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 453: Monday, February 3, 2003
- "Feds Building Internet Monitoring Center"
Washington Post Online (01/31/03); Krebs, Brian
The Global Early Warning Information System (GEWIS) is an Internet-wide monitoring facility designed to identify and respond to cyberattacks on key information systems and e-commerce Web sites. It is a major component of the Bush administration's national cybersecurity strategy, and the White House hopes it will provide a unified, real-time view of the Net's health. GEWIS is being developed by the National Communications System (NCS), which has paid an undisclosed sum to acquire data from the members of the National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications. NCS Deputy Manager Brent Greene says his agency plans to launch the first stage of the GEWIS pilot, in which the data it currently receives from several major ISPs and telecoms will be integrated into a graphical representation of the Internet's status. Some ISPs see little difference between GEWIS and the "network operations center" detailed in the White House's draft cybersecurity plan; that facility would connect telecoms' network security operations so they could share information on particular cyber threats, but Howard Schmidt, deputy to White House cybersecurity advisor Richard Clarke, explains that GEWIS would enable the government to spot cyber assaults before they spread globally and use data aggregation to simulate the effects of such attacks on vital systems. Greene insists that the government is working to ensure that GEWIS will not collect personal information on citizens from ISPs. The NCS will host a workshop in March that addresses private-sector issues about GEWIS, and the White House thinks that the trust NCS has engendered through the development of the Cyber Warning Information Network (CWIN) could pave the way for industry acceptance of GEWIS. The NCS and four other federal cybersecurity agencies will be incorporated into the Homeland Security Department on March 1.
- "From Nanotechnology's Sidelines, One More Warning"
New York Times (02/03/03) P. C1; Feder, Barnaby J.
The ETC group recently released an 80-page illustrated manifesto demonstrating the potential dangers of nanotechnology, if corporate research and development is allowed to proceed unchecked. Rather than fearing the popular scenario of the human race being inundated by tiny, self-replicating robots, ETC executive director Pat Roy Mooney envisions environmental damage and diseases brought about by the cumulative effects of artificial particles within biological systems. He does not believe nanotech is inherently evil, but he wants a moratorium declared on nanotech research and commercialization until international resolutions to evaluate and monitor its potential dangers are set up. The nonprofit ETC group consists of seven people and has an annual budget of roughly $525,000, mostly from donations from altruistic organizations. National Nanotechnology Initiative head Mihail C. Roco last week characterized ETC as "nonscientific" and anti-technology, while Kevin D. Ausman of Rice University's Center for Biological and Environmental Technology says the risks the group warns of are more science fiction than scientific possibility. However, Foresight Institute co-founder and president Christine Peterson thinks that dismissing Mooney is a mistake, and calls him "a sincere, smart man who doesn't have any trouble with logic." Meanwhile, Roco and others insist that the potential environmental and health impacts of nanotech are being addressed, and advise against a research moratorium, arguing that it would hinder scientific research of existing nanoparticles and postpone the potential benefits of new nanotech-based products.
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- "New Protocol Speeds Up Internet Resource Sharing"
Jonghun Park, an assistant professor at Penn State's School of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), has formulated a protocol that could potentially accelerate the sharing of disparate Internet resources, including Web services, databases, and high performance computer systems. Park says the new technology, which he calls the Order-based Deadlock Prevention Protocol with Parallel Requests, may speed up collaborative Internet applications by up to 10 times. Such technology could dramatically increase the number of people sharing data by merging disparate Internet resources into interconnected networks. This could have an impact on the armed forces, the government, and enterprises. Park's technology is based on an algorithm that relies on parallel methods for processing requests rather than serial methods, allowing Internet resources to be distributed more efficiently. It also bypasses the deadlock and livelock typically encountered when several Internet applications vie for common resources. Furthermore, the new algorithm lets Internet applications choose from the resources available to them, unlike today's technology. The new protocol is also decentralized, so it can operate using its own data, enabling collaboration among several separate systems on the Internet.
