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Volume 4, Issue 405: Monday, September 30, 2002

  • "Recession Hits R&D in Silicon Valley"
    Financial Times (09/30/02) P. 1; Abrahams, Paul; Dyer, Geoff

    Analysts warn that the pullback in research and development among Silicon Valley companies could signal a sea change in the IT industry. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco economist Dan Wilson notes that the reduction in R&D is even more severe than in the 1991 recession, which was more harsh in overall economic terms; California spends more on R&D than any other state. If companies do not invest in innovation, productivity growth could also slow, warn experts. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison says the current downturn is much more than a cyclical depression, but is also the result of a maturing IT industry. In Silicon Valley, the lack of venture capital investments is stymieing innovation, especially since much of the $4.05 billion invested in the first half of this year is going toward second-round funding instead of new efforts--in 2000 and 2001, the first-half venture capital totals were $19.3 billion and $7.8 billion, respectively. The National Science Foundation says the current situation is historic, as American industry has not reduced R&D spending since 1960. "Last year was the first year in the history of the VC industry when the returns were negative," reports Doll Capital Management founder Dixon Doll. "This year looks to be the same." Santa Clara county currently holds an unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, higher than any urban county in the state of California. In Silicon Valley's favor is its history of enduring cyclical downturns, and its economic resilience. Still, valley's reputation as the world's center for technology innovation is under siege, and the longer the downturn lasts, the effects on innovation will worsen. Others see little on the horizon to boost the industry. Goldman Sachs analyst Rick Sherlund says, "There's no catalyst, no technological Holy Grail."
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  • "Prospect of Iraq Conflict Raises New Cyberattack Fears"
    Computerworld Online (09/27/02); Verton, Dan

    Intelligence experts warn that military action against Iraq will probably trigger an unprecedented rash of cyberattacks directed against U.S. networks and infrastructure, and such attacks could occur in greater numbers and extend to a wider spectrum of U.S. businesses than any previous assaults. Stroz Associates' Eric Shaw, who once worked as a psychological profiler for the CIA, notes that such attacks could come from Islamic hacking communities that have come together over conflicts between India and Pakistan and Israel and Palestine, as well as "young, liberal, elite, Western-educated youth" based in Europe and the United States who are opposed to war. Furthermore, a report from Dartmouth College's Institute for Security Technology Studies published two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks finds that a ground war could prompt other local governments to carry out cyberattacks as well, and such attacks could weaken the information networks of America and its allies. Gartner analyst John Pescatore believes that cyberattacks could expand beyond traditional government and military targets to include news media organizations. He adds that U.S. companies with iconic status--American Airlines, McDonald's, and Microsoft, to name a few--are likely targets. Meanwhile, Analytic Services CEO Ruth David says attacks that exploit widely recognized security holes could be particularly devastating to the "softest targets," most of which are private-sector companies. She notes that such strikes could fuel public support for military action.
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  • "PC Makers Hit Speed Bumps; Being Faster May Not Matter"
    New York Times (09/30/02) P. C1; Markoff, John

    PC sales growth has slowed to the lowest point in years, with just 11 percent of homes with existing PCs saying they expected to buy another in the coming six months. In comparison, Odyssey Ventures says that 21 percent of households expected imminent PC purchases in early 2000. And last year, Gartner says the PC market shrank 5 percent as many consumers decided to make do with current machines. The PCs already in homes are equipped with sufficient processing power to complete the most vital tasks--word processing, Internet browsing, and email--and many popular PC functions are migrating to less expensive portable or dedicated devices. Microsoft and Intel, for example, have teamed on the Xbox game console, which is aimed at the core PC gaming audience. Intel chief operating officer Paul S. Otellini says his company's experience shows the PC industry is trapped in a "digital spiral" and is now due for a new software innovation that will revive the hardware market. Although others do not discount the inevitability of groundbreaking applications, they say that it will be focused on devices other than the traditional desktop. While Intel has seen marginal growth for its PC processors, for instance, ARM Holdings, the world's largest manufacturer of microprocessors used in mobile devices, is seeing more demand than ever. In the past, faster and better PCs were enough to drive sales, but only some of the world's 500 million PC owners now see immediate benefits to trading up; mostly they are users with calculation-intensive applications or complex image processing needs. ARM's John Rayfield says, "There is tremendous growth in all the little things that help life. Centralizing them all in one large computer makes no sense."
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  • "Visionaries See a Day When Radio Spectrum Isn't Scarce Commodity"
    Wall Street Journal (09/30/02) P. B1; Gomes, Lee

