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Volume 5, Issue 562: Friday, October 24, 2003

  • "Senate Votes 97-0 to Restrict E-Mail Ads"
    Washington Post (10/23/03) P. A1; Krim, Jonathan

    The Senate yesterday unanimously passed an anti-spam bill from Sens. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), after amendments were made that clear the way for the establishment of a national no-spam registry similar to the do-not-call list. The legislation bans unsolicited commercial emails that promote bogus body-enhancement wares, financial scams, and pornography, while provisions proposed by Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) outlaw methods spammers use to evade detection. Under the bill, the FTC has six months to develop a do-not-spam registry system and outline the technical challenges. The registry, proposed by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), has been criticized by FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris, who argues that such a measure would make little difference to spammers, who would simply ignore it. The Burns-Wyden bill itself has also come under fire from several consumer and anti-spam groups because it only allows ISPs, not individuals, to sue spammers; the legislation would also preempt all state spam control laws, some of which are regarded as draconian by members of the business community. The bill is backed by the marketing, retailing, and Internet-access industries, which have long lobbied for a federal law that does not prohibit legitimate enterprises from sending commercial email to customers who desire such messages. Entities that have endorsed the bill, with varying degrees of commitment, include the White House, the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email, Yahoo!, and Microsoft. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is debating a similar measure, and the differences between it and the Senate bill will need to be resolved; both bills allow consumers to opt out of receiving email if they so wish. Meanwhile, a new poll from the Pew Internet Life Project found that 25 percent of respondents say they have reduced their use of email due to spam.
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  • "Plumbing Depths of Data Mining"
    Wired News (10/23/03); Shachtman, Noah

    A panel of legislators, civil libertarians, researchers, and others gathered in Washington, D.C., by the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies on Oct. 21 failed to reach an accord on the best strategy for employing data-mining technology to uphold the security of the United States without infringing on citizens' privacy. Potomac research fellow and panel moderator Daniel Gallington suggested the creation of a searchable database by pooling the legal information resources of the CIA, FBI, and local law enforcement, but Peter Raven-Hansen of George Washington University countered that even the tiniest error could allow innocent people to fall under suspicion. For one thing, the FBI has the authority to investigate large portions of the populace without telling them; this raises the question of whether citizens who have participated in activities linked, however tenuously, to terrorism--taking flying lessons or visiting a mosque, for instance--should be lumped into the database. Another question is whether people investigated by the police for specific, even minor, transgressions should be included in the list as well. Dr. Robert Popp, who managed the Pentagon's now-defunct Terrorism Information Awareness project for a short time, suggested that broad searches of such a database should initially be anonymous, so that data on potentially suspicious behavior is collated statistically rather than by name; specific names would only be disclosed in more focused investigations by order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a measure that riled civil libertarians. "There's a history of restrictions on collection by intelligence agencies and law enforcement--a history of restriction on disseminating that information," noted Senate Select Committee on Intelligence counsel Brandon Milhorn. "To me, while there might be modifications at the edges, the general rules have been in place for 20-some-odd years."
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  • "Carnegie Mellon to Launch New Initiative to Ensure Cybersecurity"
    EurekAlert (10/22/03)

    The expertise of over 50 researchers and 80 students from Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering, School of Computer Science, H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management, and the CERT Coordination Center will be combined under Carnegie Mellon CyLab. CMU President Jared L. Cohon says the CyLab facility "is designed to work with speed and great efficiency to shore up security breaches that can compromise the Internet-based electronic ties that enhance communications and services that bind so many enterprises together into a network that is the foundation of our economic prosperity." Another of CyLab's goals is to nurture government-business collaboration to bolster the security of the cyber-infrastructure. CyLab co-director Pradeep Khosla says the center will be a convergence point for CMU's information assurance specialists, including those working in the fields of research and development, public policy, response, and prediction. Much of CyLab's research funding is coming from a sizable federal investment shepherded by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.). The Internet's vulnerability to malicious software, hackers, and cyberterrorism will spur CyLab to concentrate on the development of state-of-the-art technologies designed to keep information private and fortify the security of distributed systems and wireless and optical networks. The facility will also be dedicated to sustaining CMU's CyberCorps program and its effort to boost cybersecurity competence among 10 million home users. Cisco CTO Greg Akers says, "We look forward to helping CyLab craft a focused research initiative centered on tools, technologies and practices to improve dependability, secure the Internet, embed security in computer and communications systems, and design a public/private partnership to accelerate outreach training and education."
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  • "Usability Studies Take Field"
    UW Daily Online (10/22/03); Sengul, Andrew

