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Volume 4, Issue 352: Wednesday, May 22, 2002

  • "International Group Eyeing IT Security Principles, Standards"
    Computerworld Online (05/21/02); Thibodeau, Patrick

    The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is working on information security guidelines designed to aid the development of IT security specifications, best practices, and security legislation. FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle, who leads the U.S. segment of the OECD initiative, says the group is trying to relay the message that "security is important, that we're all players whether want to be or not...and what we do has the capacity to hurt ourselves but even more important, [to] hurt other people." The group aims to update principles first issued in 1992 so that they reflect the changes IT has undergone since then, as well as new priorities brought to the fore as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks. The OECD guidelines include an "awareness principle" that urges IT owners and users to understand security, and an "ethics principle" calling for IT management that keeps the rights and interests of others in mind. Oracle's Joseph H. Alhadeff says that these core principles must be considered if an underlying architecture for best practices is to be established. Even if the OECD's effort does not have an effect, other companies are being pressured to focus on security. Last year, Visa issued security guidelines about the storage, encryption, and access of credit card information to merchants, requiring them to have their online security systems verified by a third party or risk fines or lost business. The American Bar Association's Information Security Committee Co-Chairwoman Kimberly Kiefer also warns that companies whose customer data is compromised by IT security vulnerabilities could face litigation.
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  • "Bell, Torvalds Usher Next Wave of Supercomputing"
    IDG News Service (05/20/02); Vance, Ashlee

    On Friday, Los Alamos National Laboratory debuted a supercomputer that uses hundreds of server blades that allow it to be more compact, energy-efficient, and cost effective than most machines of its ilk, according to Wu-chun Feng of Los Alamos' Research And Development In Advanced Network Technology (RADIANT) group. He adds that the system has fewer maintenance needs. The 240 server blades, supplied by RLX Technologies, feature low-power Crusoe chips from Transmeta and run a version of the Linux operating system. The presence of the blades means less CPU performance and internal bandwidth between components, but Feng notes that research is only just beginning. He believes that a new system of supercomputer performance measurement is necessary, one that takes maintenance needs, size, cost, and downtime into account as well as data processing rates. Because the Crusoe chips do not need to be cooled, the supercomputer is housed in a dusty warehouse that often gets as hot as 80 degrees. Among those who attended the system's unveiling was Linux creator Linus Torvalds and Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell, one of the minicomputer's original pioneers.

  • "Thinking Big About Nanotechnology"
    Wired News (05/21/02); Frishberg, Manny

    The popular view of nanotechnology envisions tiny machines performing amazing operations, such as molecule-sized robots that can clear blocked arteries, but Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report author Josh Wolfe says the most likely real-world nanotech applications--at least for the near future--will involve enhancements to larger devices or objects. He notes that nanotech products currently hitting the market include materials and coatings that make items more robust and friction-resistant, as well as dirt-proof. Wolfe acknowledged that the foundation for far-off breakthroughs such as quantum computers will probably be set by carbon nanotubes and Fullerenes, but producing such materials in high volume has been a slow process. For instance, just five pounds of nanotubes was produced last year at a cost of millions of dollars. Addressing attendees at the Spring TechViews conference on Monday, Wolfe compared the nanotech hype to that of the Internet in the early 1990s, adding that starting up a nanotech enterprise requires a lot more technical skill as well as capital. Nevertheless, experts such as Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Paul Burrows are confident that the time will come when intelligence is infused into nanoparticles, and such breakthroughs will be possible through a basic understanding of nanomaterials. Burrows believes the government should make a long-term commitment to nanotech so that the country maintains its position on the cutting edge of technology.

  • "Nanotech's Development Called Inevitable"
    United Press International (05/20/02); Burnell, Scott R.

