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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 IBM or ACM.

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Volume 5, Issue 510: Friday, June 20, 2003

  • "Lawmakers Look to Curb L-1 Visas"
    eWeek (06/19/03); Solheim, Shelley

    Connecticut Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D) and Nancy Johnson (R) have promised to act against alleged abuses of the L-1 visa program, which is designed to allow multinational companies to more easily transfer workers from their overseas branches. Johnson told Congress on June 18 that a loophole in the program allows companies to bring in workers and outsource them to U.S. businesses, where they often replace American employees because they are willing to work for cheaper wages. Johnson co-sponsored a bill with Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.) in May that would ban such outsourcing and only allow companies to transfer L-1 visa owners from their foreign branches. She testified before the U.S. House Small Business Committee that she had met with a group of laid-off IT workers in April, who said that not only were they being replaced by labor brought in on L-1 and H-1B visas, but in some cases were told to train their replacements. The H-1B visa program has a visa cap, while the L-1 program does not; DeLauro wants to correct this by proposing a law that would allow no more than 35,000 L-1 visas to be approved yearly, as well as force employers to pay L-1 workers prevailing U.S. wages and refuse L-1s to any business that has fired an American employee in the six months preceding or following the filing of an L-1 application. DeLauro declared in a press release, "At a time when...tens and thousands of jobless tech workers and others are looking for work, it is important to close the loopholes that disadvantage American workers." The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services estimates that the number of approved L-1s skyrocketed from 75,315 to 328,480 between 1992 and 2001.
    http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,3959,1132306,00.asp

  • "Anti-Spam Bill Gains in Senate"
    Washington Post (06/20/03) P. E5; Krim, Jonathan

    Sens. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Ron Wyden's (D-Ore.) Can Spam Act of 2003 was passed unanimously by the Senate Commerce Committee on June 19. The legislation targets spammers who sell pornography or fraudulent content, fail to comply with consumers' opt-out requests, and use fake identities; the bill also prohibits spammers' use of software that can cull email addresses from Web sites and fabricate millions of email addresses from random letters and numbers. ISPs can sue spammers under the bill, but class action suits are prohibited, which riles consumer groups. Certain consumer proponents and anti-spam organizations argue that the Can Spam Act will only cause unsolicited marketing to surge, and believe that consumers should only receive commercial email if they specifically request it. The Can Spam Act and other proposals have also been criticized by many state prosecutors, who want spam regulation to be dictated by state government. Burns and Wyden added several amendments to their bill prior to the committee vote, including tougher penalties and greater authority for federal prosecutors to go after bulk emailers, as well as a provision that the FTC provide Congress with an outline to deploy a do-not-spam registry. One provision that the committee found unacceptable was Sen. Bill Nelson's (D-Fla.) recommendation that certain spammer practices be placed under the jurisdiction of federal racketeering laws. Meanwhile, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) of the Senate Judiciary Committee presented a independent bill that establishes a strict punishment scheme for fraudulent spammers and does not circumvent state laws.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Europe Plans Patent Standard That Excludes 'Business Methods'"
    Dow Jones Newswire (06/18/03); Newman, Matthew; Wingfield, Nick

    A proposed pan-European software-patent law that bans software companies from obtaining patents on business methods is drawing controversy, but European Parliament member Arlene McCarthy expects the measure to be approved by Parliament and member states of the European Union. Betten & Resch patent attorney Alexander Esslinger says the proposed statute legally clarifies the European Patent Office's stance. The only software programs that qualify for patents under the legislation are those that demonstrate a novel "technical contribution." For example, the law would allow companies to receive a patent for a handwriting recognition software algorithm, but not for the general concept of handwriting recognition itself. American attorneys claim the law would complicate matters for U.S. companies with European operations. "Innovators are harmed by not being able to protect new ideas, while their competitors are aided by not having to pay for, or design around, the business method," argues Alan Fisch of Howrey Simon Arnold & White. Opponents of business-method patents have sharply criticized them as an innovation-choking misuse of the patent system. Although software programs ineligible for patents can be copyrighted, a patent grant offers better protection, according to businesses.

