Association for Computing Machinery
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 439: Friday, December 27, 2002

  • "1.1 Million Jobs Coming for Haggard IT Workforce"
    EarthWeb (12/24/02); Gaudin, Sharon

    Although U.S. firms laid off 500,000 tech workers in 2002, a new study from the Information Technology Association of America predicts that 1.1 million tech workers will be hired back in 2003. After two consecutive years of falling numbers, the size of the IT workforce ended 2002 at 9.9 million, down from 10.4 million at the end of 2001. ITAA also says that IT firms laid off more tech employees than non-IT firms, while IT workers were more likely to lose their jobs in 2002 than non-IT workers; job losses were equally distributed across all U.S. regions. Technical support staff are usually the last to be fired and the first to be hired, while programmers are the most widely held tech position, according to ITAA's study, "Bouncing Back: Jobs, Skills and the Continuing Demand for IT Workers."
    http://itmanagement.earthweb.com/itmgmtstaff/article.php/1561211

  • "EU Copyright Law Misses Deadline"
    Reuters (12/23/02)

    Despite aggressive lobbying, the Dec. 22 deadline for the adoption of the European Union's Copyright Directive has come and gone, with only two member states, Greece and Denmark, instituting it. The directive, which the EU approved in April, sets up rules designed to guard intellectual property--movies, music, and software--from digital piracy, but copyright holders say this latest development is a considerable setback. It demonstrates that politicians are unconvinced that safeguards such as rights management tools are needed or workable, while ISPs and other private-sector operators have vehemently opposed laws that could threaten consumers' rights. The Business Software Alliance (BSA) reckons that unauthorized copying of software adds up to a yearly loss of $3.09 billion for the European software industry, while the growth of file-swapping services such as Kazaa and Grokster has been a source of distress for the music and film industries. BSA European policy director Francisco Mingorance says an EU-wide law may not be enacted for months. Meanwhile, the U.K. Patent Office posted a statement online in which it announced its intention to implement the EU law by March 31, 2003, once it has heard assorted viewpoints about the measure.
    http://www.msnbc.com/news/851265.asp?0si=-

  • "India Is Regaining Contracts With U.S."
    New York Times (12/25/02) P. W1; Rai, Saritha

    Indian companies and the India-based units of overseas firms are taking more outsourcing contracts after a lull following the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. In Bangalore and other high-tech nodes in India, companies such as Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and Infosys are building up their ranks. Indian firms provide manpower for staple back-office functions, software development, and call center operations, but are also moving up the value-chain by taking on more core business components. Wipro vice chairman Vivek Paul says his company started out doing simple application development for U.S. firm Home Depot, but has since moved on to maintain the computer software that runs operations in Home Depot stores. Outsourcing now comprises 3 percent of the Indian gross national product, and is expected to make up 7 percent by 2008, at which time the National Association of Software and Services Companies, the Indian IT trade group, says back-office services will contribute $21 billion to the national economy, up from previous projections of $17 billion. This rising tide of overseas work has angered some U.S. interests, especially at a time when the national IT industry is ailing. New Jersey state senator Shirley K. Turner is supporting a state law that will require companies that take state contracts to employ U.S. citizens, legal aliens, or otherwise prove that overseas workers are necessary for the job. Still, Gartner warns that India needs to keep atop quality control concerns and continue to build infrastructure, lest it lose out to global competitors such as China.
    Click Here to View Full Article
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  • "The Year Ahead: Top Ten Technologies to Watch"
    ZDNet UK (12/25/02); Goodwins, Rupert

