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Volume 4, Issue 362: Monday, June 17, 2002

  • "Consumer Groups Target Software"
    Reuters (06/14/02); Abreu, Elinor Mills

    The debate over whether software is a product or a service lies at the heart of a proposal from consumer advocates that software vendors should be held responsible for bad products and the damage they may directly or indirectly cause. The National Academy of Sciences released a January report suggesting that lawmakers approve legislation to make software vendors liable for security vulnerabilities that lead to break-ins. In fact, domestic and international researchers agree that the majority of reported security incidents involve easily remedied software bugs. Lawyers note that vendors protect themselves by forcing users to agree to disclaimers that absolve them of all responsibility to any problems that occur after the software's installation; the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) is an attempt to have such disclaimers covered by state law, although its success is so far limited to Maryland and Virginia. Thus far, courts have ruled in favor of the vendors, who define software as a service because of its mutable nature and its ability to interconnect with other software and hardware--and lawyers also argue that imposing liability would raise the cost to consumers and hamper the adoption of technology. However, the idea of software being a product is gaining strength in Europe, where one company that sold buggy software was found guilty of malpractice in a Dutch court last September.

  • "Chip Integration More Sophisticated"
    Associated Press (06/16/02); Fordahl, Matthew

    System-on-a-chip integration continues to gain momentum despite last year's industry downturn, leading to significant advancements such as the production of smaller, faster, and cheaper electronic devices. Stuffing more features onto smaller chips has given cell phones computer-like capabilities, reduced the size of TV set-top boxes with both video and Web surfing capacity, and raised the power of video game consoles and Internet-enabled video recorders. Features being added to smaller chips include wireless, advanced power management, audio processing, and video encoding. One advanced device, the Cu-08 from IBM, can change voltage within individual chip elements, reducing power on an as-needed basis. Companies that sell processor core designs, such as ARM Holdings and MIPS Technologies, have benefited from system-on-a-chip growth: Gartner Dataquest estimates that their sales revenues grew 25 percent to $892 million in 2001. However, system-on-a-chip integration is fraught with challenges--for instance, Motorola engineering manager Ann Harwood notes that testing equipment and validation methods may work well on individual components, but may no longer apply when those components are combined onto a chip. Fusing analog and digital functionality on a chip is another technical hurdle. National Semiconductor chief financial officer Lewis Chew describes the problem as "kind of like if you wanted to open a cake shop and you were great at making the batter but you didn't know how to do the frosting."
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  • "Inexpensive Technology Is Providing Vision to Machines"
    New York Times (06/17/02) P. C4; Markoff, John

    Tyzx is developing a sophisticated yet inexpensive technology that aims to give computers low-power, real-time 3D vision capability. The technology involves two cameras spaced a few inches apart that simultaneously capture images of the same scene, providing stereo vision to a computer through a custom processing card connected to the cameras by a high-speed data channel. Depth perception is created by comparing the two images and measuring shifts in specific pixels. Tyzx researchers have incorporated highly evolved software algorithms on each camera's chip so that the computer can reliably identify identical pixels moving as fast as 132 stereo frames per second. The chips are designed to complete the equivalent of 50 billion operations every second, and keep data flowing between cameras and processor at 220 million bits per second. Tyzx is working on squeezing the entire system onto a single semiconductor, which could drive costs down and further develop the technology for mass consumption. Potential uses of the vision technology include surveillance systems that could pick suspicious individuals out of a crowd, although such applications generate concern among privacy advocates.
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  • "Wi-Fi Wants a Few Good 'Hot Spots'"
    CNet (06/16/02); Charny, Ben

    Toshiba's John Marston is expected to stress the lack of public Wi-Fi "hot spots" at the 802.11 West conference as a serious obstacle to the growth of the wireless standard. Toshiba estimates that 1,200 public hot spots currently exist, but Marston says at least 10,000 should be in operation. Executives from both small and large companies agree that the standard needs to proliferate beyond offices and households, where an estimated 15 million Wi-Fi networks have already been installed. Christian Gunning of Boingo Wireless--which Toshiba says owns 50 percent of the for-pay hot spots in the United States--says his company is planning to deploy at least 1,000 hot spots in its network by the end of 2002, and link 5,000 access points for subscribers; however, he cites a lack of capital as a major hurdle. Marston explains that Toshiba's solution to the cash crunch--a $200 self-installed kit--will be introduced on Monday. Other conference attendees believe that, with Wi-Fi networks expected to double within the next three years, the standard needs to be improved with additional capabilities. With this in mind, most manufacturers of Wi-Fi equipment are aiming to boost the speed and quality of their products. It is projected that telephone companies will integrate their 3G phone networks with Wi-Fi in order to vend Internet services, a move that Boingo Wireless President Dave Hagan describes as "the killer application."

