Volume 4, Issue 358: Friday, June 7, 2002
- "As We Lose Engineers, Who Will Take Us Into the Future?"
Wall Street Journal (06/07/02) P. B1; Begley, Sharon
Engineering and technology companies are worried about the prospect of fewer engineers in the future. The number of engineering bachelor's degrees peaked at 77,572 in 1985 but plummeted to 60,914 in 1998. Qualcomm VP Daniel Sullivan says his company needs more experts in computer-aided design, radio frequency, and very-large scale integration (VLSI) to continue research and development in the digital wireless arena. Aerospace Corp. President William F. Ballhaus says engineers are becoming increasingly scarce because many of them have reached retirement age and are not being replaced. And despite the promise of high starting salaries, many college students are discouraged by the field's academic curriculums; especially women, who earned only 1.7 percent of engineering bachelor's degrees in 1998, down from 2.2 percent in 1985. The first two years of a program often consist solely of difficult math and science courses. "No wonder we're losing 40 percent of the freshman who start engineering," says William Wulf, head of the National Academy of Engineering. However, ground-breaking programs at MIT, Tufts, Drexel, Virginia Tech, and Stanford have earned accolades in regards to drawing engineering undergraduates with more innovative approaches. Virginia Tech, for example, allows engineering majors to take engineering classes during the first two years of the curriculum, instead of just basic science and math courses, in an effort to get students more interested in the field.
- "Mozilla.org Unleashes Mozilla 1.0"
Mozilla.org has released the first major-version of its browser and developer software to the public, Mozilla 1.0. O'Reilly & Associates CEO Tim O'Reilly says, "The Mozilla project has quietly become a key building block in the open source infrastructure," since it can work across many platforms and supports a variety of Web standards. The Mozilla technology powers the Netscape 7.0 browser and its toolkit has been used to create an open-source Chatzilla client, and browsers for the Macintosh OS X and Linux operating systems. Mozilla 1.0 contains email and chat programs, as well as a Web browser equipped with a load of functions. The browser supports all major Web technologies, including SOAP 1.1 for the manipulation and exchange of XML data, and will be soon available in local versions for a number of non-English languages. Mozilla.org administrator Mitchell Baker says the goal of the Mozilla project is to provide the developer community with the standards-based tools needed to ensure that the Internet remains open.
- "Copyfight Renewal"
Washington Post (06/07/02) P. E1; Musgrove, Mike
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed a lawsuit against a number of entertainment companies, saying five owners of ReplayTV devices have the legal right to skip commercials and play recorded shows on other platforms. The EFF has also sued to make sure SonicBlue, the maker of ReplayTV, does not degrade the functionality of their product. Just last October, the entertainment companies listed in the EFF suit had made their own legal complaint against SonicBlue's ReplayTV device, but on the grounds that it infringed on copyright protection laws because of its ability to strip out commercials and record digital copies that can be traded. The courts must now chart new ground in "fair use" laws, partly because technical limitations have not required a strict definition of the term. But with digital technology, content not only can be recorded perfectly, it can be shared with innumerable others via the Internet. The movie industry, for one, is trying to head off its own Napster phenomena, where 50 million Americans had their own taste of downloading music for free online. To date, no copy protection scheme proposed by the entertainment industries has proven effective in reining in digital piracy because of ingenious hacking techniques, ranging from decryption software to felt-tip markers. Counterpane Internet Security CTO Bruce Schneier says the industry has a serious problem in terms of preventing hacking since it is the nature of the digital world that electronically transmitted information can be copied.
- "Security Hole Found in KaZaA File-Sharing Service"
New York Times (06/07/02) P. C2; Markoff, John; Richtel, Matt
A study by two researchers at Hewlett-Packard Labs reveals that the KaZaA file sharing service often exposes users' personal files on their PCs. When users of the peer-to-peer service incorrectly configure the program, private files such as email and financial documents are left open for viewing via the Internet, the scientists found. KaZaA, owned by Sharman Networks, is typically used by some 2 million people at any given time. The scientists, HP Labs' Nathaniel S. Good and the University of Minnesota's Aaron J. Krekelberg, say that security researchers often overlook such flaws, which can make a system vulnerable. The researchers found that in a 12-hour period, the email files of 156 users had become public. However, the researchers did not download the files to avoid violating any computer crime laws, Good says. KaZaA's Kelly Larabee said the firm is examining the flaw, which Good had discovered when setting up a friend's computer. The study was posted on Hewlett-Packard's Web site on Wednesday.
