ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either Gateway Inc. or ACM.

To send comments, please write to [email protected].

Volume 3, Issue 212:  Friday, June 8, 2001

  • "Government's 'Matrix' Project Searches for Computer Vulnerabilities"
    Wall Street Journal (06/08/01) P. B1; Bridis, Ted

    An inter-agency group of federal researchers is mapping the computer systems critical to national stability. Under the auspices of the Department of Commerce's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office, the Matrix Project meets with different agencies to help them find what system failures in other parts of the government or even in private business could affect their operations. The National Hurricane Center in Florida recently worked with the Matrix researchers to chart where their information came from and the systems upon which those sources were reliant, and the tracking went back several steps beyond what officials said they had previously foreseen. Although officials admit that the task is Herculean, they say an attempt must be made to calculate how terrorists or other attackers could potentially devastate national infrastructure, says project leader Glenn R. Price. Pending continued support from the Bush administration, the Matrix project plans to map out 4,000 of the most critical systems spanning 10 federal agencies and eventually present a blueprint of the national computer infrastructure to the president.

  • "Judge Asked for Ruling on Copyright"
    New York Times (06/07/01) P. C5; Harmon, Amy

    Princeton University computer-science professor Edward W. Felten and his colleagues have asked a federal court to overturn provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA) that prevent them from publishing their research on cracking encryption technology. Felten and his colleagues last year took part in an effort sponsored by the Secure Digital Music Initiative in which various groups attempted to crack the organization's new watermarking technology to protect online music files. Felten's team claimed to have done so but turned down the cash prize the organization had offered so that they could publish what they had done. However, Felten's teams say they have not published their work because of the threat they would be prosecuted under the DMCA, which prohibits the dissemination of any method of cracking the encryption of protected digital files. "What you need at least is a broad principle that scientific investigation is okay--that discussion of these technologies is okay," says Dr. Felten. "Publication is how scientists communicate with each other." Felten's case is being supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is also attacking the provisions of the DMCA through the case of Eric Corley, who is currently appealing a ruling that prevents him from publishing DeCSS, a code for cracking DVD encryption.
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)

  • "Tech Sales Slow Down Overseas"
    USA Today (06/07/01) P. 1B; Krantz, Matt

    The tech industry, which had been holding out hope that Europe and other foreign markets would remain strong during the current economic downturn in the United States, are now admitting that their troubles may be global. This week, Compaq, which counts on Europe for one-third of its revenue, said it does not know what will happen in the European market, while Hewlett-Packard warned that revenue from Europe, Asia, and Latin America would be flat. Last week, similar warnings came from Sun Microsystems and chipmaker Altera. International Data predicts that tech spending in Europe may grow only 7.9 percent this year, down from its original estimate of 11.1 percent.

  • "IBM Silicon Makes Faster Computers"
    Associated Press (06/07/01); Krane, Jim

    IBM next Wednesday will announce that it has developed a new method of increasing processing speed in computer chips. Chips built using this new method will consume less power while providing processing speeds 30 percent to 35 percent faster than currently available. The method centers on a new, modified form of silicon called strained silicon in which a layer of silicon is placed atop a compound that resembles silicon; when this occurs, the silicon atoms stretch themselves very thin in an attempt to merge with the atoms in the silicon-like compound. The resulting structure conducts electrons at speeds 70 percent faster, IBM scientists say. The new chip design will benefit the industry because it is less costly than it would to reduce chip size further and because it can be implemented in manufacturing plants with minimal changes to the manufacturing process, the scientists add. Although IBM has tested the new design on transistors, it has yet to build a microprocessor based on the new method and says it will be at least two years before such chips are available. Intel claims to have experimented with the same technique, but decided the performance increase was not enough to justify the cost. However, other researchers say IBM has found a clever way to performance at minimal expense.

  • "Intel, Rivals, and SIA Saying Chips Down, But Rebound Looms"
    Investor's Business Daily (06/08/01) P. A5; DeTar, James

    Intel on Thursday said its revenue projections for the second quarter were holding up and hinted that the semiconductor industry may have begun its rebound. Intel CFO Andy Bryant said the situation was "not a disaster anyplace," but, "routine business." Intel's mild optimism is echoed by the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), which says the recovery should be underway by year's end, with chip sales in 2002 growing 21 percent, and in 2003 growing 25 percent. However, hope in the general tech industry that the recovery may be around the corner is not as prevalent, with Hewlett-Packard warning this week that the U.S. slowdown is now a global event. Lehman Bros. analyst Dan Niles notes that Sun Microsystems has also warned that the slowdown is spreading worldwide and warns that Intel and others might be sugarcoating their year-end projections to ease investors' worries. In reality, Niles says, the second half of 2001 might be worse than some firms expect. In any event, SIA has already estimated that chip sales this year will total $175 billion, down 14 percent from last year, which would rival the industry's worst performance, 1985, when sales fell 16 percent.

