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Volume 4, Issue 351: Monday, May 20, 2002

  • "Companies Squander Billions on Tech"
    USA Today (05/20/02) P. 1A; Hopkins, Jim; Kessler, Michelle

    New research from Morgan Stanley says the technology buying mistakes of the past two years equal $130 billion, while Gartner estimates businesses worldwide waste up to 20 percent of all their IT budgets on unnecessary or poorly implemented technology. Influenced by Y2K and keeping a competitive edge, companies often bought systems too fast and without the oversight of accounting divisions, leading to implementations without clearly stated goals and negligible benefits. The situation has turned around, putting buyers in control of corporate IT, says InformationWeek editor Stephanie Stahl. Now, companies are making $1 million software purchases instead of $50 million upgrades and remain focused on specific goals, such as 1 percent more sales. Businesses now have different motivations for their technology investments, according to an InformationWeek poll of 300 executives. In that survey, about 90 percent of the respondents said their IT spending will aim to improve customer service, whereas they ranked staying abreast of the newest technology the least important reason for new IT investment.

  • "IT Staff Don't Stay Put"
    CyberAtlas (05/17/02); Greenspan, Robyn

    Technology company voluntary departure rates are high despite the economic downturn, according to a META Group survey of 600 medium and large American corporations. Report author Maria Schafer estimates the average turnover rate is 10 percent, a mere 1 percent reduction from last year. "The data clearly indicates that those who don't aggressively court and develop IT staff through the downturn and into the long term will find themselves in crisis mode," she warns. Over 50 percent of the survey respondents consider employee retention to be a "very serious" or "fairly serious" issue. There is a 24 percent turnover rate for employees with e-commerce/Internet skills, while those with application development skills boast a turnover rate of 20 percent. The transportation and distribution industry reports a voluntary departure rate of 20 percent, while the rates for the media/publishing and healthcare sectors are 18 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Thirty-three percent of respondents cite economic conditions as the chief reason for turnover, 18 percent cite organizational restructuring, and another 18 percent cite available skills. The META study also finds that the retention of essential skills and top workers has become a high priority; 34 percent of IT organizations have boosted their IT staff regardless of the economic slump; IT employees still receive higher compensation than non-IT workers; and employers are bracing themselves for the imminent retirement of "baby boomer" staff.
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  • "Nano Breakthrough Charges Science World"
    CNet (05/19/02); Kanellos, Michael

    In the May 20 issue of Applied Physics Letters, IBM researchers will disclose how transistors fashioned from carbon nanotubes produce more than double the amount of electrical current of their silicon-based counterparts. In theory, engineers could assemble chips that run on less electricity using nanotubes, or outperform conventional chips using the same amount of energy. Advocates see much potential in nanotechnology such as nanotubes: The molecules of such structures are self-assembling, which obviates the need to draw individual chip circuits and could lead to significant savings in money and labor for the semiconductor industry. The extreme thinness and length of carbon nanotubes means less resistance and less electron scattering. However, there are roadblocks--it has been established that there is an energy barrier at the contact end of the nanotubes, while scientists have only just scratched the surface in terms of understanding the mechanics of molecular self-assembly, says IBM's Phaedon Avouris. "Nature does use self-assemble, but nature had a research and development time of over 2 billion years," he explains. Nevertheless, the IBM breakthrough demonstrates the possibility of carbon one day becoming a basic element of computing.

  • "Embedded Linux Crying Out for Standards"
    ZDNet (05/20/02); Broersma, Matthew

    Embedded Linux is rapidly growing as the operating system of choice for developers who want a capable platform without the constraints of proprietary technology, says Embedded Linux Consortium (ELC) Chairman Inder Singh. But he adds that the lack of standards threatens to push developers over to Windows CE, unless the industry can work out some widely accepted standards for the technology. Motorola, Intel, Sony, Sharp, and other major companies involved in embedded systems are part of the ELC. Although device-specific embedded operating systems are robust, they lack the flexibility to run many different types of applications. As a result, Linux is taking off as the platform of choice for developers working on new devices, such as on-board vehicle systems, information appliances, and robotics. However, Singh warns that embedded Linux systems need to be certified by a group such as the ELC so that developers would have confidence in the interoperability of the platform with different software. He says the ELC is currently devising a certification program for embedded Linux that would issue logos similar to the nearly ubiquitous "Intel Inside" label.

