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April 7, 2006

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Businesses Push for High-Skilled Foreign Workers
Wall Street Journal (04/06/06) P. B1; Kronholz, Jane; Rogers, David

As the Senate debates a major immigration bill that could determine the fate of millions of illegal immigrants and thousands of specialized foreign workers, U.S. technology companies are looking on with interest as the future of a critical mass of skilled labor hangs in the balance. With the debate dominated by the contentious issue of illegal immigrants, the industry is afraid that the bill will get scuttled and that the question of visas will remain unresolved. The lobbying efforts of businesses have virtually assured that an increase in the visa cap for workers of every skill level will be included in any compromise. By August 2005, employers had already claimed all 65,000 three-year visas for skilled workers for the fiscal year that began in October. With the 140,000 green cards issued annually doled out evenly among sending countries, companies looking to sponsor an employee from India or China can expect to wait five years before the application is even read by the immigration service. Businesses are particularly dissatisfied with the visa system's requirement that foreign-born scientists have to leave the country upon finishing their studies if a company is unable to secure them a visa. Worker shortages and the uncertain future of foreign-born employees disrupts companies' operations, often stalling or derailing key projects. The technology industry persuaded Congress to triple the visa cap in 1999 to meet the needs of the dot-com boom, though that provision expired in 2003, and two years later Congress granted an exemption from the cap for 20,000 foreigners who held advanced degrees and were studying at U.S. universities. Thanks to a re-emerging technology economy, those slots filled quickly, and the industry is pushing for more. "It doesn't make sense to educate this talent and send them to our global competition to compete against us," said Intel's Patrick Duffy.
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Computing Students to Test Math, Programming Prowess
TechWeb (04/05/06) Sullivan, Laurie

The Association for Computing Machinery will hold the 30th annual World Finals of the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) in San Antonio, Texas, next week. Teams of students from U.S. schools such as Binghamton University, the California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, MIT, Princeton University, University of Maryland, and Washington University will compete in the three-day competition. In all, 249 students from around the world will be present. "It's quite inspiring to see this much raw potential sitting in one room," says Douglas Heintzman, director of strategy for IBM's Lotus division, who calls the event "the battle of the brains." IBM is the sponsor of the competition, which will have the teams of three mathematics, physics, and programming students solve eight real-world mathematical problems, such as "finding the optimal configuration for the distribution of cellular phone towers in the metropolitan area that is influenced by population density and obstruction from buildings like mountains," says Heintzman. The computing students, who will also build logic for interactive software games, will have an opportunity to win $10,000 scholarships, ThinkPad computers, flat-screen monitors, and other prizes. For more information about the ICPC, visit http://icpc.baylor.edu/icpc
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Rep. Boehlert Urges Full U.S. Science Funding
EE Times (04/06/06) Chin, Spencer

U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) continues to serve as a champion for increasing funding for research and development, math and science education, and engineering programs. His latest call came recently before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice, and Commerce. In testimony before the subcommittee, Boehlert said the U.S. government must not let budgetary concerns stop it from fully funding technology initiatives. Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee, stressed that U.S. competitiveness in the years to come will depend on its commitment to technology. And he threw his support behind the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), a plan by President Bush to set aside $5.9 billion in the fiscal 2007 budget, and $136 billion over the next 10 years for investment in R&D, education, entrepreneurship, and innovation. The National Science Foundation, the Office of Science in the Energy Department, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology would benefit from ACI. "You have a unique opportunity this year to set the nation on a path that will keep us competitive and prosperous in the decade ahead," said Boehlert.
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SIGGRAPH 2006 Announces Best of Show Award & Jury Honors for the Computer Animation Festival
Business Wire (04/05/06)

