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Volume 4, Issue 431: Friday, December 6, 2002

  • "Feds Label Wi-Fi a Terrorist Tool"
    Wired News (12/06/02); Boutin, Paul

    Panelists at this week's 802.11 Planet conference warned that users and manufacturers of Wi-Fi technology will face federal regulation unless they can secure their systems. This is because the Department of Homeland Security considers Wi-Fi to be a tool that terrorists can exploit to bring down the critical infrastructure of the United States. At the Black Hat Security Briefings earlier this year, White House cybersecurity czar Richard Clarke declared that "Companies throughout the country have networks that are wide open because of wireless LANs...Millions of houses are getting connected, which means that more and more are getting vulnerable." However, Cable and Wireless security architect and 802.11 Planet panelist Shannon Myers admitted that there is as yet no quick fix to repair Wi-Fi security flaws. Speakers advised corporate Wi-Fi clients to get involved in the creation of security improvements and best practices, otherwise the issue will be passed on to federal regulators. Meanwhile, the latest draft of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace provides stopgap steps that would enable home and office Wi-Fi users to secure their networks. Boingo CEO and conference attendee Sky Dayton thinks that wireless network security implementation needs to be simplified, and believes turnkey security specs currently being developed hold some promise.

  • "Tech Giants Plan Wireless Net Venture"
    SiliconValley.com (12/05/02); Poletti, Therese

    AT&T, IBM, and Intel have joined forces to form Cometa Networks, an ambitious effort that will act as a national Wi-Fi wholesaler to telecoms, ISPs, wireless carriers, cable operators, and other resellers. Cometa Networks, formerly known as "Project Rainbow," intends to start deploying wireless access points in 2003, and have 20,000 Wi-Fi hot spots set up throughout the country by the following year. IBM Global Services will furnish wireless site installation and support, while AT&T will supply the network. Cometa will nurture relationships with universities, hotels, retailers, and real estate firms to set up the access points. Cometa CEO Larry Brilliant predicts that the 2003 launch of Intel's Banias chip will trigger a surge in the wireless market, and lead to the proliferation of 80 million to 90 million wireless-enabled devices. "Our goal is not to develop ahead of that curve, not behind that curve, but to ride that wave," he explains. International Data analyst Keith Waryas notes that Cometa's growth could be hampered by placement fees at locations that are in high demand as wireless access points, but adds that Intel, IBM, and AT&T's support of the venture could give it more clout than competing wireless startups. The companies have not revealed the amount of their Cometa investments, or their portion of the total investment.

  • "Bold Estimate of Web's Thirst For Electricity Seems All Wet"
    Wall Street Journal (12/05/02) P. B1; Wessel, David

    Author Mark P. Mills reported in 1999 that the Internet's percentage of total U.S. electricity consumption had climbed from practically nil 10 years ago to 8 percent, with another 5 percent consumed by all other types of computer use; he and co-author Peter Huber later forecast in Forbes magazine that the digital-Internet economy could devour 50 percent of the electric grid in the next 10 years. Such estimates have been taken as gospel by government officials, Wall Street analysts, and others, a trend that Jonathan Koomey of the University of California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finds troubling. He observes that, "When people hear a statistic that matches their assumptions about how the world is going, they tend not to question it." Koomey's research team and another group at the Arthur D. Little consulting firm have studied Mills' findings, and concluded that they are wrong: According to them, all computer use accounted for around 3 percent of all electricity in 1999. Mills discounts these findings, but Wall Street Journal writer Dave Wessel notes that many people gave credence to his assumptions without taking dozens of factors into account, such as the number of office computers served by the average office printer, the exact electricity consumption of a typical Web server, and the number of monitors kept on overnight. Analysts from Salomon Smith Barney and J.P. Morgan were just some of the heavyweights who cited Mills' report as evidence that more investments should be made in electricity vendors; in fact, Smith Barney called such investments "a convervative play on the Internet." The estimates also supported claims that the California blackouts were caused not by Enron, but by the state's hesitation to sanction new power plants.