    Usability engineering, a field dedicated to the improvement of human-machine interfaces through analysis of Web design, software-interface design, ergonomics, and other factors, is a major area of study at the University of Washington. The field is growing in importance among national and international IT players, and UW technical communication professor and chair Judith Ramey says the last two years have seen usability testing interest swell significantly--in fact, she describes the field as approaching critical mass. A key element of the UW's usability engineering focus is the Laboratory for Usability Testing and Evaluation (LUTE); the lab's assistant director Rich DeSantis says the purpose of the facility is to pinpoint usability problems in products from a wide spectrum of clients. "Our testers sit at a terminal with the cameras on them, and we tell them to, for example, go to Walmart.com and buy a bike, and we measure how long it took them, how many eye movements they made and so on, and create reports based on that," he says. LUTE is equipped with a control station displaying multiple camera views of test subjects and what they see on their computer screen, and the facility furnishes a "highlight video" to clients at the end of each testing session. DeSantis is negotiating with Japan's Institute of Systems and Information Technologies to have LUTE supply usability testing, while Ramey says the school's interface-design research expertise may one day compete with similar efforts at vaunted institutions such as MIT and Stanford. She says this promises tremendous opportunities for students interested in technology as well as helping people. The UW's achievements in usability engineering have drawn the attention of leading national researchers such as Ben Shneiderman, founder of the University of Maryland's Human-Computer Interaction Lab.
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  • "Is the Age of Desktop Linux Approaching?"
    IDG News Service (10/23/03); Gross, Grant

    Linux advocates and vendors at the Enterprise Linux Forum Conference and Expo on Oct. 22 said that Linux will not end Microsoft Windows' domination of the desktop with a single stroke. "The question is, how do we get from 1 percent to 2 percent [of desktops], not 1 percent to 20 percent," insisted Nat Friedman of Novell's Ximian division. Google estimates that a mere 1 percent of its search requests originates from Linux machines, 3 percent comes from Apple Macintoshes, and most of the remainder comes from Windows; an International Data report released this month shows that Windows controls more than 93 percent of the client market, while both Windows and Linux have exhibited only a small amount of client-side growth. Friedman said Linux vendors must adjust their marketing focus away from home desktop users and toward more opportune segments, such as Unix workstation users. Linux International executive director Jon Hall forecast that the next two years will be "the age of Linux on the desktop," as PCs become more affordable for people in Third-World countries where Microsoft is viewed as the "American monopoly." He cited wide Linux desktop adoptions in Thailand, Spain, and Brazil, and noted that the city government of Munich plans to switch 14,000 desktops from Windows to Linux. Friedman also pointed out that Burlington Coat Factory and a few other American corporations employ Linux on desktops. He further recommended that Linux vendors should try to avoid making Linux desktops too similar to Windows, arguing that the chief selling point should be a clear distinction between the two desktop experiences.
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  • "Smart Servers as Watchdogs for Trouble on the Web"
    New York Times (10/23/03) P. E8; Eisenberg, Anne

