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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 5, Issue 478: Friday, April 4, 2003
- "TIA Proponents Defend Domestic Spy Plan"
CNet (04/02/03); McCullagh, Declan
Critics and supporters of the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness (TIA) project voiced their views during a debate at the ACM's Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference on Wednesday. Manhattan Institute fellow and lawyer Heather MacDonald argued that privacy advocates, in criticizing TIA, are making "hysterical vociferous cries" against improving the government's abilities to protect innocent Americans and apprehend criminals, and taking "a Luddite approach that says al-Qaida can get its hands on the best possible technology to attack us, but we're stuck with [an] outdated mechanism." TIA opponents such as the ACLU's Katie Corrigan have decried the project as insupportable, ill-conceived, and rife with the potential for abuse. Heritage Foundation analyst Michael Scardaville admitted at the conference that the possibility of abuse exists, but denied that TIA is an "Orwellian monster," as many critics have called it. Congress approved an omnibus federal spending bill in late February requiring TIA research and development to be studied in detail. The bill calls for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to furnish Congress with a "schedule for proposed research and development" that assesses how TIA could impact privacy, or face a funding blockage.
- "That Championship Season, in Code"
New York Times (04/03/03) P. F1; Hafner, Katie
The Association of Computing Machinery's (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest in Beverley Hills, Calif. last week was swept by Eastern European schools. The contest, now in its 27th year, pits teams of university students against complex computer problems for five hours, and the team that solves the most problems wins. Time and accuracy are also taken into account. ACM President Maria Klawe, also dean of Princeton's engineering school, emphasizes the importance of simply taking part in the contest, which involves 263 students selected from a group of over 23,000. She says, "I tell the kids it's not winning that matters, it's being here." Still, many of the participants have rigorously prepared for the contest and are determined to win. The winning team gets $10,000 as well as an IBM ThinkPad notebook for each of the team's three members. The top team hailed from Warsaw State University in Poland, and second place went to the team representing Russia's Moscow State University. Other teams from Eastern Europe finished third and fourth, while last year's championship team from Shanghai finished sixth. The highest ranking U.S. team, from CalTech, placed at No. 13. The problem sets represented real-life scenarios, such as how to distribute euro money throughout Europe. Lars Hellsten of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, whose team won a top 10 spot last year, says the key is not just speed, but also accuracy, since mistakes mean several minutes of troubleshooting later. The most difficult problem for all of the teams was one involving analytic geometry.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Feds Defend Plan to Secure Cyberspace"
IDG News Service (04/02/03); Gross, Grant
Responding to criticism that President Bush's National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace is hobbled by a lack of federal regulation to enforce its recommendations, the White House's special advisor for cybersecurity Howard Schmidt told attendees at the Secure E-Business Executive Summit on Tuesday that this was intentional. "I don't think any of us would like some government agency to say, 'here's the protocols you have to use, here's the operating system you have to use, here's the database you have to use,' because one size does not fit all," he noted. Schmidt added that the White House best serves the plan by recommending that all parties--from enterprises to individual users--consider the importance of securing their own section of cyberspace. "As we move forward...we can all do our piece of it to make sure we're committed to fixing the problems we've got," he declared. Schmidt said the government can also act as a mediator between rival organizations that need to cooperate in order to erect solid cyber-defenses. He said the private sector and the government must be more communicative, especially when cyberattacks take place, while all Internet users need to be alert for signs of Web intrusions. In order for homeland security to be effective, all involved parties must be more willing to share information about security flaws by overcoming reluctance stemming from a fear of embarrassment or bothering others. Schmidt assured that no single person or organization is required to comply with every recommendation in the cybersecurity strategy, but anyone who does see a potential threat ought to notify a law enforcement agency or the closest Internet network operations center.
- "Fears About War, Economy Slow IT Hiring"
Computerworld (04/02/03); Hoffman, Thomas
The employment of IT professionals was impacted considerably by concerns about a war with Iraq and economic doldrums in the fourth quarter of 2002, according to a report co-authored by online recruiting services provider Dice and the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA). There were slightly more than 10.2 million employed U.S. IT workers at year's end, up from about 9.9 million in January 2002. The Dice/ITAA report finds that the most highly desired IT skills have changed little since the beginning of 2002; these skills include proficiency in Oracle database administration, Microsoft Windows NT, Java, C, C++, and SQL. Hirings were down, but so were firings: The report estimates that 168,000 technology workers were laid off in the fourth quarter, while approximately 350,000 staff were let go in both the first and second quarters of 2002. Over the next year, polled hiring managers expect to recruit 874,327 IT professionals, compared to 1.183 million expected hirings as of third-quarter 2002. Meanwhile, Meta Group's 2003 Staffing and Compensation Guide indicates that IT salaries are climbing despite tight IT budgets. Forrester Research analyst Tom Pohlmann believes staffing levels will remain relatively stable.
