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Volume 4, Issue 387: Friday, August 16, 2002

  • "Sleuths Invade Military PCs With Ease"
    Washington Post (08/16/02) P. A1; O'Harrow Jr., Robert

    With little experience and without authorization, ForensicTec Solutions security consultants breached many military and government computer systems this summer using free, readily available software; they say this proves that the networks are flawed, and can be easily spied upon or attacked from cyberspace. The consultants' actions showed that hackers can ransack sensitive information, such as personnel records, bank accounts, credit card numbers, field procedures, confidential email, and so on. "It's like coming across the Pentagon and seeing a door open with no one guarding it," notes ForensicTec President Brett O'Keeffe, who explains that they publicized their findings in order to help the government identify the vulnerabilities as well as "get [the company] some positive exposure." The breach reinforces the trouble the government is having in securing its sensitive information systems, per a presidential directive issued last fall. Furthermore, a July report from the General Accounting Office concluded that the government's initiative to coordinate electronic safeguarding efforts is inadequate. The Critical Infrastructure Protection Board is slated to release a national computer strategy in September that vice chairman Howard Schmidt says will include clearer guidelines on security deployments for both businesses and government agencies; one of its major components will be a plan to encourage follow-through of existing rules and procedures. He admits that one of the biggest security vulnerabilities is people's failure to implement many basic safeguards, such as choosing better passwords and using software patches to plug holes. Senior officials at Fort Hood, whose computers were penetrated by the ForensicTec specialists, say they are readying an Army-wide directive to password-protect all shared computer files with sensitive data.
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  • "S.F., S.J. Officials Vow to Act on Controlling E-Waste"
    SiliconValley.com (08/16/02); Enge, Marilee

    With several bills for recycling electronic waste currently held up in the California legislature, Bay Area officials announced that they would propose local programs if delays continue. The stalled bills include a proposal from Sen. Byron Sher (D-San Jose) that would require consumers to fund recycling programs and other initiatives by paying a maximum fee of $30 on every new machine equipped with lead-infused cathode-ray tubes; and a measure from Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Rosemead) calling for the establishment of e-waste recycling programs by high-tech electronic manufacturers. San Francisco Supervisor Sophie Maxwell notes that the computer industry strongly opposes these bills, and adds that municipal governments must act if the legislature will not. High-tech groups say the bills will drive consumers toward online retailers, while the American Electronics Association's Roxanne Gould maintains that consumer education about recycling is needed more than anything else. At a Thursday news conference, Maxwell and District 1 San Jose City Councilwoman Linda LeZotte said that they will watch the legislature before deciding on a local course of action. LeZotte noted that she is mulling over a measure whereby the city would buy computer gear only from manufacturers that recycle responsibly. The governments of Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and San Benito have also passed resolutions to adopt local ordinances if the legislature fails to resolve the e-waste recycling controversy by the end of the year.
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  • "Cambridge Tries U.S. Approach to Patent Profit"
    Wall Street Journal (08/16/02) P. B1; Naik, Gautam

    Cambridge University's new policy of claiming ownership of patents and intellectual property coming from its departments is riling the community within and around the school. The area surrounding Cambridge, dubbed "Silicon Fen," is widely seen as Britain's own Silicon Valley, replete with biotechnology and software firms. Many of those companies' businesses are based on technologies and ideas born inside Cambridge. However, financial difficulties and competitive pressures are forcing the university to take ownership over the research happening there. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, collects $33 million each year in patent revenues, compared with just about $1.5 million collected by Cambridge. Officials say the new policy will help the university retain the best professors by offering a more competitive pay package, but opponents to the new plan say that it will discourage innovation and violate the tradition of intellectual freedom fostered at the school. Cambridge University proposes to give professors and their departments a percentage of patent and licensing proceeds comparable to what is offered at other major universities. However, MIT director of technology licensing Lita Nelsen says that even well-defined rules fail to completely eliminate disputes.

  • "ACM Turing Winner Kristen Nygaard Dies at 75"
    Simula (08/12/02); Sjoberg, Dag

    Norwegian computer pioneer and University of Oslo professor Kristen Nygaard passed away on Aug. 10 at the age of 75. In the 1960s, he and the late Professor Ole-Johan Dahl created the Simula programming language used to manage the complexity of the computer systems underlying modern information society. Nygaard and Dahl received the ACM Turing Award in 2002, and the John von Neumann medal in 2001 for their contributions to the field of computer science. A winner of the Norbert Wiener Award for Professional and Social Responsibility, Nygaard also developed the University of Oslo's Information Systems Group and worked on an analysis of IT's societal effects for the labor movement. He received his Masters degree in Mathematics from the University of Oslo in 1956, and eventually became a professor there. Nygaard was about to begin a three-year project at the Simula Research Laboratory to work on new teaching methods for computer programming when he died.

