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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 5, Issue 442: Monday, January 6, 2003

  • "Experts See Vulnerability As Outsiders Code Software"
    New York Times (01/06/03) P. C1; Schwartz, John

    Analysts and others say the growing trend of outsourcing, in which American companies transfer their software coding processes overseas to take advantage of cheaper labor, carries with it the risk of lessening security. Programmers such as Ken O'Neil of Long Island, N.Y., warn that offshore hackers could install "sleeper bugs" or back doors, while factors such as political upheaval, government-encouraged surveillance, terrorists, and organized crime could further endanger security. Their criticism is part of a larger struggle for domestic workers trying to remain employed as outsourcing and the flood of immigrants entering the United States on H1-B visas increases. The U.S. government is also concerned: Howard Schmidt of the president's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board says that ensuring the security of software outsourced to companies both overseas and within the United States is critical, using spies such as Aldrich H. Ames and Robert Hanssen as examples of internal security leaks. The growth of overseas software coding was encouraged by the success of offshore outsourcing to make U.S. networks Y2K-compliant. Companies that supply software outsourcing services claim that they make sure their employees are trustworthy and their code is secure, but firms such as Electronic Data Systems (EDS) acknowledge that the threat of outsourcing-based sabotage is no myth. Paul D. Clark, chief information security and privacy executive for EDS, says that his company follows rigorous security and testing standards, regardless of the locale. "Whether it's India or Indiana, it doesn't make any difference," he insists.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/06/technology/06OUTS.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "DVD Copying Case Stalls"
    IDG News Service (01/03/03); Roberts, Paul

    Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has vacated a temporary stay requested by the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA), which would have kept a Purdue University student from posting DeCSS code on a Web site. The DVD CCA lost a suit against student and Texas resident Matthew Pavlovich in a California court where the group said he violated state trade secret laws. The California Supreme Court ruled that Pavlovich was not under their jurisdiction and that simply posting code to a Web site could not be interpreted as a targeted attack on California businesses, as the DVD CCA and its industry backers asserted. The federal Supreme Court ruling likely means that the court will not accept the DVD CCA's request to review the case, and that there is little chance for the organization to successfully prosecute the more than 50 other defendants who are not residents of California. Still, Cindy Cohn of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which supplied legal help to Pavlovich, says the DVD CCA most likely will continue its prosecutorial efforts in spite of its lack of judicial support. "I think its time for this witch hunt to stop," she declares. Meanwhile, DVD CCA attorney Jeffrey Kessler is disappointed with O'Connor's decision, but said that the stay was the right think to do. He adds that his firm of Weil, Gotshal, & Manges will discuss the next move with the DVD CCA.
    http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,108393,00.asp

    For more information on DeCSS cases, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "Cyberthreats Not to be Dismissed, Warns Clarke"
    Computerworld Online (01/03/03); Verton, Dan

    Chairman of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board Richard Clarke devotes most of his time to raising awareness of the threat of cyberterrorism and the need to prevent it by eliminating security holes in widely deployed software, which he says are increasing thanks to the continual flow of new technologies. "Cyberspace still is underappreciated as a threat, and the solutions aren't as obvious as they are with physical security," he warns. "We have no clue as a country how to protect our cyberspace." Clarke remarks that, in the wake of the devastating Sept. 11 attacks, Al-Qaeda's priorities now focus on bringing down the economic infrastructure of the United States. He adds that a cyberattack on the entire U.S. financial services network is likely to inflict far more damage than a physical attack. Many people believe that terrorist organizations lack the means and the will to launch cyberattacks against the United States, but Clarke insists that the threat is real: He explains that there are nations, crime syndicates, and terrorist groups using or considering using the Internet to further their goals. Clarke says the proliferation of wireless technologies is especially worrying, and cites incidents in Spain and Japan in which hundreds of next-generation cell phones were infected by PC-based worms, which instructed them to dial local 911 emergency systems. "Now, if you're a terrorist, the first thing you might want to do before an attack is take down the 911 system," Clarke observes.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Time to Peer Into the Flat-Screen, Wireless Future"
    NewsFactor Network (01/02/03); Husted, Bill