    An upgraded Internet that can detect worms, traffic bottlenecks, and other network problems before they become serious may one day be within reach thanks to the efforts of PlanetLab, an academic-industrial consortium that has created a virtual testbed network built atop the Internet. PlanetLab employs PCs as smart routers at each network node, and these machines can run applications designed to detect whether data packets are benign or malign. "We are putting all the functionality and smarts into the PC at each node, without disturbing the rigid capabilities of the Internet routers," explains PlanetLab leader and Princeton computer science professor Larry Peterson. Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and Google have contributed hardware and services to the project. By donating nodes at their sites, researchers can use the PlanetLab network to test their tools as well as leverage the broader scope of network services; one tool, a worm detector called Netbait, is being tested on PlanetLab by Intel scientist Brent Chun, who says the tests have yielded new insights on worms and the spread of their infection. PlanetLab is also being used to test CoDeeN, a program developed by Princeton researchers to mitigate network traffic jams by replicating popular Web pages and positioning them on servers near potential requesters. PlanetLab is purchasing more machines to bolster the network infrastructure using funds from the National Science Foundation, and Peterson reports that the network is currently linked to 2,600 of the Internet's approximately 15,000 autonomous systems. About 250 PC nodes have been deployed so far, and Peterson says 1,000 nodes--enough to provide full coverage--should be set up in two years.
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  • "CSIRO's Future Web Beats MP3s"
    PC World (10/24/03); Deare, Steven

    The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia is using open-source media codecs as part of its Continuous Media Web project, aimed at allowing Web users to access media segments directly instead of as a whole. Using the Annodex media format, people would be able to send URL hyperlinks to their friends so they can immediately view a specific clip of video instead of having to download the entire video. Annodex is part of the Continuous Media Web project and incorporates Ogg open-source video and audio codecs, developed by Xiph.Org. CSIRO research scientist Dr. Silvia Pfeiffer says her group chose Ogg technology because it did not involve the legal ambiguities associated with the proprietary MP3 format; Pfeiffer notes the Ogg Vorbis audio codec also is of better sound quality than MP3 and has 10 times the compression performance. She says Australia's ABC is already using Continuous Media Web technology to let its journalists search digital media archives, and that future consumer users would be able to tag passages in a family's digital video collection, for example. Xiph.Org members were not involved in the creation of Annodex, but Pfeiffer says CSIRO will meet with them soon and that Annodex technology might be included in future Ogg releases. CSIRO is now working on an authoring tool and search engine for Annodex, and is working with Australian media firms in order to bolster the amount of media that will be available in Annodex format. Pfeiffer says CSIRO is also looking into MPEG interoperability and expects the Continuous Media Web project to take some time before it makes an impact on the consumer market.
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  • "Spammers Clog Up the Blogs"
    Wired News (10/24/03); Ulbrich, Chris

    A recent spate of aggressive spamming on Weblogs (blogs) has raised questions about what tradeoffs bloggers may be willing to accept to rid their sites of this growing nuisance, and what strategies they can employ to stave it off. Blog-spamming often takes the form of links embedded in key phrases such as "diet pills" or "buy viagra" placed in bloggers' comment threads by spambots, while a more insidious method involves spambots posting seemingly harmless comments with spammers' URLs embedded in the signature. Dealing with comment spam can be even harder than dealing with email spam--comment spam is more difficult to recognize and delete, while removing the spam once it has been spotted can be an onerous and laborious job. Spammers apparently hope that such a massive amount of URLs cropping up in blog comments will convince search engines that such products interest the blog community, and cause spammers' sites to be ranked highly in search query results. The most recent blog-spamming wave targeted Six Apart's Movable Type publishing system, which does not require registration to post comments and only allows bloggers to refuse comments according to IP address. Six Apart founders Ben and Mena Trott say upcoming versions of Moveable Type and their TypePad hosted blogging service will feature improved comment handling, and may include mass deletion of comments originating from a specific IP address, or a way to remove comments directly from notification emails. SearchEngineWatch.com editor Danny Sullivan doubts that comment spam will affect search-engine results for very long. "They may work for a very short period of time, but search engines come back, and it's another step in the constant arms race between search engines and the people who optimize for them," he observes.
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  • "Ex-Cybersecurity Czar Clarke Issues Gloomy Report Card"
    ZDNet (10/22/03); Berlind, David