    Speakers at the NanoBusiness Spring 2002 conference such as inventor Ray Kurzweil said the inevitable advance of nanotechnology will make it pervasive within society by the 2020s. He predicted that the first pervasive nanotech applications should appear in computing devices by 2010, and be able to infuse computing power into everyday items such as apparel and building materials. Kurzweil also forecast that nanotech will lead to the development of 3D chips that will be able to power artificial intelligence by 2030, while human senses will be enhanced by nanoscale robots that can penetrate the brain and supplant sensory input with virtual reality constructs. He contended that a century of progress could be squeezed into 25 calendar years with such innovations. Kurzweil told investors at the conference that boom-and-bust cycles could be avoided as long as they have faith in the technology's momentum, although NanoBusiness Alliance Chairman and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said that may not happen, given that the market bubble pattern has not changed in four centuries. He likened the present developmental stage of nanotech to that of computing in the early 1950s--only there is plenty of venture capital to fund nanotech efforts. "You're going to see a surprisingly rapid transition [to society], partially because at its core, nano is still science- and technology-centered," Gingrich predicted.

  • "Semiconducting Materials Advance 'Spintronics'"
    NewsFactor Network (05/20/02); Lyman, Jay

    With the help of a $10 million grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's SpinS program, scientists from the University of Buffalo (UB) have created new semiconducting materials that function at room temperature and could lead to the development of spintronic devices. Spintronics technology, which exploits electron spins for computing, could enable electronic devices to process millions, perhaps billions, of data bits simultaneously. Furthermore, UB physics professor Bruce McCombe says that "Spintronic materials would enable the storage and processing of data on the same material, a kind of computer on a chip." The UB researchers focused on gallium antimonide manganese, which McCombe says could yield basic spintronic device components that operate at room temperature in about a year. He adds that consumer and industrial spintronics devices will not emerge for at least three to five years. UB physics professor Hong Luo says the first spintronic devices likely to be developed include transistors, valves, and light emitting diodes. The semiconductors developed by the UB team exhibit hysteresis at room temperature; hysteresis is a ferromagnetic property whereby a lasting magnetic effect remains after the removal of an applied magnetic field. McCombe says the UB research could, with a little luck, pave the way for semiconductor magnetic RAM that functions at room temperature with active logic devices, all of which could be contained on an individual chip.

  • "Dot-Kids Heads a Mess of Regs"
    Wired News (05/22/02); McCullagh, Declan

    There has been a mad dash in the last week to pass or debate Internet regulation proposals before Congress adjourns for Memorial Day. Four Internet bills were approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in two days, including Sen. Fritz Hollings' (D-S.C.) Online Personal Privacy Act, which sets strict requirements on how Web sites may exploit their users' personally identifiable data; Sen. Conrad Burns' (R-Mont.) CAN SPAM act, which bans unsolicited commercial email that posts false or misleading information in its headers; and two bills from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that call for the creation of a national emergency technology guard and security technology standards for federal agencies. There is considerable opposition to these bills--the Computer and Communications Industry Association believes Hollings' proposal will have an adverse effect on the Internet, while the Business Software Alliance says Wyden's security bill would stifle "federal and industry efforts to quickly deploy appropriate technologies and respond to emerging security threats." More recently, the House of Representatives voted 406 to 2 in favor of the creation of a dot-kids.us domain, while hearings on Wednesday will debate broadband legislation and the whois database's accuracy and integrity. Cramming all this legislation into a short amount of time can lead to bills being rushed through without being considered in detail. Privacilla.org editor Jim Harper warns that "It bodes poorly for freedom and liberty as well as economic well-being."

  • "French Researchers Take Step Toward Quantum Computing"
    Small Times Online (05/21/02); Fievet, Cyril

    CEA researchers in France have built an electronic element that could form the basic building block of quantum processors. The Quantronium, as it is called, is a circuit composed of an aluminum loop that represents a qubit (quantum bit). It demonstrates more flexibility and better circuit integration than qubit components being developed by other research labs. The processors yielded from qubits could boost chip speed thousands of times, thanks to properties such as the superpositioning of 0 and 1. Despite breakthroughs such as the Quantronium, the development of quantum processors is still a long way off. Alain Rodermann of Sofinnova Partners predicts that a working quantum processor will not become a reality for at least 10 years. He says there will be a gradual evolution from traditional electronics "to micro-electronics and maybe later, to nanoelectronics." He says that quantum research such as CEA's will have to be funded by the state for now, because the payoffs of such research are a long time coming--longer that venture capitalists can afford.

