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Volume 5, Issue 445: Monday, January 13, 2003

  • "At Big Consumer Electronics Show, the Buzz Is All About Connections"
    New York Times (01/13/03) P. C1; Hansell, Saul

    An array of technologies showcased at last week's Consumer Electronics Association trade show focused on products that can connect digital devices so that music, photographs, video, and other digital content can be omnipresent. Vying for attention on the show floor were centralized systems that use the PC as the main repository, and decentralized systems that consist of multiple devices connected by a network. The most common type of product at the convention routed music copied from CDs or off the Internet to home stereo systems, while other highlights included TV sets capable of displaying photos as well as home videos, and recording TV programs stored on devices elsewhere in the home. Viewsonic and Hewlett-Packard introduced PCs that can control audio and video transmissions. Meanwhile, Samsung exhibited standalone storage products such as the Home AV Center, set to debut by year's end: The wireless system records TV shows on both a hard drive and recordable DVDs, enables Web surfing via TV, and displays caller ID numbers from incoming phone calls, among other things. TiVo touted a software upgrade that adheres to the decentralized home network paradigm; its features include routing between computers to stereos or TVs, and network-connected video recorders so someone in one room could watch programs stored on a device in another part of the house. Also on display at the trade show were portable devices that allow people to access their digital content anywhere. "The boundaries of what constitutes consumer electronics and computers are getting blurred," remarked Royal Philips Electronics CEO Gerard J. Kleisterlee.
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  • "Telecom Is Betting Big on 2 Tech Advances"
    Los Angeles Times (01/13/03) P. C1; Shiver Jr., Jube

    The telecommunications industry is evolving to better service customers using Internet technologies. The convergence of the wireless Internet and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) means people in the future will have much more services available than today, while providers will be able to more efficiently operate their networks. VoIP already accounts for a rapidly growing proportion of voice traffic within the United States and internationally, as people place calls over their computer and phone companies make use of long-haul networks to provide cheaper connections. Instead of connecting individuals together using dedicated electronic circuits via expensive phone routing equipment, phone companies anticipate VoIP technology will allow them to use off-the-shelf computer hardware. Wi-Fi wireless technology also allows VoIP users to take and place calls away from wired connections, though they would not be able to roam about as with cellular service. About 10 percent of Americans have placed VoIP calls, and research group Telegeography estimates that more than 10 percent of international voice traffic is carried over data lines. Both regional and local phone companies are preparing for a sea change in the industry, which has focused on the debate over access to local exchanges. The new technology promises to make that argument less relevant as startup and regional service providers use VoIP to bypass Baby Bell monopolies. Qwest Communications' Teresa Taylor says, "It's an inevitable evolution to voice over IP, whether its us--the local phone company--or" competing firms.
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  • "Spam? No Thanks, We're Full"
    USA Today (01/13/03) P. 6D; Kornblum, Janet

    Increasing numbers of people going online is triggering astronomical growth in unwanted commercial email, to the point that spam will overwhelm regular email sent to corporate addresses by July, according to a MessageLabs report. Jupiter Research analyst Jared Blank notes, "The true problem is that spam is effective." Brightmail estimates that the number of spam messages almost tripled over the last year, while Jupiter expects junk email received per average consumer to balloon from 2,300 messages to 3,600 messages between 2002 and 2007. To combat spam, ISPs are employing strategies such as litigation, spam-filtering software, and new legislation. AOL, MSN Hotmail, and Yahoo!--the three biggest targets for spammers--filter email, but this does not stop all spam from getting through, even though all three are constantly upgrading. On the legislative front, 26 U.S. states have passed anti-spam laws, but David Sorkin of the John Marshall Law School reports that only a few are effective. A Harris poll conducted from Nov. 22 to Dec. 2 finds that 80 percent of online users are annoyed by spam, while 74 percent think that spam should be outlawed. However, Sorkin warns that this strategy could backfire: Outlawing certain kinds of spam could encourage spammers to send other kinds of spam, and there would be no protection from spam that originates overseas.
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  • "Mega-Data Stored in Mini-Spaces"
    ABCNews.com (01/10/03); Eng, Paul