    The year 2003 will see continued improvement in wireless networking, location-based mobile services, radio-frequency ID (RFID) chips, displays, and other technologies. More devices will come equipped with Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and new 802.11 Wi-Fi standards will speed up wireless Internet access. Zigbee is a new short-range wireless technology that might encroach on Bluetooth's new turf, though Bluetooth is also being threatened by standards fragmentation, since companies such as Microsoft are releasing Bluetooth products that do not interoperate with those from other firms. Hardware innovations may include a holographic storage breakthrough from IBM and other companies, which have been seeking terabyte storage in tiny spaces for some time. Next year will also mark the first time LCD displays outsell cathode-ray tube monitors, putting pressure on emerging display technologies such as plasma and light-emitting polymers. Millions of RFID chips will allow manufacturers and retailers to track inventory and more efficiently manipulate the supply chain; Gillette has already ordered half a billion RFID chips to place on its razors. Philips and Sony are expected to improve robots that interact with humans--Sony's human-like SDR-4X has stereoscopic vision and can recognize faces and up to 60,000 words. Telematics will likely improve capabilities, though standards competition hampers commercial adoption. Once upgrading in-car systems becomes as easy as upgrading a PC, telematics will become much more appealing, and possibly spawn systems that automatically synchronize MP3 playlists via Wi-Fi once they park in the garage.
    http://news.zdnet.co.uk/story/0,,t269-s2127608,00.html

  • "Critics Fear Broadcast Flag Would Stomp on Consumer Rights"
    Associated Press (12/22/02)

    Inserting broadcast flags into television transmissions in order to limit or prevent unauthorized distribution of programs will violate consumers' rights and stifle high-tech innovation, critics charge. The flag, which devices would pick up to render a broadcast viewable, would also contain rules that determine whether the program can be copied or played on other machines; however, flag recognition requires interoperability between devices that receive digital signals, and critics say a government mandate to make such compatibility standard will be detrimental to technological advances, given that the government is notoriously slow and non-adaptive. Advocates say the flag would only limit redistribution to "personal networks," but critics argue that it is nothing more than a tool broadcasters will use to curtail consumers' fair-use rights. The idea that such a measure will stop piracy is also absurd, since all pirates will have to do is switch digital signals to analog. In early 2002, the FCC announced that it may institute regulations after high-tech and entertainment industry representatives reached an accord about the broadcast flag.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Ex-Hacker Will Soon Be Allowed to Use the Internet Again"
    Philadelphia Inquirer (12/27/02) P. A5; Ho, David

    Famed and convicted hacker Kevin Mitnick will be released Jan. 20 from probation, which bars him from using computers, software, modems, or any other devices connecting to the Internet without prior permission. He has been granted permission to use a cell phone, ham radio, and a computer for word processing. In a recent statement, Mitnick said not being able to access the Internet is similar to not being allowed to use a telephone. Mitnick served five years in prison for breaking into the corporate networks of Nokia, Sun Microsystems, the University of California, Novell, and Motorola, and altering data found there. Now 39, he finished writing a book, published in October, and now intends to set up a computer security firm. Mitnick was chased by the FBI for three years before he was caught, and was at one time deemed by government officials to be "the most wanted computer criminal in U.S. history."
    http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/nation/4819775.htm

  • "'No-Touch' Typing for Disabled"
    Wired News (12/25/02); Rebelo, Paulo

    Programmers at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil have produced a free adaptable software program that disabled people use to operate computers and home automation systems. Once downloaded onto a user's computer, the Motrix program allows people to read, write, launch applications, and navigate menus. Motrix can also be integrated with home automation systems so that disabled users can turn on and off appliances such as the TV or air conditioner, for example. Typing is achieved letter-by-letter, with people using the "alpha," "tango," and "bravo" type of characters in the International Phonetic Alphabet, which is easier to distinguish in noisy environments. The system was especially developed for the 200,000 quadriplegics in Brazil, who often cannot afford expensive imported programs. It uses free voice-recognition software and only requires a 133 MHz Pentium processor and the Windows operating system. Motrix is an enhanced version of Dosvox, which in turn was based on a text-editing program developed by a blind computer science student, Marcelo Pimentel Pinheiro. Programmers at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro's Electronic Computation Nucleus have been working on adaptable software since 1994.
    http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,55539,00.html

  • "Eyeing the Costs of the Tech Boom"
    Christian Science Monitor (12/23/02) P. 13; Belsie, Laurent

