Timely Topics for IT Professionals
About ACM TechNews
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.
To send comments, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volume 5, Issue 457: Wednesday, February 12, 2003
- "Congress Agrees to Bar Pentagon From Terror Watch of Americans"
New York Times (02/12/03) P. A1; Clymer, Adam
Negotiators from the Senate and the House of Representatives have agreed to prohibit the Pentagon from using the Total Information Awareness (TIA) project to spy on innocent American citizens. Last Friday's announcement that the Pentagon would set up several advisory committees to manage the TIA project as an alternative to such restrictions was apparently ineffective. The negotiators also agreed to halt all TIA research unless the Defense Department furnishes a detailed report on the feasibility of the project and its impact on privacy and civil liberties within 90 days instead of 60 days, as originally proposed. "It looks like Congress is getting the message from the American people loud and clear and that is: Stop the trifling of the civil liberties of law-abiding Americans," declared Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who proposed the TIA restrictions as part of an omnibus spending bill the Senate passed in January. The TIA system could still be used for lawful foreign intelligence and military operations, as long as their targets are non-American. The Pentagon's Lt. Cmdr. Donald Sewell insisted that TIA would not be used for domestic spying, and said the Defense Department considers it an important anti-terrorism tool. Still, the passage of the TIA amendment could be prevented if negotiators fail to agree on the spending bill it is a part of, or if President Bush successfully vetoes it.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Software Licensing Act Hits Snag With Lawyer Group"
IDG News Service (02/11/03); Gross, Grant
The Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA), which proponents claim would create a software licensing law that could be applied nationally and reduce liability costs for software vendors, may be in jeopardy because the American Bar Association (ABA) failed to approve it last week. UCITA has drawn criticism from library, consumer, and technology groups including the ACM and the Free Software Foundation, who allege that the proposed law would force customers to accept licenses for shrink-wrapped or downloaded software that erode fair use and other consumer rights. The opposition also argues that the licenses set up under UCITA would take away customers' power to negotiate licenses while allowing software vendors to remotely disable licensed software. In the hopes of quelling such criticism, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) amended UCITA last August: Provisions they inserted would allow reverse-engineering of software for the purpose of making it compatible with other software; render software contracts that barred criticism of the products they cover invalid; and give state consumer protection laws precedence over UCITA. However, opposition to UCITA from the Americans for Fair Electronic Commerce Transactions has not abated in spite of the August revisions. The American Library Association's Carol Ashworth says, "We would hope that the fact that the ABA...was unable to come up with an approval of the act would make any state legislature think twice about considering this seriously."
To read more about ACM's activities regarding UCITA, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Woman Sues Software Makers Over Licensing Terms"
SiliconValley.com (02/10/03); Helm, Kristi
A San Francisco-area chef is suing software vendors Microsoft and Symantec, and their retailers, for not allowing consumers to return software when they do not agree with its licensing terms. Cathy Baker's lawyer, Ira Rothken, says existing contract law stipulates that vendors must allow buyers a chance to read licensing terms before buying the product. Baker is seeking unspecified penalties under a class action lawsuit after purchasing PC software from Microsoft and Symantec from a CompUSA store in the Bay Area, taking it home, and finding the licensing terms unacceptable. CompUSA does not allow returns on open software packages. Baker says retailers refer consumers to the manufacturer, which penalizes them by making them pay shipping and handling, and not reimbursing the sales tax. Her lawsuit states that software vendors and retailers both should make licensing terms available to consumers in both paper and on the Web, and to accept returns on open packages from existing buyers who object to the licensing terms. Both software makers said they could not yet respond to the complaint, while CompUSA was not available to comment. Ira Rothken, Baker's lawyer, says, "If you're going to sell someone a license, you have to give them a chance to read it."
- "MEMS to Remain a Niche Technology?"
EE Times (02/11/03); Mokhoff, Nicolas
Panelists at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco expected microelectromechanical (MEMS) devices to be a key market driver without making any definite predictions about when they will take off. They wondered whether MEMS will proliferate on IC chips and whether traditional ICs will become a small component of microsystems. Clark C.T. Nguyen of the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) forecast that certain applications will feature interdependent MEMS and IC elements in the near future, and cited a recent breakthrough in which MEMS technologies are employed to diffuse heat generated by CPU chips. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology professor Christopher Hierfold believed that embedded MEMS will be very popular and be accompanied by a "MEMS Inside" marketing campaign that emphasizes the value-added functions of MEMS products. However, industry consultant Daniel McGrath disputed such optimistic projections, noting that a wholly different business model is required if MEMS technologies are to spur industry growth. "Scaling works against performance, and there needs to be a business mechanism to fund relevant device development, design flow and process enhancements," he explained. Although Ray Roop of Motorola's Sensor Products Division acknowledged that current MEMS devices lack reliability, simplicity in assembly, and high-volume yield, he commented that CMOS technology also faced similar obstacles in its infancy.
