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 466: Friday, March 7, 2003
- "Silicon Valley Reels Under Job Losses"
Los Angeles Times (03/07/03) P. C1; Menn, Joseph
Thousands of technology workers shaken out by the Silicon Valley job implosion, now in its third year, are re-evaluating their career prospects, while thousands more are hoping to re-enter the tech market by beefing up their resume and interviewing skills. In addition, California last week issued an estimate of Santa Clara County job losses since 2000 that was far higher than earlier estimates: The previous estimate was approximately 115,000 jobs, but the new assessment is 175,000--roughly 16 percent of all jobs in the county, outside of farming. Including job losses in San Francisco, the total comes to 275,400. Stephen Levy of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy says the Valley downturn is the worst to hit the state since the Great Depression. Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group's Carl Guardino says the area's high cost of living does not give out-of-work tech employees the luxury of looking for new jobs in the region for prolonged periods, resulting in a mass exodus of tech talent that could be detrimental to the Valley's economic recovery. "People leave to find greener pastures elsewhere, and if they find them they may stay there," Guardino observes. In fact, the California Department of Finance estimates that 14,564 people left Santa Clara County in 2001. Of the unemployed workers who still reside in Silicon Valley, more and more are reconsidering whether their career plans, made at the height of the tech boom, are still relevant--North Valley Job Training Consortium director Mike Curran says, "As people get older, there's a tendency to say: 'This is probably the last part of my career. I'm going to do something I value.'"
Click Here to View Full Article
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Spectrum Allocation Draws Intense Debate"
InfoWorld (03/05/03); Lawson, Stephen
Industry officials, academics, and policy makers hashed out ideas on radio spectrum allocation at a recent Stanford University conference. Participants advocated auctioning off spectrum, opening it for public use, leveraging new technology, and a mixture of these solutions together. Evan Kwerel, senior economist at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which doles out radio spectrum, said the marketplace would naturally fit radio spectrum to the most valuable use. Additionally, he said FCC plans to restructure 438 MHz of spectrum could allocate that resource more efficiently in just two years. Massachusetts Institute of Technology visiting professor David Reed suggested advanced "software radios" could allow a commons approach, where unlicensed spectrum would be open to all comers. Wi-Fi network technology is one example, residing in the 2.4-GHz spectrum previously considered "junk" spectrum. Former FCC chief economist and University of Pennsylvania professor Gerald Faulhaber said spectrum could be sold for proprietary use, but also made open to services that do not interfere with the owner's transmissions. Faulhaber also said some private owners might voluntarily open their licensed spectrum in order to spur innovation and then collect fees on equipment for those new services. The major problem for radio spectrum restructuring in the United States, said some attendees, was too much vested interest in the current allocation, and that experiments in developing countries could provide examples to follow. Intel's Sean Maloney said new technology that avoids interference promises new ways to use radio spectrum.
- "E-Mail Flaw Tests U.S. Safety Net"
Wired News (03/07/03); Delio, Michelle
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) used a recently disclosed security hole in the Sendmail email transfer application as an opportunity to test its cybersecurity early warning system, according to the SANS Institute. The vulnerability was discovered in December by Internet Security Systems (ISS), which notified Homeland Security officials, who coordinated the development and distribution of patches with over 20 software vendors before revealing the hole's existence to the public last week. Although the Poland-based Last Stage of Delirium (LSD) hacking group recently posted on Bugtraq that the vulnerability may not be as widespread as originally thought, security professionals applauded DHS' handling of the situation as a good first step. However, some experts fault government security information clearinghouses such as the National Infrastructure Protection Center for not reporting holes fast enough. "So long as DHS keeps trying to cover all their bases and refrains from reporting until they're sure about everything, they'll come in dead last every time," warns security researcher Robert Ferrell. He and network security consultant Mike Sweeney agree that a national early warning system is unlikely to satisfy everyone, because there are so many opposing views on how security flaw information should be disclosed. One group of experts thinks that such information should be released to a few people, while another group believes it should be fully and immediately disclosed to all parties. This does not sit well with software vendors, who worry that their credibility will be hurt if vulnerabilities are exposed before they can issue patches.
