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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 463: Friday, February 28, 2003

  • "It's Open Season on Spammers"
    PCWorld.com (02/27/03); Brandt, Andrew

    Legislators, regulators, and security specialists flocked to this week's Data Security Summit in Washington, D.C., where a hot-button topic was the growing problem of unsolicited commercial email (spam) and ways to control it so that consumer privacy is adequately protected. Federal Trade Commissioner Orson Swindle warned that the value of email, which he described as "the only truly killer app in existence," is in serious jeopardy because of spam, and said the American public should be educated about the risks of related privacy violations. He added that debate, rather than legislation, has helped spread public awareness about spam, but other speakers favored making spam illegal. AOL integrity assurance director Douglas R. Miller went so far as to suggest that spammers should be sent to prison. Another speaker who saw drawbacks in anti-spam legislation was FTC attorney Brian Huseman, who envisioned a scenario in which overbroad spam laws could force businesses to notify customers of even the most trivial and irrelevant privacy violations. Meanwhile, technology lawyer Bruce Johnson forecast that restrictions on telemarketers, which the FTC plans to impose through its Do Not Call lists, could result in even more spam. Assistant U.S. attorney general David Stampley felt a more effective way to stop spam is to build privacy assurance directly into Internet systems, while several top ISPs have recently made the fight against spam a priority. "If [businesses] don't make privacy and security part of the corporate culture, the FTC will be a part of your future," warned Swindle.
    http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,109595,00.asp

  • "Inventor of Swarming Robots Wins Prize"
    CNet (02/26/03); Kanellos, Michael

    MIT doctoral candidate James McLurkin received this year's Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for creating robots that are programmed to swarm like bees. The machines are equipped with sensors and radio gear that enable them to scan for environmental stimuli and communicate with the rest of the "hive" in order to collectively perform preprogrammed functions. About 20 of the robots were organized by McLurkin to play music in a class project. Hypothetical applications for his robots include remote operation of equipment or the recognition and correction of environmental hazards. McLurkin's project builds on earlier research he carried out for his undergraduate thesis at MIT, which involved the creation of artificial ants that could forage and relay messages. The swarming robots are part of his doctoral thesis in computer science, and also represent a significant research effort at MIT's iRobot startup. "James is a clever and inspired inventor," boasts Rodney Brooks of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab. McLurkin is also the lead scientist at iRobot. Similar research is being conducted by academics and private companies focusing on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) that combine sensors and micromachines to gather environmental data, while both startups and entrenched firms observe an acceleration in machine navigation and artificial intelligence initiatives.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1008-986190.html

  • "Rivals Chip Away at Microsoft's Dominance"
    USA Today (02/27/03) P. 1B; Acohido, Byron

    Governments, educational institutions, and even businesses are switching from Microsoft products to open-source solutions, which offer comparable computing capabilities at a much cheaper price. As a result, open source is gaining on flagship Microsoft tools such as Windows and Office, which for the last 10 years have dominated the desktop sector. Many open-source adopters are making the transition out of a need to keep budgets tight, or out of frustration at Microsoft's latest licensing scheme. Still, Hewlett-Packard VP Martin Fink does not think open source will significantly penetrate the desktop arena until a "Fortune 500 company does the switch and demonstrates that it is cost effective." Open source will more likely make a bigger splash among small companies and countries where Microsoft has less influence. Nations and organizations that are considering or implementing open-source government solutions include China, Peru, Brazil, Australia, and the European Union. Meanwhile, over 1,300 U.S. schools have downloaded freely available open-source software and instructions for building work areas from the K12LTSP.org Web site over the past four months. Microsoft is quick to point out the disadvantages of open source, such as a lack of customization, spreadsheet analysis, and other high-end features that are standard components of Windows and Office. On the other hand, one of open-source's chief selling points is its ability to give software administrators greater control by blending and modifying programs.
    http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20030227/4902704s.htm