  • "Where Is Everybody? The Wireless Network Might Know"
    New York Times (06/19/03) P. E5; Austen, Ian

    Researchers are enhancing wireless networks to not only track computer users' whereabouts, but adapt the computers to better serve users according to their situation--in other words, making them context-aware, according to Asim Smailagic of Carnegie Mellon University's Institute for Complex Engineered Systems. Wireless or Wi-Fi networks can also penetrate areas where Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite transmissions cannot reach, such as within buildings. As part of her doctoral research at the University of Georgia, Iris Junglas, now at the University of Houston, tweaked a Wi-Fi network installed in the Terry College of Business' facilities to boost the radius of its many base stations, and then added software that organized a database detailing when computers were logged on to each base station. Anyone browsing on the network could generate a map using the software, and be able to locate specific computer users through handheld organizers. However, the system worked in only two dimensions, and the handhelds would sometimes locate people on the wrong floor. Smailagic and others have rectified this problem with a system that compares the magnitude of the computer's Wi-Fi card signal to that of a trio of base stations, allowing users to triangulate the computer's location. Junglas and Smailagic agree that privacy should be maintained by prohibiting operators of location-sensing Wi-Fi networks from tracking users without permission. Meanwhile, a paper authored by scientists at the University of Maryland and the Maryland Information and Networks Dynamics lab draws up a blueprint for technologies that could map out users' locations with more accuracy and less computing power consumption, as well as compensate for the radio disruption caused by overlapping signals between Wi-Fi networks and other equipment.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/19/technology/circuits/19next.html
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "UC Riverside Computer Science Graduate Student Wins ACM Student Research Competition Award"
    UCR News (06/18/03)

    University of California, Riverside graduate student Jing Li took third place in the AC Student Research Competition (SRC) Grand Final. ACM recognized Li, who is studying computer science with a concentration in bioinformatics/algorithms for his Ph.D. dissertation, at the annual ACM Awards Banquet in San Diego on June 7, 2003. The SRC is a contest in which students present original research before a panel of judges and Special Interest Group Conference attendees. In a paper titled, "Efficient Rule-Based Haplotyping Algorithms for Pedigree Data," Li examined the inheritance patterns in human pedigrees in an effort to study the genetic basis of complex diseases. Computer science professor Tao Jiang advised Li on his research efforts. Li, who has an M.S. in statistical genetics from Creighton University and a B.S. in statistics from Peking University in China, says his training in statistics and computer science has helped him to independently identify such biologically important issues.
    http://www.newsroom.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/display.cgi?id=622

  • "Tiny Computers Will Bend to Browse"
    New Scientist (06/19/03); Fitzpatrick, Michael

    An ultra-small, flexible computer prototype created by German inventor Carsten Schwesig could form the basis of paper-thin, credit-card-sized map browsers and other information gadgets from Sony. The prototype, nicknamed "Gummi," consists of a piezoelectric pressure sensor-equipped liquid crystal display (LCD) and a touch pad installed on a block of flexible acrylic plastic. The touch pad controls the content displayed on the LCD, while flexing the board manipulates the information. Schwesig has been able to use Gummi as a map, a Web browser, a game, a photo gallery, and a text input system. The lack of buttons is advantageous, given the difficulty they would be to operate on so small a device. Sony envisions a mini PC along similar lines, one that can fit inside a wallet and includes a bendable organic light-emitting display (OLED). Schwesig thinks approximately three years will pass before such devices reach the prototype stage. Meanwhile, Ivan Poupyrev of the Sony Micro Device Center has created a personal digital assistant (PDA) whose screen vibrates so users can "feel" onscreen buttons and images.
    http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993846

  • "Security Researchers Nibble at Bluetooth"
    SecurityFocus (06/18/03); Poulsen, Kevin