- "Analysis: Warnings About Cyber-Terrorism Are Overblown"
Scripps Howard News Service (03/05/03); Hoffman, Lisa
Computer security experts are increasingly skeptical about terrorists or sympathizers hacking into sensitive computer infrastructure and causing major catastrophe in the United States. Although there seems to be no shortage of such groups willing to attack U.S. government and commercial institutions, their affect has so far been limited in comparison with traditional terrorist attacks. In Malaysia recently, a pro-Islamic group called the Iron Guards has promised "suicide cyber-attacks" if the United States goes to war against Iraq, and has already broken into three AOL Time Warner systems and defaced several Web sites. In other recent conflicts, U.S.-based Web sites have been compromised, but none of critical importance or shut down for sustained periods of time. Despite FBI warnings immediately following the Sept. 11 and the war in Afghanistan, hacking activity in the United States actually dropped off in some areas. An email worm promoting Osama bin Laden's message made little headway, and a Pakistani hacking team broke into an unclassified Pentagon site shortly before being arrested. In 1999, hackers angered over the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Kosovo shut down the White House site and National Park Service home page, but failed to breach critical infrastructure. This evidence has led experts such as Network Solutions chief security officer Richard Forno to call cyber-terrorism a "paper tiger." Skeptics point out advances in IT security and the relative lack of resources available to opponents of the United States. Georgetown University researchers simulated a "Digital Pearl Harbor" attack and found it would take about $200 million, five years' preparation, and formidable intelligence to pull off.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Net Speed Record Smashed"
BBC News (03/06/03); Whitehouse, David
Particle physicists at Stanford have tested the fastest-ever Internet transmission, sending 6.7 gigabytes of data from Sunnyvale, Calif., to Holland's Amsterdam in just one minute. The 6,800-mile length was traversed at 923 megabits per second, about 3,500 times faster than an average household Internet connection. The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (Slac) is compiling about one terabyte of data each day on particle physics research, and scientists are trying to find ways to transfer that data between their school and other research labs. Slac scientist Les Cottrel said the transmission, which ran over the Internet2 network, meant a big leap forward for other applications as well. For example, he envisioned government officials at distant sites coordinating disaster response, or doctors discussing a patient's diagnosis and treatment online and referencing detailed graphics. Caltech physics professor Harvey Newman said the Stanford transmission and Slac research was emblematic of the rapid increase in stored data for particle research, estimated to grow in size by 1,000 times over the next 10 years.
- "Getting to Know All About You"
New York Times (03/06/03) P. E1; Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit
Robotic design now involves not just mechanics, sensors, and computers, but also a study of how humans and machines interact with one another. While previous generations of robots were preprogrammed and designed physically for specific tasks, researchers are now working to build robots that can accomplish various jobs, often in collaboration with humans. Many scientists think making robots human-like will help their integration into environments designed for human use. Waseda University robotics engineer Shuji Hashimoto says robots with human shape will be able to operate better in an office, for example, and communicate more effectively if using gestures, natural language, and facial expression. This second aspect is being addressed by the on-going Kismet project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence Lab. Researchers there have spent years training the Kismet robot to recognize human emotions, often communicating with it as they would with an infant. Cynthia Breazeal, a scientist working with Kismet, says in the future humans will naturally take up training robots that have emotional responses in the same way they train pets and babies. Robotics researcher Arvin Agah of the University of Kansas performed a study to measure the response of humans to a cylindrical robot about one foot tall. Participants felt more comfortable with the machine moving slower than walking speed, and that when the robot was atop a humanoid frame, they did not want it to get too near to their face. Swedish researchers at the Royal Institute of Technology have developed a dual-interface system for their robot office helper so they can either give voice commands or click an icon on their computer.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "White House Launches Technological Peace Corps"
IDG News Service (03/05/03); Gross, Grant
The White House on Tuesday announced the creation of the Digital Freedom Initiative, a three-year pilot program that will send technology and financial industry volunteers from U.S. companies to developing countries around the world in an effort to improve their technology industries and economies. The program, run through the Commerce Department, has a $2 million budget for 2004, says Connie Correll, senior advisor to the undersecretary of commerce for technology. Senegal will be the first country to participate in the program, but 20 other countries would receive assistance over the next five years if Senegal's pilot effort is successful. Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems have already backed the program, while IBM is also interested in supporting it. Senegal is expected to receive $4.5 million worth of computer equipment and volunteer work. Workers from other agencies as well as the Peace Corps will work with Senegalese small businesses on technology issues. Correll says, "The overall goal is technology-based economic development."
