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Volume 4, Issue 406: Wednesday, October 2, 2002

  • "Legislation Would Advance Consumers' Media Rights"
    San Jose Mercury News (10/01/02) P. BU1; Phillips, Heather Fleming

    Several bills designed to fortify the technology industry's stance on the controversial issue of digital copyrights will be introduced this week. On Tuesday, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) will propose the Digital Choice and Freedom Act, which would allow consumers to copy digital works--DVDs, CDs, etc.--for personal use without having to worry about interference from copyright holders; similar legislation will be filed on Thursday from Rep Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who argues that "The balance has been tilted dramatically in favor of owners at the expense of users." Both bills call for revisions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it a criminal offense for users to bypass technological safeguards of copyrights. Meanwhile, bills from Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) and Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Los Angeles) seek to increase copyright holders' powers even more. The legislation would force technology companies to incorporate copy protection into consumer devices such as PCs, and grant music and film companies the right to block unauthorized online downloading of copyrighted works using aggressive anti-piracy techniques. The tech industry protests such measures, insisting that the demand for broadband could be spurred by unrestricted downloads of digital works, thus fueling innovation and increases in new technology sales. "Lofgren's bill aims to restore what Congress thought it was doing--preserving fair use for people who have lawful rights to use stuff," argues University of California-Berkeley law professor Paula Samuelson. It is doubtful that either Lofgren's or Boucher's bill will pass through Congress before lawmakers adjourn for the year.

  • "Tech's Big Thinkers Admit Mistakes"
    Wall Street Journal (10/02/02) P. B5G; Delaney, Kevin J.

    A handful of major technology experts reflected on the best and worst predictions they made, and their forecasts on the next big breakthroughs, at International Data's (IDC) annual IT conference in Monte Carlo. MIT Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte and Novell CTO Alan Nugent both predicted that computers would converse with users, while Nugent went so far as to expect computers to be thinking like humans by now, but there have been few breakthroughs; Negroponte did accurately forecast the digital convergence of multiple media, while Nugent saw the potential of the Unix operating system. Developing technologies they expect to come into their own include grass-roots wireless services and Web services. Michael Earl of Oxford University once thought that e-commerce would catch on quickly, but did accurately predict that information management would become an academic discipline. Lester Thurow of MIT's Sloan School of Management inaccurately predicted that Japan would bounce back from its recession, and now predicts that advances in biotechnology will dramatically change the human body and the environment, leading to such things as higher IQs and more beautiful-looking children. Accenture chief scientist Glover Ferguson's biggest blunder was his contention that computer-aided software engineering would reshape programming, while his most accurate prediction was that services would become more valued than goods; according to him, insight derived from analyzing situations will become key to competitive edge. Ten years ago, ConceptLabs director Peter Cochrane mistakenly believed that voice over Internet protocol technology would fail, but 20 years ago he predicted that London and Birmingham would be linked by fiber-optics, which did occur; now he thinks that control of local telecommunications will shift from operators to customers.

  • "Building a Better Computer Mouse"
    CNet (10/02/02); Hansen, Evan

    A number of open-source developers are working on new user interface capabilities incorporating mouse movement. So-called "mouse gestures" functions register specific movements, such as left-up-right or a wide back movement while holding a mouse button, and execute commands that would normally be triggered by clicking a button on the screen. The Opera browser and some Mozilla applications include such mouse gestures, allowing people to use the "back" function more easily, for example. Mouse manufacturer Logitech also has been adding shortcut features to its mouse products as well. Mouse inventor Doug Engelbart says the point-and-click functions on a mouse need to be replaced by more efficient and effective means. Mouse gestures technology is part of an effort to develop "kinetic" user interfaces, which developers are working on to correct inefficiencies in the traditional graphical user interface (GUI). Today's computers are much more varied than when the GUI was first conceived in the 1970s, as PCs are increasingly being replaced by a wide range of portable devices, and overhaul of the interface is overdue, says Engelbart. Mozilla programmer Andy Edmonds, who participated in the mouse gestures Optimoz project, says work is being done to make mouse gestures easy to learn for users, and that future 3D user interfaces will make mouse gestures even more important. At least one developer, TCB Networks founder Jeffrey Doozan, has completed a Windows-based mouse gestures program called StrokeIt that enables general mouse gesture commands on all Windows-compatible applications.

