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March 24, 2006

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Truly Micro Electronics in a Single Molecule
New York Times (03/24/06) P. C2; Markoff, John

IBM researchers have built an electronic circuit using a single carbon nanotube molecule in a development that could eventually lead to microscopic circuitry produced through conventional techniques. Molecular electronics aims to create circuits that would be less than one-tenth the size of the most sophisticated components available today. Scientists say that molecular-level technologies could sustain the scaling process beyond the middle of next decade, when fundamental limitations are expected to halt the scaling of current technologies. Carbon nanotubes contain numerous properties that have promise in electrical applications. "This is the first time that a single carbon nanotube has been used to make an integrated electronic circuit," said Dimitri Antoniadist, a professor of electrical engineering at MIT. Antoniadist said that while the discovery shows great promise, carbon nanotubes are still a long way from supplanting silicon as the staple material in electronic circuitry. The IBM developers also reported that they achieved megahertz-level circuit speeds, a first for molecular computing. Previous molecular electronic switching speeds capped out in the kilohertz range, switching thousands of times each second, while commercial microprocessors have speeds in the range of billions per second. IBM reported speeds of 52 MHz, though IBM's Zhihong Chen, who authored the study, believes that speeds on the order of trillions of operations per second will be possible with molecular devices. Carbon nanotubes are especially exciting because they appear to be able to transmit more current without wasting additional heat, which in recent years has become the major impediment to high-speed computing.
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DNS Servers Do Hackers' Dirty Work
CNet (03/24/06) Evers, Joris

Hackers have begun using DNS servers to magnify the scope of Internet attacks and disrupt online commerce in a variation on the traditional distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attack. VeriSign sustained attacks of a larger scale than it had ever seen last year. Rather than the typical bot attack, VeriSign was being targeted by domain name system servers. "DNS is now a major vector for DDOS," said security researcher Dan Kaminsky. "The bar has been lowered. People with fewer resources can now launch potentially crippling attacks." DNS-based DDOS attacks follow the familiar pattern of inundating a system with traffic in an effort to bring it to a halt, though the hackers responsible for the attacks are more likely to be professional criminals looking to extort money than teenagers simply pulling off a prank. In a DNS-based DDOS attack, the user would likely dispatch a botnet to flood open DNS servers with spoofed queries. DNS servers appeal to hackers because they conceal their systems, but also because relaying an attack via a DNS server amplifies the effect by as much as 73 times. DNS inventor Paul Mockapetris likens the DNS reflector and amplification attack to clogging up someone's mailbox. Writing and mailing letters to that person would be traceable and time-consuming, while filling out the person's address on numerous response request cards from magazines will cause large quantities of mail to pile up quickly without divulging the responsible party's identity. In a bot-delivered attack, users can block traffic by identifying the attacking machines, though blocking a DNS server could disrupt the online activities of large numbers of users. The DNS servers that permit queries from anyone on the Internet, known as recursive name servers, are at the core of the problem. Mockapetris called the operators of these open servers the "Typhoid Marys of the Internet," and said "they need to clean up their act."
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Association for Computing Machinery Honors Creators of Verification Tools for Software, Hardware
AScribe Newswire (03/16/06)

ACM will honor four computer scientists who provided the foundation for formal verification tools for hardware and software systems with the 2005 Paris Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award. The Kanellakis Award, which carries a $5,000 prize, will go to Gerard J. Holzmann, a researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Robert P. Kurshan, a fellow at Cadence Design Systems; Moshe Y. Vardi, a computer science professor at Rice University; and Pierre Wolper, a computer science professor at the Universite de Liege, Belgium. The researchers have shown that mathematical analysis of formal models can be used to check the correctness of systems that interact with their environments, such as digital systems and communications protocols. Finding ways to check whether hardware and software designs meet their specifications has been problematic in the field of computer science. However, the honorees' work is regularly used commercially in "control-intensive" computer programs. They will be honored at the ACM Annual Awards Banquet on May 20, 2006, in San Francisco. For more on the Kanellakis Award and its 2005 recipients, visit http://campus.acm.org/public/pressroom/press_releases/3_2006/kanellakis.cfm< /A>
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Schools Fail to Teach Scientific Computing Skills
VNUNet (03/23/06) Chapman, Matt

