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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 5, Issue 449: Friday, January 24, 2003

  • "Senate Votes to Curb Project to Search for Terrorists in Databases and Internet Mail"
    New York Times (01/24/03) P. A12; Clymer, Adam

    The Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to constrain the implementation of the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness (TIA) Program, an initiative to conduct searches for terrorists by mining Internet mail and online financial, health, and travel records. The legislation gives a 60-day window for the Defense Department to furnish a report detailing the program's costs, motives, its prospective chances for successfully thwarting terrorists, and its impact on civil liberties and privacy; failing to do so after the deadline would result in the suspension of TIA research and development. Meanwhile, use of the system would be restricted to legally sanctioned military and foreign intelligence operations, barring congressional authorization to employ the system within the United States. The restrictions were bundled into a series of amendments to an omnibus spending bill, and authored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who attributed their swift passage to the dismay Republican senators felt over the project's implications for surveillance on innocent U.S. citizens. Included in his amendment was a statement that Congress should be consulted in matters whereby TIA programs could be used to develop technologies to monitor Americans. "I hope that today's action demonstrated Congress' willingness to perform oversight of the executive branch and challenge attempts to undermine constitutional liberties," declared People for the American Way leader Ralph Neas following the vote. Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), both sponsors of Wyden's bill, agreed that the legislation ensures that the TIA program will balance civil liberties with efforts to protect Americans from terrorism.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/24/politics/24PRIV.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

    In a letter to Congress, USACM, the public policy committee of ACM, recommends a rigorous independent review of the U.S. Government's Total Information Awareness program, which seeks to develop technologies for mining commercial and personal data for terrorist activity.

  • "Tech Firms Rally to Fight Hollywood's Antipiracy Demands"
    Wall Street Journal (01/23/03) P. B1; Mathews, Anna Wilde

    The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) struck a tenuous balance between the interests of copyright holders and technology companies, but the two sides disagree on how consumers can be prevented from unlawfully copying and distributing digital works of entertainment. Hollywood is pushing for legislation that would require tech companies to embed copy protections in all electronic devices; in response, a group of tech companies today will announce the formation of a lobbying organization called the Alliance for Digital Progress set up to fight the effort. At the heart of the battle is the debate over the rights of copyright holders to protect their content and the fair-use rights of consumers, which critics say the DMCA is trampling on. Adding urgency to the issue is the emergence of broadband Internet service and new digital-media technology, as well as the popularity of digital file-swapping. All these factors have panicked movie studios that want to curb piracy of their intellectual property. The FCC is currently examining proposed safeguards to prevent the online transmission of digital TV broadcasts. Meanwhile, the music industry is focusing on curtailing online song-swapping through legal action, and this week won a major case when a court ruled that Verizon Communications had to reveal the name of a customer accused of distributing songs online. Tech companies and the Consumer Electronics Association support proposed legislation from Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) that would make it legal to circumvent media companies' digital protection for reasons of fair use, and require music companies to label compact disks with copyright blocks.

  • "Unnecessary Traffic Saturating a Key Internet 'Root' Server"
    Newswise (01/24/03)

    Scientists at the University of California's San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) have found that 98 percent of the address mapping requests sent to the Internet's 13 root servers are unnecessary. The researchers studied 152 million requests sent on Oct. 4, 2002, to one root server in California for their analysis, which they will present to Richard A. Clarke, chairman of the federal Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, later this month. Clarke has warned that the Domain Name System (DNS) and its 13 root servers are vulnerable and could disrupt the entire Internet if attacked simultaneously. Such an attack did occur in October of last year, but damage was minimal. The SDSC scientists discovered that about 70 percent of all received traffic was duplicated, and suggested that ISPs and lower-tier servers could cache the answers to these queries in order to reduce the load at the top level. The study also found that approximately 12 percent of requests were for nonexistent top-level domains, and that 7 percent had the IP address embedded within the request, making it frivolous. SDSC researcher Duane Wessels says a major source of the bad requests was the result of misconfigured firewall and packet filter software that bounced back responses from the DNS. The system requesting the data therefore kept sending queries. Wessels created a tool for server administrators called dnstop that can help identify and fix these misconfigurations.
    http://www.newswise.com/articles/2003/1/SDSCROOT.UCD.html