The SIGGRAPH Computer Animation Festival will honor its latest Best of Show Award and Jury Honors winners during SIGGRAPH 2006. The Computer Animation Festival jury has announced "One Rat Short," by Alex Weil of the United States, as the winner of the Best Show Award; and "458nm" by Jan Bitzer, Ilija Brunck, and Tom Weber from Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg in Germany, as the winners of the Special Jury Honors. The awards were created to honor the exceptional use of computer-generated imagery and animation, along with a well-told story. Regarding "One Rat Short," Terrence Masson, SIGGRAPH 2006 Computer Animation Festival chair from Digital Fauxtography, says, "The film's emotional tone, cinematography, and technical realization all melded wonderfully into a simple yet touching short film," which follows the journey of a rat from its world to a futuristic laboratory. "Intricate details and subtle animation build layer upon layer of simple elegance," he says of the Jury Honors winner, a story about the romance of two mechanical snails. ACM SIGGRAPH is the sponsor of the 33rd International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, which is scheduled for July 30 through Aug. 3 in Boston. Approximately 25,000 computer graphics and interactive technology professionals from all over the world are expected to come together for programs on research, science, art, animation, gaming, interactivity, education, and the Web. For more information about SIGGRAPH, or to register, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2006
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To Packed Crowd, Speaker Discusses Cyber Security Crisis
The Spectrum (04/07/2006) Halleck, Tom

Speaking at the University at Buffalo, cyber-security expert Eugene Spafford criticized the government and private industry for a haphazard approach to combating cyber crime. "We have people committing (cyber crime) offenses again and again, but it's been calculated as less than five percent of these crimes are prosecuted," Spafford said. Often the victims of cyber crime are large companies reluctant to disclose that their security has been compromised, while law enforcement in the area of computer crime is still in its infancy. A major U.S. Army command center recently scrapped all of its computers because of pervasive security problems. It invested in a new, $36 million system that was reportedly compromised in three weeks, Spafford said. While serving on the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), Spafford realized that no one was adequately addressing the problem of cyber security. "What is Congress doing? They're stopping research and development spending. The amount the PITAC asked for was an estimated $100 million a year. The U.S. spends that much in three days in military operations in Iraq." While the government's response to cyber crime has been lackluster, Spafford takes heart in the growing interest in security among academic researchers. He also notes that public awareness of the problem is slowly beginning to spread, though people continue to respond to unsolicited email asking for personal information. Eugene Spafford is chair of ACM's U.S. Public Policy Commitee; http://www.acm.org/usacm
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HPCS: The Big Picture
HPC Wire (04/07/06) Vol. 15, No. 14,

In a recent interview, the Defense Department's Douglass Post outlined his thoughts on DARPA's High Productivity Computer Systems (HPCS) program, which has awarded funding to Cray, IBM, and Sun Microsystems to advance supercomputing to the petaflop level while delivering systems that are simple to use and program. The program aims to cut the time-to-solution for both code development and production, while simplifying the complexity of the computer's architecture to take advantage of increased power. The vendors are trying to improve on the traditional Linux cluster to create hardware and software for better floating-point and integer-arithmetic computations. Productivity is a key part of the project, Post says, and the developers are keeping the flops/dollar metric in mind as they create applications that address real problems. A dedicated productivity team is conducting case studies to identify bottlenecks in the development process, and the vendors are creating new languages and tools to express highly abstract parallelism. The project is also working to consolidate the languages being developed by the vendors to create a single language that will be adopted by the community. This summer, DARPA will select one or two vendors to receive funding to bring a multi-petaflop computer to market by 2010. MPI is a workable language for supercomputing, Post says, though there is a vast potential market for a version that can perform at a higher level of abstraction. In developing new languages, the vendors are keeping market acceptance a priority, and are working to ensure that they operate on multiple platforms, while the Argonne National Laboratory is leading the effort to consolidate the research into a single language.
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The Fact Remains, U.S. Tech Leadership Must Be Reinforced
Mercury News (04/07/06) Fuller, Douglas B.