    NewsFactor writer Bill Husted makes several predictions for technological advancements that should emerge in the next year or so. Rising sales of widescreen monitors and the growing popularity of high-definition television is fostering the availability of affordable flat-panel displays, which will support a trend to integrate the television set and the computer screen. This in turn will support an increase in the availability of bargain-priced big-screen TVs and regular computer monitors in the coming months. Wireless computer networks are already established, but Husted anticipates that wireless communications capabilities will be embedded into more and more household appliances. He also predicts that video calls will become more common with the deployment of inexpensive video cameras linked to the Internet by home computers, while increasing processor speeds will lead to such innovations as 3 GHz chips, 400 GB hard disks, and disks and read/write DVD drives with nearly limitless storage--all of which will become commonplace. Husted writes that, starting in 2003, increasing numbers of users will be forced to pay for online content. Furthermore, as the average consumer spends more time using a cell phone thanks to free long-distance service and unlimited minutes, concerns about associated health risks may be rekindled. Husted also thinks that the price of DVD players will continue to fall, but he cautions that at least half of his predictions will not pan out.
    http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/20357.html

  • "'Gadget Nirvana' at Las Vegas Show"
    Associated Press (01/05/03); Krane, Jim

    The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week will host over 2,000 technology companies that will showcase tools and gadgetry that integrate PC functionality and advanced displays, among other things. The merger of cell phones and handheld computers will be a highlight at CES: For instance, Hitachi and Samsung will unveil picture messaging-enabled PDA phones that can surf the Net or send email via high-speed wireless networks, while the Hitachi tool will be equipped with a keyboard. Another theme of this year's CES is the convergence of home entertainment gadgets and software into media gateways, which analysts say supports a growing "digital lifestyle" that focuses on home-based computing. Wireless smart displays such as Philips' ePronto and ViewSonic's airpanel, which incorporate Microsoft's Mira touch-screen technology, will be a highlight of CES, while Panasonic will introduce a new Secure Digital card that can store up to 1 GB. The show will also be a springboard for a new EPA campaign to promote e-waste recycling, while congressmen and major members of the FCC, the FTC, and the Commerce Department are expected to attend.
    http://www.msnbc.com/news/855218.asp?0si=

  • "Interface Gets the Point"
    Technology Research News (01/08/03); Patch, Kimberly

    Scientists at Pennsylvania State University and Advanced Interface Technologies are developing a computer interface that can recognize the relationship between prosody and gestures in an attempt to make human-computer interaction more natural. Penn State researcher and Advanced Interface Technologies President Rajeev Sharma says the project is a formidable challenge, and notes that "The same gesture...can exhibit different meanings when associated with a different spoken context; at the same time, a number of gesture forms can be used to express the same meaning." He says that computers can recognize isolated gestures with as much as 95 percent accuracy, and adds that the precision of gesture recognition systems was raised from 72 percent to approximately 84 percent when the system took prosody into consideration. It is no mean feat to detect correspondence between visual and audio signals, while speech's phonological information and intonational characteristics increase the difficulty, according to Sharma. He notes that a more natural human-computer interface such as the one his team is working on could be very useful for applications such as video games, crisis management, and surgery. An important step in the system's development was the inclusion of speech pitch and hand velocity into the Hidden Markov Model, which boosted the scientists' understanding of the connection between prosody and gestures. The researchers are currently employing their technique in a geographic information system prototype that incorporates ceiling-attached microphones, cameras that track user gestures, and a large screen display. Sharma says testing how well the system can interact with people is the next step.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Robots Just Their Cup of Tea"
    Providence Journal-Bulletin Online (01/05/03); Stape, Andrea L.

