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April 10, 2006

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Change Your Appearance, Not Your Shirt
New Scientist (04/07/06) Biever, Celeste

Researchers at the University of Connecticut in Storrs have employed the process of electrospinning in order to make longer electrochromic polymers for clothes that can change colors. Until now, researchers had dissolved molds to shape electrochromic polymers into thin cylinders, but the resulting fibers were a tenth of a millimeter long, which is too short for woven or knitted fabric. "These are the first long fibers that have the ability to change color," says Greg Sotzing, who is currently able to change fibers from orange to blue and from red to blue. The 1-kilometer-long threads of electrochromic polymers that Sotzing and colleagues have developed can change colors when a different voltage is applied. The thread is washable, and a mixture of different colors can be knitted or woven into a T-shirt or blanket, which would also include thin metal wires connected to a battery pack and a microcontroller. The small number of criss-crossing wires would divide the garment into pixels. The wearer of a T-shirt would be able to change its color to fit his or her mood or outfit. Also, the controller could be connected to a camera, which would give the wearer the ability to switch the pixels to match the pattern of the shirt to his or her surroundings.
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Is There a Robot in Your Future? Helen Greiner Thinks So
Knowledge@Wharton (04/18/06)

Former MIT student and iRobot co-founder Helen Greiner notes in an interview that consumers' resistance to domestic robots, stemming from fears that robots will make humans obsolete, tends to wear off once they see the device in action and compare what it is capable of to what it is not capable of. She says her company's customer base, which is primarily homemakers, will buy domestic bots such as the Roomba vacuum cleaner and grow attached to them as if they were pets, even going so far as to give names to the robots. Greiner says liability issues with practical consumer robots are minimized by considering the dangers such machines could present to the home, and designing the product around those risks. She observes that an autonomous robot's mechanical systems and its intelligence should complement each other, pointing out that the robot's sensory systems play an important role in the device's intelligence capabilities, while the mechanics, when done right, can greatly simplify the robot. Greiner finds that programming tasks can be substantially streamlined via intelligent mechanics, while cheaper sensors can yield more information through excellent low-level software; "So designing the system as a whole is what has pushed our robots ahead," she maintains. Many robots are originally designed for military applications in order to reduce human casualties--bomb-sniffing, for example--but Greiner reports that such robots are often adapted for non-military and civilian use. She expects to see robots moving into academia as tools for learning and getting students interested in technology, especially at the high-school level. Among the research areas iRobot is investigating is swarm intelligence, in which large teams of robots collaborate to perform tasks collectively through distributed algorithms.
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Thinking Beyond the Box
Michigan Daily (04/06/06) Bond, Eston

The flexibility and openness of the Internet has widened the range of options available to science & technology undergraduates, and some of the more entrepreneurial students are leaving the academic world to go after lucrative corporate opportunities. One such student is University of Michigan engineering senior Jeremy Linden, who considers current undergraduate research to be too theoretical and not very practical. "I've always wanted to start my own business, so I'm interested in ideas that have real-world, business applications," Linden explains. College of Engineering professor Farnam Jahanian, who co-founded the Arbor Networks network security company, does not see the lure of online business opportunities to students affecting current research in a significant way: He says that while undergraduates can benefit from internship experience, research can help students get ready for graduate-level programs. Jahanian adds that a mass undergraduate defection is a non-issue, and notes that a substantial portion of the university's research comes from people seeking more advanced degrees. Despite the robust health of the school's engineering research, Jahanian thinks the concerns of undergraduates who leave the university for entry-level corporate positions is a valid issue that must be addressed, and that the College of Engineering and its funding sources should carefully consider the school's competitiveness as other institutions and nations make economic gains. Jahanian and others suggest greater emphasis on independent study, the allocation of additional fellowships and assistantships, more in-depth undergraduate classes, and greater federal investment in basic research as strategies for shoring up the university's research programs. "If you want the research quality to be high, the university needs to keep doing what it does best: Hire professors at the top of their field, who will in turn attract the best graduate students," says Linden.
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Mash-Ups and 9 Other Wacky Web Ideas
InformationWeek (04/03/06)No. 1083, P. 43; Claburn, Thomas; Ricadela, Aaron; Malykhina, Elena