  • "Bluetooth--Putting the Bite on Wi-Fi?"
    Reuters (06/14/02)

    Some firms and vendors are touting Bluetooth wireless technology as an alternative to Wi-Fi, which has a longer range and faster speed threshold: Stock brokers at Deutsche Bank in London, for example, can now get their desktop stock-tracking applications on their Bluetooth-equipped PDAs. Bluetooth chip sales totaled 10 million units last year as prices dropped to under $5 as the technology appeared in many devices where an obtrusive cable was previously present. Applications range from a new telematics system from DaimlerChrysler to sensors for car-making robots, created by Swedish-Swiss engineering group ABB. In the wireless access arena, Bluetooth's inherent security--the signal does not broadcast in radio frequency range--gives the technology an edge over Wi-Fi where hacking is a concern, such as at the London Deutsche Bank office. At the recent Bluetooth industry trade show, Bluetooth Internet access solutions were available from Red-M and Cambridge Silicon Radio, both privately held companies; still, the consensus at the show was that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi remain compatible technologies and that, in the future, using the two should be seamless on the user end.

  • "As the Tech Economy Goes, So Go Special Visas"
    New York Times (06/16/02) P. BU4; Green, Rick

    Immigration experts say the high-tech downturn has reduced the demand for foreign workers. The INS reports that, for the first six months of fiscal 2002, H-1B visa applications were down 48 percent compared to last year, while approved H-1Bs were down 38 percent. "The H-1B numbers have finally caught up with the economy," proclaims VisaNow.com's Mark D. Shevitz. The likelihood that companies will hire out-of-work Americans has increased, but critics of the H-1B program continue to argue that its chief function is to provide employers with a source of cheap labor. The visa cap, which currently stands at 195,000, will revert to the 1998 ceiling of 65,000 in 2004, but Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) wants it lowered sooner. Program advocates want the current quota maintained, in anticipation of rising needs for foreign workers once the economy picks up. Chamber of Commerce director of immigration policy Theresa Cardinal Brown claims that employers still rely on imported workers because there is still a shortage of American math and science graduates, a finding that Tancredo, for one, disputes.
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  • "Darpa Awards Next-Generation Computing Contracts"
    EE Times Online (06/13/02); Leopold, George

    The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) on June 12 awarded contracts to four companies to develop inexpensive and scalable high-end computer systems for public and private needs. Cray, IBM, Silicon Graphics, and Sun Microsystems each were awarded a 12-month contract worth $3 million. A second 36-month research and development stage will be followed by the hiring of a contractor for full-scale development. The contracts were awarded under Darpa's High Productivity Computing Systems (HCPS) program intended to build low-cost, powerful computers for national security and industry applications by 2007. The program also intends to supply computers to the U.S. Defense Department as it migrates to next-generation quantum computing systems over the next 10 years. In addition, the project aims to establish standards for tera-scale and peta-scale computing systems.

  • "Skinny Organic LED Displays Set to Grow"
    Reuters (06/14/02)

    Two competing manufacturing processes for organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays are set to square off with the announcement that display maker Seiko Epson and Cambridge Display Technologies have entered into a partnership to make equipment for the production of super-thin, next-generation displays. The Epson-Cambridge venture is concentrating on a polymer technology that could enable the manufacture of larger displays at lower cost than "small molecule" technology developed by Eastman Kodak, which uses vacuum deposition. However, OLED manufacturers will be hard-pressed to beat out liquid crystal displays (LCDs), the current leading flat screen technology. The advantages of OLEDs over LCDs include less weight, brighter colors, and faster response time; at first, the technology will probably be restricted to mobile devices such as cell phones, but major manufacturers such as Samsung and Sony believe that OLEDs will eventually migrate to televisions and computer screens, as soon as reliability, assembly, and longevity challenges have been resolved. An Epson spokesman says that several hundred million yen will be used to set up the Epson-Cambridge venture in the fall, with Epson holding a controlling stake of approximately 60 percent to 70 percent, while volume production of OLED display manufacturing gear is expected to begin in two years.

