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Volume 4, Issue 385: Monday, August 12, 2002

  • "Number of H-1B Visas Issued Has Fallen by Half"
    SiliconValley.com (08/10/02); Bjorhus, Jennifer

    The number of H-1B visas issued to temporary foreign workers, many of whom come to the United States to fill vacant computer-related positions, has declined 54 percent so far this year. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) approved approximately 60,500 new visas in the first three quarters of its fiscal year, compared to 130,700 visas issued during the same period a year ago. Cleveland-based immigration attorney Margaret Wong partially attributes the drop to post-Sept. 11 security concerns as well as restructuring of the INS. She adds that the time it takes for applicants to receive notification of their H-1B approval has expanded from a month to 16 weeks. Advocates and opponents of the visa program are unsurprised by the drop-off, but have their own interpretations of what it means. IEEE-USA says that there are still too many visas being issued, given the increase in laid-off American engineers. "We clearly have many unemployed domestic high-tech workers that could be available for those same jobs," argues IEEE-USA vice president John Steadman. On the other hand, Information Technology Association of America President Harris Miller claims that the decline is directly related to the increased availability of U.S. workers, and reflects that "the system is working as it was designed."

  • "Wireless Networking Poised to Shake Up Telecommunications Industry"
    Associated Press (08/11/02); Fordahl, Matthew

    Although Wi-Fi wireless networking is in its infancy, Wi-Fi's potential of providing a "cloud" of Internet access while bypassing the physical infrastructure of telecommunications and cable companies is already generating responses from telecom companies. Recently, Time Warner Cable, AT&T Broadband, and SBC Communications have taken steps to restrict Internet and cable subscribers from using Wi-Fi to share connections without paying extra charges, and MIT's Nicholas Negroponte told a Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee meeting that recent downturns in telecom stock prices may reflect a market change in which consumers are moving to new, uncharted methods to fulfill communication needs. Indeed, a grassroots movement is pushing the inexpensive technology, which benefits from a lack of control by the big cable and phone firms. Meanwhile, wireless companies and technology designers are beginning to bet on Wi-Fi's popularity: For instance, Intel plans to build Wi-Fi functionality into its chips. Cahners In-Stat predicts sales of Wi-Fi access cards and base stations sales will jump to $5.2 billion in 2005 from $1.9 during 2001.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Bigger 'Digital Closets'"
    ABCNews.com (08/09/02); Eng, Paul

    Hard drive manufacturers are already making products that can store as much as 160 GB of information, and many industry observers expect increased demand for larger drives as digital entertainment content proliferates. Researchers say that even more significant strides are being made with the development of technology that enables more data to be packed within the drive. They add that they have devised several methods that could boost drives' areal density while simultaneously reducing the severity of superparamagnetism that causes bits to lose their magnetic charge because of heat and vibrations. IBM's solution is to lace a thin layer of ruthenium, or "pixie dust," between the platters' magnetic material, which increases the magnetic signal of each bit. Currie Munce of IBM claims that areal densities can be expanded to as many as 100 GB per square inch with this technology, while further development could yield densities of 200 GB per square inch, thus giving hard drives data storage capacities of 750 GB within a few years. Western Digital's "Drivezilla" product can store over 200 GB using a trio of high-areal-density platters. Meanwhile, Seagate Technology's Mark Kryder believes that perpendicular recording, in which charged bits are aligned across the tracks rather than lengthwise, could lead to hard drives capable of storing more than a trillion bytes per platter.

  • "Computer Camp Engenders Technology in Girls"
    Minneapolis Star Tribune Online (08/12/02); Mah, Jackie

    John Adams Middle School science teacher Bob Snyder notes that many female students are expected to conform to traditional girl behavior and avoid pursuing an interest in science when they enter the seventh grade. He argues that a negative stereotype of science as too difficult or "uncool" runs rampant among post-sixth grade girls, and this stereotype is being reinforced by the media. The need for more computer workers is critical, says IBM community relations manager Heidi Kramer, and her company and Snyder have teamed up to create a weeklong summer day camp called Exploring Interests in Technology and Engineering (EXCITE) to nurture scientific aptitude among girls. IBM employees and mostly female teachers have volunteered their time to mentor 34 female students in seventh and eighth grades. Participating students spend time at IBM's Rochester, Minn., plant, where education about computers is bolstered by fun activities, such as an opportunity to demolish machines and use music software to rate songs. The purpose of these sessions is to demonstrate to the students that science has a coolness factor. EXCITE receives a $425,000 grant under IBM's "Reinventing Education" effort, and the program has been established in 24 other locations around the globe. EXCITE coordinator Jan Garrett-Hoffmann says it is too early to tell whether the program is having a long-term impact on girls.

