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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 5, Issue 443: Wednesday, January 8, 2003
- "Boucher Introduces Fair Use Rights Bill"
InternetNews.com (01/08/03); Mark, Roy
The Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act presented to Congress on Tuesday by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) aims to revise the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) so that consumers can exercise their fair use rights when it comes to copying digital content. The DMCA currently outlaws the copying of such content for any purpose, and bans the manufacture, distribution, and sale of any technology that can bypass digital copying safeguards. "We need to have a true balance in the law that respects the rights of copyright owners but also respects the rights of users," Boucher declared. Under the bill, which is identical to legislation Boucher introduced last November, the DMCA's prohibition on circumvention would only apply to clear cases of copyright infringement, while the manufacture and distribution of technology that demonstrates considerable non-infringing use would be allowed. Boucher counts the Association for Computing Machinery, Intel, Verizon, Sun Microsystems, Gateway, the Consumer Electronics Association, and other tech community members and organizations as supporters of his legislation. Manufacturers are backing the bill because they believe the DMCA's broad ban on encryption circumvention technology discourages them from introducing new products. Another provision of the bill urges the FTC to enact a rule in which copy-protected CDs are clearly labeled as such. Although Boucher predicts that his bill will pass, he notes that it took six years to pass DMCA. The bill now goes to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
For more information regarding ACM's activities in response to DMCA, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "A Pared-Back Security Initiative"
Washington Post (01/07/03) P. E3; Bridis, Ted
A revised internal draft of President Bush's National Plan to Secure Cyberspace cuts the number of security proposals from 86 to 49 and broadens the authority of the Homeland Security Department. The latest version removes a recommendation for the White House to work out policies that balance citizens' privacy and civil liberties rights with Internet security by regularly consulting with privacy proponents and other specialists. Instead, it states that "care must be taken to respect privacy interests and civil liberties" and recommends that the Homeland Security Department include a privacy officer who would make sure that Internet monitoring takes such issues into account. James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology says he is mystified by the latest draft, and notes that the administration is willfully raising privacy issues even though it has constantly been taken to task over them. Also cut from the plan are several voluntary proposals for private-sector cybersecurity improvement in favor of suggestions to federal agencies, such as a broad risk assessment study. One proposal in the new version suggests that the Homeland Security Department should be used to launch test attacks against civilian agencies and to enhance the protection of automated systems controlling vital infrastructure services such as the electrical grid. The new draft clarifies that the Defense Department has the authority to engage in "cyber warfare" in response to an attack on the United States. Meanwhile, the FBI and CIA would be given the job of disrupting other nations' computing strategies to gather intelligence about U.S. government agencies, companies, and universities. The president is expected to sign the National Plan to Secure Cyberspace in several weeks.
- "IT Gender Gap Widening"
Datamation (01/06/03); Robb, Drew
Women have been making gradual gains in most professions that were traditionally male-dominated, but information technology appears to be an exception--for instance, the number of computer science degrees awarded to women declined from 35.8 percent to 28.4 percent between 1984 and 1996. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) report "Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls in the New Computer Age" concludes that many girls believe a popular misconception that IT workers lead "solitary, antisocial" lives. Girls' interest in technology should be nurtured in the classroom, according to Pamela Haag of the AAUW's Educational Foundation Commission on Technology, Gender, and Teacher Education. There are a number of initiatives designed to foster more female professionals in IT as well as other sciences, including a joint program between NASA and the Labor Department's Women's Bureau to host conferences and events that promote technology professions; a pair of TV public service announcements directed at girls and minorities produced by Women in Film, with additional funding provided by the Commerce Department and the National Association of Manufacturers; and the Women in NASA Web site, which profiles hundreds of female employees in order to show visitors that women with technology backgrounds are not isolated or antisocial. Mentoring also plays an important role in encouraging girls to pursue IT careers. Online projects such as MentorNet and the Rochester Institute of Technology's EDGE are specifically geared toward girls and young women. In addition, women who already work in the IT field can get support though organizations such as the Association for Computing Machinery's Committee on Women in Computing (http://www.acm.org/women/).
