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Volume 4, Issue 303: Friday, January 25, 2002

  • "More IT Executives Urge Government Broadband Push"
    Computerworld Online (01/24/02); Thibodeau, Patrick

    A group of high-tech executives on Thursday issued a report calling for the government to prioritize broadband deployment, which they deem critical for economic growth. This comes on the heels of a similar advisory made last week by TechNet, another high-tech consortium. The new report, published by the Computer Systems Policy Project, says that 80 percent of American households should be able to receive data at 1.5 Mbps by the end of 2003, while 50 percent should receive data at 6 Mbps. Meanwhile, national capacity should reach 100 Mbps by 2010. "This technology will give every industry the opportunity to fundamentally change the way they operate with substantial productivity and efficiency improvements," declares NCR CEO Lars Nyberg. Other contributors to the Computer Systems Policy Project report include Dell Computer CEO Michael Dell, Motorola Chairman Christopher Galvin, and Intel CEO Craig Barrett. A national broadband initiative would be a shot in the arm to telecommunications companies, which are mired in a depression, notes TeleChoice CEO Danny Briere.
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  • "Senate Panel to Consider Web Copyright Protections"
    Newsbytes (01/24/02)

    The Senate Commerce Committee is planning to address the issue of online copyright protections possibly as soon as early February, although a spokesman for Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.) says plans for any hearings have not been determined. Hollings has submitted legislation, the Security Systems Standards and Certification Act (SSSCA), that would force computer and consumer electronics manufacturers to incorporate copyright protection technology into their products. The technology would prevent the unlawful copying of digitally formatted content such as music and films. But the proposal has encountered resistance from some hardware groups, including the Association for Computing Machinery, which in October argued before Hollings that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act provided sufficient protections for digital copyrights, and that additional safeguards would be too burdensome on hardware manufacturers.

  • "Skills in Demand, Long-Term"
    Australian IT (01/22/02); Dearne, Karen

    Demand for high-tech skills will continue to be strong in the long term despite the weak economy, says a report by the European Commission. Information and communication technologies (ICT) skills gaps will affect 1.5 million workers by 2003, the study estimates. The current decline in ICT sector growth is only short-term and will not change the long-term need, according to the report. The study adds that productivity and economic growth is closely linked to advances in software and control technologies. In addition, the EC report says that greater investment in ICT capital could adversely affect workers lacking skills for new technologies. Rather, demand for skilled worked will increase, the report forecasts. In the long run, productivity from ICT will result in more jobs, the report indicates.
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  • "Net Users Warned to Beware Sites with Scripting Holes"
    Newsbytes (01/23/02); McWilliams, Brian

    Despite prevention measures suggested nearly two years ago by CERT, visitors to top Web sites are still vulnerable to cross-site script (CSS) attacks. CERT advises that it is now up to them to thwart such attacks, which may lead to the theft of private information such as credit card numbers, passwords, and browser cookies. The security holes enable intruders to cause a site to send bad code to a victim's browser. The code is released when the victim clicks on a link contained either in an email message or on a third-party site. There are also increasing reports of Web sites open to CSS attacks; AOL, eBay, Lycos, and MSN are just some of the vulnerable sites listed on the Bugtraq security mailing list. CERT Internet security analyst Jason Rafail notes that most Web sites can fix the flaw with proper user-input filtering, but many do not consider it a high priority. CERT recently published a white paper that details how Internet users can protect themselves from CSS attacks: The report suggests that users exercise caution when clicking hyperlinks in emails or on third-party sites, and try to browse directly by typing the sites' URLs in the location bar. Independent security specialist Dave de Vitry has developed a free tool called ScreamingCSS that automatically detects CSS vulnerabilities within a site, but Rafail says it could just as easily be used by malicious individuals looking for victims.

  • "PGP Creator: Snooping Must Be Curbed"
    ZDNet (01/23/02)

    In an interview with ZDNet Italy, Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption creator Phil Zimmermann says that he developed the tool for human rights applications, but the political storm stirred up by its export and the subsequent three-year criminal investigation proscribed him from mentioning this. He describes PGP as "a countermeasure to the lack of privacy created by the information age." Allowing such technology to be used by good people without letting it fall into the hands of malevolent parties is an impossible task, according to Zimmermann. He notes that there should be an effort to restrict the proliferation of surveillance technology, since it is not in the public's interest to have its movements constantly tracked. Zimmermann likens the Internet to an urban environment, complete with all the associated security risks, so he is calling for encrypted email and other online protection. Encryption technology is vital to wireless communications, which are broadcast and therefore vulnerable, he says.