- "Defense Dept., Firms Reach Wi-Fi Pact"
CNet (01/31/03); Shim, Richard
Worries over whether Wi-Fi devices would affect the U.S. military's use of radar were quelled with the Jan. 31 announcement of an agreement between the Department of Defense and tech companies. The resolution involves the establishment of a new radio frequency boundary for products that use unlicensed radio spectrum. "No one is entirely happy [with the resolution], and that's the essence of compromise," noted Intel's Peter Pitsch. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said the compromise should pave the way for the enactment of a bill she and Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) are supporting under the proposed Jumpstart Broadband Act. The Boxer-Allen bill calls for the opening up of an additional 255 MHz of contiguous spectrum in the 5 GHz band. "This bill is vital for the build-out of broadband, a technology that has shown that its use has a direct, positive impact on productivity and learning," Boxer declared. She and Allen say that their legislation will help bring broadband access to rural areas and small cities, as well as set "rules of the road" to ensure that new wireless networks prevent transmissions from interfering with bandwidth used by the military and other government agencies. Many tech companies see Wi-Fi as way to re-ignite consumer interest and bring them out of their current business doldrums.
- "Tiny Whiskers Make Huge Memory Storage"
United Press International (01/31/03); Choi, Charles
It may be possible to squeeze more information into hard drives thanks to a magnetic memory breakthrough from State University of New York in Buffalo researcher Harsh Chopra. Chopra and physicist Susan Hua have reportedly developed extremely small nickel filaments that act as sensors to detect very faint magnetic signals. The nickel "whiskers" are only several atoms wide and can register a 100,000 change in voltage at room temperature, resulting in "much clearer signals," according to Chopra. He attributes the sensors' sensitivity to ballistic magnetoresistance (BMR), in which the conductor is so tiny that electrons travel in straight lines, rather than in zigzag patterns because of flaws or temperature effects typical of larger wires. Although binary signals are clearer thanks to BMR, Chopra admits that the enhancement process is still only partly understood. He and Hua are busy developing sensors fabricated from other materials, such as chromium oxide and magnetite, while the manufacturing method they use is borrowed from Arizona State University researcher Nongjian Tao. K.L. Murty of the National Science Foundation says Chopra and Hua's work could have many biomedical applications as well as magnetic storage uses. The researchers' work will be detailed in next July's issue of Physical Review B.
- "Total Information Delusion"
Business 2.0 (02/03/03); Schonfeld, Erick
The Pentagon's Total Information Awareness (TIA) project may have stalled due to opposition in Congress, but even if the effort goes forward, many computer scientists doubt the effectiveness of the technology. Recently, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) co-authored a letter warning Congress about the program. ACM U.S. Public Policy Committee cochair Barbara Simons says TIA leader John Poindexter underestimates the complexity of understanding human behavior, especially since computers today still do not fully grasp language. The Information Awareness Office Poindexter runs contains 12 other programs besides TIA, including a language translation project called Babylon that aims to allow PDA users to translate Arabic, Dari, Mandarin, and Pashto into English and vice versa. Another technology would identify individuals in video footage by their face or characteristic gait. Palo Alto Research Center computer scientist Francine Chen says that even a relatively accurate technology would produce too many false positives to be useful when applied to a population of approximately 300 million people. Her colleague, Teresa Lunt, has been tasked by the Pentagon to ensure anonymity of data in TIA results, requiring government agents to get a court order before revealing an individual's name, phone number, Social Security number, credit card number, or address. Although her assignment is reassuring, Lunt concedes that no technology can provide 100 percent privacy protection.
