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Volume 4, Issue 353: Friday, May 24, 2002

  • "Microsoft Describes Plans to Let Consumers Replace Its Software With Rivals"
    Associated Press (05/23/02)

    Microsoft this week demonstrated its compliance with the core penalty levied against it in the antitrust settlement struck with the Justice Department last year. Government lawyers will review the company's solution, which involves a 40 MB software update the company says should be available in August. The Set Program Access and Defaults application can be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site or ordered via postal mail, and will let users effectively remove Microsoft applications from professional and home editions of Windows XP. Microsoft also revealed that code embedded in the patch would hamper illegal copies of Windows XP that were installed using a master key widely distributed on the Internet; those copies would not be able to deploy the patch, or any future fixes distributed by Microsoft. State attorneys general from nine dissenting states are pursuing tougher action against Microsoft, and the federal judge in charge of that case will not review the new solution until she decides to approve the Justice Department-brokered settlement. PC makers are expected to be able to generate more revenue with the ability to replace Microsoft programs with those of its rivals, since those companies will pay manufacturers fees to have their software pre-installed.

  • "Open-Source Fight Flares At Pentagon"
    Washington Post (05/23/02) P. E1; Krim, Jonathan

    Over the past few months Microsoft has been urging the Pentagon to stop using open-source software on the grounds that it represents a threat to security and intellectual property, but a May 10 Mitre report for the Defense Department arrived at the opposite conclusion. The report warns that "Banning open source would have immediate, broad, and strongly negative impacts on the ability of many sensitive and security-focused DOD groups to protect themselves against cyberattacks." Microsoft's John Murchinson counters that his company does not wish to impose a ban, and is trying to find a way for open-source and proprietary software to coexist. DOD CIO John Stenbit says the use of such blended software could violate firms' intellectual property rights, and defines the issue as legally "murky." Microsoft has argued that the availability of open-source software increases the risk of exploitation by hackers or criminals, while a counter-argument claims that the software's flexibility allows rapid user response to vulnerabilities. The Mitre report lists 249 applications of open-source systems within the DOD, including running network security for the European Army command, supporting Air Force Computer Network Defense tools, and operating a Defense Intelligence Agency Web portal. The National Security Agency is also backing research that aims to boost the security of the Linux operating system.

  • "Personal Robot of the Future Today"
    Los Angeles Times (05/24/02) P. C1; Frey, Christine

    The ER1 from Evolution Robotics is the first mass-produced robot capable of carrying out mundane but helpful tasks. In its basic form, the ER1 is a wheeled metal box with a camera; by plugging it into a laptop, users can program the robot via a graphic interface, while a wireless connection affords configuration by remote computer. There are five "if" conditions that users can choose from to assign corresponding responses: For example, the ER1 can be programmed to perform a specific action--record, send a message, move, play a sound, etc.--at a certain time, or in response to sights and sounds. The device can also identify human faces through a proprietary object-recognition system, as well as distinguish voices. The ER1, which costs $500, can perform 99 distinct tasks, such as greet visitors, take photographs, and retrieve objects from the kitchen. Evolution is primarily marketing the machine to hobbyists, in the hopes that they will use the robot as a standard on which to build applications for more sophisticated tasks and behavior. Analysts say that by providing a standard operating environment, Evolution Robotics could spark the personal robotics industry just like Microsoft did for PCs. The company says robots pre-programmed for more specific tasks should be released later this year, once it has a clear picture of how people use the machines.
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  • "EFF Responds in California DVD Cracking Case"
    Newsbytes (05/22/02); Bartlett, Michael

    The California Supreme Court received a brief from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the First Amendment Project on Wednesday calling for it to support a Court of Appeals ruling to overturn a preliminary injunction that prevents the disclosure of DeCSS technology. This filing follows a March 26 appeal by the DVD Copy Control Association (DVD CCA) urging the court to reverse that ruling. DeCSS, which circumvents the DVD copy protection system, was deemed newsworthy by defendant Andrew Bunner, who republished the source code on his Web site. The DVD CCA argued that this represented a violation of company trade secrets, and a Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge supported their argument by imposing the injunction in January 2000. But the Court of Appeal in the Sixth Appellate District of California overturned the injunction in November 2000 on the grounds that it constituted a "prior restraint" violation of Bunner's First Amendment rights. First Amendment Project executive director David Greene expressed his confidence that the Supreme Court will uphold this ruling. In a written statement, EFF attorney Robin Gross insisted that "People who obtain information from the public domain have a First Amendment right to republish that information." In filing its appeal, the DVD CCA cited a November 2001 decision in which the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York supported a N.Y. District Court's ruling to block the posting of DeCSS by the hacker magazine 2600.
    For more background articles on DVD court cases, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm

  • "Similar Graphs Raised Suspicions on Bell Labs Research"
    New York Times (05/23/02) P. A23; Chang, Kenneth

    Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs has convened an independent panel to investigate the possibility that Bell Labs physicist Dr. J. Hendrik Schon may have doctored data in a number of research papers concerning molecular electronics. The panel will probe into five articles, but two of them are most prominent: One claims that researchers fashioned a transistor that featured an electronic switch with a thickness of one molecule, which was met with skepticism by other scientists; the other details another transistor with a single-molecule electronic switch. Princeton physics professor Dr. Lydia Sohn notes that "The data was just too perfect, and we knew something was wrong." The sticking point was that the papers--although published in different journals and involving different devices--featured graphs whose data was nearly identical. What is more, the graphs detailed patterns of noise that should be random, explains Dr. Sohn. The journal Nature published a correction in which the Lucent researchers admitted that they had misrepresented the molecular conductivity, but said the conclusions were still valid, while a similar correction will be published tomorrow in Science. However, scientists who tried to repeat the Lucent experiments have not been able to reproduce the results, which has engendered suspicions of misconduct, although that in itself is not a sign of misconduct. Bell Labs' Saswato Das says the investigatory panel has been organized in order to review these concerns "fully, independently, and objectively."
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  • "Sensors Seen Enabling New-Age Services"
    EE Times Online (05/22/02); Ohr, Stephan

    Sensors with wireless connections to the Internet will spark a new information revolution while a hotbed of innovative commercial applications will eventually make it possible for users to reconfigure their equipment on the fly. Paul Saffo of the Institute for the Future said such sensors and wireless Internet access will make machines intelligent and allow businesses to provide unprecedented levels of customization and service. Besides just alerting a Mercedes or Lexus owner of when they need their engine repaired, Saffo said, wireless service companies can also alert the vehicle dealer to what type of espresso drink the customer prefers while their car is being worked on. Saffo spoke this week at the Sensor Expo in San Jose, Calif., where a number of companies displayed futuristic applications, including a wearable computer from Charmed Technology that can speak to users and process spoken information. InHand Electronics unveiled its wireless handheld device that delivers critical battlefield information to soldiers in combat. Saffo said he expects consumer interest will drive the development of clever sensor devices before an infrastructure is worked out. For instance, Polar watches with electronic heart rate monitors and wireless transceivers will be fashionable long before physicians recommend them to keep track of wearer's health, he predicted.

  • "Tech Toxics' Tarnished Legacy"
    Wired News (05/23/02); Crabtree, Jim

    A new research report details how California-based manufacturers of high-tech hardware are polluting the environments of developing nations. The Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development and the National Heritage Institute's Human Rights Advocates project collaborated on the report, which finds that the high-tech industry, which often touts itself as environmentally conscious, is contributing to pollution. The report focuses on case studies in Costa Rica, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand conducted by the California Global Corporate Accountability Project. Barriers to cleaner high-tech production documented in the report include paltry environmental regulation and enforcement, inadequate waste management plants and expertise, and little protection for the civil and political rights of laborers and communities. In the Taiwanese case study, villagers reported that the high-tech industry is producing toxic substances that are contaminating water supplies. Nautilus says that manufacturers "contract with licensed waste handlers to transfer the waste off-site, but these then subcontract with unlicensed haulers who have dumped some of the waste into the local rivers." Electronic waste from the United States is also being exported in huge quantities to China, Pakistan, and India, where workers and the environment are inadequately shielded from its harmful effects, according to a February report from an international group of environmental organizations. Even more waste will be produced by electronic castoffs--the U.S. National Safety Council forecasts that more than 315 million U.S. computers will become obsolete by 2004; most will be thrown out.

  • "Science, Education Bills Clear Committee"
    United Press International (05/22/02); Burnell, Scott R.