- "If U.S. Launches Cyberattack, It Could Change Nature of War"
USA Today (02/12/03) P. 3B; Maney, Kevin
The nature of war could undergo a fundamental shift if a nation launches a coordinated cyberattack on another, according to historians. The effects of such an attack are hard to predict, and that is why the U.S. military is debating the use and methodology of such weapons, which it is nevertheless developing under several highly classified projects. Furthermore, the United States' reliance on computers and the Internet--higher than any other country--makes it especially vulnerable to an Internet-based retaliatory strike that could cripple both military and economic infrastructure. "God help us if any of these people get to the computers that control nuclear power plants--a thought that makes me shudder," notes Amir Aczel, author of "The Riddle of the Compass." Cyberdefense and cyberwarfare research projects are being conducted under the U.S. Strategic Command's Joint Task Force-Computer Network Operations (JTF-CNO). The cyberdefense project focuses on protective measures for essential computer systems and the Internet, while the cyberwarfare project is investigating offensive weapons. Still, the threat posed by hackers thus far is thought to be relatively minor, given that the CIA, the Defense Department, and other government institutions are regularly subjected to hacker attacks with no major damage reported. Former White House cybersecurity czar Richard Clarke notes that "We have capabilities, we have organizations, we do not yet have an elaborated strategy, doctrine, procedures" for cyberwarfare.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Researchers Announce World's Smallest Switch"
NewsFactor Network (02/07/03); Martin, Mike
Physics scientists have created the world's smallest electrical switch using a single molecule sandwiched between two gold surfaces. A scanning tunneling microscope's gold tip is used to switch the benzene-dithiolate (BDT) molecule, which contains sulfur, between an electrically resistant "off" state and a conductive "on" state. George Kirczenow, physics professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, says his switch is three times smaller than any other molecular switch and represents a step forward for technological miniaturization, which comes from discovering new, smaller systems with switching behavior. Kirczenow worked together with Eldon Emberly of Rockefeller University on the project. Nanosys business development director Stephen Empedocles says such switches are part of the nanomemory systems his company is planning to help build within the next 10 years. Current barriers to nano-scale molecular computing include manufacturing, interfacing, and stabilization difficulties. But Empedocles says molecular switches are an inevitable commercial technology since traditional silicon technology is up against physical limits in terms of size reduction. He says "we will need a fundamentally new format for further technology development...and molecular memory is likely to be a viable alternative."
- "New Mac Tool Is Kon-Fabulous"
Wired News (02/11/03); Kahney, Leander
- "DARPA Releases Strategic Plan"
Federal Computer Week (02/10/03); Caterinicchia, Dan
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) outlined eight key research areas in a report disclosed to the public on Feb. 6. In the area of counterterrorism, one of DARPA's chief projects is the Total Information Awareness (TIA) project, a system designed to root out and prevent terrorist acts by mining public and private transactions. DARPA's cognitive computing research effort is being led by the Information Processing Technology Office, which aims to make machines capable of reasoning about their surroundings, their motivations, and their own abilities; this will involve research into a number of core areas over the next several years, including computational perception, representation and reasoning, robust software and hardware infrastructure, learning, communications, and interaction, and dynamic coordinated teams of cognitive systems. DARPA officials believe that advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning, speech processing, microelectronics, and neural and brain science are bringing cognitive computing closer to reality. At the forefront of DARPA's network communications research is the Adaptive Joint Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Node Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program, which is described as a "radio frequency device in the sky" that has multiple functions and is reconfigurable. The DARPA plan says the goal of the initiative is a single system capable of performing many battlefield communications operations at the same time. Other research areas the DARPA plan focuses on include strong networks capable of self-organization; assured use of space; underground structure characterization; bio-revolution; and methods to find, recognize, track, and destroy surface targets.
- "Falling Prey to Machines?"