  • "National IT Guard Idea Will Take Time"
    InternetNews.com (12/05/02); Joyce, Erin

    The Science and Technology Emergency Mobilization Act (NET Guard Act) included in the recently passed Department of Homeland Security legislation calls for the creation of a National IT Guard made up of volunteer staff--from federal, state, and local governments as well as private industry--that would work to restore communications and IT infrastructure following a terrorist attack. But volunteers eager to join may have to wait another year while the department is organized, a massive undertaking that involves the consolidation of 22 federal agencies and 170,000 professionals. The department will be split into four divisions--Border Transportation Security, Emergency Preparedness and Response, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Countermeasures, and Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection--all of which will contain at least 11 separate offices. Drapkin Technology CEO Michael Drapkin is skeptical of the NET Guard's effectiveness. "One of the lessons we learned with our World Trade Center IT Mobilization Consortium was that very few firms are interested in taking advantage of those free services, even those with severe disasters," he recalls. "Firms really only want one thing [during a disaster]--cold hard cash." However, the NET Guard bill has no provisions for financial compensation or grants. The bill does support the establishment of a technology clearinghouse that would help direct IT Guard volunteers to the appropriate federal agency within the department.

  • "Smart Email Addresses Could Slice Spam"
    New Scientist Online (12/02/02); Knight, Will

    AT&T researcher John Ioannidis thinks that Single Purpose address software will significantly reduce unsolicited email, or spam, by creating a unique email address for each message sent. Reply conditions--permitted respondents, how many replies can be sent, and when--are determined by encrypted rules concealed within the address. This prevents a spammer from faking addresses. In contrast, most anti-spam tools currently on the market detect spam by scanning for key words and phrases in the body and subject of each email. Anti-spam tool providers are locked in an unending battle with spammers, who are continuously upgrading their messages to bypass new filters. Ioannidis adds that an "unlimited use" address could also be used for personal missives, but Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email editor Scott Hazen Meuller warns that such addresses could fall victim to unintentional exposure. Furthermore, usability issues could hinder the effectiveness of the Single Purpose address system, notes Piete Brooks of Cambridge University. "If people receiving the messages don't realize they are not standard email addresses, and put it in an address book, it will fail when used some time later," he says. The Single Purpose address software is still in the prototype phase.

  • "Developing Chip Muscle Through Strain"
    CNet (12/05/02); Spooner, John G.; Kanellos, Michael

    Next week's International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) will feature presentations from IBM and Intel researchers concerning their work with strained silicon, a 30-year-old concept that promises to raise chip performance by as much as 20 percent and help manufacturers keep pace with Moore's Law. In strained silicon, the gap between silicon atoms in chip transistors is widened via the insertion of germanium atoms into the chip's silicon lattice, thus reducing electron interference and boosting power efficiency. The traditional method of adding more transistors to a chip may increase performance, but the trade-off is higher power consumption; such issues are prompting designers to devise more innovative processes and devote more research to materials and transistor design. Strained silicon will be incorporated into Intel's Prescott chip, which will debut in 2003. IBM originally planned to introduce strained silicon next year as well, but reasoned that its 90-nm manufacturing process was adequate enough to reach projected performance levels. Jeff Welser of IBM Microelectronics said the company will probably release strained silicon in its 65-nm manufacturing process in about three years. The IEDM conference will emphasize the fierce rivalry between Intel and IBM's research and development initiatives. IBM will present papers concerning its progress in building a double-gate transistor with the Fin Field Transistor scheme, as well as 3D circuit designs and the 350 GHz communications transistor. Intel will probably discuss its own soon-to-be-released 90-nm manufacturing technology.