  • "Lots of 'Brains,' Efficiency Add Up"
    Wall Street Journal (05/20/02) P. B4; Clark, Don

    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is developing a supercomputer that will feature a unique filing system called Lustre. Lustre-enabled machines will boast more efficient data storage and retrieval than current file systems. Cluster File Systems founder and computer scientist Peter Braam says that Lustre uses storage nodes that independently retrieve and store data; conventional servers, by contrast, track data chunks on several disk drives for every user request, then transmit them at appropriate times, giving rise to bottlenecks. Livermore's latest supercomputer will consist of 700 components, which will each feature a pair of Pentium 4 chips from Intel. Sixty-four of the machine's data storage systems will be provided by BlueArc, with an expected storage capacity of 115 trillion bytes. The supercomputer cluster will consist of standard hardware and can run Linux software, thus allowing other labs and users to create software without being restricted to one computer vendor. Braam believes that Lustre is capable of managing data processed by 50,000 processors, a tenfold increase over the data management capacity of existing file systems. Livermore's machine is slated to be built by the end of September 2002.

  • "Senate Panel OKs More Cybercrime Dollars"
    Newsbytes (05/17/02); Krebs, Brian

    The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has approved several bills related to cybercrimes, perhaps the most significant being Sen. Ron Wyden's (D-Ore.) Cyber Security Research and Development Act, which would provide $970 million to the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) over a five-year period. The money would go toward agency efforts to bolster the security of federal computers and networks, but Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) amended the bill so that NIST could set standards for computer security technologies, a move that many businesses in the tech industry object to on the grounds that it would eviscerate the government market for new security software. Another bill championed by Wyden that the committee approved involves the creation of a corps of high-tech volunteers that would defend the country's technological infrastructure from cyberattacks or other catastrophes. Anti-terrorism technology proposals from the private sector would be assessed by a clearinghouse set up by the legislation. A third bill passed by the committee would revive the Commerce Department's Technology Opportunities Program, which aims to deploy sophisticated technologies such as telecommunications in far-flung and economically depressed areas.

  • "Help Build the Web of Knowledge"
    Wired News (05/20/02); Delio, Michelle

    Some 100 people are volunteering their time and programming skills to build Knowledge Web (K-Web), historian James Burke's nonprofit Web site that aims to be the online extension of his nearly 30-year effort to detail the historical relationships between all knowledge and all other knowledge. K-Web visitors can either follow already established routes or map out their own, stringing together relationship-connected "nodes" that contain data about specific individuals, places, objects, or events. The site will be enhanced with 2D and 3D visualizations, interactive features, and links to outside resources. K-Web project manager Patrick McKercher says more volunteers are needed, particularly experienced researchers, writers, and people skilled in Java, XSLT, and XML. Many K-Web volunteers find contributing to the project to be personally rewarding. "I am upgrading my computer skills to modern technology--I come from the punch card era--and I'm learning interesting details of history, which are also new to me," comments engineer Bruce Lowenthal. "I'd like to see more computer people from the dot-com era start working on computer enhancements for nonprofit organizations."

  • "Dell Partners for PC Recycling"
    CNet (05/17/02); Skillings, Jonathan

    Dell Computer has announced a program in which users will pay a fee to have their obsolete computers recycled. The program is another attempt to attack the problem of "e-waste;" the EPA says 220 million tons of electronics goods are thrown away each year in the U.S., while an estimated 20 million PCs become obsolete annually. Although previous efforts at PC recycling have generated lukewarm consumer response, Dell says its Web-based program is designed to be easy to use. Consumers can access the DellExchange site to fill out recycling forms and receive paperwork through emails; shipping their discards to one of four recycling centers should cost no more than $25, according to Dell. The program is unique in that Dell will accept computers even if they are manufactured by another company. The recycling itself will be performed by federal prison inmates under the aegis of Dell's partner, Unicor. Recycling advocates are not fully satisfied with this solution, arguing that computer companies need to handle the responsibility more directly, as well as produce more environmentally friendly products. Dell wants to dispel worries that the prisoners could steal sensitive data from scrapped hard drives by promising that the drives will be disposed of separately. IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Sony have launched similar PC recycling efforts, but the end-of-life fee scheme could one day be replaced by incorporating recycling costs into PC purchase prices.

