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Volume 4, Issue 410: Friday, October 11, 2002

  • "Justices Hear Challenge to Copyright Law"
    Washington Post (10/10/02) P. E1; Lane, Charles

    Supreme Court justices on Wednesday heard challenges to the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which opponents say violates the Constitution. Leading the opposition is online archivist Eric Eldred, who argues that the mandate is unfair to scholars and publishers who rely on the availability of works within the public domain; he challenged the law in 1999, balking at having to pay royalties on online material that would have been free without the extension. Artists, organizations, and copyright holders such as photographer Richard Avedon, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, and the Screen Actors Guild sent the justices friend-of-the-court briefs to voice their support of the law, while others such as novelist Ursula K. Le Guin and the American Historical Association did the same to express their criticism. "Just as a limited-edition print is not limited if you print a new one each time a customer leaves the store, so a limited term is not limited if it is extended" before it expires, argued Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig, who was at the hearing to support Eldred. Opponents note that the Constitution grants Congress the power to set copyrights for "limited times," but U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson came to the law's defense by claiming that it is Congress' job to balance the constitutional mandate to reward creative people so that "science and the useful arts" can be promoted with the public's right to access. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor acknowledged that the passage of the extension act contradicts the original intentions of the Constitution's architects, but was not sure whether it was truly unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Justice Stephen G. Breyer was concerned that the Bono Act would offer more economic incentives to the heirs or estates of deceased artists than it would to still-living artists.

  • "Light May be Key to Safeguarding Secrets"
    United Press International (10/09/02); Wasowicz, Lidia

    Researchers say that single-photon communications via fiber-optic cable could keep sensitive data hacker-proof, as indicated by experimentation. Because such single-photon pulses cannot be reliably produced by conventional light sources, scientists are investigating quantum dots and other possible alternatives. Hackers attempting to intercept a single-photon transmission could be easily detected, since the very act of observing a light particle alters it, tipping off both sender and recipient; even hackers who use beam splitters could be thwarted with such technology. Stanford University researcher Charles Santori reports that his team has demonstrated a device that generates "consecutive emitted photons...usually in the same quantum state," and adds that such a breakthrough could prove very significant in the drive toward quantum cryptography and quantum information. Stanford chemistry professor W.E. Moerner predicts that quantum information technology could be used to facilitate single-photon messaging or decryption key transmission within the next five to 10 years. Philippe Grangier of France's Institut d'Optique comments that a single-photon source such as that developed by Santori's team will help keep quantum-encrypted messages safe when transmitted across long distances; he adds that single-photon sources could be ready immediately, as long as they are affordable, reliable, and simple. Santori also notes that his team's experiment demonstrates "two-photon interference" for the first time, which involves photons produced independently and at different times. Researchers say that Santori's breakthrough represents an important stride toward the creation of molecular logic gates for quantum computing.

  • "U.K. Rule Restricts Hiring of Foreign Engineers"
    EE Times Online (10/09/02); Krishnadas, K.C.

    Indian software engineers looking to get employment overseas usually try to find jobs in the United States, with England being their second choice. However, new British work permit rules in effect since September could limit their options. The rules do not allow jobs to be filled by foreign workers unless it is firmly established that there are no British counterparts available, and they also require foreign engineers to have at least six months of previous corporate employment in order to qualify for a U.K. work visa. "This ensures that we have to anticipate business requirements well in advance and employ accordingly," notes Wipro CEO Laxman Badiga. Indian companies that have subsidiaries in England can circumvent the new requirement, but most Indian firms possess U.S.-based subsidiaries. Processing visas takes longer because of the rules, which means consultants are delayed in flying in to client sites, according to Badiga. Britain is increasingly popular among Indian engineers because the business downturn has had less impact there than in the United States, where demand for engineering talent is continuing to fall. However, Advantage CEO C.N. Kumar contends that the institution of the new employment regulations signifies that "There is in fact, no demand from the U.K. at all."

  • "Guerrilla Warfare, Waged With Code"
    New York Times (10/10/02) P. E1; Lee, Jennifer 8.