  • "117,000 Visas Issued in Expanded H1-B"
    Washington Post (06/08/01) P. E10; Johnson, Carrie

    The number of H1-B visas, which allow highly skilled foreign workers to remain in the United States for up to six years, issued this fiscal year by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) now stands at 117,000, with some 40,000 still waiting to be approved. Only 195,000 such visas may be issued over the entire fiscal year, which will end in September. At this point last fiscal year, all 115,000 available H1-B visas had been approved. With heavy support from the tech industry, Congress last year raised the annual H1-B visa cap from 115,000 to 195,000 and, to free even more visas, allowed certain applicants, including foreign workers hired by colleges and universities, to enter the country under a separate visa. These changes to the program make it difficult to compare this fiscal year's approval rate with previous years', officials say, but few expect the new cap to be reached. Tech analysts say the demand for H1-B visas is relevant to the performance of the tech industry, which takes 40 percent of H1-B applicants.

  • "Spying Good Value, U.S. Tech Firms Hire Ex-KGBers"
    Investor's Business Daily (06/07/01) P. A6; Riley, Shelia

    An influx of programmers from the former Soviet Union is impacting the hiring patterns of U.S. tech firms. Although no exact numbers are available, it seems the number of Russian tech workers emigrating to the United States to work for U.S. firms or working from home for U.S. firms is increasing. Many of these Russian tech workers are veterans of the KGB, the former Soviet Union's security service. Andrey Terekhov, chair of the infomatics department at the University of St. Petersburg, explains that most tech-related projects during the Communist era came directly from the government and the KGB. Vivek Wadhwa, who is CEO of the U.S. software firm Relativity, which does business with Terekhov's software firm, says one-third of his Russian employees worked for the KGB. He says most of these workers did not learn their computing knowledge at the KGB; instead, the KGB sought them out for it. Stepan Pachikov, a Russian who now lives in the U.S., says the way in which Communist ideology impacted other fields, such as journalism and politics, led many Russians to explore the relatively ideology-free realm of mathematics. "We have the same percentage of gifted people as other countries, but more of them became mathematicians," he says.

  • "Report: U.S. Computer Export Controls Irrelevant"
    Reuters (06/07/01); Wolf, Jim

    The U.S. government should cease restricting the sale of powerful computers overseas, concludes a new report from the Center for Strategic Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. The report says most foreign governments now have access to computers that are more powerful than the supercomputers once used to design sensitive military equipment. For example, Pentium microprocessors are four times more powerful than the computer the military used to design the F-22 fighter jet, the report states. Also, the report contends that the government's ranking system of computer power, prohibiting the export of computers that can process above a certain level of millions of theoretical operations per second (MTOPS), no longer applies because foreign governments can combine the power of many smaller computers to match the MTOPS capacity of large computers. What the government should protect is software used to develop sensitive systems, the report suggests.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Ergonomics Hearings Planned"
    Washington Post (06/07/01) P. E1; Skrzycki, Cindy

    The Labor Department will hold public hearings next month to determine how it will--or will not--confront the issue of repetitive-motion injuries in the workplace. The Clinton administration had enacted tough new rules on companies' responsibilities to workers affected by repetitive-motion injuries, but a concerted lobbying effort by business interests urged Congress and the new administration to reject those rules as being too burdensome and expensive for most companies. Under the law Congress used to reject Clinton's ergonomics rules, Labor must propose a substantively different plan in order for regulation to be enacted. The hearings, which will be held in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and California, will examine such issues as what an ergonomic injury is, how it can be determined to be related to work, and whether regulation is necessary. Labor has said that continued disagreement among business and labor interests as to what the answers to these questions are has necessitated the need for public hearings.

  • "EU Plans Anti-Hacking Law"
    InfoWorld.com (06/06/01); Meller, Paul

    The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, on Wednesday revealed a series of proposed measures to protect computer and IT security. Those measures include a new law against computer hacking and a new marketing campaign to raise public awareness about threats to computer and IT security. The EC is also planning for better information-sharing among its member nations' computer emergency response teams (CERTs) as well as a new standard encryption platform that would make different nations' security systems interoperable. "If governments can show the way, using interoperable security solutions in e-government, this will help both individuals and businesses to take security of networks seriously," the Commission said in a statement. The Commission is also seeking to create a central security body that would be able to coordinate the actions and knowledge of member nations' CERTs.

  • "Among Code Warriors, Women, Too, Can Fight"
    New York Times (06/07/01) P. E1; Biersdorfer, J.D.