Among 10 startups that could potentially bring Web 2.0 to the enterprise is Blinkx, an Internet search company whose free Pico desktop search toolbar can infer the meaning of what users are viewing and retrieve relevant information from across the Web, and whose blinx.tv video search engine can index spoken words via speech-to-text conversion. Recently acquired Google subsidiary Upstartle has developed Writely, an online word processor that eliminates the need for repeated trips to the Web server when composing documents online, while SimpleFeed applies Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds toward the cultivation of customer relationships and revenue by enabling people to choose and subscribe to topics of interest from companies they do business with. Six Apart's Movable Type software for blogging and social networking is very popular thanks to its simplicity, and Socialtext capitalizes on the use of firewall-guarded wikis as tools for collaboration and information access. An example of effective mash-ups, or combinations of open online information sources, is SkiBonk, a clearinghouse for ski information that integrates the Google Maps interface with live Webcams, local weather reports, slope conditions, trail maps, ski area locations, and lodging, gear, and food listings. DreamFactory, from the company of the same name, brings application customization to a new level by allowing interactive features to be downloaded to an Internet user's computer without overloading the machine with code. Small businesses could coordinate events, conferences, and networking among employees through 83degrees' free online "social calendar," while Jigsaw Data aims to improve salespeople's capability by building and offering access to a business contacts database. Finally, Laszlo Systems enables Web application authors to build user-interactive programs via the Laszlo XML high-level language and the OpenLaszlo declarative language platform.
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Why Coders Must Mind Their Language
IT Week (04/03/06) Hatton, Les

Despite the lengthy standardization process that guides the formalization of many of today's languages, their high level of complexity ensures that the resulting programs will contain at least some errors and vulnerabilities. The unexpected program failures are the inevitable result of the inconsistencies and compromises inherent in the standards process. At the beginning of the computing age, developers had to write programs down to the level of ones and zeros. Though more expressive languages have emerged to enable programmers to write code at a higher level, program failures occur with a similar frequency today as they did 20 years ago, despite the existence of language committees and compiler implementers. While serving on a vulnerability working group, author Les Hatton received a set of rules for C++ distributed as a Word file. The file crashed some versions of Word when opened by Hatton's colleagues, demonstrating how fickle even the most frequently tested languages and programs can still be.
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Why VOIP Needs Crypto
Wired News (04/06/06) Schneier, Bruce

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone calls must be encrypted because the scope of the dangers VoIP is vulnerable too far exceeds that of threats to traditional phone calls, writes Counterpane Internet Security CTO Bruce Schneier. He notes that data packets can be intercepted at any point along the route of transmission, and eavesdropped on by governments, corporate competitors, hackers, and criminals. Schneier envisions a multitude of crimes that can be committed through VoIP call eavesdropping, including the hijacking of phone calls, the theft of account information, the accumulation of sensitive material for blackmail or industrial espionage, and insider stock trading. The author criticizes the U.S. government's suggestion of permitting encryption by everyone, provided it owns a copy of the key; he calls this "an amazingly insecure idea for a number of reasons, mostly boiling down to the fact that when you provide a means of access into a security system, you greatly weaken its security." Schneier reports that there are many products that provide VoIP encryption, including built-in encryption from Skype, and Phil Zimmermann's open-source ZFone. However, he cautions that encryption is not a cure-all, in that it cannot address the leading threat of endpoint surveillance. "No amount of IP telephony encryption can prevent a Trojan or worm on your computer--or just a hacker who managed to get access to your machine--from eavesdropping on your phone calls, just as no amount of SSL or email encryption can prevent a Trojan on your computer from eavesdropping--or even modifying--your data," Schneier says.
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Wireless Sensor Networks Offer High-Tech Assurance for a World Wary of Earthquakes
EurekAlert (04/06/06)

