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Volume 4, Issue 368: Monday, July 1, 2002

  • "Software Errors Cost Billions"
    Reuters (06/28/02)

    Software glitches cost the U.S. economy $59.5 billion each year, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology. The study, conducted by the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina, found that software users are responsible for about 50 percent of the problems, and vendors and developers contribute the rest. However, the study also found that improved testing could reduce the bugs and remove $22.2 billion of the cost; and although nearly 80 percent of software development goes to locating and fixing defects, very few kinds of other products ship with these same high error percentages of defects. The National Academy of Sciences issued a report last January describing how lawmakers must pass legislation to hold software vendors liable for security breaches. However, making vendors liable would dramatically raise the cost of their products, said McDermott, Will, and Emory partner Marc E. Brown. Europe has already begun addressing this issue when a Dutch judge convicted Exact Holding of selling software with bugs, denying its claim that early versions of software are generally plagued with problems.
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  • "PCs: More Than 1 Billion Served"
    CNet (06/30/02); Kanellos, Michael

    About one billion PCs have shipped throughout the world since their introduction in the mid 1970s, but that number should double by 2007 or 2008, according to a Gartner study released Sunday. About 75 percent of all PCs shipped are used in work-related environments, although the first PCs were kits that were sold to home users, and slightly more that 81 percent of all PCs have been desktop models. Broadband will help the number of shipments rise, as will reduced prices and the ability of the PC to become more of a necessary utility like a telephone, said Christine Riley, head of Intel's People and Practices Research Group. Gartner's Martin Reynolds says Internet growth, rapid worldwide adoption, and lower prices will drive more PC sales, but he says prices must continue to fall and the PC itself must shrink for growth to continue. He says PC "demand exists because of the power of the PC to leverage intellectual capital, unlocking the capabilities of individuals to succeed and companies to profit." The U.S. has received 38.8 percent of all PCs shipped (394 million), while Europe received nearly 25 percent, and the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region received 11.7 percent. Of the 1 billion PCs shipped, 16.4 percent have been laptops and 2.1 percent were PC servers.

  • "Program Lets Blind 'See' and Draw"
    United Press International (06/30/02); Wasowicz, Lidia

    University of California, Berkeley engineering student Hesham Kamel has created a software program that lets blind people draw on the computer. Frustrated by the lack of applications and technology that enables blind people to create graphics, Kamel, who lost his vision 17 years ago, turned that frustration into his Ph.D. research project. He will demonstrate the latest version of his Integrated Communication 2 Draw prototype program at the July 8-10 meeting of the Association of Computing Machinery in Scotland. Kamel's program divides the screen into nine squares, similar to how a telephone dial-pad is divided. Users use the number pad to access the desired section of the screen and can subdivide the sections several times further to get finer control over the image. The program also uses audio feedback and helps overcome a key obstacle to image creation for the blind--the inability to know where the cursor is on the screen. So far, users have given Kamel's creation accolades for its innovation and usability. Kamel wants to develop a commercial version of the software. Berkeley associate professor of computer science James Landay says, "What Hesham has accomplished is amazing...what he's achieved can have an impact on all of us, the blind and the sighted."

  • "Internet Group Leaves Ordinary Surfer High and Dry"
    Reuters (06/28/02); Warner, Bernhard

    ICANN has unanimously voted to discontinue its at-large elections--a vote that ICANN CEO Stuart Lynn says will send a strong message to various lawmakers that ICANN is earnest about reforming itself. ICANN has also voted to approve a grace period for expiring TLDs, and has placed a wait-listing service proposal on a track to be approved later in the summer. ICANN has been criticized for being both too American-centric and for excluding Internet users from ICANN decision-making, and South Korean domain name owner representative Youn Jung Park calls the end of ICANN at-large elections a poor turn of events. ICANN board member Andy Mueller-Maguhn says that ICANN needs to improve its efforts toward global diversity, considering that ICANN is a U.S.-based company with mostly U.S. staff.
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  • "Who's Protecting Cyberspace?"
    Medill News Service (06/28/02); Chiger, Stephen

