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 545: Monday, September 15, 2003
- "Crackdown on Copyright Abuse May Send Music Traders Into Software Underground"
New York Times (09/15/03) P. C1; Hansell, Saul
The copyright infringement lawsuits the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed against music swappers is prompting the development of new systems and new methods that allow people to continue to trade digital files while maintaining their anonymity. Alternatives include encrypting files so they can only be decrypted by intended users; the replacement of current systems with private file-sharing networks for specified users, or darknets; the transmission of files along hard-to-trace routes; and avoiding the Internet entirely by exchanging songs on portable hard drives or recordable CDs. "The RIAA is breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria," proclaims New York University new media professor Clay Shirky. The RIAA insists that the lawsuits were filed to illustrate to casual file sharers that their activity is unlawful, while experts say the new file-sharing systems cannot deliver perfect, unbreakable anonymity. Private file-trading has evolved from technologies developed by the academic sector, an example being Ian Clarke's Freenet, which combines encryption with circuitous routing: Clarke explains that he originally developed Freenet as an anti-censorship tool. Freenet's slowness and operational difficulties make it less practical than music-sharing services such as KaZaA, but German developers are working on an easier-to-use version of Freenet called Frost. Darknets are proving to be popular, but copyright advocates such as MediaDefender CEO Randy Saaf warn that file swappers could face tougher penalties for using darknets than they would for using peer-to-peer services. Meanwhile, older file-sharing services are trying not to lose customers to darknets by enhancing their systems with new privacy safeguards.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "'Perfect Storm' of Factors Sweeping More U.S. Tech Jobs Overseas"
Investor's Business Daily (09/15/03) P. A4; Howell, Donna
Information Technology Association of America President Harris Miller attributes the offshore outsourcing of U.S. tech jobs to a "perfect storm" of factors--sluggish national and international markets and escalating global rivalry. Both large and small companies are outsourcing to cheaper labor markets in order to save money, a factor that has become a major pressure point in the last few years, according to Miller. ICode CEO Bijal Mehta argues that outsourcing has actually helped save jobs, at least for his firm, by enabling it to survive: 80 percent of ICode's workforce is based in India, and this has lowered operational costs significantly--the development of a new line of software, a $60 million proposition in America, only cost $8 million thanks to overseas labor. But WashTech co-founder Marcus Courtney estimates that over 10,000 American high-tech workers have lost jobs in the last two years because of outsourcing, and alleges that a skills shortage has nothing to do with it. "We're talking to workers every single day who tell us they're training their replacements," he says. Courtney accuses some firms of exploiting the L1 visa program--ostensibly set up to help multinational managers travel to the United States for business reasons--to train foreign workers who later displace Americans. Several proposals to apply stricter visa requirements are making their way through Congress, but immigration lawyer Mitchell Wexler thinks a better solution is to impose penalties on employers that abuse the visa program. Meanwhile, Congress has commissioned the General Accounting Office to scrutinize the effects of outsourcing in a report due next spring.
- "GPS Lost: Can the Satellite Technology Find Its Way?"
TechNewsWorld (09/13/03); Korzeniowski, Paul
Widespread adoption of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology has been stymied by expensive, proprietary technology. GPS was first developed by the Defense Department, which spent billions of dollars setting up a network of 28 satellites in orbit approximately 11,000 miles above the Earth--but the technology has been so expensive that commercial adoption was limited to niche markets such as trucking and automotive systems. General Motors' OnStar system, allowing drivers to get on-the-road directions to any location, is considered relatively successful, but is hindered by service fees amounting to hundreds of dollars annually. Allied Business Intelligence analyst Frank Viquez says current GPS installations cost about $1,000--too high a price point for carriers to give out the system free in return for a service contract. Datacomm Research principal Ira Brodsky also notes that GPS signals are easily lost inside buildings. However, the recent 911-call location requirement for cellular phones passed by Congress has spurred carriers such as Sprint and Verizon to include GPS technology in their phones, helping to spread the technology. Standards are also being developed for GPS chipsets so that equipment vendors can buy cheaper standard components and speed application rollout, while getting GPS equipment to work inside buildings can be done by integrating those devices with existing telecommunications infrastructure. Brodsky predicts widespread consumer adoption when monthly service fees reach about $10 or less.
