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Volume 3, Issue 290: Wednesday, December 19, 2001

  • "Stimulus Package Would Be Big Boost for Valley"
    SiliconValley.com (12/17/01); Puzzanghera, Jim

    Congress and the White House are working to iron out a final economic stimulus package, including a crucial equipment depreciation provision, before the legislation dies as lawmakers adjourn for the holidays. If a final version is approved, an accelerated depreciation section is almost sure to be included, as it receives bipartisan support. Under such a deal, businesses would be able to write off 44 percent of the value of their equipment purchases, including high-tech equipment such as telecommunications devices, servers, and computers. Not only would tech companies benefit from increased demand for their products, but they would also be able to save hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. Precursor Group says Intel, for example, would save $675 million on its expected $7.5 billion spent on capital equipment purchases in 2002. Although the depreciation provision enjoys bi-partisan support, as well as the backing of President Bush, the House version of the bill keeps the provision in effect for three years, while the Senate version ends it after one year.

  • "Adobe Barred From Distributing InDesign 1.5"
    IDG News Service (12/18/01); Pruitt, Scarlett

    Adobe Systems is being sued by the owner of core component software used in Adobe's InDesign 1.5 program. The U.S. district court judge on the case has ordered Adobe and its distributors to stop domestic sales of InDesign 1.5 until the issue is resolved, even though InDesign 2.0 is due out early next year and does not have the same offending software component as InDesign 1.5. Adobe first said the contract between itself and Trio Systems, which makes the C-Index database engine, was void because the employee who signed it did not have authorization, but then the company said the Trio representative was not truthful during discussions. If valid, the case against Adobe could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, since the individual programmer licenses for C-Index cost $650 each and would be a grievous embarrassment for Adobe, which has been one of the most pursuant companies against copyright infringers. Adobe filed the charges against Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov last summer, making him the first criminal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Trio says it is investigating whether or not InDesign 2.0 contains any proprietary code.
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  • "Silicon Valley's Cyberwarriors"
    San Francisco Chronicle Online (12/16/01); Freedberg, Louis

    Technology companies are rushing to offer the government anti-terror solutions in a bid to capture some of the $20 billion allocated for national security and $33 billion added to the defense budget. Many firms have already set up their own teams to market to government officials. On the government side, officials are also readying themselves. President Bush, for example, asked his Council of Advisors on Science and Technology to convene last week and Los Angeles County administrators are looking at an Oracle city mapping solution that was helpful in responding to the attacks in New York. Still, not every terrorist threat has a perfect technological solution, says National Biometric Test Center director Jim Wayman. He noted that the biometric ID proposals now circulating would not have identified the Sept. 11 hijackers as suspected terrorists. Still, Homeland security czar Tom Ridge welcomes the creativity and entrepenuerial spirit of the tech sector in helping to fight terrorism. He says, "We look to American creativity to help solve our problems and to help make profit in the process...That's what really drives the research. That's what pays for the research."
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  • "Software Industry Primed for Consolidation"
    InternetNews.com (12/17/01); Olavsrud, Thor

    Gartner Dataquest says another 50 percent of software firms will consolidate over the next three years as weak corporate spending takes its toll. The research company says that over 25 percent of leading software firms have already undergone either a merger, acquisition, or divesture. Gartner reports little growth or declines this year and spotty performance for worldwide software and application license markets in 2002, but says the security software market will maintain double-digit growth this year and next. The security software market grew 25 percent last year, has grown 12 percent so far this year, and will grow 18 percent in 2002. Sixteen percent growth is anticipated for 2003.

  • "Defining the Undefinable: Being Alive"
    New York Times (12/18/01) P. D1; Angier, Natalie

    Life and living systems are not as easy to distinguish as they once were, especially with advancements in such fields as artificial intelligence and stem-cell research. "The question is especially interesting now that science and technology are continually pushing the boundaries of what living systems or life-like systems exist, and what they may look like in the future," says Dr. Mark A. Bedau of Reed College. Viruses, for example, do not metabolize, yet they can reproduce, while prions can multiply even though they lack the nucleic template for reproduction. There are those who argue that the economy and the Internet could be considered alive, since they possess elements that mimic life systems--constantly changing, dynamic, mutually responsive, interconnected functions. Advocates of artificial life have also written computer programs capable of following their own paths and spawning their own programs, similar to RNA replication. Programs such as Dr. Thomas S. Ray's Tierra exhibit evolution based on natural selection, which Ray considers to be the key characteristic of life. Other researchers argue against the possibility that machines will achieve consciousness; computer scientist Jaron Lanier, for instance, believes that those who do tend to write flawed computer programs that reduce people's intelligence, and goes on to say that life is so subjective as to defy definition or categorization.
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  • "Company Poised to Offer Chip Implants in Humans"
    Los Angeles Times (12/19/01) P. A1; Streitfeld, David