    President Bush's Homeland Security Act is currently undergoing review in the House Committee on Science, which is proposing raising the profile of cybersecurity research and development in the legislation. The new Department of Homeland Security would have a cabinet-level secretary with four subunits under the Bush plan, but Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) wants to create a separate arm for research and development, which would highlight cybersecurity that protects critical infrastructure. That idea has support from the National Research Council and in industry, according to Bob Cohen, senior vice president for the Information Technology Association of America. The Bush plan folds research and development efforts into one of the four subunits, but John Marburger, director of the Executive Office of Science and Technology Policy, says Bush's plan is meant to provide a framework, with specifics still to be worked out. Meanwhile, lawmakers increasingly believe the U.S. is unprepared for a cyberattack. Boehlert said in a committee hearing last week that the "the nation lacks the tools it needs to foil a cyberattack," while Commerce Department director of the Critical Infrastructure Assurance office John Tritak says, "I think there is clearly a greater awareness that harms in cyberspace don't necessarily remain in cyberspace."

  • "Industry, Universities Help NASA Get Nanotechnology Off the Ground"
    Small Times Online (06/28/02); Brown, Doug

    NASA is getting together with several U.S. universities on nanotechnology that will put powerful nanoprocessors on spacecraft and responsive, bird-like wings on aircraft. The collaboration in nanotechnology will be focused on three University Research, Engineering, and Technology Institutes, each with an initial five-year commitment of $3 million per year. Purdue University will work with NASA to create tiny supercomputers that will help cut expensive weight from equipment launched into space while boosting capabilities. Meyya Meyyappan, NASA Ames Research Center nanotechnology project manager, says it costs $10,000 per pound to send something to a space station, and about $100,000 per pound to send it to Mars. Purdue and NASA teams will collaborate on nanotechnologies related to computing, memory, and storage. Princeton and Texas A&M universities will research nanomaterials that would sense the environment and change shape, allowing aircraft wings to move like bird wings and function without flaps.

  • "Idea Is One Small Step for Quantum Computing"
    Dallas Morning News Online (07/01/02); Nolen, Brad

    A team of scientists are proposing a creative way of building a quantum computer from quantum technology that already works. The group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology say that they can line up ions that move single file in and out of a series of connected ion traps. This approach would be able to harness the computing information of many ions without the hassle of keeping them all in a single trap. An ion trap preserves the qubit quality of the ions inside, which is analogous to the one and zero property of digital information, except much more capable. However, when a large number of ion traps are linked closely together, the amount of heat generated from the ion movement makes the qubit quality instable, a problem the scientists solved by injecting refrigerated ions to cool their neighbors. The cooling ions--at nearly 460 subzero degrees Fahrenheit--are kept motionless by lasers, a technique that cannot be applied to the qubit ions because it would compromise the integrity of their information.
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  • "Video Research at MIT Puts Words Into Mouths, With Startling Results"
    Associated Press (06/30/02); Emery, Theo

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a technique for incorporating new speech into old computer-aided video. Using the technology, the MIT team has made a video clip where Marilyn Monroe seems to sing a popular contemporary song. The process involves using an artificial intelligence program that learns a video personality's mouth movements and then simulates them to fit with superimposed audio. MIT expects to use the technology to make computers more human, as well as for language training and helping deaf people learn to speak. However, the technology also poses new problems for public media, since people would not be able to trust video authenticity. Already, newspapers have guidelines for digitally altering print images, and similar protocols could govern the use of video in the future. Still, the technology is immature, and faces only look realistic when viewed in short clips and at face-on angles. Researchers also say video could be authenticated in the future through the use of digital watermarks.
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  • "No End to New Ideas"
    Washington Post (07/01/02) P. E1; Barbaro, Michael