  • "Despite Fraud At Bell Labs, Chip Research Barrels Ahead"
    New York Times (10/01/02) P. D1; Chang, Kenneth

    Molecular electronics research continues apace, despite the recent scandal in which an independent panel found former Bell Labs researcher Dr. J. Hendrik Schon guilty of fabricating data. Harvard and Cornell researchers recently reported in Nature that they have built transistors with single-atom switches, which ironically was a breakthrough Schon claimed in one of his questionable papers. A major difference, however, is that the Schon transistor supposedly amplifies the strength of the input electrical signal, but the other device does not, and can only operate at low temperatures. Further research could lead to molecules that work at room temperatures and could be used as sensors, which are unaffected by the lack of gain. Meanwhile, the work of Hewlett-Packard and UCLA scientists could be applied to molecular computer memory: Their research involves molecules that reshape themselves in response to electrical voltage, and memory storage could be facilitated by a grid of such molecules. They think such switches could be used to make logic circuits that would be integrated with silicon transistors, while Rice University's Dr. James M. Tour has devised a logic circuit architecture in which molecular switches are paired with particles of gold. Harvard's Dr. Charles M. Lieber is experimenting with crystalline silicon nanowires to fabricate transistors, sensors, light-emitting diodes, and logic circuits. Teams at IBM and the Netherlands' Delft University of Technology have also announced the creation of transistors and logic circuits from carbon nanotubes, although mass production remains a major challenge.
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  • "List of Top 20 Software Flaws Due"
    IDG News Service (09/30/02); Roberts, Paul

    On Wednesday, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) will release a list of the 20 most pressing Internet security vulnerabilities at a conference of government CIOs and IT professionals. This year's gathering will include representatives from top network vulnerability assessment companies, who will illustrate the White House's priority to get the private sector involved in the national IT infrastructure security initiative. Previous releases have focused on the areas of general flaws, Windows flaws, and Unix flaws, and problems that made the previous lists include the failure to furnish complete system backups and programming holes in the Microsoft Internet Information Server's Remote Data Services element. The conference will also showcase NASA's initiative to repel cyberattacks on its network, which the GSA is expected to promote as a template for other government agencies and private firms. A key component of the NASA program involves various IT groups exchanging information about security flaws and attacks. Furthermore, the GSA will announce the expansion of the Safeguard program, which is designed to evaluate government systems for vulnerabilities. The list of top 20 vulnerabilities is furnished by the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center and the SANS Institute, and is considered a benchmark for evaluating the security of a Web site or corporate network.

  • "Davis Vetoes Bill Requiring PC Recycling Fee"
    SiliconValley.com (09/30/02); Marimow, Ann E.

    Gov. Gray Davis' (D-Calif.) veto of a law that would have imposed a $10 recycling fee on every electronic product sold to California residents is seen as a blow to environmentalists and local government officials and a triumph for Silicon Valley's high-tech companies. When he announced the veto on Monday, he said the legislation broadened government bureaucracy at a time when the state is making significant cuts. It is estimated that 6 million discarded computers and televisions containing hazardous waste are being warehoused in California households, and disposing of them could cost $500 million. High-tech firms have opposed the bill on the grounds that its provision to charge the recycling fee to out-of-state companies would be declared unconstitutional in a court of law, which would be detrimental to California businesses struggling through a rocky economy. Supporters insisted that the recycling bill would authorize fee suspensions for companies inside and outside California if a court found the levy to be unlawful. The Silicon Valley Manufacturers Group was also an opponent of the bill. Despite his decision, Davis agreed that the accumulation of e-waste is a troubling matter, and added that new state legislation to deal with it should be in place next year.