City officials must make snap decisions about whether bridges can support the load of emergency-rescue traffic when they have been damaged in an earthquake or other disaster. To provide them with better information, Lehigh University assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering Yunfeng Zhang is developing wireless sensor networks that could relay data about a bridge's performance and ability to support traffic. Wired networks could relay information in real time, but the wires are susceptible to electromagnetic signal interference and could themselves be damaged in an earthquake. Zhang, working under a five-year, $400,000 NSF grant, is developing sophisticated data-compression algorithms to overcome the limited bandwidth available for wireless sensor networks, which can dramatically slow data transmission rates. The algorithms include the capability to filter out redundancies in the sensor data to maximize compression rates. "Using the sensor-data-compression algorithm I'm developing," Zhang said, "we can minimize data-downloading time and ultimately download data in real time and evaluate it in near real-time basis." As part of the grant, Zhang will build a test network to monitor a bridge in China that was damaged during construction in 2000, and conduct extensive validation testing in 2009 to assess its ability to carry traffic. Zhang says the data collected in the test could also benefit American engineers, and he will also incorporate his research into the classes he is teaching at Lehigh.
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Industry, Academia Advance on Common Ground
EE Times (04/03/06)No. 1417, P. 42; Goering, Richard

Acknowledging that universities are critical but often underfunded instruments of research and innovation, Texas A&M University computer science professor Steve Liu will moderate a panel calling for a partnership between the academic and business communities. "In the 1970s universities led the industry, but these days technology is so complicated that it becomes quite expensive for universities to acquire equipment," Liu said. The partnership is billed as mutually beneficial, as universities struggle to teach students on the most current technologies and applications, while companies complain of having to retrain recent graduates. The panel is a joint endeavor of the Embedded Systems Conference Silicon Valley and the IEEE Real-Time and Embedded Technology and Applications Symposium (RTAS 2006). In his classes at Texas A&M, Liu has replaced textbooks with data sheets, and encourages his students to undertake ambitious research projects, reimbursing the students with the best work from his own research funding. Liu hopes that the panel will dispel the twin myths that businesses are uninterested in research and academia is indifferent to practical applications. Academic partnerships benefit companies by advancing research in areas of interest to the corporate sponsor, said Sun Microsystems' Greg Bollella, who will serve as a panelist. Bollella, who has led partnerships with universities in the past, said companies cannot expect academic departments to work at the same schedule as their corporate counterparts, but that universities should be researching practical new interfaces and implementations for application programming. Also sitting on the panel is Boeing's Douglas Stuart, who identified the four goals of this year's RTAS as development tools, co-design of software and hardware, industrial applications, and real-time and embedded-systems theory.
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10 Emerging Technologies
Technology Review (04/01/06) Vol. 109, No. 1, P. 55; Savage, Neil; Talbot, David; Greene, Kate

Although the FCC estimates that 70 percent of allocated wireless radio spectrum may not be in use at certain times of the day, the ever-growing population of wireless-enabled devices must contend with a limited amount of bandwidth, and computer science professor Heather Zheng at UC Santa Barbara is focused on allowing wireless devices to tap idle spectrum through cognitive radio. Such devices determine which frequencies are unused and select one or more over which to transmit and receive data, and Zheng has devised a scheme for doing so without inducing bottlenecks by giving devices that are not assigned FCC priority to split the spectrum up among themselves through negotiation. She chose a series of game theory-based rules for devices to follow via software, so that each radio can observe its neighbors' activities and take its own course of action. Rutgers University professor Dipankar Raychaudhuri is seeking a universal protocol for connecting multiple wireless devices and networks on the fly--a critical step toward pervasive computing--by trying out candidates on the radio test grid. Ohio State University systems developer Scott Cantor believes the Internet could be made more trustworthy by "Web authentication" systems such as Shibboleth, which sets up a one-step login that confirms identity while guaranteeing privacy. Over 500 educational institution use Shibboleth worldwide, and Cantor has established a relationship with the Liberty Alliance to expand Shibboleth's presence even further. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign materials scientist John Rogers is pursuing the development of stretchable silicon-based electronics, as organic semiconductors cannot support more intense computing tasks because of speed limitations. Rogers uses single-crystal silicon prepared as an ultrathin layer and affixed to narrow strips of a rubbery polymer.
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Can Computers Help to Explain Biology?
Nature (03/23/06) Vol. 440, No. 7083, P. 416; Brent, Roger; Bruck, Jehoshua

