Volume 4, Issue 418: Friday, November 1, 2002
- "Next Generation Data Storage on the Nanometer-Scale"
University of Arizona optical researchers are working to develop next-generation, nanometer-scale data storage technology that is cheap, fast, and compact, using $2 million in government and corporate funding. UA Optical Data Storage Center director Dror Sarid and fellow scientist Ghassan Jabbour are focusing their energies on the combination of nanoscale organic films and micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) probes. Data would be written, read, and stored in molecular clusters contained in the films. The researchers have successfully demonstrated that the tip of the MEMS probe can deliver electrical pulses when it "taps" on the surface of the film, and they reported this demonstration a year ago in Applied Physics Letters and Physical Review Letters. Sarid and Jabbour's team are the only researchers to generate positive preliminary results using this method. The research builds upon a concept developed by scientists at IBM and Stanford University to combine RAM technology with the affordability of hard-disk storage. This would solve both cost and speed issues, according to Sarid, who adds that IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Carnegie Mellon University, and others are undertaking probe data storage research initiatives of their own. He explains that a conventional hard disk drive can store 32.6 GB of data per square inch, but to reach the industry's goal of 1 TB per square inch will require nanotechnology.
- "Innovative Computers of the Future"
Tribune (India) Online (10/31/02); Rao, Radhakrishna
Researchers in India, Israel, and the United States have announced significant strides in the development of futuristic computers. Four Indian researchers have proposed that a quantum computer's speed and running time limitations are determined by interaction between the system's basic particles. They also indicate that quantum computers that use different fundamental particles could be categorized by speed, running time, and particle interaction. Such interactions help carry data for quantum logic operations, and quantum physics dictates that these interactions can assume four basic patterns. Meanwhile, there has been notable research in the development of a DNA-based computer in which enzymes act as hardware and DNA molecules act as software; such a computer would offer a trillion times more energy efficiency than a conventional computer while using only a trillionth of the storage space. Dr. Ehud Shapiro of Jerusalem's Weizman Institute reports that a DNA computer composed of a trillion molecules could perform a billion calculations every second with 99.8 percent accuracy, while requiring less than a billionth of a watt to function. Hewlett-Packard researchers have created a 64-bit molecular memory chip small enough to be contained within a square micron. "Capacity and performance could be extended enormously by layering molecular switch devices," notes HP Labs' R. Stanley Williams.
- "To the Liberal Arts, He Adds Computer Science"
New York Times (10/31/02) P. E1; Lohr, Steve
Princeton University professor and author Brian Kernighan, who co-developed the Unix operating system and the C programming language at Bell Labs in the 1960s and '70s, teaches a course to humanities students that gives them a deeper understanding of computer science and its place in the world. The generation of students he teaches has grown up with computers and electronics that are encroaching more and more on everyday life. Kernighan says that he wishes to foster an intelligent skepticism about computers among students through his class, so that they can understand both the potential and limitations of the technology. "For better or worse, the people who become leaders and decision makers in politics, law and business are going to come from schools like Princeton," he explains. "What I'm trying to do is give them some of the tools of the trade that will make it possible for them to think intelligently about this technology for themselves." His course combines practical knowledge, such as the inner workings of computers and the function of binary numbers, with public policy topics such as the way technology is affecting privacy, copyright, and antitrust issues. Students also participate in projects such as basic programming and Web page creation to get hands-on experience. Kernighan's class could be used as a model case of a 1999 National Research Council report suggesting that the scope of computer education be widened to include concepts, principles, and ideas as well as practical skills.
(Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)
- "Wireless Network Industry Eyes Tighter Security"
Reuters (10/31/02); Carew, Sinead; Auchard, Eric
On Oct. 31, the Wireless Fidelity Alliance will release Wi-Fi Protective Access (WPA), a Wi-Fi security upgrade designed to bolster short-range wireless computer networks that are notorious for their vulnerabilities to hackers. Current Wi-Fi technology relies on a shared security code architecture, but the new standard comes with more intricate codes that are not available to all network users, and that change regularly. The Alliance intends to test WPA over the next several months, while Alliance Chairman Dennis Eaton promises that the first certified WPA-based products will be available next February. However, the inability to combine WPA products with existing security systems could hinder the standard's adoption, according to International Data (IDC) analyst Bob O'Donnell; meanwhile, Yankee Group analyst Sarah Kim notes that consumer electronics manufacturers could slow down adoption by holding out on upgrading before WPA is finalized. One type of exploitation that WPA could inhibit is wardriving, in which security professionals and hobbyists map out insecure networks in metropolitan areas.
- "Cheats Wreak Havoc on SETI@home: Participants"
ZDNet Australia (10/30/02); Colley, Andrew
As the race to contribute the most computing power to the SETI@home distributed computing project enters its final two-month stretch, participants are accusing project administrators of ignoring claims of cheating. The sudden gains made by relative newcomer SETI@Netherlands, which have helped it rapidly close the gap between it and current leader ARS Technica-sponsored Team Lamb Chop (ATLC), are arousing suspicion. IT professional and SETI@home expert Max Nealon notes that some members of Team Netherlands are returning 5,000 work units (WUs) every day, but estimates that it would take a 1 GHz PC devoted to SETI@home processing six hours to complete just 1 WU. The idea that team members could possess 1,250 GHz of processing power dedicated solely to the project is dubious, he explains. Adding fuel to his argument are allegations reportedly made by SETI Netherlands' team manager, claiming that cheating is common and that 41 percent of the team's work is invalid. Nealon says there are several ways to cheat: In one scenario, partially completed WUs could be distributed to other team members' SETI@home accounts. Yet he reports that his notifying SETI@home administrators of cheating has not elicited any response, and he believes this is because they are more concerned with the project's paucity of resources. Nealon warns that if such cheating is rampant, then the approximately three million results compiled by the project thus far could be called into question.
- "Digital Copyright Law on Trial"
CNet (10/30/02); McCullagh, Declan
The ACLU is suing on behalf of Harvard Law School researcher and student Ben Edelman for a continuance of a challenge to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which could allow filtering company N2H2 to sue Edelman if he attempts to make and distribute a program that decrypts N2H2's Web site blacklist. N2H2 claims that there is no legal controversy because it has made no direct threats of a lawsuit against Edelman, but it did file a brief with the Securities and Exchange Commission in which is announced its intention "to assert all of our legal rights against Edelman if he engages in future activity that violates the agreement of our proprietary rights." The DMCA, which imposes broad limits on the bypassing of copyright safeguards, has been used as leverage by companies against security researchers. Every judge dealing with a challenge to the law has ruled in its favor thus far, but the ACLU hopes that the court will rule in favor of Edelman and thus help curb the mandate's restrictions. A ruling for Edelman would not just dismiss the DMCA's ban on his work, but that of N2H2's shrinkwrap license, trade secret laws, and other copyright laws. The ACLU is suing for Edelman under the Declaratory Judgment Act. "We're confident that the court will deny the defendants' motion to dismiss since they clearly intend to pursue their legal rights against Edelman if he goes forward with his research," declares ACLU staff attorney Ann Beeson. Google acknowledged last week that Edelman's work prompted it to delete over 100 sites from certain search result listings.
To learn more about ACM's activities regarding DMCA, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "FCC Ponders Flexible Use of Airwaves"
The FCC is considering ways to free up more wireless spectrum, according to Chairman Michael Powell. He said that new entrants and technologies were being hindered by a 90-year-old methodology of regulating spectrum use, which did not allow them business certainty and presented too many regulatory barriers. Powell specifically suggested time-sharing and that secondary markets for wireless spectrum be opened up further for new services. Military bandwidth may also be shifted, if accommodations can be found somewhere else. Michael Gallagher, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for communications and technology, compared wireless bandwidth to the fuel that would drive future technological progress. He described a scenario where a video clip could be transported wirelessly from a camcorder to a mobile phone, and then to a third party on the Internet. Some 134 million Americans, roughly half of the population, currently own mobile phones, an increasing amount of which are fitted for the high-speed Internet and new data services. Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association chief Tom Wheeler warned that any changes to FCC policy should not punish existing license holders, who have invested significant resources in and built business plans around their licenses.