  • "Women Spurning Tech Jobs"
    BBC News (01/23/03); Wakefield, Jane

    The retention of women in IT jobs is equally important to getting young girls interested in IT careers, said speakers at the third annual Women in Information Technology conference in London. Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt estimated that more then one-third of new tech employees are female, but said they eventually quit their profession to concentrate on family life or other interests. This attrition must be stopped if the U.K. female tech workforce is to achieve an equitable level with the male workforce, she insisted. Hewitt explained that many women believe tech jobs cannot balance demands of work and family, and they must be given "the confidence to challenge a workaholic culture." Speakers from major tech companies delivered the sobering news that women account for fewer than 20 percent of their management staff. Meanwhile, a new female technology recruit makes 3,000 pounds less than her male counterpart, on average. More promising was the success of the Computer Clubs for Girls project, which is supported by 24 schools and may soon be established throughout the United Kingdom. "Girls are more independent and more creative than in traditional information technology lessons," observed Katy Baker of the Kendrick School for Girls.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/2687247.stm

    To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Is There Hope for Java?"
    Salon.com (01/21/03); Manjoo, Farhad

    U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz recently ruled that Microsoft must ship Sun Microsystems' Java runtime environment in Windows, thus solidifying the debate over whether Microsoft has long pursued a campaign to neutralize the cross-platform programming language, or whether Java's failure to penetrate the desktop computer market is its own fault. Motz appears to favor Sun in his statement that "anticompetitive conduct" on the part of Microsoft is likely responsible for the market's fragmentation; furthermore, the company appears to have leveraged its Windows dominance to cut off "Sun's channels of distribution" for Java, and is planning to exploit the situation even further by introducing C#, a Java alternative. His mandate that Microsoft bundle Java into Windows "is designed to prevent Microsoft from obtaining future advantage from its past wrongs and to correct the distortion in the marketplace that its violations of the antitrust laws have caused," he wrote. Working against Microsoft are internal documents cited by Motz that suggest the company has been trying to offer developers "extensions" to Java that promise cross-platform capability, when in reality they only run on Windows. Others argue that a slow graphical interface and overall poor performance are the real culprits behind Java's troubles, yet it has done well in markets not dominated by Microsoft. Carnegie Mellon's Robert Harper adds that Java has been a godsend to universities desperate to train people on object-oriented languages, but whose only option was the overcomplicated C++. If Motz's ruling is sustained, the rivalry between Java and Microsoft's .Net could heat up; on the other hand, it is possible that Sun's programming language could be crippled beyond repair, whether attributable to Microsoft-directed interference or its own disadvantages.
    http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2003/01/21/java/index.html

  • "Tiny 'Braille' Opens New Space for Storage"
    ZDNet (01/23/03); Junnarkar, Sandeep

    In a breakthrough that could pave the way to systems capable of storing 100 GB of data per square inch, scientists at Scotland's University of Edinburgh and Italy's University of Bologna claim to have found materials in which predictable patterns of bumps can be induced. Data can be encoded in these bumps, allowing for a Braille-like, molecular-scale storage device. The thin film media is composed of molecules called rotaxanes, which resemble barbells with handles encircled by rings; the scientists report that this abacus-like configuration could be used as switchable elements for information storage. They add that they are able to stabilize the pattern for several days under laboratory conditions, and hope to make it last even longer by modifying the rotaxane structure. Other scientists say this breakthrough cannot be commercialized until the process is refined, and that can only happen if it is better understood. It would also help to find a way to write the information in parallel faster, and using different rotaxanes could be essential to such a development, according to University of Bologna researcher Fabio Biscarini. It could take more than five years to commercialize the research, which will be detailed in the online edition of Science Magazine on Thursday.
    http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1103-981832.html