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- "Queen's Researchers Invent Computers That 'Pay Attention' to Users"
Scientists from the Human Media Lab (HML) at Queen's University in Ontario have developed an Attentive User Interface (AUI) designed to relieve users of the morass of messages they receive on their electronic devices by evaluating the user's attention span and the importance of each message as it relates to the user's current activities. "We now need computers that sense when we are busy, when we are available for interruption, and know when to wait their turn--just as we do in human-to-human interactions," explains HML director Dr. Roel Vertegaal. "We're moving computers from the realm of being merely tools, to being 'sociable' appliances that can recognize and respond to some of the non-verbal cues humans use in group conversation." Many of the breakthroughs the Queen's team has implemented are derived from studies focusing on the role of eye contact in human group conversation. This research has led, for example, to an eye contact sensor that enables devices to establish a user's presence and level of attention. Other AUI applications developed at HML include robotic eyes equipped with eye contact sensors that allow computers to relay their attentiveness to the user; attentive messaging systems that forward email messages to devices in use; a videoconferencing system that uses Web-transmitted video images to communicate eye contact; cell phones outfitted with eye contact sensing glasses that can sense when users are engaged in face-to-face conversations; home appliances that follow a user's voice commands only when the user's gaze is directed at them; and TVs that pause when no one is watching. Dr. Vertegaal and his research team will detail their latest research at next week's ACM CHI 2003 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Fort Lauderdale, FL, while th March issue of Communications of the ACM features a special section to AUIs.
For more information on CHI, visit http://www.chi2003.org/index.cgi.
- "Feinstein Introduces Privacy Act of 2003"
InternetNews.com (04/03/03); Mark, Roy
A recent FTC report estimates that 43 percent of all registered consumer complaints in 2002 involved identity theft, which incurred $343 million in losses. In an effort to curtail such abuses, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has proposed The Privacy Act of 2003, which sets a national standard for protection of citizens' personal data. Under Feinstein's legislation, highly sensitive personal information--Social Security numbers, for instance--cannot be accessed by companies without the individual's explicit permission beforehand, while non-sensitive information--names, addresses, etc.--can be withheld by individuals under an opt-out policy. Furthermore, the bill would ban the public sale or distribution of Americans' Social Security numbers, as well as their posting on government checks, default driver's licenses, and online or electronic government records. However, businesses would be allowed to share them with other companies and government agencies. The Privacy Act of 2003 would also extend health data opt-in coverage to health researchers, academic institutions, employers, life insurers, law enforcement officials, public health authorities, and health oversight agencies; revise the Driver's Privacy Protection Act to prevent the display of the most sensitive personal information on driver's licenses; prohibit businesses from denying services to customers who refuse to disclose their Social Security numbers in most cases; uphold privacy of information throughout all media; and allow companies to exchange financial data with affiliates or joint venture partners, unless a customer says otherwise. "Our right to privacy only will remain vital, if we take strong action to protect it," Feinstein declares.
- "Software Uses Pictures to Represent Info People Monitor"
Research at the Georgia Institute of Technology puts personal information updates on a separate networked display in a way that does not distract the user, but provides a comprehensive and eye-pleasing ambiance. Associate professor of computing John Stasko and his students are testing the application, called InfoCanvas, and plan to present their work at the ACM's CHI 2003 meeting. Instead of cluttering a person's main monitor with information or news they are tracking, the idea is to consolidate that changing information in a theme-based picture on another display. Prototype themes include an aquarium setting, mountain camp site, or desert. Users designate which visual elements will represent certain information, such as stock market indexes, new emails, temperature, or traffic congestion. Stasko's own InfoCanvas, for example, has a seagull that flies lower or higher according to fluctuations in the Dow Jones index. Stasko suggests InfoCanvas could be used on a wall-mounted display, where it would serve as an informational painting. Users could touch elements in order to read more information in a pop-up box, or follow a Web link to the original source of news. The research team is already testing InfoCanvas with three users and plans more studies to determine if InfoCanvas provides easier access to information than a traditional text-based Web portal, for instance.
For more information about CHI03, visit http://www.chi2003.org/index.cgi.