    To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Linux Expo Has Come a Long Way"
    SiliconValley.com (08/12/02); Poletti, Therese

    This year's LinuxWorld Expo will feature exhibitions by former Linux critics Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, as well as from other corporate giants such as IBM, Dell, and Oracle, which shows exactly how far Linux has come from being a grassroots phenomenon to being a working component of many data centers. The Linux Expo began as a developer-focused convention and is now more ""business applications-focused,"" according to OSDN director of special projects Chris DiBona. Today, Linux is competing with Unix and Microsoft Windows in the network server market, and Linux's lower cost is imbuing the software with a competitive edge. Still, Linux as an operating system represents less than 1 percent of all operating systems used for running servers; Linux revenue was $84 million in 2000, and $80 million in 2001, which are healthy numbers, says International Data (IDC) analyst Dan Kusnetzky, especially since Unix revenues are falling farther. Although Linux remains a difficult desktop device for non-technical computer users, as freeware it benefits from the support of the open source community. However, Linux creator Linus Torvalds has not given a keynote address at any Linux trade show in the last two years, as the operating system is increasingly moving away from the jeans and T-shirt crowd to one dominated by polo shirts and khakis.

  • "Keyboard for Those on the Move"
    New York Times (08/12/02) P. C2; Chartrand, Sabra

    Former Motorola engineer John McKown used his experience as a biophysicist to develop a patented one-handed keyboard that he claims offers improvements over previous models. The device allows users to flex their fingers and type without having to grip the keyboard. The keyboard is fixed into place by two hooks that curl around the thumb and forefinger, while the wearer presses the keys using the tips and mid-sections of the fingers. The device features eight keys, but McKown says that up to 256 characters can be produced using finger combinations, or "chords." He acknowledges that the lack of a Qwerty layout makes learning how to use it seem complicated, but adds that he mastered the keyboard within two months. McKown says his device is compatible with laptops or palm devices, though his designs have not moved out of the prototype stage. He says because of its design, each device needs to be adjusted to its particular user, which discourages sharing the keyboard. "I consider it a personal effect, like eyeglasses," he notes.
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Open Source's New Weapon: The Law?"
    CNet (08/09/02); Kanellos, Michael; Shankland, Stephen

    Proponents of open-source software will unveil the Digital Software Security Act next week, which decrees that California agencies purchase software strictly from vendors that keep their source code open. In addition, the state agencies would have the right to "make and distribute copies of the software." Red Hat COO Michael Tiemann says that his company, which sells Linux, will support the legislation, while San Diego attorney Walt Pennington adds that IBM, MandrakeSoft, and Linux International will also back the proposal. Open-source advocates intend to demonstrate that initiatives such as Linux can help stem abuses by Microsoft and other proprietary software companies by marching in San Francisco during the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo on Thursday. Supporters argue that subscribing to open-source software will reduce security risks and costs typical of closed software. Among those backing the open-source initiative is Assemblyman Juan Vargas (D-San Diego), whose district features nonprofits that use Linux, but Pennington notes that the bill will not be introduced until more support is drummed up.

  • "Female-Dropout Study Focuses on Engineering"
    San Diego Union-Tribune (08/02/02) P. B1; Yang, Eleanor

    According to a study of 238 students at the University of California-San Diego, because female engineering students tend to think that they are born with math and science skills, they are more likely than males to change disciplines or drop out. The authors of the study, professors Sangeeta Bhatia and Gail D. Heyman, were looking to explain why the number of female engineering students graduating from college has remained at 19 percent for the past 20 years, while females' numbers in other male-dominated fields have grown. According the study, female engineering students feel that math and science skills are innate and begin to question their identities and blame themselves when their performances slip. Males, on the other hand, often consider external elements as causes for failure and more study to be the answer to improvement, the study reports. Female engineering students feel more of a need be better than their male peers and prove themselves in their field in order to belong and be accepted. Bhatia and Heyman say they will conduct further studies on the subject to see if college size and atmosphere contribute to the phenomenon, and to see how early in education female students begin to believe that math and science are innate skills.
    Click Here to View Full Article