  • "Who Owns the Raw Data?"
    Financial Times (05/22/02) P. 12; Waldmeir, Patti

    Internet technology has exacerbated the tension over the rights to raw data. Intellectual property advocates and database compilers say they have no protection against those that would copy wholesale their information on the Internet, and thus, no incentive to improve or create new databases. Currently, two competing bills that would increasing raw data protection are on the table in Congress and being hashed out by two different committees within the House of Representatives, although a consensus bill is not expected this year. And, despite a landmark Supreme Court case in 1991 establishing the inherent openness of public databases, several more recent court rulings have gone the other way. EBay, for example, won a case against the now-defunct Bidder's Edge Internet search bot service that trolled online auctions for specific products. And an appellate court case is expected to launch soon regarding the right of a Web hosting site to extract data from Register.com's Whois database to use for marketing purposes. Advocates of the public domain say fencing off publicly available data will stifle scientific progress and hamper innovation in the marketplace.

  • "Low PC Sales in India Could Hurt IT Ambitions"
    Reuters (05/21/02)

    India's PC sales will continue to lag behind those of China, despite forecasts of an upturn by Skoch Consultancy Services. The firm estimates that the economic slowdown and the dampening of IT career ambitions caused Indian PC sales to dip 6.3 percent by value and 7.0 percent by volume in calendar 2001, to total almost 1.6 million units sold. Nevertheless, the consultancy believes almost 2 million PCs could be sold next year, placing India ahead of the 3.2 percent global growth rate anticipated by International Data (IDC). However, high taxes have had a stifling effect on PC penetration in India: Skoch reckons that only 7.5 million PCs are in use throughout the country, while a mere 6.59 million households in India's 16 largest metropolitan regions have the means to purchase a computer, which currently costs about 43,000 to 45,000 rupees, says Skoch's Sameer Kochhar. Kochhar says, "India will have a grassroots IT revolution when PCs are available for 15,000 rupees." China and other nations with plans to develop IT-enabled services have a higher PC penetration rate in comparison to India.

  • "IT Workers Poorly Skilled: Report"
    Australian IT (05/21/02); Dearne, Karen

    Internet Business Systems in Melbourne, Australia, reports a dramatic dearth of IT skills among job candidates--only two out of 100 can pass a simple evaluation of core programming principles and methods. "When we ask them a question about developing software--in a generic sense, independent of platform or language--whether it is better to do something this way or that way, they get it wrong," says CEO David Brykman. This is despite university education and years of experience, he notes. Brykman recalls that a precipitous surge in demand led to a flood of fresh programmers into IT, dot-com, and technology firms, but that demand has wound down, leaving huge numbers of inadequately trained candidates to fight over a few available openings. As software packages, solutions, and boxed products have spread, more businesses have built up their IT operations, but Brykman reports that quality has dipped dramatically. "It's a case of too many oysters, not enough pearls," he laments. Trends such as these could be indicative of a worrying shortfall in skills across the country, Brykman contends.
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  • "New Delhi May Soften Stance on IT with China"
    Financial Times (05/21/02) P. 8; Merchant, Khozem

    The Chinese market is ripe with opportunities for Indian IT companies, and a delegation's recent visit to China may help allay security fears that have stood in the way of Indian/Chinese collaboration. China's IT effort focuses on hardware, whereas India's chief IT strength is software; China's software firms lag behind India's by three years. India's National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) has formulated a strategy that takes advantage of these trends to improve productivity, partnerships, innovation, academic collaboration, and skills. It is estimated that the Chinese IT services market will grow from $900 million at an annual rate of 50 percent to 2005, while software exports should total approximately $1.5 billion by 2005. India's software exports are expected to surpass $8 billion in the year to March 2002. Among those pressuring India to penetrate the Chinese market are Fortune 500 clients, while the U.S. slowdown has also made Indian firms eager to exploit new markets. So far only two Chinese companies have penetrated India.

