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Volume 4, Issue 309: Friday, February 8, 2002

  • "New York State Files Suit Against Maker of Software"
    New York Times (02/08/02) P. C2; Richtel, Matt

    The State of New York announced that it has filed a lawsuit against antivirus software maker Network Associates. The plaintiff argues that the firm is imposing censorship by requiring that consumers and journalists secure permission before posting reviews of its products. Users are notified of this requirement on the company's Web site and on software disks. New York attorney general Eliot L. Spitzer charges that Network Associates is attempting to "inhibit itself from criticism and commentary that is the essence of the free market." Network Associates general counsel Kent Roberts says the purpose of the warning is to stop customers from reviewing obsolete products and to encourage them to secure the latest versions beforehand. He adds that the admonition has been modified to stress that reviewers make sure they have the correct product before publishing test results. Spitzer counters that his office has evidence that Network Associates sought to stifle such material, in the form of an email sent to a Network World reviewer, urging that he publish a "retraction/correction" of a product review. The attorney general hopes that the lawsuit will alert other businesses that such user agreements break the First Amendment.
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Cybersecurity a Top Priority"
    Washington Post (02/08/02) P. E1; Cha, Ariana Eunjung

    White House cyberspace security advisor Richard A. Clarke has been working to spread awareness of the need for better online security. He has established an ambitious campaign to promote computer security in a number of ways: His agenda includes the establishment of a center to assess software vulnerabilities; a "reverse 911" to notify people of emergencies through cell phones, computers, or land lines; and a separate federal Internet called GovNet. In April, task forces organized by Clarke will submit proposals on Internet infrastructure protection. The government-computer security budget has also been raised from $2.7 billion in fiscal 2002 to $4 billion in 2003 thanks to Clarke's lobbying efforts. He and his staff have pressured companies to address cybersecurity flaws, sometimes threatening them with regulation, other times appealing to their sense of patriotism. The campaign has had some noticeable effects--the heads of Microsoft, Oracle, and Cisco Systems all announced that they will devote more energy to improved security. However, not everyone is in agreement about Clarke's goals: Some critics have dismissed GovNet as too expensive and impractical, while the National Academy of Sciences believes that establishing new liability laws will motivate the private sector to pursue better security, rather than Clarke's plan to set up partnerships between government and industry. Despite his achievements, Clarke has only filled out half of his office staff.
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  • "Scientist Ends Crusade Against Copyright Law"
    Newsbytes (02/06/02); McGuire, David

    Princeton professor Edward Felten announced through the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that he would not appeal a New Jersey federal court's ruling to dismiss his case against the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which warned him that he and his team could be prosecuted under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for publishing research that exposed security flaws in anti-piracy safeguards supported by the recording industry. The case was dismissed when the RIAA retracted the warning, admitting that it was a "mistake," while the U.S. government promised that scientific research is not susceptible to the DMCA. EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn calls the decision a win for Felten, but laments that they passed up an opportunity to narrow the law. This is particularly important, as the DMCA is at the center of other cases that have provoked the EFF and other civil liberties groups, such as the federal prosecution of the Russian software company Elcomsoft. Furthermore, Cohn says her organization is concerned that more scientific research could be stifled by further invocations of the DMCA. "On the other hand, it's hard to be disappointed when you win," she acknowledges.

  • "Study: IT Job Jumpers More Likely to Be Laid Off Than Veterans"
    Computerworld Online (02/06/02); Sullivan, Brian

    A recent study from outsourcing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas shows that workers that switched jobs often during the economic boom of the late 1990s are having a harder time when it comes to layoffs and finding new work. Their survey of 3,000 companies found 26 percent of the workers laid off were employed for less than two years. January figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that unemployment rates for people between 20 and 34 years of age was 7.9 percent while workers between 35 and 55 suffered only a 4.8 percent unemployment rate. Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger said the trend did not match with historic patterns, where older, higher-salaried employees were laid off before younger ones with less experience. Giga analyst Robert Klehm says companies are keeping hold of their most valuable workers now in order to best take advantage of the economic upswing, whenever it comes. As far as hiring, Klehm said businesses are looking for teamwork that is shown through a record of company loyalty and commitment. For workers with a spotted resume of work, Klehm suggested formatting it according to function and accomplishments, rather than chronology.
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  • "Government Looks to Streamline Tech"
    Investor's Business Daily (02/06/02) P. A6; Deagon, Brian

