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Volume 4, Issue 328: Wednesday, March 27, 2002

  • "Microsoft Judge Opens Door to Broader Remedy"
    Reuters (03/26/02); Kaplan, Peter

    The federal trial judge deciding the penalties for Microsoft in its antitrust trial now says she needs more facts about Microsoft's monopolistic actions in sectors besides PC operating systems. The nine states dissenting to the Justice Department's settlement argue that further restrictions are needed in order to keep Microsoft from exerting pressure on other sectors. A former Intel executive testified for the states that Microsoft played a large role in keeping Intel from launching its NSP media player software in the 1990s, for example. Microsoft has fought against further restrictions, saying they are irrelevant to the case at hand, which must address only the one count the company was found guilty of last year--illegally using its monopoly power to destroy the Netscape Web browser, which could have developed into a competing operating system. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has showed sympathy for that argument, but state attorneys expressed hope that her recent comments about needing more evidence would give them further opportunity.
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  • "Moving Slowly Toward Light-Speed Technology"
    SiliconValley.com (03/25/02); Boyd, Robert S.

    Electronics and telecommunications researchers are looking to photons as the basis for future growth in their sectors, since they are coming up against the physical limitations of electrons. Photons, or weightless units of light, travel much faster than electrons and the devices that control them can be built much smaller than those that regulate electrons. Scientists at organizations such as the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are developing the basic components needed to control photons, such as devices that will route, divide, conjoin, slow, stop, and speed them. Photonic crystals constructed from silicon will be a key factor in manipulating photons and will help to integrate photonic communications and circuits into current computing and communications infrastructure based on electronics. MIT physics professor Yoel Fink has already succeeded in creating photonic fibers that can carry up to 1,000 times the capacity of today's optical fiber cables. His company, Omniguide Communications, is joined by at least a dozen others in pursuing this emerging market. Meanwhile, big players such as Agilent, IBM, and Lucent are creating the photonic switches that would act as routers for this super-speed communications infrastructure. California Institute of Technology electrical engineer Axel Scherer says photonic components can be constructed using technology very similar to that which is already present in silicon chip factories today.

  • "Techies Get Serious--Well, as Much as They Can--at PC Forum"
    USA Today (03/27/02) P. 3B; Maney, Kevin

    At this year's PC Forum, considered to be the elite gathering in the technology industry, the mood was serious, as if to compensate for the irrational exuberance displayed in the late 1990s. Nearly all of the presentations and technologies focused on business aspects, and one of the most lauded new companies on display was admired for its innovative business model. Joltage wants to link small, independent wireless Internet service providers around the country into a nationwide network through a revenue-sharing model. Other companies offered environmental sensing technologies for computers, and ways to enhance and strengthen corporate computer infrastructures. Even the gadgets on display from Research in Motion, Handspring, Danger, and Palm all focused on the business applications that could be delivered through them and not on the latest technology they employed.

  • "Science Panel Calls for Balanced Research Spending"
    EE Times Online (03/26/02); Leopold, George

    The House Science Committee's annual review of the federal budget request urges that more money be earmarked for technology R&D in fiscal 2003 and a more balanced apportionment of funds to biomedical and physical science efforts. The National Institutes of Health is expected to get an annual budget increase that surpasses the National Science Foundation's (NSF) entire $5.04 billion budget, a move that the committee says demonstrates the White House's slant toward biomedical research. The committee wants the proposed 5 percent NSF budget increase to be raised to 8.8 percent over fiscal 2002, and funding transfers would not be part of the package. The science panel also favors the White House's support of "multi-agency R&D" for network and information technology, counterterrorism initiatives, and nanotechnology. The Bush administration is seeking a 3 percent increase in network and information technology research funding, and a 17 percent boost in nanotechnology research grants.

  • "Kamen: We Need More Geeks Now"
    Wired News (03/25/02); Delio, Michelle

    Segway Human Transporter creator Dean Kamen, who founded the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology) Robotics Competition, was disappointed with this year's turnout, and said so during the regional playoffs' closing ceremony at Columbia University. The number of high school students participating in the competition accounted for less than 5 percent of national students, and he urged for more interest and corporate sponsorship. "If we take four years to get the program to the point where all high schools can participate, we've already lost an entire generation of students," Kamen warned. Affordability, or the lack thereof, is a key reason why some teams claimed they were unable to attend the finals. Still, the FIRST program has continued to grow: More than 600 teams are competing in this year's contest, compared to only 28 teams in the inaugural competition 11 years ago. The participating teams work with professional engineers to build machines that solve certain problems in six weeks. The results are displayed at the competition, where the robots engage in a sporting event to determine the winners. In this way, Kamen hopes to show students that science can have an appeal similar to that of athletics.