    Internet pioneer Steven Crocker is still busy pushing new ideas, long after helping create the foundation for the Internet in the 1960s at the University of California, Los Angeles. While a graduate student at UCLA, Crocker worked with high-school friend Vincent Cerf, Jon Postel, and other Internet pioneers to write the base protocols that enabled computers to communicate over a network. The Defense Department contracted their help in setting up ARPAnet for the Advanced Research Project Agency, which was a precursor to the Internet. The work meant collaboration between a number of programmers involved in the project, and it was Crocker who proposed building an open system that everyone could have a say in. He sent out a "Request for Comments" letter that became the ideological basis for the Internet Engineering Task Force that he served with in the 1990s as director of security. In the past eight years, Crocker has been involved in the founding of five technology firms, including CyberCash, which was the first e-commerce firm to enable credit card transactions over the Web. His current project, Shinkuro, is a peer-to-peer data mining software firm aimed at easing telecommunications mergers.

  • "Push Here to Save Energy"
    Technology Review Online (06/27/02); Leo, Alan

    Bruce Nordman, a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, hopes software and hardware firms will adopt standard controls for "on/off" and "sleep" functions. Nordman says office workers fail to turn off machines because of the confusing variety of power buttons. He proposes that only a single power control be placed on office equipment featuring an open circle with a protruding line. Sleep mode would be indicated only by a lighted crescent moon. Nordman hopes a standards group will lead the way to standardization across the electronics industry. He hopes to visit a variety of companies this summer and convince them to adopt the universal power/sleep symbols. Nordman estimates that more than $1.3 billion in energy costs are wasted by machines. Power management symbols currently used on buttons include a vertical line in a circle, an electric plug, and a lightning bolt.

  • "Analysts: Broadband Competition a 'Firestorm'"
    E-Commerce Times (06/27/02); McDonald, Tim

    Major changes must be made to the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) telecom policy to facilitate the rollout of broadband services, according to a Gartner Dataquest report. Gartner analyst Ron Cowles says the FCC is too demanding, outlining too many details of how operators should proceed. Rather, the report says, regulators should offer a broader alternative, balancing "incentives, requirements, competition, and monopolies" and letting the market take its course. The industry should be able to settle interconnection agreements, according to the report. Gartner data also suggests that small firms were encouraged to enter the market even though they could not remain viable amid larger, incumbent firms, says Gartner analyst Jean-Claude Delcroix. Meanwhile, rival bills have been proposed by legislators to help stimulate the deployment of broadband. The issue is complicated by local phone companies' claim that cable firms are exempt from certain regulatory obstacles.

  • "Web Standards Gain Voice"
    ZDNet (06/28/02); Fisher, Vivienne

    The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has announced the first speech interface technology to reach candidate recommendation status, meaning the technology is well-developed and the W3C wants comments from the developer community. The XML specification would allow developers to create rules for speech recognition based on specific contexts. The W3C's voice browser working group is also in the process of hammering out other voice interface standards, but the Speech Recognition Grammar Specification is the first product to gain this level of maturity.

  • "Only a Few Community Colleges Training Future MEMS Workforce"
    Small Times Online (06/27/02); Kelly, Matt

    Community colleges are just now beginning to look at training MEMS workers as the sector gains popularity. Schools that already have semiconductor programs make the most likely candidates for MEMS programs, because they usually have model clean rooms that students can work in and instructors that can be trained in MEMS specializations by local businesses. Currently, community colleges play a key role in supplying the semiconductor industry with skilled labor. Texas Instruments, for example, spends more than $10 million each year in developing community college-level curriculum for semiconductor courses and hires graduates of two-year programs starting at $40,000. The Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute is working with a three-year, $300,000 grant from NASA to help launch its MEMS program, which is due out in January.