- "CMU Tries Out New Mine-Mapping Robot"
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Online (10/29/02); Spice, Byron
Carnegie Mellon University researchers tested a mapping robot this month in an abandoned mine, and are set to try again with a live video link allowing academics back at the university to track its progress in the tunnel and see the new map as it is being drawn. Officials from the Mine Safety and Health Administration will be on hand for the satellite video link demonstration. William "Red" Whittaker, director of the project at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, says the Groundhog robot will help avoid disasters such as what happened when nine Pennsylvania miners were trapped underground for three days in July. That accident was blamed on inaccurate maps--maps Whittaker says could be more accurately redrawn with a robot. The ATV-style robot should be equipped with amphibious capabilities in the future, says Whittaker, because of the level of sludge and water found standing in the 1920's mine explored earlier this month. Another Carnegie Mellon mine-mapping drone is a stationary robot that is lowered into the mine through a drilled hole. Whittaker says future robots could be totally amphibious, swimming through abandoned mines filled with water; others foresee using robots to recover coal in abandoned mines that are too deep to access otherwise.
- "Duke Researchers Report Technique to Make More-Uniform 'Buckytubes'"
Scientists at Duke University have found a way to create more uniform nanotubes, an ability that is key to that material ever being applied reliably to electronics. By starting off with catalyst molecule clusters of the same size, the team was able to grow relatively similar nanotubes, which carry different electrical properties based on their diameter. Using nanotubes as the wiring in nanoscale electronics depends on scientists' ability to mass-produce uniform nanotubes. The Duke research team was able to narrow the disparity among the nanotubes to an average difference of about 17 percent, though the team expects more progress. Duke associate professor of chemistry Jie Liu said the nanotubes formed from silicon dioxide were easy to make, but were of mixed metallic and semiconducting types. "[C]ontrolling the electronic properties of the nanotubes is becoming the biggest bottleneck that limits the development of nanotube research," he noted. Liu said the recent progress demonstrates that nanotube diameter can be controlled by controlling the size of the starting catalyst, which was a molecule based on molybdenum oxide. "And because it's so easy to make these clusters, it should also be easy to scale up to make large amounts of catalyst and large amounts of nanotubes," he declared. IBM researchers have succeeded in eliminating metallic nanotubes from a heterogeneous environment by burning them out with an electronic overcharge. Nanotubes are very strong but also lightweight.
- "Federal Workers Closing IT Skills Gap"
The skills gap between government and private sector IT workers is narrowing, suggests a study by Brainbench, a provider of online tests. The study looked at the scores of 4,110 federal and 7,096 private sector employees who had taken Brainbench's online tests. Federal workers generally outperformed their private sector counterparts in the fields of Unix, Linux, and Microsoft technologies, while private sector IT workers fared better in such areas as networking, databases, and Internet technologies. Brainbench head Mike Russiello says the improvement shown by governmental IT workers, particularly in Unix/Linux, can be attributed partly to efforts by the Chief Information Officer's Council and the National Academy of Public Administration. He also favors the passage of the proposed Davis Digital Tech Corps Act of 2002, which involves the exchange of midrange IT workers between agencies and private firms. The exchanges would last from six months to 24 months and participates keep their normal salary and benefits for the duration of the swap.