  • "Does Open Source Software Really Work?"
    NewsFactor Network (03/26/02); Gill, Lisa

    Linux and other open-source software is being adopted widely by businesses, but mostly for small-scale use and not for mission-critical applications or large configurations. Support issues and a lack of functionality is hampering Linux, according to the Yankee Group, which recently issued a survey estimating that 11 percent of responding companies used Linux and that adoption rates were highest in mid-size organizations. IBM Linux Tech Center engineer Sheila Harnett says that increased scalability should come later on in the year, and larger implementations by corporations along with it. IBM's recently introduced zSeries Linux server allows companies to consolidate up to several hundred traditional server applications into one system, while maintaining their individuality. As for Linux on the desktop, Yankee Group analyst Neal Goldman declares, "Linux on the desktop is toast." Linux is too complex for home users to configure even simple applications and lacks popular software. Aberdeen Group analyst Bill Claybrook says the StarOffice office productivity suite may spur some Linux adoption on the desktop, which may in turn help increase the operating system's stature on the server side.

  • "Defending Cyberspace"
    Miami Herald (03/25/02); Howe, Kevin

    U.S. Navy computer security researchers have developed a network protection program that can detect and identify hacker probes and catch indications of denial-of-service attacks in time to divert them. The Therminator program requires a huge amount of power as it incessantly scans the network perimeter for unusual activity, including data packets that could signal the beginning of an attack or security probe. Before, computer security administrators could only detect attacks by identifying past patterns, a strategy that often failed because hackers changed their tactics too frequently. The researchers, from Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., tested the Therminator in the Pacific Naval Command's system last year with great success. The Army and Air Force are also looking into the application, and the Navy is applying for a patent so it can license the Therminator in the commercial sector.
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  • "Linux Infighting Damaging Open Source"
    VNUNet (03/22/02); Middleton, James

    Linux development is often hindered by the personalities of the people directing it, says Marcelo Tosatti, the 18-year-old programmer in charge of crafting version 2.4 of the Linux kernel tree. He notes that interpersonal skills are even more important than technical ones when directing Linux development, because many of the problems that arise are the result of egotism. Another hindrance, Tosatti says, is that bug reports are not complemented with patch submissions or details of the flaw. Tosatti tries to address these issues personally, but says fellow head Linux directors Linus Torvalds and Alan Cox are too busy or too complacent to pursue bug reports that have insufficient information. He also complains about the way Torvalds changed the Virtual Memory system within the new release of the 2.4.10 Linux kernel, which Tosatti says can have implications in the future, especially as Linux tries to scale from huge computing systems all the way down to embedded systems.

  • "The Future of the Future"
    Boston Globe (03/25/02) P. C1; Kirsner, Scott

    Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is facing tough times since its corporate parent last year cut 40 of its 270 staff, announced it would need to share the sponsorship, and that PARC director Michael Paige left. PARC has a long history of technology innovation: Especially notable are the graphical user interface that made PCs as they are today, and Ethernet networking technology. New technologies under development there now include collaborative sensing networks comprised of small, hardy sensors immersed in the environment, gathering and sharing information through wireless networks. Modular robotics is another pioneering effort that could lead to robots that change their function and shape as needed. The necessity of new corporate backing is worrisome, however, since the technology downturn has made investment capital scarce and would almost certainly indebt PARC to more parties, restricting their ability to explore new areas. Meanwhile, PARC's reputation for inventing technologies that in the end only benefited Xerox indirectly will be another hurdle to finding backers willing to supply the $70 million needed annually to run PARC as a free entity.

  • "Anti-Copy Bill Slams Coders"
    Wired News (03/22/02); McCullagh, Declan

    The Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act (CBDTPA), recently introduced by Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), would force programmers and software firms to distribute code with federally-approved copy-protection schemes. The bill, if passed, is expected to have a negative impact on the electronics industry, computer makers, and chip makers. The bill would prevent the sale of any software that can reproduce "copyrighted works," after new FCC regulations are implemented, and would ultimately affect MP3 players, cell phones, fax machines, digital cameras, and PCs, as well as word processors, spreadsheets, operating systems, compilers, programming languages, and Unix utilities. The legislation also applies to code intended to be distributed for free, which would need to have the copy-protection scheme of the federal government as well. Another concern of the free software and open-source movement would be the regulation that prohibits the downloading of non-compliant code from overseas. The legislation has a loophole that allows for the creation of unapproved code on one computer, but not any sharing of the code, and another loophole would exempt software that is on the market before the law takes effect. The CBDTPA would carry penalties of up to $500,000 in fines and five years in prison.

