Bits and Bytes

FUTURE TECH

The Terminator need not worry it will be replaced any time soon, but Cornell University researchers have created a robot that can build copies of itself. The robot is primitive and doesn’t do anything but self-replicate, but the principle could be extended to a robot that could at least repair itself while working in space or in hazardous environments, according to Hod Lipson, Cornell assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and computing and information science.

The robot is made up of modular cubes, or “molecubes,” each with identical machinery and a replication program. They draw power through contacts on the surface of the lab’s table. The cubes have electromagnets on their faces that allow them to selectively attach to and detach from one another, and a complete robot consists of several cubes linked together. Each cube is divided in a way that allows a robot composed of many cubes to bend, reconfigure and manipulate other cubes. For example, a tower of cubes can bend at a right angle to pick up another cube. The robot cannot replicate unless the experimenters supply it with additional modules.


HELP WANTED
Wanted: Twenty volunteer bloggers to hype anticipated operating system.

Microsoft is looking for bloggers to write about the beta release of Longhorn, the upcoming version of its Windows operating system.

Team 99, as it will be known, will consist mostly of developers and enthusiasts nominated by Microsoft community members. The blog’s purpose will be “to tell…the truth about what Longhorn is all about,” as well as point out any mistakes, according to the blog’s creator, Robert Scoble, a Microsoft employee. Team members will get a look at pre-release copies of Longhorn before its summer release, but they will have to sign non-disclosure agreements. The full version of Longhorn is set to be released in late 2006.


10 YEARS AGO
In the June 1995 issue of ADT, David Linthicum, systems manager at Mobile, argued in “Component Development: Easier Application-Building Potential for Developers, Users,” for component-based development as an alternative to object-oriented programming. He maintained that: “The question is not whether component-based programming will take over application development. In many respects it already has.” However, “it will take time before the tools and rules are in place to support a standard component infrastructure in which all applications can share components through a common interface.”

Also weighing in on component-based development, Mark Hanner profiles two companies, Next and Taligent, in “Frameworks Require Component Families.” He lauds them for having “raised the bar in functionality by providing families of sophisticated components, such as word processing and 3-D graphics, that are integrated through common frameworks,” with their respective products, OpenStep and TalAE.

Dilbert creator Scott Adams is profiled in “Tops in Trends.” An engineer by day at Pacific Bell, Adams claims that much of the material for the strip is based on his experiences at work. In fact, Adams says, “the character Wally comes from a former co-worker who figured it was more profitable to be the least productive employee and receive a buyout of his contract than to continue working under the company’s incentive plan.”


IN PRINT

It creeps and leaps and glides and slides—and can be seen in everything from the Apple IMac to the New Beetle. It is The Blob, specifically blobitecture. Application Development Trends regular contributor John K. Waters examines this architectural style in blobitecture, Waveform architecture and digital design (2003, Rockport Publishers).

The book is a fascinating look at “womblike office cubicles,” potato chip chairs and other blobjects and globjects, from their humble beginnings in the 1940s as a rebellion against “Machine Age forms” to today’s blobmeisters, with their powerful computers and advanced 3-D animation software.

Like its infamous B-movie cousin and with technological advances, blobitecture is now quite literally “across the floor and right through the door.” But luckily, we don’t have to beware of this blob.


SECURITY BLANKET
More than 600 new Internet security threats were discovered during the first quarter of 2005, according to the SANS Institute and experts from the government and industry. The trade group lists what it says are the apps most vulnerable to attacks:

  1. Microsoft Internet Explorer
  2. Microsoft Windows Media Player, Microsoft Windows Messenger and MSN Messenger
  3. Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 1 and 2, Microsoft Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 and 4, and Microsoft Windows Server 2003
  4. Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Windows 2000 Server Service Pack 3 and 4, Windows NT Server 4.0 Service Pack 6a, and NT Terminal Server Edition Service Pack 6
  5. Windows NT and Windows 2000 Service Pack 2 or earlier domain name service servers; Symantec Gateway Security, Enterprise Firewall and VelociRaptor products
  6. Antivirus products from Symantec, F-Secure, TrendMicro and McAfee
  7. Oracle Database Server, Oracle Application Server, Oracle E-Business Suite and Oracle Collaboration Suite.
  8. Computer Associates products running License Manager.
  9. RealPlayer, iTunes and WinAmp Media Players

The details on these vulnerabilities and instructions on how to correct them can be found at www.sans.org/top20/Q1-2005update.


CRUNCHY NUMBERS
Manufacturing is 50 percent more likely than other sector to cut IT spending this year, according to a recent study by Info-Tech Research Group.

Twenty-one percent of manufacturing companies plan to decrease IT spending this year, compared to an average of 14 percent for other industries, according to Info-Tech’s Manufacturing Industry 2005 IT Budget & Staffing report. The information is based on its January survey of more than 1,400 IT decision-makers at mid-sized companies in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. Companies with fewer than 50 employees spend 20 times more per employee on IT than companies with more than 500 employees.

Other findings include:
VoIP is the top investment priority for manufacturing companies, followed by supply chain management and customer relationship management.

Storage is also an important investment priority, specifically in companies with more than 500 employees.

Spending is varied among the different manufacturing segments. For example, non-perishable and goods manufacturers spend five times more per employee on IT than do steel and metal manufacturers.

Desktop hardware and software spending is flat; more than 60 percent of IT decision-makers in manufacturing do not have plans to purchase new desktop software.


LEFT/RIGHT BRAIN
Three MIT pranksters have developed a program that generates computer-science research papers that are grammatically correct, but made up of jargon and drivel, so they make absolutely no sense.