- "The PC's New Tricks"
Fortune (10/28/02) Vol. 146, No. 8, P. 88; Kirkpatrick, David
Despite advancements in computer chip speed and operating systems, PC sales have fallen across the board, and Hewlett-Packard's Mike Capellas, for one, attributes this stagnation to a lack of interesting applications. Even Dell Computer CEO Michael Dell wants to move his focus off PCs and concentrate on building and selling IT products via the logistics and distribution system he originally set up for PCs--a move that has earned him the enmity of IT product manufacturers. Capellas believes that HP will hold onto its leading market share by adding products and services to PCs and offering consumer innovations; HP recently introduced a PC featuring Windows XP Media Center Edition software from Microsoft, which gives TV and video recorder functionality to the computer. Meanwhile, Gateway CEO Ted Waitt thinks his company is in an enviable position to benefit from the intersection of consumer electronics and computers: He has mandated that Gateway offer both instead of just PCs, and its flat-panel plasma TV debuting in November is a step in this direction. Gateway's 274 U.S. outlets will offer consumers a place where the advantages of such products can be demonstrated. Sony is bundling entertainment applications into its computers through such products as VAIO Media and Click to DVD, and is also promoting wireless applications. Microsoft is producing software for upcoming Tablet PCs in the hopes of spurring interest in the technology, and researching all-wireless PCs; Intel expects that the processor chips it develops will be critical to the technology's operation. And IBM's soon-to-launch Think Solutions campaign is supposed to make PCs easier to use and less of a burden for corporations and their employees.
- "Can Computers Read Your Mind?"
Tech TV (10/28/02); Mercer, Brandon
Computers that can read a person's emotional states have many potential applications, but also raise issues about the technology's accuracy and privacy. Teradata of NCR and the University of Southern California's Integrated Media Systems Center are developing emotionally-aware machines that could be incorporated into ATMs: Such devices would capture an image of the person's face via camera, and software would map out probable emotional states by measuring facial features, and then compare them to a database of facial expressions; the ATM would then refine the visual presentation to suit the customer, enlarging the font of the display for anyone having trouble reading, or eliminating ads that seem to cause irritation, for example. USC psychologist Dr. Skip Rizzo says the technology could be especially useful for therapeutic purposes, while Teradata engineer Dave Schrader believes that it could also aid the war on terrorism. It could be used as a lie detector designed to spot terrorists by scanning their emotional reactions to questions, he notes. However, there are technical limitations--reading an emotional state with a wide range of expression, such as depression, is difficult. Accuracy is another issue, especially if the technology is to be used for security. But perhaps the most critical concern is how the technology can maintain privacy. Sonia Arrison of the Pacific Research Institute's Center for Freedom and Technology notes that many people may feel such scanning technology threatens their dignity or comfort level, and there is also the question of whether anonymity can be upheld.
- "Future Funding"
InformationWeek (10/28/02) No. 912, P. 44; Whiting, Rick; Ricadela, Aaron
The technology sector's sales slump and increasing selectivity among consumers are impacting vendors' research and development budgets--but for the most part companies are continuing to invest in R&D, trimming expenses in a few cases, but not at the rate at which revenues are declining. Oracle CFO Jeff Henley reports that his company has increased its R&D staff 10 percent to 15 percent annually for the last two years; EMC's R&D budget rose from $783 million to $929 million between 2000 and 2001, although there has been less spending in the nine months ended Sept. 30 than in the same period the previous year. R&D investment appears to be shifting toward a company's core business, although some vendors such as BEA are adopting a middle-of-the-road strategy that gives equal emphasis to core and non-core business. In the last year, Cisco Systems' R&D effort has moved away from building completely new systems and new add-on products, and focused instead on improving existing networking systems and developing security technology. Meanwhile, Microsoft is devoting a sizable portion of its R&D spending to the delivery of software that facilitates the incorporation of PCs and mobile computers into everyday life. Most companies' R&D budgets are channeled into product development, although IBM, Lucent, and a few others continue to pursue basic research. Companies are also seeking to bolster their R&D initiatives by acquiring other companies, as Sun Microsystems has done with Pirus Networks and Afara WebSystems. Companies that make drastic cuts in R&D spending could put themselves at a competitive disadvantage once the economy recovers because of a lack of innovative products.
