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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Volume 5, Issue 558:  Wednesday, October 15, 2003

  • "H-1B Visa Cuts Might Not Have Big Effect in U.S."
    IDG News Service (10/14/03); Ribeiro, John

    Forrester Research's John McCarthy does not think the October reduction of the yearly H-1B visa cap from 195,000 to 65,000 will have a significant impact on offshore service companies in the short term, given the number of H-1Bs that have already been issued; nor are American clients of offshore outsourcers concerned about the cuts. Indian software exporters do not expect the reduction to dramatically affect their businesses, either: Kiran Karnik, president of the National Association of Software and Service Companies, says the slowdown in the U.S. economy, coupled with growth in Indian offshoring, is scaling back the need for H-1Bs by Indian software firms. However, Karnik argued that the medium-term effects of the current H-1B cap, should it be maintained, could hurt the U.S. economy, U.S.-based customers and companies, and Indian businesses. "Over the longer term, the question becomes whether Congress will be able to act quickly to raise the cap in response to economic growth and new demand, when it comes, or whether the current cap becomes a drag on the ability of IT companies and their customers to grow and prosper," notes Bob Cohen of the Information Technology Association of America. On the other hand, MphasiS BFL Group CFO Ravi Ramu asserts that the long-term need for H-1Bs could significantly decline as clients become more comfortable with offshore outsourcing, which can save money as well. A November 2002 Forrester report predicts that 3.3 million jobs in the U.S. services industry will migrate overseas, with the IT industry at the vanguard. Washington Alliance of Technology Workers President Marcus Courtney insists that "The [existing H-1B] law needs to be reformed so that it strengthens prevailing wage protections, ensures that all employers attest that they cannot find qualified U.S. employees to fill positions, and provides stronger protections for guest workers that come into the U.S. under the program." Cohen, meanwhile, claims that the drop in H-1B usage indicates that the visa program is not, as critics claim, being used to supply cheap labor.
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  • "Casting a Wider, Deeper Net"
    EE Times (10/13/03); Brown, Chappell

    At a recent MIT conference on emerging technologies, Intel research director David Tennenhouse described how two new networking technologies may revolutionize how people use the Internet. Intel is backing PlanetLab, an Internet overlay network that unites users in a giant virtual computer; by housing software and data on the network, technical incompatibilities that currently hinder remote research collaborations would be inconsequential. Each user installs node software on their computer that makes them part of the virtual environment, and so far 70 PlanetLab research projects have sprung up, with 160 machines in 65 locations across 16 countries. The immediate goal is to connect the Internet's long-haul and regional backbones to about 1,000 nodes. Tennenhouse said the other networking project called Motes is complementary to PlanetLab, making the Internet more able to deal with real-time physical data collected from small wireless-connected sensors. Although PlanetLab would let Internet users tap a worldwide computing platform instantaneously, Motes would allow them to leverage very detailed real-time data. Possibly the two programs could be used to provide probabilistic suggestions based on large real-time information in a historical context; such a system would provide a new discovery process for researchers, Tennenhouse said. A Motes network is already in place on Maine's Great Duck Island, where they are monitoring the bird population there. Each Motes node has a CPU, data and program memory, and a RF transmitter in a 5 mm-square package called a Spec chip. The network also employs a distributed operating system called TinyOS specifically designed for wireless sensor networks. Intel is currently working to deploy Motes networks in its semiconductor fabrication plants, where they could be used to detect costly equipment breakdowns.
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  • "Mac Supercomputer: Fast, Cheap"
    Wired News (10/15/03); Kahney, Leander