  • "China Needs Software Not Hardware"
    South China Morning Post (10/01/02) P. 14; Baark, Erik

    Despite the progress China has made toward becoming a global leader in science and technology, there are still stumbling blocks to overcome, such as low levels of industrial production, even with the injection of foreign technology; most high-tech enterprises still fighting to become internationally competitive and establish scalability; inadequate numbers of graduates to fulfill the need for qualified tech professionals; and insufficient domestic investment and proliferation of knowledge. The Chinese semiconductor industry remains hobbled by a dearth of skilled workers and supporting clusters. Technology imports alone will not help China achieve tech growth comparable to international rivals unless local research and development is expanded and more closely integrated. The country's slow progress is attributed to policy-makers' emphasis on investing in equipment and hardware rather than in less tangible tech components, such as technical training and management skills. However, the 1990s witnessed a noticeable increase in overall R&D investment: Gross expenditure rose from about 40 billion yuan in 1996 to 89.6 billion yuan in 2000, which equals 1 percent of China's gross national product. Furthermore, over 60 percent of Chinese R&D was conducted by industrial enterprises in 2000, illustrating the growing importance of this sector. The country's 53 industrial development zones are responsible for roughly 20 percent of the total value of China's high-tech exports, and their output increased over 30 percent between 1999 and 2000. China is now the No. 3 producer of IT gear in the world.

  • "Cybersecurity Regulations Imminent, Industry and Government Warn"
    National Journal Online (09/30/02); Munro, Neil

    Industry and government officials are declaring that cybersecurity regulations will be implemented even though most participants in the debate are against them. This is partly because of the high-tech industry's reluctance to invest in cybersecurity in the midst of a recession, while certain participants favor such regulations. The draft plan of the White House's cybersecurity strategy does not urge regulation, and instead lists priorities and recommendations for industry to consider; officials note that the government is restricted mainly to developing its own cyber-safeguards, raising research funding, spreading public awareness, and promoting information sharing. "If the private sector does not respond [to the plan], they will only have themselves to blame if along comes a slew of burdensome laws and regulations," contends Warren Axelrod of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette. Meanwhile, James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies predicts that tech businesses will boost their cybersecurity under pressure from Congress and the public, which will use threats, publicity, and broad regulations. Industry executives oppose regulation because they think it will discourage consumers, while computer companies are fearful that they could be made liable for any damages that may result from not deploying cybersecurity. "There is a real worry that, sooner or later, [liability] will be seen as an attractive way for the government to get people to do what they want: Sic the lawyers on them," explains Stewart Baker of Steptoe & Johnson. However, some executives believe that demand for new products could be spurred by increased public awareness of the need for cybersecurity, and industry officials think that tax incentives and other measures could foster more corporate enthusiasm for cybersecurity investment.

  • "Sally Ride Toys With Engineering"
    Wired News (09/28/02); Dean, Katie

    Astronaut Sally Ride's participation in the ToyChallenge competition is designed to give middle-school students the opportunity to explore their interest in engineering and encourage girls to pursue science careers. Ride notes that women comprise just 9 percent of the technical workforce, when they should really account for about 50 percent. The ToyChallenge contest is based on the ToyTech engineering course at Smith College, in which students and teachers collaborate on educational scientific toys. In ToyChallenge, students in grades five through eight are arranged into groups of six, half of which are girls. In the first section of the contest, teams develop an idea based on a specific toy category, and sketch it out; prize money is awarded to the 10 teams with the most original concepts. In the next section, each team builds a prototype of their toy. MIT Media Lab professor Mitchel Resnick says that creation and design often hold the best learning experiences for kids: "Providing challenges that allow kids to try different approaches, it opens up the opportunities for kids to design things they care about and therefore they'll become engaged in the design process," he explains. Rice University's Cynthia Lanius lauds ToyChallenge for providing students with a platform to experience engineering in an engaging way.