- "Congress to Take on Spam, Copyright"
CNet (01/08/03); McCullagh, Declan
The 108th Congress is liable to pass at least some of last year's major technology-related legislation, including bills that would enforce copyrights and create uniform spam regulation. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) is back with his Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act that would allow people to bypass copyright protection technology when copying digital media for personal and non-infringing use. Copyright owners, including the Business Software Alliance, oppose any new rules that would lessen the effect of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which has been the software and entertainment industries' main weapon against piracy. On the other hand, Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) may decide to come back with his Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, which mandates consumer electronics and computers be fitted with copyright-protection hardware. Key senators who opposed that bill are either now retired or no longer leading critical committees. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who will lead the Senate Commerce Committee, says he is reluctant to impose government mandates on the marketplace in order to protect copyrights. Other Congress-watchers say the next legislative session will see more interest in citizens' privacy, especially in light of the developing Total Information Awareness project. Another major legislative change may be precipitated by the entry of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) into the spam email fray, as that group remained mostly quiet in the previous congressional session. The DMA now says it is ready to back federal anti-spam law that would prohibit spammers from forging email headers and require them to provide working opt-out functions.
- "Defendant Acquitted in DVD Hacking Case"
IDG News Service (01/07/03); Law, Gillian
The trial of John Lech Johansen, the Norwegian teenager accused of copyright infringement for inventing and distributing the DeCSS DVD decryption program, ended in a verdict of not guilty in Oslo City Court. Attorney Halvor Manshaus says the court ruled that Johansen had the right to use his program in order to access information on a DVD he had bought for personal use, and deemed that DeCSS could be used for both lawful and unlawful purposes. Kirkland & Ellis attorney Marc Zwillinger says the decision sends a clear message to the Motion Picture Association of America that its influence is limited overseas. Julian Midgley of the U.K. Campaign for Digital Rights calls this development "extremely encouraging," but warns that attempts to use or distribute DeCSS in the United States or Great Britain could be prosecutable. Zwillinger notes that the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act outlaws the circumvention of access control safeguards and the distribution of circumvention technology. He cites as an example the lawsuit brought against 2600 Magazine by eight movie studios for publishing and linking to Johansen's code. Zwillinger adds that Johansen's acquittal could encourage people who wish to bypass digital copyright prevention or disseminate circumvention code to use Norway or other countries with liberal laws as a base of operations. This could increase the vulnerability of technology in these nations, he explains.
For more information and background cases regarding DeCSS, visit
- "Broader U.S. Spy Initiative Debated"
Baltimore Sun (01/05/03) P. 1A; Baer, Susan
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Total Information Awareness (TIA) project will supposedly uncover potential terrorists by mining the "transaction space"--huge databases of personal information--according to Information Awareness Office head John M. Poindexter. However, civil libertarians and privacy advocates are fervently criticizing the initiative as nothing more than an attempt to impose surveillance on all U.S. citizens. The ACLU's Jay Stanley calls TIA "the mother of all privacy invasions" that would paint a picture of the average citizen's activities so thoroughly as to be tantamount to constant video surveillance. Even conservatives such as Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) and departing House Republican leader Dick Armey (R-N.D.) are consulting with the ACLU in response to TIA concerns. Undersecretary of defense for acquisitions, technology, and logistics Edward C. Aldridge Jr. declared at a late 2002 Pentagon press conference that once testing of TIA technology is complete, its usage would be subject to the same legal provisions that shield the privacy of citizens, and added that it would be the duty of the Homeland Security Department to determine whether deploying the technology requires new laws. Both Democrats and Republicans are calling for deep scrutiny of the TIA program after the next congressional session begins--Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) wants Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to review the program, citing concerns that it violates privacy rights and the Constitution. Meanwhile, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) says he is perplexed that Defense Department resources are being spent on research for what he terms "domestic law enforcement." Technology policy specialists insist that terrorist acts such as the Sept. 11 tragedy could have been prevented by connecting and comparing databases, which is what the TIA aims to do.