    Every technological revolution has a downside: For the information technology and networking boom, that downside includes information overload and intense competition that threatens to inundate unskilled workers and consumers. Other negative developments include an erosion of privacy, the emergence of Web-based crime, and "a culture of distraction." "In this new revolution...The struggle could be over security and anomie--disgruntlement of people shut out of the system," observes Santa Fe Institute economist W. Brian Arthur. Spam--unsolicited commercial email that can slow down worker productivity--is a particularly sore point: One estimate claims that spam cost businesses $500 per employee in 2001. Luckily, more than half of the states in America have instituted spam restrictions, while computer users are getting familiar with spam filters. Rob Atkinson of the Progressive Policy Institute says that worries about a tech-driven invasion of privacy in order to make the country secure could be allayed if Congress adopts centrist privacy legislation and people and businesses use new automated privacy tools. Meanwhile, Data Smog author David Shenk warns that the pace of technological development threatens to oversaturate people with information and create a cultural divide between well-off, well-educated people who can develop the skills needed to deal with this overload, and those who cannot because of a lack of resources and savvy. The results of such a divide include workers who may not advance and consumers who purchase unnecessary items; Brad DeLong of the University of California at Berkeley adds that American information workers who lack skills and experience could find their jobs threatened by overseas workers.
    http://www.csmonitor.com/search_content/1223/p13s01-wmgn.html

  • "The Code That Cuts Both Ways"
    NewsFactor Network (12/23/02); Brockmeier, Joe

    There is widespread agreement that publicly disclosing computer security flaws is necessary, but experts disagree on how much information should be disclosed, and how soon after bugs are discovered should the public be notified. Computer vendors such as Microsoft want experts to be cautious, because announcing flaws prematurely could encourage hackers to exploit them before patches can be released. "White hat" hackers who find security flaws for the sake of fixing them before malicious hackers can take advantage face a dilemma: Keeping silent about a security hole means that networks will remain open to criminal hackers who discover the hole independently, while publicly disclosing them risks alerting bad hackers of their existence, a problem made all the worse by the fact that some vendors are notoriously slow when it comes to repairing flaws. White hats also run the risk of running afoul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act if they post bugs. Original Berkeley Unix programmer Bob Toxen notes that vendors are averse to bug disclosures because they either want to have a low "vulnerability count," they do not wish to bother customers with patches, or they do not want to spend money fixing the problem. Hackers believe that the threat of publicizing a security hole may be the only way to make companies notice the problem and take steps to remedy it. Toxen suggests that experts should allow vendors some time to address the vulnerability before making it public, while Counterpane Internet Security CTO Bruce Schneier warns that distributing exploits is irresponsible. However, AMR Research analyst Cate Quirk says that vendors are becoming more responsible.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/20319.html

  • "Erasing the Blind Spot: A Driver's Aid Averts Traffic Jams"
    New York Times (12/26/02) P. E5; Dizikes, Peter

    Technology firms and automakers are looking into driver-assistance systems that can make the roads safer and less congested. Different types of monitoring devices would help drivers respond faster to traffic conditions so that isolated incidents do not ripple to slow down the entire freeway. In Germany, Dresden University of Technology physicist Dirk Helbing and his colleagues have studied such "phantom" traffic jams and found that equipping just 10 percent to 20 percent of all cars with driver-assistance systems would dramatically reduce the frequency of such back-ups. One of the most practical and popular applications would be a radar that would track the speed and distance away from the vehicle ahead. Drivers would be alerted to dangerous situations through audio signals, dashboard displays, or possibly vibrations on the steering wheel. Other sensors would be able to track vehicles moving into the driver's "blind spot" so they would not be caught unaware when changing lanes, while other proposed mechanisms would correct lane-drift. Manufacturer TRW Automotive is working on a system linked to cruise control that keeps the car at the same speed as the vehicle in front. All these systems face obstacles, including government regulators, and developers maintain that they are not substitutes for good driving behaviors, such as checking to see if the way is clear before switching lanes.
    Click Here to View Full Article
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  • "Piracy Foes' Big Legal Stick Cut Shorter by Prudent Jury"
    Baltimore Sun (12/26/02) P. 9C; Himowitz, Mike

