The Harrow Technology Report

  http://www.TheHarrowGroup.com

Insight, analysis, and commentary on the 
innovations and trends of contemporary computing, 
and on its growing number of related technologies.

An ongoing journey towards understanding, 
and profiting from, a world of exponential 
technological growth!

Copyright © 2001-2005, Jeffrey R. Harrow.  All rights reserved.
Email: Jeff@TheHarrowGroup.com

 

Be Concerned. Be Very Concerned.

Feb. 17, 2003
 

  • Listen to this Issue.
       Give your eyes a rest.

  • Quote of the Week.
       Another "return to our roots..."

  • Be Concerned.  Be Very Concerned!
       Instant cyber-warfare now proven viable.

  • Storage Update.
       The Library of Congress in a credit card?

  • There's MORE I Can Do For You!
       Find out how I can further help your business!

  • "Make It So," Redux.
       This is not going to lead where you think...

  • The New "Age of Myths."
       We're not beyond the Age of Myths -- at all.

  • Old + New = Lethal.
       This would look at home on James Bond --
       but it's real!

  • About "The Harrow Technology Report"


  • Listen to this Issue.

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    Back to Table of Contents


    Quote of the Week.

     

    "I saw an ad in the past few days that I now can’t find --it was for a flat-screen TV that connected via Wi-Fi [802.11].  Have you heard of this device?

    An interesting return to our roots -- I seem to remember when all TVs were “wireless,” except for the power cord and a connection to the rabbit ears."

    Reader Don Lyle

    An intriguing "back to the future" observation...

    (And no, I had not heard of this device -- can anyone help Don out?  His address is:  d.m.lyle@ieee.org ).

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Be Concerned.  Be Very Concerned!

     

    It was January 25th, and it started as a day like any other day.  But it was about to turn into a very "Dark and Stormy Night." 

    The severe, global storm about to be unleashed was not going to be of traditional wind, rain, or snow.  Instead, it was a storm of photons and electrons.  Yet in some ways, this insubstantial storm packed far more of a punch than a hurricane!

    Read this through, because the results of this storm have touched us all, and they portend even more serious "cyber-weather" in the future.

    Quoting (and paraphrasing, and commenting upon) this initial section from the Feb. 9 Stavance R&D Newsflash (http://www.stavance.com/):

    The Sapphire ('Slammer') Worm was the fastest computer worm in history.

    As it began spreading throughout the Internet, it doubled the number of infected systems every 8.5 seconds.

    The worm achieved its full scanning rate (over 55 million scans per second) after approximately three minutes.  The rate of growth then slowed down somewhat because significant portions of the network did not have enough bandwidth to allow it to operate unhindered.

    It infected more than 90 percent of vulnerable hosts within 10 minutes!

    The picture below shows how the world looked just ten minutes into this worm's life, with the blue circles actually under-representing the density of the infection to reduce visual overlap:

    Image - blue circles actually underrepresent infected areas, in order to reduce overlap.  http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~nweaver/sapphire/sql-after-small.gif  From http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~nweaver/sapphire/

    In just ten minutes!

     

    What Happened?

    What happened was that the worm began to infect hosts slightly before 05:30 UTC on Saturday, January 25. Sapphire exploited a buffer overflow vulnerability in computers running Microsoft's SQL Server or MSDE 2000 (Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine).

    This weakness in an underlying indexing service was discovered in July 2002, and Microsoft released a patch for the vulnerability before it was announced.  But obviously many system administrators did not install the patch (even within Microsoft), since the worm infected at least 75,000 hosts; perhaps considerably more.  And because of the "business critical" nature of many of the applications that use this database service, this worm had effects FAR beyond simply slowing down Internet surfing and Email: 

    This worm caused network outages and such unforeseen consequences as canceled airline flights, interference with elections, and ATM failures!

    (You can find all the gory details at http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~nweaver/sapphire and http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?
    type=internetNews&storyID=2170479  .)

    The most significant thing that we can learn from this event, other than the incredible 10-minute global infection rate (which was helped by the worm's having to send only a single packet to infect a system), was that THIS WORM DID NOT CARRY A MALICIOUS PAYLOAD

    Most damage resulting from this worm was caused by database servers going (or being taken) down, and by local network congestion caused by the worm's proliferation.  But this cancelled plane flights; it interfered with elections; and it kept people from their banking.  (Does anyone now doubt that the Internet is mission-critical to the economy?) 

    According to U.S. cybersecurity czar Richard Clarke in the Jan. 31 WashingtonPost.com (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A6320-2003Jan31.html),

    "With slight modifications, the results of the worm would have been more significant. More sophisticated attacks against known vulnerabilities in cyberspace could be devastating."