    A number of grass-roots groups are emerging to battle repressive government Internet filtering in countries such as China and Saudi Arabia. These "hacktivists," or hackers with political motivations, want to enable Web users in those countries to be able to access the Internet without fear of monitoring or recrimination. Solutions include software that erases online identity, peer-to-peer file-trading networks, and proxy sites. The peer-to-peer network Freenet China is created through the thousands of computers comprising that network, each with installed software that can be passed around on just one diskette. Because information is traded directly between participant computers and not through central servers, the only way for Chinese authorities to shut down the network would be to shut down every individual node. The Triangle Boy software from server maker SafeWeb makes users anonymous online and received backing from the CIA, but has since been discontinued while awaiting new funds. Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) wants to support such efforts through a new Office of Global Internet Freedom that would follow the same premise as the Voice of America radio program. Meanwhile, the Hacktivismo group has released encryption-based Web access software, called Six/Four after the date of the Tiananmen Square incident, that aims to hide the origination of requests for data from government monitors. Hacktivismo member Nat Villeneuve, a University of Toronto computer science student, says, "I think of hacktivism as a philosophy: taking the hacker end of understanding things by reverse engineering and applying that same concept to traditional activism."
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  • "No Moore's Law"
    Guardian Unlimited Online (10/10/02); Forbes, Peter

    Research has shown that carbon molecules and carbon-based polymers have unique electronic properties that could outclass silicon and lead to better displays, batteries, and computer memory once certain technical challenges have been resolved. Buckyball (C60) molecules, for instance, can act as photovoltaic cells and emit light, while carbon nanotubes show even greater promise. Both conducting and superconducting nanotubes can be produced by vaporizing heated carbon, but separating them is essential for them to be useful electronically. IBM made progress in this area with last year's announcement that it was able to eliminate the conducting tubes from the conductor-semiconductor mix in order to produce a single-nanotube logic gate in its quest to build a nanotube transistor. Meanwhile, Beijing University researchers have extended nanotubes to a length of 20 cm, whereas in the past they were restricted to much smaller lengths. Carbon-based polymers, such as compounds of C60 and poly-p-phenylene vinylene, are also being utilized as photocells and handheld displays. Possible applications include 3D memory arrays with more storage capacity than traditional hard disk and DVD memories, and handheld batteries that run on light. Successfully synthesizing self-assembling carbon-based computer elements will extend Moore's Law, which states that computer chips' power doubles every 18 months.

  • "What to Wear: Why Not a Computer?"
    Wired News (10/10/02); Frishberg, Manny

    Various projects are underway to develop wearable computing devices that could be beneficial for both ordinary and not-so-ordinary users. Georgia Institute of Technology researcher Thad Starner says that wearable computers would be very useful for tasks such as note-taking and scheduling reminders. He maintains that such easily-available devices can be taken for granted and used without interrupting other user activities. Starner predicts that laptops, notebooks, and even desktops will eventually be replaced with a single pocket-sized instrument. Fellow Georgia Tech researcher Maribeth Gandy believes wearable computers will be especially helpful for disabled users: Their availability and constant presence could be combined with designs that do not attract attention to the users' handicaps. Gandy is part of a team developing a standard for a universal control interface that would give cell phones, PDAs, and other wearable controls the ability to read hand gestures. Another project involves a head-mounted visual display that controls wireless devices via captioning, tele-health systems that monitor patients' vital signs in real time, and global positioning system-enabled "way-finding systems" that could relay directions to people with memory problems, or help caretakers find persons who have wandered off.

  • "Human Handshake Opens Data Stream"
    New Scientist Online (10/02/02); Knight, Will

    Japanese telecoms firm NTT and its subsidiary NTT DoCoMo have developed a system that allows two PDA-equipped people to transfer electronic data by shaking hands, according to the Japanese daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun. The system relies on the conductivity of skin to transfer up to 10 megabits of data per second, say sources at the two firms. Wearable computing expert David May of UK's Bristol University says the system could be useful for transferring large amounts of data securely. "If you rely on a wireless connection then you are vulnerable to eavesdropping," he says. But the system's speed of 10 megabits-per-second was achieved in lab settings, not under normal conditions. Possible uses for the system include transferring email addresses, digital business cards, and other relevant data. Furthermore, the system could be used as an automatic authentication tool as people touch door knobs or computers. The companies say the modified PDAs would not have to be attached directly to the skin since they could rely on the conductivity of clothing.

