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Volume 4, Issue 375: Friday, July 19, 2002

  • "Tech Activists Protest Anti-Copying"
    CNet (07/17/02); McCullagh, Declan

    Free software activists voiced their dismay over being left out of a Commerce Department roundtable on Wednesday by interrupting MPAA President and panelist Jack Valenti's address with hoots and jeers. The panel was there to discuss plans to impose anti-copying technology standards on Internet content. The activists crashed the roundtable in response to the free software community not being represented on the panel. Other panelists represented Microsoft, Intel, the Recording Industry Association of America, digitalconsumer.org, the Home Recording Rights Coalition, and Walt Disney. Triggering the outcry was Valenti's assertion that digital piracy constitutes theft and his endorsement of digital rights management regulated by the government. An activist known simply as "Vincenzo" was the strongest voice of protest, who claimed that the panel was unbalanced with corporate representatives: "The end user is the true stakeholder on this issue, and the end user is not being represented on that panel," he declared. Although the activists stated that they had scored a promise from the Commerce Department of representation at a future roundtable, Undersecretary of Commerce for Technology and panelist Phillip Bond strongly disagreed.

  • "Hackers to Corporate America: You're Lazy"
    Computerworld Online (07/18/02); Verton, Dan

    Hackers and analysts say that the defacement of Web sites, such as the USA Today hack of July 11, are a wake-up call for corporate administrators who are lax in keeping their online security up-to-date. The leader of the "white hat" hacker organization Hack3r.com, who uses the moniker "EPiC," says that poor configuration and a lack of regular software updates is encouraging 90 percent of all cyberattacks. Another hacker, "RaFa," adds that the majority of administrators do not keep themselves abreast of patches and upgrades issued by software vendors. Genocide2600 leader "Genocide" maintains that administrators and corporate managers too easily trust their systems with being secure, which is a critical error. "People believe that since their company may not have anything that someone would want that they are free from attack," he notes. Genocide suggests that they adopt a strategy in which they are constantly alert for possible intrusions. Silver Lords member "ScorpionKTX" says that hackers can access the server due to poor configuration, which is symptomatic of Unix, and adds that installing Linux also presents configuration difficulties. Furthermore, he explains that people also deploy unnecessary software, which complicates security verification.

  • "Report of EE Shortage Stirs 'Boom-or-Bust' Debate"
    EE Times Online (07/18/02); Murray, Charles J.

    Recommendations to produce more U.S. graduates to stave off boom-and-bust cycles that plague the engineering sector has triggered disagreement between educators and practicing engineers, with the latter group claiming that such a measure would create an engineering logjam and reduce market value. However, there was little disagreement that the American educational system lags behind those of other countries in terms of teaching science and math, and engineering deans say this disparity is causing American students to avoid the field; furthermore, more than 50 percent of engineering majors either leave or flunk out. Other experts are decrying the H-1B visa program, which they claim companies are using as an excuse to hire foreign engineers who work for less money than homegrown engineers. Most employers have responded to this charge by claiming that pay scales for workers are on an equitable level regardless of nationality, and added that there is a preference for domestic employees because they entail less legal expenditures and cultural clashes. Still, some industry experts cite the need to continue to supply H-1Bs, at least in the short term: Ben G. Streetman, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, estimates that the United States brought in 90,000 foreign engineers in 2000 and only graduated 65,000 engineers and 15,000 computer scientists. Producing more graduates is critical in the long term, as educators warn that nations such as China and India will eventually shore up their economies, resulting in fewer foreign engineers willing to work in the United States. In the meantime, "There simply is no system to support gifted students who want to go into the engineering field to nurture interest in technology," laments software engineer Jaime Chu.

  • "As Tech Jobs Decrease, Interest in Unions Is Up"
    San Francisco Chronicle (07/18/02) P. B1; Pimentel, Benjamin