    Imagine if this worm HAD been malicious.  Imagine what will happen when one is.  Could it be ten minutes to 100% data loss, or to 100% blocked access to infrastructure services, on 75,000+ business and government systems around the globe?  To your systems?  Or to those that provide the Internet-related services on which your business, directly or indirectly, now rely?

    Not to be an alarmist, but Jan. 25 has proven beyond any doubt that the viability and the potential speed of such attacks are reality, not fiction.  Our businesses ARE in the Internet Age, with no real way of turning back.  Yet this type of worm and similar methods of cyber-warfare are now being accepted as "normal" weapons of war even by the U.S.  According to a Feb. 7 AP story at http://apnews.excite.com/article/20030207/D7P1UJDO0.htmlPresident Bush has signed a secret order titled the "National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace," which allows,

    "... the government to develop guidelines under which the U.S. could launch cyber-attacks against foreign computer systems."

    Which clearly implies that such cyber-warfare will be a two-way street.

     

    Prepare For Tomorrow.

    For these and other reasons, it certainly seems clear that we'd all best recognize, and address, the vulnerabilities of our increasingly-connected electronic infrastructure. 

    Not doing so is like hanging an "Open" sign on the vault door, advertising the opportunity for a single malicious person to create dramatic economic chaos.  In ten minutes.  Around the globe.

    Which is not a pretty picture...

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Storage Update.

     

    We can certainly store a pretty penny's worth of data on our magnetic disks -- 80 gigabytes is common, 120 gigabytes is affordable and even 160 gigabytes and higher can be had today if the need justifies.  But as we keep learning in Storage Updates seemingly every month, new techniques are being born that hold the very real promise of making today's hundred-or-so gigabyte disk drives seem like the .01 gigabyte (10 megabyte) RL02 disk drives that were the cat's meow just 20 years ago.

    Brought to our attention by readers Rodney Jones, Ryan Erickson and others, the Feb. 3 NewsFactor.com (http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/20650.html) reports that Harsh Chopra, a scientist at the State University of New York, has developed sensors that can detect individual magnetic fields 1,000-times smaller than the magnetic ones and zeros used by today's best disk drives.

    He developed "microscopic whiskers of nickel only a few atoms wide at room temperature...  That degree of sensitivity means terabits of data -- or trillions of bits -- could be crammed into a square inch of disk space.  About 160 terabits comprise the entire contents of the Library of Congress."

    Or, as an NSF press release (http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/02/pr0255.htm) puts it:

    "This could enable the storage of 50 or more DVDs on a hard drive the size of a credit card."

     

    How?

    This phenomenon is called "ballistic magnetoresistance," or BMR, which utilizes a form of "spintronics" (where not only the "charge" of an electron, but also another of its attributes -- it's "spin" -- is exploited.)  Because the "whisker" is only a few atoms wide, it channels electrons along its length with little chance for diversion (which creates noise).  So this sensor can cleanly read the far smaller magnetic domains on the disk that enable this impressive density.

    Estimates are that such technology takes about seven years to commercialize (if all goes well), but its uses may go far beyond "storage" -- it may also be possible to use these techniques to rapidly read the footprint of biological molecules, making them much easier to identify in small quantities (think new, more sensitive tests and sensors, and further exploration into the as-yet unknown).

    This development is also a great reminder that, especially as we delve into the worlds of atoms and molecules and purpose-built structures at that scale, we aren't nearing the end of the technologies we know and love; we're only beginning to learn how to use them in ways that will make today's techniques look "stone-axe-crude" by comparison.

    After all -- this kind of innovation is what we've been doing, slowly at first and now ever-faster, since we first learned to paint the cave walls, and to use fire to light the night...

    Don't Blink!

     

    Back to Table of Contents


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    Back to Table of Contents


    "Make It So," Redux.

     

    This is not going to lead where you think.

    Last issue, we explored the growing universe of ways to turn fancy into reality by "printing" solid -- and even electrically and/or biologically active "devices" -- on-demand.  (http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
    20030202/20030202.htm#_Toc31869175)


    Thinking about this, reader C.W. Holeman II suggests that, in a sense, such "make it so" services are ALREADY available for certain things!

    This all began when he was recently in Wal-Mart, where he noticed the Kodak self-serve kiosk that let's you scan a photo (or input one via disk, camera memory card, etc.)  You can then manipulate the image and print-it-on-demand at a cost of 48-cents each.  Nothing spectacular yet (although I have used one, and Kodak did a really nice job of bringing photo-power "to the people.")

    C.W. then noticed another kiosk, which allowed him to "upload" his pictures from floppy or memory card directly into the store's big photo processor, which would then hand him one-hour prints for 26-cents each.