- "System Permits Long-Distance Manipulation of Image Files"
EE Times (01/06/03); Johnson, R. Colin
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are developing a system dubbed "Be There Now" that supports the online manipulation of image files from remote locations, which can save hours of download time and protect sensitive files. Sandia team leader Lyndon Pierson says the technology will be an excellent collaborative tool for doctors, military officers, engineers, and oil exploration teams. Collaborators can view and manipulate files even when they exist at a remote location thanks to "Be There Now's" digitization of the video stream between the remote server and the user. Pierson explains that "The interactivity we make available was inspired by advances in 3D videogames--our hardware looks electronically just like a monitor to the graphics card." The Sandia technique crams a 2.5 Gbps video data stream into a network connection that runs at less than 0.5 Gbps. Image interactivity is maintained while loss of fidelity in image data is kept to a minimum with a patented compression method. To support "Be There Now," users must add a streaming video compressor and a decompressor outfitted with large on-board static RAM buffers. Real-time data management is conducted on the board by a quartet of reprogrammable custom chips, using a Linux-enabled program. Pierson notes that the lag time between user actions and results is usually less than 0.1 second, regardless of the file server's distance.
- "Tech Doctorates Decline 7 Percent"
CNet (01/06/03); Frauenheim, Ed
The number of science and engineering doctorate degrees awarded in the United States slipped 7 percent between 1998 and 2001, according to a National Science Foundation (NSF) survey conducted by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center; for the first time in nine years, the total number of Ph.D.s awarded dropped below 41,000. Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger finds these figures troubling, and warns that a lack of sufficient Ph.D.s could lead to a shortage of high-tech professionals and threaten the long-term competitiveness of the United States. Gelsinger says that China, India, Russia, and other countries are producing greater numbers of graduating Ph.D.s, while at the same time the U.S. government is tightening its research and development budget. Furthermore, he claims that U.S. graduate programs in science and engineering are being misrepresented by visa laws that lure foreign students to the United States to pursue masters degrees and Ph.D.s. However, University of California at Davis computer science professor Norman Matloff does not agree with technology industry leaders that the U.S. educational system is to blame for the drop-off in tech workers: He writes, for example, that the low salaries allotted to Ph.D.s discourages American students. On the plus side, the NSF survey finds that enrollments in science and engineering graduate programs increased in 1999 and 2000, and there were more doctorates awarded to female and African-American graduates between 1998 and 2001.
- "Hubs Increase Net Risk"
Technology Research News (01/08/03); Patch, Kimberly
Ohio State University researchers have completed a study showing how the Internet's infrastructure is becoming more vulnerable to physical disaster than in its early days. Whereas the Internet was previously built in a mesh-type network, competitive market pressures have forced many carriers to build their networks in a cheaper hub-and-spoke design. Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York City are all major Internet hubs in the United States, notes Ohio State researcher Tony Grubesic. He says, "Where Internet survivability is concerned, this type of network topology is not a particularly effective one." The study looked at the network survivability of 41 service providers and found that AT&T, GTE, and Multacom were the most vulnerable to the loss of physical infrastructure because they route so much of their traffic through central nodes. The report said any one of those providers' networks would be crippled by the loss of just one hub in the same way airlines suffer when inclement weather affects just one hub airport. After entering data into a geographic information system, the researchers began simulations to measure the effects of possible node outages. Given a scenario in which the central hub in Atlanta was disabled, as in Multacom's case, the simulation predicts that connections to Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and Tampa would be lost, along with 10 other cities that each depended on those secondary hubs. In contrast, the Ohio State team found 11 providers with mesh-like networks that would be able to withstand the loss of any one major hub.