    Applied Digital Solutions of Palm Beach is planning to capitalize on microchips that can be implanted within the human body. The chips would initially be used to supply medical information for patients with prosthetic limbs and artificial organs. Kidnapped people with the chips inside them could also be tracked by global positioning. Furthermore, the chips could be used as a secure, all-purpose ID that can open doors, authorize payments, etc. This application seems particularly desirable in light of the terrorist attacks, according to Richard Seelig, a surgeon who injected himself with Applied Digital's chips. Applied Digital expects the FDA to approve the chips by the middle of next year; the company claims to have gained approval from the FCC, since the chips use radio frequencies. The chips expected to hit the market in 2002 lack an internal power source, so they are not true tracking devices. It will be several years before body chips that send out signals from a distance debut.

  • "Steganography, Next Generation"
    Wired News (12/19/01); Hershman, Tania

    Forgery-proof IDs may be on the way with a steganography method that hides barcodes within pictures. Joseph Rosen of Israel's Ben Gurion University of the Negev has developed the Concealogram, an algorithm that embeds a 2D barcode inside a halftone image. Both the barcode and the halftone image are composed of binary sets of dots, facilitating a seamless integration. If the image is damaged or partially obstructed, scanners can still read all the necessary data, which is contained in every section of the "image-barcode." The technique can also save packaging space, but would require outlets to be equipped with new scanners. Rosen and two partners are setting up a company and seeking strategic alliances to commercialize the Concealogram methodology. The Concealogram software itself would constitute the final product. Rosen notes that "This is not digital stenanography because the secret information is not hidden inside a digital file, but in hard copy print."

  • "An E-Government Pill for the Tech Sector"
    CNet (12/17/01); Dignan, Larry

    E-government spending will pick up in the second half of next year, according to industry analysts. The dearth of corporate IT spending and the focus on expansive, cost-cutting e-government projects will result in a bonanza for IT services and software companies, who are increasingly marketing to the government sector. Recently, for example, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison offered his company's software for free to be used for a national ID database. Kevin Fitzgerald, an Oracle senior VP in charge of government sales, says, "It's the first time the government had put a serious process behind e-government. Before they were sitting in a back room doing white papers." Prudential Securities economist James Lucier says government historically lags private-sector technology by three to five years, lacking CRM software, XML capabilities, and often duplicating efforts. Anne Altman, managing director for IBM's federal division, expects e-government sales to rise sharply, plateau, and then fall off.

  • "Japan's High-Tech Talent Navigates Workplace Woes"
    Reuters (12/18/01); Klamann, Edmund; Amaha, Eriko

    Japanese engineers and other high-tech workers are facing a different career paradigm as that nation's economy continues to dive. Instead of the life-long guarantee of employment the older generation had, most young engineers are eager to try working for different companies where they can negotiate their salary. Many high-tech firms have already started implementing merit-based pay systems in order to attract young engineers, such as NEC, which recently ratcheted up salaries for top engineers to $160,000 per year, equivalent to a director's salary. Meanwhile, older workers displaced by layoffs are having trouble finding employment because of age discrimination, but could take advantage of personal networks to help them land new jobs, say consultants. Experts, executives, and workers all generally expect the changes Japan is currently undergoing to benefit the high-tech industry there, even while creating uncertainty and fear in the short term.
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  • "Interface Innovation: The Future of Information Access"
    NewsFactor Network (12/18/01); McDonald, Tim

    Computer designers are reworking the way humans interact with computers, trying to find a feasible replacement to the file-and-folder style of storing and retrieving information. Mirror Worlds Technology has created a system that leverages the human understanding of temporal relationships, ranking files according to the date they were last used. Other companies are taking a spatial approach, such as Inxight, whose Star Tree product maps computer files stored on the different parts of the computer with 3D topography. Big technology players such as Microsoft and IBM are also pioneering different computer interaction methods, including Microsoft's 3D Data Mountain spatial interface and IBM's BlueEyes, which incorporates cameras and software that lets the computer read subtle human emotions and inferences. TheBrain, WebMap Technologies, and other companies have developed a visual schematics approach for finding information online; WebMap's browser plug-in arranges Web sites and pages in a topographic map scheme.

  • "Experts Say Decision Could Undermine Online Journalists"
    New York Times (12/14/01); Kaplan, Carl S.