    The House Science Committee on Wednesday passed two bills designed to boost science and technology education and research. The Investing in America's Future Act of 2002 (H.R. 4664) provides a $2 billion funding increase for the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the next three years, with research programs getting an extra $1.5 billion and grant and stipend programs getting an additional $400 million. An amendment directed $104 million of the increase to the advanced technological education program and $30 million for the minority-serving schools program. Rep. Ralph Hall (D-Texas) says the bill "will help insure the nation maintains a vigorous basic research enterprise." The committee also passed the Technology Talent Act of 2001 (H.R. 3130), an education bill designed to increase the number of technology, engineering, math, and physical sciences majors. The bill provides NSF with $15 million for awarding five-year grants to schools to boost technology education programs, particularly those that target atypical science and technology student groups. Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) says the bill will spur "the interest of our youth in pursuing fields that will propel both technological innovation and the future growth of economy." Both bills should be up for debate in the full House next month.

  • "Cornell Students Build Computer Cluster with Castoffs"
    NewsFactor Network (05/23/02); McDonough, Brian

    Two Cornell University undergraduates are building a computer cluster unit with machines donated by Mitre as well as discards found around campus. Computer science sophomore Nick Burlett says, "The cluster...is mostly a proof-of-concept that we are using to learn the skills necessary to implement a cluster so that we may build a more powerful cluster in the future." Burlett and electrical-engineering junior Bryan Kressler devised the cluster to assist their advisor John Belina in a project to develop a program for human electrocardiogram analysis. Both undergrads say the average computer-science student can assemble such a cluster with enough time and effort. Basic configuration can be achieved thanks to available documentation on the method, although Burlett and Kressler note challenges such as adjusting software to work in parallel fashion, and automatically configuring identical node computers. Mitre contributed a half-dozen Intel Pentium II machines to the project, which so far has yielded an eight-node cluster computer as well as another computer that coordinates the cluster processors; Belina describes the unit as a "mini-cluster." Burlett and Kressler agree that, given the time and effort involved, building clusters from new equipment is more worthwhile, at least for serious computing projects.

  • "Digital Warriors"
    ABCNews.com (05/22/02); Eng, Paul

    Some researchers believe artificially intelligent computer systems could help detect or forestall terrorist attacks, although their accuracy is still an unknown factor. Global Security Organization director John Pike notes that intelligence agencies could utilize data mining techniques to analyze fluctuations in the number and duration of telephone calls from certain regions, although their heavy reliance on statistical patterns could lead to misinterpretations. Some specialists claim to have developed "smarter" methods that could significantly boost AI systems' precision, such as distributed computing. Such programs would reside in computer or information systems, automatically searching for and sharing patterns that indicate possible terrorist activity. In one such application, a smart program placed in an airline reservation system could study variants of terrorist names; when a suspect comes up, the system could contact a bank's computer system that scans for inordinate cash transfers between customers and suspected terrorist organizations to see if there is a match. Still, other factors besides accuracy could inhibit AI programs: Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists notes that it could be difficult for such programs to study data in foreign languages. Another barrier could be limits on the accessibility and dissemination of information for the sake of privacy.
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  • "ICANN Tackles Management Basics"
    Reuters (05/23/02)

    ICANN plans to meet in private during this weekend to discuss restructuring proposals and reach a consensus on the best way to move forward, says ICANN's Mary Hewitt. Domain name consultant Michael Palage says that ICANN will use President Stuart Lynn's proposal as a blueprint for discussions, and Palage predicts that ICANN will not replace elected members with government representatives, though ICANN likely will abandon direct elections. ICANN chief policy officer Andrew McLaughlin says that ICANN likely will adopt a system where two-thirds of ICANN board seats are appointed by a broad-spectrum committee comprised of everyone from technical people to consumer advocates to industry representatives. ICANN critic Michael Froomkin says the private meeting will produce a final report that will be offered during ICANN's public meeting, which will feign debate and discussion.

  • "Visions Of a Wild and Wireless Future"
    Washington Post (05/23/02) P. E1; Henry, Shannon

    Robert Kahn, executive director of the not-for-profit think tank the Corporation for National Research Initiatives, helped create the TCP/IP protocols the Internet is based upon today and says the most innovative and valuable uses of that network are yet to come. Kahn likens Internet technology to that of electricity, which first supplanted existing services, then developed new ones. He says new uses for the Internet are emerging, especially in the area of the wireless Internet, which could be used to locate needed amenities and point out directions. He says, "The world is going wireless." Kahn laments the failure of the Internet as an educational tool, saying retired teachers are valuable assets that could contribute to online education. In Kahn's view, the Internet was in the design and development stage from 1973 to 1983, when it first went live. From 1987 to 1994, the first Internet service providers sprang up, providing the base for the commercial flowering of the Internet that is continuing today. He calls the Internet an "architectural philosophy rather than a technology," and says the next great Internet advances await new Internet ideas. Companies with good fundamentals, such as Cisco and General Electric, are best positioned to make good use of the Internet today, says Kahn, who largely disdains online pure-plays unless they offer something not available offline, such as eBay's universal auctioning service.