While a recent study from Duke University contends that the education gap in engineering and science between the United States and other countries is overstated, the threat from China and other developing nations to U.S. technology leadership is nevertheless quite serious, writes Douglas Fuller, a postdoctoral fellow at the Stanford Project on Regions of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Even by the report's own figures, China awards 214,000 more science and engineering bachelor's degrees each year than the United States, while the number of doctorates is increasing rapidly. Large numbers of Chinese students are also earning their degrees in other countries; in 2001, the number of Chinese students who earned their doctorates in Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom was equivalent to 72 percent of the total number of doctorates earned by U.S. citizens and permanent residents. China now produces 11 percent of the world's science and engineering doctorates, while the United States' share has fallen to 22 percent, roughly half of what it was in 1975. With foreigners earning roughly half the computer science and engineering doctorates in the United States, there is also the concern that U.S. universities are training students who will return to their own countries to work. As foreign countries continue to develop their own technology industries, more workers will leave the United States to return home, just as in the 1990s when as many as 100,000 Taiwanese scientists and engineers left the United States to work in their native country's booming technology sector. China and India appear to be following a similar pattern as their governments are offering incentives to lure native-born workers back home. China now ranks No. 4 in the world on the Georgia Institute of Technology's Index of Technological Capability, having more than doubled its score in the past 10 years due to increased patent activity and soaring government spending on research and development.
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HP Labs India Shows off Tech Goodies
CNet (04/06/06) Olsen, Stefanie

Researchers at HP Labs India recently showcased several of their inventions that could spread computing in underserved developing nations with vast potential markets. In India, language is a major barrier to technology adoption, as less than 10 percent of the population can conduct transactions or write in English, and just 50 million people are PC literate, executives at Hewlett-Packard say. HP Labs India has developed a special keyboard for India's 14 national languages, though at present the Gesture Keyboard only specializes in Hindi and Kannada. The device enables users to write with a pen with handwriting-recognition software, digitizing the gestures users make to consonants and distinguishing base consonants from phonetic modifiers. HP Labs believes that the Gesture Keyboard will lower entry barriers to computing for millions of Indians. While just 15 million people in India have access to the Internet, 600 million have access to television, so HP Labs developed Printcast, a technique for porting encoded files with television broadcasts so that users can encode content that they have seen on TV into an MPEG 2 file that can be unwrapped and printed. HP Labs has also developed a pen-based device for filling out forms electronically that records the motions of a pen and uploads the information to Hewlett-Packard's backend software. In another project, HP Labs is developing a digital library of educational material called Educenter, based on open-source software developed by the DSpace project, a digital-library initiative undertaken jointly by Hewlett-Packard and MIT.
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Berners-Lee's Next Trick: Creating a More Useful Web
Network World (04/05/06) Brown, Bob

The impact of the Semantic Web could be felt in the business world within the next couple of years, Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee told attendees at the MIT Information Technology Conference. The Semantic Web aims to improve the sharing of data and package information so that it can be more easily understood by computers. "It's motivated by the data out there that's not on the Web," he said. Berners-Lee compared the relationship between the Resource Description Framework (RDF), a key technology in the Semantic Web, and data to that between HTML and documents. RDF is supported by XML, universal resource identifiers, and less celebrated technologies such as SparQL and OWL. Berners-Lee is finding the Semantic Web a tough sell, just as he struggled to explain the value of the original World Wide Web. Security is still a major issue for storing data on the Semantic Web, though Berners-Lee feels that if he can achieve better protection, then companies will realize a greater return on investment from their data. Berners-Lee advised the attendees to begin exploiting RDF as they model their data over the next couple years, and said that companies should demand RDF data sharing from their partners by 2008. In 2009, developers should begin creating new programs over top the Semantic Web framework, and by 2011, companies should be starting to discontinue the use of some legacy programs, Berners-Lee said.
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A Pretty Good Way to Foil the NSA
Wired News (04/03/06) Singel, Ryan

Phil Zimmerman, author of the PGP email encryption program, has developed an open-source software application to secure Internet phone calls. Zfone is currently only available for OS X and Linux, though a version for Windows is expected this month. The program encrypts and decrypts voice calls as traffic moves in and out of the computer, and does not require users to predetermine an encryption key or enter lengthy passwords. Zfone, which has already been tested with X-lite, Free World Dialup, and the Gizmo Project, is intended to be compatible with any VoIP client using the standard industry SIP protocol. During the call, the software displays a three-character code for each caller to read aloud to defend against man-in-the-middle attacks, where eavesdroppers intercept the cryptographic keys between two callers. If someone is attempting to intercept the communications, the spoken codes will not match what appears on the callers' screens, and they will know that someone is attempting to listen in. Zfone is based on the SRTP system that adds a 3,000-bit key exchange to the 256-bit AES cipher to generate the three-character codes that users read aloud to each other. The protocol has been submitted to the IETF for standardization. Zfone is intended principally to compete with Skype's proprietary encryption system, which is not available for peer review and is alleged to contain demonstrated vulnerabilities.
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Converting Light Wavelengths Within Fiber
Technology Review (04/05/06) Greene, Kate