    A $5.2 million Virginia Tech supercomputer comprised of 1,100 dual-processor Power Mac G5s could earn the ranking of the second most powerful supercomputer in the world, if its final score on the Linpack Benchmark fulfills expectations. Preliminary numbers submitted to Jack Dongarra, who is helping compile a list of the top 500 supercomputers for the International Supercomputer Conference, indicate that the "Big Mac" could attain the No. 2 position behind Japan's Earth Simulator. Dongarra reports that the Big Mac has achieved about 80 percent of its theoretical peak of 17.6 teraflops, which is enough to win the second-place spot as long as those numbers are maintained. The Big Mac is the first Mac-based supercomputer, and also has the distinction of being one of the few supercomputers constructed from commercially available components. Jason Lockhart of Virginia Tech's terascale computing facility notes that final benchmarks have been run, although he did not disclose the numbers. He says, "We expect the machine to place well. The goal is to be in the top 10." Dongarra says the supercomputer's early numbers came out of tests run on 128 of the Big Mac's 2,200 processors. The machine's final score on the Linpack Benchmark will be publicized on Nov. 17.
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  • "The Future of Talking Computers"
    CNet (10/13/03); Cooper, Charles

    Current speech technology systems are highly expensive and marked by limited usability because of a restricted vocabulary, but researchers are optimistic that the technology will make significant strides relatively soon. One such researcher is Kai-Fu Lee, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist and director of Microsoft's Natural Interactive Services Division; he forecasts that computers will be able to recognize speech as well as or better than human beings within the next seven years. By that time, Lee expects a computer will be able to transcribe a person's spoken words more accurately than another person would, indicating that the machine will have a better understanding of speech's context. Lee says the computer would be trained to recognize language in much the same way a person learns, by being exposed to more and more language examples so that it can generalize. Lee notes, however, that a computer would have to be more intensively trained than, say, a baby. The primary stumbling blocks to speech technology's advancement are business-related rather than technological, in Lee's view: There is a lack of applications that will spur developers to build applications, and a lack of business imperatives to impel speech. Lee believes directory assistance is one operation where speech recognition-adept computers can outshine human performance. Lee argues that "a number of key technology revolutions" must transpire before people can converse smoothly with computers: PC data structuralization is the first step, while the data itself must be converted to XML; the next step is to expand a computer's capabilities beyond data retrieval, and make the machine able to understand more verbs; finally, humans must familiarize themselves with talking to PCs, a development that Lee predicts will emerge within the next 10 years.
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  • "The Web: Indispensable But Not Impervious"
    United Press International (10/14/03); Koprowski, Gene J.

    Experts say the reliability and security of the Internet are interdependent. Gomez CTO Paul Leroux roughly equates the current state of Internet technology to the "third or fourth generation of telephones" today, and adds that reliability experiences a significant drop-off as online transactions become more dynamic and complex. The Internet's distributed-computer architecture makes 100 percent reliability an unreachable goal, although BroadSpire COO Arun Srinivasan says the Net's complexity can also help mitigate the disruptive effects of terrorist attacks by allowing users to circumvent cities and regions where such incidents occur. But there are other Web-based threats--online espionage, virus and worm attacks, cyber-stalking--that require the development of risk-management strategies for companies and perhaps eventually individual users. Ronald L. Dick, former assistant deputy director for counter-terrorism at the FBI, says there is no way to manage all potential threats to Internet-connected corporate or government computer systems, and advocates the need to evaluate and prioritize individual threats according to risk. Srinivasan explains that hackers will probably attempt to breach networks by exploiting home-based users as companies and governments boost the security and reliability of their Web sites. He contends that "Now that the 'Net is a big part of everyone's life--someone may infiltrate your life through your home network, through networked appliances like the microwave or the refrigerator." Arbor Networks co-founder Ted Julian says the Internet's underlying protocols, which support cooperative information sharing, in turn create and maintain an "inherent vulnerability."
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  • "Lawmakers Hammer on Spam"
    Medill News Service (10/14/03); Chang, Rita

