An open-source world

If Care had any lingering doubts about Linux, they were dispelled when he paid a visit to the LinuxWorld conference in the US a few months ago. Among other things, he found American and European companies had been using Linux on mainstream systems — “platforms, applications, what you will” — for a number of years, “so it was quite reassuring to see that we were behind that first wave, knowing what other people had gone through. But considering the potential it has to be a disruptive technology, it’s actually gone quite smoothly. The kind of case studies that went up, the likes of Amazon and others out there, it’s amazing, for an IT technology, how easily and smoothly and relatively cost-effectively Linux went in”.
It was also reassuring, he says, to find that a company like Sun Microsystems, with its vast commitment to Solaris and Sparc, was there and supporting Linux — even providing a keynote address — after having roundly slated it a few years before.

Written by News03 Nov. 02 22:00

Putting the IT in pit crew

The global circus of Formula One motor racing zooms through 17 countries every season. This year, the international spectacle began in Australia in March and finishes in Japan in October. Every race day, 350 million people in 146 different countries tune in.
Ever-shrinking time margins separate the winners from the rest of the pack. In the 2001 Austrian Grand Prix, for example, just nine-tenths of a second separated the first 10 cars on the grid. Technological progress at this level of racing is marked by the accumulated result of hundreds of tiny incremental performance increases. As the search for those improvements intensifies, race teams are increasingly turning to IT.

Written by Malcolm Wheatley03 Oct. 02 22:00

You talking to me?

When Nassir Navab talks to inanimate objects, they usually answer him. That's because Navab, a Siemens researcher, helped develop a system that gives industrial equipment the power to vocally answer questions posed by humans.
The technology is designed to provide an easy way of checking on the operational status of various gadgets, including valves, pumps, switches and motors. Equipped with a wearable or mobile computer containing a built-in camera, a user could determine the status of any piece of equipment simply by walking around the factory floor. An 802.11b wireless network transfers data from the equipment to a central server and from the server to the user. A microphone-equipped headset and voice-recognition and synthesis software supply the user interface.

Written by John Edwards03 Oct. 02 22:00

Stop that cart!

Every 90 seconds, a shopping cart is stolen somewhere in the United States. That statistic is a nightmare for grocery retailers. Missing carriages (which cost between US$75 and $100 apiece) represent big losses for supermarkets more than $800 million a year. Abandoned cart liability and nuisance complaints have led to hefty fines for some retailers, while others have had to invest in carriage retrieval services to track down carts that have gone MIA.
Some supermarkets have taken matters into their own hands, installing cart-retention devices on their carriages that literally stop shopping-cart thieves in their tracks. The Cart Anti-theft Protection System (CAPS) from San Diego-based Carttronics LLC includes custom electronic shopping cart wheels that incorporate a digital receiver and replaces one of a cart's standard casters with a braking device. CAPS also includes a radio frequency transmitter and an antenna buried around the perimeter of the retailer's property. That transmitter generates a signal along the antenna line. When a cart rolls too near the line, the caster's receiver intercepts the signal and a brake is released that rolls under the wheel to stop the cart. The K-2000, from Sacramento, Calif.-based Kart Saver, uses an infrared-driven system that includes a device attached to the left front wheel of the cart that sounds an alarm and causes the carriage to go in circles when a customer exceeds a preset distance from the store.

Written by Stephanie Overby03 Oct. 02 22:00

Organisational physics

A few big, expensive projects have given your IS organization a bad name and overshadowed all the other wonderful work that is going on. In the middle of the night, you have an epiphany: Big projects violate organizational physics. Consider that:
-- Competitive industry conditions and basic human nature limit organizational attention spans to about six to 12 months -- far less than the duration of big projects.

Written by Susan Cramm03 Oct. 02 22:00

Security superheroes

Think of this as ROTC for security geeks. The U.S. government has started to award millions of dollars in scholarships to computer science students specializing in information assurance ensuring data and systems are secure, private and reliable. In return for the scholarship, recipients agree to work at a federal agency for two years.
Congress allocated more than US$11 million for the Federal Cyber Service program last year and the same amount this year (at press time, the White House is requesting additional funding). Critics of the program say it's far too little to protect the country's vulnerable IT assets. Only 54 students received scholarships last year (this year's scholarship awards have yet to be announced), but some of the funding has also gone toward helping universities develop information assurance courses and train faculty to teach them. "Of course it's too little, and of course it's too late, but that doesn't mean you don't do it," says Andrew Bernat, the program director at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va., and head of the cyberservice program. "Maybe half your cows have escaped the barn, but does that mean you don't close the barn door? Of course not."