Researchers have discovered a method of converting 1,550 nm light wavelengths using fiber so that they are compatible with applications that could benefit from sophisticated telecommunication devices, but that operate at different wavelengths, such as electronic displays, biomedical lasers, and air and sea communications. "People would like to be able to generate, transmit, and detect electromagnetic radiation at different wavelengths," said Lucent's Colin McKinstrie. "This experiment is exciting because it shows that you can convert radiation efficiently between widely different wavelengths." Led by Stojan Radic, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of California in San Diego, the researchers demonstrated that wavelengths of light between 1,541 nm and 1,560 nm could be exploited to produce discernable green light with wavelengths ranging from 515 nm to 585 nm. Usually, modulators are used to convert wavelengths outside the optical fiber, though working within the fiber offers a more reliable, faster, and cheaper conversion. To convert the signal, the researchers used photonic crystal fiber and mixed wavelengths of 1,550 nm and 800 nm to generate extremely intense light. The intensity forces interaction among the light waves and the fiber, counter-intuitively producing an amplified beam of 1,550 nm and a novel beam of 515 nm. While traditional fiber can support conversion as well, the researchers achieved the effect with just 20 meters of photonic crystal fiber, while it would take miles of normal fiber. The researchers began the project with an eye for improving submarine communications, though they are now considering its application to the development of a surgical laser and new electronics displays. A tunable laser that addresses every pixel in the display could be paired with a universal band translator to synthesize any color in its pure form, potentially tripling resolution, Radic said.
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Portland Project Ties Together Gnome, KDE
IDG News Service (04/04/06) Martens, China

The open-source Portland Project has developed software to integrate KDE and Gnome, the two principal Linux desktop environments, which should accelerate the spread of the operating system now that developers do not have to decide between two incompatible interfaces when programming. The Portland Project presented the software at the LinuxWorld conference jointly with the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and freedesktop.com. OSDL CEO Stuart Cohen said the software would be a much-needed stimulus for the open-source operating system. The Portland Project, which grew out of a meeting of OSDL desktop architects addressing interoperability issues, has created a suite of command line tools and a group of interfaces for programming library applications called DAPI. Independent software vendors are receiving the protocols for testing, and the final release of Portland 1.0 is due in June.
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Exploring the Digital Universe
eLearn Magazine (03/06) Korman, Ken

Web content quality is rapidly becoming a critical issue as content swells and the Internet evolves, and the open-source Digital Universe network of Web portals is working to address the issue through universally accessible content that is technically advanced, free from advertising, and validated by experts. There are three separate bodies contained within the Digital Universe: The nonprofit Digital Universe Foundation, which hosts content and houses its global "stewardship" program; ManyOne, a transitory for-profit firm that develops and supplies the Digital Universe's underlying software and technical services; and the ManyOne Foundation, another nonprofit that will own ManyOne once the project's investors are remunerated. Digital Universe Foundation President Bernard Haisch said the Digital Universe will feature an encyclopedia that the public can contribute to under the guidance of stewards, who will make the final decision over what content should be allowed on the live site. To reimburse investors and maintain the flow of quality content, the Digital Universe intends to generate income through a "venture philanthropy" business model, in which the company teams up with "socially responsible" organizations (educational institutions, museums, etc.) to sell branded Internet services to their existing members and customers. In this way, Internet users could access content from trusted and familiar sources rather than big media companies, while these institutions could donate content. Among the people behind Digital Universe is Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger, who became disenchanted with and critical of the online encyclopedia he helped launch as contributors became more and more disdainful of subject-matter expertise, and Web entrepreneur Joseph Firmage, who tried to create a widely accessible repository of scientific knowledge modeled after the Encyclopedia Galactica, which served as a precursor of the Digital Universe. Firmage's initiative aligned well with Sanger's view that the best content is largely generated and rigorously vetted by qualified experts, and also envisioned a bigger need to bring depth and meaning back to the Web.
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Open Source Code Fix Project Scores Early Success
Computer Business Review (04/04/06)