- "Online Phone Monitoring Sticky for FBI"
Associated Press (04/03/03); Jesdanun, Anick
The advent of Web-based telephony opens up a can of legal and technical worms for the FBI, which is trying to establish that such services must be surveillance-enabled under the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. Surveillance standards for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) are still being developed by the Telecommunications Industry Association and other organizations, but privacy proponents are concerned that VoIP wiretapping could undermine citizens' privacy by allowing law enforcement to access far more personal information--emails, Web traffic, etc.--than is allowed by court order. Furthermore, skilled criminals could be tipped off that VoIP wiretapping is taking place because it involves an intermediary diverting a voice stream, copying it, and resending it. Another area of debate is who should pay for VoIP surveillance: Michael Altschul of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association believes that authorities should be responsible on a case-by-case basis. David Sobel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center noted at ACM's Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference in New York City that the Justice Department's proposed Patriot II act would include automatic coverage of email and electronic calendars in legal phone wiretapping authority. The Internet and other information services were originally exempted under the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, but that was before VoIP--and its ramifications--emerged.
- "Pizza Box or IMac? No, an IBox"
Wired News (04/02/03); Kahney, Leander
Apple Computer could soon have a competitor in the Macintosh manufacturing business thanks to the efforts of John Fraser, a 21-year-old Minnesota engineer who has designed the iBox, a flat, upgradeable Mac that will be sold for roughly one-third the cost of comparable Apple systems. Fraser plans to avoid legal problems by using older, commercially available Apple components sold as spare parts to computer repair shops; the iBox will be based on Apple-built Gigabit motherboards with embedded Macintosh ROMs. Fraser's machine will come in two models: A basic unit outfitted with a case, power supply, and motherboard, and a fully-loaded, custom-built unit. The operating system will be provided by clients. Fraser expects to start manufacturing the iBox in about four months, once he can find a company to produce the unit's unique case, which Milwaukee designer Mario Micheli created. The engineer has entered into a parts purchasing agreement from Other World Computing, a supplier of Mac components and peripherals that may also act as an online iBox retail outlet. Mark Dickson of Arnold White & Durkee warns that Apple, which is fiercely protective of its intellectual property, could sue for infringement if Fraser is not careful; Fraser could be liable, for instance, if customers believe the iBox is an Apple product because of its marketing, appearance, or title. Dickson further notes that even using old Apple parts could constitute infringement, as certain patents may cover how those parts are integrated or configured.
- "Interview With the KDE and Gnome UI/Usability Developers"
OSNews.com (03/10/03); Loli-Queru, Eugenia
It is hoped that the Unix desktop will be revolutionized when the Gnome and KDE user interfaces (UIs) become interoperable; the Gnome project's Havoc Pennington discussed usability issues with Waldo Bastian and Aaron J. Seigo of the KDE project. Seigo commented that KDE users are highly desirous of configurability, and Bastian explained that improved UI systems are supposed to retain all functions while making the most of usability; Pennington said that a balance must be achieved between UI simplicity, stability, and the rate of development. Seigo says an important trend that is likely to continue is desktop "componentization," as demonstrated by the Konqueror interface, which offers context-based functionality. "Already we have reached the point where people, even those who are quite aware of interface issues and design, stop distinguishing between individual applications and instead simply experience the desktop as a coherent entity doing a lot of great and cool things," he declared. All three participants understood the value of having applications comply with some form of certification to support consistency, although the general feeling was that it should be unofficial rather than official. Two distinct approaches to improving file storage and organization have recently come into vogue: The setup of a general architecture and the provision of filetype-specific file management programs; Seigo saw disadvantages in both techniques, and favored a hybrid program that resides above the filesystem and below the user application level, while Pennington said that Gnome is currently using the filetype-specific method. Looking out over the next five years, Bastian thought that desktop UI technology will undergo little change and Seigo was confident that leading-edge desktop software will be defined by KDE, while Pennington predicted that there will be an emphasis on streamlining.
- "Robots Take Dangerous Jobs"
IDG News Service (04/03/03); Williams, Martyn
A highlight of Japan's Robodex 2003 event this week was robots that can handle tasks too dangerous for humans and assist people in everyday chores. Examples of the former include machines from the Tokyo Institute of Technology and Chiba University that are designed to clear mines. The Chiba robot weighs 1 ton and is equipped with six legs that allow it to move in a spider-like fashion. Tokyo Institute's Mine Hand is designed to unearth and explode mines without running on electricity, explains student Naota Furihata. Development of Mine Hand was funded by both government and non-government interests who want to employ it in Afghanistan. Also on hand at Robodex were wearable machines from the Kanagawa Institute of Technology and the Science University of Tokyo designed to enhance human performance, including a prototype suit that could allow the user to lift patients out of bed and put them into wheelchairs, for instance. Meanwhile, robot manufacturer Tmsuk displayed a commercially-ready four-legged robot designed to monitor the environment; it is equipped with a visual- and audio-enabled cell phone and can follow vocal commands. Hospi from Matsushita Electric Works is a mobile robot that can deliver drugs or documents throughout the departments in a hospital.