    Former White House cybersecurity czar Richard Clarke recently warned that the severity and frequency of cyberattacks will continue to increase exponentially. Speaking at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2003, Clarke said a confluence of trends have increased the threat of Internet attacks: Software vulnerabilities continue to be discovered at an increasingly rapid clip, with as many as 60 new vulnerabilities announced each week. Patching these bugs is not a glib decision for IT managers, who are struggling to test the patches together and find out their effects. Meanwhile, Clarke said the time window between an unofficial vulnerability announcement and when a virus is crafted to exploit it has whittled to about six hours. Clarke recited an account of the Code Red attack in July 2001, when the worldwide virus was found to be targeting the White House Web domain with a massive DoS attack; he noted that major security agencies and the private sector were able to coordinate and break the virus' code the same day it was recognized as a major threat. Major Internet providers were then asked to divert traffic to the White House Web site, preventing a complete swamping of whitehouse.gov. Clarke says the more recent Slammer worm was much faster, spanning five continents and 300,000 computers in just 14 minutes; in this type of environment, organizations need to have Internet security defenses already in place before an attack occurs. Clarke also said the rising cost of cleanup and an inability to catch the culprits adds to the harm done by cyberattacks. He explained that previous forecasts that major infrastructure would be subject to cyberattack came true this year, as the Bank of America's ATM network, CSX Railroad, and Continental Airlines all were disrupted by cyberattacks.
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  • "Body Network Gains Speed"
    Technology Research News (10/29/03); Smalley, Eric

    The ElectAura-Net prototype developed by researchers at Japan's NTT Docomo Multimedia Labs and NTT Microsystem Integration Labs is a wireless indoor Ethernet network that harnesses the bioelectric field of the human body to transmit data at 10 Mbps. NTT Docomo Multimedia Labs scientist Masaaki Fukumoto says, "The main aim of the system is to provide [a] new indoor communication infrastructure for [the] coming wearable and ubiquitous [computing] era." The prototype network is a combination of transceivers positioned under a tile or carpet floor and transceivers worn or carried on the body; Fukumoto says that a person with such devices can access the Internet simply by standing or walking on the floor. Data transmission is facilitated by the oscillation of the electric field surrounding the device, and the intersection of a person's bioelectric field with the transceiver's field triggers an oscillation transfer. The transceiver detects oscillations via a sensor originally developed to test circuit boards. The ElectAura-Net's data transfer rate overtakes Bluetooth's 1 Mbps radio wave system as well as the Infrared Data Association's 4 Mbps infrared standard. "We're developing [a] large-scale floor communications system with automatic map generation and automatic routing," boasts Fukumoto. The next step involves miniaturizing the system components and increasing the network's scalability, while University of Washington researcher Kurt Partridge says the technology needs to be made more power-efficient.
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  • "Slipping Into a New Shell"
    New York Times (10/23/03) P. E1; Fessenden, Ford

    Computer enthusiasts throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States are finding new ways to combine functionality and aesthetics by building stealth computers, in which their system hardware is bundled into plush toys, lampshades, and other stylish and unobtrusive objects. One of the drivers of the stealth computer movement--which has started to make inroads into the consumer market--is Via Technologies, which sells the tiny, low-power mini-ITX motherboard that many hobbyists use. The mini-ITX has a relatively slow CPU, supports no more than one video or sound card, and features a processor that cannot be swapped. On the other hand, the product emits very little heat and eliminates the need for a noisy cooling system. The motherboard only costs between $100 and $200, and Via and others are trying to turn the performance drawbacks into an advantage by promoting the concept of a "second PC," a cheap, noiseless device that can relieve the family PC of some of its burden. Texas-based network administrator Greg Sowell has assembled mini-ITX PCs out of a Lincoln Log cabin and a sewing box. Via marketing VP Richard Brown says his company has held competitions for fanciful PC designs, and reports that many ideas submitted by hobbyists were for home use. "The whole idea of the computer as an appliance, as a stereo component, is just coming in," observes Canadian technology writer Mike Chin, who has built a PC with hardware housed in a breadbox.
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  • "Robot Skin Stretches to the Task"
    New Scientist (10/22/03); Choi, Charles

