard against the misuse of information systems. The study was sponsored by the Information Awareness Office, and several participants said that former national security advisor John M. Poindexter, who is leading the Total Information Awareness initiative, joined in during one meeting. The report was commissioned late last year, before the Total Information Awareness system was proposed.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/19/national/19COMP.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

    Barbara Simons is co-chair of ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee. For more information, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "Radio Free Software"
    Salon.com (12/18/02); Williams, Sam

    Electrical engineer Eric Blossom's GNU Radio project represents a significant step toward the creation of a universal computer that can operate like any other device, a development that has content providers up in arms and pursuing legislation that could severely limit modifiable consumer technology. The Free Software Foundation plans to leverage the project as a way to get the drop on Washington by offering it as an example of innovation that proposed FCC regulations and congressional legislation could suppress. GNU Radio grew out of Blossom's interest in software-defined radio (SDR), which he wanted to expand to include the free software ethic. The original GNU Project's goal was to supply a common set of nonproprietary tools that Unix developers could use to port from one device to another; the GNU Radio project aims to provide similar functionality to radio-software developers. Blossom and development partner Matt Ettus have thus far created a software program that enables a PC to simultaneously receive two radio stations. Ettus notes that the software-centric approach is much faster than the hardware-centric approach. Dovetailing with the GNU Radio project is a proposed solution from Hollywood studios, IT companies, and consumer electronics manufacturers to incorporate software-based "broadcast flags" into all digital broadcasts in order to curtail unauthorized distribution of digital movies. The only way to make this solution effective is to impose new federal regulations that require all consumer devices to be standards-compliant and have limited modification parameters.
    http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2002/12/18/gnu_radio/index.html

  • "Engineering Group Aims to Expand Web Character Set"
    Investor's Business Daily (12/19/02) P. A8; Korzeniowski, Paul

    The ASCII standard that most Internet addresses are written in is based on the notion that most alphabets have about two dozen characters, but vastly larger alphabets in Asian regions mean that Web sites in those areas are inaccessible in North America, and vice-versa. To solve this problem, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) proposed a standard that was approved by the Internationalizing Domain Names in Applications (IDNA) committee last spring. The solution involves supplementing ACSI labels with new prefixes that will allow domain naming servers to know whether data is in an Asian language, and process it correctly. The system should simplify server identification and information sharing between Western and Eastern users, and enable software developers to help users find more Web sites. Common misspellings can also be detected by programmers using the system. It will take about 12 months for the solution to be standardized, although test software modules are already available for download. The proposal is still being analyzed by engineers in order to ensure that all potential problems are identified before the standard's implementation. Software that uses the standard should debut within nine to 12 months, according to observers.

  • "Free Speech--Virtually"
    Washington Post (12/19/02) P. E1; Balderama, Jennifer

    Over the past several years, thousands of people have become bloggers, or publishers of online journals--Web logs or "blogs"--that chronicle or discuss a diversity of topics. However, legal experts warn that many bloggers are unaware that real-world publishing regulations also extend into the digital realm: If someone publishes a blog containing information that is libelous, infringes on copyrights or trademarks, or reveals trade secrets, then that person could be sued by the offended party or company. Opinions that bloggers may consider harmless--especially those relating to their places of work--could be construed as harmful by employers, and Web publishing experts note that archived Web logs about specific people or companies can be accessed by anyone using a search engine, as long as those blogs remain up. Cabot Advisory Group President Pam Farr points out that blogs containing derogatory statements can be grounds for dismissal, and although employees may feel entitled to expressing their opinions, some companies have instituted policies requiring workers to post statements on their Web sites indicating that such positions are not representative of the company. She recommends that companies develop an "information policy" that earmarks proprietary information, who owns it, and where it resides. Arts and Technology Group managing partner Gregory Alan Rutchik says that anonymity does not ensure the safety of the blogger's identity--the blog could contain jargon, references, or anecdotes that could unmask the publisher, especially if the blogs are work-related and are read by employers or peers. Others who feel injured by such postings can force ISPs to reveal bloggers' identities or block their site access by going to court.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A9204-2002Dec18.html