- "Disorder in the Court"
CNet (03/06/03); Festa, Paul
A U.S. District Court in California has created an exception to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) that could jeopardize online companies' immunity to actions taken by individual users. The CDA was written seven years ago, making "indecent" online material criminal, but also included the Section 230 clause as an important counterweight that Congress meant to protect online free speech and innovation. Legal experts and industry lawyers say the recent California ruling flies in the face of previous interpretations because it makes service providers responsible for content that they might help create through framed questions or opinion polls, for example.
"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" actress Christianne Carafano, whose screen name is Chase Masterson, filed a libel lawsuit against Matchmaker.com for an online posting that mixed fictitious and real information about her. The court ruled that Matchmaker.com was culpable because of the 62-question survey posed to users when creating an account and suggested essay questions. Those aspects made Matchmaker.com partly responsible for the content, but in friend-of-the-court briefs submitted by eBay and AOL, those companies said they too would be threatened by such a definition. Many online companies such as Amazon.com, eBay, CNET, and others quiz users for product information and opinions using questionnaires. Previous court cases have acquitted online companies from illegal acts done over their network or through their services, including distribution of damaging computer programs, pirated media, and false information.
- "Internet Vulnerabilities Caught in BIND"
ZDNet Australia (03/05/03); Gray, Patrick
The Internet Software Consortium (ISC) on Monday released BIND 9.2.2, a new version of the BIND domain name server. ISC first said on its Web site that the release is "a maintenance release, containing fixes for a number of bugs in 9.2.0 but no new features." Now the ISC has changed the message to say that the ISC has become aware of BIND vulnerabilities and that using 9.2.2 is "strongly recommended." BIND 9.2.1 is known to be vulnerable to a remote buffer overflow glitch that causes havoc when combined with a libbind non-default option. SANS chief technology officer Johannes Ulrich says that the ISC is not amplifying the need for people to update BIND with enough urgency. Australian security expert Adam Pointon wants ISC to explain vulnerabilities issues and solutions further in an official advisory release. Vendors will be confused by this ISC release, says Pointon, not just Internet users. The libbind function came over to BIND 9 from BIND 8, and is the last bit of shared code between the two versions, says Pointon, so it makes sense that it contains problems.
- "Who's Minding the E-Store?"
Associated Press (03/04/03)
Federal government law enforcement agents often seize property involved in alleged crimes whether the property is a drug dealer's speedboat or a hacker's hot-rod desktop, and now government agents also are seizing domain names under the same law enforcement protocols. Privacy advocates and Internet liberty advocates are taking notice of recent federal seizures of domain names and the posting of U.S. government-sponsored content at those addresses, and some are worried that the U.S. government will use these addresses to spy on visitors as well as deprive people of their livelihoods. Electronic Privacy Information Center general counsel David Sobel says the government can use the sites to monitor Web users without them realizing it. He says, "You can spin this out to future situations where there are a lot of classes of individuals the government might like to have a list of." Recently, the U.S. government seized illegal drug-related Web sites and domain names, pipesforyou.com and aheadcase.com, and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft vows to target between 15 and 20 other online locations during March. The question of whether a domain name is property or not is unresolved; seizure of these online signposts is on more stable legal footing if domain names are considered property, and on unclear footing if a domain name is simply a contracted arraignment with a registrar. Registrars have sued to protect their claims to domain names and to prevent them from being designated as property.