    The radio spectrum is currently split up into specific frequencies because of worries that transmitters will interfere with each other, but the Open Spectrum movement challenges this notion, claiming that bandwidth scarcity could be eliminated through the development of "smart" transmitters that are possible with today's technology. These transmitters would be capable of reconfiguring their transmission frequencies to avoid interference. Open Spectrum advocates believe that transmitter design, rather than allowable frequency, should be determined by law. Supporters come from diverse backgrounds: They include open-source backers such as New York University Law School's Yochai Benkler, former FCC chief Dale Hatfield, key consultant Bennett Z. Kobb, and technologists such as Dewayne Hendricks, Timothy J. Shepard, and David P. Reed. Wireless firms are also interested--for instance, Steve Sharkey of Motorola reports that his company is conducting lab experiments based on Open Spectrum's core ideas. Meanwhile, deputy assistant defense secretary for spectrum Steven Price says the Pentagon has started to use smarter transmitters to boost its usable spectrum. In addition, research into technologies similar to those touted by Open Spectrum has recently been funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency. Not all Open Spectrum proponents agree on how open the spectrum should be: Some advocate complete openness, while others think that certain segments should be regulated. At any rate, it could take as long as a decade before Open Spectrum's vision is achieved.

  • "Plastics Could Solve the Riddles of Spintronics"
    Nanoelectronics Planet (09/25/02); Pastore, Michael

    The development of spintronics technology could lead to more energy-efficient computers that can store more data and process it faster, but one of the major challenges is that traditional electronic materials such as silicon and gallium arsenide are only magnetic at extremely low temperatures, and making them cold enough requires expensive equipment that takes up space. Researchers at Ohio State University and the University of Utah report in Advanced Materials that they may have solved this problem by inducing spin polarization in a polymer sample. Ohio State physicist Arthur Epstein and colleagues, along with the University of Utah's Joel Miller, write that they applied a magnetic field to adjust the spin of the moving electrons in the plastic. Plastic spintronics would also be lighter and cheaper to mass produce than semiconductors assembled using vacuum deposition and etching, and Epstein believes that plastic semiconductors could be inexpensively printed out by inkjet printing technology. The next challenge the research team is gearing up to meet involves transferring spinning electrons through a stack of alternating magnetic and non-magnetic plastic materials, thus preventing them from losing their spin. "Electronics and magnetism have transformed modern society," posits Epstein. "The advent of plastic electronics opens up many opportunities for new technologies such as flexible displays and inexpensive solar cells."
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  • "North Carolina State University Chemist Creates Structure In Amorphous Materials"
    Science Daily Magazine (09/25/02)

    Dr. James D. Martin of North Carolina State University reports a breakthrough in the Sept. 26 issue of Nature that sheds new light on the atomic and molecular structure of liquids and glass, one that could pave the way for new materials with unique optical and electronic characteristics. This goes against long-held scientific views that such substances are random and unstructured. Martin theorized that "If similar bonding interactions hold molecules in liquids, glasses and crystals, then it should be possible to engineer the structure in liquids and glasses just like it's possible to engineer the structure of crystals." Martin and graduate student Steve Goettler synthesized several glasses and liquids in the laboratory once the chemical principles behind this organization were understood. This was done by introducing foreign molecules into glasses and liquids, thus changing their properties; the molecules were atomically engineered to "fit" within the material's structure and interact with its own molecular particles. Martin's team had the liquids and glasses they produced analyzed at Argonne National Laboratory to verify the structural relationships between model crystals and their amorphous materials. Martin believes that understanding the underlying process of engineering amorphous materials "allows us to create the materials that will be the foundation of tomorrow's technology." His research was backed by the National Science Foundation.