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- "Tauzin's 'Ultrawide' Blast on FCC"
Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-Miss.) during a hearing Wednesday criticized the FCC for seeking to limit the use of ultra-wideband (UWB) devices, mainly due to worries of disrupted military systems such as GPS satellites. Tauzin said, "This technology has too many promising applications to stifle it based on unfounded, and unproven, concerns." UWB technology can help law enforcement agencies and rescue workers with through-the-wall imaging systems and collision avoidance radars. In the commercial arena, UWB can also wirelessly link up PCs, DVDs, camcorders, printers, and other devices. But critics say UWB devices operate across large swathes of radio spectrum already used by government and commercial groups, and could create regulatory conflict. However, one FCC expert says UWB could work by sharing airwaves that are used by existing radio services without disturbing the former, thereby conserving spectrum. Julius Knapp of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology said the agency believes it is important for the government to monitor the development of UWB, but acknowledged there is no known case of UWB interference with life-saving systems.
- "Computers Can Learn From Ants"
Investor's Business Daily (06/07/02) P. A4; Bonasia, J.
Computer systems using biological organization models can heal themselves when part of the network is damaged, and can maximize performance as the environment changes. Cap Gemini Ernst & Young's Geoff Cohen, who works in the group's Center for Business Innovation, and Icosystem's Eric Bonabeau spoke about such adaptive software last month in Silicon Valley at a conference for emerging technologies. Already, they said, companies such as Southwest Airlines, Unilever, and Macy's are using this idea to help them better complete computing tasks following a bottom-up approach. Living systems often naturally adapt according to the input of many small components, like the way ants find the shortest pathway from a food source to the nest. Each ant on its own is not much, but their collective decisions ensure they find the most effective solution to any problem. Macy's employed this technique when finding the most efficient floor plan for new stores, eliminating traffic bottlenecks and increasing sales in the process. France Telecom, BT Group, and WorldCom's MCI have all used an ant-style approach to routing information within their networks.
- "New E-Waste Solution a Mine Idea"
Wired News (06/07/02); Mayfield, Kendra
Mark Small, Sony's vice president of corporate environment, safety, and health, proposes that the industry turn toward open-pit mining techniques to make use of discarded electronics. Instead of seeking ways to safely throw away old computers, Small says they should be considered a commodity that is rich in minerals such as gold, copper, and other elements that otherwise are extracted from raw earth. The only obstacle to his plan, says Small, is gathering together enough e-waste to make it worthwhile. It could take five to 10 years to collect enough e-waste to make mining work. Robin Ingenthron, vice president of ElectroinCycle, says Small's idea has another serious flaw--open-pit mining is the most environmentally damaging of all U.S. industries, contributing 47 percent of all commercially produced toxins, according to a Environmental Protection Agency report done in 2000. Ingenthron says mining is cheap because it is regulated by a 1872 law that basically gives minerals found in public land away for free, and that similar government subsidies would be much more effective if put into computer recycling efforts. However, Small says there are 550,000 abandoned hard rock mines the U.S., and just one can hold 72 billion computers. He says mining is the "best, most efficient way to process materials with low value content (such as e-waste)," The National Solid Wastes Management Association's Steve Changaris says Small's idea is "out of the box thinking," and believes that someone is likely to give his idea a try.
- "Could Broadband Become the Law?"