  • "Of Pawns, Knights, Bits, Bytes"
    Wired News (01/23/03); Kahney, Leander

    International chess champion Garry Kasparov will face off against a machine in a six-game tournament beginning Jan. 26. His opponent will be Deep Junior, an aggressive chess-playing program considered to be the best in the world, and the computer chess champion for three years running. Deep Junior, which was developed by Israeli programmers and a chess grandmaster, is different from the usual computerized players because of the human way it plays, often sacrificing pieces instead of preserving them. It also assesses the moves that have the most potential, unlike early programs that relied on brute force searches. Artificial intelligence expert Jonathan Schaeffer, who will act as a judge during the tournament, believes Deep Junior evaluates chess positions with standard weighting algorithms, such as the mobility of pieces and the safety of the king; the former is highly rated by aggressive programs such as Deep Junior. More sophisticated algorithms enable programs to only consider the most promising maneuvers. Schaeffer notes that the tournament offers Kasparov an opportunity to get some payback after his 1997 loss to IBM's Deep Blue program. The event is also the first human/machine chess competition to be endorsed by the World Chess Federation, a distinction that chess experts say is a sign of respect toward computers as worthy players.
    http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,57345,00.html

  • "Japanese Manufacturers Back Off Proprietary OSes"
    EE Times (01/23/03); Yoshida, Junko

    At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Sony and Matsushita Electric Industrial separately announced that they will stop investing in their proprietary operating systems (OSes) and instead embrace open-source by joining forces to develop a consumer electronics version of Linux. "We just can't keep on developing different software for every new product," said Matsushita CTO Paul Liao. Sony COO Kunitake Ando declared that Samsung, Philips Semiconductors, LG Electronics, and other CE manufacturers will add their support to the Linux CE OS initiative. Support for industry-wide alliances to develop projects such as HAVi or the Java TV application programming interface have also eroded. Thus ends a vision many Japanese companies had of building a proprietary OS that would influence the direction of next-generation digital consumer electronics. Leon Husson of Philips commented that "an open platform" provided by a real-time OS is basically the only real option CE makers have. "As a [consumer] system becomes more complex, functions are converging, and boundaries of existing boxes are blurring," he noted. One obstacle to Sony and Matsushita's effort to develop a CE version of Linux is the difficulty in getting thousands of software engineers to rally behind one platform.
    http://www.eetonline.com/sys/news/OEG20030123S0034

  • "A New Wireless Web Link"
    Washington Post (01/23/03) P. E1; Stern, Christopher

    Lucent Technologies' Evolution Data Only (EvDO) technology, which promises wireless access at 10 times the speed of a conventional modem, has attracted a great deal of interest from carriers such as Verizon Wireless, which was encouraged by Washington area market tests. However, the technology's drawbacks include an investment of billions of dollars to acquire more spectrum and update the software in wireless companies' networks. EvDO would also face intense competition from Wi-Fi, even though it is faster and can function over existing cell phone networks; Wi-Fi's advantages include cheap and easy deployment, and Cometa Networks intends to build a national wireless network of over 20,000 Wi-Fi "hot spots." Nevertheless, EvDO is being adopted both nationally and internationally: It is widely deployed in South Korea, while Monet Mobile Networks rolled out EvDO networks in seven Midwest U.S. markets in October. Verizon's Bill Stone says EvDO has the potential to "jump-start the [mobile communications] industry all over again," and could make the same splash that cell phones did. Parties that stand to benefit from a U.S. takeoff of EvDO include equipment suppliers such as Nortel and Lucent, cell phone manufacturers such as Motorola and Nokia, and patent holders such as Qualcomm. Lucent expects the technology to be widely used by business travelers who are currently restricted to dial-up Internet service in hotel rooms or temperamental wireless networks from Sprint and Verizon. Still, Verizon Wireless CEO Denny Strigl says his company's adoption of EvDO service will be gradual.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A30446-2003Jan22.html