John Holland, recipient of the first computer science Ph.D in 1959, says artificial intelligence is possible, but will take far more work on the conceptual side. Holland is now a computer science and psychology professor at the University of Michigan and created genetic algorithms in the 1960s, the basis of optimization models today that find the most efficient way to manage energy, design engines, or operate distribution systems. Michael Crichton used Holland's work as the scientific basis of his recent novel Prey, in which nano-scale machines threaten humanity. Holland says computers today cannot evolve human-like thinking because programmers do not know how to define the parameters of their goal. This, he says, reflects the growing gap between computing power, which doubles about every two years, and software performance, which takes at least 20 years to double. Holland also says that computer processors do not have the sophisticated network of connections human brains have, called fanout. While each element in today's high-end computers connect to about 10 other elements, elements in the human brain are networked to about 10,000 other nodes. Holland says future computers with higher scales of fanout will not be comparable to today's machines in terms of what they are capable of. Holland says true breakthroughs in artificial intelligence will come when computers use the same processes as humans, not just find the same conclusions using different processes. For this reason, a comprehensive theory is needed to guide research, but that will probably take decades, he says.
- "Intel Developer Forum To Cover New Tracks, Latest Advancements"
IDF News Service (2/7/03)
The upcoming Intel Developer Forum (IDF), a leading industry event for designers and developers, will offer new tracks on Intel technology as well as in-depth technical training on the latest advances in computing and communications. IDF, slated for Feb. 18-21 at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, offers developers a look at future technology directions and a forum to examine and discuss those findings with colleagues from around the world. This year's conference includes new tracks on Intel's hyper-threading technology, design for quality, and designing safer computing clients for the digital office. The forum will also include a technology showcase, and draw top visionaries, among them Intel CEO Craig Barrett who will talk on Intel's strategy for the convergence of computing and communications, and Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger who will deliver updates on breakthroughs with Radio Free Intel, sensor nets, and silicon-optical technology.
For more IDF information and to register, visit http://www.intel.com/idf/us/spr2003/. Use VIP C NEWSACM to register.
- "At FCC, Gadget-Freak Powell Shapes Digital Future"
SiliconValley.com (02/10/03); Phillips, Heather Fleming
FCC Chairman Michael Powell is an avowed technology aficionado and unabashed advocate of free market economics, and Powell's vision for the technology industry is to promote progress by having the government study the markets and intervene as little as possible. Powell's free market stance has drawn praise from the likes of Cisco CEO John Chambers and ire from many consumer advocates. Powell is a champion of telecom infrastructure investment, according to Chambers, and Powell is under industry pressure to ease broadband regulations. Any day now, the FCC will decide whether phone companies must under law lease broadband pipes to competitors at discounted rates if asked for this service, and the technology industry is pushing to have broadband regulations loosened in general in order to spur investment, a stance Powell is leaning towards. Powell supports loosening regulations to provide more maneuverability to telecom giants such as SBC and Verizon, and changing rules to abet the increasing conglomeration of media outlets. Cable companies have increased rates by 48 percent since the market was deregulated by Congress seven years ago, and Powell's stance is that if Congress wants to address this price hike, Congress should--but he will not. Powell has also moved aggressively to open more spectrum for ultrawideband technologies and Wi-Fi networks. Powell himself is a proponent of technology, and is revamping the FCC's own infrastructure with Wi-Fi networking and other top tech tools. Under Powell, the FCC has hired about 40 engineers in the last year and a half, which is more than were hired during the previous 20 years.
- "The Internet Might Just Save the Planet"
ZDNet (02/07/03); Davies, Jeff
Despite the global economic downturn, several Internet-driven trends are providing new growth and promise, writes Jeff Davies. First, communication barriers have largely been erased, allowing one-person businesses to be available all the time via cell phones and the Web. The Internet and smarter search engine technology has also allowed small numbers of people with like interests to connect, despite being at different places on the globe. The result are global marketplaces such as eBay that allow items to retain their value longer, since people can find a buyer. Because people can find what they want used, manufacturers will be pressured to create new business models where they add value, such as Linux distributor Red Hat--contrasted with the example of Microsoft, which itself has forecasted lower desktop software revenues in the future. Other industries are already being affected by the availability of old products online, such as music and film, and today's computing technology provides home studios with basically the same film and music creation tools used by the industry. Because the Internet and resulting marketplaces allow people to satisfy their wants without buying new products, large manufacturers will be pressured to provide more diverse and customized products in order to compete. Companies such as IBM, which invests heavily in research and development and creates a wide range of products, will survive while other more singular companies will struggle to adapt their business models.
