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March 22, 2006

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Welcome to the March 22, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Computing Should Have Same Status as Science
IDG News Service (03/22/06) Kirk, Jeremy

Microsoft plans to provide approximately $3 million in funding for an initiative to make computer science equivalent to the natural sciences in terms of studying complex phenomena. The contribution follows a study by its research branch in Cambridge, England, which predicts that computers will be relied on more for intelligently sorting and analyzing enormous amounts of scientific data. Specific areas identified in the 2020 Science report include prediction machines, algorithms that let computers make prediction using complex data and codification, and the creation of software programs based on biological processes. "The essence of our findings I think is the ability to tackle these challenges is about to be transformed by entirely new kinds of tools and approaches in computing and computer sciences," says Stephen Emmott, director of Microsoft's European scientific research programs and chairman of the 2020 Science Group. Alexander Szalay, a professor of astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, says the scientific process needs to be applied to data, considering more data than ever has been collected during the last 12 months. New tools and algorithms will be needed because raw computing power to handle data is on the verge of being surpassed by the amount of data. Andrew Parker, a professor of high-energy physics and director in the eScience Center at Cambridge University, adds that scientists also need computational science courses that will train them in data handling, analysis, inference, and statistics.
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Association for Computing Machinery Honors Innovators, Role Models, Trailblazers in Computing
AScribe Newswire (03/20/06)

ACM has announced the winners of four awards recognizing contributions to computing and IT, as well as the winner of ACM's Doctoral Dissertation Award. For the 2006 President's Award, ACM recognized Sun Microsystems' Andreas Bechtolsheim for sharing knowledge with young engineers and computer scientists; Janice Cuny, computer and information science professor at the University of Oregon, for helping underserved populations in IT; and Edward Lazowska, the former chair of the computer science and engineering department at the University of Washington, for a lifetime of advocating investment in IT research and development. Don Gotterbarn, professor of computer science at East Tennessee State University, received the ACM Outstanding Contribution Award for encouraging ethical behavior among computing professionals and challenging software developers to consider the ethical ramifications of their decisions. The winner of the ACM Distinguished Service Award, Mary Jane Irwin, is the A. Robert Noll Chair in Engineering in Penn State University's department of computer science and engineering, co-founder of an annual workshop for women in design automation, and a former vice president of ACM. Deborah Estrin, professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles, won the Athena Lecturer Award. Estrin has developed protocols and architectures for sensor networks, and is particularly interested in environmental monitoring. Nominated by the University of California, Berkeley, Ben Liblit won the ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award for his research on a debugging system based on user feedback. Olivier Dousse, nominated by Ecole Polytechnique federale De Lausanne in Switzerland, took an honorable mention for his study of wireless networks "Asymptotic Properties of Wireless Multi-Hop Networks." For a complete listing of ACM's 2005 award recipients, visit http://awards.acm.org/current_recipients.cfm
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Voter Group Sues to Ban Touch-Screen System
San Francisco Chronicle (03/22/06) P. B2; Wildermuth, John

The voting rights group Voter Action has filed a suit to revoke California's conditional certification of Diebold's touch-screen voting system, citing vulnerabilities the group claims hackers could exploit to manipulate election results. "We can't have trustworthy elections with Diebold's voting machines," said Lowell Finley, co-director of Voter Action. "They are insecure and easily hacked." Diebold insists that its machines are reliable, despite the flaws reported in a study earlier this year that echoed the findings of Finnish computer expert Harri Hursti. By using the memory cards, a hacker could change the election results without even a password or any special access to the machines. After the 2002 Help America Vote Act, many of California's 52 counties began shopping for new systems, and while the suit will not affect the June 6 primary election, it casts a shadow over the counties that are preparing to use the Diebold machines for the November election. While he admitted that the suit puts the counties in a difficult position, Finley blames Secretary of State Bruce McPherson for certifying an unreliable system. To view the latest report on e-voting from ACM's Public Policy Comittee, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/VRD
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The Software Patent Mess
Technology Review (03/22/06) Williams, Sam