For more information about ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee,
"Blogs Open Doors for Developers"
CNet (01/31/03); Becker, David
Business software developers have started to see the value of sharing information online through Web logs (blogs), message boards, and other forms of communication from the outset in order to build a base of potential customers, not to mention fellow developers. Lotus founder Mitch Kapor explains that he started a blog to tell users about an personal information manager upgrade so as to solicit their ideas and get feedback while the project was in a very early developmental stage. "It's part of a long-term process of building a user community," he notes. Kapor keeps potential users up to date on the project's progress and new ideas he comes up with. VisiCalc co-inventor Dan Bricklin is also soliciting user feedback on the SMBmeta specification, and comments that such public communication channels are a tremendous advance over traditional beta testing, in which a small group of testers are chosen by developers to try out early versions of a program. Being open to users throughout product development is essential for makers of online games, which rely on a user community's interest in their products, according to Sony Online Entertainment's Scott McDaniel. However, to take full advantage of blogging and other forms of communication, developers must be willing to sift through a lot of email, discussion group postings, and other submissions for good suggestions. They must also be able to set clear limits on tired or unproductive discussion threads.
- "Coder Finds New Way to Swap Tunes"
Wired News (01/31/03); Leander, Kahney
Former Apple programmer Jim Speth has developed open-source software called iCommune that allows Mac OS X users to swap files with each other directly over the Internet. He expects to avoid legal trouble because of the direct nature of the contacts formed--users only connect with others they designate, as with instant messaging, and there is no global search function as with Kazaa and other peer-to-peer networks. Speth says this type of sharing is analogous to people copying and sharing music files with friends and family, an activity he thinks is protected under fair-use laws. Others have unsuccessfully defended their file-sharing technologies from legal assault claiming fair-use protection, but Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff attorney Fred von Lohmann says all facets of that argument are not yet exhausted. Under his open-source license and with no ties to the software's users, Speth would be able to claim no knowledge or involvement with any possibly illegal activities. ICommune was originally conceived as a plug-in to Apple's iTunes music utility, but was not allowed to proceed by the company. Speth instead set iCommune up as a standalone program that is compatible with Rendezvous. Rendezvous allows computers on a local network to exchange file information, such as play lists, with one another. Apple has taken a careful approach to file-sharing, having chosen to not commercially release its own proprietary software similar to iCommune and having installed file-sharing restrictions on its iPod music player.
- "Wi-Fi Woes on the Horizon?"
ZDNet (01/31/03); Shim, Richard
The impending finalization of the 802.11g Wi-Fi specification is being preceded by the release of assorted 802.11g-enabled products to penetrate the potentially huge Wi-Fi market early; this rush to get products to market before specs are set could result in a rash of incompatible tools that could turn consumers off of 802.11g. Atheros CEO Rich Redelfs admitted on Wednesday that his company found interoperability issues with its 802.11g chips through testing, and noted that the tested products were based on out-of-date draft versions of the 802.11g standard. Atheros product line manager Sheung Li says Redelfs disclosed this information because the company is concerned that such incompatible devices could "poison the well" for later products. However, Broadcom and Intersil, which manufacture 802.11g chips for product makers such as NetGear and Linksys, have reported no interoperability issues. "Those that have products [using the 802.11g specification] aren't complaining and those that don't are," explains Intersil's Jim Zyren. Brice Clark of Hewlett-Packard's ProCurve Networking Business says that his company will delay the deployment of 802.11g until the standard has been stabilized, but acknowledged that HP is planning alliances to eventually incorporate 802.11g technology into its products. In the event that the 802.11g standard is significantly revised, product manufacturers have made sure that customers will be able to bring their 802.11g-based devices up to speed with software updates. Wi-Fi Alliance Chairman Dennis Eaton says that the long-term effects of interoperability issues on the market will be negligible, while NPDTechworld analyst Stephen Baker expects most 802.11g adopters to be corporate users rather than consumers.