- "Bridging the 'Power Gap'"
ABCNews.com (02/11/03); Eng, Paul
Because portable electronic devices have developed so quickly in the last few years, their functions have outstripped traditional batteries' ability to power them adequately. President Bush attempted to address this need in his recent proposal for Congress to approve $1.7 billion over the next five years for fuel cell research, which promises longer-lasting, cleaner power sources for portable devices, as well as cars and power plants. Several companies are working on small fuel cells for portable electronics, including Neah Power Systems, which this month announced a fuel cell the size of a laptop battery. Instead of the large and flat proton exchange membrane (PEM) used in normal fuel cells, Neah's system uses a relatively small block of porous silicon, which dramatically increases the surface area in which hydrogen molecules in the fuel interact with catalysts that cause them to release their electrons. And because the silicon block can be manufactured with existing processes, the cost for the fuel cell would be less than those using PEMs, which also employ precious metals such as platinum. Besides packing more power in a smaller space, the silicon fuel cell block would also reduce the amount of carbon residue and resulting carbon dioxide gas that hampers fuel cell performance. A oft-discussed problem with consumer fuel cells is how people will get the fuel, and Neah addresses this by placing water, oxidant, and liquid methanol in bladders inside a replaceable "fuel tank" on the battery. Other barriers to consumer use of fuel cells include federal regulations, which prohibit passengers from carrying them on commercial aircraft, for example.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Applying Space Technology on Earth"
New York Times (02/10/03) P. C4; Harmon, Amy
Searchers for debris of the space shuttle Columbia used global positioning devices to mark the exact location of finds. Observers say many popular current technologies, including the Global Positioning System (GPS), were originally spawned or made possible through the efforts of NASA. GPS, for example, is operated by 24 high-flying satellites, some of which were put into orbit by shuttle flights. Today the technology is used by automakers to provide in-dash mapping systems for drivers, and NASA-developed virtual wind tunnels test the aerodynamics of commercial vehicles. Jaron Lanier, a pioneer of virtual reality technology and now chief scientist at the National Tele-Immersion Initiative, notes that he was employed by NASA 20 years ago to develop a virtual reality glove that people could use to feel objects in virtual spaces. He went on to further the technology for the entertainment industry and for surgery. Satellite television and phone services are also made possible by the space program. In the 1960s, the Apollo space program that put humans on the moon made semiconductors reliable and sped chip development by 10 years, some estimate. Institute for the Future director Paul Saffo and other technologists note that government projects such as NASA and military programs provide visionary goals for technology and are not bound by the same constraints as commercial enterprises. However, current funding for NASA, in inflation-adjusted amounts, is much smaller than what it was in previous years, requiring the agency to draw from commercial technology more often than it contributes.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "EU Proposes Agency to Coordinate Internet Security"
Associated Press (02/10/03)
The European Union on Monday proposed creating an agency to monitor Internet security throughout Europe. It could take up to nine months for the European Parliament and the EU member countries to approve the agency; Erkki Liikanen, EU information society commissioner, said the proposed agency would likely need a 5-year, $26.2 million budget. The agency would be responsible for monitoring Internet security breaches and analyzing data that would be shared by EU members; some say Europe is far behind the U.S. in its Internet security efforts. Liikanen cites a growing concern over cyberattacks, particularly since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He says, "The malfunctioning of networks and information systems concerns everybody: citizens, businesses, and public administrations." Over 90 percent of EU businesses have an Internet connection, Liikanen says, while others cite the threat to the computers that control Europe's power systems, chemical plants, and water systems.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Goodbye GUI? Ambient Orb a Computer 'Mood Ring'"
Mass High Tech (02/10/03); Miller, Jeff
Forthcoming products developed by Ambient Devices have the potential to dramatically change computer/person interaction, according to Ambient executives. One of the products is a large orb that is wirelessly linked to Internet data feeds via pager frequencies, and can glow in virtually any color thanks to a digital LED. The device can respond to changes in the Dow Jones average, for example, glowing green when the market is up or red when the market is down. But users can also configure the orb to other pre-set channels--homeland security threat levels, temperature forecasts, etc.--using a touch-tone phone. Another product Ambient will sell features a clock-like face with one hand and a quartet of illuminated indicators; Ambient President David Rose says that its default channel will probably monitor the weather, with the hand tracking temperature forecasts and the indicators displaying weather conditions. The device will be shipped with multiple faces so consumers can use it for different channels. Ambient uses pager frequencies to deliver data because they can penetrate deeper into buildings than CDMA-based networks, and because most of the United States is ensconced by pager networks. Rose says that many of Ambient's products have been inspired by the work of MIT's Tangible Media Group under the direction of Hiroshi Ishii, who has been researching alternatives to the traditional graphical user interface (GUI). Ishii says that using your hands is just as important as using your mind when creating something. Ishii says, "In the current interface, the eyes are in charge and the hands are underemployed."