  • "Fuel Cells That Fit in a Laptop"
    Wired News (01/23/02); Gaertner, Reiner

    Samsung, Motorola, and Fraunhofer Institute are just a few of the companies racing to develop micro fuel cells for portable devices, but a Bavarian startup is about to debut the pilot of a methanol-based product. Whereas most companies are researching battery-fuel cell hybrids, Smart Fuel Cell's methanol device does not require standard batteries, and is designed for notebooks, camcorders, and other technologies that fit into the environmental and transportation sector. A solid infrastructure and ease of use will probably be key to the success of micro fuel cells. Smart-Fuel Cell's methanol cartridges are tamper-proof and snap easily into the unit; users will be able recharge the battery by refilling the methanol, eliminating the need to shut off their computers. Methanol is available and relatively cheap, so the battery's real costs may come from packaging, logistics, and marketing. Smart Fuel Cell expects to have 2,000 methanol fuel cells manufactured by year's end, and plans to have at least 100,000 by 2004. Smart Fuel Cell CEO Manfred Stefener says that in just a few years, "micro fuel cells could be competitive with Lithium-ion batteries, which are commonly used in notebook computers." In the meantime, Fraunhofer is busy developing hydrogen-based proton exchange membrane fuel cells.

  • "Wireless Robots Work Under a Microscope"
    NewsFactor Network (01/22/02); Hirsh, Lou

    MIT researchers are developing coin-sized wireless robots that can carry out assembly operations on the molecular level. NanoWalkers, as they are called, could be used for biotechnology and research projects, according to MIT researcher Sylvain Martel. Their applications could include synthesizing chemicals and drugs, as well as scanning DNA. Martel says that the robots will act autonomously and be capable of three-dimensional movement, making them vastly more precise than current assembly machines. Furthermore, the NanoWalkers would have measuring capabilities in addition to lifting and moving functions, he explains. Scanning electronic microscopes have been incorporated into some of the NanoWalkers for the many atomic-scale measurements and operations they are designed to carry out, Martel says. Each NanoWalker would be controlled through an internal infrared link, while a camera would keep track of them and direct their movements.

  • "Micro Industry Involved in Power Struggle"
    Small Times Online (01/23/02); Fried, Jayne

    At the recent MEMS 2002 conference in Las Vegas, a number of companies displayed new ways to power computers and mobile phones. For example, Lilliputian Systems, a startup company founded by MIT researchers, is currently trying to commercialize a MEMS-based fuel cell system that can power mobile phones using butane, a cheap and plentiful fuel. Leonel Arana, who presented a paper on the technology, says that in the fuel cell sector hydrogen is the fuel of choice, and what Lilliputian's technology does is convert butane to hydrogen in an efficient manner. Another MEMS 2002 presenter, Chris Spadaccini, says his team is developing a catalytic silicon microcombuster for MEMS fueled by hydrocarbons. A University of Cincinnati team showcased a project oriented around a microfluidic chip on a wristwatch band that uses a disposable air-bursting detonator to run its valve and pump system. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have created a disposable micromachined battery that, according to mechanical engineer Ki Bang Lee, is currently being tested along with the smart dust project at Berkeley.
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  • "Silicon Valley's Underbelly"
    San Francisco Chronicle (01/20/02) P. D1; Jayadev, Raj

    Silicon Valley will continue to represent an industry that exploits temp workers, even though computer companies now have to endure an economic slowdown. Analysts expect the economy to rebound, and more Silicon Valley employers than ever will turn to temp workers to perform physically demanding work for low pay at conveyor belts in assembly plants. The 40,000 temp workers that California's Economic Development Department says worked in Santa Clara County in 2001 is a conservative number, when one considers that there also are thousands of people who work directly for a company on temporary contracts. At a Hewlett-Packard factory, more than 700 workers are Manpower temps; most of the workers are either new to the country, new to city, new to the plant, or new to the work, such as pulling printers from stacks and placing them on conveyor belts. According to a veteran worker, Silicon Valley has changed over the years in that there are many more foreign workers today, but pay remains the same and there are no longer any benefits. Years ago, HP would hire people permanently, or let them go after 90 days, notes the veteran. The proliferation of more than 200 temp agencies in Silicon Valley helps give the new economy its subcontracting characteristic. Employers can use temp agencies to protect against labor organizing and against labor abuses that may occur in their own factories.
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  • "New Group Trying to Halt Flood of Free CDs"
    Philadelphia Inquirer (01/24/02) P. F1; Kaplan, Allison