    The second annual First Lego League Rhode Island State Robotics Tournament was notable for the number of pre-teen and teenage female participants. A late 1990s report from the Department of Commerce's Office of Technology Policy found that women received only 25 percent of the computer and information science bachelor degrees awarded annually, while lack of interest among girls and young women led to a significant decline in the number of female graduates with computer-science degrees between 1984 and 1994. However, there is growth in such interest among girls at the local level, as demonstrated by female students' participation in the robotics tournament. In Cranston, R.I., Park View Middle School technology-education teacher Al Hurst applied for a state grant to set up a girls-only robotics program, and he notes that the number of Cranston girls who signed up for the tournament rose from 20 in 2001 to more than 50 in 2002. The competition involves student teams tasked with building a robot out of Lego blocks and pre-programmed to perform a series of moves designed to fulfill a particular mission. "In my mind, this is a tremendous way to get kids to think about ways to solve problems," comments Paul Williams of the Rhode Island Department of Education. "And it removes the mystery of technology from women." This year's tournament featured 35 teams who competed at East Providence High School. The tournament is part of a national competition in which roughly 26,000 students built robots that could perform urban maintenance tasks, and submitted documents explaining how robots could be used to solve a specific urban problem.
    http://www.projo.com/news/content/projo_20030105_robots5.941f1.html

  • "Research Spending Going Up"
    Dayton Daily News (01/03/03); Bohman, Jim

    Research spending will be up this year, according to a joint survey from R&D Magazine and analysis group Battelle. At the University of Dayton (UD), for example, sponsored research monies are set to grow 8 percent from 2002 to total more than $50 million. Overall, corporate spending continues to be the largest portion of research and development dollars in the United States at a projected $194 billion, but federal spending, although smaller, is estimated to total $89 billion, up 10.5 percent. The rise in government research spending is because of homeland security issues, while corporate accounting scandals have put a damper on some commercial research. UD Research Institute director Michael McCabe explains that corporations are under pressure to present realized benefits for all of their investments, since there is little patience for long-term projects. Furthermore, he warns that unplanned events, such as a war in Iraq, could upset many research budgets by draining away funding for non-military research. Still, some firms, such as auto-parts maker Delphi, plan significant research and development expenditures. Delphi is working on sensor-enabled cruise control, driver alerts, and cars that follow magnetic strips on the road by themselves.
    http://www.activedayton.com/ddn/business/daily/0103research.html

  • "Feeling Blue? This Robot Knows It"
    Wired News (01/01/03); Knapp, Louise

    A research team at Vanderbilt University's Department of Mechanical Engineering is developing a robot equipped with sensors that are used to determine people's emotions by picking up physiological cues. The machine is designed to approach a person and offer assistance when it discerns that the person is in distress. The scientists believe the robot will be well-suited to perform as an assistant for military personnel under battlefield conditions, although getting people to accept it will be a major challenge. The robot can record a person's heartbeat with an electrocardiogram, notice fluctuations in perspiration via a skin sensor, measure blood pressure, identify muscular stress in the brow and jaw with an electromyography detector, and read temperature. Algorithms are used to translate these readings into a format that the robot can comprehend, explains Vanderbilt researcher Nilanjan Sarkar. He adds that this data can be processed in real time. Office of Naval Research (ONR) corporate communications officer John Petrik says that his organization, which co-sponsors the Vanderbilt project, thinks military robot aides could become smarter thanks to the researchers' work. However, Carnegie Mellon University's Takeo Kanade cautions that "we are at a very primitive stage of understanding the relation between the internal states--what is observable--and human emotion."
    http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,56921,00.html

  • "Internet Users Find Barriers to Sites at School, Work, Library"
    Philadelphia Inquirer (01/02/03) P. C9; Jesdanun, Anick