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- "Apple Needs Clear Path to Future"
SiliconValley.com (01/06/03); Gillmor, Dan
Apple Computer could maintain its competitiveness by switching from Motorola PowerPC chips, which form the basic architecture of Mac computers, to Intel-compatible microprocessors that are central to Windows machines, writes Dan Gillmor. He notes that there is a growing performance gap between the PowerPC and Intel-based chips, partly because of the intense rivalry between the two chip manufacturers. Gillmor also observes that "when it comes to snappiness and responsiveness, the Mac is notably slower unless you pay through the nose for the absolute top-of-the-line model." Furthermore, Intel-based PCs cost a lot less than Macs. Gillmor writes that making the transition from PowerPC to Intel architecture is a relatively simple matter; the real challenge lies in convincing and helping independent software developers to follow suit. The switch also carries the risk of rekindling the Mac clone market, which Apple would like to avoid. Gillmor thinks the best strategy would be for Apple to start marketing Mac OS X server computers that run on the Intel architecture. Following this proof of concept would be a move into the PC sector, once software developers have implemented support for the platform.
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- "Data Stored in Multiplying Bacteria"
New Scientist Online (01/08/03); McDowell, Natasha
American researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have successfully stored information within bacteria as artificial DNA in an effort to create a new type of memory that could survive a nuclear catastrophe or other disaster. The researchers encoded the lyrics to the song "It's a Small World" into synthetic DNA strands, which were then embedded into bacteria such as Deinococcus radiourans and E.coli. The former has a strong tolerance to high temperatures, ultraviolet light, desiccation, and ionizing radiation doses 1,000 times higher than would be fatal to people. The scientists created special DNA "sentinels" attached to the beginning and end of each message that prevent the bacteria from mistaking the message for a virus. The sentinel is so reliable that the exact message is preserved even after 100 bacterial generations, notes information technologist Pak Chung Wong. Imperial College bacteriologist Huw Williams says that mutations could give rise to better-adapted bacteria over time. Wong says, "Bacteria may be an inexpensive and stable long-term means of data storage."
- "Phone Calling Over Internet Is Attracting More Interest"
New York Times (01/06/03) P. C1; Romero, Simon
Telephony via the Internet promises to save money, but it is mainly restricted to niche markets; however, there are signs that it has begun to branch out, and widescale adoption will lead to dramatic revisions in the telecommunications sector. Analysts and executives predict a gradual switch from traditional telecommunications to Web calling reminiscent of consumers' transition from black-and-white to color televisions. Japanese firms are leading the transition to Internet calling among business users: A recent poll conducted by the Mitsubishi Research Institute finds that over 40 percent of Japanese companies intend to implement Internet telephony over the next several years. Some analysts believe that business customers will be the chief drivers of Internet telephony, but only if broadband Internet services continue to grow; CIMI President Tom Nolle estimates that broadband penetration must rise from 10 percent to approximately 20 percent for this to happen. ITXC CEO Tom Evslin says his company expects almost all telephone calls to be Web-based by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, major telecom executives such as Verizon's Eric Rabe are expecting a slower transition to Internet calling, given the reliability of the current telephone system. Another factor that could keep adoption at a slow pace is carriers' unwillingness to phase out systems and equipment that they spent billions of dollars to set up. The growing penetration of Wi-Fi and cable TV companies' expansion into Internet calling could put even more pressure on traditional phone companies.
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- "Nanotech Scientists Build Super-Small Circuit"
NewsFactor Network (01/06/03); Martin, Mike
Canadian researchers have created an electronic circuit activated by just one electron. University of Toronto chemist Al-Amin Dhirani says the nanoscale circuit is formed by a sharp metal tip that holds the source of the electric charge. Just one nanometer away, a super-small lever made of gold nanoparticles is drawn toward the metal tip when a single electron creates an electric field there, thus closing the circuit. The nanoscale size of the electrodes means just one electron can be transferred at a time. Andy Sachrajda of the Canadian National Research Council says the experiment is significant in that the team was able to detect the force of a single electron at room temperature. In the same way scientists rely on indirect evidence to study distant planets, such as the subtle gravitational pull they exert on nearby stars, registering a single electron means reading changes in electric currents. Sachrajda says any new technique for observing such small electronic forces could lead to new areas of research and application. Dhirani credits the success in monitoring electrical activity on such a small scale to his team's hybrid microscope, which combines the functionality of both a scanning tunneling microscope (STM) and an atomic force microscope (AFM).
