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Volume 5, Issue 587:  Wednesday, December 24, 2003

  • "Creator of Linux Defends Its Originality"
    New York Times (12/23/03) P. C5; Lohr, Steve

    Linux operating system inventor Linus Torvalds yesterday refuted SCO Group's contention that large sections of code embedded in Linux were baldly copied from the SCO-owned Unix operating system, in violation of SCO licensing terms and copyright. This claim is at the crux of SCO's suit against IBM, and its warning to companies to stop using Linux or risk paying SCO licensing fees; contained in the corporate missives are over 65 software files written in the C programming language that SCO alleges were duplicated exactly from Unix code and incorporated into Linux. Torvalds, who started examining the files on Dec. 22, reported in an email exchange that he wrote some of those files directly, thus absolving third parties from the responsibility of contributing them to the Linux project. The Linux creator added that the files in question showed up in the original kernel of the Linux operating system he wrote in September 1991. Torvalds remarked that some of the macros are "so horribly ugly that I wouldn't admit to writing them if it wasn't because somebody else claimed to have done so." He was also incensed by SCO's allegations that he copied large chunks of Unix into Linux. "For the files where I personally checked the history, I can definitely say that those files were trivially written by me personally, with no copying from any Unix code, ever," Torvalds insisted. SCO CEO Darl McBride maintained that his company's allegations are solid ones.
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  • "U.N. Summit Asks How to Globalize Internet"
    Associated Press (12/22/03); Jesdanun, Anick

    An issue raised at the recent U.S. World Summit on the Information Society was the prevailing Western influence on Internet content, in terms of language and cultural values. This trend is very problematic for developing countries, many of which still lack Internet access. Summit delegates noted that even non-English Web sites are usually in Spanish, French, or some other language prevalent in the Western world. Persons and organizations attempting to set up networks of Web-linked villages and schools throughout the world say that setting up Internet connections and teaching people to use computers is just the first step; compelling content that reflects indigenous culture in addition to language is also necessary to ensure that people use the technology. The country of South Africa is developing speech recognition, text-to-speech, and other voice technologies in an effort to reduce illiteracy: The project will begin with the Zulu language, while people will be able to refine the tools to handle other languages through an open-source model. The Internet's key oversight body is also looking into domain names written in non-English characters. Today, much of the Web is established by private firms, who target content primarily to industrialized nations; that trend must change if Internet use is to become truly global. The Internet's underlying technology also can be culturally based: Search engines, even when translated, often don't support a wide variety of languages such as the Inuit Inukitut language; while one voice compression algorithm drops some conversational "clicks," changing the meanings of words in some languages.
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  • "United States, Russia, China Link Up First Global-Ring Network"
    EurekAlert (12/22/03)

    U.S., Russian, and Chinese academics have set up a high-speed Internet link to span the entire globe. The ring connects North American, European, Russian, and incipient Chinese research networks and will foster greater scientific collaboration between the countries. Among the activities enabled by the link are international science fairs, shared seminars, and data sharing in the area of nuclear fusion research, for example. National Science Foundation director Rita Colwell says the network, called Little GLORIAD, will further the scientific goals of the three countries and serve as a symbolic and physical reminder of their joint aspirations. The ring links the hubs of Chicago, Amsterdam, Moscow, Novosibirsk, the Chinese border city of Manzhouli, Beijing, and Hong Kong. Little GLORIAD serves as a precursor for the full-fledged GLORIAD (Global Ring Network for Advanced Application Development) being developed by the United States, Russia, and China for operation in mid-2004; that ring is planned to operate at 10 Gbps, compared to 155 Mbps for Little GLORIAD. Russian and U.S. links have existed for five years already under the NaukaNet program. Little GLORIAD is the first time a fiber-optic link has been run between Russia and China, and increases the bandwidth available between the U.S. and China. Chinese Academy of Sciences researcher Dr. Yan Baoping says Little GLORIAD will serve as a foundation for the future China E-Science project scheduled for launch in 2006.
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  • "The Internet Is a Very Sick Place"
    Wired News (12/23/03); Delio, Michelle