While eBay's upcoming Supreme Court case hinges around a mere $29.5 million that it was ordered to pay to MercExchange in 2003 over a patent dispute over the "Buy It Now" feature, the result could set a broad precedent that defines the future of software patents. With RIM's recent $612.5 million settlement fresh in their minds, eBay's attorneys hope that a victory will slow the momentum of patent attorneys and companies looking to cash in. "If eBay is successful, patent trolls will have one less weapon to use against legitimate firms," said University of Chicago law professor Douglas Lichtman, who along with 51 other legal scholars signed a friend of the court brief on eBay's behalf. The issue at stake is the general rule among federal courts that losing defendants must shut down the disputed technology pending an appeal. The constitutional underpinning for this rule comes from the "exclusive right" of owners to decide how an idea will be presented to the public, and advocates of the rule maintain that it helps guard against defendants dragging their feet in patent proceedings. In the areas of Web services and software technology, however, opponents point to the increasing number of patent disputes and protest that lax documentation, shared standards, and convergence encourage frivolous patent claims. IBM claims that developers can no longer create applications without incorporating existing platforms, which blurs the lines of ownership and exposes successful companies to infringement claims. The threat of injunction often speaks far more loudly than a financial settlement, as companies such as RIM face devastating consequences if their services are pulled from the market and often opt for a settlement. For its part, eBay is counting on the defense that the public interest would be hurt if the Supreme Court upheld MercExchange's claims.
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New Database System Accommodates Uncertain Data and Sources
Stanford Report (03/20/06) Orenstein, David

Stanford University researchers have developed a database system that is the first to account for both data uncertainty and lineage, features that could enable wildlife tracking, help fight crime, or improve comparison shopping on the Internet. Unlike traditional databases, Stanford's Trio project seeks to fully represent uncertain data and record their lineage, acknowledging that sensors can contain errors and that sources occasionally disagree. Stanford computer science professor Jennifer Widom, who leads the project, also notes that researchers have at times overlooked uncertainty in their data because their databases could not handle it. Short of misrepresenting or omitting information entirely, researchers have had to depend on software developers to write elaborate code in order to access uncertain data by tallying the aggregate effect of the uncertainties on the validity of the data set. Trio performs those calculations automatically, keeps track of the sources, and measures the effect of uncertain information throughout the database, eliminating information that proves too unreliable. Widom's interest was piqued when she considered the problem that Yahoo! and other comparison shopping sites have when trying to determine if two online retailers are offering the exact same product. To resolve the entity problem, Widom's system assigns each retailer's records a confidence value, analogous to a probability between 1 and 0, that will be used in comparison with the records of other retailers. When Widom and her team published their results in the IEEE Data Engineering Bulletin, they described how a detective could use the system to aggregate witness statements, accounting for their uncertainties with confidence values and compare their accuracy probabilities to hone a list of suspects through algorithms and advanced automation techniques.
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Is a Global High-Tech Work Force Bad for U.S.?
CNet (03/20/06) Broache, Anne

The high-tech industry's stance on globalizing the IT work force was validated by some economists participating in a panel discussion Monday in Washington, D.C., hosted by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Columbia University economics professor David Weinstein said the increase in research by foreigners will ultimately lead to more choices in the marketplace. "If you happen to be that person who loses their job or doesn't invent the next Web browser because some Chinese person invents it, you may personally lose, but the economy as a whole may benefit," said Weinstein. Steven Davis, a University of Chicago economics professor and a visiting scholar at the not-for-profit think tank, added, "we can also be a lot better off if the Chinese and the Indiansstart developing more commercially relevant innovations, as long as we have the wherewithal to adopt, implement, and apply them." However, Harvard University professor Richard Freeman stressed that the salaries of native workers will not grow as fast because foreign workers will be attracted to the United States due to its high salaries and favorable immigration policies. He expects the U.S. to account for 15 percent of the world's science and engineering PhD students by 2010, compared with about 40 percent in 1970. "Globalization and Offshoring of Software--A Report from ACM's Job Migration Task Force" is available at http://www.acm.org/globalizationreport
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Laser Chips Could Power Petaflop Computers
New Scientist (03/21/06) Knight, Will