- "Swimming With MIT's Virtual Fish"
Wired News (03/07/03); Baard, Mike
MIT students plan to line the floor and walls of the institute's famous Infinite Corridor with screens displaying computer-generated tuna and pike that can seemingly move in three dimensions and respond to visitors' movements via sensor readings. One of the goals of the iQuarium project, which will be implemented by students from three departments, will be to illustrate the multidisciplinary nature of ocean engineering, according to principal project investigator Katie Wasserman. Key to modeling the fishes' movements so convincingly is simulating the vortices and fluid flow they generate, a task being handled by FLEX3D software developed at MIT's Vortical Flow Research Lab. By taking into account speed, direction, skin surface, and geometry, FLEX3D can model the virtual fishes' motions in order to build a movement library. "The net effect should be a more realistic movement of the fish than what you see in a screensaver, for example," notes MIT student Audrey Roy. Modeling the fish themselves will involve the use of C++ and Microsoft's Direct 3D graphics software, says mechanical engineering student Aaron Sokoloski. Wasserman and her associates say the simulated vortices employed by iQuarium could also be used to model virtual prototypes of ships. IQuarium is being funded by a $30,000 grant from the Microsoft Research/MIT iCampus alliance.
- "Andreessen: 'The Valley Is Going to Save the Valley'"
SiliconValley.com (03/05/03); Ostrom, Mary Anne
Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen has had less success with subsequent ventures such as Web hosting company Loudcloud and data-automation software firm Opsware, which trades now at $2 per share. Andreessen says the dot-com recession is affecting technology startups less than people conjecture, and Andreessen asserts that venture capitalists remain interested in backing good ideas but that good ideas are scarce. Andreessen does not believe that an expected Google IPO will help revive the Silicon Valley industry, but rather believes that bottom-up innovation eventually must, or will. He says, "The Valley is going to save the Valley...The companies that have transforming effects on the Valley are the ones that create platforms: platforms for the PC, for the Internet." In regard to technology stock deflation, Andreessen says that people who invested their money understood the risk they were taking as free U.S. citizens, and that in cases where corporate fraud exists, executives should be prosecuted. AOL Time Warner failed partially because of internal developments that were "really, really, really nasty," says Andreessen. "They drove that train off the cliff." He says there are no lessons to be derived from the Internet bubble, since psychology and people don't change. "The next bubble we'll go through in exactly the same way, and there's not a thing you can do about it."
- "Tech Firm Alliance, Not Group of Pols, Can Defeat Pirates"
Investor's Business Daily (03/06/03) P. A6; Deagon, Brian
The Alliance for Digital Progress (ADP) President Fred McClure says the solution to digital piracy lies in industry collaboration, not politically mandated technological solutions. Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) last year introduced legislation that threatened such a mandate, leading to the formation of the Alliance for Digital Progress by vendors such as Intel, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, the Business Software Alliance (BSA), and the Computer Systems Policy Project (CSPP). McClure says the Hollings bill from the previous Congress was bad legislation because it placed "the government in the role of designing a one-size-fits-all technology solution to piracy," which he says would slow product performance. He says ADP wants to "talk about our strong views on copyrights, but oppose mandates to solve the problems that are associated with piracy." The ADP continues to be on the watch for similar legislation McClure warns could pop up in any number of new technology issues before the current Congress, but the ADP is also working with other industry groups to solve the problem of digital piracy. McClure says the BSA, CSPP, and the Recording Industry Association of America recently signed an agreement that laid out common principles, including the belief that anti-piracy solutions should be the product of the marketplace and not legislation. The groups also agreed on the importance of consumer education and industry collaboration. He says the Motion Picture Association also met with ADP recently and more talks are planned, with other representatives from business and trade groups attending.