    Bluetooth technology is maturing with the approval of version 1.2 this month at the Bluetooth World Congress, but perhaps a more reliable sign of technological maturity is the development of the first Bluetooth hacking tool. Ollie Whitehouse, an @Stake security researcher, said he created "Redfang" as a proof-of-concept tool meant to stimulate Bluetooth security discussion in anticipation of the DefCon hacker conference this summer. Redfang runs on the Linux platform and searches out Bluetooth devices that are in stealth mode, or not responding to signals carrying the devices' 8-bit address. Whitehouse says Redfang can scan a Bluetooth chip vendor address list completely in 90 minutes and suggests a hacker would have multiple personal digital assistant (PDA), cell phone, and laptop targets within range on a train, for example. Shmoo Group founder and security consultant Bruce Potter says he was dismayed to find a PDA he recently bought had Bluetooth defaulted to respond to address-specific requests. He expects similar weaknesses in future Bluetooth implementations, just as early Wi-Fi deployments often defaulted to weaker security measures. Bluetooth has other, more stringent security protections available, including a 14-digit PIN code and an "Anonymity Mode" introduced in version 1.2. Additionally, Bluetooth is more tightly integrated with hardware than Wi-Fi, making eavesdropping more difficult.
    http://www.securityfocus.org/news/5896

  • "An Opening In Cyberspace"
    Raleigh News & Observer (06/18/03); Dyrness, Christina

    The U.S. critical infrastructure's increasing reliance on computer networks has made cybersecurity a major issue, and North Carolina universities are working to draw cybersecurity funding by developing more effective hacker and cybercrime countermeasures. Such initiatives will also benefit graduates, who stand to gain network security skills that will work to their advantage in a burgeoning job market. N.C. State University's (NCSU) new Cyber Defense Lab showcases research projects funded by federal grants, including Purushothama Iyer's initiative to study and eliminate software bugs used by hackers, and Douglas S. Reeves and Pen Ning's effort to enhance computer intrusion detection. Meanwhile, graduate students focusing on cybersecurity at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte can participate in the Federal Cyber Corps scholarship program, which offers free tuition and a monthly $1,000 stipend in return for a commitment to work for the federal government for a certain period following graduation. The nonprofit MCNC, in conjunction with Duke University, is completing the scalable, intrusion-tolerant architecture for distributed services (SITAR) project for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). SITAR is designed to supply multiple users with online services that are resilient against hacker intrusions. Dave Morrow of EDS says the cybersecurity innovations yielded by federally funded academic research projects could eventually be commercialized. Congress is considering proposals that would allocate around $100 million for cybersecurity research and education in fiscal year 2003.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "UI Researchers Develop Concert of Calculations"
    Champaign News-Gazette (06/17/03); Kline, Greg

    University of Illinois researchers have harnessed 10 relatively cheap, networked computer workstations that are able to collaboratively calculate a 20-million-unknown mathematical problem. "Most universities can't touch a problem [of the kind solved by the UI researchers] above 1 million or 2 million unknowns today," explains Air Force Captain Larkin Hastriter. The breakthrough could prove essential to a Defense Department project UI researcher Weng Cho Chew is developing with Science Applications International--a catalogue of radar signatures for aircraft, seacraft, missiles, and ground vehicles. The system would allow personnel to immediately identify such vehicles in order to limit friendly fire incidents, but solving problems with unknowns is a key part of the signature extrapolation process. Hastriter adds that the breakthrough could also raise the frequency threshold of radar systems, thus boosting resolution and making targets easier to identify. Detection devices could subsequently become smaller and more portable as a result, according to Chew. "In the future, a 20 million unknown can be solved on a PC desktop," Chew predicts. He also foresees applications for the technology outside of radar, including the design of computer chips and remote sensing.
    http://www.news-gazette.com/story.cfm?Number=13074