    IBM is developing new technology that allows smaller devices to store much more data. Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, a collaborative Hitachi-IBM venture, plans to debut a new version of the Microdrive that can store more than 4 GB on quarter-sized disks by the fall of 2003. But IBM's Swiss research centers are pursuing even more ambitious goals with Millipede, a nanotechnology project that employs thousands of micrometer-sized levers to record data on a polymer film. This is accomplished by heating the lever tips to 400 degrees Celsius so that they can "punch" pits into the polymer. These 10-nm-diameter pits can be erased and used repeatedly by reheating the tip and melting the film back into its original shape. Millipede can store around 1 trillion data bits per square inch, a 20-fold increase over the capacity of current magnetic storage devices. Tom Albrecht of IBM's Zurich center reports that no new chipmaking processes will be necessary in order to fabricate Millipede chips, since they can easily be produced via existing microelectronic assembly methods. IBM believes a Millipede-based memory chip could be introduced by the end of 2005. Albrecht notes a number of challenges remain to be overcome, such as determining the long-term reliability of Millipede's read/write process, assessing its environmental tolerance, and achieving power consumption levels and data transfer rates so that Millipede can rival other storage technologies.
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  • "Digital Experts Swap Talk"
    Wired News (01/13/03); Batista, Elisa

    Notable speakers at last week's Consumer Electronics tradeshow said the debate over digital content ownership and limitations on its download and distribution over the Internet is unlikely to be settled in 2003. StreamCast Networks CEO Steve Griffin, whose company has been the focus of 29 lawsuits from media firms, was hopeful that recording studios would drop their charges and make their content available via peer-to-peer file-sharing technology; Scott Dinsdale of the Motion Picture Association of America said his hopes were on no challenges to anti-piracy legislation and litigation; and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's declaration of neutrality made him a target of criticism. However, some electronics makers are already taking steps to develop and market copyright protection technology: Silicon Image, for example, declared it was testing silicon for digital media products that would restrict program recording. "I think there's been a realization by people putting out these products that the content industry wont keep putting content out and not get paid for it," noted George Borkowski, an attorney who helped prosecute Napster. Meanwhile, consumer advocacy organizations such as the Home Recording Rights Coalition are trying to make the public aware of digital media sharing as a basic consumer right. Furthermore, an agreement between the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association appears to be on the verge of FCC approval: The accord, designed to accelerate the switch from analog to digital TV (DTV), contains loopholes that could allow program providers to limit the number of recordings that can be made. FCC Chairman Michael Powell made no definite statement on the FCC's role in the deployment of broadcast flags to DTV transmissions that would prevent copying and online distribution of content.

  • "Can the URL Be Improved?"
    CNet (01/09/03); LaMonica, Martin

    The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) has formed a committee to create a means for data and Web services to be located online without a URL. The OASIS XRI Technical Committee plans to develop an OASIS Extensible Resource Identifier (XRI) that will be able to find any Web service or data file across domains and protocols. "XRI syntax will be fully federated, the way DNS and IP addressing are today," says OASIS XRI Technical Committee co-Chairman Drummond Reed. Web services currently rely on URLs, and using XRI, for instance, will enable an online business-invoice to be accessible without being located in on specific Internet machine. XRI will work with the Web services UDDI standard and with URLs and is meant to surpass a contemporary directory standard known as LDAP, says ZapThink analyst Jason Bloomberg. The OASIS XRI committee includes collaborations from Data Systems, Novell, Visa International, EDS, and Advanced Micro Devices. Today, URLs are dominant. In the future, XRI "will need the support of the WS-I [Web services standard group] as well as heavyweights [such as] IBM, Microsoft, Sun, Bea, and others to make this happen," says ZapThink analyst Ronald Schmelzer.

  • "Report: Internet Security Threats Will Get Worse"
    eSecurity Planet (01/08/03); Desmond, Paul

    Internet security problems will worsen in the new year, with the biggest threats coming from new mass-mailing worms and rising hactivism, according to a recent study by Internet Security Systems (ISS). More incidents targeting consumer broadband and wireless LANs are also expected. The report found that a total of 1,867 security incidents occurred in the fourth quarter of 2002, a 35 percent increase over the third quarter's 1,385. On a positive note, the firm says the number of hybrid threats and worms fell to 101 in the fourth quarter, a decrease of 28 percent from the third quarter. ISS also notes that hybrid threats (blended elements of viruses, worms, and Trojan horses) are surviving longer and tend to target critical systems such as servers. Meanwhile, 644 new software vulnerabilities were discovered in the fourth quarter; 347 were in the commercial sector and 297 were among open-source products. Most vulnerabilities were based on buffer overflows, which can allow unintentional access to a system. Finally, the report reveals that 23 percent of incidents took place during the weekend, when companies usually have less people working.
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  • "Dollars, Sense and the Cyber Security Act"
    EarthWeb (01/09/03); Desmond, Paul