  • "National Research Council Report Says Some Changes Needed in NNI"
    Small Times Online (06/11/02); Brown, Doug

    The White House-commissioned evaluation of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) has found that the effort is progressing well, but that it could prove even more fruitful with some changes. According to the 10 recommendations from the National Research Council, the NNI has established a much-needed dialogue and means of communication between disciplines and agencies. But some centralized functions are needed, including a top-down strategy. To facilitate the strategy's creation, the report recommended forming an advisory board to the Nanoscale Science, Engineering, and Technology (NSET) committee already set up by the National Science Foundation. More attention needs to be paid to public perception of nanotechnology as well, especially since nanotechnology is so interdisciplinary. The NNI should sharpen the public's understanding of the benefits of nanotechnology in order to head off public relations problems, such as those that dog the field of genetically modified foods. Other recommendations include more government-facilitated domestic and international industrial alliances; NSET-set performance metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of the NNI; the establishment of a inter-agency research fund managed by the White House; and support for further investigation into the societal ramifications of nanotechnology.

  • "Military's Push for Unmanned Vehicles Gives Region Chance to Capitalize on Robotics"
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (06/13/02); Fitzpatrick, Dan

    The U.S. Army's $34 billion investment in unmanned vehicles could give Pittsburgh's robotics industry a shot in the arm. The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance and Army subcontractor Carnegie Mellon University have joined forces to create the National Center for Defense Robotics, an agency designed to guarantee that at least some of the new robots are made in Pittsburgh. The center will generate federal funding and assign robotics contracts in the hopes of convincing defense contractors to establish Pittsburgh-based design centers and manufacturing plants. Center head Bill Thomasmeyer expects to have at least three such contractors on board in the next 18 months, and wants the military to set up at least one regional unmanned vehicle program office in the next three years. The center's budget for the first 18 months will be approximately $1.5 million, according to Thomasmeyer; this money comes from state, foundation, and private-source donations. He hopes to raise about $9 million in federal funding for 2004. Thomasmeyer wants to beat the Pittsburgh region's long legacy of losing lucrative contracts, such as it did with the Jeep. The kinds of robot vehicles the military hopes will stem from its Future Combat Systems project include sniper-proof systems and machines that can strike a target from 80,000 feet away.

  • "Public's Role in Net Governance Threatened"
    Globe and Mail (06/13/02) P. B21; Geist, Michael

    ICANN has failed to work so far because it has excluded public input while making decisions in secret and without public interests represented on the ICANN board, writes influential Internet critic Michael Geist. Although ICANN was structured to include ICANN board members from stakeholder groups as well as nine elected board members representing Internet users, ICANN has fulfilled its obligation to stakeholders while only putting five board seats up for election so far. In addition, ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn is now calling for an end to any board member elections as part of his reform proposal. ICANN's inability to deal with public participation will force governments to become involved in ICANN, which is the one thing all stakeholders--from domain name sellers to domain name registrants--originally did not want. Geist says the ICANN reform process has resulted in ICANN supporters looking for governmental involvement in order to boost ICANN funding, while ICANN detractors are looking for the U.S. government to exercise more oversight over ICANN. Recently, the United Nations' Legal Counsel noted that entrusting the Internet to a private entity such as ICANN, rather than to an international organization, is not common practice.
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  • "Hollow Promise for Fiber Optics"
    Nature Online (06/11/02); Ball, Philip

    Bell Laboratories scientist John Rogers and colleagues have devised optical fibers that can both process and carry signals, thus combining the functionality of more expensive devices with cheap conventional fiber-optics. The hollow, microfluidic fibers can switch between varying states that transmit differently colored light. The light is transmitted through a core of solid glass and filtered when it passes through areas encased in fluid. Changing the fluid's temperature via a minuscule electrical heater allows the filtered wavelength to be tuned, while another heater positioned further down the fiber warms the air in the channels, thus controlling the wavelength and attenuation of the filtering by pumping the fluid into certain areas. In addition to being more sophisticated, these fibers are strong and cheap to produce. Rogers and his team believe that other fiber-optic network operations could be handled by arranging components such as fluid plugs, heaters, pumps, etc. into other configurations.