    Malware authors did not exhibit much innovation this year, but that is small comfort to the many people whose computers were hijacked or networks compromised by record worm and virus attacks. F-Secure's Mikko Hypponen notes that the most widespread of this year's worms, such as Slammer and Blaster, were merely designed to proliferate, not cripple critical systems; but the high degree of connectivity between people and networks via the Internet can make even the least intelligent virus a potentially serious threat. Many antivirus and security experts agree that the most sinister development of 2003 was the emergence of a new form of virus-worm that both contaminates computer systems and spits out spam, indicating an unholy alliance between virus writers and spammers. The worst email worm of the year, Sobig.F, sent out more than 300 million tainted emails globally so that the compromised systems could be used as proxy relays to clandestinely send out huge volumes of spam. Hypponen characterizes the release of Sobig.F as a for-profit venture, and says, "They used the worm to infect a huge number of computers and then sold various spammer groups lists of proxy servers which would be open for spreading spam." Experts believe that spammers will adopt viruses as their favorite tool to clog peoples' inboxes with junk mail. Even attempts to counteract such worms introduced new--and sometimes worse--problems. The Anti-Blaster worm, which was programmed to infect computers already compromised by Blaster so it could destroy the malware, and then download and install Windows security updates, produced even more network traffic than the worm it was designed to cure.
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  • "Invasion of the Centibots"
    SiliconValley.com (12/20/03); Ackerman, Elise

    The Centibots project is a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded joint venture between SRI International, Stanford University, the University of Washington, and ActivMedia to develop a network of autonomous robots that can be deployed by the military to map out hazardous areas, detect intruders, and locate "objects of value" such as injured people and prisoners. The Centibot researchers boast that the maps the machines collectively create are accurate to within a few centimeters, and the Centibots are also capable of finding and identifying objects, recognizing one another, and distinguishing between moving and stationary objects. The Centibots send the data they collect to a human commander, who does not need to give specific commands to each robot. "They autonomously decide where to go," explains computer scientist Regis Vincent. "Nobody is controlling them." Commanders can also view what specific Centibots are seeing through their PC cameras by wearing glasses with streaming video capability. The Centibots are constructed from commercially available components, while a Linux operating system is employed to support 1.2 million lines of code. DARPA has poured $2.2 million into the Centibots project, which has been in development for a year and a half. The Centibots' inventors say the robots are ready to perform before their military backers.
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  • "Open-Source Battle Is Heating Up"
    Boston Globe (12/22/03) P. C3; Bray, Hiawatha

    The Massachusetts state legislature is debating a proposition that the state give preference to open-source software products for its own use. The controversy started in September with a leaked memo from Massachusetts finance and administration secretary Eric Kriss, and has been joined by a number of proprietary software vendors such as Microsoft. At stake in Massachusetts and in other government bodies in the United States and abroad are billions of dollars in annual software revenues; International Data estimates that local, state, and federal governments spend $34 billion each year on software. Open-source software companies usually distribute their products for free and allow companies to modify those products as they like, but make money from training and support fees. Proponents say open-source provides more flexibility and lower costs than proprietary software. In Massachusetts, the open-source argument has drawn fierce opposition not only from software interests such as the CompTIA industry group, but also from legislators such as Sen. Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton) who said the Kriss plan would violate state procurement laws. Kriss insisted that the plan would not bar proprietary software, but require state agencies to make a good faith effort to investigate open-source solutions, adding that every technical expert he has consulted thinks open-source is good for government. Some said an outright policy in favor of open-source would cause massive job loss in the Massachusetts software sector, but the hardest hit firms would not be small vendors of specialized software, but large groups such as Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and Oracle whose products have viable open-source competitors such as Linux, FreeBSD, and MySQL. If Massachusetts or other governments adopt a favorable open-source policy, it could send shock waves throughout the software industry by spurring greater open-source adoption in the private sector.
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  • "Software Glitch Brings Y2K Deja Vu"
    CNet (12/19/03); Becker, David