    The U.S. federal government, the largest IT buyer in the world, often makes poor use of its investments. President Bush recently appointed Norman Lorentz as chief technology officer, with a mandate to make sure federal IT spending achieves the right priorities. The IRS, for example, has failed three times in modernization initiatives and is behind schedule and over budget in its fourth effort. Lorentz, who has IT management experience in both the private and public sector, says such debacles can be avoided if management is tightened, accountability demanded, and priorities clarified, according to the President's Management Agenda. Some specific issues to be addressed include using technology to automate existing processes instead of improving upon them, evaluating the success of IT projects on how well it serves the agency rather than citizens, and an unwillingness within agencies to divest jurisdictional authority. For its part, the federal government has made continual efforts to improve how its IT investments are managed through legislation and studies of corporate best practices. Former Defense Department IT manager Paul Strassman describes the scenario as "an enormous engine that is all connected and deeply rooted in a system that's deeply committed to maintaining the status quo."

  • "Valley's Philanthropists Undaunted by Downturn"
    SiliconValley.com (02/06/02); Boudreau, John

    Affluent, young executives and entrepreneurs in the San Francisco Bay Area are still endorsing their next-generation-style philanthropy, which involves investing time and expertise in charitable efforts, as well as money. However, the dot-com bust has affected how much and how easily members can contribute to their respective groups--The Full Circle Fund, which used to have a $20,000 minimum annual contribution limit, now requires only $5,000 yearly, and that in installments. Still, the groups are exceeding goals and drawing in more members. Walter & Elise Haas Fund executive director Bruce Sievers says the so-called "giving circles" show that the new businesses see themselves as having a clear social agenda as well. John Kittredge, executive director for Berkeley's Access to Software for All People, says the volunteers that come in from the Full Circle group contribute valuable organizational and technical knowledge, as well as a three-year $75,000 grant. Paul Shoemaker, executive director of Social Venture Partners in Seattle, says the altruism of the dot-com generation may or may not last, and notes that giving circles outside of the Bay Area have not grown nearly as fast.

  • "Bots Battle, Breed in A.I. Test"
    Wired News (02/07/02); Delio, Michelle

    The Magna Scientific Adventure Center will be the stage for what will reportedly be the largest artificial intelligence experiment ever conducted when several dozen robots are released into a prepared habitat to see if they can evolve using basic survival instincts. The robots will be programmed into "predator" and "prey" modes. Project creator Noel Sharkey explains that the prey robots will feed, or recharge their batteries, using solar power, while the predator robots will in turn feed on the prey by leeching their battery power via an "energy sucking fang." Embedded infrared sensors will send input to the robots' neural networks, or "brains," which direct their movements based on external readings; the predator robots will use their sensors to track down prey, while the prey will employ them to avoid predators. Robots that perform their assigned function well will be allowed to breed by combining artificial genes into new neural networks. Sharkey believes the prey robots will evolve into herds while the predator units will develop a pack mentality. If successful, the experiment may yield research that could be applied to machines to be utilized in undersea exploration and outer space.