  • "Handhelds Gain Space"
    Technology Research News (03/05/03); Patch, Kimberly

    University of California at Berkeley researcher Ka-Ping Yee has turned a handheld computer display into a window that allows users to work in a much larger virtual workspace more easily. Instead of using the pen to scroll over a larger document or desktop space, users move the actual device. Yee prototyped a variety of methods, including using fishing line and a mechanical mouse, components of an optical mouse, and an ultrasonic transmitter. The important breakthrough in Yee's work, says Carnegie Mellon University senior researcher Brad Meyers, is not the mechanics of the system but the idea itself and potential applications. Yee says he wrote a program that takes advantage of 3D space as well, allowing users to toggle between different workspaces by moving the handheld vertically up or down. Yee said, "I was motivated by wanting to position the view directly instead of having to wait for the view to scroll." In user tests, participants that used Yee's system rather than traditional scrolling techniques took advantage of the system to make larger drawings, for example, and said they strongly preferred Yee's method. Eventually, Yee says his goal is to enable handheld users to designate specific applications to the physical space around them, such as a calendar to the right and an address book to the left, and he anticipates a finished product within five years. Tufts University computer science professor Robert Jacobs says Yee's work is aimed at bridging the gap left by the move away from desktop computers and toward smaller, portable devices while maintaining a "large virtual user interface and work surface." Yee will present his work at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Fort Lauderdale, April 5-10.
    Click Here to View Full Article

    For more information or to register for CHI03, visit http://www.chi2003.org/index.cgi.

  • "Are the Feds Reading Your E-Mail?"
    Medill News Service (02/25/03); Stock, Kyle

    Senate Judiciary Committee members Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) are sponsoring the Domestic Surveillance Oversight Act, which requires that the FBI and the Department of Justice disclose how often they spy on U.S. citizens, with a special emphasis on Internet surveillance. The introduction of the bill on Tuesday comes at a time when the DOJ and the FBI's electronic surveillance powers have been significantly expanded by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the 2001 Patriot Act, while investigators are apparently trying to broaden those powers even further. The Domestic Surveillance Oversight Act would require the attorney general to release a yearly report detailing how often FISA orders were issued for Americans, how FISA provisions are leveraged in criminal court cases, how search applications are interpreted by FISA courts, and how often agents scan library computers. Accompanying the bill is a large document sharply criticizing the FBI and DOJ's excessive secrecy and insufficient training in regard to FISA standards. Specter also alleges that the agencies are riddled with incompetence that reaches into the highest levels. In response to the bill, the DOJ claims that it and related agencies have furnished Congress with regular reports on their surveillance activities since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Leahy says that U.S. cities have sent "clear signals" to the federal government by discussing or approving mandates advising Congress to ensure that government surveillance powers are balanced with civil liberties. In a related matter, the DOJ was ordered by a federal court this past autumn to answer a Freedom of Information request by the ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information Center calling for details on how often federal agents monitor Internet users, and the training involved.
    http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,109535,00.asp

  • "Turning the Desktop Into a Meeting Place"
    New York Times (02/27/03) P. E6; Boutin, Paul

    Software engineer Robb Beal's Spring computer interface differs from traditional desktop interfaces by using hypertext representations of people, places, and things instead of icons for applications and Web sites, thus simplifying frequent user activities such as Internet communication and e-shopping. Spring, which runs on Apple Computer's OS X operating system, replaces Mail and Microsoft Word icons with these representations; users, for example, could ask someone to meet them at a specific place by placing a cursor over the person's representative icon, clicking on it, and then drawing a line to the icon signifying the place, which triggers a pop-up menu that offers a range of options, such as emailing the recipient an invitation, sending directions to the destination, etc. In addition, Spring might visit a related Web site so that invitations and scheduling can be completed. A similar setup exists for facilitating electronic transactions, such as dragging a credit card icon to the image of a desired item. Spring allows users to deploy multiple displays, or canvases, with a different set of object icons, such as a canvas for friends and another canvas for business associates. Steven Johnson, author of "Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate," praises Spring for its ability to transform a computer into "a bridge to people, to things you want to buy, to data you need." The development of Spring closely follows similar developments at Apple and Microsoft with their respective Windows XP and iLife products. Hillel Cooperman of Microsoft's Windows User Experience team notes that "Having metaphors and iconography people could relate to in the real world was a great bridge for bringing nontechnologists into the world of the PC." Still, Beal and other experts believe that the traditional desktop interface has a lot of life left in it.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/27/technology/circuits/27inte.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Congress Targets P2P Piracy on Campus"
    CNet (02/26/03); McCullagh, Declan