  • "Government Seeks Accord on XML"
    CNet (06/12/02); Kane, Margaret

    The federal government is working on ways to head off chaos in its build-out of XML definitions, the meta data that is meant to make government systems interoperable. The General Services Administration is currently investigating how to create a registry of federal XML projects and definitions so that new projects can reuse old definitions whenever possible. Already, XML definitions in vertical industries, such as finance and insurance, are being standardized. But the challenge is multiplied in government, given the sheer size of its IT investment and the interoperability requirements that span from agency to agency, as well as into various sectors of industry. The CIO Council's XML Working Group has already created its own registry of federal XML projects as a "proof-of-concept" project, listing over 30 efforts, and is working on another list of government XML best practices. The Navy, State Department, and Justice Department, meanwhile, have initiated cooperative work with the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), a private sector consortium working on XML standards for business. OASIS CEO Patrick Gannon suggests the federal government begin pilot projects in order to gain experience and collaborate with industry associations on XML.

  • "Someday, 3G Will Come to Europe"
    Wired News (06/13/02); Lillington, Karlin

    Alcatel is positioning itself to become a major player in the nonexistent European 3G marketplace, first aiming at Sweden. The French telecom equipment maker reasons that if it can find a foothold among the sophisticated Nordic mobile users, then it will gain the credibility it needs to succeed in other parts of the European mobile market. Nokia and Ericsson, natives to Scandinavia, are some of the biggest players in the European and global wireless scene. Alcatel has already won a major contract with Orange to provide telecoms equipment for that company's Swedish operations and operate a small demonstration 3G network in Malmo, Sweden, which pumps mobile data through at up to 384 Kbps. Still, Alcatel's Marc Rouanne says the company does not expect commercially available 3G services until 2003. He says Alcatel's strategy is to focus on 3G applications rather than hardware or networks. Meanwhile, in Ireland, Nokia's Michelle Mahony says her group's 3G plans include intermediary services such as multimedia messaging, and migrating users to faster GPRS network technology before a full 3G rollout.

  • "New Hopes for a Security Lockdown"
    Federal Computer Week (06/10/02) Vol. 16, No. 19,; Frank, Diane; Dorobek, Christopher J.

    Common Criteria is an international standard developed in 1996 that the U.S. Department of Defense plans to aggressively enforce in order to secure systems that are vulnerable because of flawed commercial software. In accordance with the National Security Telecommunications and Information Systems Security Policy 11, all national security agencies in the federal government must test information assurance-enabled products--Web browsers, operating systems, databases, etc.--using Common Criteria starting July 1; products that fail to comply cannot be sold to the DOD. National Information Assurance Partnership (NIAP) director Ron Ross believes the DOD's institution of the standard will help clear the way for its acceptance by other agencies. However, some large IT integrators are unaware of the DOD policy, a trend that PwC Consulting partner John Lainhart describes as frightening; there is also a profound lack of knowledge among civilian agencies, and NIAP officials acknowledge that they must remedy this. Craig Janus of Mitretek Systems says the homeland security push should give Common Criteria a higher profile. A new project from NIAP will develop protection profiles for technologies that agencies use so that they have a clear idea of how to assess products. Meanwhile, the National Institute of Standards and Technology is coordinating another project involving the publication of a government-spanning, Common Criteria-based certification and accreditation process that will be available by the end of June. However, the Common Criteria does not evaluate products based on how they function with other products, so they are required to fit into a wider security strategy and undergo further evaluation as part of the overarching network.

  • "Virtually Human"
    Computerworld (06/10/02) Vol. 36, No. 24, P. 49; DiSabatino, Jennifer

    Boston University bioinformatics professor and Human Genome Project founder Charles DeLisi is trying to secure funding for a distributed computing project to create a virtual human whose myriad systems and functions are distributed across research centers all over the United States. Each university or lab participating in the Virtual Human Project would create the software equivalent of an organ, which would then be subjected to different stimuli. The organ models would be linked to each other over the Internet, and allow researchers to study the relationship between the body's many functions. Such models could be used to map out how the body will react to chemicals, bacteria, viruses, and physical trauma; this research could lead to emergency room diagnosis of injuries without the need for surgery, and drugs that can be tailored for specific body chemistry. Experts say that computers are essential to managing the vast, highly specialized, and widely dispersed amount of biological data about humans. For now there is no major funding for the Virtual Human Project, although the government, academia, and the private sector have expressed interest. Boston University has already built a virtual cochlea, and DeLisi expects progress to be made next year in the development of a virtual olfactory system, while virtual vision should emerge within the next decade. The effort would require a tremendous amount of programming, as well as software and process integration in multiple scales.
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  • "Writing in Pen, Ink, and Pixels"
    U.S. News & World Report (06/17/02) Vol. 132, No. 21, P. 60; Lagesse, David