  • "Instead of a Radio D.J., a Web Server Names That Tune"
    New York Times (01/23/03) P. E8; Eisenberg, Anne

    Audio fingerprinting technology is improving in affordability and accuracy, to the point that researchers say it will soon be embedded in all consumer electronic devices that play music. Royal Philips Electronics unveiled an Internet radio prototype with the technology at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The audio fingerprinting was so sensitive and accurate it was able to distinguish between a single Pearl Jam song performed once in Milan, Italy, and once in Verona. Although different companies take slightly different approaches to audio fingerprinting, the basic idea is the same. Unique song characteristics, such as relative volume and note range, can be translated into digital code stored on a server. When snippets of a song are captured and digitized, they can be compared against the songs on file for identification. Dr. Richard Gooch of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry says the technology is able to identify music despite a number of distortions and lack of sound quality. Even if radio broadcasters speed a song slightly in order to fit commercials in, audio fingerprinting can still identify it. Gooch says the technology has been deployed for some time in the music industry, where it is used to identify radio broadcast songs so that royalties can be applied, but new uses are cropping up with improving technology. Shazam Entertainment in the United Kingdom, for example, offers a cell phone-based service where users dial in when listening to a song. Shazam's system captures the tune, identifies it, and then sends back the information as a text message within 30 seconds. California-based Audible Magic is also developing audio fingerprinting technology to help PC owners manage song collections on their hard drives.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/23/technology/circuits/23next.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Predictions for 2003: Service-Oriented Architecture is Changing Software"
    TechRepublic (01/15/03); Schulte, Roy

    Application systems will receive an agility and efficiency upgrade thanks to the emergence of new software technology, the repackaging and repositioning of products, and the maturation of Web services. These next-generation applications will boast a service-oriented architecture (SOA) whose components are designed for modularity and encapsulation; the former allows large problems to be broken down into smaller, more manageable units, and the latter can hide each module's data and logic from unregulated outside access and misuse. Through SOA, design is simplified, teams can more easily collaborate, and software can be reused. Driving SOA's penetration into the mainstream are business units' demand for application system agility, the acceptance of Web services standards by all vendors, and the advent of flexible, SOA-based Web services to support multichannel applications that encompass various access techniques. It is recommended that this year software vendors develop features that will take advantage of the expected growth of business activity monitoring (BAM), which will be driven by advances in event management software, application servers, application integration, and business process management (BPM) tools, among other things. BPM products will be increasingly used by companies so that they can exploit the next wave of application servers, enterprise service buses (ESBs), and integration brokers. Web services are expected to become pervasive not only in software products, but in rapidly evolving business-to-business (B2B) value-added networks (VANs) as well. Meanwhile, a shakeout is taking place in the integrated broker suite market, which almost matches the application server market in terms of size.
    Click Here to View Full Article
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  • "ACLU: Surveillance Devices Multiply"
    ZDNet (01/16/03); Bowman, Lisa M.

    U.S. citizens face increased monitoring by both public and private groups due to an influx of surveillance technologies, suggests a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The report says "computers, cameras, sensors, wireless communications, GPS, biometrics, and other technologies" have been in use over the past 10 years as surveillance tools. The report also refers to other activities used to monitor Americans, such as video surveillance, the gathering and selling of personal data, and federal databases that hold information about individuals. In addition, the ACLU report mentions emerging technologies such as radio frequency ID tags--minuscule chips that allow computer systems to identify items--as new tools that can be used by marketers to track people's movements. The study also criticizes the proposed central database of personal transaction data called the Total Information Awareness project. The report also features some theoretical situations that people could encounter in the future, such as an African-American being questioned about a crime as he attends a friend's party in the suburbs because face-recognition technology indicates that he is an outsider. The study says people can counteract the trend toward surveillance by supporting the latest privacy laws and advocating the Fourth Amendment, which forbids unreasonable searches and seizures.
    http://zdnet.com.com/2100-1105-980964.html