  • "Format's Redesign Yields Faster Image Files"
    New York Times (05/23/02) P. E11; Selingo, Jeffrey

    The long wait times to download JPEG files so that images can be recreated over the Internet may become a thing of the past thanks to a format upgrade called JPEG 2000. Digital cameras, printers, Adobe Photoshop, and other products that will support the new format are expected to ship by fall 2002 or early 2003. Michael W. Marcellin of the University of Arizona describes the chief difference between the old and new formats as the "just enough" approach, in which wavelet compression encodes and transmits images in a continuous stream, allowing users with JPEG 2000-enabled browsers to download files that are sufficient for their Internet connection or screen size. Download time could be reduced by 50 percent with wavelet compression, and the images would also be sharper than those using the old standard. Furthermore, users can pan images, crop them, or zoom in and out of them without creating entirely new files or losing resolution. Development committee member David Taubman says the format could allow images to fit better on digital camera disks by enabling users to slightly downgrade their quality. Image security will also be given a boost with JPEG 2000 via a photo-locking tool and invisible watermarks that can withstand images being resized or pasted into another document. Late summer or fall 2002 should see the introduction of a free plug-in that allows users to view JPEG 2000 images on Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, according to Marcellin.
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  • "Biotech Future to Wed Biology, Computers"
    Denver Post Online (05/20/02); Beauprez, Jennifer

    There must be a solid workforce to process a vast amount of genetic data so that new drugs, personalized medicine, and other bioinformatics applications can become a reality, but right now there is a shortage of expertise. Biology training has historically lacked an emphasis on math and science, while computer science and engineering programs often skip over biology. Universities and companies across the nation are trying to solve this dilemma and forestall the anticipated shortage by instituting programs to train future bioinformatics professionals. For example, the University of Colorado at Denver has developed a trio of advanced-degree programs and a bioinformatics certificate program; the latter is geared toward technical people seeking to enter the biotech arena. The CU programs were created at the behest of mathematics professor Harvey Greenberg, whose experiences at Sandia National Laboratory inspired him to transition to bioinformatics. Bioinformatics students have started enrolling for the fall semester, while CU has also added courses in computation, statistics, and system programming. Other companies investing heavily in bioinformatics include IBM, which tailors and evaluates drug discovery products for biotech firms with a workforce of 100 bioinformatics researchers.
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  • "India Tackles the Digital Divide"
    IDG News Service (05/14/02); Ribeiro, John

    The Indian government, community-oriented companies, and technology vendors are working to break down the barriers keeping India's rural masses from accessing the Internet. HP Labs India, for example, is focusing on three tracks representative of other efforts to bridge India's digital divide--native language access, connectivity, and low-cost devices. The group's director, Srinivasan Ramani, says his lab is currently developing an experimental PC that facilitates four simultaneous users and Indian languages. HP Labs India is also working on speech recognition software that would employ VoiceXML to pull information from a database, enabling those without English skills to use computers. Meanwhile, Media Lab Asia (MLA), set up by MIT's Media Lab, is planning, with the Indian government, to deploy a Wi-Fi network stretching between 25 rural villages. Besides access, organizations seeking to bring Internet functionality to the poorer Indian countryside will also have to help locals overcome their inhibitions in using the technology, as well as develop workable, entrepreneurial plans for business. Although it is too early to say whether these and other efforts will work, Ramani says, "Our visits to villages have shown that there are enthusiastic and innovative users (of information technology) in areas outside the big cities."

  • "Internet Navigators Think Small"
    MSNBC (05/21/02); Boyle, Alan

    Researchers investigating the structure of the Internet say the network configures itself along sociological lines to form tight-knit communities. A group of sites that have similar focuses and interests share far more links with one another than with sites with far-removed interests. The increasing popularity of weblogs may help speed up this trend and more sharply define online communities, allowing politicians to identify friendly groups of Web sites that support them, for example. Companies can also use the idea to target banner advertisements on hub sites in those smaller networks. Already, search engine firm Google makes use of the power-law distribution principle, which says there are usually a few well-connected central nodes linking to many other sites that are more difficult to access. Clay Shirky, an expert on decentralizing technologies, says the growing focus and number of online groups may not be as important for technical purposes as it is socially. He explains that trends are moving toward involving community members more, and gives the example of recent Web community phenomena such as Slashdot, Plastic, and Wikis. NEC Research Institute's Gary Flake says weblogs are the next logical step in the Internet's evolution; NEC researchers are looking for patterns in the way smaller Web communities develop. Flake says, "Our hope is that by the summer we're going to be running the Web community algorithm, doing it for all possible clusterings."