  • "What's New on the Open Source Front?"
    NewsFactor Network (09/30/02); Zager, Masha

    A plethora of open source programs has been developed and distributed since the open source movement began, but analysts are hesitant to predict that upcoming products could change or dominate the market, as did early applications such as Apache and Linux. International Data (IDC) system software research director Al Gillen does not think any one product will have so much sway, while Yankee Group senior analyst Laura DiDio says that interest in deploying new software will remain "cautionary" until the economy picks up. The latest open source programs--RPM, GTK+, and Hewlett-Packard's Open Source SSI, for instance--are mainly utilities or development tools, although projects such as Mozilla and OpenOffice are applications designed to serve the end user. OpenOffice has proven very popular among schools and others who wish to avoid paying for Microsoft Office licenses. Mono, Ximian's open source, Linux-based version of Microsoft's .NET development platform, also shows potential, but Aberdeen Group research director Bill Claybrook doubts that Ximian can afford to develop it, and adds that the project could be scuttled if Microsoft revises the C# language, which is a key component of the product. He also sees little demand for Mono, despite its publicity. However, Claybrook thinks that a high-powered database management system could be very useful, especially because of the associated cost savings. Financing will be a challenge, and he doubts that IBM or vendors without DBMS skills would want or be able to support such a project.

  • "Studios' Copyright Goal Is Total Control"
    SiliconValley.com (09/29/02); Gillmor, Dan

    Siliconvalley.com columnist Dan Gillmor writes that MPAA President Jack Valenti's assertion that movie studios are willing to compromise over the distribution of their intellectual property is not supported by their actions. "Instead of accepting, as they do today, that a certain amount of penny-ante infringement will occur and then going after the major-league players, [the media giants] call every act of infringement--and some things that aren't infringement at all--an act of piracy or stealing," he argues. Through hefty campaign contributions and lobbying efforts, the entertainment cartel has gotten Congress to side with it and implement legislation that gives it an unprecedented amount of control over copyrights. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, for instance, gave entertainment and software companies the license to build digital technology designed to block unauthorized use while making it a criminal offense for people to try to circumvent such measures, even if they wished to practice their fair-use rights. Meanwhile, the spread of peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing has prompted the cartel to pressure Congress to pass laws requiring technology companies to limit the copying capabilities of their products, as well as granting the cartel the right to hack into P2P networks it suspects of infringing on copyrights. Gillmor contends that such strategies undo years of tradition and threaten the existence of the public domain. It also inhibits innovation, since tech companies would have to ask the cartel for permission to develop or market new products. Continuous extension of copyright terms authorized by Congress will also cause the public domain to stagnate, Gillmor cautions.
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  • "E-Beam Welding Eyed for Dense Nanoscale Circuits"
    EE Times Online (09/30/02); Johnson, R. Colin

    A team of international researchers has succeeded in welding together nanotubes in a way that could form the key junctions needed in future nanoscale circuitry. The technique involves using a transmission electron microscope to knock out atoms at the point where the nanotube formations touch each other. The two nanotube structures then share an atom, creating a weld that binds them together. Pulickel Ajayan of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute says the procedure was previously theorized, but never proven. In the future, self-assembling matrices of nanotubes could be welded together with other pre-fabricated nanotube structures in order to form transistors. However, many problems remain, such as how to move individual nanotubes purposefully, since they are too small for even an atomic-force microscope to manipulate consistently. This could prove especially vexing since nanotubes must be touching in order for the welding procedure to work. In addition, the researchers found it was necessary to subject welded nanotubes to high temperatures once again to fuse hanging ends knocked loose during the welding process. Ajayan says, "There is a long way to go before we can build anything like a working circuit, but at least we now know that welding single-walled nanotubes is possible."

  • "Hopes Placed on Sectors With Greatest Promise"
    Financial Times Reports (09/30/02) P. 4; Nakamoto, Michiyo

    The Japanese government is moving to create new growth industries through regulatory revision, increased research and development spending, and boosting cooperation between academia and the private sector. Although manufacturing has largely been farmed out overseas amid a decline in the financial and retail industries, officials have chosen IT, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and environmental solutions as key areas for future growth. Critics of the government plan cite the failure of industries the government has nurtured over the last decade and say the government needs to learn to stay clear of meddling with business. However, officials at the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology point out that government spending on R&D in Japan is trailing that of other regions and has not increased to supplement research pullback in the private sector. Critics also claim that the civil servant status of public university researchers has led to a pronounced lack of entrepreneurial culture, while regulation that has prevented researchers from taking private-sector jobs is another roadblock. The government has recently changed legislation so that public university researchers can hold private-sector positions, while universities will soon be encouraged to promote entrepreneurialism more.