    Digital pen technologies that can transfer pen strokes to a computer screen could prove advantageous in a number of scenarios. Seiko's InkLink pen system tracks the writing instrument's position through ultrasound pulses emitted by the pen and picked up by receivers clipped to the writing surface; the receivers are in turn connected to a handheld or PC. The Seiko pen could be particularly beneficial to users stymied by handhelds' slow handwriting-recognition systems. The Vpen system from OTM, slated to hit the market in 2003, will use lasers to track its position based on the Doppler effect, in which light wavelength fluctuates as it is reflected off objects. Meanwhile, peripherals manufacturer Logitech plans to debut a pen equipped with an optical scanner developed by the Swedish firm Anoto in the fall. The pen is designed to be used with special paper covered with finely-printed dots, which are tracked by the scanner when the pen runs over them. The dot pattern is sent wirelessly to a cell phone, which in turn transmits the data to an Anoto server; the server uses this pattern to re-create the writing and transfers this information to a destination selected by the user. These technologies may be especially well received in Asia and Europe--in the former region, many users are frustrated by character-based PC languages, while sending text messages by cell phone is a popular practice in the latter region.

  • "Tech Transfers"
    Washington Techway (06/10/02) P. 20; Hammer, Ben

    If the proposed Digital Tech Corps Act becomes law, it would allow IT managers from private and public sectors to exchange positions for up to two years. Government IT managers ranked GS-11 to GS-15 would be able to work at private companies for up to two years. As for private IT workers, they would be prohibited to lobby the agency they had worked with for one year. Accenture, Computer Science Corp., EDS, and other large contractors say the act would let government workers return to their jobs with more skills and be better customers in the future. The bill is supported by Congressman Tom Davis (R-Va.), who says the act would tackle the government's hiring and retention problems in IT. He says the bill would "kick-start e-government initiatives and help fight the war on terrorism at home and abroad." But the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) claims Davis' bill is another way for the government to outsource more IT jobs to private contractors. AFGE lobbyist John Threlkeld says the government should instead modify the HR system and develop internal capabilities to train workers. Accenture has already selected five of its IT managers for the program, while a comparable number of managers from the Department of Defense are likely to take on six-month projects at private companies. Still, the Digital Tech Corps Act, which has already passed the House and has a good chance of Senate approval, would likely involve just 50 or so private IT workers in its first few years.

  • "The Internet of the Future: To Control or Be Controlled"
    Futurist (06/02) Vol. 36, No. 3, P. 27; Bullinga, Marcel

    The projected scenario of a Control Web would enable users to regulate access to their personal information as well as make society safer without imposing a totalitarian state. A Control Web has two important aspects: It is controllable, in that users can protect and enforce their personal privacy, copyrights, and the use of their property; and it is controlling, in that the Control Environments they operate in would prevent them from circumventing or violating the rights of others. The chief tool of the Control Web is a Control Card, an ID containing an owner's preferences and Control Environment-related rights and restrictions, and that can be used to gain physical entry, authenticate claims, screen communications, and negotiate copyright usage with agencies. The Control Web stems from four trends: The use of intelligent, wireless appliances to connect people with their environments; knowledge proliferating to the degree that it becomes as common and essential as air; access and security being increasingly controlled by biometrics; and information's emergence as a form of transaction. Members of a Control Web would benefit from many conveniences, such as automatic registration of phone number or address changes, building safety checks prior to entry, the elimination of spam and online stalking, and more efficient and effective law enforcement. Criminals' and terrorists' movements would be far more restricted in a Control Web. For instance, terrorists would find passports useless, and their faces could be matched to a database of known felons through intelligent video. To be successful, the Control Web must be reliable, must not be hobbled by electricity shortages, must not become too intricate or interdependent, and must not fall into the trap of favoring overwhelming restrictions over personal control and safety for citizens.

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