Developments in computational formalisms could help advance scientists' understanding of biological systems beyond its current level of natural-language descriptions in textbooks and journals to a point where algorithms can be used to predict quantitative behavior. Biological systems are unique from other natural processes in that they are controlled by a central stored program--the genome. Though the genome controls some features of biological systems directly, such as protein sequencing, most other functions originate from the genome through a much more complex process. With its assorted internal and external inputs, outputs (executed tasks), and processing systems, living systems already share many features of the von Neumann-based computer. Just as the activities of Egyptian surveyors formed the basis of mathematics, workaday language-based activities in computer programming could produce formalisms in the form of new mathematics. Though it is tempting to view DNA as an executable code, close examination reveals important differences, such as the absence of modularity, boundaries, and a defined execution sequence in the genome. Most importantly, the lack of a defined boundary between processing mechanism and output undermines the likelihood that a theory of stored-program machines will ever offer a comprehensive explanation of biological systems. Important intermediate steps can be taken, however, such as formalizing the cause-and-effect connections between proteins and regulatory sites. Though most differential equations arising from biological narratives are too complex to be adequately analyzed, numerical simulations could enable scientists to devise probabilities for specific sequences of reactions. Another method of better understanding biological systems involves a deeper understanding of biological semantics, one that draws more heavily on the concepts of meaning and purpose.
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Wireless Sensing Spawns the Connected World
Electronic Design (03/30/06) Vol. 54, No. 7, P. 49; Allan, Roger

Ubiquitous wireless sensor networks and pervasive computing are expected to emerge from Internet and telecom innovations, leading to super-intelligent environments and significant lifestyle enhancement. Professor Dipankar Raychaudhuri at Rutgers University's Wireless Information Network Laboratory (WINLAB) foresees five major developments: The improvement of assisted living through smart homes; a system of frictionless capitalism where consumers can find goods and services and perform monetary transactions without human assistance through personal devices; low-stress airline boarding, lost luggage recovery, and passenger screening by airport logistics and security systems; smart offices that support the fast and accurate search and retrieval of various items and the maintenance of "lifelogs" by workers; and intelligent transportation systems that can guide people to parking spaces, provide collision-avoidance feedback with augmented reality displays, and route vehicles around congestion in real time, among other things. The cell phone will be a key tool in many of these applications, and various labs are busy developing the technologies needed for low-power multimodal sensors and wireless transceiver nodes. Standard software platforms are also a necessary ingredient for ubiquitous sensing, computing, and communications. The trend toward ubiquitous wireless sensor networks and pervasive computing must be helped along by new approaches to software development and implementation, and the industry must create the proper networking protocols, the organization of network-based services, and methods for self-organization, self-configuration, and self-maintaining large distributed systems as well. Additionally, new business models must be developed to guarantee that devices and services are interoperable, while privacy and security issues also have to be addressed.
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How to Save IT Jobs
CIO (04/01/06) Vol. 19, No. 12, P. 24; Sayer, Peter