Open source developers have made significant improvements in identifying and correcting vulnerabilities in top open source projects, according to an analysis of source code published by Coverity. The average defect rate for the 32 projects studied has fallen to 0.231 per thousand lines of code, compared to the baseline of 0.434 in early March. In the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python) stack, the Linux kernel has gone from 1,062 defects to 782, followed by Apache going from 32 to 24, PHP from 204 to 42, Perl from 89 to 68, and Python from 96 to 14. And projects such as Amanda backup and recovery, Samba file and print server, XMMS (X Multimedia system), and OpenLDAP have seen their defects decrease to zero. Since the initial report, a software defect has been fixed every six minutes, according to Coverity. The company performed the analysis for the Vulnerability Discovery and Remediation Open Source Hardening Project, which is backed by the Department of Homeland Security.
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Can Congress, Top Court Fix Patent System?
EE Times (04/03/06)No. 1417, P. 1; Merritt, Rick

The ailing U.S. patent system is in need of reform, but just how much reform is a contentious matter; the Supreme Court, Congress, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office are pursuing separate efforts to address the issue this year, while large companies, small companies, and individuals have differing opinions on what should be changed. Indeed, warring philosophies in the tech community are likely to stymie any sweeping patent system reforms for the time being. Legislation currently being drafted by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) supports amending the patent system so that patents that are filed first rather than invented first are legitimate, a measure that many inventors, small companies, and drug firms oppose on the grounds that it would give large companies with big patent departments an unfair advantage. The patent office, which plans to hire 2,000 more examiners in 2005 and 2006 to address a massive applications backlog, is calling for systemic changes to both the patent granting process and the practice of defending patents. "I think we have to be very careful not to undermine the patent system, just make sure the people who try to 'game' the system don't get away with it--because we are coming into a world where intellectual property is the most important kind of property there is," says Deka Research and Development founder and inventor Dean Kamen. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, will address the issue of injunctions when it rules on the case of MercExchange vs. eBay in June. The plaintiff, MercExchange, alleged in 2001 that the online auction house infringed on three of its patents, but an injunction was denied by a district court that was not within its rights to do so, according to a Court of Appeals decision in March 2005.
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Exceeding Human Limits
Nature (03/23/06) Vol. 440, No. 7083, P. 409; Muggleton, Stephen H.

Inexpensive data storage and increasingly efficient technologies have led to the use of automated data collection and processing techniques throughout the sciences as researchers deal with exponentially growing bodies of data. As climate-modeling and astronomical experiments continue to fill massive databases, scientists are becoming increasingly dependent on computational power to identify and analyze connections between different datasets, bringing capabilities previously thought only to be possible in theory into real experiments. Scientists are using machine-learning methods from computer science, such as neural nets and genetic algorithms, to mine data and produce new hypotheses automatically as they look to develop new drugs or mitigate the effects of climate change. Researchers are often hamstrung by incompatibilities between different models, though computer scientists are developing new formalisms that coalesce mathematical logic and probability calculus to form a kind of probabilistic logic. With experiments having already proven the ability of robotic scientists to conduct tests to distinguish between opposing hypotheses, a microfluidic robot scientist with active learning and autonomous experimentation capabilities could appear within 10 years. Laboratories on chips already exist, thanks to computer-directed microfluidics, and a similar scaling process could be applied to robot-scientist technology. One such application, a sort of programmable, chemical Turing machine, could perform a wide range of chemical operations, preparing and testing compounds automatically. The microfluidic Turing machine could also serve as a model for cellular metabolism simulations, or as the basis for an artificial cell that could be used in drug testing.
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Beat Cybercrime, Switch to a Virtual Wallet
New Scientist (04/01/06) Vol. 190, No. 2545, P. 28; Biever, Celeste