    When he got home, he did some investigating and found that he could also upload his camera's images to Wal-Mart's big photo processor directly over the Internet, and they'd still be printed for 26-cents each.  More convenient yet.
     

    Dissolving The Line...

    It's only when he thought about how often he sends his printed pictures to his dad a continent away, that he realized the "make it so" power of this combination of Internet access to Wal-Mart's photo processors, plus the widespread physical network of "bricks-and-mortar" Wal-Mart stores equipped with photo processors. 

    These days, C.W. uploads his pictures to Wal-Mart from home, but he designates that they should be physically printed at the Wal-Mart down the street from his Dad!  Essentially, he can call his Dad as he's uploading the pictures, and by the time Dad arrives at his local Wal-Mart (across the country), C.W's bits have been turned into inexpensive physical pictures to warm a heart.

    This isn't the first or the only "upload and print" service available, but because of the ubiquitousness of Wal-Mart's stores and their Internet access for this purpose, it's probably the only service today that makes it so easy to (essentially instantly) deliver newly-created physical goods to almost anyone, regardless of distance. 

    (This doesn't count Emailing pictures to someone who prints them herself, because Wal-Mart provides an end-to-end service that does not require the recipient to have any special hardware, software, or expertise.)


    But Tomorrow?

    Now -- suppose that instead of a photo printer, Wal-Mart installed an advanced stereolithography "printer" (such as we discussed in http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/
    20030202/20030202.htm#_Toc31869175)
    in each store.  Combine that with easy-to-use 3D development software that would let kids create their own solid toys (or business prototype parts, etc.), and suddenly they could share their creations with their friends and relatives and associates anywhere, and anywhen.  Not just a PICTURE of their "toys," but the real thing!

    And what if these "printers" can eventually also print biological things and/or active semiconductor circuits within an object, such as this concept of a cell phone being built from the bottom up, layer by layer, complete with its active components, as in the illustration below? 

    Image - concept of a cell phone being built up, layer by layer, complete with its active components.

     

    Imagine the unexpected (and perhaps also the chilling) results.

     

    Make My Meal Just-So.

    Or consider another potential, if such "printers" ever become capable of manipulating and then "printing" individual molecules: could we have the Star Trek Food Replicator?  As you're about to see, this isn't entirely blue-sky sci fi!

    Brought to our attention by reader Doug Brooks, Linguagen Corp. (http://www.linguagen.com/) is quietly unraveling just how our taste buds work, and how to molecularly "fool" them.

    For example, imagine you're drinking a cup of coffee laced with cream and sugar (to hide its inherent bitterness and to add the "body" and texture nuances that go with the real thing).  If you're in Linguagen's offices today and you choose to partake of their product, you'd actually be drinking black coffee with a dash of their special molecule.  And you'd be fooled, believing that this thin dark coffee was "...as smooth as a milky double latte."

    It's "a blending of chemistry, molecular biology, and genetics."  It won't modify the food we eat, but it will dramatically modify how we perceive what we eat, according to the Feb. 1 Globe And Mail (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/
    front/RTGAM/20030201/wxfood0201/Front/homeBN/breakingnews)
    .

    Perhaps, eventually, good-for-you bland oatmeal will taste (to you) like the granddaddy of all brownie, hot-fudge, and whipped cream sundaes. 

    Or kids might eat their veggies because they taste exactly like their favorite candy ('yuck' to me, but...) 

    Or, as Linguagen's first patented compound already does, it's now possible to change your taste perception (NOT changing the food) by "turning off" or "enhancing" different taste sensors on your tongue while you're eating that item.  Which makes both Doug and I wonder if, eventually, we might use such techniques to change our taste perceptions so that an inexpensive nutritional "gruel," "printed" on-demand to add shape, texture, color, etc., might taste and feel and smell exactly like the work of a four-star chef...  (I'm skeptical of this level of success, and I think I'd continue to prefer the "real thing."  But if our global population continues to grow and outpace agricultural production, this could be a lot better than some of the alternatives.  And -- my skepticism has been proven wrong before...)
     

    NBIC Convergence.

    None of these capabilities are commercially viable -- yet.  The stereolithographic printers, their molecular and other "inks," and the end-user software will have to mature dramatically.  Yet this is JUST the direction (if not specifically for these reasons) where this field of "stereolithography" is headed as the convergence of Nanotechnology, Biology & medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive sciences (NBIC) makes many "impossibles," commonplace.

    On the other hand, as we think about the dense synergistic swirl of ideas that will result, remember too "The Law of Unintended Consequences." It won't necessarily all be pretty...

    Again, Don't Blink!

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    The New "Age of Myths."