    The spam problem has inspired a raft of antispam proposals, but most of the half-dozen spam control bills currently making the rounds in Congress legitimize junk email, according to Spamcon Foundation executive director Andrew Barrett. "Frankly, they protect the status quo, and the language in the bill tends to frame spam as fraud," he explains. Two bills--the Criminal Spam Act and the CAN-SPAM Act--have cleared committee in the Senate, but lack the support of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who wants the bills to include a provision for a national do-not-spam list; critics decry the measure as cost prohibitive, and the FTC has doubts about its practicability. The CAN-SPAM Act gives federal prosecutors and ISPs the right to sue emailers who use misleading subject lines, do not let recipients opt out of emailing lists, or spam via dictionary attacks, while the Criminal Spam Act outlines stiff fines and prison sentences for spammers. The progress of antispam legislation in the House of Representatives has stalled because of conflicts between the Wilson-Green bill and the RID-SPAM Act; both proposals require users to opt out of receiving unsolicited email, but Rep. Heather Wilson's (R-N.M.) bill includes enforcement by state attorneys, a provision opposed by the author of the RID-SPAM Act, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.). Wilson's proposal also bans corporate affiliates and subsidiaries from sending spam to users who have opted out once. Tauzin's bill prohibits deceptive messages and email address harvesting, and allows ISPs to sue spammers for damages, but Barrett says the legislation cedes a certain degree of legitimacy to spam. He says Wilson's bill is not much of an improvement, and adds that all the proposals give spammers complete freedom to spam until users opt out. Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy and Technology says, "There is no one piece of legislation that will solve the [spam] problem overnight."
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  • "Electronic Gadgets, Endlessly Seductive But Soon Discarded"
    New York Times (10/15/03) P. A1; Hafner, Katie

    "Barely used" or "new in box" electronic products are becoming more commonplace in retail outlets as consumers learn that such gadgets do not make life easier or more fun, as many purport to do. "Part of the problem of the electronics industry is that they're in the constant act of reinventing stuff because they're trying to sell us new stuff every season," observes Paco Underhill, author of "Why We Buy." Buyers can lose interest in such devices because of their excessive complexity, but many are discouraged when gadgets fail to live up to their hype. One serial acquirer, mortgage broker Jonathan Chatham, partly blames his habit of purchasing technology that turns out to be useless on advertisers who hawk wares that promise to dramatically transform people's lives. Underhill reports that men, with their inherent fascination with cool-looking technology, are a frequent target of gadget makers, while many women are attracted to gadgets in the hope that they will save time or help them become better organized. "I think we're usually pursuing a fantasy of empowerment when we buy these things," says psychoanalyst Julie Marcuse. Some users may hold on to useless gadgets out of guilt because they were given as gifts. Others discard products that are just too difficult to set up and use. One frustrated gadget user says, "If the setup is hard and you're not sure why you need it, chances are it will head to the graveyard." Examples of gadgetry that have been discarded because they are overly complicated or disappointing include cordless keyboards, cordless mice, universal remotes, flat-screen monitors, and Web cameras.
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  • "Breathing Life Into Messy Sketches"
    CNN (10/13/03); Easen, Nick

    MIT researchers expect to have a computer program capable of rendering rough sketches into smooth, contextually correct diagrams within three years, a breakthrough that promises to revolutionize design and the use of tablet PCs. "We have shown that it is credible for a drawing medium to exist that understands what you are sketching, and can then assist with the task in some way," says Randall Davis, the MIT research team's leader. The software monitors what a user draws on the screen, converts the sketch into computer code, and interprets an accurate version of the object(s) that fulfills the sketcher's intentions. The program then animates the sketch by adding gravity and momentum via the application of physical laws; this aspect would be especially valued by physics students, who can currently only speculate about how their static objects might move. Designers, meanwhile, would become more efficient because the software would allow them to put their drawings directly into the computer rather than draw them on paper first. "People will be freed from the absurd requirement that we communicate with software by typing and using a mouse," Davis adds. A major challenge for the MIT team is enabling the software to mimic people's ability to comprehend complex sketches, which requires amassing a large amount of information on human drawing techniques and contextual awareness. Such software is expected to be chiefly marketed to the computer-aided design, education, and software design sectors, but this could prove to be only the tip of the iceberg.
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  • "All the President's Votes?"
    Independent (London) (10/14/03); Gumbel, Andrew