  • "Growing Pains for Linux, Open Source Standard-Bearer"
    Associated Press (08/14/02); Konrad, Rachel

    A stronger corporate presence at this week's LinuxWorld conference demonstrates the increasing popularity of the open-source operating system, but Linux enthusiasts are worried that the technology's grass-roots appeal is in danger because of such developments. A.D.H. Brown Associates estimates that 20 million people use Linux, and its popularity is being reinforced by its cheapness, reliability, and availability--in fact, many Linux programs can be downloaded for free off the Internet. Businesses are also being encouraged by vendors such as Red Hat and IBM, which are bundling open-source software and providing implementation training to companies. Other users of Linux include government agencies around the world and research facilities such as NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory; the software is being used to protect mission-critical computer operations with firewalls, store documents, manage email, and publish Web sites. But with tech giants such as Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and even Microsoft embracing Linux, supporters fear that they will use the technology to reap profits without suggesting improvements that all users could benefit from--or build proprietary or non-standard Linux versions. Other advocates believe the grass-roots spirit of Linux will never die out because many people enjoy using it, unlike operating systems under corporate control.
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  • "New Ways to Power Hungry Mobile Devices"
    Wireless Newsfactor (08/15/02); Hirsh, Lou

    Future mobile devices that include features such as Internet access and color screens will probably consume power much more rapidly, so manufacturers are looking for alternative power sources. Gartner VP Ken Dulaney believes that the move toward greater power will keep pace with Moore's Law, for the time being. Motorola is one of the companies investigating micro fuel cells as a solution; the cells, which run on hydrogen, methanol, or both fuels combined, could eliminate the need for recharging via wall socket. So that the heat generated by these fuels can be dissipated without bulking up the devices, Motorola Labs is employing ceramic materials and water-cooling systems, which could be ready for commercialization in two years. Motorola Labs' Jerry Hallmark muses that the first such device could be stored in a portable holster that recharges the battery. Meanwhile, MTI MicroFuel Cells has developed a prototype direct methanol micro fuel cell that can be cheaply manufactured because it reportedly does not require multiple cooling circulation pumps and water collection mechanisms. MTI CTO Shimshon Gottesfeld says the technology could be incorporated into PDAs, laptops, cell phones, and other mobile devices in 2004. Dulaney notes that nanotechnology is also a potential solution, and carbon nanotubes and nanoscale lithium particles are being investigated because they conduct heat so well.

  • "Hiring for Tech Jobs Fails to Pick Up, Slowing Recovery"
    USA Today (08/15/02) P. 1B; Hopkins, Jim

    Job growth in the technology sector is still stagnant and hindering the economic recovery, despite indications earlier this year that the tech job market was improving and would be much better by now. Outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas says more than 243,000 jobs have been slashed in 2002 in telecom, computers, and e-commerce. IBM recently announced it would eliminate 15,600 jobs, twice the estimated number. The situation is especially acute in Santa Clara County, Calif., where the unemployment rate was 7.6 percent in July, down from 7.8 in June, but still representing the highest yearly increase of any U.S. metropolitan area. Meanwhile, a shaky stock market is reducing the number of initial public offerings that venture capitalists need to fund new ventures and recover investments. Telecom firms are also facing setbacks amid the bankruptcies of Global Crossing and WorldCom, which contributed to the job cuts by Agere, Nokia, and RealNetworks. Corporate wrongdoings have also agitated the IT market and reduced customer and investor confidence in the sector, says ArLyne Diamond, a management consultant.

  • "Whither Wi-Fi?"
    CNet (08/13/02); Charny, Ben

    In an interview with CNET News.com, Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) Chairman Dennis Eaton says the future of wireless LAN technology using the Wi-Fi brand name is in the middle of a tug-of-war over the technology's future direction. He says there are currently two divergent pulls within the Wi-Fi development community--those that want to increase bandwidth and those that want to decrease speeds in order to save portable device batteries. Eaton says that it is normal for technology to take a short step back in order to reap some benefits in other areas, such as power efficiency. The IEEE has also commissioned a group to study ways to boost Wi-Fi speeds over 100 Mbps. Eaton says that the WECA is preparing to release an interoperability certification for the 802.11a Wi-Fi standard as products from multiple vendors come out. In addition, a new security standard for Wi-Fi networks, called 802.11i, should be available by the first quarter of 2003. A future development Eaton predicts is the release of new power conservation architectures. He argues that it is a more sensible market strategy to move toward dual band products in order to lower costs.