- "Luck of the Draw"
Computerworld (10/28/02) Vol. 36, No. 44, P. 35; Melymuka, Kathleen
Possessing certain IT skills no longer guarantees high salaries, which nowadays are determined by the company rather than the job. Some 59.7 percent of 9,138 IT workers polled in Computerworld's 16th Annual Salary Survey reported an average salary uptick of 6 percent this year, while the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that U.S. workers received just a 4 percent average salary raise. About 30 percent of survey respondents said their salaries were unchanged, while 9.5 percent said their wages decreased by an average of 13.1 percent. Twelve percent of respondents received larger bonuses in 2002, while 18 percent had their bonuses reduced. Robert Frances Group analyst Kazim Isfahani believes that the economic situation is keeping workers in companies despite pay and bonus cuts, but those who feel they are poorly treated are likely to leave once the economy bounces back. Bank One is pursuing a systems consolidation project that has kept salaries healthy, jobs secure, and turnover low; its project-based recruitment is commonplace in the current economic atmosphere, according to Foote Partners President David Foote. "Companies are hiring only very specifically in areas like infrastructure, e-commerce infrastructure and Web development," he adds.
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- "Securing the Cloud"
Economist (10/26/02) Vol. 365, No. 8296, P. 3; Standage, Tom
The importance of implementing reliable digital security is growing as computing becomes a pervasive utility that plays an ever-larger role in business and personal life. A global network composed of millions of interconnected computers is convenient and cost-effective, but raises the risk of intrusion. Likewise, Sept. 11 hammered home the possibility that terrorists could remotely cripple America's critical infrastructure via the Internet. The rising frequency of major breaches has raised the profile of security among companies, as has new regulatory requirements: For example, amended audit standards and provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) have sent a message to businesses to shore up their security or be liable for intrusions. Meta Group analyst Chris Byrnes reports that the number of company clients with dedicated computer security teams has doubled to 40 percent over the past two years, and he expects it to rise by as much as 30 percent in the next two years. His company also estimated in August that 73 percent of firms increased their security budgets this year, and UBS Warburg's Jordan Klein forecasts that security spending will hit $13 billion in 2005, up from about $6 billion in 2001. However, obstacles hindering the security market's growth include a lack of senior specialists and a tendency for companies to "drag their feet" on investment, according to a Vista Research report. Deploying successful security hinges on removing three common misconceptions from business culture--an over reliance on technology; relegating security to specialists when senior management must also be involved; and devoting too much time and energy to external threats, when internal threats such as malicious ex-workers, unreliable client network links, and the theft of laptops and handhelds should also be considered.
- "Aluminum Shows Strange Behaviors"
Newswise (10/25/02); Gorder, Pam Frost
Research conducted by Ohio State University professor Ju Li and associates indicates that aluminum exhibits behaviors common to ceramics and semiconductors, in addition to being an electrical conductor. In a paper published in the latest issue of Science, Li and co-authors Sidney Yip of MIT and Shigenobu Ogata of the University of Osaka explain that they studied the interactions of thin atomic layers of aluminum and copper when subjected to shear strain, in which one layer slides over another. Using quantum mechanical equations, the researchers discovered that a copper layer slides horizontally over another layer, but top-layer aluminum atoms display a hopping motion, while atoms on the bottom layer also appear to move similarly. Li theorizes that this could be a sign of directional bonding between the aluminum atoms, which is a typical trait of semiconductors and ceramics. The simulation also found that aluminum is 32 percent more durable than copper, even though copper is three times heavier than aluminum and possesses greater rigidity. These findings could explain abnormal intrinsic stacking fault energy in aluminum, according to Li. They could also prove important to nanotechnology research by providing a more precise model of mechanical behavior in structures, particularly as development proceeds on devices that reverberate in the presence of electrical current. Nano-indentation experiments, in which the response of materials to extreme force is measured by pressing diamond shards into substances, could also benefit from the discovery.