  • "New P2P Network Funded by U.S. Government"
    New Scientist Online (10/01/02); Cohen, David

    The National Science Foundation has allocated $12 million so that researchers from five U.S. institutions can develop the Infrastructure for Resilient Internet Systems (IRIS) over the next five years. IRIS is a peer-to-peer (P2P) network designed to accelerate online searches and information transfer, thwart denial of service attacks, and solve technical problems that plague current P2P networks. The decentralization of existing networks gives rise to slow, inaccurate searches, and IRIS is supposed to meet three specific goals--to guarantee search accuracy as long as there is no physical disconnection in the network; maintain performance levels even as more information is added; and enable machines to be added or removed without any significantly negative effects. "There is no single network that meets all these three properties as yet," explains MIT computer science and principal IRIS researcher Hari Balakrishnan. IRIS will also allow the network to expand without significantly increasing search times because of a new algorithm being developed. Balakrishnan hopes that IRIS will one day become the global information exchange default standard. The first IRIS application to be released will be a distributed version of the Web, which implies that it could be used to easily publish pirated data anonymously. Balakrishnan does not think this will adversely affect research, and his team is currently working on algorithms designed to keep information from being censored or restricted on IRIS.

  • "Honeymoon Over for Linux Users"
    VNUNet (09/30/02); Thomson, Iain

    Open source software's increasing popularity has made it a target for virus writers, who exploit the software's weaknesses to wreak havoc. Network Associate's Avert (Antivirus Emergency Response Team) laboratory has identified more that 170 viruses and Trojans Horses for Linux and 30 more for Unix shell scripts. Meanwhile, Internet Security Systems' X-Force group says it has found 485 bugs in Linux this year already, up from 309 for all of 2001; the bugs create openings that virus writers can exploit. Avert says that about six or seven viruses are active at any one time. The Slapper virus is the most noticeable effort so far to hurt open source, with Slapper C producing 2,500 infections and Slapper B 19,200. But since the virus' source codes are widely distributed, hackers can produce more variants. Mark Fisher of Trend Micro says that all applications, whether commercial or open source, will carry vulnerabilities and be subject to attacks. He say many businesses are especially vulnerable since they run both Unix/Linux and Microsoft in the back and front offices respectively. But almost every virus attack can be avoided if systems have up-to-date antivirus software and strong firewalls, says Avert's Jack Clark. Hybrid viruses such as Nimda that can attack different operating systems are another growing concern.

  • "Intel's Huge Bet Turns Iffy"
    New York Times (09/29/02) P. 3-1; Markoff, John; Lohr, Steve

    Intel and Hewlett-Packard have a lot riding on the adoption of their Itanium chip technology, which promises high-speed 64-bit processing. The development and commercialization of Itanium has taken 10 years and cost an estimated $5 billion; its failure would have drastic repercussions on HP and Intel, while Silicon Valley's confidence could be throttled to the point that other major computer design projects will never be pursued. Skeptics are uncertain about the technology, which suffered a three-year delay and is being launched in the midst of a recession. "Every big computing disaster has come from taking too many ideas and putting them in one place, and the Itanium is exactly that," contends Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell. Predictions from Google CEO Eric Schmidt that power efficiency rather than speed will dictate future computing design could foil Itanium. Yet despite all these warnings, Intel manager Michael J. Fister has faith in the technology, and reports that it is on track; he says that bad memories of Itanium's previous failures will be erased with next year's debut of Itanium 2, and proclaims that "We're seeding an architecture that is going to last for two decades." He adds that Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, and other companies will soon release Itanium software applications, but looming on the horizon is the premiere of the 64-bit Opteron from Advanced Micro Devices. Dell's interest in Opteron has prompted Intel to develop Yamhill, a 64-bit extension of its X68 Pentium chip. Meanwhile, the opportunities for HP include gaining a lead on rivals such as IBM and Dell, and becoming the leading packager and integrator of Itanium-based systems.
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  • "HAL on Earth"
    LA Weekly (10/03/02) Vol. 24, No. 45; Kaplan, Erin Aubry