NEC has demonstrated laser communications chips capable of transferring information over optical fiber cables at 25 Gbps, exciting the possibility of petaflop computers and setting a data transmission record for that type of component, the company claims. The chip may overtake its predecessors by using optical fibers to transmit data rather than electronic connections. NEC used the Vertical-Cavity Surface Emitting Laser (VCSEL) semiconducting diode to create pulses in response to electrical current. Replacing aluminum with indium accelerated the transfer of laser pulses over the optical fiber, and NEC's Takahiro Nakamura says the more efficient routing could lead to the next generation of supercomputers, with petaflop-level performance attainable by 2010. NEC occupied the top spot on the list of the world's fastest supercomputers from 2002 to 2004 with its Earth Simulator. Analysts agree that NEC could use VCSEL chips to build impressive supercomputers that might supplant IBM's BlueGene, which currently occupies the top spot with a 360 teraflop capacity, but they question whether the required components will be affordable. "Raw bandwidth alone is not necessarily the most pressing issue for petascale computing," said John Shalf of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Shalf says that a less expensive option would be to merge multiple electronic channels into one pipe, or funnel multiple optical signals through a single cable, a technology known as wavelength division multiplexing.
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France Seeks to Fragment Apple's Core
Financial Times (03/22/06) P. 18; Waters, Richard; Allison, Kevin; Braithwaite, Tom

The lower house of France's parliament yesterday approved legislation that requires songs purchased from Apple's iTunes--or from music sites run by Microsoft, Sony, and others--to be compatible with any brand of digital music player. The proposed law seeks to end the closed system created by incompatible "digital rights management" formats, the copyright protection software that limits where and how music can be played. The decision has drawn condemnation from industry analysts and groups, who say the proposed law--which was clearly aimed at Apple--is ill-conceived and could be disruptive to the first successful business to be built around digital music. The Business Software Alliance says the French legislation "goes way beyond" the European copyright directive that prompted the national law and could violate the terms of the Berne Convention, an international agreement designed to protect artists' rights. In addition, forcing Apple to allow the digital songs it sells to pass outside its own technology ecosystem could also violate the company's contracts with music labels, who keep tight control over their music, says Gartner analyst Mike McGuire. In an effort to answer such concerns, the proposed law would allow songs that pass between different music technologies to retain the original rights attached to them. Critics of the proposed law also say France's claim to be acting in its consumers' interests could backfire, since Apple could decide to refuse to play by the new rules and withdraw its popular iTunes service from the country altogether.
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OSU Creates World's First Transparent Integrated Circuit
Oregon State University News (03/16/06) Stauth, David

Oregon State University scientists have developed the world's first entirely transparent integrated circuit from inorganic compounds, a significant step in the development of the field of transparent electronics. The research, demonstrated with a five-stage ring oscillator, was funded by the NSF, the Army Research Office, and Hewlett-Packard. "This is a quantum leap in moving transparent electronics from the laboratory toward working commercial applications," said OSU electrical engineering professor John Wager. "It's proof that transparent transistors can be used to create an integrated circuit, tells us quite a bit about the speeds we may be able to achieve, and shows we can make transparent circuits with conventional photolithography techniques." Transparent electronics could lead to the possibility of transparent displays in car windshields, cell phones, televisions, and improved solar cells. OSU researchers had recently announced a transparent transistor based on zinc-tin-oxide; the new circuit is based on indium gallium oxide. Both heavy-metal compounds are chemically stable, physically durable, and contain highly mobile electrons. They are also more affordable than gold and silver, and more environmentally sound than mercury or lead. Wager says the technology still has to scale to a larger size and that he continues to develop a P-channel device to simplify the electronic architecture, improve power consumption, and enable analog and digital signal processing, but he does not see any major obstacles to commercializing the technology. Some transparent electronic products could even be so inexpensive that they could be integrated into devices meant to be discarded after use or replace conventional circuits in applications that do not require transparency.
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Diversity Still an Elusive Goal in IT, Other Tech Fields
Wisconsin Technology Network (03/20/06) Vanden Plas, Joe