  • "Quantum Dots to Form Basis of Next-Generation Computer Displays?"
    ScienceBlog.com (12/18/02)

    MIT scientists report in the Dec. 19 issue of Nature that they have synthesized a new quantum dot-organic light-emitting device (QD-OLED) that merges organic materials with high-performing inorganic nanocrystals. It has the potential to become the consumer choice for flat-panel displays, if a simple manufacturing method that yields stable, low-power, high-resolution devices can be worked out, says MIT researcher Vladimir Bulovic, who collaborated on the QD-OLED with chemistry professor Moungi G. Bawendi. Other foreseeable applications include wavelength calibration, the generation of light signals that only robots can see, and innovative miniaturization of scientific equipment. Prior to this latest development, QD-OLEDs contained between 10 and 20 layers of quantum dots sandwiched between two organic thin films; Bulovic and Bawendi's device uses only one layer, and its luminescent power efficiency is 25 times that of previous devices. To channel electricity to the quantum dots, the researchers chose organic semiconducting molecules currently found in organic LEDs (OLEDs), while separate but layered structures of nanoscale material were created with a pair of parallel processes with wide industrial applications. The MIT team thinks that QD-OLEDs will eventually complement OLEDs thanks to compatible assembly techniques and common electronic platforms. The research is sponsored by Universal Display Group and the National Science Foundation's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center program.
    http://www.scienceblog.com/community/article612.html

  • "InfiniBand Group Sharply, Evenly Divided"
    InternetNews.com (12/19/02); Boulton, Clint

    The six founding members of the InfiniBand Trade Association are evenly split on whether or not to push forward with the I/O technology at this time. For the past two years, InfiniBand has promised a new way to tie together storage, network, server, and other IT hardware with super-fast connections. IBM, Sun, and Dell say they will have InfiniBand products on the market next year, while Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Intel have decided to take a more cautious approach. Microsoft says the current economic environment will not support a complete architectural overhaul, and that companies are more likely to take an evolutionary approach to upgrading their IT infrastructure. HP's Karl Walker says that although InfiniBand technology could be successful in such niche markets as "high-performance clustering and as [an architecture] for replacing proprietary interconnect technologies," but it is too early to make a big bet on the technology. Analyst Arun Taneja says Microsoft stands to gain the most from the deployment of InfiniBand, since it would allow Intel-based server clusters to deliver the same processing power as high-end Unix systems. For that reason, Taneja says Sun is pushing for InfiniBand so that it will be able to keep its Unix products ahead of the game, and also use it to bolster its N1 utility computing strategy. Analyst Anne Skamarock agrees that both vendors and customers will benefit from InfiniBand, which enables a more scalable infrastructure and server consolidation. But she warns the development of software that can leverage that scalability will take time, while adoption will be incremental.
    http://www.internetnews.com/ec-news/article.php/1559451

  • "W3C Finalizes Disability Guidelines"
    ZDNet (12/17/02); Festa, Paul

    The World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) 1.0 recommend how designers should make user agents--browsers, media players, and the like--more accessible to people with disabilities. The guidelines, which were finalized on Tuesday after spending more than a year as a candidate recommendation, suggest that applications be seamlessly compatible with assistive technologies such as refreshable Braille output and screen readers. They also advise designers to implement keyboard- and mouse-executable commands. The UAAG is the third recommendation finalized by the W3C under its Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The two previous sets of guidelines dealt with the creation of authoring tools and Web pages. A fourth set of rules called XML Accessibility Guidelines are being developed by a working group. The WAI says these guidelines could stand alone or get bundled into existing guidelines. According to the initiative, the recommendations will not only help the disabled, but users who must contend with the inherent limitations of small computing devices such as PDAs and Web-enabled cell phones.
    http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1104-978272.html

  • "Bush Signs NSF Reauthorization Bill"
    United Press International (12/19/02); Burnell, Scott R.