    Evolution Robotics founder Bill Gross says that interest in robots is growing now that PC development has plateaued, and various projects are underway to develop and sell robots that are more than just highly sophisticated toys. For instance, Evolution's ER1 is being touted as the first affordable mass-produced autonomous robot; the machine resembles a laptop that travels on a rolling cart to carry out orders (such as retrieving beverages from a fridge or delivering inter-office mail), and it is controlled via a dashboard and pull-down menus. The ER1 can interpret its environment using an object-recognition system, and Evolution is planning to enhance it with claw hands and a skin-like covering, giving it a more human appearance. The company hopes that an inexpensive robot will encourage the kind of garage tinkering that gave rise to the PC industry. "It's about letting people play with the possibilities," says Evolution's Jennifer McNally. Another notable robotics project is MIT's Kismet, an attempt to create a sentient machine that exhibits and responds to moods. Less challenging but more useful robots currently in the prototype stage include Slugbot, which devours garden pests; Tug, which transports hospital equipment and supplies; and Ultrabot, which is programmed to follow people and respond to voice commands. Roboticists argue that creating robots that can display human behavior makes them more useful: One reason behind Japan's priority to build humanoid robots is to ensure better human-machine interaction through "friendly anthropomorphism." Evolution Robotics personnel anticipate a world where personal robots such as the ER1 will proliferate out of the need to increase productivity.

  • "Linux Ready for Prime Time?"
    Upside (09/02) Vol. 14, No. 7, P. 56; Gardner, Eriq

    The open-source Linux operating system has made inroads into businesses, often sneaking in through the back door; this trend demonstrates that companies are incapable of selling Linux to executives directly. Linux distributors are focusing on selling Linux services--support, training, add-ons, etc.--rather than the software, which cannot be licensed anyway. However, sales of Linux applications continue to be hampered by a lack of a unified standard. A number of specs are being touted, such as the Free Standards Group's Linux Standard Base (LSB), UnitedLinux, and the Red Hat Linux Advanced Server. UnitedLinux was announced in late May by Caldera, Conectiva, SuSE, and TurboLinux, which are promoting it as "a standards-based Linux operating system targeted at the business user" that is "developed, marketed, and sold by an experienced partnership of Linux companies;" Red Hat Linux Advanced Server, hyped by Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell, is supposed to cover clustering, load-balancing, and accelerated communications. In March, International Data (IDC) estimated that Linux owns a mere 2 percent of the corporate desktop market, but the research firm also notes that its network operating systems market share has leapt from 7 percent to about 30 percent over the last five years, which means that server configuration and management could be the real sector to concentrate on. A key selling point of Linux is its flexibility, which has spurred the promotion and popularity of embedded systems. However, many IT consultants are still reluctant to embrace Linux because of high maintenance and upgrade costs that offset the low deployment costs, says Accenture's James Hall.

  • "Lighting Rods for Nanoelectronics"
    Scientific American (10/02) Vol. 287, No. 4; Voldman, Steven H.

    As circuits approach the nanoscale realm in order to uphold Moore's Law, they will become increasingly susceptible to electrostatic discharge (ESD) to the point where traditional ESD safeguards will no longer work. Such a danger is inevitable, as projected market growth for the next 10 years, coupled with a tenfold increase in applications speed, will spark demand for faster and smaller chips. Reducing microelectronics size can lead to failure caused by internal heating and the breakdown of insulating layers, and the manufacturing and installation stages are particularly critical junctures, since it is during these processes that ESD damage is most likely to occur. To facilitate the production of faster and smaller circuits as well as boost ESD protection, microelectronics manufacturers switched to copper interconnects and added low-k dielectric materials. However, as metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFETs) get smaller, their dielectric layer gets thinner and ESD tolerance is reduced--indeed, the mere act of handling such chips is enough to cause damage. The incorporation of ESD protection circuits is the primary measure employed to shield transistors, and the silicon p-n diode is currently the ESD device of choice. However, shrinking circuitry requires smaller versions of protection circuits and power clamps that are harder to design. One technology that offers hope is silicon germanium (SiGe) and gallium arsenide (GaAs) bipolar transistors, although the latter material is more sensitive to ESD than the former; it was, however, demonstrated at Germany's University of Darmstadt that spark gaps could protect GaAs transistors from ESD.
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