  • "Cyberspace's Legal Visionary"
    Reason Online (06/02); Walker, Jesse

    In an interview with Jesse Walker, Stanford University law professor and author Lawrence Lessig discusses the direction that copyrights and computer networks are taking. He is cocerned about a shift away from the end-to-end principle, which is based on the concept that a network remains simple while intelligence is placed at the edge; such a shift takes away network flexibility and users' liberties. Lessig notes that the Internet and digital technology have granted copyright holders more control over the use of their intellectual property, fostering their conception that the property can only be used by others through their express permission, rather than as something subject to public-use exceptions and needs. One unfortunate consequence of this kind of thinking is digital content that cannot be copied even when it is not covered by copyright laws. Lessig also thinks that patenting software and business methods will not lead to an increase of positive effects, such as increased innovation, that outweigh regulation costs. He does not believe that the government needs to enforce open access of networks unless absolutely necessary. Lessig cites "a lack of creativity on the part of the government" as the reason why issues over private censorware and spam-filtering software are so muddled: For instance, a federally approved regulatory requirement to label unsolicited commercial email as spam could halt the spread of many private solutions that force subscribers to submit to policies that may automatically censor material without review. In Lessig's opinion, open-source proponents need to take a more aggressive political stance if they want fairer cyberspace copyright regulations and controls instituted.

  • "Virtual Reality Is Getting Real: Prepare to Meet Your Clone"
    Futurist (06/02) Vol. 36, No. 3, P. 34; Briggs, John C.

    Experts proclaim that virtual reality (VR) is poised to make a comeback and profoundly impact many aspects of everyday life in the next few decades, including business, communications, and entertainment. VR applications for desktops and office workstations should become available in about five years, while home-based VR via the Internet or its successors should emerge 10 to 20 years down the road; at the same time, VR will likely become an essential business tool. The technology will broaden the reach and uses of the Internet and other kinds of media, both positive and negative. A major hurdle Web-based VR faces is "last mile" bandwidth, but this challenge should be overcome in a few years with the installation of fast transmission media such as fiber-optic cable. One of the most far-reaching VR applications will probably be the use of avatars, electronic agents that represent people. VR users will be able to disseminate messages, concepts, and ideas by sending immersive environments or worlds that make email and face-mail look positively archaic; one technology under development is tele-immersion, which promises to revolutionize meetings, training, consultations, and other business operations. Engineers are already using VR for industrial design so that problems can be ironed out earlier and productivity can be increased, while the technology is being tapped to give disabled people a fuller and more accessible experience of the world. Entertainment such as movies and video games will become more sophisticated and interactive through VR, while medical diagnosis and treatment will become more thorough and customizable through innovations such as a virtual simulation of the human body.

  • "Spintronics"
    Scientific American (06/02) Vol. 286, No. 6, P. 66; Awschalom, David D.; Flatte, Michael E.; Samarth, Nitin

    Spintronics--devices that exploit electron spins--could one day lead to the development of quantum computers. Metallic-alloy spintronics, the most mature category of spintronic devices, already forms the basis of MRAM and other storage technologies; the other categories include semiconductor spintronics and quantum spintronics. Before the second class of device can mature, numerous questions must be answered, including: Whether ferromagnetic metals and semiconductors can be combined in integrated circuits, whether semiconductors that are ferromagnetic at room temperature can be manufactured, and how spin currents can be efficiently injected into semiconductors. A solution to this last puzzle was proffered in 1990 by Purdue University researchers Supriyo Datta and Biswajit A. Das, who put forth the concept of a spin-polarized field-effect transistor (FET), which boasts more energy efficiency and speed than a conventional FET as well as adjustable logic gate functionality. Although a valid spin FET prototype has yet to be developed, progress in injecting spin currents into semiconductors has been made through the use of magnetic semiconductors. The decay of spin polarization is another key factor, and a quantum computer can only be built if quantum coherence can be controlled and maintained. Research with zinc selenide and gallium arsenide has shown that quantum coherence can be stretched out longer at low temperatures. Semiconductors are also dependent on two other characteristics--how fast a device's state can be controlled and how far excitations can be transported.
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