  • "A Campus for Collaboration, at a Billion Bits Per Second"
    New York Times (08/15/02) P. E5; Marriott, Michael

    Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management hosts a broadband network that can transfer a billion bits of data per second, a speed that CIO Lev Gonick estimates is 10 to 100 times faster than any other school's network. Information systems professor Richard J. Borland Jr. says that the network and accompanying technologies are being implemented to build an "active learning environment." He adds that faculty office space has been reduced in order to create open areas where using high-speed network connections is advantageous. The network eliminates latency, so faculty members and students can enjoy near-instant Internet access and smoother remote collaboration, according to university officials. Gonick lists better videoconferencing and distance learning, and the simultaneous sharing of business simulations or 3D models, as some of the benefits of such a system. He notes that the Weatherhead building should feature 1,400 data ports when it officially opens in October, while 16,000 ports should be deployed throughout the campus in the autumn. Gonick explains that the network is switched, not shared as most university networks are. The Weatherhead building also includes 10 classrooms featuring lecterns equipped with computer touchscreens so instructors can control lighting, robot cameras, and other elements; desks with laptop connections; and infrared audio enhancers that transmit sounds to wireless headsets worn by hearing-impaired students.
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  • "HyperCard Forgotten, But Not Gone"
    Wired News (08/14/02); Kahney, Leander

    Apple's HyperCard programming software languishes as company executives refuse to back updates for the aging code, which hasn't had a meaningful update in 15 years, but many users still say HyperCard is the best programming environment ever. HyperCard was first released in 1987, and could have possibly been used as an early Web browser technology. The language attracts such a large following because it is very easy to use and enables a broad range of functions, from video and audio to pictures. Programmers using HyperCard arrange sets of data, called "cards," into program stacks, then link cards together using natural language directions. Apple software guru Bill Atkinson created the environment so that more people would be able to program a diverse number of applications. In fact, the computer games Myst and Riven have been created through the HyperCard software. Currently, the International HyperCard Users Group (iHUG) is lobbying Apple executives for HyperCard's inclusion in the Mac OS X operating system. Apple, which originally gave away the software, still sells it, and many academic researchers and small businesses use it; schools also use it to teach programming concepts and develop learning materials. Some users have called on Apple to release the program to the open source community.

  • "Robot Competitions Finding a Place in Pop Culture"
    Boston Globe (08/12/02) P. C1; Kirsner, Scott

    Robot competitions, which are growing in popularity, are seen as both a sport and a way to interest young people in science and engineering. In the International Design Contest (IDC), which is entering its 13th year, multinational teams are given two weeks to design, build, and test their robots out of a standardized kit of components. Designing sophisticated robots is easy, but making them operational in such a short amount of time is the real trick, notes MIT professor John Williams, who is acting as a faculty supervisor for this year's IDC. "[The contest] improves your ability to communicate, to present your designs, to think logically, and to solve problems," says MIT grad student Pat Willoughby. The goal of IDC participants this year will be to build robots that can move hockey pucks and tennis balls to scales across a playing field, while avoiding swinging pendulums. Another competition, MIT's 2.007 robotics contest, pits individual inventors against one another. MIT junior Martin Jonikas, who is studying aerospace engineering, prepared for IDC by winning the 2.007 competition: He won with a robot that presses down on the scale with 85 pounds of force. The IDC organizers have had to rewrite the rules for this year's contest several times so that Jonikas' devices do not have an unfair advantage.
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  • "Russia Becoming IT Powerhouse"
    Datamation/IT Management (08/13/02); Robb, Drew

    Russia's software development outsourcing industry is gaining clout on the global scene as companies continue to look for top-notch programming talent at cheap prices. The country's outsourcing sales have grown 50 percent per year, even while the general technology sector in that country grew 19 percent last year. Corporations such as Siemens, Intel, Dell, and Motorola have large development centers in Russia, while a number of other U.S. companies outsource their software development to Russian companies. AMR Research analyst Laura Carrillo says Russia's education system produces well-trained and highly-specified scientists and engineers, whereas India's schools usually teach generic programming skills. As a result, Russian software development laboratories are better suited to take on tasks involving complex algorithms and programming. Boeing CIO Scott Griffin says its Russian software development partner, Luxoft, has completed several high-level projects for the company, including a Web-based catalog system for all the company's updateable documentation, an enterprise-wide PDF utility, and a modernized version of Boeing's old blueprint distribution system.
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  • "Russia to Host Next-Generation Tech Symposium"
    EE Times Online (08/07/02); Mokhoff, Nicolas