    To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "What Does the Future Hold for COBOL?"
    ZDNet Australia (08/08/02); Mante, Keith

    Despite the hype surrounding Java, XML, .NET, and Websphere, enterprises are trying to find ways to maximize their mission-critical COBOL applications to get the most out of their IT investments. Gartner says that as much as 70 percent of active business applications worldwide are written in COBOL and increasing by some 5 billion lines every year. Moreover, programmers still need to maintain post-Y2K COBOL code. Another important point is that COBOL applications are starting to become linked with Internet-based applications. Rather than rewriting applications, which is often impractical and not commercially viable, enterprises can port the applications to other platforms or combine the legacy applications with Web services technologies. COBOL programmers will ideally have such skills as XML and Java to bring together COBOL developments, e-business, and Web-based applications.

  • "Activists: No More Nanomaterials Until We Know Whether it Pollutes"
    Small Times Online (08/08/02); Brown, Doug

    The ETC Group wants companies to put all nanomaterial production on hold until the products are comprehensively tested for environmental effects by U.S. regulatory agencies. Such materials can permeate living cells and build up inside animal organs, according to a recent critique published by the activist organization. However, Altair Nanomaterials President Ken Lyon argues that the ETC report lacks scientific grounding. The EPA is checking nanomaterials for environmental hazards, and has been offering grants to scientists studying the problem as well as ways that nanotechnology could actually make the environment better. However, ETC executive director Pat Mooney is unsatisfied with the agency's pace, or the scope of its efforts. Rice University's Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology is also studying the impact of nanotech on the environment, and executive director Kevin Ausman argues that declaring a moratorium on nanotech applications will discourage scientific research. "What we need to have is a side-by-side development of applications and investigations of environmental applications, one informing the other as they progress, coupled with science and social policy," he asserts. Ausman adds that scientists are still working out what kinds of nanomaterials will likely be used for applications, and halting development in order to wait for environmental impact analysis will only stifle the rollout of those applications.

  • "Taiwan Preps for Battle in MEMS Technology"
    EE Times Online (08/08/02); Clendenin, Mike

    The Taiwanese government, some local semiconductor foundries, and a handful of startups are working to turn Taiwan into a powerhouse in the microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) market, just as it is in the semiconductor market. The government has set up academic centers to help with research and collaboration between universities and local firms, as well as taken an active role in incubating design firms. MEMS researcher C.K. Lee says that now is the time for Taiwanese high-tech companies to seize the high ground in MEMS production by honing their design expertise, instead of relegating themselves to manufacturing, as they have in relation to the semiconductor industry. The MEMS industry in the Asia-Pacific region is especially active, and Japan and Taiwan have more MEMS fabrication plants than any other country in the world besides the United States and Germany. InStat/MDR estimates the global MEMS market to grow to $9.6 billion in 2006, up from $3.9 billion in 2001, with the communications and consumer sectors posing the greatest opportunity. Taiwanese semiconductor and equipment manufacturing firm Walsin Lihwa has joined together in a technology transfer deal with France-based Memscap, and is using that company's design technology to produce inductors, switches, and variable capacitors that can be used in 3G phones, telecommunications equipment, and tunable antennas.

  • "Internet Overseer Takes Wrong Path on Accountability"
    Toronto Globe & Mail (08/08/02) P. B12; Geist, Michael

    The ICANN battle to prevent ICANN board director Karl Auerbach from viewing ICANN corporate records and documents shows just how closed ICANN is to public scrutiny, and how delinquent corporate boards are in overseeing management, from Enron to WorldCom to ICANN. The presiding judge in the ICANN case who ruled in favor of Auerbach ruled strongly, and will allow Auerbach to review records starting on Aug. 9. The judge will allow ICANN 10 days to challenge any Auerbach decision to disclose information before Auerbach can go ahead with disclosure. While ICANN defended its position to restrict Auerbach by stating that Auerbach has been critical of ICANN, the judge noted that laws governing a director's rights are especially made to protect the ability of critics and minority interests from management trying to stymie further criticism. ICANN also tried to compare itself to companies such as Microsoft and IBM when arguing why it should not have to place accounting data online; however, the judge noted that ICANN is a public-benefit corporation with responsibilities to the community far greater than corporate entities like Microsoft. The judge also commented that it was a "sad statement" that few ICANN directors have requested to review ICANN's internal documents and that Auerbach was the first to do so.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Terrorism Repercussions"
    Science News (08/03/02) Vol. 162, No. 5, P. 69; Pickrell, J.