Written by Sari Kalin03 Oct. 02 22:00

Microsoft gets serious about consulting

You're getting another choice in the contest for your IT consulting dollars: Microsoft. In its move from supporting player to starring role, the software company has created a single consulting organization called Microsoft Worldwide Services that as of Memorial Day had about 12,000 employees.
According to Jim Wilson, group marketing manager for Microsoft Worldwide Services, IT consultants focusing on e-commerce, enterprise application planning and distributed network architectures make up a little more than a third of this group. The rest are IT analysts and a growing legion of customer service representatives.

Written by Geoffrey James03 Oct. 02 22:00

Glass battery: All gain, no pane

As far as inventions go, a glass battery sounds about as promising as a concrete basketball or an oatmeal telephone. But Roy Baldwin claims that his unique power source could someday energize everything from mobile phones to automobiles.
Baldwin's battery is based on Dynaglass, an inorganic polymer that's allegedly stronger than steel, yet flexible enough to wrap food. Baldwin, a retired mechanical engineer, says Dynaglass was developed in the mid-1990s, but some of the technology is based on research by the Soviet military and space programs. He learned about the material while helping a friend ship medical supplies to Russia. "Later on, we discovered that the material could be used to store energy," says Baldwin, who then formed a company Columbus, Ohio-based Dynelec to explore the technology's potential.

Written by John Edwards03 Oct. 02 22:00

Knowledge management: The right way

When Tom Rossi, director of the Innovation Lab at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., began a knowledge management initiative in 1999, he thought he knew everything. Rossi and his team were charged with creating a futuristic environment for computerized war games. The games, held annually for more than 20 years, have about 500 senior military and civilian players who need to share real-time information about troop deployments, battle readiness and the battlefield environment. Prior to Rossi's KM project, the gamer commanders had to gather information via phone calls, memos, e-mails and game books none of which encouraged the kind of instantaneous decision-making necessary in combat situations.
Rossi and his team put together a KM system that integrated a collaborative software suite, a naval war games software tool and Microsoft Corp. Exchange's Conferencing Server for Internet video and chat capabilities. In the year between games, Rossi worked with engineers and a metrics team to fine-tune the system. They tailored the command and control databases so that various commanders had access to the same information; as one group of officers plotted troop positions and battle tactics, other participants lower down the chain of command could see the plans as they formed and anticipate what their own tasks would be.

Written by Simone Kaplan03 Oct. 02 22:00

Disappearing DAM?

Digital asset management (DAM) products may be a hot topic now, but a January report by Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group predicts that by 2004 or 2005, such tools will likely evolve into nothing more than a set of features inside more complete enterprise content management tools.
That said, Meta doesn't think customers should ditch DAM systems. Instead, the report, "An Update on Enterprise Digital Asset Management Systems," indicates that companies should still use DAM systems to manage their unstructured multimedia content, resting safe in the knowledge that existing tools from established players will likely be acquired by more inclusive content management players. That may provide some security despite ongoing consolidation in the marketspace.

Written by Christopher Lindquist03 Oct. 02 22:00

Beyond wires

Nothing ruins a party faster than the database admin who gets paged in the middle of it and has to lug out the laptop, connect to the home office and reboot a server. Craig Welch, a DBA at Cinergy, says he had no life because, as the only Oracle administrator at his company, "even when I wasn't on call, I was on call."
What freed Welch from being chained to the servers was a piece of software from Expand Beyond Corp. called PocketDBA, which turns his PDA into a wireless command-and-control device for his servers. It is to an Oracle database what the remote control is to a TV set.

Written by Scott Berinato03 Oct. 02 22:00

First stop, Singapore

FRAMINGHAM (07/09/2002) - "The Gateway to Asia" is how the marketing brochures promote Singapore. But Brian Chen, CTO of the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), the government's own IT shop, offers a more practical description: "Singapore is Asia 101," he says.
Or Asia Lite. Or Asia for Beginners. As opposed to countries such as China and India, where large labor forces are at least partially compromised by creaky IT infrastructures or cranky governments, Singapore is the plug-and-play marketplace a super-wired country where, as the Singaporeans would have Westerners believe, the e-business is brisk and the living is easy.