High-level research from the United States and Europe is beginning to follow lower-skilled jobs to India and China, according to a new report from the Job Migration Task Force of the Association for Computing Machinery. The development comes as India and China improve graduate education and their numbers of qualified researchers grow, says the report titled "Globalization and Offshoring of Software." As offshoring of IT jobs continues, governments in the United States and other developed countries can improve the employment outlook for tech workers by supporting research and development, boosting education, making it easier for foreign professionals to work in their countries, and encouraging fair trade. IT workers know they must have a solid education, an understanding of the technologies used in the global software industry, and the latest skills to compete in the marketplace. And they can improve their job prospects if they have teamwork and communication skills, management experience, and knowledge of other cultures. The ACM report also says IT workers would do well to select industries and jobs that are not as likely to be automated or outsourced as low-wage tasks. Such positions would include those that require discretionary judgment or knowledge of trade secrets. To view the complete report from the ACM Job Migration Task Force, visit http://www.acm.org/globalizationreport
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Cradle of Liberty Lags on E-Voting
IEEE Distributed Systems Online (04/06) Vol. 7, No. 4,Goth, Greg

The advancement of e-voting technology in England, continental Europe, and Australia is overtaking the U.S. effort because of the first three regions' wholehearted movement to endorse standards such as Election Markup Language (EML) and make the e-voting process transparent, in contrast to America's laissez-faire attitude and policies. The latest version of EML, which was ratified by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) Election and Voter Services technical committee in February, offers "a very generic set of XML schemas that handle data exchanges that will support--as far as we know--all the known voting regimes around the globe," according to U.K. Local e-Government Standards Body Chairman John Borras. Numerous British e-voting technology pilots have received generally good marks from the U.K. Electoral Commission, while the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) used e-voting in its 2001 and 2004 general assembly elections to satisfactory reviews from its own commission. ACT's e-voting system was designed to include open-source software, built-in security, the independent audit of software code, and a paper audit trail of electronic votes, and to fulfill such commission requirements as the casting of all votes in a public polling place over an isolated local network; the locking away and constant monitoring of polling place servers; the storage of votes on a pair of identical hard disks as a protection from hardware failure; and the encryption of vote data. U.S. elections officials, on the other hand, have drawn fire from voters' rights activists for sowing uncertainty among both vendors and government officials over what voting equipment is reliable through iffy, ill-defined guidelines and contradictory opinions. U.S. e-voting experts endorse paper ballot backups as a short-term solution to the reliability problem, while Borras maintains that "What we've tried to build into EML is sufficient checks and balances so that your security regime, whatever that might be...can operate and see what's going on." To view a recent report on e-voting from ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee entitled "Statewide Databases if Registered Voters," visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/VRD
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Designing Wireless Sensor Network Applications
Portable Design (03/06) Vol. 12, No. 3, P. 20; Bertholdt, Joerg

There is no single, universal network topology for wireless sensor network applications, which is why choosing one of three network topologies--star, mesh, and hybrid star-mesh--requires the careful consideration of the application's power requirements, network extensibility, communication reliability, and environmental conditions. A star topology organizes all sensor nodes as endpoints around a gateway that transmits data and commands to those endpoints as well as to a higher-level control or monitoring system. The star topology offers the lowest overall power consumption for endpoints by permitting them to enter sleep mode independently and activate only for the brief period needed to take a measurement and send it to the gateway, which aligns well to networks that need to encompass a limited, well-defined range and offer low-power endpoints. Star topologies lack fault tolerance because there are no alternate endpoint-to-gateway routes in the event a path is obstructed. Mesh topologies, however, can recover from node breakdowns because each node serves as a router, allowing the network to automatically reconfigure itself around the broken node. Mesh networks can theoretically have limitless extensibility, making them suitable for low-power-battery-operated networks implemented in environments with changing RF conditions, where extensibility is critical. The hybrid star-mesh topology combines the star configuration's low power and simplicity with the mesh architecture's extensibility and self-recovery by arranging sensor endpoint nodes in a star formation around always-on line-powered router nodes, which subsequently organize themselves into a mesh network. Star-mesh hybrid topologies can be used in networks requiring local processing at the routing device, a high-bandwidth, minimum-latency backbone, or readily available main power for the routing nodes.
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Got Metadata?
CLIR Issues (04/06)No. 50,Howard, Barrie