Medill News Service (06/06/02); Ju, Anne
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) has introduced a new bill that calls on the federal government to devise a national broadband access strategy within the next six months and offer tax incentives for companies developing broadband content, but critics say the legislation would misplace government priorities. Lieberman contends that the lack of valuable content is holding back broadband uptake and that its widespread use would generate broad economic growth. However, James Gattuso of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, says it is too early to give government support to broadband technology, since doing so might hamper viable alternative technologies. The Cato Institute's Adam Thierer also attacked Lieberman's proposal as being premature since the actual demand for broadband may not be as great as supposed. Lieberman plans to follow-up on the broadband push with four more bills later this year that will deal with periphery issues such as privacy protection and email spam. Lieberman spokesperson Adam Kovacevich says, "The time is ripe for this legislation, because a case needs to be made in Washington of why broadband is important and what its potential is."
- "Don't Lose Your Legacy"
Financial Times (06/06/02) P. 8; Martin, Peter
Contrary to popular thought following Y2K, complex and custom-written code, much of it written in Cobol, is an asset rather than a liability, according to a few new innovative firms that seek to help corporate customers make the most of their legacy systems. Y2K clean-ups replaced the most egregious of this legacy code, while much of the other legacy software was tuned up with software patches and fixes, documented, and enhanced. Often, the most valuable software assets a company has are in the form of legacy code. Rather than scrap those often reliable systems in favor of off-the-shelf solutions, firms such as Quidnunc and Kalido are offering intermediary software that allows companies to keep hold of their legacy systems without penalty in the newer technology environment. Quidnunc, for example, advocates a middle system that allows companies to relate to their customers on the customer's terms while keeping hold of the legacy system that works internally. Kalido's database consolidates financial performance metrics from different business units, often using their own legacy systems, on a platform that presents the data in the way specified by the user.
- "India Success in Software Is Set Back by War Talk"
New York Times (06/06/02) P. W1; Rai, Saritha
India's software industry is bracing for the impact of war as tensions run high between India and Pakistan in the Kashmir region. Representatives of software firms say visiting teams from foreign buyers have ceased, though confidence remains that India's position as a cheap source of outsourced programming is a fundamental strength that can last any war. Infosys' Phaneesh Murthy says his company has taken pains to ensure the continuity of their business by establishing hot sites for data backup and increasing security. However, National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) President Kiran Karnik says a prolonged standoff could strain the sector, which has experienced phenomenal growth in the last few years. Some firms, such as DSL Software, have set up redundancies in other countries, such as the United States. And, while a robust undersea fiber-optic infrastructure and satellite connections have convinced some that communications are not a problem, the recent evacuation of embassy staff from the United States and other countries could pose a threat. Since foreign buying teams are not coming to India, sales representatives and others would have to travel abroad, but the lack of embassy staff could keep them all from getting visas on time.
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- "Networked Computer Sensors Infiltrate Everything"
NewsFactor Network (06/05/02); McDonough, Brian
The new Center for Embedded Networked Sensing at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) was created to build a solid foundation for future embedded sensor networks. These networks will put computers in the world all around us and do such things as monitor the environment for pollutants, says Deborah Estrin, the UCLA computer science professor who will direct the new center. The National Science Foundation has allocated $40 million, to be dispersed over 10 years, for the embedded system network research going on at UCLA. Estrin envisions a time when computer networks will be invisible to people interacting with them even while they are embedded in the surroundings, monitoring building safety, improving workflow at a factory, or helping gather scientific data. As a first task, Estrin says the center will focus on creating the technology for small, economic sensors. Estrin says, "This model of embedded networked sensing will catalyze the greater research community to realize the vision of a truly embedded Internet."
- "USC Closing Technology Business Incubator"
Los Angeles Times (06/06/02) P. C1; Robinson-Jacobs, Karen
The University of Southern California will shut down EC2, the university's incubator for high-tech businesses, on June 30. School officials say the incubator will close due to declining investment yields and the dot-com bust. EC2 (Egg Company 2) helped launch more than two dozen firms including Womenswire.com and GameWord Technologies. The six-year project had centered on digital technologies and cost $1.5 million annually to run. The goal of the initiative was not to create profit for the university, but to have a more comprehensive understanding of the technology environment, says Jon P. Goodman, EC2's executive director. Despite the shutdown, the number of university-based business incubators is rising across the United States, from three in 1980 to more than 174 today, according to the National Association of Business Incubators. With the exception of those in California, university-based and non-profit incubators are thriving, says the association's head, Dinah Adkins. Meanwhile, USC plans to continue development in areas such as multimedia literacy and how technology is used in interactive storytelling. The center also housed the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance, which researches technology markets in California. It plans to continue in another location.