  • "In the Future, We'll Be Seeing the World Differently"
    Boston Globe (05/20/02) P. C1; Kirsner, Scott

    New eyeglass computer displays promise to change the way people work and interact with one another. MicroOptical has been working on such products since 1995 with help from government grants and already has several products on the market. The integrated or clip-on displays help users keep focused on one thing while accessing information from their mobile phone, PDA, or laptop computer. A small screen appears in the left lens, or can be integrated in both lenses for an effect similar to bifocal glasses. MicroOptical envisions the units boosting the productivity and safety of technicians, utility repairmen, doctors, and many other users. At the recent Society for Information Displays conference, MicroOptical showcased a prototype meant for divers, allowing them to view vital information such as oxygen levels and water depth, delivered to their goggles via a wireless Bluetooth connection. The company's government work includes displays for military police that would allow MPs to check a person's facial biometrics against those stored in a remote database for security clearance.
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  • "A Knowing Look"
    Buffalo Business First Online (05/17/02); Drury, Tracey

    University of Buffalo computer science professor Venu Govindaraju is pioneering a new type of biometrics based on a person's natural characteristics as they would be described by another person. The aim is to get computers to recognize people using general terms instead of by reading definitive markers such as someone's iris or fingerprint. Through his research, computer systems equipped with video would be able to read specific commands in a person's facial expressions, for example, or disallow a child to visit pornographic Web sites while at a library. Although a natural interface that identifies people automatically has great potential as a technology, it also requires a lot of work to negotiate privacy issues. Govindaraju's previous work includes the cursive handwriting recognition technology used by the U.S. Postal Service, and he is currently involved in creating interactive digital archives through a National Science Foundation grant.
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  • "Imagine: World with Unlimited Airwaves"
    SiliconValley.com (05/18/02); Gillmor, Dan

    Researcher and consultant David Reed argues that radio spectrum needs to be viewed as a virtually unlimited rather than finite resource, which runs contrary to general wisdom and questions the mission of the FCC. Speaking at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference last week, Reed contended that the regulations the FCC imposes do not reflect physical reality. He said that radio waves, being transparent, do not affect each other, and that it is mainly the equipment that gives rise to interference. Reed also said the addition of wireless devices to networks actually increases capacity, while the FCC operates as if that capacity is limited. This capacity multiplier effect can be achieved through software and devices with powerful but generalized hardware elements. If Reed is right in his argument, then the potential for future communications is enormous: This is good news for free speech and innovation, but bad news to phone companies that rely on an economic scheme that would be nullified by Reed's theory. Reed wants the FCC to open up spectrum for a new public space, which he says would be put to much better and more efficient use than if it were granted to "monopoly owners." Reed aired his views to the FCC's Technological Advisory Council in April.
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  • "Radio ID Tags: Beyond Bar Codes"
    Wired News (05/20/02); Mayfield, Kendra

    Researchers at MIT's Auto-ID Center are developing the next generation in consumer product identification that will allow computers to "see." Their work, radio ID tags, perform the same function as bar codes, but can be read automatically within five feet and contain more data. And using a wireless reader, hundreds of tags can be read simultaneously. Currently, the technology costs about 50 cents per tag and is used in the airline industry for tracking baggage, but supermarkets could use the tags to alert staff when supplies run out or products expire. The Auto-ID Center is working on mass production techniques that would reduce the cost per chip to less than five cents, the point at which experts say mass electronic product identification would become economically feasible. By leaving only a reference number that points to data stored on the Internet, production costs are lessened, says Auto-ID Center executive director Kevin Ashton. He predicts that electronic product identification data will constitute the majority of Internet traffic by the end of the decade. Privacy advocates worry that industries such as insurance would be able to cull personal data from the wealth of electronic product identification data, but Ashton says information stored on the Internet could be sufficiently protected.

  • "Making a Digital Government"
    Los Angeles Times (05/20/02) P. C4; Huffstutter, P.J.