    A House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees copyright law held a hearing on the issue of peer-to-peer (P2P) piracy on college campuses on Wednesday under new subcommittee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and during the hearing a bipartisan slate of subcommittee members called for tougher enforcement of laws against file-sharing and file-swapping. The 1997 No Electronic Theft Act (NET Act) makes sharing copies of copyrighted products worth over $1,000 or in exchange for other files a federal crime. The penalty is up to one year in prison, and this can rise to five years if the work in question exceeds $2,500 in value. Although the Justice Department has not wielded the NET act against a P2P pirate yet, last August 19 members of Congress wrote Attorney General John Ashcroft asking him "to prosecute individuals who intentionally allow mass-copying from their computer over peer-to-peer networks." Currently, the members of the copyright oversight subcommittee are irate that universities are not doing more to clamp down on file-swapping, for many U.S. students take advantage of university-provided, high-bandwidth Internet connections to share files of copyrighted property. Pennsylvania State University President Graham Spanier agrees that file-sharing of copyrighted work is widespread, but also notes that P2P networking has its fair-use purposes. He says Pennsylvania State monitors and restricts students' bandwidth use as one solution to the piracy problem, but the school does not monitor the content of Internet traffic. In contrast, the University of Wyoming monitors its network as well as what types of files are being swapped. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) says universities should ban all P2P network use by students.
    http://news.com.com/2100-1028-986143.html

  • "Santa Clara County OKs Touch-Screen Voting"
    San Francisco Chronicle (02/26/03) P. A23; Gathright, Alan

    Heeding the advice of computer experts and voting advocates, California's Santa Clara County on Tuesday became the first U.S. county to agree to purchase touch-screen voting systems that provide a "voter-verified" paper record for each ballot. The county, in a 3-2 vote, approved plans to create a $20 million touch-screen voting system to be in place by next November's elections. The plan includes a pilot program to test the issuing of paper records, but the goal is to eventually have all of the county's 730,000 registered voters using machines that create paper records. Former ACM President Barbara Simons testified on Tuesday that a paper-verified system was "the only way we can ensure that the election is honest." California Voter Foundation President Kim Alexander called the county's decision "an important step toward more reliable voting systems for voters throughout California and the country."
    Click Here to View Full Article

    Barabra Simons is co-chair of ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee (http://www.acm.org/usacm).

  • "Microsoft-Backed Bill Would Dilute Spam Law, State Says"
    Seattle Post-Intelligencer (02/27/03) P. B1; Heckman, Candace

    An amendment to Washington state's anti-spam law that was backed by Microsoft and which would have weakened Washington state's anti-spam protections will die in a Senate committee, partially due to the work of the state's Attorney General's Office that opposed the changes. Senate Bill 5734 would have required that commercial email in Washington State include at the front of the subject line this code: "ADV:", a requirement that would have enabled email filters and people to easily identify spam and commercial email. The bill also would have enabled any business to send commercial email outside of state-wide anti-spam regulations to customers of that business; for instance, allowing Amazon.com to send commercial email to any person who purchased a book at Amazon. In addition, the bill also would exempt from state regulation any commercial email sent by a business to any user of that business' product, a provision that would have allowed Microsoft, for instance, to contact any user of its ubiquitous Windows software; and these two exemptions had Washington state's attorney general vociferously working against the bill. The Washington Association of Internet Service Providers backs the "ADV:" requirement but not all the provisions in Senate Bill 5734; the association also backed the state's original passage of its anti-spam law, called the Commercial Electronic Mail Act. Although Microsoft says it is concerned about spam and fights spam proliferation on its own HotMail service, it also wants to protect its ability to send commercial email, and this concern has led Microsoft to become active in working with various governments on spam issues. The Washington state Senate plans to consider spam issues again in next year's session.
    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/110297_spam27.shtml