- "IEEE Works on Secure OS Standards"
Computer Business Review (09/09/03)
The P220 Base Operating System Security working group of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers is now working to develop "baseline consistent security requirements" for commercial off-the-shelf operating systems in an effort to improve software security. The group says it will use the Common Criteria as a starting point for the standard's development, but the final standard will not necessarily be based on CC, and different types of operating systems are expected to get their own standards. Working group chair Jack Cole says the group will seek input from a wide variety of end users and software developers to encourage quick and wide adoption of the standard. Cole says, "We have must have as much buy-in as possible." Working group vice chair Gary Stoneburner says the security standards effort should move "OS security standards from government edict to community consensus."
Click Here to View Full Article
- "In the Age of the Internet, Whatever Will Be Will Be Free"
New York Times (09/14/03) P. WK1; Lohr, Steve
The Internet, by design, supports the free exchange of information, while the global spread of personal computing and inexpensive communications networks has helped foster a welter of new technologies and usage--the World Wide Web, instant messaging, and peer-to-peer file sharing being a few examples. Intellectual property rights and copyright rules are becoming more mutable as a result of these developments, the latest instance being the music industry's attempts to crack down on individual digital file traders. But some experts doubt that industry will be able to control the dissemination of content online. "The cultural and technical principle embedded in today's Internet is that it is neutral in the sense that the people who use it have the power to determine its use, not corporations or the network operators," observes Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society. Other notable developments promoting the idea of a copyright-free Internet include the open-source software movement, Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig's "creative commons" project to collect and publicly post creative works online, MIT's online distribution of material from 500 courses, and a British open-source cartoon called "Jenny Everywhere." Musicians--David Bowie among them--are concerned that the Internet will render copyright and authorship obsolete, while others are worried that the music industry will attempt to tightly restrict Internet access and usage. A forthcoming book by Harvard law professor William Fisher suggests that losses the recording and film industries incur from Web piracy could be offset by charging a 15 percent tax on Internet access and a 15 percent tax on devices used to store and copy copyrighted material, a middle ground solution that parallels one arrived at as radio became popular.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Researchers Work to Improve Performance of Wireless Communications"
New technology being developed by researchers at Motorola's Advanced Technology Center and the University of Missouri-Rolla could allow cell phones, for example, to operate in any geographic location and receive stronger signals with less interference. The technology involves three-dimensional Meso-MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) switches, which promise to boost reception quality and energy efficiency. Unlike current solid-state technology, which remains operational all the time, Meso-MEMS switches can be completely deactivated; they can also cost less than silicon-based radio frequency MEMS switches if they are constructed out of alternative metals and polymers. The researchers will also be working on minuscule fuel cells to power wireless devices with Meso-MEMS switches. These cells will offer longer battery life than conventional wireless power sources, and they will not run down or need electrical recharging. "In addition to the successes in joint technology development, the UMR/Motorola team has established a great partnership to bridge today's industry and academia through knowledge sharing and graduate student internships," notes UMR's Dr. Matthew O'Keefe. The UMR/Motorola project has received $2.6 million in funding from the Department of Defense and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency over the last four years, and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Ohio's Wright Patterson Air Force Base is also involved.
- "Open Source Helps Education Effort in Third World"
SiliconValley.com (09/14/03); Gillmor, Dan
Third-world educational services, governments, and businesses are taking advantage of open-source software because they cannot afford increasingly expensive proprietary technology such as Windows; they also desire to skirt the upgrade cycle and foster more home-based software innovation. SchoolNet Namibia director Joris Komen says that open source offers the overwhelming long-term advantages of reliability as well as affordability. Lyndall Shope-Mafole of South Africa's Presidential National Commission on Information Society and Development reports that the goal of her government's adoption of open source is to nurture open choice. Microsoft's license fee escalations are also prompting businesses in the developing world to consider open source, according to Masedi Molosiwa of the non-profit Cape Information Technology Initiative. Gains in quality and ease-of-use have greatly contributed to the interest in open-source software. Microsoft has tried to ward off open-source adoption by governments and businesses by claiming the software's so-called freedom is nullified by support and training costs. Komen says that Microsoft has been trying to weaken open source's grip in Namibia and other African nations. Meanwhile, a northern-Asia open-source operating system may be created through a Chinese-Japanese-Korean partnership.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Wireless Webs to Cope With a Crisis"
Associated Press (09/12/03); Bergstein, Brian
Public safety officials are looking at a range of new technologies that promise to simplify and reinforce emergency response communications. Lack of radio spectrum and interference has long been a problem for firefighters and police, especially at large-scale disasters such as the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11; at that time, radio problems prevented command chiefs from reaching firefighters in the towers to warn them the structures might collapse. The Stevens Institute of Technology's Wireless Network Security Center in New Jersey is working on technical solutions to such problems, including free-space optical networking, software-defined radios, and personnel location technologies. Police cars are tracked in real-time at the Wireless Network Security Center, since the laptop computers installed in the cruisers communicate via WLAN and cellular phone networks; another application displays photos taken automatically when sensors are tripped at sensitive locations on campus and along the school's fences. Center director and former FCC wireless expert Paul Kolodzy says public safety should take advantage of existing infrastructure. However, Suffolk County police radio director and Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials President Vincent Stile explains that government usually is slow to move on any issue. Some new technologies also could be used to empower emergency response, including software-defined radios that let responders easily switch to the best communications channel and "mesh" networking first developed at the Defense Department; radio-spectrum regulators are also working to free up more bandwidth for public-safety purposes and have set a 2006 deadline for digital TV companies to hand over the 700 MHz band.