    President Bush signed the National Science Foundation (NSF) Authorization Act of 2002 on Thursday, which aims to double the NSF's budget to over $37 billion over the next five years. More than $1.5 billion would be funneled into actual research programs over three years, stipend and grant programs for education would receive additional funding of nearly $400 million, and facilities construction programs would receive $144 million. House Science Committee member Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) says boosting NSF funds is critical if the United States is to once again become the world leader in producing scientists, mathematicians, and engineers, the lack of which would destabilize America's economy and hobble the anti-terrorism effort. Earlier calls to raise NSF funding were blocked by the Office of Management and Budget, which griped about the money that would be allocated in the final two years of the proposal. Lawmakers used performance-based spending triggers to allay the office's worries. However, the budget increase must still be approved by appropriators on Capitol Hill, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) says that Congress is still debating over 2003 spending levels. Nevertheless, House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) is confident that, "From our nation's students, to our economy, and to our security, the fruits of this [legislation] will be enjoyed for many years to come."
    http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20021219-052706-7486r

  • "Center for Nanoscale Innovation Transfers Knowledge to Industry"
    AScribe Newswire (12/11/02)

    The Center for Nanoscale Innovation and Defense (CNID) is a collaborative effort between the California universities of Santa Barbara (UCSB), Riverside (UCR), and Los Angeles (UCLA) to accelerate the transfer of nanotechnology research and expertise into the defense industry. Sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Defense MicroElectronics Activity (DMEA), the CNID is expected to receive a three-year grant of over $20 million. Efforts to set up the center were led by UCSB professor David Awschalom, who says the idea for the facility came about when federal science and defense agencies observed a shrinkage of basic research in the major U.S. industrial labs; the purpose of the center is to enable defense technology business contractors to stay current by forming a network with academic faculty familiar with industry collaboration and basic scientific research. Graduate student researchers will be able to participate in collaborative projects and summer internships in order to gain industrial experience through the CNID, Awschalom adds. UCR's cut of the CNID funding will be used to erect a basic infrastructure for nanotech research and sponsor CNID-relevant initiatives, with emphasis on nanoscale electronic devices, organic and inorganic spintronic devices, sensors, neurons and nanotubes, and multiporphyrin molecular memories. Two years earlier, UCSB and UCLA co-founded the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), which receives $1 from the state for every $2 of non-state funding up to $100 million. The state money the CNSI has received since its inception has been used to set up a pair of research centers at UCSB and UCLA, and these labs will be equipped with the latest technology using CNID funds. In addition to the three universities, CNID participants include Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, and eight other industrial partners.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "IBM Stacks 3-D Storage Blocks"
    ZDNet (12/17/02); Shankland, Stephen

    IBM scientists are aiming to build a prototype 3D storage grid of cubic modules by the first quarter of 2003, under the aegis of the Collective Intelligent Brick project (formerly IceCube). The stacked modules are equipped with a dozen hard drives and six network connections, and are linked by 1 Gbps Ethernet networks; IBM plans to eventually switch to 10 Gbps Ethernet or InfiniBand in order to circumvent latency problems. IBM fellow Jai Menon says the 27-brick, 3 x 3 x 3 prototype device will be able to store up to 32 terabytes of data. The bricks are designed to easily slide in and out of the system, but IBM believes people will purchase extra modules and leave redundant modules where they are. Software keeps track of where data is stored and guarantees that it will not be lost in the event of failures. The computing industry is gradually moving away from monolithic systems and adopting a more modular architecture, but large systems still offer superior performance. IBM is trying to make its brick system reach even higher performance levels: The bricks are programmed to move data from one module to another so that it is not affected by malfunctioning bricks, drives, or networked components; meanwhile, "capacitive couplers" are used to channel signals between bricks, which, because of their design, cannot accommodate plugs and sockets. The bricks are water-cooled to prevent overheating. IBM thinks that the system will allow a single administrator to handle 100 times as much storage capacity as monolithic storage systems.
    http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1103-978103.html