- "Physicists Teleport Quantum Bits Over Long Distance"
National Geographic News (01/29/03); Roach, John
Teleportation was considered unfeasible because it flies against the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics, which states that precisely replicating a tiny particle is an impossibility, since such a particle can be destroyed simply by measuring it. However, Williams College physicist William Wootters co-wrote a paper in 1993 theorizing that quantum bits (qubits) can be transferred from one location to another; this theory was borne out in experiments in 1997 and 1998, when researchers were successfully able to transfer two-dimensional systems over short distances, using the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, whereby two particles act as one regardless of the distance between them. More recently, a team of physicists led by Nicolas Gisin at the University of Geneva have achieved quantum teleportation at even longer distances. Their experiment involved teleporting qubits conveyed by photons between two laboratories 180 feet apart along 1.2 miles of fiber-optic wire. Researchers say teleportation technology, if applied to quantum computing and quantum cryptography, could provide a significant boost to computing speed and security. "The possible applications concern communication between future quantum computers and also between gates inside an individual quantum computer," notes University of Vienna physicist Anton Zeilinger. However, Gisin acknowledges that the technology is limited: He says it may be possible to teleport larger objects such as molecules relatively soon, but does not think that bigger objects--people, for instance--can be teleported.
- "IBM: Pervasive Computing Is the Future"
ZDNet Australia (01/30/03); Pearce, James
Pervasive computing devices, which IBM describes as any non-PC computing device, will increase to 1 billion in 2005, compared to 325 million in 2002, the firm predicts. Pervasive computers can take the form of smart cards, cell phones, cameras, Web-enabled refrigerators, and even smart houses, says Michael Karasick, IBM's director of embedded development for the pervasive computing division. On U.S. university campuses, IBM has launched the eSuds service, which allows students to use their cell phones to reserve washing machines, make payments, and be informed when the laundering is complete. Honda has also used pervasive computers in the 2002 Accord, allowing users to ask questions using normal language and displaying the information in the car's navigation system. The computer also connects the brake and airbag systems to the navigation system, so any damages as a result of an accident can quickly be investigated and repaired. Andrew Dutton, vice-president of IBM software group, Asia-Pacific, says "That piece of information changes the entire structure of the automotive industry." He says access to such information lets car companies expand their services to include towing, autobody repair, finance, and insurance. 0n the other hand, many fear such abundant information will allow people's personal information to be gathered and monitored. Karasick says customers should try to take control of the situation by demanding that companies give them discretion over what data is gathered and how it is used.
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- "Four Voices on the Future"
Fortune Online (01/28/03); Kirkpatrick, David
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a quartet of researchers and technologists discussed the latest technology developments and what the future may hold. Rodney Brooks, director of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, noted that robots are becoming more acceptable, a trend that will help the technology advance; he predicted that within five years simple versions of assistive robots will be commercialized, and become more popular as baby-boomers get older. Israeli technology investor and technologist Yossi Vardi said 2002 stood out with the advent of Wi-Fi wireless networking, and observed that today's youth have a "digital aura" because they carry an assortment of digital devices around with them. He predicted that new devices associated with this aura will become very popular and spawn new industries, and used the enormous growth of the video game industry as an example. Meanwhile, CalTech President David Baltimore voiced his worry that groups are pressuring Congress to regulate biotechnology research, and warned that this could cause the United States to lag behind the biotech efforts of other countries. The fourth panelist, Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees, expressed concern that within 20 to 25 years technological advances in fields such as robotics and biotech will enhance ordinary people to the degree that they could wield power comparable to that of countries armed with nuclear weapons--a development that society is unprepared for.