    Princeton University electrical engineers Sigurd Wagner and Stephanie Lacour plan to unveil an elastic, conducting skin for robots during next week's robot conference in Las Vegas, Nev. Developing skin for robots that stretches has proven to be problematic, considering the skin would break when sensors are connected to metal wires. However, the researchers have developed elastic metal film connectors based on gold film 25 nanometers thick that have the ability to stretch at least 15 percent in a rubbery silicone membrane, and still conduct electricity because the broad corrugated strips can flatten out or compress. Wagner and Lacour are creating a handmade elastic circuit that would blow up like a balloon. They view strip-like connector devices as an ideal skin because it would allow sensors to be placed all over a robot. Wagner says, "The goal is to enable robots to become cautious" and more aware of their surroundings. Over the next three years, the engineers will focus on automating the manufacture of the elastic covering.
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  • "Managing the Data Handbag"
    Sydney Morning Herald (10/21/03); Head, Beverley

    Data storage systems are akin to handbags: The larger they are, the more things people find to fill them. Research firm International Data (IDC) says storage capacity in Australia will grow by 43.6 percent this year, reaching 14,480 TB in size; by 2007, that figure will reach 176,000 TB of storage space. IDC Asia-Pacific storage research director Graham Penn says that growth is fueled by email attachments, media files, and legal records-storage requirements in fields such as financial services and medicine. Another driving factor is the desire to record people's day-to-day activities, as evidenced by Microsoft senior researcher Gordon Bell's MyLifeBits project; Bell is trying to find the value of life records and attempting to store every article, book, card, CD, photo, home movie, phone call, and TV program he has been in contact with. Securedata business development director David Solsky says the challenge of growing storage needs is not the hardware itself, since prices continue to fall regularly, but in finding ways to manage the data. In addition, people want access to information all the time and expect storage systems to be reliable and resilient to damage. EMC's Clive Gold admits that the data storage industry is about management and accessibility, not just capacity. He says good systems will give users instant access to current data while systematically archiving older data so it is also available. Adidas network administrator Ricky Telac says data storage needs are burgeoning at his company and that the key is user behavior; even with a new storage area network and mirroring system, Telac plans to crack down on sloppy data storage practices and force users to clean out unnecessary files by limiting each desktop to just 300 MB in hard drive space.
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  • "Nanotechnology Could Play Big Role in Fighting Terror"
    Investor's Business Daily (10/21/03) P. A7; Tsuruoka, Doug

    Nanotechnology researcher Mark Ratner and his son, tech entrepreneur Dan Ratner, have co-authored a book detailing how nanotech will be an important component of U.S. homeland security. Dan Ratner expects the first anti-terror nanotech applications to be sensors boasting unrivaled accuracy for detecting bioterror agents and explosives because they employ molecular matching systems. Another homeland security nanotech application Ratner mentions is super-strong materials used for body armor; in fact, there are nanotech-derived fabrics already on the market that are 10 to 50 times stronger than Kevlar. Nanotech can also be used to decontaminate sites of biowarfare attacks by using nanoparticles to absorb or scrub contaminated areas clean of poisonous agents. Ratner observes that most military applications for nanotech concentrate on beefing up soldiers' survivability or protection, such as "dynamic smart materials" that can be altered at a moment's notice to shield troops against chemical agents. The entrepreneur cautions that without appropriate oversight by nanotech-monitoring organizations, the technology could be used to infringe on people's privacy. This abuse stems from nanotech's ability to ease the processing and storage of personal information when used with computers. Ratner estimates that a large chunk of the $4 trillion spent annually on defense and energy will be channeled into nanotech.