  • "IBM Finds New Way to Make Nanotubes"
    CNet (09/29/02); Kanellos, Michael

    IBM researchers report in the October issue of Nanoletters that they have successfully fabricated carbon nanotubes that use silicon rather than metallic catalysts, thus preventing damage to the samples and promising greater manufacturing yields. The metal catalyst technique involves heating nickel, cobalt, or iron with carbon atoms, which produces nanotubes upon melting. However, the nanotubes are rendered useless as transistors because metal particles often adhere to them. IBM's Phaedon Avouris adds that these nanotubes are damaged when they are boiled in nitric acid to remove the metal. IBM's solution is to heat a carbon-silicon crystal to 1,650 degrees centigrade, which leaves a layer of carbon when the silicon evaporates. This carbon self-assembles into a tube. Although Avouris says that IBM does not manufacture nanotubes, it will encourage companies such as Carbon Nanotechnologies to apply its research to their manufacturing efforts. It will be some years before affordable mass production of carbon nanotubes comes to pass, but such a breakthrough will likely lead to more powerful computers over the next few decades.

  • "Software Agents Ask for Help"
    Technology Research News (09/25/02); Patch, Kimberly

    Researchers from Portugal's University of Porto have developed a methodology in which electronic agents exchange advice, a process that researcher Luis Nunes says could be applied to Internet traffic routing, robot cooperation, and task balancing among networked computers. In the university experiment, the agents are spread throughout a simulated network of traffic lights, and are tasked with controlling traffic flow by determining the optimum timing for each light. "Agents start by solving the problem autonomously, [then], at given points in time, they advertise their quality of service to others," explains Nunes. Agents with the highest score are classified as advisers for agents with lower scores; these advisers are solicited for help when the advisees' performance levels fall below a certain point. Research demonstrates that this process leads to faster learning and more reliable solutions, but Nunes acknowledges that problems can arise: Too much advice can inhibit learning, which prompted the researchers to regulate communications, while the simulations themselves are time-consuming. Nunes adds that the research team is working on applying the cooperative process to other problems, evaluating advice quality, and combining advice from multiple sources. He also notes that a common language for heterogeneous agents needs to be developed, while more sophisticated communication skills may be necessary so that the method can be extended to additional learning techniques. Nunes says formal guidelines of the agents' learning behavior and the associated advantages should be ready in three years, while commercialization could take between five and 10 years.
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  • "Computer Defense System Proposed"
    Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal Online (09/24/02)

    Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles are working on a new tool for preventing distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks through the Internet. Called D-WARD, the program is meant to protect networks from becoming unsuspecting hosts for an outside hacker. D-WARD works by stopping the huge amounts of traffic streams generated by an attack, UCLA researchers say. Typically, hackers launch an attack by breaking into several computer networks, take control over thousands of machines, and launch tens of thousands of data steams that overload a network. As a result, service is denied to legitimate users. "Attacks can be stopped before they enter the Internet and blend with all the other traffic on its way to the victim," says UCLA's Peter Reiher. DDoS attacks have interrupted service on Web sites such as Yahoo, eBay, CNN, and Amazon as well as university campus networks. On Sept. 18, the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board called for universities to strive harder to protect their networks.

  • "For Users Who Dash Back and Forth, a Watchful Laptop"
    New York Times (09/26/02) P. E5; Eisenberg, Anne

    Users who worry that their laptops and the sensitive data on them could be plundered while they are away could find Zero-Interaction Authentication (ZIA) useful. Developed by Dr. Brian D. Noble and Mark Corner of the University of Michigan, ZIA involves a small token--in this case a wristwatch--worn by the user that is wirelessly connected to the laptop; the laptop encrypts its data when the token moves out of range, then decrypts it when the device comes back into range. The token's wearer must verify his identity by entering a password once, thus sparing users the headache of having to re-enter it every time the laptop is roused from "sleep" mode. Afterwards, the laptop broadcasts a cryptographic request at one-second intervals that only the token can supply the correct answer to. The master key to the encryption process is held by the token rather than the laptop. IBM scientists designed the wristwatch token, which uses the Linux operating system. Noble thinks that ZIA could be particularly useful to medical doctors who often must leave their laptops unattended so they can fulfill their duties. Meanwhile, Ensure Technologies has commercialized its own remote computer security technology: It involves a badge with a wireless radio transmitter that tells a computer to lock its keyboard and blank its screen when it moves out of a programmable range.
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  • "NCS Prepping 'Gee-Whiz' Pilot"
    Federal Computer Week Online (09/26/02); Caterinicchia, Dan