    The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) received a serious set-back recently as a jury in San Jose acquitted a defendant prosecuted under that law. Elcomsoft was standing trial for selling an e-book copying program over the Internet which circumvented Adobe Systems copy-protection technology. The plaintiff, Adobe Systems, argued that Elcomsoft's product violated the DMCA because it broke anti-copying mechanisms, but the jury agreed with Elcomsoft that the product had legitimate uses and acquitted it of five criminal counts. With Elcomsoft's product, E-book owners could, for example, make a copy of their e-book to read on another device. The case illustrated the dichotomy of current U.S. copyright law, where established fair-use provisions are being made useless for new digital formats. Instead of limiting fair-use laws outright, lawyers for the entertainment industry have attacked the technology that facilitates both legal and illegal copying. While the music industry has already suffered irreparable loss due to the fact its goods are being swapped wholesale on the Internet via nebulous peer-to-peer systems, the digital forms of movies are not yet in wide circulation because of their size. Still, the movie industry is waiting for even more strict controls to be sanctioned by the government before going ahead with digital broadcasts of its content.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Sharing the Riches"
    Boston Globe (12/20/02) P. D1; Gaither, Chris

    Lotus founder Mitch Kapor is funding the nonprofit Open Source Applications Foundation (OSAF) that focuses on bringing open-source software to PC users in order to make information exchange more intuitive. OSAF's centerpiece is Chandler, a program that will be distributed for free download and will run on Windows, Apple, and Linux computers. Kapor wants the software to be an alternative to Microsoft Outlook groupware, and is pouring $5 million out of his own pocket into the Chandler effort. "I think it's wrong to characterize things that he's doing in competitive terms," explains software developer and VisiCalc creator Dan Bricklin. "Mitch and a lot of these developers are not competitive people, as much as they are creative people who want to build something different that people will use." Kapor's funding to the OSAF far exceeds that of other free software nonprofits, such as the Free Software Foundation. His $5 million is expected to last for about two years, after which the OSAF will hopefully be able to support itself through contributions and licensing fees to companies who use Chandler commercially. Rather than concentrating on stealing market share away from Microsoft, Kapor will focus on how well Chandler will attract users, lead to the creation of successful companies, and spur Microsoft to improve Outlook. The software is not expected to be released for at least another year.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Top Ten Trends 2003"
    Red Herring (12/16/02); Pfeiffer, Eric W.; Herrera, Stephan; Malik, Om

    Red Herring's sixth annual top 10 trends list concentrates on emerging technologies likely to make a significant impact in 2003; they are expected to balance out some of the more negative trends, and owe a great deal of their development to the Sept. 11 attacks. Of particular interest are microprocessors with built-in security, virtualization, and nanotechnology. Security features will move from software to hardware: This will boost encryption speeds and make tampering more obvious; Intel, SafeNet, Hifn, and NetScreen are among those working on an array of upcoming chip-based products that incorporate firewall functionality, virtual private networks, and other things, which will translate into more secure networks and devices. The integration of corporate IT infrastructure into a seamless entity via virtualization technologies is expected to be completed and highly sought by CIOs worldwide next year. Driving this trend are the underutilization of computing resources and tight IT budgets, and virtualization obviates the need for new equipment purchases and lowers the cost of IT equipment management. However, the development of virtualization technology is mainly reserved for major players--IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Cisco--with vast financial resources. Nanotechnology--the science of manufacturing nanoscale materials with unique properties--has become the target of negative press from scientists, Luddites, and others worried that the technology could threaten the environment and people's health. This backlash is likely to muffle the commercial development of nanotech while organizations such as the EPA investigate its environmental impact, and the nanotech industry hammers out the rules of ethical nanotech research and development.
    http://www.redherring.com/insider/2002/12/10trends-intro121602.html

  • "Computer Clocks Wind Down"
    Computerworld (12/23/02) Vol. 36, No. 52, P. 29; Anthes, Gary H.