    The Cyber Security Research and Development Act (CSRDA) approved by both Congress and President Bush last year earmarks almost $1 billion for research and education, but Eugene Spafford of Purdue University's Center for Education and Research in Information and Assurance and Security (CERIAS) is doubtful that the CSRDA will hold to that amount of money, given rival Capitol Hill interests and current budget considerations. Under the new law, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will allocate $275 million over five years for security-related post-doctoral and senior research fellowships to qualifying applicants, as well as $233 million for research grants in nine security fields. For the latter, the usual protocol is for applicants to submit proposals that include a general outline of their functions and effects, while Spafford notes that the institutional resources behind the plans, submitting individuals' experience, and past handling of grants are key factors; he adds that CERIAS may be one such applicant, in order to fund research in sophisticated architectures and intelligent security systems. Spafford reckons that there are perhaps 24 universities with graduate-level security initiatives, but increasing that number requires producing more security experts, which is in keeping with the idea that better educated security professionals will lead to increases in both the academic and corporate sectors. However, Spafford notes that "No amount of money is going to make an immediate difference, and that's a hard sell when you've got people worried right now about bioweapons, poverty, unemployment, pollution, Social Security and other things that are contending for funds."

    Eugene Spafford is co-chair of ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee; http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "Expert: Alleged Wi-Fi Risks Are Nonsense"
    InternetWeek (01/09/03); Wagner, Mitch

    Cory Doctorow, Electronic Frontier Foundation outreach coordinator and co-author of the popular blog Boing Boing, says fears surrounding open Wi-Fi connections are largely unfounded. Many people associate open Wi-Fi connections with spammers, terrorists, and hackers, but Doctorow says those threats are no more a danger for Wi-Fi networks than for wired ones. Instead of trying to close off access, ISPs and owners of Wi-Fi connections should make it publicly available. Companies providing free service would gain goodwill and ISPs would benefit from increased popularity, much as America Online did when it made flat-rate dial-up available in 1995. Doctorow does not entirely dismiss concerns over security threats, but says the idea of corporate firewalls is outdated, and that computer security now needs to focus on encrypting data transfers and firewalls on individual PCs. To those citing threats to national and network security, Doctorow points out that spammers or terrorists have other, more convenient ways of obtaining anonymous access or accounts from which to base their activities. Terrorists could visit their public library or an Internet kiosk, while spammers already make use of free AOL and Hotmail services. From a more technical point-of-view, Doctorow says open Wi-Fi access would not degrade network performance because network switching is efficient enough to allow for multiple high-speed connections.

  • "Redefining the PC"
    SiliconValley.com (01/11/03); Heim, Kristi

    Former Xerox Palo Alto Research Center researcher Gary Starkweather, now at Microsoft, is convinced that an information display revolution is on the horizon, and he wants to help usher in that revolution with a computer featuring an enlarged and curved screen. Taking a cue from Cinerama technology used in IMAX theaters, Starkweather has labored for two years to develop a prototype of his concept, which employs a 12-inch by 44-inch monitor that is curved 90 degrees. The distortion generated by the screen is removed by digital light projectors and telescope mirrors, while increasing the screen's brightness to five times that of cathode ray tubes or liquid crystal display monitors combats eye fatigue. Such a system would allow users to interact with several applications open simultaneously, or elongate a single application across the monitor. Starkweather notes that users can be more productive by interacting with a screen that is triple the width of standard monitors; such a setup allows them to use their peripheral vision and reduces the time spent opening and closing various windows. He believes that micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology will be key to producing larger displays economically. Former president of the Society for Information Display Aris Silzars says that such technology could also be used to make screens capable of displaying TV shows, computer games, and Internet content at the same time. Starkweather's screen is one of several hardware projects Microsoft is undertaking to redefine the PC and extend its usability.