  • "Security Still Lagging in Computer Systems"
    Investor's Business Daily (12/05/02) P. A4; Tsuruoka, Doug

    Computer security consultant and Vigilinx CEO Bruce Murphy strongly agrees with the CIA warning in October that terrorists would likely conduct computer-based attacks in conjunction with physical ones. Murphy says terrorists might try to knock out communications or other infrastructure in order to complicate rescue efforts after a bombing, for example. Al-Qaeda, Murphy warns, has shown itself to be resourceful when it comes to gathering information, and probably knows about the abundance of hacker tools available on the Web, as well as published details about security holes in government networks. In addition, the terrorist organization might hire an experienced hacker to do their work for them. Murphy doubts these hackers would be inhibited by moral considerations, even if they knew who they were working for. The government and private sectors need to improve network security by shoring up their existing computer infrastructure. Murphy cites the utility industry as being especially vulnerable to an attack. He says the attack in late October that knocked out some of the Internet's root servers could be a preview of more disastrous attacks to come. Murphy suggests administrators fastidiously update their system software with security patches, since that is the most common point-of-entry for network hacks. He also thinks that it is too early to tell what impact the newly-created Department of Homeland Security will have, but given "the pace at which the government is moving to address cybersecurity, nothing meaningful is going to happen anytime soon."

  • "New Software Creates Dictionary for Retrieving Images"
    EurekAlert! (12/04/02)

    Penn State researchers have developed software that can organize a dictionary of digital images and retrieve them in response to written inquiries. "This system has the potential to change how we handle images in our daily life by giving us better and more access," says principal researcher Dr. James Z. Wang. Other content-based retrieval programs compare the features of images that share a visual similarity, but the Automatic Linguistic Indexing of Pictures (ALIP) system associates the images in its dictionary with keywords that impart specific concepts, enabling it to operate like experts whose job it is to classify and annotate terms. ALIP can also classify images into more categories than other programs, and can accommodate images that do not necessarily share a visual similarity. In one experiment, Wang and fellow researcher Dr. Jia Li taught the program to recognize 24,000 photographs contained in 600 CD-ROMs, with keywords assigned to each archive. Once these images were "learned" by ALIP, the computer built a conceptual dictionary, and the software was able to automatically index new or unfamiliar images using the dictionary's verbal cues via statistical modeling. The program is part of a project funded by the National Science Foundation that aims to create digital imagery technology designed to preserve and classify Asian art and cultural heritages. Wang believes that the technology could also have biomedical, military, business, and Web search applications. The ALIP system will be discussed at the Association for Computing Machinery's Multimedia Conference in Juan Les Pins, France, on Dec. 4.

  • "E-Fabrics Still Too Stiff to Wear"
    Wired News (12/05/02); Baard, Mark

    Researchers gathering at this week's Materials Research Society conference have acknowledged that e-textile development has yet to produce viable wearable electronics. Wearable circuits require flexible conductive fibers, but the materials currently being worked on break too easily, noted International Fashion Machines CEO Maggie Orth. She recommended that engineers focus on building fibers out of organic and other substances that are bendable and robust enough to withstand the impact of a sewing machine needle. Orth added that the development of workable e-textiles is also being hampered by a lack of flexible display technology, but a recent breakthrough at the Xerox Research Center of Canada could change that. Xerox chemist Ben Ong reported that his team has fabricated a printed organic electronic (POE) transistor reliable enough to supplant silicon integrated circuits in liquid crystal displays. Furthermore, such technology could lead to the creation of electronic paper and roll-up TV screens. But for now, e-textiles appear to have more industrial than wearable potential. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) researcher Elana Ethridge listed possible e-textile applications such as embedded sensor arrays that can monitor the structural integrity of buildings in earthquake-prone areas or identify dangerous biochemical agents. However, John Muth of North Carolina State University cautioned that issues such as signal attenuation, reliable interconnectivity, and radio frequency interference could complicate the deployment of such products.