- "An Open Source Search Engine"
SearchEngineWatch.com (09/11/03); Battelle, John
The Internet search market is expected to balloon from $2 billion now to between $6 billion and $8 billion in four years, with Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft--which jealously guard their intellectual property, competitive advantages, and technical workforce--fighting for dominance. But the fall arrival of Nutch, an open-source search engine that can be used and modified by anyone free of licensing fees and corporate regulation, could put a crimp in the commercial players' strategies. Unlike Google, Nutch has transparent indexing and page-ranking, and the support of influential figures such as Open Source Applications Foundation President Mitch Kapor and O'Reilly & Associates CEO Tim O'Reilly builds up the search engine's credibility. Nutch is preparing for its public unveiling by moving its servers to a high-bandwidth facility overseen by Internet Archive creator Brewster Kahle. "Search is the first thing people use on the Web now, and there are fewer and fewer alternatives," observes Nutch founder and core product manager Doug Cutting. "Researchers, university folks, and anyone else can have a test bed to make search better" using Nutch, he says. Kapor notes that an open search platform is an important tool for research and innovation, and adds that Nutch could facilitate the development of tools that commercial services such as Microsoft would never finance.
- "Worth Its SALT"
EDN Magazine (09/10/03); Potter, Stephen
The Speech Application Language Tags (SALT) 1.0 specification is now available free of royalties, and has been contributed to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Developed by the SALT Forum, which is comprised of more than 70 companies interested in speech and Web applications that combine voice interaction with conventional interface modes, SALT is a speech-markup language that promises to give users a greater level of interaction with electronic devices. Indeed, multimodal applications offer new interactive possibilities for users of electronic devices that take advantage of SALT. A SALT speech interface would allows users to speak directly into a personal digital assistant; would allow "hands-free" and "eyes-free" interactions with devices in mobile environments such as a warehouse or when driving; and allow screen reading by voice, surfing by voice, rapid data entry by voice, and point-click-and-speak features. Users would be able to ask a map, "How do I get from here to there?" HTML, XHTML, WML, SMIL and other current and future Web standards will be able to use SALT. Various companies are now developing SALT-enabled browsers for various platforms, both multimodal and telephony, as speech and multimodal capability is expected to make for more natural interaction with the Web.
Click Here to View Full Article
- "Glowing, Talking Walls Will Do Your Bidding"
Guardian Unlimited (09/11/03); Radford, Tim
Researchers at the Sept. 10 British Association science festival say that houses could be radically transformed by advances in nanotechnology and mobile devices. Experiments with light emitting diodes and other small devices have led scientists such as Jim Feast of the University of Durham to speculate that televisions could be embedded into the walls, which could be programmed to display images or change color and intensity according to homeowners' wishes. "Maybe curtains will become things of the past and we'll just switch from transparent structures--maybe glass, maybe plastic--to an image of our choice; maybe light bulbs will disappear and we will be able to select the level and color of illumination from our glowing walls," Feast suggested. He also predicted that mobile communications technology will shrink to the point where such devices could be weaved into apparel; the initial applications would primarily serve the military and airline pilots, while civilian applications will emerge later. Orange Communications' Stephen Hope saw potential in an automated house that can care for infirm residents. Meanwhile, Nigel Linde of the University of Salford told conference attendees that his team is collaborating with the Greater Manchester police on Crimespot, a project in which law enforcement can be kept apprised of an object's whereabouts thanks to installed location-aware devices, thus making theft easier to detect. This raises a number of important issues, such as whether all devices should be equipped with mobile technology, whether homeowners should pay for it at the point of purchase or through home insurance, and whether the police or a third party should monitor the devices. The security implications of mobile devices that always know a user's location and activities should also be addressed, Linde said.