    Technology industry unions are practically unknown in the United States, since most tech workers have received good pay and treatment. However, the economic slump--and the layoffs that have come with it--is giving unions more credence among professionals. Workers at IBM and Microsoft founded unions that are affiliated with the Communication Workers of America (CWA). The Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, which currently boasts over 200 Seattle-based members, was created in 1998 as a vehicle for promoting more rights and benefits for contractors. Meanwhile, Alliance at IBM, which is now 5,000 members strong, was organized in 1999 in response to a proposed pension plan revision that workers claimed would eat into older employees' benefits. CWA Local 9423 President Louis Rocha says that interest in attending Alliance meetings in Silicon Valley has grown since IBM announced plans to sell its San Jose-based hard disk drive operation to Hitachi this year. Washington Alliance of Technology Workers President Marcus Courtney observes that professionals in other countries are more secure during layoffs, which is likely to spark even more interest in organizing stateside. There is still heavy resistance to unionization in the U.S. tech sector--in the last couple of years, major corporations have hindered attempts to organize by hiring more temporary and contract workers.
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  • "Apple Trains Spotlight on 'Jaguar' OS"
    InternetNews.com (07/17/02); Naraine, Ryan

    Apple's new Mac OS 10.2 "Jaguar" operating system features more than 150 refinements and additions, according to CEO Steve Jobs, who delivered a two-hour keynote speech at this week's MacWorld exhibition in New York. In addition to the new operating system, Apple also announced several new hardware releases, including a 17-inch landscape flat panel display for the new iMac computer, a new iPod, and Windows PC-compatibility available for all iPods. Jobs also said Apple would begin charging customers for its iTools, which will be bundled in a package called .Mac, including email, hosting, and other online tools. New features for the Jaguar include a new search engine called Sherlock 3 that has city-specific information, stock-tracking capability, and options for following bids on eBay. Jobs said that the Mac's iChat tool would also be integrated with America Online's AIM instant messaging platform so that users can keep their .Mac screen-name when chatting. Jaguar also has the new QuickTime player, version 6, which uses the MPEG-4 standard; Inkwell handwriting recognition technology, and Rendezvous, software that automatically detects and configures connected devices.

  • "National Cyberspace Protection Plan Would Ask Home Computer Users to Pitch In"
    Associated Press (07/17/02)

    Home computer users will be expected to contribute to the national cybersecurity initiative by keeping their antivirus software up to scratch, the president's cybersecurity adviser Richard Clarke announced on Wednesday. He added that the plan will include cybersecurity recommendations that cover the federal provision of software and other tools in order to more easily implement them. There are currently 77 recommendations spanning five categories: Home and small-business users; major corporations; banking, utilities, and government sectors; national issues; and global Internet issues. A program designed to secure the Microsoft Windows 2000 operating system, more commonly known as the "Gold Standard," scans computers for known vulnerabilities and offers suggestions for fixing flaws that can be exploited by hackers. Experts say the package's success rides on the Gold Standard being extended to home and business users, and infusing it with ease-of-use that should foster public acceptance. The government might foster the adoption of the Gold Standard by requiring that its computers meet the standard; the Defense Department has already required immediate compliance with the standards. The Gartner Group estimates that 90 percent of all hacker attacks through 2005 will take advantage of known security holes that could be closed using existing solutions.
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  • "Albany Chosen as Research Hub For the Next Generation of Chips"
    New York Times (07/18/02) P. A1; Perez-Pena, Richard

    The International Sematech computer chip consortium, whose members include IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Germany's Infineon Technologies, has negotiated with government officials to build a $400 million research and development center at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Albany. The Center will focus on the development of next-generation computer chips, and state and industry officials think project investments could well exceed its costs. The area's relatively low cost of living could favor new investment, according to Technologic Partners principal Richard A. Shaffer. The announcement, which will take place today, could be a shot in the arm for Gov. George Pataki (R-N.Y.), who is running for a third term and has been criticized by Democrats claiming he is responsible for the downturn in the upstate economy. The center's first initiative will be to devise better chip lithography techniques. Pataki says he expects the center to transform the upper Hudson Valley's economy in much the same way that Sematech's other chip R&D center transformed the economy of Austin, Texas. Sematech will contribute $193 million to the project, while the State Legislature is expected to approve a five-year allocation of $210 million. However, Sematech itself has been caught in a downturn, and there is no guarantee that the pipeline of engineering talent from SUNY and other local schools will be sufficient to sustain economic growth.
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  • "Digital Copy Locks: No International Consensus"
    IDG News Service (07/17/02)