    Roadblocks to Internet access are being set up for a variety of reasons: To block junk email, filter out pornographic and other objectionable sites, protect networks and content from hackers or digital pirates, and boost corporate productivity by keeping workers from surfing the Web. But critics argue that such methods impede the flow of information, and give service providers the license to impose their own social values on accessible material. For example, filtering programs designed to limit pornography or other controversial online content could keep users from accessing legitimate sites covering such topics as sex education or gun control. Email filters can likewise mistake noncommercial messages for junk email. Internet Society Chairman Fred Baker observes that the popular practice of masking several computers behind a single Internet address is negatively impacting online games and new services that rely on unique addresses. Meanwhile, academic efforts to restrict file-sharing to forestall copyright infringement can lead to students being cut off from important research content. Nevertheless, content filtering advocates say the technology is a necessary evil. "When you have certain threats, you give up certain rights to protect against those threats," insists Palisade Systems' Stephen Brown.
    http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/business/technology/4855863.htm

  • "IT Engineers Swimming Against Economic Tide"
    Financial Post (01/02/03); Taylor, Robin

    Canadian IT engineering graduates and students have been hit hard by the economic recession, especially when combined with a government-sponsored surge in enrollments through initiatives such as Ontario's Access to Opportunities Program. As a result, graduates are finding it difficult to secure a job while students are competing intensely for limited internships and co-op jobs, which are a graduation requirement at some universities. For example, Dean of the University of Waterloo's Engineering Faculty Dr. Sujeet Chaudhuri notes that over 1,000 out of 4,300 students--many of whom are in the IT and math disciplines--have yet to find co-op jobs. Meanwhile, Olaf Naese of Waterloo's Co-op Education and Career Services office explains that companies often do not come up with jobs until the 11th hour, and there are concerns that students are losing out to short-term, out-of-work tech professionals. Students are clamoring to participate in optional work terms at many engineering faculties. Software Human Resource Council President Paul Swinwood explains that the engineering graduates facing few job opportunities in the current economic atmosphere feel "abandoned and lost." Although he expects a turnaround, he adds that, "[The kids are] not in school and they're not working. It is an absolute disaster."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "What's Up for the Internet in 2003?"
    PCWorld.com (12/31/02); Spring, Tom

    The Internet in 2003 will become faster, cheaper, and more useful for many people as they migrate to broadband and employ wireless technology in their everyday lives. EMarketer says that broadband connections will total 23.3 million U.S. households by the end of 2003, up from 16.8 million currently. ISPs, meanwhile, will increase the price of dial-up accounts in order to compensate for pressures in the telecom sector, and will begin filtering email spam in order to free up network capacity. Hank Nothhaft, CEO of wireless device manufacturer Danger, says the wireless Internet will enable location-based communities where people can rate local pizza parlors like eBay participants, for example. Along with those service innovations, wireless Internet devices will become more sophisticated as well, such as a wristwatch from Fossil that can receive text messages. The Internet will become more of an everyday part of people's lives through wireless access, as Wi-Fi companies such as Cometa and Vivato work on new services and technologies. Cometa plans to have 5,000 hot spots deployed in 50 major U.S. metropolitan areas by the end of 2003, and Vivato is working on broadcast technology that boosts Wi-Fi signals as far as four miles. Cometa's Steve Harris predicts the deployment of services that will allow people to download a song or entire album when they hear it on their car radio, or place drive-through orders with their PDA at fast-food restaurants. Microsoft has plans leveraging the wireless Internet, and says its Smart Personal Object Technology (SPOT) will allow an alarm clock to be synchronized with an atomic clock and online weather feeds, for instance.
    http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,108343,00.asp

  • "Even the Unconnected Have High Expectations for Net, Survey Finds"
    Associated Press (12/29/02)

    A survey of American Internet users and non-users conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds that 64 percent of non-users expect that they can find the information they want online in at least one of the following categories: health care, government, news, and shopping. Sixteen percent of non-user respondents declared that the Internet would be their first choice for finding government or health care information. At least 70 percent of people who have looked for data in each of the four categories say they usually find the information they want; the categories boasting the highest success rate are news and shopping, while government has the lowest success rate. However, just 31 percent of respondents think they could find reliable data on other people through the Net, although 58 percent expect they can correspond with others via email. Pew senior research specialist John Horrigan notes that past research demonstrates that non-users either had Internet access at one point or live in households where someone else can access the Net on their behalf.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/news/editorial/4838254.htm