- "China Joins Global Fight Against Spam"
IDG News Service (09/10/03); Lemon, Sumner
China has had particular problems with spam, partially because network administrators in the country are not as stringent in overseeing systems as are administrators in other nations-says Justin Mallen of Silk Road Technologies--and partially because telecommunications companies such as China Telecom Corp. are so large. The Internet Society of China (ISC) has decided to address the problem of spam by preventing emails from 127 servers known to have been points of origin of spam from reaching its members. The organization also has put forth a group of steps for the purposes of blocking spam and preventing problems that result from placing blocks on email service providers in China. The ISC's Anti-Spam Email Coordination Team was responsible for determining the group of servers associated with spam, which includes 90 servers in Taiwan, just eight servers based in China, 16 servers based in the United States, and six servers in South Korea. The ISC's proposed steps for improving China's handling of spam would ask for tougher laws for preventing the spread of spam, urge Chinese ISPs to employ anti-spam measures, ensure that ISPs block spammers from using email, teach users about spam, and maintain a list of entities with "evil intentions" that send unsolicited email. Still, according to the Spamhaus Project, 633 servers at Chinese ISPs act as spam sources--some of them members of the ISC. Previously, the ISC located spam from many more servers than the current list indicates.
- "Make Robots Not War"
Village Voice (09/16/03); Baard, Erik
Neuroscience researcher Steve Potter, who invented a neuron-controlled robot, vehemently refuses military funding to develop his technology out of concern that it would be applied to battlefield operations and weaponry. However, scientists such as Potter are the exception rather than the rule, as researchers starved for funding or in cutting-edge fields such as robotics or nanotechnology find the military to be their biggest-and sometimes only--sponsor. For young researchers, the military's massive financial and technological resources are an irresistible lure, especially for those eager to see their visions turned into reality. Military projects also fall into an ethically gray area: Many Pentagon-funded initiatives are channeled into defensive rather than offensive technology, while the offensive potential of the most exciting technologies remains vague. Carnegie Mellon University graduate student Emily Hamner, a participant in the Personal Rover Project at CMU's Robotics Institute, expresses a willingness to work on military-sponsored projects as long as the positives outbalance the negatives. There is also an argument that military research into advanced weapons systems may be less objectionable if such systems are used morally. However, Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists notes, "At a time when money is tight, most people don't have the luxury of categorically excluding an entire agency funder." Researchers such as University of Texas at Austin computer scientist Benjamin Kuipers have shut themselves out of military funding after seeing colleagues accept such sponsorship so they can accomplish a specific objective, only to have that objective change, usually against their will, as the project progresses.
- "A Picture Tells a Thousand Lies"
New Scientist (09/06/03) Vol. 179, No. 2411, P. 38; Farid, Hany
The alteration of digital images has become a common practice, which is why a method to determine the authenticity of images is critical. Hany Farid, assistant professor in computer science at Dartmouth College, believes digital watermarking, which some people tout as a solution, is ultimately ineffective; watermarking requires a specialized camera, while the watermarks must be impossible to remove. Farid and colleagues have come up with a holistic method to detect digitally tampered images using a technique employed by compression systems used to quickly send music and images over the Internet. There are clear indications that digital tampering of an image can also affect the compressed version of that image, according to an analysis of wavelet transforms. All wavelet transforms of natural images contain recognizable patterns, such as a similarity in the frequency of brightness changes between nearby pixels across a series of photographs; when altered, these images exhibit different bright pixel ratios than the originals. "The remarkable thing is that tampering always disturbs the underlying wavelet statistics and can, more often than not, be detected," Farid observes. Farid and his team have so far identified eight distinctive and consistent properties that do not easily lend themselves to mimicry, and have been able to recognize six forms of digital tampering with the technique--splicing, resizing, printing and rescanning, double compression, artificial graphics, and steganography. Farid admits that the system is not perfect, as it will sometimes misread natural images as tampered or fail to identify a doctored picture; the author maintains that his team has successfully raised the odds against false positives from 100 to 1 to 10,000 to 1, and has boosted the method's success rate in the hardest to detect situations from 50 percent to 75 percent.