    Concern is growing over the increasing use of one-time-use CDs in marketing campaigns. From a marketing point of view, one-time-use CDs are a godsend, because they are easy to mail, extremely cheap to manufacture, and they enable companies to place computer software directly in the hands of customers. AOL, for example, says it has gained tens of millions of new subscribers by handing out free sign-up CDs in cereal boxes, movie theaters, computer stores, and through the mail. According to an industry estimate, AOL produces as many as 300 million CDs per year. The problem is that once a CD has been used, it cannot be used for anything else and has to be thrown away. A Redmond, Wash.-based computer software recycler, GreenDisk, claims that as many as 30 million CDs go into the trash every month. CDs are manufactured using a high-quality plastic with a metal coating, and while the material is not regarded as hazardous, it does take about 450 years for it to break down. NoMoreAOLCDs.com, the brainchild of Jim McKenna and John Lieberman, is an attempt to halt AOL's practice of distributing unwanted CDs to consumers as a marketing promotion.

  • "Building Creativity Into the Box"
    Washington Post (01/20/02) P. H1; Pegoraro, Rob; ElBoghdady, Dina

    Computer companies hope that gadgets such as digital camcorders, DVD players, digital cameras, and MP3 players will usher in the next great era for their industry. While computer sales have declined over the past year, the computer industry has seen sales of digital media gadgets take off, and companies expect those sales to continue. The increase in sales of digital media gadgets reflects the industry's dream of "convergence," the concept of combining computing and entertainment that computer companies embraced during the mid 1990s. However, many people were not ready to watch movies on their computers or surf the Internet on their television. Sony is aiming its latest computers at music fans, who now have all sorts of mixing and remixing options and storage options, including compact disc, hard disk, MiniDisc, or plug-in Memory Stick. And now computer companies hope digital video cameras will become the latest gadget to catch on with consumers. However, analysts say manufacturers will have to lower the prices of the gadgets and generate consumer interest if they are to be successful. Rick Souder, a Circuit City stores vice president, believes gadgets that enhance activities that people enjoy, such as photography, have a chance to succeed.

  • "LCDs Boom While Price Hikes Loom"
    ZDNet (01/14/02); Shim, Richard; Kanellos, Michael

    Demand for flat-panel LCD displays is poised to ramp up considerably this year, leading to higher prices and infrequent shortages. Sales of flat-panel monitors more than doubled between 2000 and 2001, rocketing from 6.4 million to 13.5 million, according to Rhoda Alexander of Stanford Resources-iSuppli. Shipments of 23.5 million monitors are anticipated for this year. However, Alexander and LG Philips LCD's Bruce Berkoff are predicting shortages this year, and Berkoff expects prices for 15-inch LCD monitors to reach as high as $500; he adds that 17- and 18-inch monitors will cost between $700 and $900. Berkoff explains that two years of oversupply are typically followed by two years of product scarcity, and he forecasts that the next shortage could begin as early as mid 2002 and continue through the following year. The most recent bout of oversupply forced many flat-panel display manufacturers to sell their products at considerable discount. Meanwhile, flat-panel features such as low power consumption and small size have helped boost demand. ViewSonic's Seth Ngin does not expect price hikes to impact demand for LCD panels, since corporations, the product's biggest buyers, do not consider cost a high priority. The primary driver of demand are notebooks, which are taking a larger bite out of the PC market.

  • "Computers Try to Outthink Terrorists"
    Copley News Service (01/21/02); Bigelow, Bruce V.

    Neural networking, which uses statistical modeling techniques to analyze databases in an effort to identify trends, the findings of which can later be used to scrutinize new data, is currently being employed by financial institutions to recognize money laundering and credit card fraud, but also has its place in the war on terrorism. More than 11.2 million trucks entered the United States from Mexico or Canada last year, and instead of inspecting each one, a computer can be used to pick out suspicious hauls, which would warrant greater examination than the rest. The Federal Aviation Administration already uses neural networking software, programmed to detect suspicious activities such as the purchase of one-way, last-minute tickets, to screen passengers and baggage. Similar technology is also employed in facial recognition devices.