- "The Best Thing Since the Bar-Code"
Economist (02/06/03) Vol. 366, No. 8310, P. 57
- "Blurring Lines"
InfoWorld (02/03/03) Vol. 25, No. 5, P. 1; Schwartz, Ephraim
The availability of new technology that can be used in the office as well as in the home gives IT managers and chief technologists more to think about when they make their IT decisions. Employees are increasingly purchasing new wireless communications devices and are increasingly using their cool tools to perform corporate tasks while away from the office. Often times they return to the office with stories of how helpful a personal digital assistant has been and ask why it can not be done in the office. Some companies are supportive of employees' effort to get work done outside the office, and IBM's Dean Douglas says companies do not necessarily have to adjust their tech platform to allow workers to take advantage of the convergence of digital technology. "Give them the network cards, for example, and make sure they have the appropriate VPN security in place," says Douglas. Broad-based access to new technology platforms for employees is now needed, and workers will ultimately use the integrated systems to benefit the company. IT managers will have to take such digital convergence into consideration as they make their future IT decisions, says Douglas. Nokia's Series 60 wireless communications platform and Apple's Xserve, Jaguar, Rendezvous, and Keynote products are all efforts to meet new digital convergence needs. Multimedia databases that use XML to tag content are another example of digital convergence, since XML enables the content to be integrated with other applications. Still, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young's John Jordan notes that convergence makes it easy for data and intellectual property to leave the company, for example, and also can put IT managers on the spot when employees ally with senior management to promote its use.
- "Mega-Bandwidth Gets Real"
CIO Insight (01/03) Vol. 1, No. 22, P. 63; Bolles, Gary A.
Advanced networking, high-bandwidth technologies are already being used to link hundreds of sites throughout the United States, and they are starting to penetrate the corporate sector. Over 200 U.S. colleges, government sites, and corporations are connected via Internet2, which is being used as a testbed for high-bandwidth applications. Boeing, General Motors, and Ford Motor are just some of the firms taking advantage of Internet2's fiber backbone to conduct research and development. Experts single out three specific, bandwidth-hungry applications driving advanced networking: Interactive real-time design, large-volume data collection and transfer, and videoconferencing. Analysts point to several other developments that are making advanced networking more and more palatable for corporations--the growing emphasis on a decentralized network architecture, and increasing distance between computing resources and the users who access them. The migration of academically produced networking technologies into the corporate space relies on how commercially adroit the universities and related startups are. Gartner estimates that even slow corporate adopters will see bandwidth use rise by a factor of 15 in four years, and analysts say IT departments must ready themselves for this transition. Principal engineer of Intel's network architecture lab, Don Newell, lists four areas that his company says will be essential to corporate bandwidth management: IP, Ethernet, network intelligence, and a nonproprietary server architecture.
- "Take a Number"
Scientific American (02/03) Vol. 288, No. 2, P. 27; Stix, Gary
Although the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has been awarding business-method patents (class 705) since 1998, many people say they can be detrimental to commercial activities. An example of business-related intellectual property is Amazon.com's patent on "one-click ordering." Business-method patents totaled 8,700 patents issued in 2001, compared to 1,340 issued in 1998. Specifically, the patents are awarded for business-related data-processing methods or technologies. But such patents have become problematic since some do not fit into class 705, and some precede the 1998 ruling allowing business patents. Opponents say that since business-method patents go beyond technological aspects, they may hurt economic growth. "Should any one company be permitted to own the concept of frequent-flyer miles for 20 years?" asks Brian Kahin of the University of Maryland Center for Information Policy. Meanwhile, the PTO made it more difficult to get class 705 patents in 2000, when the agency required applications to be reviewed by a second examiner; applications for business-method patents dropped 43 percent in fiscal 2002.
Click Here to View Full Article