    The injunction barring Web publisher Eric Corley from posting links to illegal material on the Internet could prevent online journalists from exercising their First Amendment rights, say free-speech advocates. Moreover, they say the case shows a growing bias in the courts against online journalists compared to print journalists. The U.S. Court of Appeals that rejected Corley's free-speech claims said it did so, not because of the textual worth of the hyperlinks, but because of their ability to instantaneously disseminate illegal information to millions of people on the Web. According to the decision, hyperlinks contain computer code that makes it vastly different than references given in print media. The lower court judge who first attended to the case cast the injunction against Corley and also laid out three conditions necessary to define illegal hyperlinks, but those rules have since come under criticism for being too vague. Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Cindy A. Cohn says the case will prevent journalists and publishers from making legitimate hyperlinks on the Internet for fear of violating the law. The material that Corley and his company, 2600 Enterprises, was barred from publishing is DeCSS, a software code designed to break DVD-movie copy protection.
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  • "Mr. Schmidt Goes to Washington"
    Computerworld Online (12/17/01); Verton, Dan

    As Microsoft chief security officer Howard Schmidt moves to help with the federal government's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board (CIP), experts are questioning the approach both industry and government officials are taking to homeland security. The consensus is that more cooperation is needed in the area of IT data security, but concrete steps are also needed to directly link national infrastructure providers to government bodies such as the CIP. Joe Weiss, of the Electric Power Research Institute, points out the problem, saying, "The Web sites will be safe, but the lights will be out, and water and oil won't flow." He says important companies, such as GTE and Siemens, are not yet involved in the Partnership for Critical Infrastructure Security, another key government-industry collaboration. Although the appointment of Microsoft's Schmidt is a move in the right direction, melding industry policy expertise with government security efforts, more analytical capabilities are needed, says one former senior government official.

  • "Whatever Its Faults, Segway Offers Reason for Optimism"
    SiliconValley.com (12/17/01); Gillmor, Dan

    Although SiliconValley.com columnist Dan Gillmor does not consider himself a likely user of the much-hyped Segway Human Transporter, he concedes that the vehicle represents an important step toward embedding powerful computers virtually anywhere. He writes that the machine owes its existence to several developments that, when combined, could pave the way for ubiquitous computing. One development is the increase in computing power and the reduction in computer size, and another is the rollout of very small machines. Gillmor notes that automobiles and aircraft now feature more sensors and computers; the Segway's real-time intuitive response apparatus could also be applied to cars and planes, setting the stage for even more advanced transportation. Furthermore, he postulates that such technology will revolutionize medical diagnosis techniques and bolster national security against bioterrorism.

  • "Bluetooth Vendors Promise Convenience, Usefulness"
    IDG News Service (12/13/01); Lawson, Stephen

    Participants at the Bluetooth Developers Conference demonstrated a wide array of products that promise easy-to-use, energy-efficient, and cost-effective low-speed wireless communications. Visteon showcased a Bluetooth network connected to an automobile audio system that allows drivers to make calls on cell phones without a phone cradle. Car manufacturers want the option to be available as early as 2002. The Context-Aware Messaging Platform (CAMP) from Philips can transmit data to users depending on where they are, who they are, and what they are doing. Meanwhile, a pair of Toshiba personal digital assistants (PDAs) connected to an ad hoc Bluetooth network are capable of sending and receiving instant messages, as demonstrated by Toshiba Product Manager Duc Dang. The PDAs feature a Secure Digital Bluetooth module designed to complement handhelds debuting in the United States in a few weeks; the modules themselves should be available in the first quarter of 2002. Roving Networks highlighted a Bluetooth technology that turns PDAs into universal remotes for certain home appliances.

  • "Basic Instincts"
    InternetWeek (12/17/01) No. 889, P. 15; Wilson, Tim

    The wobbly economy has forced many technology executives to adopt a "back to basics" approach to the coming year, one that gives customer service and cost reductions a high priority. Two-thirds of 268 managers polled by InternetWeek in November say customers will be the primary focus of their 2002 Internet projects; 68 percent list improved customer service among their top three priorities for the coming year, while just 14 percent make supply chain initiatives one of the top three. Furthermore, almost 70 percent claim they will assess their Internet projects based on how well they enhance client relationships. Merrill Lynch CTO John McKinley says the most highly valued programs are those designed to retain existing customers. The 2002 initiatives include a move by Amazon.com to speed up customers' receipt of merchandise through expanded interfaces with suppliers. But executives have not shoved aside other Internet initiatives that have the potential to be profitable, should economic conditions improve. Dow Chemical, for instance, plans to centralize its supply chain processes and trim redundant supply chain systems from Union Carbide and other acquisitions. Over 40 percent of those surveyed by InternetWeek say their 2002 IT budgets plan for a slow first half, followed by the start of a recovery in the second half; as a result, many firms are trying to extend their capital investments as far as they will go. Meanwhile, 72 percent expect their companies to decrease or maintain outsourcing levels in 2002.