    A symposium to be held in Moscow on Sept. 10-13 will concentrate on microelectronics materials and processes. Some 500 international researchers from academia, industry, and national laboratories are expected to attend, share their research, and discuss possible collaborations to meet microelectronic engineering challenges. The four-day conference will be co-sponsored by Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector, as well as the Ohio Supercomputer Center, the European Office of Aerospace Research & Development, and various Russian academic institutions and research outfits. The symposium's organizers argue that new devices, design methods, and photolithographic and semiconductor processing technologies are necessary to advance the performance, shrinkage, and cost of nanoscale structures. They contend that Russia has the potential to make significant gains in this area thanks to its well-bolstered education system and scientific tradition. At the symposium, researchers from Moscow's Kurchatov Institute and the IBM Research Center are expected to disclose how selective atom removal can be used to assemble nanostructures with specific electric, magnetic, and optical characteristics; Konstantin Likharev of the State University of New York at Stony Brook will discuss the use of hybrid single-electron transistor/field-effect transistor circuits in new architectures for sophisticated information processing; and Gabril M. Crean of the National Microelectronics Research Center in Ireland will make a presentation about collaborative international research efforts that can take advantage of new technologies that are interoperable with current microelectronics manufacturing techniques.

  • "Geeks In Government: A Good Idea?"
    CNet (08/12/02); McCullagh, Declan

    The hard truth is that Washington legislators strongly support the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) even as technologists fervently oppose it, and no amount of protesting is likely to sway the lawmakers. The DMCA, the USA Patriot Act, and life sentences for malicious computer hackers are all designed to protect corporate America's digital assets while stifling security research, and all have received overwhelming congressional approval. Technology enthusiasts' best defense is to create technology that could make such restrictive regulations obsolete, writes Declan McCullagh. "I wouldn't say it's wise for the technology industry to ignore government," notes Sonia Arrison of the Pacific Research Institute. "But individual tech people are probably better off spending their energy writing code than being part of the political process." Anonymizer.com founder Lance Cottrell argues that there are few technologists with the temperament to become lobbyists, and adds that the direct approach they usually take does not mix well with politics. Encryption researcher Adam Back agrees that there is little point in lobbying, since the curtailing of personal freedoms has become de rigueur in new legislation.

  • "Quantum Cryptography Arrives"
    PC Magazine Online (08/06/02); Metz, Cade

    Quantum cryptography, which uses quantum mechanics to ensure that encrypted content is perpetually safeguarded, may already be in use for sensitive Washington, D.C., correspondence, according to Bell Labs researcher Chris Fuchs. He received this impression when a colleague who works at a Maryland facility that specializes in quantum cryptography for the government was unusually tight-lipped at a recent National Defense University conference. RSA encryption is currently the cryptography method of choice for most large companies and government agencies, but cracking it is a possibility. Quantum cryptography utilizes the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which states that the very act of measuring a quantum system disturbs the system to the point that accuracy cannot be guaranteed--furthermore, this disturbance tips off correspondents to the presence of eavesdroppers. A quantum encryption system based on photonic polarization encrypts messages using a two-way algorithm so that encryption and decryption can be handled by the same key, which is used once and then jettisoned. A new key is created for each transmission. For now, quantum systems can only operate at a maximum range of a few dozen kilometers, but the Swiss company id Quantique recently announced the commercial availability of a quantum cryptography system over a 67-km optical-fiber channel, while MagiQ Technologies in the United States plans to introduce similar technology in 2003. Meanwhile, Fuchs notes that Los Alamos researchers are developing an open-air quantum cryptography system, and is himself working on a product that relies on photonic phase rather than polarization.