  • "So Many Holes, So Few Hacks"
    Wired News (12/30/02); Delio, Michelle

    Despite heavy emphasis on the many network security holes reported in 2002, there have been few actual exploits of such flaws. In fact, security experts such as consultant Richard Smith think they and their peers may be spending too much time scanning program code for bugs when they should be "developing broad-reaching security tools that make a real difference." However, SecurityFocus columnist George Smith notes that seeking security holes has become such a deeply embedded routine that anyone who does not do it is considered to be out of touch. He adds that most software enthusiasts are too decent and too busy patching security holes to pursue malicious hacking. Still, network consultant Mike Sweeney explains that uncovering more security holes means more revenue opportunities for security companies, as well as intellectual challenges for software geeks. Experts also note that the security industry, not end users, is the chief target of most security alerts. But they agree that bug-hunting is a better alternative than ignoring possible security problems.
    http://www.wired.com/news/infostructure/0,1377,56955,00.html

  • "Organic Displays Near Critical Mass"
    EE Times (12/31/02); Mokhoff, Nicolas

    The market for organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays is expected to grow quickly and present a viable challenge to rival thin-film transistor (TFT) display technology. OLED displays already on the market are small and limited in function, showing up on handheld game devices, cell phones, and even a new Philips-Norelco electric razor. Several developments promise that the technology will overcome such obstacles as high cost, dodgy performance, and fragility that currently limit its use. Although Toshiba has pushed the boundaries for the largest OLED display with a 17-inch screen costing about $2 million to make, a federally funded program is working to bring down those costs. With money from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Bell Labs, SRI International's Sarnoff, and DuPont are collaborating on cheaper organic TFT manufacturing processes. The three groups are sharing their specialized work in the creation of flat-panel displays and OLED technology, and expect to see commercially available results by 2007. Bell Labs, for example, has already found a way to create printable electrical circuits impervious to folding and immersion. By fabricating circuits on different substrates, then bonding them together, researchers effectively encapsulated the high-performance, flexible connections. Other OLED advances include a cross-licensing partnership between DuPont Displays and Universal Display that focuses on leveraging Universal's work in high-performance phosphorous OLED technology with DuPont's ink jet printing techniques. By 2007, the OLED market will total more than $2 billion, according to various estimates, though it currently comprises just $100 million out of the total $31 billion flat-panel display market.
    http://www.eetimes.com/sys/news/OEG20021231S0017

  • "Eyes in the Back of Your Mouth"
    Wired (12/02) Vol. 10, No. 12, P. 46; Abrams, Michael

    University of Wisconsin professor Paul Bach-y-Rita is experimenting with sensory input devices that can send visual and other kinds of signals to the brain through alternate pathways. The foundation of such a concept is plasticity, the human brain's capability to change its neural network so that it can adapt to new data channels. Bach-y-Rita's latest breakthrough is a camera interface that sends images to a laptop, which in turns transmits them to a Tactile Display Unit that converts them to electrical signals picked up by electrodes on the user's tongue, producing a tingling sensation. The device has proven to be very helpful for blind people, but Bach-y-Rita is modifying his invention for stroke victims and people whose vestibular systems have failed. He is also developing a sensor-filled condom that could allow paralysis victims to feel sexual stimulation via the tongue. Other benefits include sensory enhancement: One project in this vein is the Tactile Situation Awareness System (TSAS) developed by researchers at the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory and the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. The TSAS is incorporated into a flight suit with up to 96 transducers, enabling pilots to gain a better sense of their aircrafts' position and movement through vibrations. Practical sensory input devices such as the ones Bach-y-Rita has created have only become possible in the last few years, since the hardware became sufficiently compact.
    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.12/start.html?pg=9