    Lawrence Brandt of the National Science Foundation's Digital Government project is looking for emerging technology that can help government do its job better. Notably, Brandt was the person with the NSF that identified and secured funding for the pre-Netscape Mosaic networking technology that popularized the Internet because he saw its potential to benefit government services. Today, he says there are specific hurdles to developing and applying technology to government, especially in getting agencies to share information. For one, there is a problem with negotiating privacy and security commitments while making data more accessible for developers and researchers. The NSF's Citizen Access projects are developing mathematical algorithms to help agencies customize data-sharing applications that will provide both insight into the real situation while protecting privacy. Brandt says other projects, such as the local law enforcement Coplink program, maintain a careful balance between protecting against Big Brother scenarios and enabling legitimate information sharing. In general, Brandt blames the government's reluctance to embrace high tech on a vague bottom line concept and its tendency to avoid risk.
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  • "Bulgaria: The Next Offshore Frontier"
    Computerworld (05/20/02) Vol. 36, No. 21, P. 61; Hoffman, Thomas

    Bulgarian programmers are mixing fast service with cheap labor, a combination that has proven very lucrative for firms such as iConcepts, which operates in Philadelphia. "You could put together a team of [Bulgarian] programmers there for what you might pay for one or two [programmers in the U.S.]," declares Hi-Tech Parts President Kristal Snider. Hi-Tech selected iConcepts to rebuild its Web site because its Bulgarian team could accomplish this task in three months, according to Snider. The three other consulting firms Hi-Tech considered would have taken six months or longer to do the job, and would have charged much more. Both Sept. 11 and the IT spending downturn have spurred a drop-off in offshore programming costs this year. Global Outsourcing executive director Marty McCaffrey notes that the "blended rates" for programming, management, and software testing teams based in India has fallen from $30 an hour last year to about $20 to $25 an hour this year. However, he believes overseas programming companies in Israel, the Philippines, India, and elsewhere should enjoy higher labor rates as the economy recovers and demand for their services increases.
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  • "Where Innovation Lives!: Robot Reality"
    Siliconindia (05/02) Vol. 6, No. 5, P. 36; Williams, Mark

    Deb Roy of MIT's Cognitive Machines Group is designing machines capable of speech and comprehending natural spoken language. Such machines would discover the meaning of words by interacting with their surrounding environment. "If you want to create a robot that uses language as humans do, I see no way but to endow it with the same sorts of sensory-motor grounding and goal-pursuit processes that we ourselves possess," Roy argues. He says that cognitive machines will require sensors and actuators to connect to the physical world, as well as "drives, goals, desires and self-reflective mechanisms." Roy and his team are working on a number of technologies, including robots that can attribute meaning to visually grounded words and understand fairly intricate grammar by show-and-tell; and a manipulator that has been imbued with stereo color vision, proprioceptive sensors, senses of gravity and touch, and the ability to play with verb definitions. Another robot has been able to learn from observing how mothers address infants. "It demonstrates the ability of the algorithms we've developed to segment speech, and to link words to visual categories given the sort of data that an infant would see and hear," Roy explains. He believes that the speech technologies his group is working on could one day help people who are illiterate or visually impaired access textual data.

  • "Internet2"
    Discover (05/02) Vol. 23, No. 5, P. 62; Lemley, Brad

    A collective of over 190 American universities, along with federal agencies and industry collaborators, are working on Internet2--an Internet upgrade designed to primarily serve the science and education community. Internet2 applications director Ted Hanss says the project was started as an effort to return to the original purpose of the Internet's founders--to enable scientists to practice real-time collaboration. "This will allow you to have access to just about any equipment and collaborators...it doesn't matter if they are here or in China," proclaims John C. Huffman of Indiana University's Molecular Structure Center. Internet2 is threaded over two fiber-optic backbone networks, Abilene and vBNS+, which are distributed across 30 high-capacity network nodes. Applications of Internet2 include the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Office of the Future project, a tele-immersion system that mixes wall screens, stereo goggles, real-time 3D extraction models, and other technologies to offer a mode of communication superior to traditional videoconferencing. Other projects include the University of Illinois at Chicago's CAVE Automatic Virtual Learning Environment, which enables goggle-wearing users to navigate through visual images projected on all surfaces; the nanoManipulator, an instrument that allows users to "feel" and control nanoscale structures via a haptic interface; the Gemini Observatory, an array of international telescopes and research centers connected by Internet2; and Project DataSpace, a database integration effort.

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