  • "I, Robot"
    Boston Globe (06/17/03) P. C1; Walter, Chip

    For humanoid robots to become truly interactive and as versatile as those depicted in popular media such as science-fiction movies and TV shows, they must incorporate hardware and software that allows them to mimic the fluidity and flexibility of human movements and be able to respond both intellectually and emotionally to their environment. Such capabilities, which human beings often take for granted, are for the most part beyond the engineering skills of current robotics research efforts. There have been notable breakthroughs in the field of robot mechanics, as demonstrated by Honda's Asimo, which can walk, climb stairs, gesture, and navigate through a physical environment with remarkable precision. However, practical applications of such machines remain elusive, although efforts are underway to increase their usefulness. For instance, Sony promises that the Sony Dream Robot (SDR) will soon be able to respond to simple voice commands, identify multiple faces, access the Internet, transmit data to office computers, and follow owners around and relay messages to them, which could make it useful as a robotic butler. Scientists at MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and other institutions are working to invest robots with social skills and emotions, or at least the appearance of emotions: Examples include Kismet, an MIT robot designed to engage in face-to-face communications of remarkable subtlety. Most experts agree that truly useful humanoid machines should be able to function independently in the real world. Also key to their acceptance is their physical configuration, which must be familiar and nonthreatening if people are to relate to them. Another major research project aims to make robots more human-like by programming them to behave like humans.
    http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/168/science/I_robot+.shtml

  • "Can Anyone Stop the Music Cops?"
    Salon.com (06/17/03); Manjoo, Farhad

    With the judicial system appearing to defer to the entertainment industry when it comes to cases of alleged digital infringement, a new proposal from Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) is finding favor among technology companies and civil liberties groups. The so-called Brownback bill, which is not technically a bill, would forbid the FCC from forcing tech companies to install digital rights management technology in their electronic products, and require all products with anti-copying technology to be clearly labeled. The bill's third chief provision would prohibit copyright holders from obtaining the names and addresses of suspected digital pirates without first filing a civil lawsuit and gaining a judge's approval; ISPs laud this provision for invalidating the "information subpoena" that copyright holders are allowed to obtain under a highly contested section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). A major booster of Brownback's proposal is Verizon Communications, which was recently ordered by a federal appeals court to release the identities of four customers accused by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) of pirating songs on peer-to-peer networks. The Verizon ruling is especially galling to tech firms and civil liberties groups because it sanctions the removal of online anonymity that has up to now protected file-traders--in other words, the decision lets copyright owners target users personally rather than just ISPs. The Brownback bill has yet to be officially presented to Congress due to an apparent dearth of Democratic support. "The entertainment industry is a longtime source of campaign contributions to the Democrats, so it's hard to rally a Democrat to come out and support a bill that Hollywood doesn't approve of," observes Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Fred von Lohmann.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Hans Reiser Speaks Freely About Free Software Development"
    Slashdot (06/18/03); Roblimo

    Hans Reiser, project manager for the Linux-enabled ReiserFS filesystem at Namesys, answers numerous questions about the product and free software development posted on Slashdot. Reiser explains that the most successful free software implementations are fueled by word of mouth from users, coupled with the developer's willingness to work with others. The project manager describes Linux as an ecosystem with fast-growth vegetation (those who modified the original Unix code without altering its basic design) and slow-growth vegetation (those who believe the operating system is in its infancy and needs to be completely retooled), with Namesys being an example of the latter. Reiser describes two kinds of people: Those who believe design's impact is negligible and focus on incremental coding improvements; and those who see no value in coding without considering radical concepts. He notes that the fast-growth sector is adopting an attitude of exclusivity, which is a negative development. Reiser comments that free software developers who want to carry out long-term research should go after government funding, and he lists the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is financing the development of ReiserFS, as an especially appealing sponsor. In response to a complaint that both free and commercial mainstream operating systems lack file recovery, Reiser writes that "Version control definitely belongs in the filesystem." He foresees version control becoming a standard and expected feature in filesystems within two decades.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Report Sheds Light on China's Evolving R&D Centers"
    EE Times (06/17/03); Leopold, George

    IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and other U.S. computer makers have played a key role in the development of the high-technology research and development network in China. The initial interest of U.S. computer makers in China as a potential hub for R&D led a number of technology companies to gravitate toward the market, which now boasts about 200 joint R&D centers, according to the Henry L. Stimson Center, a national security think tank. A new Stimson Center study found that having China join the World Trade Organization (WTO) has resulted in key advantages for high-tech companies in the United States and other foreign countries. While WTO membership for Beijing assures foreign owners that they will maintain strong controls over their technology and intellectual property, Kathleen Walsh, a senior associate at the Stimson Center and report author, adds that globalization is a benefit in that there is a rapid transfer of technology. The loss of proprietary technologies remains a risk for foreign companies in China, but Walsh says she is less concerned about the issue because of the collaboration now taking place between U.S. and Chinese firms. A number of research partnerships have been established in the areas of computers and telecommunications, but a lack of hard data makes it difficult to determine other characteristics of China's R&D infrastructure.
    http://www.eetimes.com/story/OEG20030617S0037

  • "Phone Butler Organizes Your Life"
    BBC News (06/17/03)

    Researchers at UK's University of Southampton have created software designed to help people schedule both corporate and personal engagements. "I see the artificial agent as a butler-type character," says Southampton computer science professor Nick Jennings. The artificial intelligence technology works in conjunction with the latest types of cellular phones, and over time becomes more and more familiar with the needs of the user. Just as people act very courteously when they first meet, so does the virtual butler on the first day it is used. The butler offers more suggestions as the relationship grows, making the user feel more confident about letting it make decisions. The butler eventually makes choices and sets conditions on its own, relying on algorithms. Tests conducted on campus allowed people to set up times and book appointments for conferences via the university's local database. In the past, Jennings and colleagues have developed a virtual travel agent to select travel packages according to users' wants.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/2996788.stm

  • "IT Feels the Squeeze"
    InfoWorld (06/16/03) Vol. 25, No. 24, P. 44; Havenstein, Heather

    Salary declines and a soft job market have become the status quo in the IT sector for the third consecutive year, according to respondents to the 2003 InfoWorld Compensation Survey. Poll results indicate that monetary bonuses have fallen 12.5 percent, while average pay hikes are stuck between 1 percent and 5 percent. Frugal budgets are forcing executives to keep a close watch on IT projects, while employees are being pressured to increase their productivity with few additional resources as well as maintain outdated systems. A greater percentage of midlevel managers than senior managers or staff asserts that corporate executives undervalue IT, with most attributing this understatement to budget restrictions. Meanwhile, a mere 20 percent of those polled expect an increase in corporate IT spending this year, and little enthusiasm for long-term projects is making things hard for job seekers and contractors. In addition, salaries for U.S.-based workers remain depressed thanks to competition from foreign professionals, and U.S. employees are accepting pay cuts and lower-ranking positions in order to secure or hold onto their jobs as a result. Recruiters such as Radican Staffing President James Wright are advising demoralized employed IT professionals to remain where they are, given the economic situation. The best opportunities for job seekers are in companies that have withstood the downturn, and a few employers are even raising IT's profile to fortify themselves against the recession.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Creative Management"
    CIO (06/01/03) Vol. 16, No. 16, P. 123; Edwards, John