  • "Escape From Boring Beige: 'Modders' Soup Up the Box"
    New York Times (12/05/02) P. E5; Millman, Howard

    Modding, which could be called the PC equivalent of hot-rodding, is a hobby in which computer owners jazz up their machines' appearance as well as performance. Some "modders" perform a cosmetic touch-up, such as painting flames or jungle vines on the computers, while others carry out more elaborate modifications that dramatically move the PC away from the standard "box" design. Computer personalization is an expensive hobby, but component prices are falling while online sites are making accessories more available. Modders may incorporate components such as transparent glass panels and interior lighting that lets viewers see their computers' inner workings, or opt for unusual details such as water-cooled radiators, chrome grills, and fans with light-emitting diodes. Others may completely reconfigure the PC's shape into a more aesthetically pleasing one. Modding was spawned at LAN parties, where game hobbyists convene to show off their gaming skills as well as their computer designs. Modified PC showcases and contests are also becoming a major part of the leading head-to-head game competitions: For example, there will be a cash prize awarded to the best modified computer entered into a contest at the Cyberathlete Professional League's Winter 2002 event. Modding is dominated by youth, and computer industry analyst Roger Kay says, "Most modders are cerebral, almost nerdy." Still, modders say the hobby is growing and attracting computer enthusiasts of all ages.
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Motifs Distinguish Networks"
    Technology Research News (12/04/02); Patch, Kimberly

    Israeli researchers studying network connections have found they can be classified into many different types of motifs based on their function and design. The Weizmann Institute of Science team found similarities between social networks and the Internet, for example, because both have small-world and scale-free characteristics; just a few links on the Internet enable a person to reach any point on that network in the same way every person on the planet supposedly has six degrees of separation between them. Small-world networks are characterized by short paths between large nodes, while scale-free networks are characterized by many nodes with few connections and a few nodes with links to many other nodes. Weizmann senior scientist Uri Alon says that other areas of research can benefit from the findings. For example, nanoscale engineering should consider the connections prevalent in cellular systems, such as the feedforward loop and amplifier motifs. "The circuits favored by biology will be the ones that work [in] engineering on the nanoscale," Alon says. By better understanding the network motifs of the World Wide Web, researchers can improve search engines and network design. Eventually, Alon proposes that all networks can be categorized into different classes, allowing engineers to quickly determine the optimal way to design man-made networks. Filippo Menczer of the University of Iowa praises the group's research, explaining that "It goes beyond global link analysis such as the studies which unveiled the scale-free/power degree distribution of many complex networks including the Web, and starts focusing on more local structures."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "How China Is Making the Pen as Mighty as the PC"
    Washington Post (12/04/02) P. E1; Goodman, Peter S.

    Digital ink, a technology that allows handheld computers to translate words written by pen on a screen into text, is just one of many breakthroughs coming out of China that are raising the country's stock and influence in the global high-tech sector. Multinational tech companies are setting up offices and branches in China because of the country's vast market potential and its huge workforce of cheap, skilled labor; over 50,000 computer science engineers graduate from Chinese colleges annually, compared to roughly 30,000 in the United States. J.P. Morgan estimates that Chinese firms and consumers accounted for about 7 percent of worldwide PC sales last year, while International Data (IDC) reckons Chinese spending on IT products and services in 2001 totaled $16 billion. By 2010, one-fifth of the world's PC sales could come from China, if it sustains its current growth rate. Domestic computer maker Legend Group currently owns the biggest portion of the Chinese market. The country has also set a two-year goal to build enough semiconductor plants to become the second-largest chip manufacturer in the world. However, Case Software founder Wu Qiang sees the Chinese software industry's development being hampered by cultural forces--he reports that Chinese programmers, while highly skilled, do not work well in large teams. Another hindrance is the immaturity of the Chinese stock and bond markets; bank loans remain the principal means of finance.