    Echoes of the Y2K bug are reverberating as software maker PTC attempts to correct a date-related glitch that threatens to render software on thousands of computers around the world inoperative after Jan. 10. PTC's Joe Gavaghan reports that PTC programmers had to set a date for infinity so that the software could recognize dates, and chose 2 billion seconds since 1970, which means the date recognition function will fail after Jan. 10 and make the software inoperable. Gavaghan says the bug was uncovered last week, and PTC engineers have been scrambling to build and test patches since; two patches that apply to some of PTC's most widely distributed products were issued on Dec. 19, and fixes for other applications are forthcoming. The glitch threatens to affect the majority of 35,000 people who employ Pro/Engineer, Windchill, and other PTC products worldwide. "It's such a simple flaw; we don't believe it requires extensive testing to deploy the patches," explains Gavaghan. "It should take only a couple of minutes for most customers." Some customers praised PTC for its honesty and promptness in notifying them of the problem, while others were less than thrilled with the news, as patch testing and installation would disrupt their holiday schedules. Gavaghan says the infinity value will be set to 4 billion with the patches, and promises that later releases of PTC products will not be dependent on dates.
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  • "Digital Defense"
    Computerworld (12/22/03); Anthes, Gary H.

    Hackers and malware authors may currently have the upper hand thanks to the growing number of vulnerabilities stemming from increasing software complexity, a rise in computer connectivity, and the emergence of sophisticated and simple-to-use digital weapons. But computer security experts meeting at the Santa Fe Institute's recent Adaptive and Resilient Computing Security workshop believe new defensive concepts may turn the tide: Such concepts--some of which are biologically inspired--can identify new kinds of attacks by eliminating reliance on predetermined definitions (virus signatures, attack scenarios, vulnerability exploits, etc.); they are supposed to continue to operate even when an attack is underway, though their effectiveness may be somewhat reduced; they are adaptable to changing attack strategies; and they reduce false alerts. Dipankar Dasgupta of the University of Memphis' Intelligent Security Systems Research Lab reports that there is no one computer safeguard capable of defending systems against all kinds of attacks, but his facility's Security Agents for Network Traffic Analysis combines neural networks and "fuzzy rules" to enable mobile software agents to detect network intrusions. Stephanie Forrest of the University of New Mexico notes that biodiversity makes systems stronger and tougher, and she is developing "automated diversity for security" whereby uniqueness is instilled within each system by arbitrary random changes. Using a measure known as Kolmogorov Complexity, GE Global Research scientist Scott Evans has learned that attacks can be predictably quantified as less or more complex than normal behavior, which makes a tool for attack identification and blockage feasible. Meanwhile, Steven Hofmeyr has created Primary Response, a commercial defense product that uses agents to profile an application's normal behavior based on the code paths of a running program, so that abnormalities in those paths are easy to spot.
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  • "Where the Net Is Heading in 2004"
    Business Week (12/23/03); Salkever, Alex

    Alex Salkever makes a number of predictions for the Internet in 2004, and though none of these forecasts are written in stone, he is quite certain that the Internet will undergo many more changes next year than in the last several years. He writes that competition against leading search engines--Google in particular--is likely to heat up, as evidenced by heavy search-engine investment by established players such as Microsoft and startups such as Vivante and Kanoodle. Wireless phones and Internet-based telecommunications are expected to become very popular thanks to improvements in voice over IP and wireless number portability, and this trend will endanger the Baby Bells, which currently depend on obsolete phone technology. Salkever comments that they must upgrade their DSL broadband networks even further if they are to have a shot at survival. The author projects that the digital divide--a key topic of discussion at the recent U.N. Internet Summit--will shrink in 2004, at least in terms of basic Internet access, provided accessibility technologies continue to drop in price and data transport costs stay low. Popular wisdom says that Wi-Fi will finally penetrate the mainstream next year, but Salkever disputes this, explaining that unresolved security issues, Wi-Fi node home installation problems, and bug-prone hotspot network services will delay the promised rollout. Salkever also foresees a shrinkage in the interval between the publication of network vulnerabilities and intrusions that exploit those flaws.
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  • "What's Next?"
    Forbes (12/22/03); Hesseldahl, Arik