    European and American lawmakers disagree about the deployment of digital rights management (DRM) technology in electronic devices. The European Parliament has stated that it will allow the development of DRM standards to be directed by the market, while the U.S. Congress is currently mulling over a bill from Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) that calls for the government to set anti-copying standards. The technology industry largely opposes the bill, since it would be forced to shoulder the responsibility for complying with the federal specifications. Speaking on a digital copyrights panel sponsored by the Congressional Internet Caucus, Verizon's Sarah Deutsch said that Hollings' proposal would "replace an industry-led solution with a government mandate...at our own expense and liability." Last June, the European Parliament approved of a copyright directive designed to ensure the security of digital works, but the disposition of DRM was notably absent from the mandate. The European Union is hoping that the industry will come to an agreement on DRM deployment and interoperability standards through a series of debates and workshops, according to parliament member Arlene McCarthy, who added that government legislation would not guarantee that proper standards are implemented. Fellow parliament member Malcolm Harbour said the European specifications will permit fair use by consumers. Meanwhile, Motion Picture Association of America's Fritz Attaway insisted that a balance must be achieved in the United States between consumer fair-use rights and the rights of copyright owners.

  • "Web Friend or Faux?"
    Los Angeles Times (07/18/02) P. A1; Frey, Christine

    Digital "buddies" or "bots" are instant-message software applications that interact intimately with users online because they are imbued with personalities that establish trust and are eerily lifelike in many cases. They formulate their responses to the user's questions by tapping into conversational databases, which gives them the appearance of being witty and quirky, and even capable of emotional expression. They are being used as a very effective online marketing tool that has engendered controversy--even users who know they are conversing with computer programs still talk intimately with them, treating them as friends. The bots' artificial personalities can contain a remarkable level of detail--for instance, ELLEgirl magazine's digital buddy describes itself as a 16-year-old redhead with interests in French and kickboxing; it even lists career goals. Digital buddies were originally created to deliver information, notes ActiveBuddy CEO Stephen Klein, whose company develops bot software that at least 12 firms have implemented. ActiveBuddy bots record data about the users they interact with, such as names and birth dates, and this data is used to make the bots appear to be taking a personal interest in them. Gordon Paddison of New Line Cinema, which uses a bot to promote movies, describes it as a new marketing paradigm: "You follow people around, and they can share [the application] with their friends," he notes. There are worries that unscrupulous companies could take advantage of the often personal information users share with bots for marketing purposes.
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  • "Slow Starts"
    Red Herring Online (07/12/02); Herrera, Stephan

    Canadian and European nanotechnology initiatives are proceeding at a slow pace because of bureaucratic red tape. "Europe's solution to problems is usually to form committees to discuss the implications of forming a committee," laments Tim Harper of the Brussels-based European NanoBusiness Association. Meanwhile, Dan Wayner of the National Research Council (NRC) notes that "It's said that in Canada, we never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Nanotech researchers in both regions are migrating to better research opportunities abroad, while venture capitalists and entrepreneurs are investing in Asian and American companies. Nevertheless, progress is being made: The NRC will build a $120 million National Institute for Nanotechnology based at the University of Alberta, while European nations have apportioned $1 billion for microtechnology and nanotech research. Nanotech institutes are also under development in France and England, which raises the specter of overlapping research. C Sixty CEO and Canadian NanoBusiness Alliance executive director Uri Sagman thinks that Canada and Europe should take a cue from the United States and organize a national nanotech strategy.

  • "Bringing a Much Bigger Internet to Light"
    NewsFactor Network (07/17/02); McDonough, Brian

    Deep-Web mining aims to tap into public-access databases instead of just the static-URL Web sites picked up by standard search engines. The database-based deep Web has 500 times more volume than the Web segment search engine queries usually focus on, according to BrightPlanet President Thane Paulsen. The type of information contained in the deep Web includes phone directories and "a lot of government data that's available online," notes University of California, Berkeley researcher Joseph Hellerstein, who has used deep-Web mining for research projects, including one that investigates the migratory patterns of workers. BrightPlanet's Deep Query Manager program is designed to search the deep Web. The company offers a tool that automatically scans the more commonly accessed "shallow Web" as well as the deep Web. Paulsen and BrightPlanet CEO Bill Shelander say that deep-Web mining has proven especially useful to companies that need a collect a wide range of information to manage their brands and keep up with their competitors. Other areas that can benefit from the method include medical research and product planning. Deep-Web mining's biggest potential value proposition is its ability to analyze individual pieces of data that in other circumstances would not be particularly useful.