- "Toshiba Unveils Innovative Fuel Cell"
Wireless Newsfactor (03/05/03); Wrolstad, Jay
Toshiba has created a prototype fuel cell designed for use in mobile devices that delivers better performance than current lithium-ion batteries. By using the water by-product of the fuel cell to dilute the methanol fuel, Toshiba engineers were able to reduce the tank size to just one-tenth of standard fuel cells, which come with fuel liquid already diluted. The Toshiba fuel cell, called the direct methanol fuel cell, is compatible with devices that currently accept lithium-ion batteries and should be on the market next year. Between 12 and 20 watts of energy is produced by the fuel cell, which can power a notebook computer for about five hours. Frost & Sullivan analyst Sara Bradford says, "It is still too large for cell phones and PDAs, but research...has created fuel cells that are getting smaller and smaller." As mobile devices such as cell phones and PDAs become more powerful with features like 3G connections, Internet-browsing functions, and multimedia, traditional battery technologies are proving inadequate. Fuel cells are improving rapidly in terms of size and energy delivery, and Frost & Sullivan expects that two million mobile telecommunications devices, or about 3 percent of the market, will be using fuel cells for power. Gartner's Ken Dulaney estimates mobile power sources will improve at about the speed of Moore's Law for the next five years.
- "Unjaded and Jubilant at TED"
Forbes (03/04/03); Kneale, Dennis
The Technology, Entertainment and Design conference (TED) is a bellwether technology conference for the technology elite that flourished in the 1990s and predicted the eventual adoption of cell phones and PDAs before it happened, and focused on DNA development and genome research before these areas were picked up by the mass-cultural press. Even after the .com meltdown and current terrorism scares, TED continues to be held once a year, and was held again last week in California. TED's 2003 theme was "Rebirth." AOL Time Warner ex-CEO Steve Case, Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, Idealabs driving engine Bill Gross, and Priceline.com founder Jay Walker all attended. Bezos says the Internet revolution is just beginning and compares the Internet today to electricity in 1917 when Sears was using advertising to promote creative and innovative use of electricity with the slogan, "Use your electricity for more than just light." Draper Fisher Jurevetson has invested $56 million in 14 separate nanotech ventures and the company is a firm believer in nanotech's future. Harvard Business School's Life Sciences Project director Juan Enriquez discussed the creation of DNA-based memory chips that could be coded to store 1s and 0s, offering vast storage potential. He said, "So information storage may not turn out to be chips," but warned of the potential effects of government restrictions on stem cell research. TellMe Networks President Michael McCue noted at TED that while the overall U.S. economy waxes and wanes, technology innovators represented at TED continue to achieve progress; and because of this, McCue remains a believer in a tech-controlled future.
- "Tomorrow's 5G Cell Phone"
InfoWorld (03/03/03) Vol. 25, No. 9, P. 42; Prencipe, Loretta W.
Next-generation cell phones could be cognitive radios (CRs), a term coined by Mitre computer scientist Joseph Mitola to mean software radios that learn from users and act on their behalf. Mitola says his vision is still about five to 10 years from realization, but that it could mean a sea change as control is shifted from network operators to users. CRs would be constantly aware of the network resources available to them--wireless LAN, 3G, or the 800 MHz radio band, for example--and adjust settings according to their owner's behavior and needs. Sending a 10 MB email in a zone where carrier charges are high might cause the CR to alert its user, and suggest waiting until getting to the office to use the LAN instead. Currently, complex and ever-changing tariff structures make it nearly impossible for users to control their mode of access, but CR would shift that control from operators to users. Mitola says CRs could also enable open spectrum schemes where new technology could coexist with legacy spectrum licensees. When a policeman hits the talk button on his traditional radio, for example, a CR in "listening mode" would automatically switch to another frequency to avoid conflict. CRs would automate managing network access and use, and would be a "polite" technology that does not interfere with legacy systems. Mitola also says CR would have much more sensory capabilities than today's mobile devices, such as an accelerometer allowing a CR cell phone to know when it has been dropped and email its owner as to its location. Video recognition would allow CR cell phones to visually authenticate their owners.