    The deployment of electronic voting systems in U.S. states is proceeding despite warnings and documented evidence that the systems are unreliable, buggy, and vulnerable to tampering. Worse still, these machines provide no printed audit trail and their proprietary software is protected as trade secrets, yet election officials continue to buy and install such machines out of eagerness to avoid the hanging chad debacle and other problems that plagued the last presidential election. A November 2002 election in Georgia that showed a sudden, dramatic swing to the Republicans after touchscreen machines from Diebold were deployed aroused suspicion that the election results were manipulated, and concerned citizens conducted an investigation revealing that the machines were not certified and riddled with security holes and shoddy programming. Even more distrust of the machines was generated when studies from Johns Hopkins and the state of Maryland confirmed major vulnerabilities and loopholes; just as damning were internal Diebold memos acknowledging certain flaws yet refusing to fix them. Touchscreen machines have proven susceptible to misalignment, non-registration of votes, Trojan horses, and other things, and voting systems specialist Rebecca Mercuri is nonplused as to why the deployment of such unreliable systems is still being pushed by election officials. "One has to wonder why this is going on, because the way it is set up it takes away the checks and balances we have in a democratic society," she remarks. Critics are quick to blame Republicans of exploiting e-voting system flaws to rig elections because the three biggest U.S. touchscreen firms have made major contributions to Republican causes. Additionally, one of the provisions of the Help America Vote Act, which promises to financially reward states that modernize their voting machines, is the delegation of an equally bipartisan oversight committee and a technical panel to determine new voting system standards, but these bodies are either incomplete or unconstituted, a situation Mercuri describes as "an abomination."
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    To learn more about ACM's activities regarding e-voting, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/Issues/EVoting.htm.

  • "Unfolding the Field of Computational Origami"
    Globe and Mail (CAN) (10/11/03) P. F8; Strauss, Stephen

    Computational origami is being used as a tool to design better products and better works of art--and, it is ultimately hoped, better computers. The director of a German engineering firm recently used TreeMaker, a computational origami program created by physicist Robert Lang, to determine the most efficient way to fold an airbag into a car's steering column so that it deploys without snagging. Canadian researcher Erik Demaine has employed computational origami to outline the most efficient way to refold a road map, and says his approach can also be used by engineers seeking the optimal way to bend a flat sheet of metal in order to produce car doors, kitchen sinks, and other everyday items. Demaine, whose computational origami research helped earn him a $500,000 "genius" award from the MacArthur Foundation, explains that understanding origami's underlying mathematical principles could eventually help biologists build artificial proteins that are properly folded. Lang's work with TreeMaker has also yielded new approaches to the art of origami itself: Lang, for example, was able to design a sophisticated origami lobster by drawing a stick figure in a computer and having TreeMaker extrapolate folding patterns. Lang's computer-generated models formed the basis of his 1995 book "Origami Insects and Their Kin," which is today regarded as a seminal work. Computational origami was originally driven by the hope that the mathematics it uncovered would enable computer processors to be efficiently folded, and make it possible to pack a vast amount of data in a small space. Many advances in the field are based upon axioms and theorems developed by Japanese mathematicians and physicists such as Humiaki Huzita.
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  • "Computer Center Sets Trans-Atlantic Speed Record for Data Transfer"
    Newswise (10/13/03)