Microsoft Research scientists say that schools and colleges are not training the next generation of scientists with the necessary computer skills. The Microsoft researchers, as part of their 2020 report, said that computer science will support the natural sciences in much the same way as mathematics underpins the physical sciences. "This means that tomorrow's scientists will need to be highly computationally literate as well as being highly scientifically literate," said Microsoft Research Cambridge director Stephen Emmott. Andrew Parker, director of the Cambridge eScience Center, noted that while students come to him with solid skills in mathematics and physics, they are novices at processing and analyzing data. "They don't need IT courses on how to read their email and do word processing; they need computational science courses which are relevant to analyzing large data collections, searching, making hypotheses, doing simulations," Parker said. Others at Microsoft agreed that the focus of education is tilted toward basic computing skills rather than real computer science. Parker also criticized poor teaching standards for driving students away from computer science, noting that the material too often is presented in a sterile and uninteresting manner. The researchers also bemoaned the culture of idolizing fame, claiming that in a world where students can more readily identify a star from reality television than a groundbreaking scientist, the appeal of a discipline perceived as staid and utilitarian is compromised.
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Stanford Still the Golden Goose of Valley Tech
San Jose Mercury News (CA) (03/22/06) Langberg, Mike

Stanford University's computer science department celebrated its 40th anniversary on Tuesday, bringing together current and former students and teachers to recognize the achievements of the celebrated program that has long been the golden nugget of Silicon Valley. In attendance were Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Jim Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics and Netscape, D.E. Shaw's David Shaw, and Yahoo! co-founders David Filo and Jerry Yang. Venture capitalists look to Stanford's computer science department as a seedbed for research that could turn into a marketable product or company, though veterans from other departments are responsible for companies such as Cisco Systems, Varian, and Hewlett-Packard. Many panelists argued that the innovative environment of Stanford and Silicon Valley is imperiled by government funding cuts and an increasing tendency to frame policy matters around religious considerations rather than science. "We have a unique environment here, and I hope it can survive eight years of bad government," said Clark. Computer science and electrical engineering professor Mark Horowitz, founder of Rambus, said immigration restrictions could "kill the golden goose." He said, "If you make it difficult for foreign students to come here...you will have a dramatic effect on the quality of the technology industry in the United States." Stanford is working to counter increased competition from China, India, and other nations for international students by integrating its programs in science, medicine, engineering, business, and law and allowing students to take classes spanning disciplinary boundaries.
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In This Soccer Match, Players Are Robotic But That's the Goal
Wall Street Journal (03/23/06) P. A1; Patterson, Scott

Pitting robotic dogs against each other, the RoboCup soccer tournament has a cult appeal to computer scientists around the world, but the competitions between soccer robots are also the proving grounds for artificial intelligence technologies that could have a substantial impact in the future. Soccer robots are far more primitive than supercomputer chess champions, and have a tendency to wander out of bounds, have difficulty seeing the ball, and collapse mid game due to depleted batteries. Most robots are dogs called Aibos, though some field teams of two-legged human-like robots that are prone to falling over after kicking the ball. RoboCup has the lofty goal of creating a humanoid robotic soccer team by 2050 capable of defeating the champions of the World Cup. This June, coinciding with the World Cup, more than 100 teams will vie for the RoboCup World Championship in Bremen, Germany. The genesis of robotic soccer comes from a paper published in 1993 by University of British Columbia computer science professor Alan Mackworth, who thought the interactive element of soccer would make a more interesting challenge for robots than chess. Japanese scientists launched the first RoboCup, which has now evolved into an international event with eight independent categories with designations such as "small-size" and "four-legged." Alexi Lalas, a player on the 1994 U.S. World Cup team, believes the researchers will have difficulty incorporating the subtleties of the game into robots, noting that what makes players great is instinct and innate ability, as well as skill and strategy. Sony's Aibos are equipped with infrared sensors, video cameras, and wireless Ethernet cards that they use to process 30 images a second to create a virtual topography. The players are directed by a computer chip that relays instructions devised by complex algorithms.
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Brown, Microsoft Partners in New Technology
Providence Journal (RI) (03/21/06) Stape, Andrea L.