  • "Genetic IT: Systems With Evolving Value"
    InternetWeek (02/25/03); Evans, Nick

    Businesses need to think about how to align their IT capabilities with future software evolution, which currently is heading toward systems that evolve rather than overlap one another. With automation as the first wave of IT innovation in business, and standardization the second wave that is still yielding results, the next wave will be genetic programming. Already used in technical designs, genetic programming uses software intelligence to create more efficient and effective solutions than those engineered by humans. Applied in a business IT scenario, genetic programming characteristics mean solutions that evolve greater value for the organization through a form of natural selection. This type of Genetic IT seeks out new combinations of Web services components and business process management solutions that allow greater value for the company. Instead of replacing systems, components can be added and reused on a continuing, dynamic basis. Several emerging areas of business IT already point to this type of evolving IT, such as security systems that are preventive rather than merely detection systems. Autonomic computing involves self-healing functions. And the always-on nature of smart phones and wireless technologies provide systems with more sensory capabilities. The combination of these technologies with a Genetic IT mindset will allow enterprise IT to evolve greater value for the business.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Telematics Spec Delivered Amidst Growing Doubts"
    EE Times (02/27/03); Murray, Charles J.

    After four years of development, the Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration (AMI-C) presented an approximately 2,000-page multimedia interface standard to the worldwide auto industry on Feb. 26. "This gives a common baseline for everyone to design their products to," noted AMI-C program manager Pom Malhotra. Automobile manufacturers called for an interface standard in anticipation of a projected boom in telematics technology, but many analysts who forecast the boom have since downgraded their projections, shaving more than 50 percent off a previous 2010 revenue estimate of $40 billion per year. The economic downturn has made telematics investment less of a priority, according to Hansen Report on Automotive Electronics author Paul Hansen. The AMI-C Release 2 standard provides an architectural prospectus, vehicle interface and system requirements, and AMI-C use cases, while application interface specifications and other material will be released over the next few months. AMI-C representatives said the next step will involve "sponsored projects" in which automakers will either use the revised standard to construct devices for production, or go off in a different direction by modifying the existing spec. AMI-C members include General Motors, Honda, Ford Motor, Fiat, Nissan, Toyota, Renault, and PSA Peugeot Citroen, and the organization is hoping to bring DaimlerChrysler, BMW, and Volkswagen back into the fold by lowering membership fees.
    http://www.eetimes.com/sys/news/OEG20030227S0051

  • "With 6 Degrees of Separation, Computers Stay in Sync"
    New York Times (02/27/03) P. E8; Austen, Ian