    The University of Illinois at Chicago's National Center for Data Mining (NCDM) and Laboratory for Advanced Computing successfully transferred approximately 1.4 TB of astronomy data from Chicago to Amsterdam at 6.8 Gbps during an Oct. 10 demonstration. The data transfer speed exceeded the 1 Mbps rate most companies use to link to the Internet by a factor of 68,000, accomplishing in 30 minutes what would have taken 25 days on the current standard Internet protocol. Chicago's Abilene and Amsterdam's SURFnet networks were employed in the demonstration, which was a test for NCDM's UDP-based Data Transport (UDT) protocol. NCDM director Robert Grossman said the test showed that hefty data sets can be practically transmitted over long distances. UDP-based protocols can be used over the existing Internet without modifying the network infrastructure, and the Oct. 10 test proved that UDT can share the same link with other network traffic. "We just finished our initial testing and analysis of the UDT protocol and found that with it, you can transfer large data sets over very busy international production networks safely," declared Cees de Laat of the University of Amsterdam. "This remarkable achievement with the UDT protocol paves the way for trans-Atlantic data-intensive applications."
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  • "Fighting to Preserve Old Programs"
    Wired News (10/14/03); Terdiman, Daniel

    Brewster Kahle, founder of the nonprofit Internet Archive, is concerned that historians and students will lose vital cultural material if old software is not preserved, especially since the media it is stored on degrades rapidly without proper maintenance. The Internet Archive was designed as a permanent storehouse for old programs, and Kahle and his organization have asked the U.S. Copyright Office to grant them an exemption to Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provisions that ban the archiving of software titles. Internet Archive team member Simon Carless muses that the Copyright Office "might be concerned that if they make a [positive] ruling in this case, it might be generalized, like for piracy." The situation is complicated because the DMCA does not allow exemptions in cases that do not regard access control--in other words, software designed with encryption and other built-in copy controls cannot be granted an exemption, even if the Copyright Office approves the Internet Archive's request. Jennifer Urban of the University of California at Berkeley's law school reports that archivists would need to appeal to Congress to change the DMCA so they could archive copy-protected titles without rights holders' permission, but it is often close to impossible to locate rights holders. The Copyright Office will announce its decision on Kahle's request Oct. 28. Should the request be turned down, the Internet Archive will basically have two options: Either petition to Congress or file for redress with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco; and if the request is granted, the exemption would only be valid for three years. Carless says the Internet Archive's current strategy will focus on archiving public-domain software, as well as less certain titles that lack copy protection--the latter will not be made publicly available, but the archive will retain them until their terms of copyright end.
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    To learn about ACM's activities regarding DMCA, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/Issues/DMCA.htm.

  • "To Whom May I Direct Your Free Call?"
    New York Times (10/12/03) P. BU1; Thompson, Nicholas

    Kazaa inventors Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis have again joined with the small team of Estonian programmers with whom they first created the infamous music-sharing software to take on the telecommunications industry; by routing phone calls over the same peer-to-peer network used by Kazaa, Zennstrom and Friis say their Skype VoIP service will allow users to make phone calls anywhere in the world for free. Each end user must have downloaded the Skype program and use a basic headset for the free calls, but Skype plans to offer connections to regular phones for a minimal price compared to traditional services. Other companies outside the telecommunications industry are also launching VoIP efforts, including Time Warner Cable through its cable broadband business. Vonage is among a small number of startups that offer easy VoIP use with normal phones; using special adapters on their phones, 55,000 subscribers use Vonage to make unlimited long-distance calls within the United States and Canada for $35 each month. Even as they ramp up their own VoIP infrastructure and services, traditional phone companies are protesting the new entrants are not subject to regulations normally applied to phone companies, such as having to contribute to the universal service fund used to subsidize rural connections. Some states are already grappling with the issue, and experts predict congressional and federal debate soon. Meanwhile, Skype has already counted more than a million downloads of its program without any advertising. Zennstrom says he is not worried about potential legal pitfalls for now, preferring to deal with those as they come along. If countries do decide to ban Skype for whatever reason, he says consumers there would suffer because it brings much-needed competition.
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  • "Technology to Make You Go 'Wow'"
    BBC News (10/14/03); Twist, Jo