Microsoft Research has announced plans to provide Brown university with $1.2 million and its computer expertise over the next three years so that its researchers can continue their work in getting computers to understand and process complex written handwriting, from chemical equations to artistic sketches. Officials from Microsoft joined representatives for a news conference this week to announce the creation of the Microsoft Center for Research on Pen-Centric Computing, which will be the first research center to solely on pen-centric computer research, according to Brown. For the past four years, Microsoft Research has provided about $150,000 annually to pursue pen-specific research, according to Andries van Dam, vice president for research at the university. Van Dam, who serves on the technical advisory board of Microsoft Research, will also be the director of the pen-based computer research center. Chemistry students at Brown are currently using a program that turns stylus-sketched molecules into a three-dimensional, moving model. Researchers have also developed a program that enables musicians to write musical notations on a screen, save the music, and manipulate it without using a pen and paper.
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If Distributed Processing Can Search for Aliens, Why Not Web Pages?
Guardian Unlimited (UK) (03/23/06) Pollitt, Michael

Out of concern that Google's control of the online search market is growing unchecked, Alex Chudnovsky has developed Majestic-12, a community-based endeavor that uses distributed computing to index Web pages. "Because of their success, they have effectively created a monopoly in the virtual world. Monopolies never end up well for consumers," said Chudnovsky about Google's ascendancy. In the United Kingdom, Google has a market share of more than 60 percent, well ahead of Yahoo! and MSN. Majestic-12 already has 1 billion pages in its index, though Google reached the 8 billion mark four months ago, and estimates that its search engine is three times larger than its closest competitor. Mark Levine, computer science professor at Birkbeck College, has written that Google has more than 15,000 servers that crawl 3,000 URLs per second. Harnessing distributed resources, Chudnovsky claims that fewer than 10,000 people could crawl the entirety of Google's database each day. So far, Majestic-12 has around 60 volunteers who crawl about 50 million pages a day with unlimited broadband connectivity and software running in the background. While the index holds around 1 billion pages, Majestic-12 has crawled through 7 billion pages in the few months since its inception. Though it would invite the creation of duplicate blocks of information within the index, Chudnovsky would ultimately like the index to be distributed. "Many search engines do this to reduce the traffic load returning to a single central site--distributing the index itself is okay, so long as you have an efficient mechanism to search the index," he said.
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NCAR's Programming Language for Geoscientific Data
HPC Wire (03/24/06) Vol. 15, No. 12,Lester, Lynda

Most of the weather maps on the Real-Time Weather Data Web site of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), which has gotten up to 2 million hits in a single day, are developed in the NCAR Command Language, known as NCL. The language enables scientists to access and visualize geoscientific data in such far-reaching applications as forestry, aircraft analysis, genetics, and renewable energy, though it was designed mainly for climate and weather research, writes NCAR's Lynda Lester. Available for download on the Web, NCL powers laptops and supercomputers, and is involved in scientific endeavors in 51 countries. NCL simplifies the data collection process through its compatibility with numerous file formats. "Data formats that contain metadata are converted to a uniform-variable interface similar to netCDF, which is quite convenient for scientists," said NCAR's Mary Haley, who added that NCL can also write output to different data formats. NCL has numerous data processing and manipulation functions built in, and it can also produce high-quality two-dimensional visualizations suitable for journal publication in PDF, Proscript, X11, and NCGM formats. NCL has two new modules that enable Python users to harness NCL's visualization and I/O capabilities.
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The Net Neutrality Dogfight Shaking Up Cyberspace
Financial Times (03/23/06) P. 7; Waldmeir, Patti