- "Software Designers With Vision Map Hard Drives--and Beyond"
Boston Globe (01/06/03) P. C3; Bray, Hiawatha
Yale University computer scientist David Gelernter observes that computing revolutions took off with the advent of technologies that can map out data sets visually, such as the spreadsheet and Apple Macintosh's point-and-click graphical user interface. Such innovations tap into human beings' ability to understand concepts better when they are presented as images. One way for users to find a specific piece of data in a multitude of documents without having to sift through every one is to build an index of each document on the hard drive. Gelernter's Mirror Worlds Technology is working on a product, Scopeware Vision, that constructs a visual representation of documents and their relationships to one another. When running a search with Scopeware, the most recent file appears in the front, while older documents appear to recede into the background. The format of each file is represented by an icon in the corner of each document box. Other programs have even loftier ambitions, such as mapping out the Internet itself. Groxis' Grokker program generates maps of the results of Web search queries, and features a zoom function that displays related Web pages. Groxis President R.J. Pittman believes the tool will be very useful to scientists, corporate researchers, and librarians.
- "The Year Ahead: The Future of Viruses"
ZDNet UK (12/31/02); Broersma, Matthew
Security experts predict that cyberattack methods will increase in sophistication this year, including the emergence of faster, more destructive computer viruses. "Really what has happened is that the bar has risen on how fast and how hard viruses can hit," explains Symantec Security Response chief researcher Eric Chien. F-Secure's Mikko Hypponen cites the Warhol worm, which can spread to epidemic proportions in 15 minutes, and the flash worm, which can become equally widespread in just 15 seconds, as examples of techniques currently under discussion. He also notes that virus writers' behavior has been significantly affected by the institution of more severe anti-terror legislation in the aftermath of Sept. 11, and points out that there was an increase in virus attacks beginning on Sept. 11, 2002. Other notable incidents this year included the outbreak of the Linux-based Slapper worm and an assault on the domain name system's root servers, which caused little damage, leading security experts to conclude that it was a trial run. Later viruses are likely to take a cue from Slapper, which can set up a peer-to-peer network among affected users so that hackers can launch distributed denial of service attacks. Older generations of viruses that spread via email are less of a threat, thanks to increased awareness among users and improved antivirus safeguards from companies and ISPs, while technologies under development such as self-healing computer systems and Internet Protocol version 6 promise even more protection, once enough people begin using them.
- "Outlook 2003"
InformationWeek (01/06/03); McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk
InformationWeek Research's Outlook 2003 poll finds more optimism among IT managers this year than last, although their corporate strategies are more cautious and risk-averse. Seventy-two percent of managers expect revenue gains this year, compared to 60 percent last year, and many business-technology leaders believe IT will be key to that upswing. On the other hand, around 50 percent of respondents are prioritizing customer relationship management (CRM) this year, compared to 58 percent last year; and out of the 34 categories of technology projects tracked in both the 2002 and 2003 surveys, 75 percent boast fewer managers listing them as upcoming projects this year. In addition, there has been a precipitous drop in cutting-edge technology initiatives. About 75 percent of respondents list improving returns on capital investment as a priority, while companies aim to cut costs by consolidating IT infrastructure and postponing the implementation of products that promise lower returns. A majority of respondents said that enterprise application projects will have the highest priority, and many such projects will involve existing systems being enhanced with additional features or modules. Another factor impacting spending for certain companies is stricter public regulations. PCs, Windows servers, network- and systems-management applications, and network-security management software are the cornerstones of most managers' technology projects, while there are differences of opinion on the best services rollout strategy: Almost 50 percent say they will not boost spending in 2003, while 30 percent expect to increase spending on IT, networking, or outsourced services.