  • "Rat-Brained Robot"
    Technology Review Online (12/18/02); Cameron, David

    Researcher Steve Potter has created a robot that is directed by thousands of embryonic rat neurons on a silicon chip. The so-called hybrot is a cylindrical, coffee mug-sized machine programmed to move throughout a playpen in response to neuronal impulses picked up by the chip's electrodes that are amplified and transmitted wirelessly via computer. Using light sensors, the hybrot picks up infrared signals lining the boundary of its enclosure to determine its location, and sends this data back to the neurons as an electrical pulse. Potter is documenting the hybrot's movements with a high-speed camera to detect neural signaling patterns and find proof that the cells are learning as a result of the feedback they receive. He has noted that some neurons change in response to certain stimuli, and maintain these changes for several days. Rolf Pfeifer of the University of Zurich says that Potter's research could be vital to the development of adaptive, self-healing computers. Potter himself thinks his work could also lead to significant advances in clockless or asynchronous chips. Georgia Tech electrical engineering professor Steven DeWeerth is in the preliminary phase of a project to build silicon circuits based on Potter's findings.
    http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/wo_cameron121802.asp

  • "Wireless Visionary: The Future of Wireless Chat"
    ZDNet Australia (12/17/02); Cooper, Charles

    Technology entrepreneur Yossi Vardi says that Internet messaging will become even more significant in the future, as more devices go online and wireless technology improves. Eventually, each device will adapt messaging technology in the way that is suited for the particular device. Game consoles, for example, will have messaging capabilities that suit the specific needs of gamers. Vardi says instant messaging overcomes the distance barrier limiting conversations, and it additionally allows people to monitor the Internet "presence" of other people and even devices. He envisions a future where nearly every household item has an Internet presence that can be checked on remotely, and pet owners will even be able to monitor the status of their dog or cat. Along with the increase in instant messaging technology, Vardi also foresees a convergence with the telecommunications industry. He says instant messaging firms and phone companies will cooperate to allow people to switch from IP-enabled voice conversations to instant messaging, and vice-versa. Users will have the added benefit of knowing if the recipient of the call is available to talk or not, and, for this reason, Vardi says the Domain Name System will become even more pervasive. He says the DNS "enables you to do VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) by letting you know where the user is on the Internet, and then enabling the user to do phone call."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "ICANN to Add Three New Domains"
    Wired News (12/17/02); Glasner, Joanna

    Dot-kids, .web, .sex, and .xxx are among the potential new TLDs that could be chosen by ICANN, Web experts and observers say. Afilias CTO Ram Mohan believes that the domain name market is suffering from "TLD fatigue," and as a result, he says that ICANN is correct in shying away from adding unrestricted domains to an already saturated field. Dot- biz, .info, and the new .us provide enough new juice in the unsponsored-domain field, says Mohan, while in contrast, sponsored domains will be useful to various appropriate parties. Dot-info has slightly more than 1 million registrations, .biz more than 800,000, and .us more than 450,000, reports University of Minnesota associate Professor Bob Connor. University of Ottawa law Professor Michael Geist would like to see ICANN give registries the freedom to launch countless varieties of domains, with the only requirement being that registries meet ICANN-promulgated technical standards; he says the current ICANN process is "picking favorites."
    http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,56879,00.html

  • "The Next Chapter"
    Computerworld (12/16/02) Vol. 36, No. 51, P. 54; Betts, Mitch; Jordan, John; Laube, Sheldon