The battle over net neutrality is set to enter a new phase as the U.S. Congress decides if and how to impose new regulations on the Internet. On one side of the debate are broadband carriers such as AT&T and Verizon, who want to charge higher fees to content providers who need higher speeds. By doing so, broadband carriers say they will be able to invest the money necessary to build the bigger and better broadband networks. However, their efforts are being opposed by Google, eBay, Amazon, and others, as well as many in the world of academia, who have written to Congress saying that it is dangerous to give one form of Internet content an advantage over another. They claim Internet startups will have no hope of competing with large companies such as Google, who have the resources to pay for faster speeds. The genius of the Internet has been to allow "innovation without permission," says Vinton Cerf, the "chief Internet evangelist" for Google. If those who control the network are allowed to discriminate between different kinds of content--if they can deliver one company's videos faster than another's, for example--then net freedom will be shackled and innovation hobbled, according to Lawrence Lessig, professor at Stanford University Law School and chief academic theorist of the Internet. Although broadband carriers have so far not given preferential treatment to one particular Web site over another, that could change since most U.S. households have just two broadband providers to choose from, and sometimes no choice, Lessig says. He adds that if network operators begin choking off some content, consumers will have little power to fight them.
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Free Software's White Knight
ZDNet (03/20/06) Marson, Ingrid

In a recent interview, the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) Eben Moglen discussed his thoughts on the update to the GPL, free software, and the recently launched Software Freedom Center. Moglen began representing Richard Stallman, founder of the FSF, in the early 1990s while working at Columbia Law School, and spent roughly one-fifth of his time helping him pro bono. Last year, Moglen helped with the launch of the Software Freedom Law Center, which provides free software projects with free legal advice. Much of the firm's time is spent on the update to the GPL at the moment, Moglen says, adding that the attorneys will also provide advice to the One Laptop per Child project. Moglen has been working extensively with Stallman on the GPL, and expects a second discussion draft by mid June. Moglen prefers to characterize his feelings toward the GPL as principled conviction, rather than Linux creator Linus Torvalds' assertion that it is closer to religious zealousness. Moglen says that all the lawyers at the center have a high level of technical expertise and can understand and write code, but that it will have to grow over the next few years to keep up with the demand for its services. The center was created by a two-year grant from the Open Source Development Labs consortium. While he believes that the patent system is in need of reform, Moglen admits that the status quo will be preserved as long as the pharmaceutical industry has as much political clout as it does today, but that simply prohibiting software patents would at least help the IT industry. "Programming is an incremental process, so I would say almost nothing could be argued to be novel," Moglen said, restating the main argument against software patents. Moglen applauds the European Parliament for rejecting the directive on software patents and politicizing what had been a fringe issue.
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Unfolding an Interoperable Future for E-Learning
IST Results (03/22/06)

The IMS Learning Design e-learning specification is being embraced by providers of Open Source course management systems and e-learning applications, including the developers of Moodle and .LRN. The adoption of the educational modeling language with XML binding comes as teachers show more interest and awareness of the specification as a facilitator of a more flexible and efficient e-learning environment. The e-learning specification has its roots in a 2003 initiative by the Open University of the Netherlands to offer courses online. Teachers can use IMS Learning Design to create lesson plans for a single class or an entire course--a Unit of Learning (UoL)--on one application, and share them with students and colleagues who use different applications. "The issue of interoperability of educational materials has already been addressed, but until now there was no sophisticated solution to the interoperability of educational activities--that is the problem IMS Learning Design solves," says Dai Griffiths, coordinator of UNFOLD, which promoted the specification. Over the past two years, the number of applications, tools, and UoLs that are able to use the specification has risen substantially, and the momentum has caught the attention of commercial providers of proprietary software.
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Father of Wiki Speaks out on Community and Collaborative Development
eWeek (03/20/06) Taft, Darryl K.