    The National Communications System (NCS) is preparing a worldwide Internet monitoring service that would warn the nation's leaders of imminent cyberattack or other disturbances on the Web. Intended for launch next year, the pilot project will watch key government and e-commerce Web sites' performance and use other tools to identify upcoming threats, such as distributed denial-of-service attacks or computer viruses affecting IT infrastructure. NCS deputy manager Brenton Greene says the idea behind the Global Early Warning Information System (GEWIS) is becoming more appealing as preparatory work is being done. "It's still early, but this is an idea whose time has come," he says. The NCS also governs emergency systems used by federal agencies and the White House, ensuring reliable communications in case of disaster. Other NCS pilot projects underway include an emergency notification system for use in natural disasters that would alert a "few thousand key people" the fastest way possible, and a plan to develop back-up dial tone for important federal sites; one possibility is the use of free space optics for wirelessly connecting the backbone infrastructures of nearby buildings.

  • "Goodbye to the Video Store"
    Economist (09/21/02) Vol. 364, No. 8291, P. 15

    Anytime, anywhere video-on-demand can only be achieved through compression/decompression algorithms (codecs) that are far more advanced than current programs such as MPEG-2, and both major technology vendors such as RealNetworks and upstarts such as Pulsent are vying to create a codec standard. The upstarts, however, have an edge because they are focusing on consumer-electronics devices such as set-top boxes. MPEG-4 is ahead of other codec efforts, because it uses object-based compression to produce high-quality video images without clogging bandwidth, but tough licensing terms could be a barrier to adoption. Alternative codec technologies include Divx from Divx Networks, which began as a grassroots effort and became a highly popular format for playing mostly pirated digital media; On2 Technologies' VP5, which can stream video at 400 Kbps with near-DVD picture quality; and a mostly secret codec from Pulsent that will reportedly optimize video playback by processing each real-world object separately instead of converting foregrounds and backgrounds into grids. Meanwhile, the nonprofit Xiph.org is focusing on Tarkin, an open-source video codec designed to be continuously tweaked by programmers. Xiph.org head Emmett Plant believes that the open-source nonprofit model is more likely to lead to a codec of superior quality rather than the for-profit model. To speed up the delivery of video-on-demand, the CableLabs consortium is working on OpenCable, a cable transmission standard that will enable set-top boxes from any manufacturer to interoperate with any cable system. Successful codecs will depend on not just research and development, but marketing and the participation of cable companies. Before all this can happen, however, content providers must settle on a standard format for content delivery.

  • "Panelists: Jobless IT Workers Should Reinvent Themselves"
    Computerworld (09/30/02) Vol. 36, No. 40, P. 6; Hoffman, Thomas

    Unemployed IT workers disturbed over the influx of foreign H-1B and L-1 workers and overseas outsourcing should accept their presence and instead focus on boosting their own talents beyond programming, said a panelist at a recent outsourcing conference sponsored by Brainstorm Group in Northboro, Mass. H-1B visas allow competent foreign workers in various fields to work in the United States for up to six years. L-1 visas, meanwhile, let multinational firms shift overseas workers to the United States after serving the company for at least one year. The federal government does not limit the number of L-1 visas but does put a cap on H-1Bs. GRT's Kent Bauer suggested that American IT workers aim for work at higher levels and work more closely with business units on large projects such as enterprise resource management (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM). Amit Govil of Sapient India believes American IT professionals should act as a link between IT and their enterprises by becoming organizers and developing "conceptual solutions." Srinavas Raghavan at American International Group believes U.S. IT employees should draw on their strengths in communications and integration skills.
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  • "The Presence Factor"
    Network World (09/23/02) Vol. 19, No. 38, P. 70; Jones, Jennifer

    As new protocols are being worked out, vendors are preparing to infuse presence technology into more business applications, including voice and video, taking the technology out of the realm of instant messaging and making it a standard part of corporate networks. A number of major IT brands have included new Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE) standards in a varied number of products, including Microsoft's Windows XP, Nortel's application servers, and Lotus' Sametime. Wireless standards groups are also adopting SIP for call-control functions on new 3G networks. Just because the technology is available to deploy presence capability in various digital applications does not mean that users will prefer voice capabilities on Sametime, for example, to a regular phone call. Nicole Picciotta of the law firm Shaw Pittman says, however, that the company often makes use of Sametime's presence capabilities for instant collaboration, including whiteboard sessions and application sharing. And on Sept. 11, 2001, Bob Elloyan of Porter Novelli says his company used presence-awareness technologies to maintain contact with customers. His company is also working on a campaign to sign on clients for presence technology.