    Change is par for the course at Apple, but though the company keeps quiet about future products until they are ready for their market debut, the chips Apple uses in its PCs--those from IBM in particular--can shed light about upcoming releases. IBM is reportedly ready to introduce its PowerPC 970fx--a speedier chip with smaller features, less power consumption, greater ease-of-use, and improved heat dissipation--by year's end, just in time for the rollout of an upgraded version of Apple's PowerMac G5. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has already announced that the G5 will incorporate PowerPC chips running at 3 GHz by next summer; an intermediate step between current dual-chip models which run at 2 GHz and systems with chips boasting a maximum speed of 2.6 GHz should be implemented by January, according to Instat/MDR analyst Peter Glaskowsky. "Speeds of 2.4 to 2.6 GHz would be consistent with exactly where I would expect them to be right now," he says. Meanwhile, new compiler technology should become available to software programmers devising Mac applications in 2004, and Glaskowsky reports that a PowerPC-enabled IBM compiler currently undergoing beta-testing has the potential to ratchet up software speeds on the G5 by up to 50 percent. A migration of faster chips to the Powerbook notebook line is also predicted, and confidence is high that a Powerbook G5 notebook will debut by next summer at the latest--in fact, Glaskowsky muses that the product could be rolled out as early as January. The Instat/MDR analyst does not foresee the delivery of a 64-bit operating system for the G5 for at least two years.
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  • "Accessibility Opens Up"
    Washington Technology (12/15/03); McCormick, John

    The development and rollout of computer hardware and software tools that disabled people can use is accelerating, and cost is not necessarily a factor. Expensive customized devices may not have to be provided when adaptable ergonomic products available in any office supply catalog may suffice. Also, the Americans with Disabilities Act makes it a legal requirement for employers to provide for disabled employees in many cases. Accessible hardware is usually categorized according to the user's handicap: Many visually impaired workers can use standard keyboards, but some favor Braille-labeled keys, which are available as complete keyboards or stick-on labels. A six-key Braille input device is an easier option for users familiar with Braille devices. Users with limited mobility, which could be the result of repetitive stress injuries or even more severe handicaps, can be accommodated relatively inexpensively. Quadriplegics with minimal head movement, for instance, can use a standard keyboard augmented with voice-recognition software and a head-mounted cursor controller for less than $2,000. Other options for mobility-challenged users include a guarded keyboard or oversized keys for those without fine motor skills, and smaller-than-usual keyboards for people who suffer from a limited range of motion. Customized keyboards, meanwhile, can be a good tool for cognitively impaired workers.
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  • "The Allure of Low Technology"
    Economist (12/18/03) Vol. 369, No. 8355, P. 99

    China's dedication to turn itself into a technology giant through pride-boosting accomplishments such as October's space mission, strong electronics exports, a low-wage tech workforce, abundant foreign intellectual property, and rising research spending, is not in doubt--but its chances of success are low. At a Beijing seminar on Dec. 10, Ming Zeng of the Cheung Kong Business School brought sobering news: Over a five-year period, he recorded only a small number of successful Chinese high-tech firms. China still has a very constrained technology base, and suffers from a profound lack of capital infrastructure to nurture the production of sophisticated high-tech products; furthermore, the growth in the number of high-tech goods made in China is undercut by the lion's share of value going to foreign companies. China's Ministry of Commerce estimates that only 20 percent of $325 billion of exports last year were truly high-tech, and the majority of those goods were mature products, such as laser printers and DVD players. The country's insatiable appetite for semiconductors and attractiveness as a base for silicon-wafer fabrication far outweighs its home-grown chip industry: Most Chinese chipmaking facilities are foreigner-controlled, and emphasize assembly and testing rather than design and manufacture. China also has the weight of history against it--the country is still reeling from poorly managed and calamitous state-directed technological development, while most private firms are still too small to make sizable innovation investments. Arthur Kroeber of China Economic Quarterly contends that the abundance of low-cost labor in the nation--enough to allow China to compete on labor costs for the next half-century--makes high-tech development less of an incentive. A study by Boston Consulting Group also concludes that Chinese manufacturers are more productive and profitable when they rely less on technology and more on manpower-dependent processes.
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  • "Here's a New Spin (Cycle) on Small Tech: Smart Appliances"
    Small Times (12/03); Pescovitz, David