  • "Face Off: Does the DMCA Go Too Far?"
    Network World (12/10/01) Vol. 18, No. 50, P. 49; Von Lohmann, Fred; Holleyman, Robert

    The Digital Millennium Copyright Act takes unnecessary measures to counter piracy, argues Fred von Lohmann, who represents the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the debate over how to protect intellectual property in the Digital Age. Von Lohmann says the DMCA would prevent film school professors from using movie excerpts from DVDs for research purposes, even though fair use under copyright law would allow them to do so. In addition to the law's ban on acts of circumvention, the ban on the manufacture or distribution of circumvention technologies is stifling academic research and scholarly communication, writes von Lohmann, who uses as an example the dispute between Princeton researcher Edward Felten and the Secure Digital Music Initiative over publishing results on certain watermarking technologies. Ultimately, Lohmann believes the DMCA will have a negative impact on computer network security, if researchers are unable to test security technologies and publish their results. Meanwhile, Robert Holleyman, CEO of the Business Software Alliance, maintains that the DMCA has not gone too far. In fact, Holleyman says the DMCA so far has been "the ideal tool" for ensuring the legal protection for software, movies, books, music, and other creative works online. Even a recent study by the U.S. Copyright Office acknowledges the fairness of the law, he says. Holleyman adds that the study concluded that lawmakers do not need to reexamine the law.

  • "The Next Computer Interface"
    Technology Review (12/01) Vol. 104, No. 10, P. 52; Tristram, Claire

    Researchers are seeking alternatives to the desktop metaphor, the unwieldy hierarchical system of files, folders, and icons used for PC data management. Moving away from the desktop metaphor will be a formidable task, since the need for one is so deeply ingrained in the public's consciousness. Inxight Software's Star Tree interface uses a system of on-screen icons connected by lines to establish their relationships to each other. Mirror Worlds Technologies has announced Scopeware, software that uses a diary metaphor to automatically organize computer files in chronological order and place the most recent files in the foreground of the computer screen. Microsoft tried an onscreen living room metaphor called Microsoft Bob, an effort that failed but was valuable to the company for gaining insight into what works and what does not in new onscreen metaphors. Researchers are also investigating games, science, and engineering software to see if 3D graphics can be applied to interfaces: Microsoft's Data Mountain gives files a perspective shift so that objects placed toward the top of the screen appear more distant. However, the organizations developing such technologies do not envision their tools supplanting the desktop metaphor, and instead offer them as alternatives. Some researchers believe the desktop metaphor should be eliminated by fundamentally changing the way users relate to their computers and building devices that tailor their interface to their users' needs.

  • "Living In a Wireless World"
    Newsweek (12/10/01) Vol. 138, No. 24, P. 56; Levy, Steven; Branscum, Deborah; Croal, N'gai

    The advent of wireless networks is a step toward a long-standing vision of electronic connectedness that promises to revolutionize everyday life. But this forecasted revolution raises several questions. For one thing, too much wireless use can be an unhealthy addiction, and security and privacy is greatly reduced. A new system of protocols for wireless behavior may need to be instituted, especially since its potential for distraction in the school and workplace is so great. Technical challenges also need to be overcome: Interoperability between different technologies must be established, and a hybrid system that can seamlessly shift between formats is the most likely solution. Companies continue to develop new wireless technologies, such as telematics systems for automobiles and the forthcoming Valhalla, a system from Universal Electronics that can control multiple appliances with a single remote. If the wireless revolution is to have a positive impact, it must be viewed as a force for sociological rather than technological change, argues anthropologist Robert Blinkoff.

  • "Invasion of the Nanonukes"
    New Scientist (11/24/01) Vol. 172, No. 2318, P. 30; Mullins, Justin

    Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison see nuclear microbatteries as a viable option for powering MEMS--microelectromechanical systems. MEMS-based nuclear batteries could be built now if there was a demand, says Jake Blanchard, who has built a number of nuclear batteries with the help of colleagues and almost a half-million dollars in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. Although Blanchard expects to hear an outcry from environmentalists regarding his work, that has not been the case as of yet. But that could change as the public learns more about the various ideas for powering tiny silicon-based devices with nuclear batteries. For example, researchers are not just talking about using nuclear microbatteries in small handheld devices such as computers and PDAs; some scientists would like to use MEMS as "smart dust" to be spread over the environment for monitoring growing conditions on farmland or watching for chemical and biological weapons, for example. A wide distribution of MEMS-based nuclear batteries would potentially impact the environment and people's health. Even University of California, Berkeley researcher Kris Pister, who is creating "smart dust," has expressed caution, saying, "I wouldn't want these things spread around my planet."

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