    Female computer professionals and teenage hackers are rarities in the programming world, distinguished by their gender in a male-dominated field. One spokesperson for Defcon, the annual hacker conference, estimated that the event drew one female for every eight males. Jude Milhon, a computer expert who started coding in the 1960s, says women are given special respect in the hacker world for their unique position. Milhon, who has worked as a programmer and as editor of a cyberculture magazine, says her experience in the business world before she entered computing was abysmal in comparison. However, Carole Fennelly, a partner at computer security firm Wizard's Keys, has observed that the young, male hacker culture is often immature when it comes to relating to women.
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors will need to register.)

  • "When It Comes to Home PCs, the Penguin Doesn't Rule"
    Philadelphia Inquirer (06/07/01) P. F2; Fordahl, Matthew

    In a market dominated by Microsoft Windows, Linux controlled a mere 1.5 percent share of the desktop PC market last year, according to data from International Data (IDC), with the operating system's complexity and the dominance of Windows cited as the most common reasons for its inability to crack the market. Still, firms such as Ximian are developing Linux-based desktop systems, which are in high demand among corporations, and numerous Linux vendors now offer versions of the open source software that are not difficult to install and require less personal configuration than the raw Linux kernel does. In addition, Sun Microsystems has developed an MS Office-type suite for Linux called StarOffice, and applications for Linux such as word processing and other common corporate programs are readily available. Linux servers, on the other hand, saw shipments rise by 24 percent last year, according to IDC, and Linux can also be found in handheld organizers and TiVo digital recorders.

  • "ICANN May Face Restructuring"
    Interactive Week Online (06/07/01); Gruenwald, Juliana

    ICANN might have to be restructured in response to a call from country code operators to create a separate supporting organization for ccTLD operators, a move that would give them more representation on ICANN's board. Country code operators are willing to continue making contributions to ICANN as long as the organization's staff works to create a ccTLD supporting organization. ICANN has also set up an at-large study committee to examine its at-large membership and determine whether at-large elections for board members are necessary, and this move, combined with the ccTLD operators' demands, has generated concerns that the at-large seats on ICANN's board would go to the ccTLD operators. The move is "convenient" for those who want fewer elected at-large board members, says Syracuse University information studies Professor Milton Mueller, and Common Cause general counsel Don Simon thinks that giving at-large seats to ccTLD operators before ICANN's committee has completed its study would be "a real breach of faith." "We will have to reconstitute ICANN," says board member Karl Auerbach. Country code operators that market ccTLDs such as .tv and .la on a global basis will have a competitive advantage if ccTLD operators gain representation on ICANN's board, according to an anonymous source. ICANN board member Jonathan Cohen has put forward a few potential new structures for ICANN, each of which would reduce the number of at-large seats on the board to five. Internet users could form an Internet User Supporting Organization that would claim nine seats on ICANN's board, suggests Wolfgang Kleinwaechter, an international communication policy professor at the University of Aarhus in Denmark.
    For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Hey, Bill, What's the Big Idea?"
    Wired News (06/06/01); Manjoo, Farhad

    At the JavaOne programming language conference on Wednesday, Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy demonstrated Sun's new JXTA programming architecture, which will enable peer-to-peer use in almost all areas of the Internet. Joy pointed to a JXTA application on the eMikolo site called PeerSwitch. Users with PeerSwitch on their computers can share with other PeerSwitch users files collected from the Web. This, says Joy, could eliminate the Internet bottlenecks that occur as too many people try to access a site simultaneously and could actually improve site accessibility as more users log on to the site. In addition, the open source JXTA standard is built to work seamlessly with the Java applications that are being popularized on cell phones and other mobile devices. Joy says peer-to-peer mobile device networks would be widely enabled by the standard adoption of both Java and JXTA platforms.

  • "IT in Schools: Government Must Try Harder"
    Computing Online (06/04/01); Fielding, Rachel

    A majority of the chief executives and board members of the United Kingdom's 15 largest firms believe that the government should take a greater role in promoting IT, including making IT training a compulsory part of the school curriculum, according to a new survey from IT executive coach Monica Seeley. "The focus on getting young people switched to IT reflects leaders' awareness that IT will fuel business growth and development, whatever career you decided to choose," Seeley explains. Seeley suggests that if students learn even a basic skill such as typing on a keyboard, they are giving themselves a great advantage. The executives surveyed also said members of Parliament should stress how important IT is to business. Doing so will boost the profile of IT among the U.K. population, the executives believe.