- "Freedom of Expression (TM)"
In These Times (01/17/03); McLeod, Kembrew
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) curtails the public use of various content and gives corporations greatly expanded powers to censor, writes author Kembrew McLeod. For instance, companies can use the DMCA to compel ISPs to shut down Web sites deemed to be using trademarked or copyrighted content. In fact, search engines, Web hosting companies, and ISPs can only avoid liability under the DMCA if they quickly comply with trademark-holder and copyright-holder requests, according to the DMCA. The DMCA also limits "fair use" of proprietary material for parody, art, or within scholarly commentary as outlined in the 1976 Copyright Act by enabling companies to define fair use themselves more narrowly than before 1998. In the case of a parody Web site lampooning Dow Chemical, the Web site's ISP, called The Thing, was contacted by Dow to shut the Web site down, and somewhat later, the ISP found its entire service shut down by Verio because of this particular Web site. Kembrew McLeod, author of "Owning Culture: Authorship, Ownership, and Intellectual Property Law," registered a trademark for the phrase "freedom of expression" in 1998 and finds it sadly telling of today's society that he was granted one: No. 2,127,381. McLeod says that if the ACLU, for instance, wanted to start a magazine called "Freedom of Expression," they would have to seek his approval or face a lawsuit. McLeod could seek royalties based on this trademark.
To read more about the DMCA, visit http://www.acm.org/cacm
- "Home-Schooling IT Talent"
Computerworld (01/27/03) Vol. 37, No. 4, P. 36; Brandel, Mary
A large number of employers are not doing enough to prepare their companies for a rebound in the marketplace. Rather than abandon their campus recruiting efforts, companies would do well to keep strong ties with local colleges and universities and training institutes so that they will continue to turn out workers with the necessary IT skills to help their businesses. In this regard, FedEx is one of the most forward-thinking employers, having spent $23 million to build the FedEx Technology Institute on the campus of the University of Memphis. In addition to cultivating an IT-savvy workforce for the company, FedEx hopes the FedEx Technology Institute will bring more business to Memphis because of the IT research and growing pool of IT workers it would produce. Missouri's state government has elicited the assistance of local IT employers, area universities and colleges, and the Chamber of Commerce for its effort to build more interest in the IT field among residents. Instead of losing IT workers to St. Louis or Kansas City and having to steal IT professionals from other large markets, the goal is to position the state to create a large enough IT talent pool of its own. Meanwhile, Fidelity Investments in Boston has relationships with Babson College, the University of Massachusetts, Bentley College, and MIT in which it tries to shape their IT curricula to its needs. "The more we can do to make the IT curriculum enticing to bring others in and keep the kids who live here, the better off we are," says Don Haile, president of IT arm Fidelity Investment Systems.
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- "2002 InfoWorld Technology of the Year"
InfoWorld (01/27/03) Vol. 25, No. 4, P. 43; Yager, Tom; Udell, Jon; Apicella, Mario
The 10 technologies that the InfoWorld Test Center considers the most impressive of 2002 have had a profound impact on enterprise IT strategy. Wireless networks became very important, as evidenced by the spread of the 802.11b standard, which continues to flourish despite unresolved security and regulation issues; the technology benefited even more from the introduction of the faster 802.11a and 802.11g standards, and the latter is likely to overshadow the former thanks to Apple's declaring 802.11g its high-speed network standard. Publish/subscribe technologies reached the Internet scale thanks to the efforts of Weblogs and middleware vendors, and the convergence of interapplication and interpersonal pub/sub is expected to continue this year. XML Web services, which InfoWorld calls the "most compelling" integration technology it has seen, went back to basics in 2002 and became more Web-friendly, while Apple increased the appeal of its platform by fixing problems in OS X and widening its open-source initiatives; the end result is a product that satisfies users, enriches OS X's GUI and application support, and maintains its reputation as the best commercially available Unix client platform. Digital rights management (DRM) technologies drew a lot of controversy because they enable copyright holders to control the copying and distribution of digital content, but InfoWorld believes businesses will embrace them so that they have control over internal network connections and the use of their corporate systems. Business intelligence solutions, which consolidate data from multiple platforms and application packages so that managers can better comprehend corporate business processes, increased and underwent improvement last year, and their ranks will swell this year as vendors reorganize; meanwhile, 10 Gigabit Ethernet unifies corporate networks and provides lots of bandwidth, eliminating ATM switches and associated training and support costs while enabling other technologies such as Gigabit Ethernet on the desktop. The open-source model hit a milestone as a supplier of Web services infrastructure with the release of Apache Axis, which offers a high-performance, open-source Web services stack. Fibre channel gained momentum by becoming faster, cheaper, and easier to use, further cementing the technology's reputation as the dominant enterprise storage solution; and hyperthreading processors such as Intel's Xeon and Pentium 4 ratcheted up computer performance by 25 percent or more, adding up to significant cost savings.