    A team of scientists have developed a mathematical model demonstrating that the "six degrees of separation" theory, which speculates that any two people can be connected through no more than six other people, also applies to synchronized computing. Physicist Gyorgy Korniss, currently assistant professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, noted that networked computers cannot maintain synchronization because parallel networks break down calculative problems in stages: Each computer must complete one stage of the problem before a new series of calculations can start, which gives rise to idle computers that must wait for slower-moving processors to catch up. Centralized synchronization only increases the amount of computer inactivity, so Dr. Korniss teamed up with Zoltan Toroczkai to research how many processors could be added to a parallel system before it collapses. They theorized that the number of processors that could be added to parallel systems was infinite, and started investigating ways to address the synchronization problem. Their solution was partly inspired by biological research Korniss was conducting, which involved the development of a massively parallel computer model designed to simulate how the introduction of new species would affect a given region. The model Korniss, Toroczkai, and three other U.S.-based researchers devised supports synchronization by having processors make periodical, random checks on what another processor in the system is doing; Korniss adds that the system can still maintain synchronization even with a few inactive processors. Unlike the small-world theory about six degrees of separation, the synchronized system lacks hubs comparable to people who can claim an unusual number of links to others. The theory could be applied to a computer at Los Alamos National Laboratory that simulates human interaction in order to anticipate the path of disease epidemics.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/27/technology/circuits/27next.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Many Laid-Off Silicon Valley Techies Work for Free to Brush Up on Skills"
    USA Today (02/27/03) P. 1B; Swartz, Jon

    Technology workers in Silicon Valley are increasingly accepting jobs with no pay in an effort to boost their knowledge and improve their chances for future employment, according to employers and recruiters. Some companies offer potential employees stock options instead of a salary, while others offer unpaid training opportunities. Silicon Valley career counselor Patti Wilson says, "Many unemployed are leaping at the opportunity for any type of work." Analysts say as more workers accept non-paying jobs, paid employees could have more difficulty getting raises or see their salaries depressed. Still, some skill sets remain in high demand, and technology companies continue to hire college students before they graduate, although that practice is now less common.
    http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20030227/4902709s.htm

  • "Links Adding Up for Grid Computing"
    Stamford Advocate (02/24/03); Van, Jon

    Grid computing, in which unused computing capacity is tapped to handle complex calculations, has started to migrate out of the academic sector and into the corporate arena. Moreover, the relative simplicity of grid computing can be a boon to users who are not technically inclined, notes Tom Hawk of IBM. Grid computing runs the gamut from peer-to-peer music sharing services such as Napster to more scientific projects, including one in which volunteers assist in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) by allowing their PCs to process data when they are idle. IBM, Microsoft, EDS, Sun Microsystems, and Hewlett-Packard have undertaken grid computing initiatives, but Ian Foster of Argonne National Laboratory says that academic researchers in Illinois are at the forefront of grid computing research. He says that grid computing could be beneficial to commercial enterprises that rely heavily on computing, if an economic business model can be organized. University of California, San Diego, computer scientist Larry Smarr is collaborating with Illinois researchers to link UCSD with Argonne, Northwestern University, the University of Illinois, and other research centers via OptIPuter, a grid built from network connections whose speeds outmatch those of individual computers. "Today's Internet could be thought of as a Polynesian model, where you have all these islands and people use canoes to get from one to another," Smarr explains. "We're changing that to a jet-age model, where you can get from one city to another, traveling at speeds far greater than what you travel at once you get inside the city itself."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "NSF Expands Cyber Corps Program"
    InternetNews.com (02/18/03); Mark, Roy

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) doled out 13 more awards to U.S. universities and colleges in order to boost the capacity of its Scholarship for Service program, also known as the Cyber Corps. President Bush promoted the program after the Sept. 11 attacks as a way to bring more skilled IT security workers into the field, and granted the NSF an additional $19 million in its fiscal 2002 budget for expanding the Cyber Corps program. The new money will go toward growing the enrollment in the nine schools already participating as well as adding four new institutions. As a result, the Cyber Corps will roughly double to about 300 students. Besides scholarships for bachelors and masters degrees in information security fields, the Cyber Corp funding also goes toward increasing schools' capacity for such fields of study. The four schools added to the program are: Norwich University in Vermont, Syracuse University, Idaho State University in Pocatello, and Florida State University in Tallahassee.
    http://dc.internet.com/news/article.php/1585651

  • "Cyber Plan's Future Bleak"
    eWeek (02/24/03) Vol. 20, No. 8, P. 1; Fisher, Dennis