Wiki creator Ward Cunningham believes that open-source software will continue to drive innovation through collaborative development, which has only begun to realize its potential. "I'm betting on open source being a big trend," said Cunningham, who is the director of community development at the Eclipse Foundation. "And it's not just because of cost, but because of end-user innovation. No end user wants to be a programmer; they just want to get their jobs done." Advanced tools and languages will continue to bring users together, much the way communities have formed around wikis. Cunningham arrived at the wiki form of Web development after using the HyperCard system to create a database with links in the 1980s. Throughout his career, he has been interested in the methods of communication within a large group of people. Cunningham worked on community development at Microsoft before coming to the Eclipse Foundation, and he gives the software giant full marks for balancing the interest of stock holders with the push toward community development. Cunningham is also a strong proponent of agile development because it encourages collaboration and has "the ability to track radically changing business needs." By exposing programmers to more different tasks, Cunningham says that agile development also produces expert programmers more quickly than conventional development models.
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A Quantum Leap for Cryptography
Government Computer News (03/20/06) Vol. 25, No. 6,Jackson, William

In a significant advance in quantum cryptography, a team of international researchers has developed a photon detector capable of creating and exchanging cryptographic keys at 100 Mbps, a peak speed 20 times faster than previous technologies. Built mainly from off-the-shelf pieces, the equipment runs on DARPA's Quantum Key Distribution test bed system. Because reading a photon changes its state, quantum keys created by photons are undetectable to eavesdroppers. Accelerating the process of creating keys is critical to the swift deployment of one-time pads, the lists of random cryptography keys transmitted among senders and receivers that are considered to be the most secure form of cryptography. As computing power continues to advance, quantum cryptography will enjoy a growing number of applications, such as securing a video stream with the rapid production and resetting of keys. Quantum cryptography will cross the threshold of justifiable expense once the cost of deployment is eclipsed by the value of transmitting information with added security, said Carl Williams of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. MagiQ already offers a quantum cryptography package, though CEO Robert Gelfond admits that it is not yet ready for widespread deployment. The new detector is based on a modified radio astronomy receiver that is a major departure from existing technologies. "This is a fundamentally new type of detector," said BBN Technologies' Jonathan Habif. "The old one is solid state circuitry. This is superconducting technology." A closed-cycle refrigerator lowers the detector's temperatures down to 3 degrees Kelvin, though Habif admits that it is not very efficient. Connecting to DARPA's network that links BBN, Harvard University, and Boston University, the system operates at a sustained rate of 100 million pulses per second.
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In the Labs: Automatic Code Generators
Computerworld (03/20/06) P. 28; Anthes, Gary H.

While software development is still plagued by inefficiencies, busted budgets, and product failures, a host of new development tools is helping to automate the process, generating code from sophisticated machine-readable schemes or domain-specific languages with the help of advanced compilers. University of Texas computer science professor Gordon Novak is developing high-level automatic programming applications that use stockpiles of generic code to sort and find items in a list. Users create views that direct the organization of the data, building sophisticated flowcharts that are compiled with the generic algorithms, producing custom code in languages such as C, C++, or Java. Novak claims that his system can produce 250 lines of code for an indexing application in 90 seconds by describing the program at a higher level, while it would take a programmer a week using an ordinary language. The Kestrel Institute's Douglas Smith is developing a system to automatically import knowledge into the computer using abstract templates, the generic components of high-level knowledge about algorithms and data structures that form a reference library in Smith's application. Smith says that Specware can also prove that the code produced meets the user's requirements. By producing many more lines of code than the user actually has to write, Specware is essentially an efficiency tool for programmers, though Smith has also developed Planware, a language at an even higher level that has been used by the Air Force to develop an aircraft scheduling application. "It's a language for writing down problem requirements, a high-level statement of what a solution should be, without saying how to solve the problem," Smith said. "We think it's the ultimate frontier in software engineering."
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Open, But Not as Usual
Economist (03/18/06) Vol. 378, No. 8489, P. 73