    Microscale sensors and actuators are expected to raise the intelligence of household appliances and relieve people of various inconveniences in the kitchen, laundry room, and elsewhere in the next few years, if the hype is to be believed. Though some modern washing machines come equipped with sensors to detect unbalanced loads, Analog Devices' Christophe Lemaire reports, "None of these solutions can handle vibration detection over the entire rate range of high-speed washing machines." Microelectromechanical system (MEMS) accelerometers, however, can generate "intelligent spin" cycles by providing constant feedback to the washing machine, according to Rod Borras of Motorola's Sensor Products Division. "The machine can increase the speed of the spin cycle and, if it notices that it's getting close to knocking, it will slow it down a bit," he explains, adding that the incorporation of sophisticated algorithms into the control system could automatically shift clothes within the dryer to sustain a high-speed spin without need of human assistance. The addition of MEMS pressure sensors could make it possible for washing machines to detect how dirty clothes are and ascertain the setting loads should be washed on. Borras notes that vacuum cleaners enhanced with MEMS pressure sensors can tell users when a bag is full or if the tube is clogged, as well as adjust suction for various surfaces. In dishwashers, MEMS pressure sensors can monitor and tweak the water level to boost efficiency, while several companies manufacture thermopiles to measure oven temperature through infrared sensing. Electromechnanical sensors are in no danger of being replaced by MEMS technology because the latter still costs too much, according to Whirlpool's Marco Monacchi; however, scuttlebutt indicates that there have been retail rollouts of small tech-enhanced appliances is Europe.
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  • "Morpheus Falling?"
    IEEE Spectrum (12/03); Parloff, Roger

    Either the U.S. Supreme Court or Congress will have to resolve legal issues surrounding second-generation file-sharing software, particularly revising technology and copyright precedents set in the Sony Betamax case of 1984. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that VCR makers could not be held liable for the copyright infringement of users; in June, however, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals interpreted Betamax unorthodoxly when approving of the Aimster shutdown, saying that a product's infringing uses could make that product illegal if they outweighed potential noninfringing uses. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 made illegal products whose primary purpose was circumvention of digital copyright protection schemes, partially nullifying the Betamax case. With Napster four years ago, the court side-stepped the Betamax ruling by saying Napster did not supply a product so much as a service. New file-sharing networks use decentralized distribution systems that can be accessed via different software interfaces; makers of those software interfaces can legitimately claim to provide a product to users, especially since they have no control whatsoever over the network itself. In Los Angeles last April, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson grudgingly acknowledged file-sharing software vendors Morpheus and Grokster protection from user infringement under the Betamax argument even with undisputed evidence that about 90 percent of the files swapped over those companies' networks were copyrighted. Wilson appealed to Congress and the Supreme Court to address the apparent imbalance between users and digital content creators. If the Morpheus and Grokster case, which was brought to court by major film studios and music labels, again fails in an appeals court, then the Supreme Court will almost certainly step in to address the apparent conflict between different regional courts.
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  • "An IQ Injection for the Internet"
    Network Magazine (12/03) Vol. 18, No. 12, P. 42; Greenfield, David

    MIT senior research scientist David Clark envisions a cognitive Internet that can identify network problems, fix them, and learn from its experiences more effectively than human network administrators; his Knowledge Plane (KP) project aims to accomplish this goal in about a decade with the help of 11 universities and laboratories. Clark says the KP project will yield significant ancillary breakthroughs in a few years. KP will have goals and constraints serving as a context for real-time information coming in from sensors across the Internet; when new information indicates a certain problem, KP will be able to send instructions to the applicable software or network device necessary to fix the problem. There are tremendous challenges to the KP effort, including the task of building network models and maintaining performance as the network scales in size. Other important requirements include being able to broadcast information efficiently and securing KP against false data; additionally, ISPs and other companies will have to understand the economic benefit of participating in KP. On the positive side, KP will relieve overlay networks of having to sense the most efficient paths for content delivery since they can simply retrieve that data from KP. Similarly, intrusion detection systems will be able to quickly correlate different data gathered by KP to gain accuracy. PlanetLab's Sophia project, run by Princeton University, is one example of a KP-type application: Sophia operates programs that can remotely shut down distributed denial-of-service attacks at the source instead of at the destination. That project, however, is run in a controlled test environment much smaller than the actual Internet and does not employ the type of cognitive functions Clark wants for KP.
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