  • "Billions of Blinks From a Laser to Keep Computers in Time"
    New York Times (10/10/02) P. E7; Austen, Ian

    An optical clock developed by Peter J. Delfyett Jr. of the University of Central Florida could allow computer chip manufacturers to build future generations of products that do not suffer from potential timing problems. In his research, Delfyett used a laser that is continuously active, but whose light is modulated by a series of micromirrors and diffraction gratings; this solves problems associated with direct modulation, in which the laser is toggled on and off to increase its pulse rate. His mode-lock laser system uses timing control devices to generate as many as 168 wavelengths from a single laser, and a laboratory demonstration involved flashing signals from all wavelengths six billion times a second, resulting in a transmission speed approximately three times faster than the previous data transmission world record. The precision of the laser's pulse could make it highly useful as a computer chip clock, especially because its timing signals are protected against distortion. Delfyett's research team has built a mode-lock laser that can generate one wavelength that flashes 10 billion pulses a second, and which Delfyett claims can relay the correct time within one-thousandth of one-trillionth of a second. Although he admits that atomic clocks are more accurate than his optical clock, he notes that his invention is highly stable. He is collaborating with researchers from the University of Colorado and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to create a hybrid atomic-optical clock that is both precise and accurate.
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  • "University of Delaware Researchers Develop Revolutionary Computer Interface Technology"
    ScienceDaily (10/10/02)

    The iGesture device developed by University of Delaware researchers John Elias and Wayne Westerman allows users to control computers and execute commands by finger gestures. Elias explains that the system offers "thousands of times" more communication power than the conventional mouse interface; whereas a mouse uses only one point of movement, iGesture utilizes 10 points of contact from both hands. Furthermore, users can operate the system without having to worry about stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. Five years of research went into the making of iGesture, which is being marketed by its creators through FingerWorks. The company is commercializing standalone touch pads, and touch pads incorporated into nonmechanical keyboards that allow operators to switch between mouse and keyboard without moving their hands. Elias says that the touch pad records the objects that come into contact with its surface, and then uses an algorithm to translate those recordings into computer commands. He adds that such a system is much more effective than speech recognition technology. Elias explains that the system was created so that the gestures used are easily understandable--for example, pinching one's fingers tells the computer to cut text, while flicking them is a paste text command.

  • "PopTech: Jaron Lanier"
    PopTech (10/06/02); Lasica, J.D.

    Jaron Lanier, lead scientist for the Internet2 project's National Tele-immersion Initiative, is planning a presentation at this month's PopTech! technology conference in Camden, Maine. Lanier incorporates music and other creative functions with virtual reality worlds, and he himself was the one who coined the term "virtual reality." In an interview, he says his recent work on the Internet2 project involves figuring out a new way to approach computer science so as to radically reinvent software creation. Computer software is currently based on strict protocols that require the bit-by-bit reading of electronic signals, whereas human visual sensory, for example, immediately coalesces many disparate signals into a recognizable pattern. Lanier says computer science needs a new type of software that is massively scalable. He also weighs in on the issue of content ownership, especially as it applies to digital technology and the Internet, which he previously said would supplant all other communication mediums besides in-person communication. Lanier maintains that current attempts by the media industry, electronic device manufacturers, and government to control how technology develops is wrong-headed, mainly because no one can accurately predict what course technological development will take. Mandates for new high-definition television and digital-rights management, for example, limit the potential of technology. He also says that in light of the Sept. 11 attacks he is willing to give up some of his privacy as long as the same standard applies to everyone. He says "what makes a society both democratic and desirable is not so much the degree of transparency but the degree to which it's symmetrical and similar for everyone."