While the participation of women, Hispanics, and blacks in IT has grown in recent years, it still lags well behind their proportions of the population. The participation of women in IT grew from 12 percent to 25 percent from 1980 to 2000, while the percentage of blacks rose 2.6 to 6.9 and Hispanics from 2.0 to 3.2 in the same period, according to the National Science Board (NSB). While the more technical fields of systems administration, network engineering, and desktop support are frequently still dominated by men, women have gained entry into IT in the areas of applications development, academic technology support, and training. The NSB found that math and science test scores of K-12 students have been inconsistent, and that the gap between the best and worse performers only widens over time. The Bush administration's American Competitiveness Initiative calls for the influx of 30,000 math and science teachers taken from industry and training for 70,000 educators to teach advanced placement math and science classes. It is hoped that the additional math and science training in K-12 education will translate into greater enrollment in college programs, in which women and minorities are typically underrepresented. Jennifer Sheridan, executive and research director of the Women in Science & Engineering Leadership Institute at UW-Madison, says, "I know that a lot of businesses are very critical of some of the top universities for not producing a diversified work force out of their science and engineering departments."
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2020 Computing: A Two-Way Street to Science's Future
Nature (03/22/06) Foster, Ian

While the conventional view holds that science has been the inert beneficiary of advances in computing technology, a subtler evaluation recognizes that the relationship is symbiotic, and that science's relentless pursuit of information elevates the status of computer science as a discipline to the position long occupied by mathematics, writes Ian Foster, director of the Computation Institute at the University of Chicago. Foster says science is beginning to demand more interactive analysis from larger sets of data, requiring ever more computing power to execute simulations of biological or climatological processes. Computer science has a guiding hand in how those simulations are created, supplying the hardware, software, algorithms, and theory necessary for implementation. By 2020, the scientist will have to have a firm grasp on programming, information management theory, and the tools used to build and test software. Major scientific endeavors will necessarily have computer scientists involved by 2020. This trend of collaboration is already visible today the development of the Web and the creation of relational databases to coalesce the terabytes of information gathered from digital astronomy projects. Also by 2020, Foster predicts, scientific institutions will place a premium value on researchers who develop computing technologies that propel scientific research. Just as mathematics benefited from the challenges posed by science in its early days, computer science will advance similarly as it evolves to keep the pace of modern scientific problems.
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Stay Rates for Foreign Doctorate Recipients Level Off
CRA Bulletin (03/16/06) Vegso, Jay

More foreign doctorate students are finding jobs in other countries, according to data from the CRA and NSF, and even more could be lured abroad as economies overseas improve. Such a development could cause a problem for U.S. employers, considering half of students receiving doctorates in computer science are not U.S. citizens. Although the two-year stay rate for temporary visit holders has reached a record level, there are now signs that stay rates may have peaked and will begin to decline, according to Michael Finn of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. Finn has prepared a series of reports for the NSF that show that 61 percent of temporary visa holders who received science and engineering doctorates in 1998 were still in the United States in 2003, and 70 percent of computer science doctorates were still in the country in 2003. Among those who received science and engineering doctorates in 2001, 68 percent were still in the United States in 2003, and 74 percent of computer science doctorates had remained through 2003. The five year stay-rate was 90 percent for Chinese students, followed by students from India at 86 percent, Taiwan at 47 percent, and South Korea at 34 percent. Finn notes that the two-year stay rate for 2001 and 1999 graduates was the same, and that the one-year stay rate has declined, after years of steady increases. He adds that a separate NSF survey indicates that fewer foreign doctorate recipients planned to stay each year from 2001 to 2003. "Globalization and Offshoring of Software--A Report from ACM's Job Migration Task Force" is available at http://www.acm.org/globalizationreport
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Stevens Professor to Chair International Workshop on PCC
Stevens Institute of Technology (03/20/06)