Written by Tom Field03 Oct. 02 22:00

Upward and onward with outsourcing

Companies are expanding the range of IT services they outsource. Internal staff shortages and cost constraints are primary drivers of outsourcing decisions, but CIOs are finding that they can also improve quality and delivery time of IT projects with the right outsource provider.
Best Practices

Written by CIO Staff03 Oct. 02 22:00

Cheap, cool, and dangerous

Something had been bothering Peter Johnson ever since last November, when the announcement of security flaws in the standards used for wireless LANs boomeranged his wireless project for the U.S. Army back to the drawing board. It wasn't that the initiative was delayed several months while Johnson bought encryption technology. It was those ads in the Sunday newspaper fliers for cheap wireless LAN hardware on sale at your local electronics store.
"The average person buys it because they say, 'Hey, I can run my computers off of one network'" and one Internet connection, says Johnson, former CIO of the Army's Program Executive Office of Enterprise Information Systems in Fort Belvoir, Va. "The technology is great. It's inexpensive. But this technology that's being sold for a couple hundred dollars doesn't come with a big red sticker that says, 'Warning, this is really insecure.'"

Written by Sarah D. Scalet03 Oct. 02 22:00

Nanotech revolution

When it comes to matter, size really does matter. The properties of materials that we notice color, hardness, electrical conductivity and so on all depend on the nature and structure of the constituent atoms and molecules. With increasing ability to design and build on an atomic and molecular scale a reasonable definition of nanotechnology we are becoming better and better at developing materials with entirely new properties. Those materials, in turn, become the building blocks for more complex systems and entirely new products.
But when an emerging technology is the subject of as much hype as nanotech, it's easy to tune out and stop listening. That would be a big mistake. If we ignore the unsupported claims and misguided speculation, especially about what might be achieved in the near term there remain solid reasons to expect significant long-term developments in what the National Science Foundation estimates to be a trillion-dollar-plus industry during the next 10 to 15 years.

Written by Thomas N. Theis03 Oct. 02 22:00

Rx for chicken scratch

Poor physician penmanship is the butt of many jokes, but illegible prescriptions are no laughing matter.
A widely publicized study done by the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., in 1999 concluded that medication errors (many due to poorly scrawled doctors' orders) cause 7,000 deaths annually in the United States at a cost of US$7 billion. To improve accuracy and speed, Giant Food and Pharmacy is providing 35,000 doctors in the mid-Atlantic region with secure access to patient information and the ability to transmit prescriptions to any of the Landover, Md.-based grocery chain's 154 pharmacies--all via a desktop PC, handheld or cell phone.

Written by Stephanie Overby03 Oct. 02 22:00

GIS goes worldwide

The modern citizens of the medieval, canal-dissected town of Brugge, Belgium, must have thought it strange to see packs of businesspeople following the dim green glow of cell phone screens through the city at twilight. What they were witnessing was a demonstration of one of the latest innovations in geographic information systems technology by Tele Atlas North America, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based digital data provider.
The first night in Brugge, the Tele Atlas conference participants divided into groups of 10 to 12 people, with each team given a cell phone into which they entered a code. What followed was dinner, entertainment and a tour of the city -- guided by the GPS-enabled cell phone. Instructions appeared on the screen, telling the participants to follow different streets and alleys as they made their way through the town. At certain destinations, the teams would enter location-specific information, such as the date on a 15th century guild house, to find out where the next course of their meal could be found.

Written by Daintry Duffy03 Oct. 02 22:00

Busting crime by decoding phone bills

Gabby criminals beware: There's a new technology out there to help the good guys catch you.
PatternTracer TCA, telephone call analysis software from Springfield, Va.-based i2 Technologies helps law enforcement agencies decipher complex relationships buried in billing records. The software identifies repetitive groups of calls to help establish patterns linking, for example, Butch the jewel thief, Lefty the safe-cracker and Wanda the getaway driver.

Written by Todd Datz03 Oct. 02 22:00

Check it out

Despite the barrage of bank ads touting online bill paying and the ease of using debit cards, writing checks the old-fashioned way is still a popular method of parting with one's money. In the United States alone, about 50 billion paper cheques are processed each year at a cost of US$1 to $5 per check, according to the Federal Reserve Bank. Amar Gupta, for one, hopes to wring some of those processing costs out of the system.
As codirector of the Productivity from Information Technology initiative at MIT's Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Mass., Gupta has been researching ways to streamline the cheque payment process using IT. A few years ago, he and his team of researchers devised a technology to accurately scan and read handwritten characters. The WinBank Optical Character Recognition System relies on character recognition algorithms and neural networks to read handwritten numerals on checks.

Written by Megan Santosus03 Oct. 02 22:00