  • "No Fiber Optic Link? Try a Leapfrogging Laser Beam"
    New York Times (02/07/02) P. E9; Eisenberg, Anne

    New atmospheric laser transmission, or free space optics, is helping businesses in urban centers connect to high-speed networks without a physical fiber-optic cable. Free space optical lasers can transmit data at tremendous speeds, up to one billion bits per second, and have overcome some of the irregularities that kept them from being used when introduced in the 1960s. Some of the most common disruptions are inclement weather and laser beams that miss their target. Merrill Lynch used a free space optics system from Terabeam after it lost its offices in the World Trade Center. It was able to send data between its offices in Manhattan one mile away to New Jersey, while connecting lasers beamed information to a second and third office. Proponents of free space optic systems say the idea would be well-suited for newly established office spaces that have not yet arranged to connect fiber-optic cable, which often requires costly construction delays, not to mention right-of-way disputes.
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  • "Putting the Micro in Phone: RF MEMS and Next Generation Mobile Devices"
    Small Times (02/02); Mason, Jack

    MEMS technology developers are working on reducing the size and complexity of radio frequency (RF) components in mobile phones, which is key to keeping handsets small and lithe as they add more and more functionality. Because a large number of mobile phone parts are passive elements that can be made more reliable and efficient through MEMS technology, Cahners In-Stat researchers say the MEMS market could rocket to $350 million by 2006, up from just $1 million in 2001. Already, Agilent Technologies has created a quasi-MEMS acoustic resonator duplexer to replace traditional duplexers that are often one of the largest mobile phone components. The duplexer is being used in AirPrime's wireless module for the Handspring Visor. Samsung's Watch Phone also features RF MEMS technology. A number of large technology companies are developing RF MEMS, but the leader is MEMSCAP, which has succeeded in creating several MEMS components that consolidate many functions that require separate, larger traditional components. The ability to change transmission modes and bandwidths, for example, will be increasingly important as manufacturers work on phones that are interoperable worldwide. A RF MEMS device developed by MEMSCAP is currently smaller than, and combines the abilities of, several traditional frequency selectors.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Senate Buries Economic Stimulus Package"
    Newsbytes (02/06/02); MacMillan, Robert

    The U.S. Senate effectively torpedoed two versions of an economic stimulus package, one backed by Republicans and one backed by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), that included tax breaks and research credits for technology companies. Daschle's bill failed to reach the two-thirds majority needed to pass a "closure vote" and bring the legislation up for a full Senate vote; Daschle said he would end debate on both bills if cloture failed. Republicans and Democrats are unresolved in how to balance corporate tax breaks and government spending. Daschle said the current House economic stimulus package, which contains many benefits for high-tech firms, will not pass the Senate because of its over reliance on corporate tax breaks. Republicans attempted to add several amendments to the stimulus bill, including a provision to extend the high-tech equipment depreciation bonus and a permanent research and development tax credit. Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) said that a permanent R&D credit would likely be supported in the Senate.

  • "Silicon Valley Techies Suit Up Army with Sleeker Gear"
    USA Today (02/07/02) P. 1B; Iwata, Edward

    Silicon Valley engineers have transformed the U.S. Army's Land Warrior wearable computer system from a bulky, unpopular tool into a device that soldiers are quick to praise. Originally designed and built by Raytheon, the prototype was a 40-pound, non-waterproof nightmare of unreliable software and limited battery life that severely restricted users' movements. The small firms that re-engineered the system avoided the inflexible military specs and pursued their own ideas, using cheap, off-the-shelf components and writing the software in common programming language instead of the old government language employed by Raytheon. Pacific Consultants won the bid to redesign the Land Warrior prototype from Raytheon and Motorola with a six-month development cycle and a $2 million price tag; Pemstar and Exponent also contributed to the redesign. The latest version of the system weighs only 12 pounds, while the Microsoft Windows software it uses is far more reliable. The unit's gear includes a satellite-mapping device, a wireless card, a mouse, a keyboard, and a touch pad. The tech firms say the new Land Warrior represents a triumph for their business model over that of the defense industry. Former Pacific Consultants executive Hugh Duffy says, "We made it the classic Silicon Valley way: quicker, cheaper, and better."