    Design expert Don Norman of the Nielsen Norman Group believes that the "wow factor" is just as critical a component of technology design as functionality, a view advocated in his forthcoming book, "Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things." Norman is a proponent of emotional design, which he argues should incorporate three design levels that complement three levels on which the human brain functions: The visceral level, which allows people to respond to beauty and appearance, and makes them more forgiving of the design's practical limitations; the behavioral level, which focuses on usability and how things feel; and a third level where trust is established, which is where a good brand name comes in. Norman believes Sony and Apple are at the top of their game when it comes to making products whose appearance produces pleasure, and says that a machine should be "Part of the infrastructure which makes your life more pleasurable. Not these great big, ugly rectangular boxes that occupy the desk." Personalization is also key to technology making life more pleasurable, while Norman is also a fan of digital technologies that open up social interaction, such as SMS text messaging. To him, the three biggest factors people care about in relation to technology are beauty, pleasure, and simplicity.
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  • "Securing the Portals of Cyber Space"
    Trident (10/10/03); Thorn, Martha

    Information warfare expert Dorothy Denning addressed the vulnerability of technology during a speech at the Naval Academy Sept. 30. Denning, a professor in the department of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., said there was no easy answer for guarding against cyberattacks now that technology is so intertwined with infrastructure and nations are interconnected with allies. In her speech, "Information Technology and National Security," Denning said terrorists have focused more on using explosives to cause physical destruction, but there will come a time when they attempt to use cyberspace to produce just as much damage. Denning says the military has incorporated information operations into campaigns to prepare for cyberattacks and conventional attacks. However, Denning said viruses are particularly problematic in that they are easy to create, unpredictable, and have long-range consequences that are difficult to assess. Denning stressed the importance of securing computer systems, including those used from home, because hackers can turn their computers into "zombies." Denning likened securing main data pipes to an Internet border inspection. "From the address of the message, the inspection would determine whether to block the message entirely or to let it go through," said Denning.
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  • "Grids Extend Reach"
    Computerworld (10/13/03) Vol. 31, No. 47, P. 29; Anthes, Gary H.

    Grid computing applications are taking hold in more organizations as a relatively inexpensive alternative to supercomputers: Switzerland-based drug company Novartis, for example, has 2,700 PCs running grid computing software, and uses the otherwise wasted computing cycles for drug testing. Novartis informatics and knowledge management head Manuel Peitsch says that employees today normally tap applications that would have been unthinkable before the grid implementation. Grid computing today lends itself to scientific and other data-intensive applications that can be parsed and processed in parallel. Everyday business applications such as managing supply chains are not ready for grid computing yet, according to Meta Group analyst Carl Greiner, who says such applications require a major overhaul in order to use grid computing well. Still, IT vendors and the research community are eagerly pursuing visionary grid systems, such as the National Science Foundation's TeraGrid partnership grid or the utility-computing infrastructures touted by IBM and Hewlett-Packard. Companies need those types of tools to help them grid-enable their businesses, says Grid Technology Partners managing director Ahmar Abbas, who also notes that Web services standards are critical to widespread grid computing adoption. Other obstacles include monitoring tools and security infrastructure. Platform Computing's survey of 50 firms also revealed organizational hindrances as a major concern, since people fear losing control of resources and budget allocation.
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  • "Ready When You Are"
    InformationWeek (10/13/03) No. 959, P. 20; Ewalt, David M.