  • "Xerox's Tech Revolution"
    PC Magazine (10/13/03); Hachman, Mark; Rupley, Sebastian

    Xerox researchers recently gathered in San Francisco to show off potentially revolutionary technologies under development. Xerox wants to boost the page output of printers by a factor of 10 using wax-based inks, and is investigating how a microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) actuator co-developed by Corning and Kodak could be employed for ink deposition. The Switch-a-View project involves the overlay of multiple images, each one visible under variable lighting, into a single picture, while GlossMark--the imprint of an image in a paper document that is only visible from a certain angle--could be an effective counterfeiting deterrent. Generating some of the biggest buzz at the Xerox gathering was Automated Document Layout, automated design software that smoothly renders text and graphics into a sample page layout. Also on hand at the event were representatives of Xerox's Gyricon subsidiary, which is developing SmartPaper, a technology that could be the chief component in updateable electronic displays. Another key Xerox research project is printable organic semiconductors for cheap, flexible displays, a breakthrough that could set the stage for electronic paper. DataGlyphs, meanwhile, are a technology that encodes digital data in sheets of paper; the methodology includes software to encode, decode, and print textual information, as well as reconstruct complete documents from damaged paper to a limited degree. Xerox chief engineer Sophie Vandebroek said that most of the company's research slate is taken up with technologies that promise commercialization within a few years. Projects fall into two general categories, according to Vandebroek: "Sustained innovation" to augment existing products, and "revolutionary innovation" to generate new markets.
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  • "What Users Want From Linux"
    Network World (10/20/03) Vol. 20, No. 42, P. 1; Connor, Deni; Mears, Jennifer

    Discussions with over a dozen network professionals and Linux enthusiasts has yielded a 10-item list of the open-source operating system's most desired features. The most sought-after feature is tools that can automatically monitor and coordinate the performance of Linux systems: Jeff Davis of the Amerada Hess petroleum firm expressed interest in system analysis dumps, system tracing, and automated management applications. Aficionados such as Australian software engineer Russell Coker also want enhanced reliability via expanded disaster recovery options, as well as improved security measures through better administrator training and vendor acceptance of the National Security Agency's Security-Enhanced Linux initiative. Coker noted a need for more skilled Linux developers, and called for the institution of better programmer training, more university support for open-source programming, and the establishment of special interest groups at user events. Users favor a reduction in Linux's complexity, which computer consultant Peter Baylies says can be achieved by employing good documentation and intuitive interfaces that support easy customization and minimize maintenance, while better support for hardware such as third-party drivers, graphic interfaces, and printer management are also on the list. Linux devotees want developers to adopt a more unified approach to Linux distribution, as well as wider support for server- and desktop-based applications, including Windows-based programs. Network executives desire graphical user interfaces with better performance and greater ease-of-use, and users think basic Linux tools should be consolidated into a single repository. YellowBrix senior projects engineer Timothy Kennedy declared, "One of the biggest hurdles that Linux has to overcome to be a bigger player in the enterprise is FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt]."
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  • "3D TV As You've Never Seen It"
    New Scientist (10/18/03) Vol. 180, No. 2417, P. 28; Fildes, Jonathan

    3D technology has generated periodic interest without enjoying solid mainstream success, but over 120 computer and electronics companies are banking on the hope that the technology has at last begun to mature by forming a consortium dedicated to moving 3D displays out of the research phase and into consumers' hands--and living rooms. Traditional 3D viewing has failed to catch on because people are uncomfortable wearing multi-filtered eyeglasses, but Sharp researchers finally overcame this obstacle with the development of a goggle-free liquid crystal display that supports both 2D and 3D imagery by employing a parallax barrier. Sharp has already sold over 1 million mobile phones equipped with small 3D screens, and plans to release a notebook computer with a 3D display later this year; in early 2003, Sharp, Sanyo, and NEC teamed up to develop industry standards for 3D technology. However, the road to 3D TV is bumpy--for one thing, goggle-free 3D displays such as Sharp's lose their 3D effect if viewers deviate even slightly from the optimum viewing angle. Sanyo has solved this problem with a "multi-view 3D system" that projects four images instead of two, with the trade-off being less resolution. Sharpening resolution is a reachable goal, but there is little point in pursuing it unless film and TV studios make a concerted effort to produce 3D content--and major studios are reluctant to do so until the 3D screens are ready. One source of hope is Digital Dynamic Depth, which has developed image-analysis software that circumvents the two-lens camera technique usually employed to generate 3D imagery by extracting depth information from the first and last frames of a filmed scene, and creating depth maps for all the frames in between. Digital Dynamic Depth President Chris Yewdall claims that the compressed depth information only increases the size of the signal by 5 percent, thus enabling the simultaneous broadcast of 2D images and 3D data. The biggest barrier facing 3D technology is biological: Staring at a 3D screen leads to eyestrain and makes viewers cross-eyed, but Sanyo and Digital Dynamic Depth have developed software solutions allowing viewers to control the effective depth in 3D films.