  • "Quality First"
    InformationWeek (05/20/02) No. 889, P. 38; Hayes, Mary; Murphy, Chris

    Software quality has become a hot-button issue for business-technology managers, who are sending vendors the message that accountability lies with them. An April InformationWeek Research survey of 800 business-technology managers finds that 97 percent have had to deal with software quality problems in the last year, and 62 percent believe the software industry's effort to produce glitch-free products is poor. Microsoft Research's Amitabh Srivastava insists that quality goes beyond making software secure or bug-free--it involves making it behave the way it is supposed to behave. More and more companies are refining their development processes in order to ensure that their proprietary software can solve quality problems, and are turning to academic initiatives to help them accomplish this: Financial-services firm USAA, for instance, measures its quality-development progress by following the Capability Maturity Model developed by Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute. A more recent Carnegie Mellon effort, the Sustainable Computer Consortium, plans to improve software quality by building quality measuring tools, sharing best practices among members, and studying the economic effects of software quality. A handful of vendors offer tools that diagnose software for vulnerabilities and glitches, but many respondents to the InformationWeek survey report little satisfaction with such products. The drive to get products quickly to market also hinders companies' attempts to closely adhere to quality-assurance testing standards, if they have any. Lockheed Martin's John Dodson says that academia needs to make a better effort to educate new engineers and developers about quality.

  • "Simple Science"
    Business Week (05/27/02) No. 3784, P. 92; Arndt, Michael; Coy, Peter; Port, Otis

    After 11 years of intense research, researcher and multimillionaire Stephen Wolfram is convinced that almost all complex phenomena--whether it be weather or human thought patterns--follow simple, basic rules, a theory that often puts him at odds with traditional ways of teaching and practicing science. His work has led him to make such radical claims that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is reversible. He explains his thesis in his new book, "A New Kind of Science," and believes that his philosophy could lead to a resurgence of science, one that could place him in the same league as Darwin and Einstein. The mechanics of phenomena are explained by mathematical formulas that sometimes can take decades to solve, even with a supercomputer; so scientists work out shortcut formulas that approximate the results. Deeper phenomenological explorations require more clever equations, but even these skip over many basic conceits. Wolfram believes that practically everything can be reduced to a series of instructions that could be as basic as an eight-step software program. The equations put forward in his book could be applied to cryptography and fluid flow, but IBM's Gregory J. Chaitin thinks that it may take as long as 100 years for the real benefits to emerge. Wolfram expects his scientific methodology to be incorporated into education within a generation.

  • "Back to the Future"
    Electronic Business (05/02) Vol. 28, No. 5, P. 72; Lawton, Stephen

    In an effort to keep pace with Moore's Law, chip companies are exploring ways to enhance or replace shrinking silicon chips with new semiconductor materials that could also yield many breakthrough products. Intel's Gerald Marcyk explains that chipmakers are facing a formidable challenge: Producing chips that maintain low temperatures and energy efficiency while at the same time ramping up speed and integration. Hybrid chips created from the integration of silicon with certain inorganic compounds--gallium arsenide, indium phosphide, silicon germanium, and gallium nitride, for instance--offer better performance than pure silicon chips. Another class of hybrid chip is nanotechnology-on-silicon semiconductors, which have smaller circuits and fewer transistors, thus requiring less power to operate while also boasting lower manufacturing costs. Hewlett-Packard and Nantero are researching nanotech memory chips, and Nantero CEO Greg Schmergel says his company's chips, which use carbon nanotubes, could have more storage capacity than existing models, and make instant computer boot-ups a reality. Light-emitting plastic semiconductors, or organic thin-film transistors (OTFTs), can be printed onto rigid and flexible substrates, and can also be manufactured with less equipment and at less expense than silicon chips, according to Michael McCreary of E Ink. Lucent Technologies' director of nanotechnology research John Rogers forecasts that OTFTs will lead to the creation of electronic paper within five to 10 years; potential applications include flexible displays and disposable electronics. Although these advancements are significant, analysts and chipmakers expect silicon chips to maintain their market dominance for the next five to 10 years.
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