    Gigabit Ethernet is gaining in popularity despite doubts as to its usefulness now: Early adopters are deploying Gigabit Ethernet connections and backbones in preparation for the future, or selectively where there is need. Importantly, more than half of the 300 respondents to an InformationWeek Research survey said increased bandwidth was near the top of to-do lists this year, while Dell'Oro Group reports dramatically increased shipments of Gigabit Ethernet gear. Argonne National Laboratory is rolling out Gigabit Ethernet connections for every one of its 4,000 scientists regardless of their particular work application. Although only those involved in intensive data collection or weather studies will immediately benefit, Argonne networking solutions manager Scott Pinkerton says having the connections at every desktop makes infrastructure more flexible since people can move about as they like. Analysts say 10-Gigabit Ethernet at network cores and Gigabit connections for desktops will be the standard method of deployment. Lippis Enterprises President Nick Lippis notes that many PC makers are shipping their machines with high-speed capabilities such as triple-speed network interface cards. Network equipment is rapidly getting cheaper, with improved switch equipment less than half of last year's price. Ohio State University and Central Ohio Technical College CIO Timothy Link says his school's new conference center has Gigabit Ethernet connections to students' desktops, linked to a 10-Gigabit Ethernet network backbone; the impressive bandwidth may not be utilized now, but it will be someday, he says. State-of-the-art technology also attracts important university talent, according to Link.
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  • "Joy After Sun"
    Fortune (10/13/03) Vol. 148, No. 8, P. 154; Schlender, Brent

    Computer guru and Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy explains that he resigned as Sun's chief scientist out of a need to pursue new concepts, and says a lack of enthusiasm to go in new directions is the reason why Microsoft and other software providers continue to churn out consistently flawed products, and why the Internet suffers from spam and vulnerability to viruses. Joy argues that the solution to the Internet's insecurity is to view the problem with a fresh perspective, which he classifies as an evolutionary step; he suggests that coding everything in Java, which he helped develop, would offer substantial benefits. Joy also sees value in boosting software's reliability by running several different versions of the same program simultaneously and comparing the results, and says this approach can be streamlined through modular development. He attributes the virus problem to the fact that "People still don't recognize the scope of what we have to do," and advocates the need to apply a programming language with strong rules. The spam problem could be mitigated by requiring ISPs to charge a fee for sending email. Joy characterizes Windows as poorly structured and "stale" rather than insecure. The Sun co-founder defines his seminal article in Wired about the dangers of nanotechnology, robotics, and biotech as "my version of either public service or public penance," and says that he is considering a more "prescriptive" follow-up as a way of proposing a solution to such problems. Joy says mankind is headed for disaster if it continues to be passive about the future, and argues that the human race needs to assert control by replacing outdated strategies with completely new approaches.
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  • "Promise and Peril of the 21st Century"
    CIO Special Issue (10/03) P. 22; Kurzweil, Ray

    Ray Kurzweil, author of "The Rise of Intelligent Machines," writes that technological advancement has always yielded benefits and perils, and calls for the formulation of strategies to maximize the advantages of emerging technologies such as genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics, while keeping the dangers in check. Nanotech's long-term promise is the atomic-scale and molecular-scale replication of virtually any object, while perceived threats include unregulated nanobot self-replication that could overwhelm all life on earth, or unethical use of the technology by malicious parties. Kurzweil thinks a wise course of action to keep nanotech threats at bay is to relinquish the technology at a certain point, as suggested by Foresight Institute guidelines that prohibit nanotechnologists from creating physical entities that can copy themselves in a natural environment; he also believes that regulatory oversight, technology-specific "immune" responses, and computer-aided monitoring by law enforcement should be added to the equation. The author notes that such practices work, using the response to the threat of computer viruses as an example: The strategy to minimize the damage caused by malware--organized by an unregulated industry, no less--has been very successful and made viruses more of a nuisance than a serious threat. Likewise, Kurzweil believes the development of a nanotech immune system is inevitable, though Sun Microsystems' Bill Joy noted the possibility that such a system would be susceptible to "autoimmune" reactions. The author is confident that "the sophistication and power of our defensive technologies and knowledge will grow along with the dangers," but warns that the development of such technologies could be inhibited if fear of related threats causes the pursuit of knowledge to be relinquished. Therefore, he recommends that explicit investment in defensive technologies be significantly increased. Kurzweil also thinks the shift from centralized to distributed technologies and from the real world to the virtual domain will facilitate stabilization because such technologies are generally environmentally friendly, flexible, and efficient.
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