    Security experts and Washington insiders doubt that many of the initiatives contained in the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace will be deployed, owing to a vacant leadership position and few specifics on how the private sector, universities, and organizations can implement the plan's recommendations. A leadership hole will be left when former White House cybersecurity czar Richard Clarke departs next month. Washington insiders say Clarke's disenchantment with the strategy, which he devised, stems from the Bush administration's decision to make the new Homeland Security Department, rather than the White House and the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, responsible for its implementation. Solutionary chief security counsel Mark Rasch cites the lack of an action plan as one of the strategy's critical drawbacks. The strategy devotes a large amount of space to recommendations federal agencies can follow to beef up network security, and the deployment of programs such as continued use of automated security assessment tools, research into more robust access control and authentication technologies, and a government-wide software patch exchange. Meanwhile, industries are basically urged to increase awareness of major security issues. Insiders say the government wants to act as an example to other groups on how to implement effective security, thus breaking a long-standing tradition of looking to the private sector for security best practices. "To the extent that it sounds like [government agencies are] the keepers of the wisdom on the subject of security, it sounds foolish because everyone knows they're not," asserts Scott Blake of BindView.
    http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,3959,901382,00.asp

  • "The Linux Uprising"
    Business Week (03/03/03) No. 3822, P. 78; Kerstetter, Jim; Hamm, Steve; Ante, Spencer E.

    The open-source Linux operating system has exceeded the vision of its creator, Linus Torvalds, by penetrating the business sector and emerging as a threat to Microsoft's dominion over the server industry. Companies such as DaimlerChrysler are finding it cheaper and faster to carry out computing projects on Linux, which owns 13.7 percent of the server market and is expected to capture 25.2 percent in 2006, according to International Data (IDC). Linux's mainstream gains are attributed to three intersecting factors: The corporate push to become cost-effective in a down economy; Intel's production of Linux-enabled chips, which allow companies to increase their computing power cheaply; and rampant animosity among customers toward Microsoft and its anti-competitive business practices. Freely available open-source software has the potential to shift the computer industry's revenue streams away from the operating system and force tech companies to look for alternative sources of revenue, such as services and Linux-enabled software. Tech industry giants such as IBM, Dell, Intel, and Oracle have embraced Linux because it dovetails with their corporate strategies, and this has given Linux's credibility among corporate buyers a considerable shot in the arm. Linux adoption is a blow to Sun Microsystems, which has seen many long-cherished customers defect to the open-source operating system; in response, Sun is selling basic hardware running Linux and upgrading its Solaris software. Startups wanting to capitalize on Linux seem hopelessly outmatched by IBM and the other major Linux advocates, although Red Hat is one of the few exceptions. Key to Linux's continued success will be a balance between the volunteer coders that constantly tweak the operating system and the corporate players striving to save money.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Wireless Mesh Networks"
    Sensors (02/03) Vol. 20, No. 2, P. 38; Poor, Robert

    Point-to-point or point-to-multipoint networks typical of industrial wireless communications systems have limited scalability and reliability, respectively, and can be impacted by unfavorable environmental conditions. Wireless multihop mesh networks, on the other hand, are more adaptable to their surroundings, and boosting their reliability, scalability, and redundancy is as simple as adding more nodes to the network. New or existing equipment can be added to mesh networks by plugging it in, and the networks are self-organizing and self-healing. Reduced installation time is another advantage of mesh networks--deployment can take hours instead of days or weeks. Diagnostic device monitoring via mesh networks can improve productivity and lead to cost savings through predictive maintenance, since the networks are a low-cost technique to keep track of operations outside the normal control loop. Mesh networks can also be applied to distributed control systems, and enable intelligent peers to communicate directly with other network nodes, obviating the need for a central control locus. Advocates tout modular control systems' relatively low cost and ease-of-use, and their ability to isolate malfunctions more rapidly or be replaced or upgraded with little impact on the health of the overall system.
    http://sensorsmag.com/articles/0203/38/