The limitations of the open-source approach are becoming evident as the methodology branches out of the software sector and into other areas. The approach's most attractive attribute--its openness to anyone--is also its Achilles heel, leaving projects vulnerable to either unintentional or deliberate abuse that can only be deterred through continuous self-policing. Indeed, only a few hundred of the approximately 130,000 open-source projects on SourceForge.net are active because the others are unable to accommodate open source's shortcomings. The success of open-source projects often hinge on the degree of similarity between the projects' management practices and those of the companies they are trying to surpass, and most projects' core component is a close-knit group rather than a wide-ranging community. Many open-source initiatives have set up a formal and hierarchical system of governance to guarantee quality. However, while open source provides tools for very productive online collaboration, ways to "identify and deploy not just manpower, but expertise" are still lacking, according to New York University Law School's Beth Noveck. The model permits elitism in the acceptance of contributions, despite the egalitarian system of contribution. There is also speculation that open source's ability to sustain its innovation as well as the enthusiasm of contributors is limited.
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Unsafe at Any Airspeed?
IEEE Spectrum (03/06) Vol. 43, No. 3, P. 44; Strauss, Bill; Morgan, M. Granger; Apt, Jay

Studies by NASA and Carnegie Mellon University researchers imply that portable electronic devices (PEDs) carried onto aircraft by consumers emit radiation that can potentially interfere with critical aircraft instruments while in use. The Carnegie Mellon researchers monitored the radio frequency (RF) environment on 37 passenger flights in the eastern United States between September and November 2003, and successfully identified emissions from cell phones as well as other consumer devices. The study led to the conclusion that there is a regular occurrence of cell phone calls made from commercial aircraft, in clear violation of FCC and FAA regulations, and also suggested that at least one passenger does not turn off his or her cell phone on most flights. The researchers found not only a profound lack of awareness among passengers of the reasons behind current PED policies, but disbelief that the use of such devices on flights constitutes a major safety risk. The Carnegie Mellon and NASA studies indicate a clear and present danger that cell phones can make GPS instrumentation useless for landings, and support the theory that cell phone emissions may have contributed to accidents. Beyond an outright ban on PED use in aircraft cabins, which is unlikely, the authors recommend that airlines, regulators, and aircraft and equipment makers must practice risk analysis and nurture the development of adaptive management and control via five strategies. There must be a joint industry-government initiative for assessing, testing, and promoting improved communications between aviation professionals and the public; NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System must be enhanced to once again support statistically meaningful time-series event analyses; in-flight RF spectrum measurements should continue; real-time RF emission monitoring by flight crews must be facilitated; and the FCC and the FAA must collaborate on harmonized electronic device emission and vulnerability standards for avionics.
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MicroGeomatics: A New Paradigm for Mobile Workforce Management
GeoWorld (03/06) Vol. 19, No. 3, P. 26; Perreault, Louis; Lapierre, Cedric; Plante, Martin

Organizations can deploy location technologies to address staff mobility issues, as demonstrated by the setup of a prototype real-time location sensing (RTLS) system implemented with radio frequency identification (RFID), Wi-Fi, and digital mapping to help technical-support team members at the Business School of the Universite de Sherbrooke manage their work priorities and better evaluate how daily activities are impacted and enhanced by location technologies. The experiment also highlights the need to carefully monitor changes in work processes as they are introduced to prevent misemployment and resolve "soft" human issues stemming from the introduction of innovative techniques that run counter to entrenched assumptions. MicroGeomatics, the augmentation of an organization's decision-making processes through the optimized use of indoor location systems, has the potential to help managers comprehend the circumstances under which emerging technologies can benefit organizations, but its acceptance relies on the proper accommodation of various fundamental reorganization issues. The experiment focused on fulfilling the organization's need to effect faster and improved communication among technicians during assignments; record problems and solutions for reuse by other team members; enable the improvement of staff mobility and response time through real-time tracking; and permit a map visualization of computer inventory in the building. The prototype was comprised of a single interface consisting of GIS, Java programming tools, a relational database, and an Internet-based messaging service. The test showed that MicroGeomatics technologies extracted relatively good quality and accuracy of spatial data, while location results were heavily influenced by the number of antennas and their position. The system facilitated simpler information sharing, optimized moves via cartographic visualization, and more appropriate data through real-time database updates.
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