  • "Internet Group Plans Security-Information Exchange"
    CNet (02/02/02); Lemos, Robert

    The Internet Software Consortium (ISC) has announced plans to develop a security information-exchange--a closed network that will facilitate awareness about security issues and security holes as a result of the recent discovery of four vulnerabilities in the Berkeley Internet Name Domain (BIND) software. Currently, ISC issues information about security alerts and patches through the Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (CERT) at Carnegie Mellon University. Many discussions about these security issues tend to take place on public email lists, meaning that hackers could be using the information, says ISC Chairman Paul Vixie. Beginning late this month, ISC will offer an information service that will require paid registration from members; those members will be required to use encrypted email. Domain name registries, software firms such as Red Hat and IBM, and developers will be allowed to join. "Anyone who ships that [BIND] software as part of their systems can be part of this," says Vixie. The service will enable security officials to gather and trade information before any alert hits the general public, where the news can be intercepted by hackers and other disrupters.

  • "Customer Satisfaction Playing Role in IT Compensation"
    CyberAtlas (02/04/02)

    Customer satisfaction and retention are key considerations when compensating IT employees, according to a poll of IT executives and human resource managers by NFO Prognotics. "Seeking to build strong customer-centric organizations, IT companies believe that linking compensation to customer satisfaction improves financial performance and retains customers in a competitive market," explains NFO Prognotics President Tina Weinfurther. The survey concludes that two of the major benefits of such an approach are employee motivation and improved responsiveness to customers. Approximately one-third of the respondents say their companies' compensation plans involve customer satisfaction to some degree, but almost 70 percent of those whose firms lack such a scheme say they have not found a solid method for handing out rewards. Weinfurther believes there should be "major growth" in such compensation plans this year, according to data. The report finds that companies are generally debating how they should compensate employees for the customer satisfaction they generate.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Digging Deep Into Compression"
    Wired News (02/06/02); Anderson, Mark K.

    Two teams of scientists have developed a pair of new pattern-matching methods. Christopher Barton and colleagues at the U.S. Geological Survey are using fractal theory pioneered by Benoit Mandelbrot to model natural phenomena such as hurricanes, flooding, and sites where oil and gas deposits can be found. "Mandelbrot has created a mathematical approach that allows us to quantify complex patterns without having to simplify them," Barton explains. At a recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union, Barton detailed a fractal model of the American coastline as part of a broader effort to forecast weather patterns and other systems with more precision. Meanwhile, scientists at La Sapienza University in Rome disclosed in the Jan. 28 issue of Physical Review Letters how they used a Unix file compression program to determine the authorship and language of text. The method was able to identify authors from a database of 90 texts written by 11 individuals with a 93 percent success rate. Furthermore, the technique could determine the language of mystery texts no more than 20 characters long. The researchers believe their method could be applied to search engines, which could carry out searches based on readership, style, and semantic content.

  • "The Encrypted Jihad"
    Salon.com (02/04/02); Jolish, Barak

    Al-Qaida operatives around the world are using laptops and Internet technology, as evidenced by computers confiscated in Afghanistan and terrorist cells around the world. The United States and media outlets were able to hack into some of the computers and files because of faulty security methods used by the terrorists, but common technology such as the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard still is impenetrable by even the most advanced governmental hackers. Before Sept. 11, the federal government was relaxing more and more regulation controlling the development and distribution of encryption technology in the United States. Technology and privacy groups lobbied successfully that hampering U.S. encryption only benefited technology companies based in other countries, lawbreakers, and hackers targeting the U.S. digital infrastructure. Despite recent horrific events, lawmakers should not have a knee-jerk reaction to encryption, but realize that the original argument against regulation remains true. Not only is encryption software freely available on the Internet, it can be sent by email worldwide and bought illegally on the street in many international cities. The United States should follow the example of Israel, which has recently loosened its controls on its own encryption industry despite facing threats from Internet-wielding terrorist groups such as Hamas. Israel has one of the most successful technology industries in the world, second in percentage of technology exports only to Japan.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "How About Now?"
    Economist (02/02/02) Vol. 362, No. 8258, P. 3; Siegele, Ludwig