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- "Vendors Deride Mandatory Copy Controls"
IDG News Service (06/05/02); Garretson, Cara
Technology vendors speaking before a House Judiciary subcommittee on Wednesday said that imposed digital rights management technology would not stop piracy of copyrighted works on the Internet. Microsoft's new media platforms president, Will Poole, said that if there were such a simple solution, his company would have employed it long ago to stop the illegal copying of its software. As it is, there is no way to completely protect creative works such as music and video, especially since illegal copies are now showing up even before the official release. The most recent Star Wars episode, for example, was traded over the Internet before showing in movie theatres. Still, subcommittee chairman Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) said technology such as the Contents Scrambling System, which protects DVDs from copying, had been successful, as has the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) said the DMCA cast consumers who exercised fair-use rights as criminals, and that he planned to introduce legislation that would modify the DMCA to remedy that failing.
- "High-Tech Firms Tell Workers to Take Off"
USA Today (06/06/02) P. 1B; Swartz, Jon
Silicon Valley companies are asking workers to take more and more unpaid and paid leave in order to reduce operating costs, and many employees are happy to oblige. Company closures reduce operating expenses, cut energy costs, remove liabilities of unused vacation time, and reduce training and recruiting costs. Silicon Graphics plans to pay its workers for July 4 and July 5, but employees are encouraged to take the rest of the week off. Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Adobe Systems, and Novell already announced that they would be closed the entire week of the July 4th holiday. VeriSign previously announced that workers would be required to take six vacation days over the next four months. Workers enjoy the time off, says Adobe's Holly Campbell, who claims that it is like summer vacation from school. Many tech firms traditionally have taken the week between Christmas and News Year's Day off, while other possible holiday shutdowns include Labor Day and Thanksgiving. The Institute of the Future's Paul Saffo says the temporary closures "are a cyclical business strategy in the valley."
- "A New Teenage Wasteland?"
Salon.com (06/05/02); Leonard, Andrew
Today's miscreant youth use computers to cause trouble, but this should be no surprise given that computers pervade every aspect of our present society. Dan Verton's "The Hacker Diaries: Confessions of Teenage Hackers" offers a glimpse into the lives of several young hackers, though the book's definition of that term seems a bit blurred. Some of the featured lives are those of troubled youths looking for justice online, while others are simply curious and very adept at manipulating digitized systems. Verton himself seems to have trouble drawing the line between someone who investigates the inner working of software code and someone whose only goal is to breach security systems. The point of Verton's book is that teenage hacking is not an entirely unprecedented phenomena, but one that is enabled by current technology. An interesting aspect is the way that hacking and security progress alongside one another, so that the same exploits Mafiaboy used several years ago to disrupt prominent Web properties such as Yahoo!, CNN, eTrade, and eBay, would not work on the same level today.
- "Workers Blast ITAA Study Claims"
Computerworld (06/03/02) Vol. 36, No. 23, P. 1; Solomon, Melissa
Many IT professionals are blasting a recent Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) report that said that less than half of the 1.1 million IT jobs expected to be created during 2002 will be filled due to problems with applicant skill-sets. Cisco Systems networking consulting engineer Ray Hooker says the ITAA study "doesn't seem to jibe with the facts, so you question if there's a hidden agenda or just a lack of judgment." Some believe large companies want to perpetuate the idea of a skills shortage in order to maintain today's competitive hiring market, or argue that there aren't as many open jobs are it seems because companies advertise openings for jobs with impossible combinations of skills and certifications. ITAA is a big supporter of the H-1B temporary foreign visa program that brings IT foreign workers into the United States, and some believe the May report is ITAA's contribution to justifying the program by calling for more skills rather than pointing to a shrinking hiring market. Currently Congress is considering whether to expand the maximum number of H-1B workers. Peco Energy recruiter Nicole Tucker says that "it's really tough for us to find very specialized people," and that Peco often chooses contracted workers who pick up skills while working with Peco rather than bringing in new hires. ITAA's Bob Cohen says the report serves only as an industry forecast, and reflects the responses ITAA received from the 532 managers it surveyed.