The International Workshop on Proof-Carrying Code will give industry an opportunity to capitalize on the growing interest in Proof-Carrying Code (PCC), the method for safe execution of untrusted code. The gathering, which is part of the Federated Logic Conference (FLoC 2006) and affiliated with the IEEE Symposium on Logic in Computer Science (LICS 2006), is scheduled for Aug. 11, 2006, in Seattle. Though industry continues to apply PCC to new applications, experts in logic, type theory, programming languages, static analysis, and compilers are pursuing research in typed assembly languages, types in compilation, and formal verification of safety properties. The meeting is designed to promote PCC, and facilitate collaboration between industry and academia in formal methods and programming languages technology. The PCC technique allows the code receiver to define a safety policy that protects end users from flaws in binary executables such as type errors, memory management errors, violations or resource bounds, access control, and information flow. PCC has a considerable advantage over program verification in that safety properties are easier to prove than program correctness, and is ultimately designed to guarantee that there is no harm in executing the code. Andrew Appel, professor of computer science at Princeton University, and Ian Stark, a lecturer in computer science at the University of Edinburgh, will be the keynote speakers, while Stevens Institute of Technology professor Adriana Compagnoni will chair the workshop.
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More Than Meets the Ear
National Journal (03/18/06) Vol. 38, No. 11, P. 28; Harris, Shane

The National Security Agency's (NSA) surveillance of phone calls and emails in the United States, supposedly to track the activities of people suspected of having terrorist ties, is more far-reaching than the White House has publicly disclosed. The NSA is monitoring more than just the content of phone calls or emails between U.S. residents and suspected foreign terrorists; the agency is monitoring the transactional data (phone numbers, Web addresses, dates, times, call length, etc.) that can be used to trace and identify people. Although the president, attorney general, and intelligence officials have described the surveillance as targeted or limited, traffic analysis actually involves the examination of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of individuals because almost every phone number and Web address is linked to a person. Mining meaningful patterns from transactional data calls for an immense volume of information, and analysts must establish baselines about what is considered "normal" and "suspicious" behavior. Administration officials have sworn that the NSA only intercepts the contents of a communication if officials have a "reasonable" basis to think that at least one party is connected to a terrorist group, but such a determination requires a massive amount of call records, according to a senior defense agency veteran. The choice to eavesdrop on a call or email is made by career NSA employees, which raises questions as to whether such professionals are truly qualified to determine what constitutes a reasonable search. Accounts that the technology the agency uses to make that determination is unsophisticated and unperfected leads to one expert's conclusion that "you're talking about tapping a phone based on a statistical correlation." This increases the risk of false positives, because such a system can make meaningless links between people seem meaningful.
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Pulling the Plug on Standby Power
Economist Technology Quarterly (03/06) Vol. 378, No. 8468, P. 34

There are scores of devices that spend much of the time in "standby" mode, and attempts are being made across the globe to eliminate this unnecessary power wastage. A study of standby-power consumption conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and released in 2000 found that as much as 10 percent of household power consumption came from appliances in standby mode, while other studies showed that such consumption could range as high as 13 percent. LBNL researcher Alan Meier claims that almost all standby functions can be carried out on no more than a single watt of power consumption, and he and others say there is no technical obstacle hindering electronic devices' use of more efficient electrical designs with lower standby-power consumption. A growing segment of new household gadgets feature more efficient power supplies that convert mains electricity to the low voltages that drive the small devices via "switch mode" technology. Regulators around the world have begun to institute rules--most of them voluntary--to spur manufacturers to make less power-hungry products: America and other countries have adopted the Energy Star scheme, in which devices that comply with specific energy efficiency standards can display a special logo; seven years ago the International Energy Agency adopted Meier's suggested "one-watt" standard as a standby consumption goal, while in 2000 Australia become the only nation to adopt the standard on a national scale. Nonvoluntary measures to reduce standby consumption include a 2001 presidential mandate requiring all U.S. government agencies to meet the "one-watt" standard when purchasing commercial devices that employ external standby power devices or feature internal standby power functionality. This January, the California Energy Commission established mandatory standby requirements for various consumer-electronic devices.
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Sustainable Computing: It's Not Easy Being Green
Computerworld (03/20/06) P. 36; Pratt, Mary K.