  • "Not Just Closing a Divide, But Leaping It"
    New York Times (07/18/02) P. E1; Marriott, Michel

    A number of computer community centers are operating across the country and overseas, sponsored by private-sector firms and meant to give underprivileged teenagers the chance to learn advanced tech skills. These centers, such as those belonging to the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network, are becoming increasingly important as federally funded programs are set to be scaled back under the Bush administration. Federal officials have cited a narrowing divide between rich and poor in regards to computer access. MIT professor Mitchel Resnick, who helped establish the Computer Clubhouse program, says that access alone is not enough, but that teenagers need to be given the skills and opportunities to express themselves through technology. He says kids need to "express themselves, to create something, to have a sense that they could bring about change with the technology." At one Computer Clubhouse in Boston, teenagers have created fully interactive video games and recorded CDs using the center's digital music studio. Intel has committed $32 million through 2005 to the worldwide program, along with IT products and donations from other IT companies, including Adobe, Hewlett-Packard, Autodesk, and Macromedia.
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  • "Quantum Entanglement Stronger Than Suspected"
    New Scientist Online (07/17/02); Sample, Ian

    Quantum entanglement is stronger than expected, according to new research from Erwin Altewischer and fellow scientists at Leiden University in the Netherlands, a finding that could lead to new types of quantum computers and quantum-based encryption systems. Altewischer created photon pairs linked by the quantum entanglement effect and successfully passed them through gold sheets containing holes 200 nanometers wide. Although the sheets were thick enough to block light, the photon pairs, reacting to contact with the gold surface, created plasmons that passed through the holes and re-emitted photons on the other side that remained entangled. University of Exeter photonics expert Bill Barnes says, "If they can survive this, what else can they survive?" Quantum computers offer the possibility of dramatic performance gains over existing computer technology because they could theoretically perform many functions simultaneously.

  • "The Case of the Missing Code"
    Salon.com (07/17/02); Manjoo, Farhad

    Rumors that al-Qaida operatives are transmitting hidden messages over easily accessible Web pages is generating controversy again, with the publication of a USA Today story claiming hundreds of such messages exist on eBay. Using steganography, terrorists could encode messages in pictures or other digital media that is displayed on the Internet. Once downloaded onto a computer, those messages could then be decoded using special encryption keys, allowing the al-Qaida network to communicate without arousing suspicion. WetStone Technologies, one of the leading private-sector organizations with expertise in steganography, has said that encoded messages are likely to be stored on eBay, but company president Chet Hosmer doubts USA Today reporter Jack Kelley's claim. Using their detection algorithms, WetStone Technologies estimates that there is one hidden message in every 15 million to 20 million files stored on eBay. One way to close off this method of communication would be to require ISPs and sites such as eBay to pre-scan images, something that is unlikely to happen since no steganographic messages linked to al-Qaida have been publicly verified yet.
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  • "Intel's in the Lab with Ultra Wideband"
    Internet.com (07/15/02); Peretz, Matthew

    Director of Communications Interconnect and Technology at Intel Labs Kevin Kahn says the company's investigation into Ultra Wideband (UWB) technology is viewed as a research project into future applications rather than a push toward product development--the effort is geared toward exploring UWB's potential and helping standards bodies develop future UWB specifications. Kahn notes that the research team, which is considerable, is focusing on UWB's uses, its technological limitations, the speed and range of signal transmission, and the best data encoding methods. Although he says Intel is leaning toward UWB as a personal area networking (PAN)/cable replacement technology, he adds that it is unlikely to threaten 802.11, given the immaturity of the UWB market and the cheapness of 802.11 chips. Kahn emphasizes that Intel is concentrating on the high-speed applications of UWB, such as a wireless alternative to cable desktop networks and the simplification of digital image transmission from capturing devices to storage/dissemination devices. He says Intel Labs demonstrated at a recent conference that UWB could transmit data across a distance of about 10 feet at approximately 100 Mbps. Kahn adds that Intel is satisfied with the current transmission limits the FCC imposed on UWB in February in order to curb potential interference with existing Global Positioning Systems (GPS). As for helping develop standards, Kahn expects standards organizations to start requesting proposals by the end of 2002; given the 12- to 18-month timeframe it usually takes to institute a standard, he does not think any will be ready until 2004, with commercial UWB products perhaps debuting as late as 2007.
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  • "Mainframe Skill Shortage"
    Network World (07/15/02) Vol. 19, No. 28, P. 41; Gaspar, Suzanne