  • "Handhelds Go Multimedia"
    ZDNet AnchorDesk (01/07/03); Houston, Patrick

    Mobile computing and cell phone functions are already merging, with each device-type taking on some of the features previously reserved for the other. Such cross-functional devices include the Treo, any Pocket PC-operated phone, the Nokia 3650, or T-Mobile's Sidekick. Improving technology means that phones today are able to do some calendar and organizing functions while PDAs are commonly equipped with some form of wireless connectivity. In 2003, organic LED (OLED) displays will hit the market as well, allowing for super-thin screens that shine brighter than traditional displays. A multitude of mobile applications are already available, but are stymied by low consumer uptake of wireless data services and network and operating platform barriers. Sony, for one, is developing a version of its popular online Everquest game for cell phones, and location-based services promise to add another dimension to mobile computing. SprintPCS' PCS Vision service recently launched an offering with bundled voice and data services, which should help boost usage of new 3G data services. As other carriers work out their 3G plans and lower prices, the technology will allow for unprecedented wireless Internet connectivity. New Wi-Fi technologies and services are also moving toward that goal with mesh networking and more abundant hot spots, but will not be able to match the coverage of 3G's cell phone infrastructure.

  • "'Malaysian' Virus-Writer Vows Global Outbreak if US Attacks Iraq"
    Star (Malaysia) Online (01/07/03); Sharif, Raslan

    Virus writer Vladimor Chamlkovic has threatened to unleash a "megavirus" if the United States attacks Iraq. Experts, however, say they consider him a low threat due to his weak track record in creating viruses. Experts are also skeptical of his Malaysian nationality. Antivirus company Symantec say that the worms they have encountered that were allegedly written by Chamlkovic have been rated as threats that are "easy" to contain and delete. Also, various antivirus and network security companies say that while a "megavirus" such as the one Chamlkovic claims to have created could be written, it would not pose an uncontrollable threat. "One must always take threats like this seriously, [but] let's look at this with a cool head...all he's done is to make a threat, and for all we know, this could be the screams of an attention-seeker," said security expert Dinesh Nair.
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  • "Browsers Go Back to the Future"
    Nature Online (12/30/02); Whitfield, John

    Researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand have altered the functionality of the Internet back button, which accounts for 40 percent of all online clicks. The current back button logs only index pages, while the new version records every page sequentially. The older system is more accurately labeled "up" than "back," says Canterbury University researcher Andy Cockburn, and lets "recently visited pages disappear." He and his team recently tested the two versions among Internet users by giving them different tasks. Both versions were found to work equally well in solving the problems efficiently, but it was easier to get lost in large Web sites with the new system. Meanwhile, the team contacted Microsoft and Netscape, which have shown interest in the new system but say the change would be to radical right now, says Cockburn. To make the new version more marketable, his team is adding such features as thumbnail images that display recently-visited pages.

  • "White House Tech Officials Race to Build Security System"
    National Journal's Technology Daily (01/09/03); Vaida, Bara

    Technology planners in the Bush administration are working fast to integrate systems for the new Department of Homeland Security. White House Office of Homeland Security director of information infrastructure Lee Holcomb said IT administrators had to navigate legal restrictions on information-sharing while implementing an effective system for protecting national security. Data stores with sensitive information include those for biomedical data, immigration, and law enforcement. Holcomb said the administration has already ruled out building a single data warehouse, as well as other IT proposals that would unduly threaten citizens' privacy. Rather, he said work was being done to make sure data is gathered and re-used efficiently throughout the huge new department, a combination of 22 existing federal groups. With the physical location of the new department still undecided, Holcomb said the administration was doing what it could, including "buying lines" and working out a single department-wide email system. While the Department of Homeland Security will likely not have a completed enterprise system by the Jan. 24 deadline, Holcomb said he hoped the email system would at least be in place by then.

  • "'Gadget Printer' Promises Industrial Revolution"
    New Scientist (01/11/03) P. 12; Graham-Rowe, Duncan

    Industrial assembly lines could become a thing of the past thanks to ink-jet printing technology that prints completely assembled electric and electronic equipment. Such technology is the goal of a research project at the University of California in Berkeley. 3D printers are already used to build product prototypes by depositing layer upon layer of smart polymers, but electronics must be added afterward at great expense; the Berkeley project prints electronics along with the rest of the gadgets. The methodology for printing electronic elements--inductive coils, transistors, capacitors, etc.--has been worked out by the Berkeley researchers; all that remains is for the ink-jet cartridges to be developed, according to team leader John Canny. He predicts that such technology could be used to print a TV remote control, for instance. Such a gadget could be printed out in one go, with buttons, electronics, and an infrared emitter all based on electroactive polymers. Embedding electronics into flexible materials, a science known "flexonics," could eliminate the need for conventional printed circuit boards. Although polymer-based electronics may be cheaper to manufacture than silicon, they do not perform as well. Furthermore, electronic components are embedded so deeply in flexonic devices that they cannot be replaced once they break.