     

    The "Age of Myths" is far from past.  A new age of myths persists in how we breath life into our PCs, how we get them to do special Herculean (and mundane) tasks -- "stand on one leg, jump three times, and spell "Bill" backwards..." -- and more.  But few electronic-age myths are as entrenched as those associated with using, storing, and recharging the batteries that power out notebooks, cell phones, and the other electronic detritus that proliferates with our pocket lint. 

    One reason for the proliferation of battery myths is that battery technology keeps changing, and each battery chemistry demands its own version of tender loving care.  For example, most of us have experienced the relatively short shelf life of fully-charged Nickel Cadmium (NiCad) batteries, plus their infamous "memory effect" that demands that NiCads be fully discharged, and then fully re-charged, for maximum capacity.  If you use just half of the battery charge each day and then put it into its charger, the battery will eventually come to believe that its total capacity is only half of what it actually is!  Therefore, we've been trained not to "top off" our batteries (even though this is impractical in real-life use).

    (You can find a tremendous amount of apparently objective technical information about Nickel Cadmium and Nickel Metal Hydride batteries through links in the left-hand box at http://www.mbi.panasonic.co.jp/oembatteries/english/index.html .)

     

    Today.

    But NiCad's are long-gone from most high-end electronics, replaced by the better-suited Lithium Ion battery.  And thanks to similar information from Panasonic (http://www.mbi.panasonic.co.jp/oembatteries/e
    nglish/e_ion/out_eion/speeion.htm and http://www.mbi.panasonic.co.jp/oembatteries/
    english/e_dow/pdf_edow/ion_epdf/iontde.pdf)
    , we can now put Today's battery myths to rest.

    Lithium Ion batteries have excellent shelf life characteristics.  If you store a fully-charged battery at room temperature, it will still retain 88% of its charge after seven months.  They typically will endure over 500 charge-discharge cycles before their capacity begins to deteriorate.  And they have no "memory effect."  Charge 'em when you will.  Don't feel guilty!

    (But only charge 'em with the correct charger -- a "constant current/constant voltage" charger specifically designed for your batteries.) 

    If you plan to store the batteries, charge them to between 30% and 50% of full charge, and then recharge them once per year, since "over-discharge" is hard on their health.  (You can't over-discharge the battery in normal use because a circuit within the battery shuts things down when it reaches that threshold voltage; if you then recharge the battery, all is well.)

    Of course, battery technology is not standing still, even if it sometimes feels that way as we keep paying for a never-ending stream of cylindrical and rectangular packages.  Some of the offshoots of NBIC (the convergence of Nanotechnology, Biology and medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive sciences), as pointed out by reader Dana Hoggatt and the Feb. 5 UCLA News (http://newsroom.ucla.edu/page.asp?id=3849), may be batteries composed of millions of ultra-tiny 3D structures.  These are designed to improve the performance of the batteries we use for our "macro" devices (such as portable electronics), while in smaller form they may also provide "nano-power" for the growing number of nano-scale "machines" that lie in our NBIC future.

    Even so, unless the promise of tiny fuel cells or other portable power technology is met, I fear that "the future" will continue to include a never-ending stream of batteries passing through our hands, to our devices, then into our trash cans, and finally ending up in our landfills.  We still do need a 'better way...' 

    But then, that's what Innovation is all about!

     

    Back to Table of Contents


    Old + New = Lethal.

     

    Finally, speaking of things in our pockets, we find that an act of rather dangerous creativity by parties unknown has created cell phones that carry quite a "punch." 

    Image - a 22 caliber cell phone.  http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/030207/170/37wyw.html

    A very real "22 caliber punch," that is, since this retrofitted cell phone holds four bullets and fires them out of the barrel masquerading as the cell phone's stub antenna!  (Per a Feb. 7 Reuters report at http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story2&
    cid=581&ncid=581&e=1&u=/nm/20030207/tc_nm/life_france_guns_dc
    .)

    Hummm.  Some people have always considered cell phones dangerous in certain situations, but this takes things in an entirely new direction.  A for-real James Bond "toy?"  Check out the video of this phone making its, er, very strong point, at http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/video/cellgun.mpg .

    Just be careful of that Send key!

     


    About "The Harrow Technology Report"

    "The Harrow Technology Report" explores the innovations and trends of many contemporary and emerging technologies, and then draws some less than obvious connections between them, to help us each survive and prosper in the Knowledge Age. 

    "The Harrow Technology Report" is brought to you by Jeffrey R. Harrow, Principal of The Harrow Group. http://www.TheHarrowGroup.com .

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    Copyright (c) 2001-2005, Jeffrey R. Harrow. All rights reserved.

    Jeffrey R. Harrow maintains that all reasonable care and skill has been used in the compilation of this publication.  However, he shall not be under any liability for loss or damage (including consequential loss) whatsoever or howsoever arising as a result of the use of this publication by the reader, his/her/its servants, agents or any third party.

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