  • "A Call to Arms"
    Industry Standard (06/11/01) Vol. 4, No. 23, P. 54; Essick, Kristi; Boslet, Mark; Grondahl, Boris

    The United Nations has issued a report claiming that the global demand for the ore Columbite-tantalite, or coltan, is helping fuel the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Coltan can be refined to get the highly heat-resistant metal powder tantalum. Although the U.N. report does not blame computer makers and cell phone makers, 60 percent of last year's tantalum production was used by the electronics industry in mobile phones, computers, game consoles, and camcorders. The tech industry uses coltan to make tiny, tantalum capacitors for managing the flow of current in electronic devices, and it also uses thin layers of tantalum in semiconductors as a protective barrier between other metal coatings. By 2000, the mobile phone and PC markets caused an explosion in the demand for tantalum capacitors, encouraging rebels in Congo, backed by Rwanda and Uganda, to exploit the nation's vast coltan reserves and sell the ore to trading companies to help finance the war. Once trading companies get the coltan, they sell it to processing companies, which unload it on tantalum capacitor manufacturers, which is where Ericsson, Intel, and Nokia and other high tech companies procure the tiny components for their products. Although it is almost impossible to determine whether tantalum in tech products comes from the Congo, the tech industry denies it, but their suppliers respond by saying they are not absolutely sure where their unrefined coltan originates. U.N. officials are considering placing a trade embargo for the region on such minerals as coltan, but uncertainty remains as to whether tech companies would support it.

  • "The New Philanthropy"
    U.S. News & World Report (06/11/01) Vol. 130, No. 23, P. 40; Streisand, Betsy

    The decline in the tech economy has not stopped the industry's millionaires from giving to worthwhile causes. Giving USA, a publication that tracks philanthropy, says charitable donations grew 6.6 percent last year to $12.7 billion--although that is the smallest increase since 1995. Tech philanthropists have become known for being consumed with accountability and results as they give money to their favorite causes. However, this same commitment to making sure money does in fact go to alleviate a problem that can be solved has created some tension in the nonprofit world, which has its own style and pace. Nevertheless, the business-like approach that tech millionaires have brought to philanthropy is starting to influence the ways in which old-line foundations now operate. Education has become the favorite cause of tech philanthropists; their contribution to education is twice the national average. By providing people with an opportunity to obtain tech skills, tech millionaires hope that their charitable giving can produce workers who will one day staff the next hit startup. However, like Bill Gates, who had charitable dreams involving computers and information technology but learned that many of the world's people need food and medicine and do not have electricity, tech philanthropists are likely to shift the focus of their giving to more basic needs.

  • "Test of Faith"
    InformationWeek (06/04/01) No. 840, P. 39; Khirallah, Diane Rezendes

    The IT confidence index, a new InformationWeek survey of 300 IT and business managers, decreased 13.2 percent from the first to second quarters of this year. However, a separate survey conducted by the magazine found that 70 percent of companies are optimistic about their individual prospects, in spite of the current economic downturn. The InformationWeek surveys reveals that the economic downturn is having a broad impact across many factors of companies' IT plans, with only 40 percent optimistic about IT spending plans, and 30 percent either having already had IT budgets reduced or facing the possibility. Nearly 40 percent of the companies surveyed say the downturn has had an impact on them in some manner. Many companies are cutting travel and other perks, and roughly 33 percent of survey respondents say their company has laid off workers and 35 percent have reduced spending on consulting. However, analysts point out that some companies that have laid off workers are also hiring, under the assumption that replacing several unproductive workers with one very good worker will both reduce overall salary costs and improve the company's long-term prospects. The economic downturn is also an excellent time for companies to lay off workers because they will appear to be part of a general trend, analysts say, as laying off workers during a upward business cycle is often seen as a sign of weakness. The InformationWeek surveys also revealed that IT cutbacks are not uniform in different sectors, with IT companies hurt the worst, while the situation has not been as bad at services and manufacturing companies.

  • "Software for the 4th Dimension"
    Computerworld (06/04/01) Vol. 35, No. 23, P. 64; Lais, Sami

    University of Maryland computer-science graduate research assistant Harry Hochheiser is developing new software to improve database searches based on time-series queries. For example, an analyst could use the software to seek stocks with values fitting certain parameters in a given period of time. "With this I could query the data directly," said financial analyst Andrew Woelflein after trying the software, named TimeFinder, adding, "Right now, this is the kind of query you submit to the analysts, and they get back to you in maybe a day." Hochheiser built the software using Jazz, an open source development kit based on the Java-2D application programming interface. Currently, Hochheiser is working on additional features that will let users superimpose search results on top of one another. Other work on time-series data-mining tools is ongoing at SmartMoney.com, where director of research and development Martin Wattenberg has developed a similar, although much simpler, tool. His software lets users draw the graph that fits a certain performance characteristic they are seeking; the software then seeks out actual graphs of companies' performances that match the drawn graph.
    Click Here to View Full Article

[ Archives ] [ Home ]