  • "$3.2 Million Grant Trains College Students to Design School Software"
    eSchool News Online (10/03/02); Branigan, Cara

    In an effort to produce better-quality educational software for K-12 students, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has allocated $3.2 million for nonprofit SRI International to develop such software with the help of University of Colorado and Stanford University computer science students. The collaborators will create university-level courses designed to publish online resources, educate undergraduates, and find mentors via the Training and Resources for Assembling Interactive Learning Systems (TRAILS) program. The Stanford and Colorado students will be grouped into teams that will build educational software prototypes and put them through their paces next fall in local K-12 classrooms. The goal of the project is to help students better understand K-12 software requirements as well as gain hands-on experience in interdisciplinary collaboration. The initial software yielded from the TRAILS program will focus on building mathematical skills, while later software will cover science and other topics. Jennifer Knudsen of SRI's Center for Technology in Learning says that both classroom teachers and software should be trained or designed to fulfill specific functions: Good teachers coordinate the students' learning objectives, are engaging, relay concepts, encourage teamwork, and evaluate each student's performance; quality software promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, and concept modeling. TRAILS uses an earlier NSF-funded SRI research project, ESCOT (Educational Software Components of Tomorrow), as its foundation, but focuses on undergraduates rather than professional programmers.
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  • "Nanocylinders Open Way to Polymer Electronics"
    SpaceDaily (10/09/02)

    German researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, in conjunction with American scientists, have successfully developed clusters of fluorine-containing dendritic polymers, which combine conductive polymers and organic molecules in a nanocylinder configuration. The scientists' experiment involves the self-organization of various organic materials into supramolecular liquid crystals. The nanocylinders feature a core of conductive molecules or polymers and a molecular coating to act as insulation. The core is thus shielded against humidity and other outside forces. The German scientists utilized solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy methods to analyze the architecture of the aromatic ring scheme, which lays out the nanocylinders' optoelectronic characteristics. Using such techniques allows desired results to be reached practically overnight, and such an approach will benefit the electronic applications of supramolecular materials. One possible application involves separate use of each individual cylinder in the cluster, which could lead to the substitution of supramolecular electronic devices for conventional molecular electronics. Combining liquid crystals and polymers in this way gives the resulting molecule high charge carrier mobility and makes it easy to handle.

  • "Tech Execs of Europe in a State of Bafflement"
    SiliconValley.com (10/08/02); Gillmor, Dan

    This year's European Technology Roundtable showed the situation in the European IT sector is similarly grim, with many venture capitalists saying their portfolio companies were falling short of business plans. Hermann Hauser, the Briton who started Europe's first pure-technology venture fund in 1997, estimated an approximately 75 percent reduction in the amount of technology venture funding over the past two years. However, he also said the past few years had helped lay a foundation for future innovation. He gave the example of Cambridge, where academia and industry continue to create new synergies, and startup companies have easier access to both talent and money than before. Conversely, German entrepreneurs appear more discouraged. Intel CEO Craig Barrett said that prospects for the tech economy would improve only after a resurgence in the general economy, but that the convergence of communications and computing promised a new driver of innovation and that IT companies had room to grow. Infineon CEO Ulrich Schumacher agreed, adding that technology providers need to pay closer heed to consumer interest and create products that meet demands, not products that create demand themselves. Barrett also noted that eastern Asia is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the technology arena, which is sobering news. New technology on display at the conference included a holographic video screen from a Hungarian company and a description of a pervasive computing project involving an intelligent beer glass in which a small radio transmitter at the bottom of the glass signals the bartender when the glass is empty.
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  • "The Robots Are Coming"
    CNet (10/08/02); Dignan, Larry