- "Set Goals and Meet Objectives, The Mentoring Way"
InformationWeek (06/03/02) No. 891, P. 76; Khirallah, Diane Rezendes
Mentoring is becoming more important to IT, especially with the shakeups and low morale stemming from the economic slump. Furthermore, IT experts have a better chance at promotion if they can combine their technical knowledge with a savvy business sense; such skills can be developed through mentoring. IT mentoring can give technology-oriented workers a much-needed business perspective as well as people skills, while Mike Schroeck of PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting notes that mentoring programs can help staff adapt to faster-paced fields. The best mentoring relationships are those that start on an informal basis and evolve over time, although formal programs boast a great degree of success with new hires and shy workers. Formal mentoring programs are also important for people who do not know how to go about finding a mentor on their own, according to Linda Phillips Jones of CCC/The Mentoring Group. Microsoft's mentoring program, which Jones helped create, is one example: An in-house software program matches up the anonymous profiles of potential mentors and proteges, who then meet for several hours a month over the course of a year. Successful proteges give back to the enterprise by mentoring others.
- "Who Needs Supercomputers?"
Business Week (06/03/02) No. 3785, P. 82; Little, Darnell; Sager, Ira
Grid computing, in which software harnesses the processing power of idle machines on the Internet or private networks, is moving out of the academic sector and into the corporate arena as a cheaper alternative to supercomputers. Whereas a middle-of-the-road supercomputer can cost an average of $30 million, the fundamental software and services for grid computing usually cost about $25,000. With grid computing, companies can solve complex computer problems faster: Monsanto, for instance, is able to complete a gene-analysis project in less than a day instead of as many as six weeks. Other corporate applications of grid computing include vehicle crash test analysis by General Motors and Ford Motor; disease assessment and treatment development by Adventis, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer; and aircraft engine simulation testing by Pratt & Whitney. Still, security and resource management are issues that grid computing needs to resolve. Stuart E. Jackson of Incyte adds that maintaining data accuracy via continuous updating of grids is also essential. Businesses can now share computers and Web services over a grid thanks to technical standards released by IBM and the Globus Project, and IBM promises to install grid software in all of its products. "Integrating Web services with grid computing will push computing toward being a utility that you can subscribe to on demand," proclaims Argonne National Laboratory researcher Ian Foster.
- "It's Not Science Fiction"
Managing Automation (05/02) Vol. 17, No. 5, P. 26; Forcinio, Hallie
Creating independent robots is a goal of research projects worldwide. Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories have built an untethered mini-robot that measures one quarter of a cubic inch and moves around on tank-like tracks; potential uses include environmental readings and equipment diagnostics, according to Sandia researcher Doug Adkins. Meanwhile, Zyvex and Standard MEMS, with the help of researchers from the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Dallas, and the Center for Automation Technologies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, are developing prototype assembler robots with microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) through the $25 million Advanced Technology Program awarded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The microscale machines will later be succeeded by nanoscale assemblers developed with nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS), and Zyvex and Standard MEMS will also build systems that will enable machines to construct even smaller models. Initiatives to create a functioning biped robot include Shadow Robot's Shadow Walker and Honda Motor's ASIMO (Advanced Step in Innovation Mobility), while other mobility efforts focus on robots with more than two appendages. Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Mobile Robot Laboratory are using artificial intelligence to make robots capable of independent thought in order to react to environmental changes. Both online and offline learning methods are being applied to these machines: In the first method, robots are taught to solve problems in response to sudden changes, while in the second method they learn by studying experiences. Tele-operation of robots via the Internet and wireless handhelds is also being looked into.