The deep Web is a vast repository of scholarly material inaccessible to researchers combing the surface Web with Google or other traditional Web crawlers. Home to innumerable text, audio, and video records stored in various digital archives, databases, and institutional collections, the deep Web is difficult to navigate with the full-text search indexes designed for the surface Web. To address this challenge, the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) for Metadata Harvesting provides access to the deep Web through metadata, resource description, and accepted standards for handling information concerning digital resources. OAI divides the world between data providers, who create metadata records from repositories, and service providers, who pull those records from the repositories and create user services centered on aggregations of harvested metadata. Working under an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant, a project team from the Digital Library Federation (DLF) has created the OAI Portal Prototype, a scheme for mining harvested metadata describing digital resources in DLF member libraries. The prototype enables users to search by single terms or phrases with Boolean operators, to set limitations according to the resource type, and to sort by title, author, and date. The DLF project team has also partnered with a group of researchers from the University of Illinois, working also under an IMLS grant, to optimize the reporting features of the Experimental OAI Registry at the university's Urbana-Champaign campus. The IMLS-grant project is also supporting the development of OAI best practices and implementation training modules, which should be finalized this spring.
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Institutional Repositories: An Opportunity for CIO Campus Impact
Educause Review (04/06) Vol. 41, No. 2, P. 10; Goodyear, Marilu; Fyffe, Richard

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, higher education institutions are placing renewed emphasis on business continuity to ensure that the work of their scholars and researchers is not disrupted. This necessitates an examination of the management and preservation of the organization's digital resources. Many campus systems that contain unique digital resources are poorly organized with minimal assurances of integrity, support for shifting formats, and metadata. Without these features, the accessibility and usability of digital resources are uncertain. An institution's CIO is responsible for providing the technical support for the storage and preservation of digital assets, though attempts to do so can be seen as running counter to the traditional academic values of decentralized management and departmental independence. Institutional repositories, the services and infrastructure that organize and make available the intellectual output of an organization, can help CIOs approach the challenge of preservation in an academic setting. Institutional repositories are often used to share resources with researchers and faculty outside the institution, as well as for promoting the significance of the institution's research activities. Institutional repositories can also help with preservation through the policies for placing and organizing the resources that they describe. Repository programs will typically include librarians, archivists, records managers, and administrators, and benefit faculty in every discipline, particularly those in the humanities and social sciences, who may be less likely to embrace central information systems than their counterparts in the sciences. A successful program will also provide a glimpse into the research activities of the campus, showcasing the richness of its scholarship in a central medium, unlike the highly diffuse system of publishing in scholarly journals that is practiced today.
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What Do You Do with a Million Books?
D-Lib Magazine (03/06) Vol. 12, No. 3,Crane, Gregory

Digital libraries could carry dramatic implications for print collections as well as the intellectual process of writing, notes Tufts University's Gregory Crane. Vast digital libraries proposed by Google, Microsoft, and others are, at minimum, one or more orders of magnitude greater than their forebears in terms of scale, content heterogeneity, object granularity, noise, and readership, while collections and/or distributors may face an order of magnitude of reduction. The increase in these dimensions, and their interactions among each other, raises the likelihood that the use, support, and planning for digital collections will undergo a phase shift. Academic digital libraries face three key issues: Analog to text, machine translation, and information extraction. The analog to text challenge involves the development of techniques to analyze page layouts in order to parse out footnotes, tables, headers, tables of contents, indices, marginalia, and other structural paradigms that partition and assign meaning to the characters on the printed page. Machine translation, it is suggested, could be supported by large digital libraries that supply parallel texts and similar language resources, while the information extraction challenge requires identifying individual elements (references to personages, places, organizations, dates, etc.) and squeezing out citations to secondary as well as primary sources, embedded quotations, footnotes, and other textual links, along with assessing techniques of producing higher level inferences. Notable efforts that complement the development of very large digital collections include a projection of the kinds of work scholars can execute when they build upon already existing massive but uneven collections by Dan Cohen, and Wolfgang Schnibel's collection development for a digital library on early modern culture that mines documents about persons, organizations, places, and various semantic fields that relate to early modern culture.
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