  • "Court Pares Back Digital-Download Patent"
    CNet (03/22/02); Mariano, Gwendolyn

    Judge D. Lowell Jensen of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has eliminated two claims that Intouch Group filed against Entertaindom for allegedly infringing on a digital download patent. The judge wrote that Entertaindom clearly proved that the inventions in question are subject to public use. The Intouch patent governs systems that people can use to sample music or Web stores can use to set the music preferences of visitors. The company also filed patent infringement suits against Amazon.com, DiscoverMusic, Liquid Audio, and Listen.com. All but Entertaindom agreed to settle, according to Intouch. The case, along with several other patent infringement lawsuits, could have significant ramifications for the downloadable digital media market. Technology licensing fees could be levied against companies, elevating the cost of online commercial delivery for such content. Intouch attorney Ronald Guttman said there are still three remaining patent claims, and that a trial will begin in September. "[This ruling] doesn't affect our desire to go ahead and seek damages from those who are infringing on the patent," he declared.

  • "High Hopes for Video Compression Project"
    ZDNet (03/25/02); Olsen, Stefanie; Hansen, Evan

    Video streaming company Pulsent says it has created a new compression technology that reduces the size of streamed video files four times smaller than current techniques. Still, the company says it does not expect to eliminate the competing standard from the Moving Pictures Engineering Group (MPEG), but will capture niche markets, especially in video-on-demand services. A number of companies are positioning themselves to deliver video via the Internet, including Microsoft, RealNetworks, and Hollywood studios. Walt Disney and 20th Century Fox have agreed on such a collaboration, as have AOL Time Warner, Sony, Universal, MGM, and Paramount. Pulsent's new compression standard is different from the emerging MPEG-4 format because of the way it identifies key components of the picture. While MPEG relies on a grid format to segment the frame, Pulsent uses key objects as the basis of truncating the file. Analysts say it will be vital for Pulsent to sign deals with large telecommunications companies or entertainment device manufacturers if it wants to enter the video-on-demand market, expected to begin to take off in late 2003.

  • "Hasbro's Hit Robot Creator Awaits Mass-Produced MEMS"
    Small Times Online (03/18/02); Frauenfelder, Mark

    Micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology in robotic toys could give the MEMS industry the mass market demand it needs to advance to the next level. However, the MEMS industry will need to lower the cost of MEMS technology drastically and produce MEMS systems in large quantities at a fast rate. Toy designer Gary Leynes, creator of the line of Tekno robots for Manley Toy Quest, says toy makers would embrace MEMS if the technology becomes more affordable. Mark Tilden, a robotics physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is an advocate of using MEMS components in toys. In fact, Tilden, who created the B.I.O. Bug line of plastic robots for Hasbro, is now at work on a project called "nano-lego," in which objects are able to self-assemble into regular patterns. "I'm hoping people will take some of the toys made available to them and take it down to the atomic scale," says Tilden, who believes nanotechnology will play a key role in mass-produced MEMS. Still, Leynes wonders whether consumers will be able to appreciate a toy that benefits from MEMS technology, adding that MEMS sensors will need to do something amazing such as understand spoken commands or gestures, or read and recognize the words and drawings of children.
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  • "Sensor Technology Steams Ahead"
    Electronic News Online (03/18/02); Horton, Mike

    Sensor technology has begun to make a significant impact in many industries, including medicine, aviation, the military, and computers. Emerging microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and solid-state sensor technology have led to the development of a ring laser gyro that is lighter and more reliable than spinning mass systems. Planes of variable size are also being outfitted with new handheld attitude heading and reference systems yielded by this new technology, while new motion detector sensors are enhancing the balance and response times of trains and other vehicles. In the health care industry, individuals can now respond quicker to sudden changes in bodily functions via sensor-based personal vital sign monitors. Under development are wireless networked micromachine sensors that can transmit light, temperature, and humidity data for computers used in climate control systems, among other things. Handheld devices embedded with modules that integrate sensors and global positioning systems (GPS) are also appearing, and these modules are less expensive than original GPS systems. Sensor technology is also being used to enhance defense, reconnaissance, and surveillance systems. The growth of sensors is partly attributable to the technology having achieved a cost curve on a par with that of semiconducting and networking technologies.
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  • "Hunting for Java Developers"
    ZDNet (03/25/02); Charny, Ben

    Wireless carriers Sprint, Nextel, VoiceStream, and a number of other technology players in the mobile market are readying next-generation Internet services using Java technology. Sun's Java language has become the main vehicle for new business applications on the mobile phone and Sprint, Research in Motion, and Motorola all recently unveiled new toolkits for Java developers at this week's JavaOne conference. The toolkits will help programmers write applications in Java for the mobile market. Nextel, which pioneered mobile business applications in Java, says it will release a new color-screen Motorola phone this summer. VoiceStream also says it has a new entry, Research in Motion's 5810 BlackBerry, that will enable a bevy of new services, including access to email, voice services, AOL Messenger, and up to one megabyte of downloads each month. Wireless carriers are hoping that cell phone owners will want games and other downloadable offerings made possible by Java.