- "Disruptive Technologies"
Washington Technology (01/27/03) Vol. 17, No. 20, P. 1; Jackson, Joab
Both nanotechnology and open-source software have the potential to become disruptive technologies that could dramatically change the IT sector and spawn new industries. Potential applications of nanotechnology, which involves the creation of nanoscale devices, run the gamut from enhanced clothing to minute chemical analysis machines to environmental sensors to nanocomputer memory to smart uniforms that could tend to wounded soldiers. IBM and Hewlett-Packard are investing in research and development of molecular-scale devices that can self-assemble and significantly reduce manufacturing costs, an important consideration for semiconductor producers. Meanwhile, the National Nanotechnology Initiative program office reports that the president's fiscal 2003 budget earmarks $710 million for nanotech research. Open-source software such as the Linux operating system and the Apache Web server is making an impact both inside and outside the United States, and is particularly popular with the Department of Defense. Having freely available, customizable software as a resource saves money that would otherwise be spent on commercial software solutions. Some companies, Microsoft in particular, see open-source as a rival to their software products, but many others are reaping revenue by developing and supplying hardware, services, and technologies that support the software, such as middleware, servers, and grid computing.
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- "Weaving a Virtual World"
CIO (01/15/03) Vol. 16, No. 7, P. 106; Edwards, John
Virginia Tech assistant professor Srinidhi Varadarajan has developed Weaves, a software development tool for testing, developing, and designing computer programs. The technology provides the benefits of both simulation and emulation--users can manipulate the testing environment while assuring precision and speed. Varadarajan says Weaves' framework can translate any code, regardless of the platform, into code modules that create an accurate, realistic environment. The code modules combine such elements as codes and bindings to create virtual Web browsers or even a virtual Internet, the professor says. The technology also identifies and saves any data modifications in the code, so a programmer can go back to any stage of development and test the software. Weaves' most important function may be its ability to test Internet-based applications. "We can create hundreds of thousands of virtual machines that make software think it's running on a very large-scale network," says Varadarajan. Otherwise, he says it is impractical to test software on the real Internet.
- "Putting the 'E' in Elections"
Government Technology (01/03) Vol. 16, No. 1, P. 36; Newcombe, Ted
The Florida voting debacle in the 2000 presidential election prompted several U.S. states and counties to junk their antiquated, lever-based voting machines and invest in electronic systems, which were put through their paces this past November. There were some minor glitches, but the new systems performed well overall, according to media reports and county officials. Touchscreen technology was deployed in Georgia, California, Florida, Washington, and Maryland; the greatest concentration of computerized voting was in Georgia, which invested $54 million to install over 22,000 touchscreen machines throughout 159 counties. Georgia officials are convinced the technology can provide a dependable audit trail so that vote counts can be verified, according to Michael Barnes of the Georgia Secretary of State's Office. However, this issue has met with skepticism from people who point out that the software in the machines is proprietary, so vote count verification cannot be carried out independently. Votehere CEO Jim Adler explains that a trustworthy verification process will be critical to e-voting's maturation. Meanwhile, the number of jurisdictions that used optical scanner voting systems far exceeded those that used touchscreen systems. Nevertheless, punch cards are still the most widely-used method to cast ballots. Adler and others expect e-voting's ability to phase out paper ballots--not to mention its advantages to multilingual and handicapped voters--to be key to its success. Also pushing e-voting technology forward is a bill the president signed last October, allocating $3.9 billion over three years to help states acquire e-voting equipment, train poll workers, and set up databases of registered voters.