Their Web site refers to it as “context-free grammar” and its purpose is to “auto-generate submissions to conferences that you suspect might have very low submission standards.”

Sure enough, a generated report, “Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy,” was accepted by the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics 2005 as a non-reviewed paper.

However, conference officials caught on to the ruse in time to disqualify the paper. Go to http://pdos.csail.mit.edu/scigen/ to generate a report, complete with personalized author credit.


WEB WATCH
Sick of getting rejection notices for that vaguely biographical novel you’ve written about the programmer who is secretly a cyber-agent who battles terrorism the world over? As a way to demonstrate its on-demand book-publishing technology, Xerox is sponsoring an aspiring writer fiction contest. The grand-prize-winning novelist will receive 100 published copies of his or her novel, $5,000, and who knows, the opportunity to launch a new literary career? Aspiring authors can enter the contest at www.xerox.com/aspiringauthors. Entries must be received by July 1.


NEW TECH

Nokia has introduced a new line of smartphones, offering users a single device for snapping print-quality images, reading e-mail, listening to tunes, browsing sites and watching TV.

The Nseries—N90, N91 and N70—features Internet browsers, streaming video, push e-mail with Microsoft Office documents attachments and an organizer. The phones, based on Nokia’s Series 60 smartphone user interface, also feature two-way video calling and sharing.

The N91, aimed at music aficionados, stores up to 3,000 songs on a 4-GB hard disk. It also features 3G WCDMA, WLAN, Bluetooth and USB 2.0 connectivity, Microsoft Media Player 10 and line-in, stereo recording. The phone supports MP3, M4A, AAC and WMA digital music formats. Nokia says the device will be available by year’s end.


NOTHING BUT NET
Ever tried to list the Internet’s top programming-oriented message boards and forums? Probably not, which is why we do the heavy lifting for you. According to Big-Boards.com, the top 10 (based on membership) are:

  • Slashdot: Technology news commenting Web site, 786,596 members
  • Flash Kit community forums: Discussion about Macromedia Flash and Shockwave, 527,253 members
  • Sun Java forums: Java developers community, 495,240 members
  • Piranho: German Web programming and Internet forum, 339,761 members
  • XD CAD: CAD design forum (in Chinese), 238,662 members
  • Techimo: Computer hardware community, 191,877 members
  • Blogring: Xanga message boards, 184,854 members
  • ASP.NET: Microsoft ASP.NET support forums, 170,898 members
  • DevShed: Programming and Web development forums, 154,965 members
  • MozillaZine: Mozilla support and development forums, 139,009 members

Big-Boards.com keeps track of 1,165 message boards and forums covering every conceivable topic. You wouldn’t believe which board is the largest of all (1,777,034 members). Check it out at www.big-boards.com.


BLOG LOG
Scientists and engineers at Los Alamos National Laboratory used a blog to express their frustration with its director, Dr. George P. Nanos and his leadership (www.lanl-the-real-story.blogspot.com). Several bloggers blasted Nanos’ decision to shut down the lab last July, citing “egregious” safety and security violations when two classified computer disks disappeared. However, there were no disks. The lab was closed from July to February, costing taxpayers millions of dollars and the exodus of talented staffers, according to the blog. The bloggers claim the shutdown cost $850 million, although Los Alamos officials say it was $120 million, and federal officials say it was $370 million.

The blog, which went live in January, has recorded more than 140,000 visits and featured a petition for Nanos’ removal. Doug Roberts, a computer scientist and a 20-year employee at Los Alamos, created the blog.


FAR OUT
Australian scientists believe they have developed an unbreakable code that will prevent hackers from stealing sensitive information.

Researchers at Melbourne University are growing diamond particles on optical fibers to transmit information they say will be impossible to attack. The diamonds, just 1/1000th of a millimeter, send information through a single photon, the smallest known particle of light. Information, such as credit card data, is usually sent via laser beams, which send billions of photons, making is easy for hackers to steal them and crack the code.

The device sends a stream of single photons, and if communication is broken, the information is corrupted, revealing the breach to the sender and the receiver.

The diamond particles are developed in a 1,500-watt microwave reactor, using gases containing carbon to grow tiny diamonds over the tip of an optic fiber.

Researchers received a US$2.5 million innovation grant from the Victoria state government to develop the prototype.


JOB MARKET
It’s sort of a high-tech version of Trump’s “The Apprentice” TV show, except this one is a documentary that will focus on four interns hired to develop software this summer at Fog Creek Software.

“Instead of wasting their talents giving them the usual dull and unimportant tasks of a typical summer internship, we decided to let the interns create a complete new software product, from beginning to end, over the course of one summer,” says Joel Spolsky, founder of FCS, in his widely read Joel on Software blog for developers (www.joelonsoftware.com). “With experienced software developers as mentors, the team will design, program, test and roll out a complete software product over the course of one hectic summer, going from concept to paying customers in about 10 weeks,” Spolsky writes.

FCS hired the interns from Yale, Duke and Rose-Hulman. “We’re fairly confident that three interns can get a beta version out in about 4 weeks,” Spolsky says. “One chunk of the project is basically an enhancement to the fogshop e-commerce engine; another chunk is a couple of simple features added onto an existing open-source program; the third chunk is possibly the simplest sockets-based server you can imagine that still does something useful.”

Each component is the equivalent of a challenging programming assignment at Yale or MIT, Spolsky says. The fourth intern will focus on product marketing.

“We’ve been thinking of it as a kind-of serious Apprentice-meets-Real World, Spolsky says. “Unlike The Apprentice, our business challenge will be a serious 10-week project that becomes a real product, not four hours of wrapping chocolate bars disguised as a business challenge.”

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