  • "Google Takes on Supercomputing"
    CNet (03/22/02); Shankland, Stephen

    Google has unveiled a browser toolbar that also doubles as client software for the Google Compute project, an altruistic foray into distributed computing. Only 500 people are involved in the current trial, but the Google Compute project could help boost Google's own computer expertise, which is key to its superior search service. Distributed computing is taking off in other sectors, with new networking and Internet technologies bringing down distance barriers and linking many smaller computers to work together. Google's Web tool could prove very popular, given how many people currently use the search site and that software distribution is often the key impediment to signing on more people for distributed computing projects. The trial focuses on the conversion of genetic data into proteins. Google Compute project head Susan Wojcicki says, "The main motivations were to try to leverage Google's expertise with large computer systems and to try to give something back to science."

  • "DOD May Ban Foreign IT Workers"
    Computerworld (03/25/02) Vol. 36, No. 13, P. 1; Verton, Dan

    Sources close to the matter report that the U.S. Department of Defense could approve a policy that prohibits foreign IT workers from participating in sensitive military IT projects in 60 to 90 days. Information Technology Association of America President Harris Miller fired off a letter to Edward Aldridge of the DOD, declaring that the "xenophobic" policy could complicate the acquisition of IT services for the military, as well as raise costs. Similar policies employed outside of the DOD could exacerbate an already troubling situation, according to SRA International's Anthony Valetta: America's IT workforce is contracting and many companies are hiring overseas professionals who demand lower salaries than domestic workers. IConcepts President Vince Coll adds that both government and industry would suffer if a federal ban on foreign workers is put into effect--costs would escalate dramatically for firms that engage in overseas software development. Acquisition Solutions' Chip Mather says that imposing such a policy would be a nearly impossible task, given the shrinkage of the IT labor pool and the heavy reliance on offshore software development. Furthermore, he insists that "there's no direct correlation between citizenship and a person's desire not to commit espionage."
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  • "The Fix-It Kids Take Over"
    Forbes (03/25/02) Vol. 169, No. 7, P. 34; Malone, Michael S.; Clendaniel, Edward; Boland, Michael

    The latest tech-savvy generation--high-school juniors and seniors who are the first to "grow up digital," according to Xerox's John Seely Brown--are not hackers or code writers, but rather have an affinity for designing and building new machines, or fixing up flawed technology. He describes them as integrators who combine already established technologies into new innovations. This generation is expressing itself through workshops such as the annual FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) national robot competition. The kids are characterized by a less rebellious streak and more dedication to work than their predecessors, according to some educators. They also represent the most pragmatic high-school generation of the last 50 years. Furthermore, their focus is on technology's applications rather than the technology itself. They have also moved beyond the geeky image of tech students and become chic; for example, the FIRST participants at Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto are looked upon with admiration for their designs. This generation's goals are to refine existing technologies to maximize performance and bring digital technology back into the analog fold.

  • "Ideas for Industry Spring from Rice"
    Industrial Physicist (03/02) Vol. 8, No. 1, P. 26; Forbes, Nancy

    Industry and academia converge and cross-pollinate each other at Rice University's multidisciplinary research centers such as the Computer and Information Technology Institute (CITI). Through CITI, Rice has embarked with industry and government allies on projects in many fields, including computational engineering and information processing theory, according to CITI director Moshe Vardi. He says the exchange of knowledge allows university researchers to narrow their focus on the country's IT research requirements--in fact, Vardi says that 25 percent of Rice's research funding comes from IT research. Meanwhile, private-sector participants can receive new data earlier, take advantage of contacts, and benefit from faculty expertise. Students and faculty can learn and apply their experience to real-world problems, while industry partners can conduct cutting-edge research at less cost than in-house efforts. Rice's Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) is investigating concepts that hold much promise for the fields of medicine, manufacturing, electronics, and other areas with the help of industry collaborators such as the Texas Medical Center. Multidisciplinary collaboration is key at the Rice Quantum Institute (RQI), whose avenues of research include carbon nanotubes, quantum chemistry, and molecular computing.

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