- "Speak Easy"
Forbes (01/06/03) Vol. 171, No. 1, P. 135; Fass, Allison
Industries such as medicine, automotives, video games, and telecommunications are using speech recognition technology to save money, increase productivity, and enhance their products. Using speech recognition, mobile workers can access important information more easily, and companies can serve customers better on the phone. Amtrak, for example, says its virtual phone agent, Julie, allows 13 out of every 50 customers who phone in for information to get what they need, compared to just 9 out of 50 customers who were satisfied using the former touch-tone system. Automakers such as Honda have also begun offering voice recognition as part of optional navigation systems, and surgeons are using the technology to operate robotic assistants. In the VA Medical Center in Memphis, doctors and nurses dictate medical records directly into the hospital computer systems using speech recognition, making that information immediately and readily available to all in digital form. VoiceBox Technologies this month released new PC software that allows users to search for content on the Internet, such as specific songs or stock quotes. Sony recently pioneered speech recognition in video games with Socom: U.S. Navy Seals, which allows players to speak game commands into a headset. Last year, that game was Sony's bestseller.
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- "Back to the Garage"
Fast Company (01/03) No. 66, P. 35; Mieszkowski, Katharine
The combination of the tech recession, the bursting of the dot-com bubble, and the economic downturn was a tremendous blow to Silicon Valley, but it also has, incredibly enough, sparked a new entrepreneurism. More Bay Area professionals--especially the unemployed--see opportunities to start their own business. For one thing, everything is much more affordable. For another, mass layoffs have resulted in an overabundance of talent. The major drawback is a lack of equity--with angel funding and venture capital unavailable for the most part, the latest crop of Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs are dipping into their personal savings, or asking family and friends for money. "Revenues," "customers," and "profits" are the buzzwords for 2003. As a result, company owners are cutting back on luxuries such as ergonomic office chairs and the like. These entrepreneurs are confident that they will be in an enviable position once the economy turns around. One entrepreneur says, "Instead of hearing about 100 e-commerce plays, you've got a half-dozen companies that are doing something with actual technology."
- "Since You Asked..."
IEEE Spectrum (01/03); Applewhite, Ashton
A survey of over 500 IEEE Fellows on how technology trends will progress in the next five to 10 years was characterized by cautious optimism, and the belief that technology is a key societal component. The Fellows considered the development of new energy to be the most important issue; they also wrote that protecting the environment and combating terrorism should be a high priority, though not everyone thought that technology is the solution. Looking ahead 10 years, many Fellows believed that the most popular form of information access will be personal and portable, and most likely a hybrid of PDAs, TVs, laptops, cell phones, desktops, or tablet computers. Meanwhile, two-thirds agreed that open-source computing will be critical to the computer industry, and criticized Microsoft for its attempts to monopolize the software/operating system sector. Fellows expressed confidence that broadband will deeply penetrate the developed world over the next decade, and more than two-thirds expected Moore's Law to stay on track for at least another five years; others, however, expected photonics, nanotechnology, or some other emerging technology to break Moore's Law. Most respondents were against a deregulated energy industry as a solution for energy production, and listed hydrogen as the next decade's most promising energy source, followed by nuclear power, photovoltaics, and fossil fuels. Eighty-six percent thought it is "very important" that an alternative to gasoline for cars be developed, and hybrid electric vehicles were listed as the best bet. Opinion was split on the nature of the educational system's ills: Some respondents called for an increased emphasis on engineering fundamentals, while others favored a more multidisciplinary strategy. There was a general sense among the Fellows that, overall, engineers are underpaid compared to other professionals. Technological developments that Fellows listed as having the biggest impact over the next five years included biotechnology, high-speed wireless communications, molecular computing, and pervasive computing.