    Information technology will help companies convert to real-time enterprises and squeeze out the economy's latencies while boosting its efficiency. The keystone of real-time business is sophisticated enterprise software based on solid mathematical models that companies must implement and use properly if they wish to be successful. The cost of these applications is relatively low, since many recruit existing computer systems, while return on investment is rapid. The current recession is likely to make real-time products and services all the more attractive. Real-time enterprise technology can enable companies to answer queries instantly, monitor business on a continuous basis for quicker responses to shifting market conditions, and offer new products and services as new data becomes available. Behind the drive towards real-time enterprise is new hardware that gathers more real-world data than ever before, and software technology that eases or eliminates the trade-off between integration and flexibility. The technology is poised to have a tremendous effect on internal corporate operations while at the same time increasing the economy's fluidity--and possibly its turbulence.

  • "Linking Their Thinking"
    Education Week (01/30/02) Vol. 21, No. 20, P. 28; Trotter, Andrew

    Researchers at MIT's Media Lab are tinkering with technology that could enhance student learning, an initiative that has been the center's primary objective for the last 16 years. Those who work at the lab are encouraged to be innovative, while the devices they create are exposed to corporate visitors in the hopes that they influence future technological products. The Media Lab's staff projects how technologies will develop over the next five to 10 years in order to probe how they can be adapted to education. Computers incorporated into robots, instruments, nametags, blocks, and other common objects offer students a unique way to learn computing, one that both transcends and complements desktop learning, according to the lab's David Cavallo. Media Lab staff also have relationships with local educators so that the products they design attempt to fulfill a desired function. The Media Lab, which has an international scope and whose staff altogether encompass over 21 nations, also engages in projects designed to lower computing costs as well as improve educational efforts for students in poor countries. With changing academic standards and costs sometimes hindering schools from employing the kinds of experimental technology the Media Lab develops, staffers are trying to keep abreast of such trends.

  • "Driving a Smart Vision"
    Wireless Week (01/28/02) Vol. 8, No. 4, P. 21; Albright, Peggy

    The wireless industry stands to be among the beneficiaries of a decision to build intelligent transportation systems in the United States. After outlining the networks in the report "National Intelligent Transportation Systems Program Plan: A 10-Year Vision," the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA) forwarded the study to the Department of Transportation, which intends to consider the idea as it addresses transportation issues. In fact, the DOT plans to make use of the document as the agency moves to reauthorize the Transportation Act. More specifically, the ITSA report calls for an integrated network of transportation information, and the use of the Internet, telematics, and cellular and wireless technologies in a manner to allow for real-time reporting of infrastructure conditions, maintenance activities, weather conditions, and traffic congestion. What is more, automatic crash detection systems are a key element of the intelligent transportation systems. Another way in which the study could impact the wireless industry may come as a result of new research into driver perceptions and human factors engineering, as it relates to hands-free driving. "We think the potential for involvement in these program plan elements is high for the wireless industry," says Richard Taylor, director of information systems at ITSA.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Sweet Nothings"
    New Scientist (01/26/02) Vol. 173, No. 2327, P. 26; Stewart, Ian

    The concept of infinitesimal numbers, which are too small to be decimalized, has started to come into vogue. Logician Abraham Robinson made a significant breakthrough when he proposed that infinitesimals are not technically "real" and laid the groundwork for nonstandard analysis (NSA), an arithmetical system in which mathematical operations can be carried out between infinitesimals and real numbers. In the field of physics, NSA is applied to the Boltzmann equation, which is used to simulate particle movements of interstellar gas or stars, among other things. It has also been employed to smooth out the intricacies of predicting Brownian motion, a phenomenon whose randomness can be applied to similar systems such as stock markets and the flow of data in computer networks. NSA could also be used to measure the limits of computing power, posits Juha Oikkonen of the University of Helsinki. "In theoretical computer science, one studies extremely complicated finite situations," he explains. Meanwhile, the potential of infinitesimals to be used to improve computer graphics could help usher in advancements in computer games and digital special effects.

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