  • "Quality Counts"
    InformationWeek (08/12/02) No. 901, P. 28; Hayes, Mary

    The IT spending downturn has empowered IT managers to demand better quality software from vendors. Rather than be a silent victim, American Power Conversion (APC) threatened to no longer act as a reference for its software vendor unless bugs in its supply-chain software were rectified. At some point, every major vendor of enterprise resource planning (ERP) products has been criticized of delivering less-than-quality software, but many firms refuse to part with vendors because deployment costs cannot be recouped if such ties are severed; instead, they opt to work through the problems. However, buyer demand for new software features has increased the competitive pressure for vendors, who focus more on delivering these enhancements rather than ensuring quality and reliability. Other tactics companies such as APC are following to improve quality include testing patches in a bogus production environment, pushing for free trials, investing in logistics management software, and demanding refunds in case the buggy software adds up to lost business (a difficult proposition for many vendors). Some purchasers are also negotiating warranties that cover an estimated worst-case deployment timeframe. In response to increasing quality complaints from clients, some vendors are extending product-development cycles, developing strategies customers can follow to ensure better implementations, and improving developer training, quality assurance, and testing. Some attorneys and executives recommend negotiating phased implementations, or contracts that clearly define how the software is supposed to perform; buyers also warn against placing too must trust in a vendor, and suggest careful investigation of vendors and products under consideration.

  • "Program Attracting Girls to Technical Studies"
    Potomac Tech Journal (08/12/02) Vol. 3, No. 32, P. 6; Neff, Todd

    The Girls Embrace Technology (GET) program is a six-week summer internship designed to allow female high-school students in Boulder, Colo., to become more familiar with engineering design, physics, instructional design, and software development, in the hopes of reversing the trend for girls to spurn technology as a possible career choice. The brainchild of Jackie Sullivan, co-director of the University of Colorado at Boulder engineering school's Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory (ITL), GET pays participants $75 a week and provides them with laptops to finish assignments at home. Sullivan describes the GET students as "paid professionals working on project deliverables." For the pilot program, participants were split into teams and tasked with creating interactive multimedia software designed to teach specific physics concepts to students. In addition to learning physics, user-interface design, and applications such as Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft PowerPoint, interns also became familiar with user testing. The pilot, which was co-funded by the Xcel Energy Foundation and the CU-Boulder Outreach Committee, among others, received 72 applications this year, and accepted 37 students. Sullivan says that the high cost of the student stipends will require additional funding sources if the program is to be offered next year.
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    To learn more about ACM's Committee of Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women

  • "'Approachable Design' Not Just for Cars Anymore"
    Consumers' Research (07/02) Vol. 85, No. 7, P. 18; Peters, Eric

    So that office equipment such as printers, servers, and copiers impart a satisfying user experience, designers are taking a cue from the auto industry to give products a consistent appearance and feel that incorporates such human factors as ease-of-use, approachability, and desirability, according to Dave Parsons of Xerox's Corporate Design Center. He explains that his design team's paramount concern is making machine functionality both simple and similar, from the largest and most sophisticated model to the smallest and most basic. Apple has also taken an approachable design strategy with its iMac and iBook computers, which feature an attractive exterior that establishes consumer loyalty and uniqueness. Parson lists overcomplicated user manuals and training courses as indicators of poor product design, and he has made it his team's business to remove such obstacles. For instance, they incorporate self-explanatory control panels into printers, as well as pictographic instructions that speed up the process of clearing paper jams. Consistency is also embedded throughout the product line with such components as a green start button that is always in the same place, regardless of model. Furthermore, Parson's team is mapping out future trends and projecting customer needs by employing techniques that the auto industry and other design groups use, such as color forecasting and customer roundtables.

  • "Wireless Insecurity"
    CIO Insight (07/02) No. 16, P. 80; Bolles, Gary A.

    What makes wireless networks so vulnerable is not so much the technology as poor management and a failure to make security a key component of business strategy, according to experts. For example, an anonymous hacker informed SecurityFocus that he was able to tap into Best Buy's internal sales data network from his car because corporate management failed to turn on Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), the security software of the Wi-Fi wireless networking standard. Diana Smetters of the Palo Alto Research Group (PARC) says companies should be more vigilant in preventing employees from setting up their own office-based wireless networks, which can be done using off-the-shelf products. She adds that many workers fail to deploy safeguards when they access the wireless network outside the office, a practice that invites electronically-enabled corporate spies. Placing wireless access points close to windows and exterior building walls is another example of bad security planning, as is attaching the company name to the signals they broadcast. The security risks of wireless networks have discouraged many companies from implementing them, but some firms are aware of the problem and are acting responsibly: For example, Siemens Medical Solutions audits its site for rogue wireless networks, and threatens employees who fail to comply with its wireless security policy with reprimands and even dismissal. Smetters recommends separating the wireless network from the regular LAN, activating WEP, giving carefully positioned access points obscure code names, installing personal firewalls on every employee's computer, and linking only where security devices can block unauthorized access. Experts and users say that virtual private networks (VPNs) are the best defense against vulnerable wireless LANs.

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