    A new report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) predicts U.S. scientific and technological research may be damaged by proposed post-Sept. 11 restrictions on information sharing and the use of foreign students in research. AAAS scientists say the United States possesses "the world's most dynamic scientific and engineering enterprise" as a result of free-flowing information and collaboration, which soon may be curtailed. Currently, the U.S. Office of Homeland Security is considering whether to limit the release of research findings to the public if the findings come to be deemed as helpful to terrorists, says AAAS report author M.R.C. Greenwood. In addition, the State Department has drafted a list of sensitive research areas that may face restrictions, including the areas of biotechnology and chemical engineering. Today, 28 percent of U.S. science and engineering Ph.D.s are foreign-born. In addition, former Harvard University director Lewis M. Branscomb says there is a serious shortage of science and technology students, foreign students included, in the United States. Looking at the bright side, Branscomb predicts physical sciences and engineering sciences will receive increased funding from the government's war on terrorism. In the end, good research requires publishing findings and public criticism, Greenwood says.

  • "Barriers Slow Efforts to Fill Federal IT Jobs"
    Potomac Tech Journal (08/05/02) Vol. 3, No. 31, P. 1; Anderson, Tania

    There are almost 1,000 IT job vacancies spanning nearly all federal agencies and departments, but bureaucracy and red tape are serious detriments to job seekers despite the government's aggressive hiring strategy, according to observers. The government is attempting to simplify the application process--for instance, just about any job opening is posted on every agency's Web site, and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is urging agencies to offer competency tests for applicants online, as well as acknowledge their applications. However, HireStrategy CEO Paul Villella says that "Despite their outreach to the community and despite the growing number of people looking for jobs, it is still extremely difficult to navigate through the process." Most federal job openings are for IT specialists and computer engineers, but differing qualifications and requirements for each department and agency complicate the situation. For instance, the Navy is offering a position in Prince William County, Va., in which the ideal candidate has a professional engineering degree and one year's experience, while the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) has a vacancy that offers the same GS level and pay range, but is after applicants with more complex skill sets. Another barrier is a preference for technical candidates with management skills and federal contracting experience that locks out many entry-level job seekers. Networking, e-government, or government and database management e-commerce are the skills most prized by the Commerce Department, notes CIO Tom Pyke. Still, OPM's Mike Orenstein reports that interest in federal jobs has grown since Sept. 11.

  • "Securing Perimeter"
    eWeek (08/05/02) Vol. 19, No. 31, P. 1; Fisher, Dennis

    Refinements to the national cyber-security plan, which will be disclosed on Sept. 18, are being discussed by government officials. One of the proposed amendments would require all government agencies to buy hardware and software that are certified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology's National Information Assurance Plan (NIAP) specification; speaking at the Black Hat Briefings security conference last week, chairman of President Bush's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board Richard Clarke acknowledged that the costs and length of the NIAP certification process may lock out many vendors. "We're considering this as a way to use market forces to get vendors to pay attention to the security of their products," he explained. Another change Clarke mentioned as necessary is the creation of an expedited certification process for vendors with pre-certified products. He said the crux of the cyber-security plan is getting software vendors to improve the security of their code and getting network operators to implement better network protection. Some federal officials believe the government should be more proactive in disclosing security flaws to vendors as well as the public, and Clarke believes such a duty could be carried out by the Department of Homeland Security's united information security component. Software vendors do not think the government needs to expand its role in such a way. Furthermore, security specialists such as Scott Blake of BindView are skeptical about the plan, stating that its goals may not all be reachable.

  • "Switching Made Smarter"
    InfoWorld (08/05/02) Vol. 24, No. 31, P. 1; Shafer, Scott Tyler

    Enhancing packet switches with intelligence appears to be at the center of a number of trends. Packet inspection is gaining ground thanks to the emergence of such technologies as SSL accelerators and load balancers, and the maturation of these technologies is yielding new capabilities such as rate limiting, quality of service, and security operations. Established switch vendors as well as startups are investing in packet switching. Firms are working to give network-edge switches and related devices increased functionality in order to reduce costs, boost performance, and leverage multiple service providers. However, Packet Design founder and former Cisco Systems CTO Judy Estrin warns that "Many of the features are not needed, and it will only add management complexity." Eric Giesa of F5 Networks notes that designing functionalities into their application-specific integration circuits (ASICs) is the route most entrenched switch vendors take, so it will take time for them to adopt the software approach. XML data will be parsed by future switches to authenticate XML data, a capability that will become essential as Web services and distributed model-based applications become widespread; Forum Systems CTO Mamoon Yunus anticipates that core parsing will be incorporated into next-generation switches. Forum's Sentry 1500 uses packet inspection and proprietary software so that XML data in transit can be selectively encrypted, and Yunus expects this technology to be embedded in switches from Cisco Systems and others.