- "A Web Address for Every Car?"
Economist Technology Quarterly (09/06/03) Vol. 368, No. 8340, P. 14
Interest in networked cars has existed for years, and cars already include multiple microprocessors, while many drivers now use wireless email devices while in transit. In Japan, millions of drivers take advantage of the Vehicle Information Communication System that offers news on traffic, speed limits, and other driving conditions in cars in the form of basic graphics, plain text, and maps. Still, SRI Consulting Business Intelligence's David Benson sees the development of an expansive system like the one in Japan as currently limited, and dependent on cars being built with a wireless system, information kiosks decreasing in price, and the emergence of a reasonable business model. Currently General Motors' luxury vehicles include the OnStar satellite network, which is a basic variation of a built-in wireless system, and developments in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other local-area networking protocols are taking place. Meanwhile, groups such as the Washington Post have indicated an interest in taking advantage of the spread of mobile telephones and automobile GPS navigation terminals, and there is great potential for offering news content to vehicles, perhaps on a subscription basis.
- "The Visa War"
CIO (09/01/03) Vol. 16, No. 22, P. 48; Koch, Chris
Foreign outsourcing firms are taking advantage of the H-1B and L-1 visa programs to make their businesses more competitive against U.S. companies, but Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Chairman Ron Hira says the situation has led to an unnatural economic process where wage disparity and knowledge-leeching eliminates U.S. IT jobs. Both the H-1B and L-1 visas were originally meant to provide U.S. companies with specialized skills they could not find in a tight labor market, but today many foreign firms, especially those from India, establish U.S. offices and then use the visas to bring workers over from their home country. Many of these workers reside in the United States temporarily in order to learn the skills of the person they will eventually replace, while about 10 percent to 30 percent of the foreign staff act as liaisons between the outsourcer and client. The L-1 visa status is particularly damaging because it allows foreign firms to bring workers to the United States without paying them U.S. salaries, which L-1 opponents say allows outsourcers to underbid on contracts. Many offshore outsourcers base their business models on these unnatural advantages, but it is not illegal, says Miami immigration attorney Robert Charles Hill. Fujitsu's Joan Conway says that if U.S. lawmakers were to change the laws now, then it would dramatically upset many offshore outsourcing contracts in the near term. Legislators at the state and federal levels are working to crimp the flow of U.S. tech jobs overseas with two bills currently before congressional committees and a small number of states having proposed bills to limit overseas outsourcing; still, the globalization promises that many IT functions will migrate. President Bush inked a Free Trade Agreement with Singapore in May that removes regular restrictions from that country's workers here.
- "The New X-Men"
Wired (09/03) Vol. 11, No. 9, P. 124; Baer, Martha
Software development is undergoing a dramatic change with the advent of extreme programming (XP), in which programmers o-develop code, thus shortening the development loop and eliminating lengthy upfront planning periods typical of traditional, isolated programming. XP is expected to eradicate the chronic tardiness that afflicts all but 18 percent of IT projects, according to an annual Standish Group survey, and significantly reduce the rollout of consistently buggy software. One of the biggest advantages of XP is instant feedback and continuous testing, which offer relief from the frustrations of isolated coding. There are a dozen "commandments" that extreme programmers are advised to follow, including holding weekly meetings with coders, managers, and customers to schedule and update tasks; quickly rolling out small releases; building metaphors for system operations; focusing on simple design; regular testing and refactoring; pairing up programmers on one machine; allowing anytime code revisions from any team member; continuously integrating program components to ensure that they work together properly; strict adherence to a weekly work limit of 40 hours; enlisting a live user as a consultant; and compliance with coding standards. A study from the University of Utah finds that though paired programmers may each take 15 percent more time to complete a task than they would alone, there are less glitches to repair. However, XP is not universally praised or advocated: Staunch opponents disdain the method as irresponsible. Programmer Steve McConnell contends that different processes apply to different projects, and insists that few people employ all 12 XP commandments. Critics argue that XP is little more than a license for programmers to be lazy.