  • "Grid-dy Determination"
    Network World (01/06/03) Vol. 20, No. 1, P. 43; Franklin Jr., Curtis

    Grid computing systems are computers or clusters of computers linked via job scheduling or management software in order to enable the sharing, selection, and aggregation of computing resources. The advantages of the grid computing model include lower operational costs and easier upgrading. Categories of grids include traditional systems that harness CPU cycles, data grids that channel terabytes of data between sites for study, and access grids supplying multi-site videoconferencing and application sharing. Grid computing standards such as the Open Grid Services Architecture (OGSA) are being developed by the Global Grid Forum, while the Globus Project follows an OGSA-based open-source approach. IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Hewlett-Packard have their own grid projects, yet they too use the OGSA standard. Early corporate adopters of grid computing include oil and gas companies, the financial services industry, automotive and aerospace engineering concerns, and the bioinformatics sector. For now, most grids are organized around computers from a single vendor or based on one particular operating system because of as-yet unresolved security, accounting, and administration issues. Although standards are being developed, they are proceeding at a slower pace than the market would prefer. Still, the technology holds so much promise that Butterfly.net CEO David Levine says, "In five years, I can't imagine a company not using a grid." Bloor Research analyst Jane Clabby says, "Within five to 10 years we'll be talking about grids the way we talk about the Internet today."

  • "A Tech Rebirth?"
    U.S. News & World Report (01/13/03) Vol. 134, No. 1, P. 28; Andrews, Paul

    Skyrocketing data consumption is boosting demand for storage technologies from both consumers and businesses, and the falling costs of those technologies will drive up demand even further. A survey of 700 analysts by International Data (IDC) finds that IT and telecommunications spending is expected to rise by over 6 percent to $1.9 trillion in 2003. Worldwide PC shipments will grow by 8.3 percent in 2003 and 11 percent in 2004, and Morgan Stanley reports that two out of every five polled tech executives plan to raise their budgets for new projects this year. Home users will need hardware with greater storage capacity in order to manage large volumes of digital music, photos, and video. Meanwhile, major enterprises are overhauling all their operations to Web-based transactions; new regulations are calling for long-term retention of internal communications; databases are getting bigger; and email use is taking off. Strategic News Service publisher Mark Anderson says, "We should see overall sales growth rates of about 25 percent in 2003, with moderate growth in traditional PCs and phones, strong growth in laptops and color-screen phones, and very strong growth in new intelligent devices." Fifty percent of all telephone calls are expected to be conducted over the Web by 2006, while broadband Internet will grow even more thanks to the emergence and popularity of digital file-swapping. But analysts are hesitant to make any definite predictions of an economic recovery, given the possibilities that the spread of technology could lead to increased global competition, or a terrorist incident that cripples the Internet, which IDC foresees in 2003.

  • "Immobots Take Control"
    Technology Review (01/03) Vol. 105, No. 10, P. 36; Roush, Wade

    Immobile robots, or "immobots," use model-based reasoning to obtain a clear picture of their internal operations and the interaction of their myriad components so that they can reconfigure themselves for optimal performance and avoidance of unexpected difficulties. Immobot applications range from office equipment to vehicle diagnostics to spacecraft, while even more complex systems are on the drawing board or undergoing testing. Several Xerox printer-copiers feature model-based scheduling programs designed to optimize moment-to-moment paper flow and boost productivity, while IBM is developing reconfigurable, autonomic storage networks and Web servers. Meanwhile, several efforts are underway in Europe to outfit passenger vehicles with diagnostic immobots that use model-based programming to detect problems that expert mechanics may not have considered. Such projects indicate that the initial commercial application of immobot software will likely be in the automotive sector, according to Louise Trave-Massuyes of France's Centre National de la Recherchi Scientifique. Model-based software is seen as far more efficient than hand-coded heuristics software that most engineers rely on; the problem with the latter is that reliability is often sacrificed for affordability. The model-based approach obviates the need for engineers to anticipate every possible contingency, and leaves that deduction to the immobot software, which builds a step-by-step plan for solving problems or fulfilling operational parameters based on its knowledge of its inner workings. Currently being tested in Brazil is one of the larger immobot projects, an advisor that helps manage five metropolitan water treatment facilities by monitoring water quality and suggesting solutions to problems; the project is highly complicated, since it requires the immobot to model not only system components, but the physical and biological processes that impact water quality.

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