- "Business Scene: Why Aren't More Women in Tech Fields?"
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (04/03/03); Czetli, Steven N.
The technology job market is rife with opportunities, yet few women are taking advantage of them. This trend was the subject of a panel hosted by the Pittsburgh Technology Council last week. A scarcity of training was cited as a major hurdle, but personal priorities might also play a role--Maya Design CFO Robbin Steif suggested that women may be more averse to risk-taking than men, or find it too difficult to juggle work and family. The panel did not see any major differences of degree between the obstacles men and women face when pursuing tech careers. "I really think the minority issue is a bigger problem than the woman issue because there is such a lack of candidates," argued FreeMarkets CFO Joan Hooper, who noted that minority and female workers might have more advantages in major metropolitan areas. The panel's female members acknowledged that men and women differ in terms of business thinking, but this is not necessarily a detriment; Steif noted that women ought to "use their femininity" to offer fresh viewpoints to the company. "Women really do need to either adapt or change men's minds," she observed. The panel pointed out that women's affinity to technology could be affected by cultural factors, such as a family tradition of tech professionals.
For information regarding ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.
- "Microsoft Research Finds Women Take a Wider View"
Microsoft Research has found that women can navigate virtual environments 20 percent better when using optical flow cues built into a program's user interface; such visual clues provide continuous on-screen hints where things are located. Because these optical flow cues take up more screen space, the Microsoft researchers suggest setting up multiple monitors or large-screen displays. More importantly, software designers building 3D computer environments should fit them to larger displays that more easily accommodate optical flow cues. University of Washington professor Earl Hunt says previous attempts to bridge the performance gap focused on training, but the new research shows the difference can be made up through display characteristics. "It is now well-established that males do better than females in orientation tasks, especially in exploring virtual environments," he notes. Microsoft Research says Optical flow cues would be particularly useful in training, graphic design, gaming, and architectural programs. Microsoft Usability Labs engineers as well as Microsoft researchers will present papers and host and participant in panels at the ACM's CHI 2003 conference, which runs from April 5-10 in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
- "Ultra-simple Desktop Device Slows Light to a Crawl at Room Temperature"
University of Rochester researchers have created a device that can successfully reduce the speed of light by a factor of 5.3 million, using technology that Givens Professor of Optics Robert Boyd calls "ridiculously easy to implement." Boyd and his student coworkers first shined an intense green laser at a common ruby to partially saturate the chromium ions that are responsible for the gem's red coloration. They repeated the process with a second beam called a probe laser, whose frequency differed slightly from that of the first laser. The interaction between the two frequencies incited variations that triggered sympathetic oscillation among the chromium ions, which slowed the speed of the probe laser's light as it passed through the ruby. Another experiment to slow down light involved a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), but the University of Rochester breakthrough was accomplished at room temperature. In contrast, the BEC experiment could only be carried out at 459 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, while the equipment involved was larger than an average-sized living room. "We can slow light down just as much in a space the size of a desktop computer," boasts Boyd. He believes his innovation could be useful to the telecommunications industry, specifically for mitigating congestion on fiber-optic lines and easing the consolidation of signals on busy networks.
- "SIP Fuels Communications Interplay"
InfoWorld (03/31/03) Vol. 25, No. 13, P. 1; Moore, Cathleen
Major IP-based communications players support Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) as a way to tie together instant messaging, voice, and video. Microsoft and IBM both back SIP in their respective Greenwich and Lotus communications platforms. Voice-and-data integration firm Siemens also has a new open application architecture called OpenScape based on SIP. The application extends presence capabilities from an enterprise messaging platform to phones and email within a company. Meta Group's Chris Kozup says SIP is seen as more than just glue between instant messaging systems, but also as a way to bring other communications modes into play as well. He says SIP benefits from its simplicity, compared to other real-time standards such as H.323, which has proved too complex. In addition, the support of heavyweights Microsoft and IBM give SIP an edge over more technically astute protocols such as Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) from Jabber. Siemens Enterprise Networks' Mark Straton says SIP enables middleware applications such as OpenScape to link core business elements such as ERP, CRM, and company directories. Instant messaging needs to be enriched with such business data in order to reach its full potential, he says.