  • "Thought Control"
    Industrial Physicist (09/02) Vol. 8, No. 4, P. 14

    Initiatives to develop technologies that would allow paralysis victims to perform simple activities--moving a cursor on a computer screen, for example--by thought have been constrained by inaccurate motion reproduction and prolonged training periods, but Brown University researchers have reported a significant breakthrough in Nature. They have demonstrated that a monkey could learn to move a cursor by brainpower in a matter of minutes through a simple algorithm that harnesses the output of a handful of neurons. "Our results demonstrate that a simple mathematical approach, combined with a subject's own learning abilities, can provide accurate goal-oriented control," explains Brown University's John Donoghue. Electrodes implanted in the motor cortex first record 60 seconds of neuronal output as the monkey physically directs the cursor. Linear coefficients produced by a linear regression equation are then used to devise a program that controls cursor movement via such output. Afterwards, cursor control is switched from the monkey's hand to the connected neurons. "In some trials, the monkey stopped using the manipulator altogether," notes graduate student Mijail D. Serruya. Developing technologies that can be applied to human subjects is the goal of Cyberkinetics, the company set up by the Brown researchers; paralyzed patients could potentially use such methods to not only communicate, but manipulate a robot arm, or even partly restore bodily movement.

  • "Chip Design in the 21st Century"
    Siliconindia (09/02) P. 40; Gopalan, Raam

    A new model for semiconductor design will be necessary as chips approach the sub-submicron level, a development that is impractical unless such chips can be produced cheaply and in mass quantities. Platform-based embedded systems-on-a-chip (SOCs) are such a model, and they are made by building up a series of programmable programs that boast programmability and scalability. The paradigm shift will be represented by a set of reconfigurable, embedded SOC hardware platforms that can support a wide range of applications because their configuration and I/O are optimized. NEC, Leopard Systems, Synputer, and others are setting the foundation of this transition by building hardware platforms centered around communication processing sectors and featuring ad hoc hardware reconfigurability and software programmability. They are drawing their inspiration from the DSP, FPGA, RISC, and VLIW communities. Entrepreneur Raam Gopalan predicts that embedded SOC deployment will rely on reconfigurable hardware platforms by 2010. Successful implementation of these platforms will depend on the availability of RTOs, compilers, a development environment that users can easily adopt, and a repository of software IP modules that cut down the software functionality development time from years to months.

  • "Reviews.com: Comprehensively Covering Computer Science"
    Online (09/02) Vol. 26, No. 5, P. 44; Fingerman, Susan

    Reviews.com is a retooled version of Computing Reviews, one that offers more pros than cons, in the opinion of SMF Information Services owner Susan Fingerman. Books, articles, symposia, technical reports, theses, and Web-only publications are covered by the site, whose content is sorted into 19 categories outlined by the ACM Computing Classification System (CCS). More than 1,000 volunteer reviewers currently work for reviews.com, and they can choose not only their area of expertise, but also their frequency of providing reviews, their availability to begin, and how often they wish to see a list of items to review. Subscribers can take advantage of a diverse array of features: Clicking on a review title lists bibliographical citations, item types, the complete review, additional hyperlinked CCS terms, and hyperlinks to reviewers and authors of the reviewed material; there is also a "full-text" button that provides subscribers with options on how to access the articles, such as library order or direct purchase. Reviews.com also has customization and personalization features--for example, searches can be sorted by relevancy, review date, publication date, title, author, journal, or publication type. Boolean searching and search screen customization are also supplied. Especially useful is review.com's Smartbox area, which comes with an Alert feature subscribers can customize by display and by content; alert options include when new items appear in preferred CCSes, or involve favorite authors, reviewers, publications, or forums, and items added in certain timeframes, categories, or subcategories. Librarians can use reviews.com to keep abreast of topics, experts, and cutting-edge research, while discussions between both novices and experts are hosted in the site's underutilized Forums section.

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