  • "Internet Content in Peril in Non-Competitive World"
    SiliconValley.com (01/21/03); Gillmor, Dan

    Yale Braunstein of the University of California-Berkeley's School of Information Management and Systems warns that the noncompetitive atmosphere for high-speed Internet access in the United States could encourage the few companies controlling data transport to also manipulate Internet content for their benefit. Central to this trend is the debate over whether telecoms' control architecture should be vertical or horizontal, the latter of which forces them to supply Internet access to competing services. Cable and phone companies argue that vertical control is essential if they are going to provide broadband Internet access to American subscribers, and they appear to have FCC Chairman Michael Powell and many of his associates in their corner. Among the incentives for cable companies to influence content is the fact that they have content-related ownership interests. However, these issues have received little attention in the media due to a number of factors, including a conflict of interest and the mostly theoretical nature of the threat in the United States. But if the cable and phone companies are allowed to provide data access as well as Internet service, it is inevitable that they will abuse this power, writes Dan Gillmor. For example, SBC Communications has teamed up with Yahoo! for digital subscriber line (DSL) connection customers. As a result, Yahoo! content receives preferential treatment on subscribers' home pages. Braunstein says, "It's not an on-off thing. Yes, you'll be able to get to the New York Times, but it may be harder to get there." Gillmor notes that the problem is mostly the result of a lack of available data conduit options, a situation he says won't change for some time.
    http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/business/columnists/5002308.htm

  • "Sen. Edwards Introduces Information Security Bill"
    Government Computer News Online (01/20/03); Jackson, William

    Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) proposed a National Cyber Security Leadership Act that would strengthen the IT security standards of the federal government, requiring agencies to identify and establish timetables for solving security weaknesses. Agency CIOs would be required to adhere to IT security standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which would be given $1 million to set up the guidelines and protocols. Edwards said recent reports from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the General Accounting Office, and Congress all show lax IT security standards in the federal government. This sets a bad example for the private sector and gives federal contractors little incentive to increase the security of their IT products. The bill complements the Federal Information Security Management Act, passed in 2002 as part of the Homeland Security Act. That law mandated that agencies take measures to shore up their systems in accordance with the level of risk, and laid the responsibility of oversight on the OMB director, who would report to Congress annually.
    http://www.gcn.com/vol1_no1/daily-updates/20899-1.html

  • "Laptops Cool Off with 'Smart' Heat Pipes"
    CNet (01/22/03); Junnarkar, Sandeep

    Under the auspices of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Heat Removal by Thermal Integrated Circuits project, Sandia National Laboratories scientist John Rightley has developed a novel way to disperse heat generated by laptop chips. His method involves channeling liquid methanol through finely-etched pipes that absorb chip heat; the process turns the liquid into vapor, which disperses the heat in a chosen area and then condensates it back into liquid so that it can collect more heat. The pipe architecture can move heat to the edge of the laptop, where fans can diffuse it into the air. Smaller notebook computers could be built using this system, which eliminates the need for bulky and noisy cooling equipment. International Data (IDC) analyst Alan Promisel notes that the consumer notebook market prefers desktop processors over the more expensive mobile chips, and Rightley's breakthrough is significant because such processors generate a lot of heat. Rightley and analysts say the technique could also be applied to desktop computers, and enable designers to make smaller, more powerful systems by stacking chips vertically. "It's clear now that the smaller we go, the more that cooling engineers need to be involved early in product design," Rightley explains. Analysts observe that a low-cost method to mass-produce Rightley's heat pipes has yet to be formulated.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1040-981652.html

  • "Research Project Promises Faster, Cheaper, and More Reliable Microchips"
    ScienceDaily (01/20/03)