    IRobot's chief customers are the military and industry, but the company plans to penetrate the consumer market with a slew of robots it has developed, such as the Roomba automated vacuum cleaner, designed to lift the burden of menial chores. CEO Colin Angle explains that partnerships with companies such as Hasbro and Johnson Wax Professional provided insight on the mass market and cleaning industry, as well as the kinds of products they desired. One of IRobot's products, the CoWorker, is a machine that a person can control via a standard Web interface; Angle says that the robot is particularly useful in the oil industry, where remote control and observation of remote locations is essential. He adds that the PackBot, which the military used in Afghanistan, is a robust, laptop-controlled platform that can deliver payloads to or gather intelligence from high-risk areas--potential applications include bomb disposal, for instance. Meanwhile, the MicroRig, currently in beta testing, is designed to transport payloads into oil wells in a economical way. Angle thinks that multiple robots will hit the homeowner's market next year, and predicts as many as 30 floor-cleaning robots will be available to consumers by the end of 2004. "Our [consumer group's] mission is to look at the tasks today and see what is robotizable and then work on developing the performance required to do it--whether it's washing your car, mowing the lawn or cleaning the bathroom," he declares. Angle says future robots will be increasingly sophisticated, and he predicts that the rate of innovation will take off once robots become a mass market item, much like what happened with PCs.

  • "IT Jobs Outlook"
    eWeek (10/07/02) Vol. 19, No. 40, P. 37; Moad, Jeff; Vaas, Lisa

    A group of CIOs, IT workforce specialists, and educators discussed the origin of the current IT market slump, strategies that employers and IT workers can follow to deal with the current situation, and predictions about when the downturn will end. KeyTech President Ronald Divinere noted that there is more IT talent available for less, but former PRI Automation IT VP Robert Barrett doubted that companies are restructuring themselves because of this fact; Cranston Print Works VP David Brown warned of a high rate of turnover among highly skilled professionals who are hired at lower salaries, particularly if they receive no increases or promotions once the economy recovers, while Jerry Luftman of the Stevens Institute of Technology argued that senior staff are probably less concerned about salary than about keeping their positions. He also observed that many unemployed senior workers are complaining about age discrimination, while Carol Brown of the Kelley School of Business reported that younger workers have been disillusioned by the erosion of their jobs' perks and glamour. Mr. Brown said that companies can upgrade with a low level of risk by hiring contractors, and explained that bringing in personnel who may be overqualified has both positive and negative aspects. Divinere noted that hiring has been further depressed by the presence of offshore talent, while another contributing factor is decreasing application system development cycles. Luftman pointed out that predicting the end of the recession is a difficult challenge. Although the members of the group agreed that IT is less secure than it used to be, it still has many attractive features, such as a challenge, dynamism, and a sense of fun. Mr. Brown noted that developing business skills is essential for getting into IT, while Ms. Brown said that people can use the recession as an opportunity to expand their skills.

  • "Pushing Hard for Hard Science"
    National Journal (10/05/02) Vol. 34, No. 40, P. 2901; Heath, Erin

    Legislators contend that the doubling of the National Institutes of Health's budget has created a funding imbalance between the physical and the life sciences, and they are hoping to resolve it by doubling the National Science Foundation's (NSF) budget over the next five years. Upon taking office, President Bush allocated $4.5 billion for the NSF in fiscal 2002; this represented a increase of only 1 percent over the fiscal 2001 budget, while the NIH budget was raised almost 14 percent. On June 5, the House voted to double NSF funding. The next month, the Senate Appropriations Committee apportioned a 2003 NSF budget of $5.3 billion, but the Bush administration supports a budget increase of $5 billion. A Senate bill would raise the NSF budget annually through fiscal 2007, when the agency would receive $9.8 billion. The bill was approved in September by both the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in an August draft report said unbalanced funding was "detrimental in the long run to all of the disciplines." The rekindled emphasis on national security is one the major reasons legislators are lobbying for a budget raise, according to Howard Garrison of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. However, Kei Koizumi of the American Association for the Advancement of Science maintains that "the community has been careful about not appearing to jump on the bandwagon of homeland security."