  • "Bell Labs Struggles to Guard Its Legacy"
    Philadelphia Inquirer (12/01/02) P. E3; Bergstein, Brian

    Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs unit has been pared down considerably as its corporate parent languishes in the telecommunications meltdown. In years past, Bell Labs was much larger than most other industrial research labs and cash-rich due to parent AT&T's telephone monopoly. Researchers there developed the laser and transistor, but now are under pressure to create competitive technologies for Lucent, in order to revive operations. The company has instituted corridors of communication between scientists and business units, assigning researchers "relationship managers" who act as liaisons with Lucent corporate units. Lucent is also working on partnerships with other companies to jointly develop products, and scouting the military for possible research opportunities. However, Lucent recently decided to halt the commercialization of a new Bell Labs invention, the Lambda optical router that can speed data using 256 mirrors, because the market situation is so poor. Nevertheless, Bell Labs is still a considerable force in industrial research, having 10,000 workers, 500 in core research. The group is renowned for its interdisciplinary approach to research, and still receives about 1 percent of Lucent revenues, though that amounted to just $2.3 billion in fiscal 2002. Current Bell Labs projects generating buzz include flexible display screens, nanotechnology, communications networks performance upgrades, and applying patterns in nature to tech designs. Cherry Murray, senior vice president for physical science research, says, "Bell Labs is not dead. It is adaptable...instead of working on atomic physics because it's beautiful, we're working on [it] because it could be valuable for the future of communications."

  • "Segway Aims To Keep Rolling After San Francisco Setback"
    Investor's Business Daily (12/05/02) P. A6; Deagon, Brian

    Segway's plans to distribute the long-touted Segway Human Transporter to consumers hit a roadblock when San Francisco city supervisors last week voted 8-2 to prohibit the two-wheeled vehicle from sidewalks. Although California Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill that sanctioned the Segway's access to sidewalks, local municipalities can still set their own rules. Segway's director of state regulatory affairs, Matt Dailida, called the San Francisco decision "premature" and derided it as bad public policy, because it does not take into account hard evidence. The company's argument is that the Segway is primarily designed for sidewalks, since its purpose is to provide pedestrians with an alternative to walking. The biggest known Segway user thus far is the U.S. Postal Service, but airports, police, the National Park Service, and companies such as General Electric and Boeing have also tested the vehicle. Among those who see the Segway as a hazard rather than a convenience for San Francisco pedestrians are advocates for the elderly and the blind, and there are also concerns that people with baby strollers would be at risk. Thirty-two states, including California, have passed laws permitting the vehicle on sidewalks, while laws are pending in six more states, and Colorado and Mississippi have no ban on sidewalk use of motorized vehicles. The battery-powered Segway can travel at speeds of up to 12 mph, and inventor Dean Kamen describes it as a device that can improve the world by reducing congestion and pollution.

  • "Pile 'Em High"
    Economist (11/28/02) Vol. 365, No. 8301, P. 70

    IBM scientists this month said they are working on a method of building stacks of chips on top of one another in order to cut power use, speed connections, and free up valuable electronics real estate. While previous attempts have been made to create 3D chips, usually the performance of the bottom layer was degraded by the heat used in creating the layers on top. At IBM, researchers plan to create the layers separately, then fuse them together later to avoid damaging chip performance. The method involves building upper layers on a piece of glass before etching circuit features. Once aligned with the bottom layer, the glass is removed and traditional processes can be employed to create connections between the upper and lower chips. A 3D chip made in this way would not need as much power to send signals across the circuit board to neighboring chips, and would also allow engineers to design on-chip buffer circuitry that keeps processing speeds in line with the speed of information traveling to and from the chip. Building chips tightly together in this way could also allow integration between disparate types of chips, such as the high-frequency radio circuitry used in cell phones and the rest of its functions. Optical transmitters and receivers, which are not built on silicon but gallium arsenide, could also be fused together with silicon components.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Dancing With Peer-to-Peer"
    InfoWorld (11/25/02) Vol. 24, No. 47, P. 1; Sanborn, Stephanie