- "Tag, You're It"
CIO (02/15/03) Vol. 16, No. 9, P. 84; Edwards, John
Slowly but surely, enterprises are finding it easier and cheaper to track and manage assets through radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, in which products and other items are equipped with electronic tags containing ID data that can be read remotely. RFID technology reduces the need for human intervention, provides data more efficiently than bar codes (and can store more data as well), is reliable in extreme environments, and is unaffected by nearby objects, all of which can significantly increase business productivity while saving money. A chip and an antenna are embedded within RFID tags, which come in two varieties: Passive tags that have no batteries and whose transmission range usually extends to only a few feet, and larger, battery-powered active tags that can transmit data from hundreds of feet away. The growth of the RFID market has been slow, and Gartner analyst Jeff Woods attributes this to the technology's high costs, differing global radio frequencies, and a lack of standards. However, these issues are being addressed--industry experts expect RFID products to become compatible in a few years; costs are falling thanks to the technology's maturation; and vendors and governments are collaborating on RFID and frequency standards. "I don't think we're going to see a tidal wave in 2003 of RFID adoption, but I do think we'll see some really encouraging stuff going on," says Woods. One of the drawbacks of RFID is that it often requires a multi-level restructuring of the company that adopts it, but this can work to the adopter's advantage through outsourcing and other arrangements. As RFID tags become smaller and cheaper, they will be incorporated into more and more everyday products, according to industry observers. Potential applications include the tracking of mail, pets, and children, as well as crowd control and ID counterfeiting prevention.
- "The Man in the Middle"
Roll Call (02/24/03) Vol. 48, No. 61, P. 4; Kondracke, Morton
In an interview with Roll Call, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the Bush administration could consider a short-term stimulus package, increasing exports, free-trade agreements, and funding more research and development as strategies for stimulating the tech industry. As for expanding the rollout of broadband, McCain, who is also chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, said technology such as Wi-Fi has helped improve access. But he added that a narrowly focused bill may be enough to gain congressional approval for increased broadband deployment. McCain said the administration has taken a hands-off approach to such issues, and that congressional gridlock will continue because telecommunications interests and money complicate matters. Moreover, many members of Congress still do not understand issues involving emerging technology, he said. Regarding the Total Information Awareness Program, McCain fears privacy invasion. Although he understands the United States' security concerns, congressional hearings need to be held to educate lawmakers on the program, he said. McCain also wants to reauthorize the Federal Communications Commission, which he praised as doing a good job regulating U.S. technology issues in an unbiased manner.
- "Look Ma, No Hands!"
Electronic Business (02/03) Vol. 29, No. 2, P. 70; Stackpole, Beth
The year 2003 will witness the market debut of business-productivity telematics applications designed to enhance in-car electronics. Delphi Automotive Group is readying a Bluetooth-based multimedia and off-board navigation system called Communiport R@dio, which enables the driver to find and dial numbers on a Bluetooth-equipped cell phone by voice command. Daimler Chrysler, BMW of North America, and other car companies are planning to bundle Bluetooth into their own telematics systems over the course of the next year, and experts predict that broadband telecommunications technologies such as 3G, 802.11, and 802.11a will also become telematics components. The current focus of telematics development centers around hands-free cell phone services that reduce driver distraction and promote safety. This implies not just equipping telematics systems with Bluetooth and voice recognition, but allowing customers to wirelessly connect their existing cell phones and PDAs to the vehicles, and perhaps installing a cradle or dock station to recharge the phone. This year, Chrysler will issue its UConnect car kit, while a similar product from BMW and Visteon will premiere in 2003 as well. The focus on safety, combined with the economic slump, has forced telematics developers to be more practical. "Mobile devices [in the car] will evolve to deliver what we need at the moment...things like directions, phone numbers and basic news," notes Frank Viquez of Allied Business Intelligence. "No one is expecting to have the Internet at their fingertips."
Click Here to View Full Article