  • "Big Blue's Building a Nano Think Tank"
    ZDNet (05/15/02); Kanellos, Michael

    IBM's physical sciences director, Thomas Thies, announced a new unit within IBM Microelectronics dedicated to helping nanotechnology startups mature their works-in-progress. He said the group would allow IBM to get a broader view of the industry, and help small companies with manufacturing hurdles. That said, Thies added that the group would be very selective in who it would work with and require a working prototype first. Currently, nanotechnology is still very much in its infancy, with passive technologies just beginning to come to the market--better automobile materials from General Motors, for example. Nanotechnology also promises to help computing speeds continue to increase once the physical limits of silicon-based processing are reached in about 20 years. Not only will nanotechnology boost speeds, but it will dramatically reduce manufacturing costs since the atoms will configure themselves according to their natural properties. But experts say computing will also have to become more flexible to deal with the unavoidable variables and uncertainty that comes with nano-computing. Engineers will not be able to derive the way each computation came about, but create systems that can operate according to statistical probability instead of concrete numbers.

  • "Key Trends in Computer Attacks Cited"
    Business World Internet Edition (05/15/02); Jimenez, Helen A.

    The CERT Coordination Center (CERT-CC) at Carnegie Mellon University has categorized computer attacks into four categories in a new report: distributed denial of service, worms, DNS attacks, and router attacks. Computer attacks are increasing in sophistication, in the use of automated attack tools, and in their ability to penetrate firewalls or locate vulnerability in networks, according to the report. DNS attacks come in the form of cache poisoning, compromised data, denial of service attacks, and domain name hijacking. A denial of service attack uses computer systems to overload a target system, while a worm involves sending out malicious code that can multiply itself across systems while causing damage to each system the worm reaches. Router attacks are attacks where hackers gain access and control of routers, and then use routers to redirect Web users from one destination to a place chosen by the hacker.

  • "Dashed Hopes for Dashboard Electronics"
    CNet (05/16/02); Konrad, Rachel

    The recent Telematics Detroit 2002 show reflects the pessimism gripping the industry, as automakers realize they will have to create partnerships with pure-technology companies in order to roll out new systems. Whereas automakers once had plans to launch their own subscription services, satellite networks, and other value-added services, they now are heeding the calls of technology vendors to pair up. "Automakers need to appreciate the fact that telematics is a subsegment of the great wireless market and not a separate market," says Adventis' Andrew Cole, a keynote speaker at the show. According to surveys, Americans are used to using their mobile phones in the car and originate between 50 percent and 70 percent of their calls there, proving there is a viable base for telematics. However, consultants and industry experts chide the auto industry over their faltering marketing efforts, which have failed to generate mass appeal, not to mention win over dealers, who are known to shy away from new technology. GartnerG2, for example, conducted a consumer survey that found 99 percent of respondents did not know what the term "telematics" meant. Telematics leaders now point to the mobile phone as the entry point for new systems, but note the incredible disparity in how long it takes for new vehicles to come out compared to electronics. That would make telematics systems outdated too soon and hassle owners with upgrades.

  • "DTI Seeks Help on ICANN Reform"
    VNUNet (05/15/02); Ticehurst, Jo

    The U.K. Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is soliciting views about ICANN reform from U.K. companies, domain name users, and online firms. DTI has yet to take a position on ICANN reform, according to government minister Douglas Alexander. However, Alexander says that "we come to the debate from the standpoint of believing that a co-regulatory approach, where the government sets the overall public policy objectives but where implementation is left to the private sector, is most appropriate." Alexander also says that "the domain name system is a key part of the Internet's infrastructure." DTI will stop taking feedback after June 14, 2002, which is 10 days before ICANN's meeting on June 24 in Romania. ICANN is expected to implement reforms by Jan. 1, 2003.