    On the topic of the future of wireless technology, wireless analyst Amy Francetic believes a large technology company will come to the aid of 802.11, and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young's John Jordan expects a U.S. carrier by 2005 to support both 802.11 and 2.5G or 3G on the same device, offering peer-to-peer connectivity. Howard Blum, a professor of computer science at Pace University, believes 802.11b wireless LAN technology will emerge as the technology of choice for sit-down applications, while 3G cellular services will fill the role of supporting walk-around applications. Public cellular networks will be used to network home appliances, clearing the way for next-generation appliances such as refrigerators that link to Web sites of local stores for information on groceries a family needs, says CenterBeam Chairman Sheldon Laube. While analyst John Jackson foresees users being able to conduct their disaster recovery efforts over PDAs and cell phones, Accenture's David K. Black believes device owners will be able to secure or delete sensitive information remotely when their devices are lost or stolen. PricewaterhouseCoopers analyst Eric M. Berg says that although the screens on today's handsets are too small for Web browsing, Bluetooth-enabled devices could function as a wireless modem for PDAs. In the future, he says organic LED displays that can roll up into the size of a ballpoint pen and then unfold for use will make mobile Web access more convenient.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "The Race to Computerise Biology"
    Economist (12/14/02) Vol. 365, No. 8303, P. 16

    Central to the biotech industry's progress has been the advancement of bioinformatics, in which biology and computing merge through the acquisition, storage, and analysis of biological data. Bioinformatics leverages the power of computer architecture, storage and data management systems, life-science equipment, and knowledge management and collaboration tools to deliver superior efficiency in the discovery and development of new drugs, which relies on mining huge volumes of data. Accelerating this process is critical for companies facing dwindling reserves of drug patents; it also promises to speed up the recognition and termination of failed projects and cut drug discovery costs. Major computer players as well as minor startups are offering bioinformatics products designed to store, manage, and analyze data. Key to the bioinformatics push is the computerization of genetics, which is the result of three converging events: The creation of DNA microarrays and high-throughput screening, the sequencing of the human genome, and a significant increase in computing power, which has in turn driven data storage costs down and simplified data management. The genetics data gathered through bioinformatics comes with its own set of problems, including multiple-format data integration difficulties and increasing inaccuracy, so standards are being worked out by the Interoperable Informatics Infrastructure Consortium to mitigate such problems. Drug companies hope that data mining will help them find candidates for future drugs by sifting through data from a variety of sources, while computer modeling and visualization are employed to deal with the data's complexity. However, Compugen Chairman Martin Gerstel warns that an overreliance on information tools could make researchers lose sight of the critical need for testing hypotheses through clinical trials in order to generate solid proof.
    http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=1476685

  • "2007 or Sooner"
    America's Network (12/01/02) Vol. 106, No. 18, P. 28; Engebretson, Joan; Tanner, John C.; Clark, Robert

    Over a dozen disruptive technologies are expected to hit the telecommunications sector in the next five years. The integration of dense wave division multiplexing (DWDM) and optical Ethernet will facilitate the development of transparent LANs, although Bill Cadogan of St. Paul Venture Partners says widescale deployment will not take place until a suitable network management software is developed. Canesta's low-power virtual keyboard could debut before the end of 2003, while Ascom's Powerline Communications technology promises to deliver broadband services over electricity lines. Wearable wireless devices will offer huge potential, once durability, power source, and textile integration issues are settled; projects are underway to make such devices context-, location-, and user-aware. Nanotechnology,the focus of over 900 startups, promises to dramatically improve displays, power storage, and power transmission. Wi-Fi is progressing on several fronts: The 802.11x standard is designed to overcome cellular data speed limitations, wireless LAN (WLAN) solutions are expanding areas of coverage, and voice over WLAN (VoWLAN) is in high demand, although quality of service and interference safeguards need to be improved; Wi-Fi security could also be shored up with the advent of Wi-Fi protected access (WPA). A so-called scarcity of spectrum is making software-defined radio (SDR), which could allow open interfaces, radio band and air-interface agnostic mobile devices, and scalable and common hardware platforms, highly desirable, while ComVentures partner David Britts predicts that network-based, personalized TV streams will become more popular. Over the next several months, wireless carriers will concentrate on making the most of their 2G networks while migrating to 3G via wireless network optimization, and wireless mesh networks could make ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage a reality by having network radios, terminals included, act as routers.
    Click Here to View Full Article