  • "Fed Plan Exposes 'Net's Weak Links"
    Network World (10/07/02) Vol. 19, No. 40, P. 1; Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

    Three major areas of the Internet's infrastructure have been labeled as highly vulnerable to cyberattack, according to the White House's cybersecurity strategy: Internet Protocol (IP), DNS, and Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), all of which lack communications authentication functionality. The Internet engineering community has spent over 10 years developing fixes, but ISPs and their corporate clients have been reluctant to use them because they are too expensive and complicated for companies to implement. In addition, IP, DNS, and BGP are rarely exploited by hackers. Of the three security protocols that have been devised--IP Security (IPSec), DNS Security, and Secure BGP--IPSec is too complicated for many network managers, while IPSec products from different vendors are incompatible; DNS Security is still too expensive; and Secure BGP has not been standardized and is not supported by any Internet domain name registries, ISPs, or router vendors. The IETF's IP Security Policy Group is busy simplifying IPSec's key exchange method and developing a consistent series of words to describe the policies enforced by IPSec devices. Meanwhile, the same agency is working on Delegation Signer Resource Record and Opt In, which are supposed to mitigate problems with DNS Security. Experts estimate it could take up to five years to deploy these solutions across sufficient area of the Internet, even with more government support, and AT&T researcher Steve Bellovin believes the government should instead add incentives that would be advantageous for ISPs and software vendors that make secure products. Furthermore, some experts think that errors in deploying software patches would keep the Internet infrastructure vulnerable even if the three protocols are successfully implemented.

  • "The Inventor's Playground"
    Technology Review (10/02) Vol. 105, No. 8, P. 68; Schwartz, Evan I.

    Segway transporter inventor Dean Kamen has spent more than $10 million to turn an old textile mill into a complete inventor's workshop for his company, Deka Research and Development. He follows an unconventional philosophy--rather than focusing on achieving a specific solution, the key to invention is, in Kamen's words, "to change the question." For instance, instead of merely fixing a valve defect in a bulky kidney dialysis machine, Kamen's company reconfigured the entire machine into a smaller self-service device that can be used in the home. Deka's machine shop is set up so that inventors can build and test their ideas in three dimensions as accurately and quickly as possible, while an injection molding machine helps them create components that do not exist. Testing involves real-world objects rather than computer simulated prototypes, and Kamen notes that breakthroughs originally supposed to advance one project can lead to the development of other projects. Such was the case with the Segway, which grew out of research on the iBOT, a wheelchair that can negotiate stairs; both products use similar gyroscopic technology, Kamen explains. Perfecting the technology, a process Kamen describes as "kissing frogs," is the most arduous phase of invention: Engineers must physically build, study, and eliminate as many concepts as they can. Such a process was essential to the development of the Segway's user interface, which involved three years of development and many rejected designs.

  • "Small Earth Society"
    Small Times (10/02) Vol. 2, No. 5, P. 18; Stuart, Candace

    The world's nanotechnology effort is led by the United States, the European Union, and Japan, but while the United States is currently maintaining its leadership position, its two chief rivals are adopting new strategies to improve their standing. The intense competition was triggered in 1991 when Japan launched its Nanomachine Technology Program; the United States responded by creating a micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) research and development strategy coordinated by the Department of Defense, and later the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Meanwhile, the EU organized an initiative to research microsystem technology (MST), which gave its industry a boost in manufacturing and processing, and led to the creation of unifying projects such as Europractice. Japan's effort now lags behind the other two, reportedly because its focus on metallic microbots was too far ahead for commercialization. The latest wave of nanotech competition was spurred by the Clinton administration's launch of the National Nanotech Initiative, and Japan, for one, appears willing to try new approaches: Analysts note important changes, such as better education, foundry accessibility, increased interdisciplinary and collaborative research, and more transparent R&D funding decisions. The EU has also made progress, but its ability to turn R&D into solid commercial products leaves a lot to be desired, so the EU's Sixth Framework Program aims to make that a priority. But all of these initiatives will not help the nanotech sector grow unless there is an exchange of knowledge via collaborations between industries and researchers. One critical U.S. weakness is a lack of U.S.-born science and engineering students and workers. One-third of the industry's workers in the U.S. with Ph.D.s in science and engineering are from another country, according to the National Science Foundation.

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