Many IT managers and CIOs have been paying more attention recently to sustainable computing due to the cost savings produced by conserving energy in computer systems. Sustainable computing has the dual advantage of helping the environment and the company's bottom line, leading many IT departments to opt for power management software and energy-efficient hardware such as LCDs instead of CRT monitors. Interest in sustainable, or green, computing is on the upswing as more companies are realizing that helping the environment can also have financial incentives. Since implementing sustainable computing practices, the City of Dayton has saved $60,000 to $90,000 in annual energy costs, while a Fortune 100 retailer reports a $5.7 million savings since converting to thin clients instead of PCs. The University at Buffalo is pursuing a program of trimming energy consumption that is believed to save more than $10 million annually. Walter Simpson, the energy officer for the UB Green Program, encourages sensible use of the school's computing resources, such as running upgrades during the day or on a scheduled night so that equipment can routinely be powered down overnight. In addition to saving energy, green computing advocates are looking to reduce the levels of toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, and barium in computing equipment. Greenpeace has reported that most computers collected in the United States for recycling are illegally shipped to China and India for disassembly, damaging the environment in those nations. Increased regulations governing the disposal of harmful materials will likely drive the industry more toward toxin-free hardware. "If disposal is an extra cost, then it's a problem that someone has to solve," said JupiterResearch's Joe Wilcox. "If they can dispose of it easier because there are no potential toxins, then that's a benefit they can appreciate."
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How the Government Refocused on Innovation and Competitiveness
Today's Engineer (03/06) Schiff, Debra

Congress is considering major legislation that could help the United States preserve its position of leadership in the global technology arena. The Senate is in line to act on the Protect America's Competitive Edge Act (PACE) and the National Innovation Act, while both parties in the House are developing their own technology agendas. One of the major reasons that technological competitiveness has commanded the attention of both Congress and the president, who made a strong appeal for increased research and development in his State of the Union Address, is the "Innovate America" report developed by the Council on Competitiveness. IEEE, an affiliate of the council, has been lobbying members of Congress to include tax breaks for continuing education, tax credits for research and development spending, and increased research and development funding for the NSF and the Department of Energy in the legislation. IEEE's Russ Lefevre particularly advocates the continuing-education tax breaks. "When the half-life of an engineer is five years...you must be able to move from one discipline to another discipline, and you must be able to do it quickly," he says. The Council on Competitiveness stresses the need for an innovation ecosystem where people and organizations involved in every step of the innovation process can collaborate with each other. The "Innovate America" report arose from the realization that the process of innovation, including the methods of wealth and value creation, was changing rapidly. The report found that U.S. manufacturing is critical to maintaining the United States' competitiveness, but that manufacturing in the new century must incorporate new technologies to enhance its value.
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A Conversation With Steve Ross-Talbot
Queue (03/06) Vol. 4, No. 2, P. 14; Sparkes, Stephen

Facilitating the exchange of knowledge between academics and practitioners is critical to practical commercial applications of cutting-edge research, and Pi4 Technologies founder Steve Ross-Talbot, who also holds several positions on the World Wide Web Consortium, is chiefly interested in such idea-sharing. In an interview with Stephen Sparkes, CIO of Morgan Stanley's investment banking unit, Ross-Talbot says his interest in the use of pi-calculus to improve the design, automation, and analysis of business processes was sparked by his pursuit of "ways of understanding the fundamentals of interaction, because...subscriptions to events and the onward publishing of an event really have to do with an interaction between different services or different components in a distributed framework." Ross-Talbot believes pi-calculus will manifest itself as a "typing mechanism" within tools that systems architects use to explicitly state the interactions that take place between the basic roles or elements or services in a service-oriented architecture (SOA). He explains that the chief purpose of the existence of Pi4 Technologies is as the open-source guardian of the pi-calculus-based tools, while a second company he co-founded, Hattrick Software, offers the professional open-source supports in consulting for the Pi4 SOA, the Pi4 choreography description language (CDL) tool kit, and the delivery of "behavioral backbone" technology. Ross-Talbot contends that "The IP in all this should not be in the production of choreography tools or the use of the pi-calculus. The real IP, the real value for a business, is the choreography."
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