  • "Software's Challenge"
    InformationWeek (01/21/02) No. 872, P. 22; Hulme, George V.; Ewalt, David M.; Foley, John

    Bill Gates called attention to the general lack of solid software security in an internal memo calling for a corporate emphasis on "trustworthy computing." The announcement comes after a series of security holes in Microsoft's Windows XP operating system and Windows update feature were disclosed, but this is only one aspect of the problem; Carnegie Mellon University's CERT Coordination Center says that the number of software flaws reported in 2001 almost totaled 2,500. Meanwhile, software products from Sun Microsystems, AOL, and IBM are rife with buffer overflow problems. The reason such flaws crop up is because the prevailing engineering culture is used to catching them in the testing phase, according to Watts Humphrey of Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute (SEI). He says that security holes need to be rooted out during the development process if Microsoft wishes to fulfill Gates' directive. Developers who write code for Windows.Net and the Windows.Net Server will receive software security training from now on. In addition, Microsoft is planning to incorporate applications that can automatically detect and fix software problems. Mark Paulk of the SEI says programming mistakes are a primary reason why such problems exist, while NTBugtraq editor Russ Cooper attributes faulty code to rushed product development and low salaries for quality-assurance workers.

  • "A New Wave"
    Economist (01/19/02) Vol. 362, No. 8256, P. 69

    Vanderbilt University's Akram Aldroubi and the University of Connecticut's Karlheinz Grochenig believe they have developed a set of algorithms that will allow digital samples to be reconstructed without the loss of data that usually results from band limits or uniform sampling, first developed by Claude Shannon in 1948. The algorithms could prove particularly beneficial for body-scanning technologies--magnetic resonance imaging, for instance--that rely on signals that generate a lot of data that is lost due to band limits. The researchers use data derived from non-uniform sampling, which enables a more sophisticated way of digitizing the signal and eliminates band limits. The process is comprised of several steps, rather than one. One of the algorithms is used to analyze the original sample and create "a very poor man's approximation of what the function is like," according to Dr. Aldroubi. This model is then compared to the original sample data, and the algorithm calculates and corrects any discrepancies between them on an iteration-by-iteration basis.

  • "In Hot Pursuit of Energy Efficiency"
    eWeek (01/21/02) Vol. 19, No. 3, P. 41; Fixmer, Rob

    Moore's Law--which states computer power will double every 12 to 18 months--appears to be in jeopardy as the high-tech industry continues to churn out processors that can consume an increasing amount of energy. Since 1985, the total electricity demand per CPU has soared by a multiple of more than 120. As a result, if chipmakers do not make some adjustments in heat-to-performance ratios, the heat generated by computer equipment will act as a disruptive force to semiconductor materials. The energy problems of California serve as a good example of the problems ahead for data centers, server farms, and large IT operations in the near future. E Source analyst Jay Stein says such energy problems will end the growth of the technology sector because most buildings have wiring that cannot handle the increased demand for power, and utilities will not be able to meet the demand as well. "Were this trend to continue, virtually all the data space that's out there right now would become rapidly obsolete, and it would be almost impossible to build any new space because you'd go into the utilities and ask for so much power that they'd toss you out," he says. The top semiconductor companies have taken an interest in the issue, but the situation is unlikely to get any better for years; generations of legacy processors currently in use would have to be replaced. Transmeta is the only company that has a processor that offers major improvements in efficiency at this time.
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  • "Seeing the Future in Photonic Crystals"
    Industrial Physicist (01/02) Vol. 7, No. 6, P. 14; Ouellette, Jennifer

    Ten years of research into photonic crystals will yield new market offerings for fiber-optic telecommunications, such as waveguides and high-resolution spectral filters. The key to the crystals' usefulness, especially in optical communications, is in the precise control of frequencies and direction of electromagnetic waves through the introduction of intended defects. Photonic-crystal waveguides are smaller than conventional arrayed waveguide gratings, and thus will reduce costs of future optical communications, according to UCLA professor Eli Yablonovitch. Omniguide Communications uses photonic-crystal research from MIT to construct hollow tubes lined with omnidirectional reflectors that trap light inside them, boosting the data contained within any given wavelength range. At the University of Sydney, Australia, researchers have used polymer optical fiber as the basis for photonic-crystal fibers that are simpler to build than glass photonic-crystal fibers. Another team at the same university is studying the sea mouse, a marine creature that possesses spines similar to photonic crystals. 3D photonic crystals have been produced thanks to pioneering work by UCLA's Yablonovitch. On the horizon are photonic-crystal light-emitting diodes, lasers, and thin strips to prevent credit card counterfeiting, but the researchers' ultimate ambition is to build an all-optical computer from photonic-crystal transistors and diodes.

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