  • "Micromachines for the Birds; Motes Monitor Shy Wildlife"
    Small Times (12/02) Vol. 2, No. 6, P. 54; Stuart, Candace

    Ecologists off the coast of Maine are using a network of wireless miniaturized sensors to study the breeding habits and needs of a reclusive seabird that migrates from South Africa, Antarctica, and other regions every spring. Researchers at Intel and the University of California, Berkeley, designed, programmed, and engineered the network of smart sensors, also called motes, which ecologists on Great Duck Island say gives them an opportunity to study the reclusive and generally nocturnal Leach's Storm Petrel, helping to ensure their survival. The matchbox-sized motes include infrared heat sensors for detecting the presence of a warm body, as well as sensors for light, barometric pressure, and relative humidity. Placed in or near the underground burrows of the petrels, the motes use radio signals to communicate data with each other and to laptop computers, and they are also designed to post status reports online, filter data, and provide aggregate data. Intel research scientist Alan Mainwaring says, "We are getting first-hand experience with deploying the motes in a real environment. You get an appreciation that you can't design in isolation." The motes need to be smaller and cheaper to broaden their use; researchers view MEMS as a way to make motes cheap and small enough to be attached to a bird for ubiquitous monitoring of a habitat in the next five years.

  • "Speech and the Automobile"
    Speech Technology (12/02) Vol. 7, No. 6, P. 14; McHugh, Patty

    Telematics, the incorporation of voice recognition technology in vehicles, promises to usher in a new era of driver-vehicle interaction. Both businesses and consumers have started to recognize the value of telematics, and this has encouraged the marketing of new speech-enabled applications. DaimlerChrysler automobiles, for example, already are equipped with mobile communications systems that use voice recognition technology. The forthcoming Bluetooth-based UConnect communication system will interoperate with common cell phones and provide hands-free, voice-activated, in-car telephony. Meanwhile, in-vehicle diagnostic systems with interactive voice recognition capability enable cars to alert drivers of malfunctions and automatically call for roadside assistance. The chief reasons consumers are asking for telematics systems in their cars are safety and reliability; however, in response to growing consumer demand, car companies such as Honda are also including voice-activated navigational systems, among other things. Telematics requires integrating software and hardware from myriad sources, an effort that depends on cooperation between telematics service providers, auto manufacturers, and others, as well as the adoption of open standards currently being discussed by organizations such as the Telematics Suppliers Consortium and the Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration. The McKinsey Quarterly report estimates that the U.S. telematics market could be worth $40 billion a year by the end of the decade.

  • "Corporate R&D Set Free"
    Technology Review (01/03) Vol. 105, No. 10, P. 30; Zachary, G. Pascal

    Intel is pioneering a new form of corporate research by collaborating openly with university researchers in "lablets." These facilities are located near major universities--Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, the University of Washington in Seattle, and the University of California at Berkeley--and funded by Intel. Unlike in corporate laboratories, the technology developed at the lablets is freely licensed to interested parties, as in a traditional university setting, but Intel research director David Tennenhouse says the company does not suffer for its open approach. Instead, he says Intel is able to pursue technologies that will benefit the company indirectly but in significant ways, by transforming the way people use computers and the microprocessors powering them. Mahadev Satyanarayanan, director of the Intel lablet at Carnegie Mellon University, is working on "Internet suspend/resume" technology that will allow computer users to save work in progress online then resume their work later, on a different Internet-connected computer. The open nature of the Intel lablets is what attracted Satyanarayanan and the University of Washington's Gaetano Borriello, who says he would not have been interested in working in a traditional corporate setting. Companies that fund university research often place restrictions on information-sharing and demand exclusive licensing agreements. Borriello is developing embedded computing solutions where small computing devices are built into everyday environments in an unobtrusive way.
    http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/innovation71202.asp
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