  • "Jobless Recovery"
    InformationWeek (10/20/03) No. 960, P. 18; Chabrow, Eric; Bachel-Dor, Beth; McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

    The IT sector has not added any new jobs in 2003, according to data aggregated over nine months by the U.S. Census Bureau, using eight business-technology job categories instead of the traditional three. The average monthly IT jobless rate is 5.8 percent, compared to the overall unemployment rate of 6.1 percent over the same period; a few years ago, IT unemployment regularly fell below the overall rate by a few percentiles. The report lists programmers as having the highest jobless rate at 7.1 percent, while database administrators face a 6.6 percent unemployment rate. Software engineers and computer scientists/systems analysts have the lowest jobless rates at 5.4 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively. However, there are signs of a slight demand increase for IT professionals skilled in software development and business intelligence, and Robert Half Technology's Ryan Gilmore comments that "People who know how to use technology to help their companies make better strategic business decisions are in demand." All the same, he cautions that the market is glutted with IT talent, and it remains a buyer's market. The Census Bureau report clearly indicates that IT workers who update their skills regularly will stand a better chance of staying in demand; employees who are out of the workplace for even a few months may find getting accredited and certified to remain competitive to be an uphill climb, according to Casual Male COO Dennis Hernreich. The report estimates that the unemployment rate for IT workers age 60 and up nears 11.8 percent, compared to the approximately 5 percent rate for workers 29 and under. Meanwhile, people 29 and under in the overall U.S. workforce face a 10.3 percent unemployment rate while those over 60 face a 4.1 percent jobless rate.
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  • "Pretenders to Power"
    Electronic Business (10/03) Vol. 29, No. 13, P. 60; Orenstein, David

    Fuel cells are unproven as a commercial technology despite their promise to replace lithium batteries, but initial fuel-cell rollouts from Motorola, Smart Fuel Cell, and others in 2004 could help spur the battery-to-fuel-cell transition if technical, economic, and regulatory barriers are overcome. Fuel cells generate a substantial amount of heat and depend on the smooth interplay of gases and liquids, so cooling systems and other mechanisms must be added to ensure their smooth function, and this makes the technology notoriously hard to miniaturize. Furthermore, the membranes in small fuel cells can only process methanol at a specific rate, forcing developers to often dilute the methanol concentration. Some developers report progress in eliminating these technical drawbacks: MTI MicroFuel Cells CTO Shimshon Gottesfeld says that his company has invented a fuel cell with practically no moving parts that can run on undiluted methanol, while Gregg Makuch of Neah Power Systems claims an innovative manufacturing approach has yielded a cell that can use 75 percent-pure methanol by replacing the cell membrane with a silicon-platinum honeycomb. Allied Business Intelligence analyst Atakan Ozbek estimates that fuel cells will initially cost at least 10 percent to 20 percent more than batteries, and consumers' reluctance to pay extra could restrict the technology to niche markets. Another stumbling block is the U.S. Transportation Department's ban on allowing fuel cells onto aircraft, a prohibition that could take about a year of trade-group petitioning to remove, according to Ozbek. In March 2003, the Japan Electrical Manufacturers Association, the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association, and the Battery Association of Japan jointly announced an informal partnership to author fuel cell standards.
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