Business 2.0 (03/03); Needleman, Rafe
Stanford University researcher B.J. Fogg, an experimental psychologist, is leading the way in an emerging discipline he calls captology--using technology to influence people. He is currently working on ways to get people to consume more water and get more sleep, for example. He uses PDA-based software to offer cues, monitor actions, and provide rewards when a target level is reached, and the software automatically tests a variety of approaches that works best. People tend to perform better when observed, according to Fogg's research. This is evident in Qualcomm's OmniTracs system, a satellite-based system that tracks the location of a vehicle and whether drivers are going too fast or leave a predetermined route. Similarly, Davis Instruments' CarChip monitors fuel consumption and risky driving behaviors in an effort to improve how people drive. Another captology product is Realityworks' Baby Think It Over doll, which simulates the behavior patterns of a real infant in an effort to discourage teens from getting pregnant. And Nubella has unveiled a product that tracks grocery purchases via supermarket bar-code scanners and customers' club cards; it mails out coupons to correct people's diet deficiencies. Fogg will discuss the branches of persuasive technologies at ACM's CHI03 Conference next week in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
- "Gaining Ground"
InformationWeek (03/31/03) No. 933; Hayes, Mary; McDougall, Paul; Soat, John
Indian high-tech companies thriving as IT outsourcers plan to fortify their position in order to maintain their market supremacy in the face of growing competition from China, Russia, Eastern Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. Key to their efforts is the addition of high-end consulting, business-process modeling, and systems design services, as well as more strategic relationships with American clients. In response to India's dominion, U.S. services companies are expanding their international reach and deepening their roots in overseas markets. EDS' "Best Shore" effort, launched in late 2002, is designed to enhance the company's presence in many regions, including Argentina, Canada, Europe, South Africa, Mexico, and India. Indian firms' international operations are primarily based on the Indian subcontinent; EDS says its widely dispersed services, along with sophisticated relocation technology, gives it a strategic advantage. Mark Langlois of IBM estimates that India will remain the most advantageous IT outsourcer in terms of cost for about five more years, after which China will take the lead. However, C.K. Prahalad of University of Michigan Business School believes that Indian firms will retain their dominant position through training and process-control methods. Meanwhile, many Indian companies are setting up shop in the United States to have greater control over project management.
- "Mainframe Brain Drain Looms"
Computerworld (03/31/03) Vol. 37, No. 13, P. 1; Thibodeau, Patrick
In an effort to staunch an expected hemorrhage of mainframe expertise, the Association for Computer Operations Management (AFCOM) plans to launch a Data Center Knowledge Initiative that AFCOM's Brian Koma says should spur IT managers "to take some early action" so they can avoid rising costs of training new staff to replace retiring mainframe talent. A 2002 Meta Group Study estimates that 55 percent of IT workers with mainframe skills are over the age of 50, which will lead to a sizable shortage once they retire. AFCOM's solution, announced at its semiannual conference in Las Vegas, is to offer online undergraduate and certificate courses in data center skills and build a best-practice knowledge base containing know-how donated by data center managers. The online courses would be supplied in collaboration with Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Participants would also be able to receive hands-on training at semiannual AFCOM events. Mainframe skills are not a widely taught subject, and companies have to pay an average maximum cost of $30,000 to $50,000 to train each new employee. The other side of the equation are companies that are eliminating their mainframes for more advanced systems, which leads to costs associated with getting mainframe operators up to speed on new technology.
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- "The Net's Faltering Democracy"
Technology Review (03/03) Vol. 106, No. 2, P. 30; Garfinkel, Simson
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a failed experiment in melding business efficiency and the global will of Internet users, writes Simson Garfinkel. Last December, the ICANN board voted to abolish elections altogether since previous attempts had largely failed. For example, just 3,449 votes were cast worldwide in the 2000 election for nine at-large directors. The net effect of this shift means the Internet can expect more of the same from ICANN, the group that has consistently moved to block loosening of control and protected vested business interests. ICANN has supported the reign of an elite group of Internet domain name registrars by hampering attempts to open new top-level domains, and it enforces the will of trademark owners on the Internet through the use of its Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy. It is conceivable that, in the future, corporate business interests will avoid regular legal action--a la Napster--and attack foes on the Internet by wiping out their Internet Protocol address and domain name. This possibility challenges the idea many Internet users have about the Internet--that it is invulnerable to single control and cannot be shut down by any one entity. ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn, when explaining the December decision to eliminate elections, put the idea succinctly: "ICANN is not an experiment in global online democracy," he said.