  • "Filling In Blanks"
    Science News (05/11/02) Vol. 161, No. 19, P. 299; Peterson, Ivars

    Scientists are attempting to end the tedious, time-consuming process of inpainting--in which missing or damaged areas of an image are restored or retouched--by automating it with computers. Such a system could not only restore images, but sharpen their resolution. Over the past two years, Guillermo Sapiro of the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis St. Paul, together with Vicent Caselles and Marcelo Bertalmio of the University of Pompeu-Fabra in Barcelona, have developed digital inpainting algorithms that fill in blank spots by extending surrounding image characteristics such as shapes, curves, lines, contours, and color shifts. The computer can inpaint the blank area in less than a minute once the user has selected the region to be covered, according to Sapiro. The software can also fill in many areas at the same time. The Navier-Stokes equations used to model fluidic motion could be applied to digital inpainting, says Duke University's Andrea L. Bertrozzi; in fact, blurriness or speckling due to digital transmission over noisy channels is being solved with the help of differential equations and flow. Tony F. Chan of UCLA believes that fluid diffusion algorithms could smooth the jagged, blocky appearance of enlarged images, while computer-vision research is another avenue being explored for automated image inpainting solutions. Automated inpainting software would provide conservators with a virtual canvas that can be used to try out different inpainting techniques.

  • "Fair Trade on Jobs?"
    eWeek (05/13/02) Vol. 19, No. 19, P. 59; Vaas, Lisa

    U.S. companies are increasingly exporting their IT jobs offshore, which should serve as a clear indication that information technology is the latest sector to become industrialized. And like workers in sectors such as agriculture, textiles, and auto manufacturing who want to protect their jobs, IT workers will have to acquire strong business skills. "Where all the development is outsourced, you've got to have people to manage that," explains John Brudi, a DB2 programmer at Radio Shack, who decided to take some business courses at George Washington University after the company announced its outsourcing plan two years ago. Howard Rubin, a research fellow at Meta Group, says the majority of IT skills can be outsourced. Although market experts expected the recession and U.S. nationalism following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would slow the outsourcing trend, they have not. In fact, offshore outsourcing continues to gain in momentum as companies try to reduce their IT costs. Gartner projects that 30 percent of all Global 2000 enterprises will outsource IT offshore or nearshore by 2005.

  • "IT Lab Brings Spy Novel Research to Life"
    Federal Times (05/13/02) Vol. 38, No. 15, P. 3; Galvin, Regina

    Sept. 11 has given research and development projects at the National Institute for Standards and Testing's Information Technology Laboratory (ITL) a boost, and the lab's eight divisions are all focusing on homeland security. ITL is developing standards and security specifications that will benefit both the security and economy of the United States. Improvements to federal critical infrastructure protection planning and deployment are being worked out by the lab's Computer Security Expert Assist Team. Computer Security division chief Ed Roback says, "The team looks at security management and culture, planning, security awareness, training and education, budgeting and life-cycle management." Another ITL project is the National Software Reference Library, which was co-developed by the National Institute of Justice, the U.S. Customs Service, the FBI, the Defense Computer Forensics Laboratory, software vendors, and local law enforcement organizations. NIST officials say the library can accelerate the investigation of computer files by automatically screening out 40 percent to 95 percent of those files. ITL's Biometrics unit is concentrating on upgrading recognition technologies, and has developed a standard biometric exchange file format with the help of other government agencies. Other critical ITL initiatives include bolstering the domain name system's security and finding ways to safeguard the Internet from cyberterrorist attacks.