    New hires at most companies are not equipped with the mainframe skills of the older generation of programmers, say IT managers. In response, many firms, such as the department store chain Boscov and Volkswagen of America, are migrating to newer operating systems and programming languages, such as Linux and Java. Boscov CIO Harry Roberts expects his firm to move most of its applications to a Linux environment by 2007, and is currently using an IBM zSeries 900 machine running both z/OS and Linux so that COBOL and CICS languages can still be utilized along with more functional Java. This type of scenario is likely to play out in all companies over the next decade, according to Meta Group, as more than half of all mainframe programmers are 50 or older. Meta recommends implementing cross-training programs to update old workers' skills while teaching newer employees aspects of older systems. At Boscov, Roberts is using IBM's VisualAge Generator so that staff with dated skills can work with Java. Volkswagen's Scott Aschenbach laments that many schools focus on editing on a Windows or Unix box, rather than teaching COBOL and the OS/390.

  • "Cleaning Up"
    Crain's Chicago Business (07/06/02) Vol. 25, No. 27, P. 13; Murphy, H. Lee

    Illinois corporations are forbidden by state law to throw out old computers, which has prompted some businesses to come up with unique ways to recycle obsolete machines. Sipi Metals reduces computers to their basic metals and finds new uses for them--for example, the huge lion sculpture in front of the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is composed of such processed material. Sipi's sister company, BTR Solutions, recycles 20,000 computers each month in the Northbrook area alone, and has offices in California, Mexico, and Britain. Chicago's National Safety Council reckons that the number of obsolete computers in the United States will total 500 million by 2007, while currently only 11 percent of old PCs are actually recycled. The rest ends up either in storage or in landfills, and a Carnegie Mellon University study estimates that approximately 70 million computers are buried in landfills. Health hazards common to e-waste include lead in computer monitors and plastic coated with brominated flame retardants. The Basel Action Network reports that up to 2002, as much as 80 percent of e-waste originating in the United States was shipped overseas, mostly to China, where it is an environmental threat. The recycling process can also be lengthy and expensive, especially with accumulated labor and shipping costs, and some recyclers are deploying automated systems to solve this problem.
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  • "Broadband Horizon"
    InfoWorld (07/15/02) Vol. 24, No. 28, P. 35; Rash, Wayne

    IDSN and DSL broadband is only two times faster and 10 times faster than a typical Internet connection, respectively, yet ISPs continue to label these offerings broadband because today's technology remains unable to exceed this benchmark. Broadband should enable Internet users to do something more than Web surfing, such as watching digital TV online, and a true broadband connection may be coming soon. Ethernet in the First Mile Alliance (EFMA) is working on using today's infrastructure to create a 10 Mbps connection; by comparison, today's top connections max out at about 1.5 Mbps. EFMA will use pre-existing phone company infrastructures to run a standard called 802.3ah. The 802.3ah standard supports Category 3 cable up to 750 meters, as well as a high-powered Ethernet over optical fiber, and possibly even over a single fiber strand. Single-strand usage would necessitate light wavelengths being sent in two directions over the same wire, rather than the current technique of using separate strands for each direction. EFMA plans to finalize its 802.3ah draft by the end of 2002 and expects to approve a 802.3ah standard in 2003. If EFMA's standard is truly cheaper than DSL, telecom companies will likely want to adopt it, unless telecoms begin to worry about their pricing structures and marketing strategies that charge over $1,000 per month for relatively slow T1 connections.
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  • "Don't Mess With My Tech"
    Electronic Business (07/02) Vol. 28, No. 7, P. 34; Barlas, Stephen

    Since its launch 14 years ago, the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) has earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars so that companies and consortia can carry out research and development for ways to improve computer chips and electronics, but now the White House wants to shave $75 million off its budget, and is lobbying Congress to dramatically amend its guidelines. Companies that are awarded capital by the ATP are required to put up matching funds. Changes to the program that Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans proposed in February include a requirement in which firms that develop products with ATP-derived grants must pay the federal government 5 percent of the product's sales up to 500 percent of the total grant; such a reform would turn the ATP into what George Mason University's Christopher Hill calls "a conditional loan program." The changes would be bad news to tech companies that rely on ATP grants for product development, with small tech companies especially hard hit. "[The ATP] gives us an assurance that the technology we have is valuable," explains COVA Technologies CEO Fred Gnadinger. However, many members of Congress, including Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), are strong supporters of the ATP. Recipients of the ATP's last round of awards include Brewer Science, which is developing a contact planarization project, and SEMI-North America, which is heading a consortium developing a security framework for online collaboration between equipment providers and chipmakers.
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