    Academics are teaming with the semiconductor industry in the United Kingdom to produce next-generation strained silicon chips, research at the leading-edge of microelectronics. The partnership between Amtel and a five-person team from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne aims to create chips that carry electricity faster, use less power, and are cheaper to produce. Newcastle University microelectronics professor Anthony O'Neill says the work focuses on adding germanium material to silicon, which will allow microchip performance to continue to improve rapidly even as it reaches physical speed barriers. Strained silicon means atoms in the silicon layer are separated further from one another, allowing for higher current in transistors. The technology does not require costly retooling of the manufacturing process, and is compatible with other recent microchip improvements, such as copper interconnect, low-k dielectrics, and metal gates. Amtel and the university research team expect the partnership will benefit both entities because it will allow Amtel to access top-end research while providing necessary tools and manufacturing expertise to the academics. Professor O'Neill also said such a partnership was critical in the fast-paced semiconductor field, where time-to-market is a major factor in commercial success.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/01/030120100124.htm

  • "Promise of Security"
    eWeek (01/20/03) Vol. 20, No. 3, P. 37; Coffee, Peter

    Computer security and invasive surveillance concerns heightened by recent government policy has forced corporate users and IT vendors to reexamine threats and responses. IDefense CEO Brian Kelly believes the government should offer "leadership and guidance" rather than bog things down with new laws, an opinion shared by enterprise users. The cost of more security tools is also justified by legislation that increases corporate accountability for intrusions while simultaneously ramping up interaction between IT management and auditors. Although users and vendors maintain that perimeter defenses such as firewalls and intrusion-detection software are gaining in importance, studies from groups such as the FBI's Computer Intrusion Squad indicate that a sizeable portion of security problems are attributable to insiders. "Users seem to be more tolerant toward blocking and scanning tools than in the past," notes FN Manufacturing's Ed Benincasa. "Publicity of events seems to have sensitized users more to the issues and risks. They don't like it, but they understand the need." Threats both outside and inside the corporate network must be evaluated with an international, multidisciplinary perspective, according to Vincent Weafer of Symantec; such an approach includes discussing problems with people at other sites in order to recognize common intrusion patterns, and looking up online resources as well as industry-specific sites. Meanwhile, Kelly insists that a major source of security problems, misconfigured systems, cannot be remedied by government mandates.
    http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,3959,838237,00.asp

  • "Straining to Hear Digital Radio"
    Electronic Business (01/03) Vol. 29, No. 1, P. 58; Josifovska, Svetlana; Harbert, Tam

    Digital radio has made slow but significant progress in Europe in the decade since the European Union ado pted the Eureka 147 standard; however, although prices for digital radio equipment have fallen and governments have started to promote the technology, the fact remains that it has yet to deliver data broadcasting and other promised services. Eureka 147 requires more spectrum, placing it at a disadvantage in the United States, where spectrum is limited and the military has exclusive access to the L-band. Most insiders expect the country to adopt in-channel, on-band (IBOC) technology, an analog and digital hybrid, from Ibiquity Digital, but European critics say that it is more limited than Eureka 147, though Ibiquity plans to transition IBOC to a completely digital format. WorldDAB reports that European governments will spend $23.3 million to promote digital radio over the next 18 months; in the meantime, broadcasters are being awarded long-term digital audio broadcasting (DAB) licenses ranging from nine to 15 years. Digital radio rollouts in the United States could move at a faster pace than in Europe because of a number of factors: Falling prices, FCC approval of using IBOC with existing spectrum, a more cohesive market, and corporate and competitive pressures to adopt the technology. Penetration in the United States could unfold over the next 12 months, with digital broadcasting in Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco expected to start by the end of 2002. Meanwhile, the first IBOC receivers are expected to make their market debut in 2003. However, U.S. penetration will likely face the same barrier digital radio faces in Europe, where broadcasters refuse to adopt until manufacturers build more receivers, while manufacturers resist doing so until broadcasters offer more digital radio services.
    Click Here to View Full Article