  • "Q&A: The Innovation Machine Needs Fixing"
    Business Week (08/05/02) No. 3794, P. 30A; Port, Otis

    Morgenthaler Ventures venture capitalist and former Bell Laboratories researcher and manager Greg E. Blonder warns that U.S. technology innovation is currently in too poor a state to deal with the next technological crisis. He cites China and India as representing an even greater potential competitive threat to the United States than Japan and Europe. Blonder argues that the dot-com boom has had a negative impact on long-term American research and development by turning many scientists, engineers, and even professors into entrepreneurs, and causing them to abandon projects and studies. He notes that the three sectors that traditionally foster long-term R&D--corporate monopolies, the government, and universities--have cut back on their efforts. With few exceptions, IBM being one of them, large companies have been driven away from long-term R&D investments; funding from government institutions such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) flows smoothly only for short intervals; and academics not snapped up by the entrepreneurial spirit of the dot-com boom are doing less long-term research, because industry is outsourcing short-term projects to universities. Blonder says to remedy this situation the U.S. should allow more foreign scientists and engineers to emigrate to the United States. He says that in addition to being patriotic to their adopted country, immigrants are a resource of innovative and motivated thinkers that has greatly contributed to the nation's strength.

  • "Deja Vu All Over Again"
    Boardwatch (07/02) Vol. 16, No. 7, P. 28; Tally, Greg

    The development of Wi-Fi resembles that of ISPs, in terms of exponential growth of its connection speeds, the number of startups it has inspired, a resurgence of equity investment, a mature equipment base, installation simplicity, the availability of off-the-shelf components for Wi-Fi deployment, and the move for entrepreneurs to stake their claim on local unlicensed frequencies. Although Wi-Fi represents a tremendous marketing opportunity, its also has drawbacks, the most notable being security. "Today business customers' single objection to deploying wireless technology is the fact that its not secure," notes Cisco Systems' Bill Rossi. The Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption standard utilized by 802.11b is easy to hack through using programs such as AirSnort, which enables hackers with stolen user authentications to fool systems into thinking they are genuine. Such intrusions can take two forms: A sponging off of free bandwidth, or a pillaging of sensitive files. Incidents such as the theft of a customer's credit card number from a Wi-Fi enabled cash register at Best Buy has forced the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) to accelerate its strategy to provide long-term security standards and patches, while new wireless LAN (WLAN) security applications are also being introduced. WECA thinks the upcoming IEEE Temporal Key Identity protocol will be a step in the right direction, while 802.1x will be offered as a scalable and secure authentication program for users.

  • "Digital Rivers"
    Siliconindia (07/02) Vol. 6, No. 7, P. 22; Dandavate, Uday

    In much the same way as access to rivers directly affected the quality of life in ancient times, access to digital content is impacting everyday living, and the further development of wireless technology will broaden access even more. Designing innovative and profitable products involves being in tune with end users' needs and expectations, and the SonicRim research firm stresses that companies can accomplish this by making user experience their first priority. SonicRim co-founder Uday Dandavate writes that widely used wireless products will be the result of collaboration, and the design process his company follows involves the participation of everyday people. These participants use visual tools of expression--collages, cognitive maps, Velcro models, and scrapbooks--to flesh out what kinds of products and features they want, and what as-yet unmet needs they are supposed to fulfill. Participatory designers pattern these desires in order to more clearly define the everyday user experience the products should impart. Dandavate notes a number of conclusions and projections that have emerged in SonicRim's collaborative research with leading technology companies. Users expect wireless to seamlessly blend work and home life, and findings indicate that the car and the kitchen are potential centers for this interactivity. Also, people's need to keep track of their memories through digital storage media will increase with the advent of wireless; there is a growing desire for digital access points to be placed in closer proximity to one's body; there will be more demand for computing in native languages as current non-users and non-English speaking users gain access via wireless, and handwriting recognition technology will subsequently develop; finally, users will want to be able to access music no matter where they are.

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