  • "Portal Power"
    CIO (05/15/02) Vol. 5, No. 15, P. 116; Paul, Lauren Gibbons

    Employee performance can be significantly improved by enterprise portals, provided they are properly deployed. An organization's customers, suppliers, and employees can avail themselves of information and applications from a single location through an enterprise portal, which end users can tailor to their specifications. The results include cost reduction and increased worker productivity. Once the need for such a portal is established, the company must determine its target audience and the information this audience will receive. These choices, as well as a company's legacy systems, will be important factors in deciding which portal vendor is best suited to the enterprise, according to Laura Ramos of Giga Information Group. To choose the best vendor to deploy its My.ford.com portal, Ford Motor had four candidates compete with one another to see which one could produce the best portal prototype in three days. Some companies, such as Hyperion Solutions, are opting to act as their own portal integrator in order to have better portal-employee alignment, which translates into better returns. Such integration is not easy: Hyperion's managers had to deal with tough information taxonomy issues, while a planned external portal required adjustments to the company's security systems, as well as its network and document management infrastructure.

  • "Europe Cracks Down on E-Waste"
    IEEE Spectrum Online (05/02); Appelbaum, Alec

    Waste from computers and other electronics in Europe measured about 6 million tons in 1998 and could double between 1998 and 2010, According to data from the European Union (EU). In an effort to reduce such e-waste, which contains toxic chemicals such as lead, the European Parliament passed the WEEE (Waste From Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directive on April 10. The directive, if approved by EU members, could require manufacturers to take back their devices at no charge and recycle 65 percent of their average weight. Such legislation could prompt companies to focus on making their products easier to take apart and break down. Business opportunities may also arise for engineers who can make viable goods from computer parts. University of Cambridge's Derek Fray says he has been contacted by Motorola and Nokia about his patented system for removing lead and metals from printed circuit boards. However, the cost of such recycling efforts could be passed along to the consumer in the form of higher prices for new machines.

  • "Automatic Networks"
    Technology Review (05/02) Vol. 105, No. 4, P. 20; Jonietz, Erika

    Several companies are pioneering decentralized, self-configuring networks that promise an abundance of creative applications. Motorola, for example, says that wireless transmitters that connect to one another in a farm field could turn on the irrigation system in just the part of the field that is dry, conserving water. In a factory, peered wireless connections would be able to send signals around dense obstacles, such as walls and concrete floors, unlike networks that operate through the hub-and-spoke configuration. Ember, a spinoff from MIT's Media Lab, aims to create similar networks for use in buildings, homes, and security systems, though the initial market will be for industrial use. IBM senior researcher Moidin Mohiuddin at the Almaden Research Center is leading that company's efforts to create "collective intelligent bricks" that would essentially be compact storage devices equipped with processors and software that allow them to automatically configure into a network when connected. When massed together, the storage bricks would be able to route data around failed devices and perform other self-administering duties. As a result, Mohiuddin predicts that storage system administrators will be able to manage one thousand times as much data as they do today.

  • "The New Mobile Infantry"
    Wired (05/02) Vol. 10, No. 5, P. 110; Behar, Michael

    Tactical mobile robots (TMRs) are being developed to operate under battlefield conditions, and their potential applications range from surveillance to rescue operations to live combat--tasks that Michael Toscano of the Pentagon's Joint Robotics Program describes as "dirty, dangerous, and dull." The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is currently funding over 40 academic and private-sector robot development efforts. The Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) Center for Intelligent Robotics and Unmanned Systems is working on Raptor (robotic autonomous perception technology for off road) machines that function as marsupial systems. "Mother" bots, for example, could be air-dropped into enemy territory, where they would release smaller munitions bots (M-bots) that would scout the area; the data they relay to the mother bot would then be transmitted wirelessly to the military. Draper Laboratory is developing a robot called the high-mobility tactical microbot (HMTM) that can be tossed into hostile areas, while MIT spinoff iRobot is working on the PackBot, a versatile TMR that could be used to haul ordnance, bring first aid to wounded soldiers on the battlefield, and perform reconnaissance. Director of the SAIC Center for Intelligent Robotics and Unmanned Systems Lt. Col. John Blitch says the ideal TMR should be able to negotiate obstacles, recover from falls and communications failures, be tamper-proof, and always know its location. He also notes that TMRs are evolving toward complete autonomy, when they will be able to fulfill mission parameters without human intervention once the software is in place.

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