    Intellectual property (IP) asset management tools are gaining favor in markets that produce or receive large amounts of intangible, mind-generated content, such as the media, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, oil and gas, chemicals, automotive, and telecommunications. By using such tools, companies could better structure, maintain, amass, and distribute their IP assets, and perhaps leverage valuation, accounting, patent tracking, audit control, decision support, and analytical and reporting applications. Raising efficiency levels is supposed to be the chief benefit of IP asset management tools, which makes return on investment hard to gauge. Complicating the matter is the purchase cost of such solutions, which can fluctuate according to the products' features or how many users they can support. Other potential advantages of the technology include heightened security, reduced reliance on outside service providers, and easier recycling of published content. The challenges inherent in implementing IP asset management software includes finding the solutions best suited to an organization's management requirements, as well as the considerable amount of time it takes to enter and edit IP asset data into the system. Additionally, making staff and business partners adept at using the technology can be a formidable barrier. An essential component of a successful IP asset management deployment is getting users on board during the planning stage.
    http://www.cio.com/archive/060103/et_article.html

  • "Broadband a Go-Go"
    IEEE Spectrum (06/03) Vol. 40, No. 6, P. 20; Cherry, Steven M.

    The path to wireless mobility, which promises anytime/anywhere high-speed Web access from any kind of handheld, is being mapped out by companies setting up wireless broadband networks that serve communities throughout the United States. BroadBand Solutions has built what could be the biggest single wireless network on earth, one that encompasses 1,500 square kilometers and 1.5 million people along an approximately 10 km-wide stretch in the state of Utah. The network, which piggybacks on defunct wireless businesses and older telecommunications installations, consists of point-to-point wireless broadband links facilitated by several kinds of radios operating in unlicensed frequency bands, and backbones supplied by Global Crossing and Citizens Communications' Electric Lightwave; six wireless hubs interconnect the grid, offering subscribers 1 Mbps bit rates in every direction. The nonprofit Lariat.org has been providing 2 Mbps wireless connectivity to Laramie, Wyo., since 1994, but the network's breadth is constrained by zoning regulations that do not allow new antennas to be built, a ban on piggybacking on cellular providers' antennas, and backbone limitations that stymie the provision of larger or more numerous Internet links. Aerie Network's Ricochet, which provides 128 Kbps coverage for Denver, Colo., has found use as a replacement for cellular digital packet data. MeshNetworks has created a test network for Orlando, Fla., that can maintain 2 Mbps bit rates even at highway speeds; the network is distributed among access points on rooftops or streetlights that also serve as proto-access points, effectively making every other user an access point. Wireless broadband networks have the potential to bridge the digital divide and can supplement the 802.11 standard.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "The Role of Speech in Multimodal Applications"
    Speech Technology (06/03) Vol. 8, No. 3, P. 6; Dahl, Deborah

    Integrating speech technology with a graphical user interface (GUI) results in a multimodal interface that supports various applications, writes Dr. Deborah Dahl, chairman of the World Wide Web Consortium's Multimodal Interaction Working Group. Some applications, such as foreign language tutoring and speech therapy, are largely speech-based, while hands-busy/eyes-busy users such as drivers and the disabled could also benefit from multimodality applications. Multimodality is particularly important for mobile applications: Incorporating speech into a GUI on a portable device is valuable because it is harder to operate screens and keypads when standing or walking, while the shrinking size of the devices themselves also complicates things; mobile users are also more comfortable with flattened menus offered by speech technology. Dr. Dahl recommends that organizations should not wait for standards to be finalized to take advantage of multimodality, lest they fall behind others in addressing questions about best practices in user interface design, application development, platform framework and scalability, and the most lucrative applications. Companies such as IBM, Microsoft, and Opera Software are laying out multimodality platform architecture with products that support Speech Application Language Tags (SALT), XHTML+Voice (X+V), or both. Others are deploying or readying for deployment multimodal applications, such as a system for the Ann Arbor Transit Authority that combines voice and GUI so bus riders can confirm pickups. These companies have also extracted valuable information on how to design good multimodal interfaces through product trials. Dr. Dahl cautions that companies that want to add speech to a GUI application must consider whether it overcomes certain drawbacks, such as a lack of privacy, accuracy limitations, and the technology's potential to disturb other people.
    http://www.speechtechmag.com/issues/8_3/cover/1992-1.html