    Peer-to-peer (p-to-p) technology is maturing, extending its enterprise functionality beyond file sharing and collaboration, and becoming a core component of IT infrastructure. John Parkinson of Cap Gemini's Ernst & Young explains that p-to-p's decentralized nature makes it ideal for collaborative applications, but the current drive is to use p-to-p to make other, existing applications collaborative as well. Forthcoming products that serve this function include Advanced Reality's AR technology and Groove's Toolkit for Visual Studio .Net. Advanced Reality CTO Derek Ruths maintains that mobile devices will be key to p-to-p collaboration's growth, because of their potential to boost productivity and support on-the-fly, network-edge operations. Integrating p-to-p and Web services could facilitate communication between systems, uphold processes such as application logic and message passing, and maximize corporate use of idle resources through the construction of distributed architectures or grids. Metis Technology CEO Mitch Davis says that a peer architecture enables you to "dynamically configure any process of application, and also dynamically deploy that application across whatever machine you've got." Ruths notes that p-to-p could be more acceptable to businesses looking for solutions in the midst of a recession. Many believe that p-to-p's next logical phase will be increasing its support of real-time operations, while its general migration into the enterprise fabric could lead to ubiquity.

  • "Attack of the Killer Dust"
    Business Week (12/02/02) No. 3810, P. 103; Green, Heather

    In Michael Crichton's latest novel, "Prey," slated for release Nov. 25, Silicon Valley scientist-entrepreneurs create the latest in battlefield technology--a swarm of micro-robots the size of dust particles. However, things go wrong when the robots morph into predatory, self-replicating swarms. The author delves into the budding field of nanotechnology at a time when scientists are debating the potential hazards of nanotech research. Crichton says, "We're in a social environment that's tremendously disposed to new things. But there always is a downside." Still, although scientists are skeptical about a Crichton-described event occurring with nanotechnology, they have been contemplating such worst-case scenarios for years. Software engineer Bill Joy, who has warned that the convergence of some technologies could trigger disastrous consequences, said in October that "We have to limit access to the kinds of scientific information that lets people do these kinds of things in laboratories. That will require regulation of materials and information in ways that we haven't had to do before." Meanwhile, computer scientist and inventor Ray Kurzweil counters researchers who say self-replicating nanotechnology will not be seen for 100 years, by asserting that with a paradigm shift doubling every decade, it could occur in 25 years. "If we do half as well as we have done with software viruses, we will do well" with nanotech, too, Kurzweil believes. Scientist say the Crichton novel might be useful in that it could create a more watchful public that will encourage researchers to proceed with nanotechnology more cautiously.

  • "Ultrawideband Wireless: Not-So-New Technology Comes Into Its Own"
    Electronic Design (11/02) Vol. 50, No. 24, P. 53; Frenzel, Louis

    Ultrawideband (UWB) wireless technology has started to inch out of the military and government sectors and into the commercial arena thanks to FCC approval of a UWB standard in the 3.1- to 10.6-GHz range. These limits were set in order to avoid the potential for interference with other services, such as GPS satellites and PCS cell phones. The FCC ruling was made at the behest of semiconductor manufacturers hoping to exploit the opportunities of the technology, particularly in the data communications and networking fields. UWB's biggest application, as defined by the FCC, is radar: Commercially available UWB transceivers can penetrate walls and earth, and are used to analyze the integrity of bridges and roads, as well as assist in search and rescue missions. The least-developed UWB area is data communications, and the application with the most potential in this sector is in short-range personal area networks (PANs). The technology could be especially useful in consumer electronics, and Sony predicts that most future entertainment systems will boast wireless connectivity as a core component. Among the advantages of UWB are power and spectral efficiency, high resolution imaging, low cost, excellent penetration, high data rates, resistance to multipath effects, simple circuitry, and security. Among the drawbacks are difficulty in testing because of system complexity, the possibility that UWB could affect other wireless services, and limited range due to low power.
    Click Here to View Full Article

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