    The reliability of the synchronous circuits or "clocks" common in most computers is more difficult to maintain as chips increase in size and complexity, and their heat output and power consumption rise with each new chip generation. To find a solution, manufacturers are testing clockless processors, some of which are totally asynchronous while others integrate local synchronous elements with asynchronous networks. Asynchronous circuits have faster performance levels than circuits with clocks, while their lower heat output and power consumption make them a good component for mobile devices. The forthcoming UltraSPARC IIIi processor from Sun Microsystems features asynchronous circuits that transfer data between memory modules and memory controllers; Sun senior staff engineer Jo Ebergen explains that the benefits of this architecture include greater reliability, simple design, potentially faster speed, and ease of modification. Meanwhile, Self-Timed Solutions has developed prototype "self-timed interconnects" that company co-founder Steve Furber calls asynchronous "network fabrics" where processors, memory blocks, or other synchronous or clockless "clients" that run at different frequencies can easily be plugged in. However, the design infrastructure and expertise of asynchronous devices are nowhere near those of synchronous devices. Chris Myers of the University of Utah says that there will be a gradual industry shift toward microprocessor designs that are "globally asynchronous, locally synchronous," in which synchronous circuits with different clock speeds interact via an asynchronous "fabric."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Why You Might Soon Feel More Secure about Insecure Software"
    Darwin (12/02); Berinato, Scott

    The software industry is notorious for releasing products with inadequate security, and consumers have accepted this as the status quo. Software security was lax because there was initially no call for it, but the growth of networking and computer penetration made hacking easier and spurred a frenzy of competition to release software with more features and functionality. The increase of features itself led to a security problem--email attachments can be used to spread viruses, for instance. The adoption of costly security applications, which do little more than guard insecure code, was not the best solution, and it reinforced the feature/deadline culture of software developers. However, software consumers have started to balk in recent years and call for vendors to design products with an eye for security. Factors fueling this trend include the rise of computer attacks, the economic slowdown, and the national security push. Furthermore, studies show that building security into software can have solid returns for both vendors and users. Whereas development was a vendor-driven process in the past, consumers are now holding vendors accountable and clamoring for security improvements.
    http://www.darwinmag.com/read/120102/software.html

  • "God Is the Machine"
    Wired (12/02) Vol. 10, No. 12, P. 180; Kelly, Kevin

    Digital physicists argue that the universe could well be the ultimate computer, and that all existence is, in essence, a function of computation. Adding weight to such suppositions are the theories that all things--equations, multimedia works, even emotions--can be reduced to computation; all materials--be they DNA molecules, human brains, or quantum particles, are capable of computation; and all computation is universal--in other words, any computer can carry out the same computations, regardless of its configuration. The groundwork for the universe-as-computer theory was laid out by researchers Ed Fredkin and Konrad Zuse, who concluded independently that the driving force behind the universe is a grid of cellular automata (CA). Later physicists such as Stephen Wolfram used the CA model to research real-world phenomena. Wolfram was so taken with this view and the universal computation theory that he declared in "A New Kind of Science" that "All processes, whether they are produced by human effort or occur spontaneously in nature, can be viewed as computation." He further expanded this theory to include all outputs of universal computation. Entire galaxies and recursive worlds could be simulated with a universal computer, but there are differing opinions about how the computer functions. Fredkin postulates that there is another, extra-universal program that serves at the universal computer's platform, while Oxford theoretical physicist David Deutsch argues that nothing exists outside the computer. Many digital physicists believe that the universal computer will eventually be replaced by man-made machines: In June 2002, MIT professor Seth Lloyd calculated that all available energy in the universe could be used for computation in 600 years, a conclusion that supports computer expansion beyond theoretical limits.
    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.12/holytech.html