To simplify the process of conducting online transactions, Microsoft is promoting the concept of a virtual wallet, a collection of icons on various Web sites that users can click to verify their age, billing information, or other personal details without having to remember multiple user names and passwords. The system should also improve security by eliminating easily hacked passwords and subjecting common Internet transactions to the same cryptographic protocols used in banking and government. "From a user standpoint, it's really simple, it's fast, and it's much more secure," says digital identity expert Drummond Reed. Microsoft intends to include the required software in its next version of Windows, while the Eclipse Foundation is developing a similar application for Apple and Linux systems. The Internet was not built with the idea in mind that people would have to verify each other's identity, and passwords have proven too easy for hackers to crack. Microsoft's earlier attempt at a universal verification scheme, Passport, failed amid concerns that the company would act as the custodian for every consumer's identifying information. Credit card companies and other third parties are responsible for guarding information in Microsoft's new system, just as they are now. After a user registers, the third party furnishes the Web sites with a digital certificate and the user with a virtual card that enables him to obtain a digitally signed certificate to proof his identity whenever necessary. Users access the system, which creates public and private encryption keys, with a master password that never leaves a secure section of the computer. The system will not permit users to enter sensitive information on sites that it suspects are spoofed. By requesting the user's computer to decrypt information with its private key, the card issuer creates a digital certificate, which it signs with a digital signature and relays back to the authenticated site.
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Connecting the Dots
GeoWorld (03/06) Vol. 19, No. 3, P. 34; Pasierb, Timothy; Pehle, Todd

Government policy and decision makers are realizing that geospatial IT can significantly help analyze data from various sources, and key to this capability is interoperable geospatial processing and data sharing across distributed, multi-vendor computer platforms enabled by specifications and standards agreed upon by consensus standards groups. A service-oriented architecture (SOA) can facilitate the upgrade and enhancement of a service or service components without the need for a complete system overhaul by creating an operating environment that makes the most of interoperability, modularity, and scalability. An SOA's advantages include lower development times and costs via standard, reusable elements, applications, and data; closer ties between business requirements and IT infrastructure; fewer integration costs and application development risks; the elimination of redundant data and systems and consolidation of similar capabilities from legacy systems through shared Web services; and a framework for composite applications and an integrated enterprise. By coupling the SOA with semantic Web technology, every layer of the architecture will be augmented, and machines will be able to comprehend the meaning of Web services along with the information stored and available to the enterprise, thus enabling more efficient information discovery, automated information processing, and automated "service chaining." The resource description framework plays a fundamental role in semantic Web technology by specifying a metadata model founded on making statements about resources as subject/predicate/object expressions. Semantic technology makes conceptual queries possible, and enriches the descriptions of enterprise-accessible Web services. A semantically enhanced SOA will allow users to more easily identify the correct information and unearth previously unknown information and relationships, as well as offer a contextual, integrated methodology for interacting with Web services and information.
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Demystifying UML
Embedded Systems Design (03/06) Vol. 19, No. 3, P. 22; Mellor, Stephen J.

Unified Modeling Language (UML) can describe systems standardized by the Object Management Group (OMG) graphically and textually, and UML manifests itself as a notation for common object-oriented concepts--as opposed to a system analysis and design method--for embedded systems developers, writes OMG participant and software development trailblazer Stephen Mellor. UML enables developers to function at a higher level of abstraction and become more productive, as well as visualize concurrent behavior. UML is comprised of 13 diagram types, and the author lists the class diagram (which shows classes, attributes, associations, and generalizations), the state machine (which shows behavior over time in reaction to events), the use case (which captures requirements according to system-user interactions), and the sequence diagram (which shows synchronous and asynchronous object interactions) as the most commonly used diagrams for embedded systems. There are a variety of methods to integrate UML diagrams, with no agreement on the optimal approach. Also, there are no required links among diagrams prescribed by UML, nor any rule that there has to be one state machine for every class. UML is most often used on an informal basis (sketch), but is also employed to particularize software structure (blueprint) and as executable models that incorporate action language. Each of these usage methods facilitate distinct types of reuse: Sketches chiefly visualize solutions and communication between people, blueprints are good for design documentation, and executable models allow separate reuse of the application and implementation. "Using UML doesn't have to change your development process, but the introduction of UML is often seen as an opportunity to make some changes," Mellor writes.
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