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May 8, 2006

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Welcome to the May 8, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Data Breach Notification Law Unlikely This Year
IDG News Service (05/05/06) Gross, Grant

While Congress seemed poised to work swiftly to pass a data breach notification bill after the highly publicized security failures in the first half of 2005, such legislation now appears unlikely to materialize before this year's session expires. There have been more than 10 bills introduced since 2005 addressing when companies are required to notify their customers in the event of a data breach that could compromise sensitive personal information and whether consumers should be allowed to freeze their credit scores in the wake of such a breach. In addition to the conflicting provisions of the different proposals, five congressional committees have asserted jurisdiction over the legislation. Two bills have emerged from committee in the Senate and are awaiting debate on the floor and two more are pending on the House floor. The Senate and House are looking to adjourn for the year on Oct. 6 to give legislators a month to campaign for the November elections, and they will both be out of session for most of August. The remainder of their time will most likely be focused on hot-button issues such as immigration and rising gas prices. The future of the bills remains uncertain despite bipartisan support for the issue, said James Assey Jr., a Democratic counsel in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. "It's unclear what Congress will do," he said at an ACM conference. "Going into the next Congress, I fell certain these issues will return." One of the most contentious points in the debate is what should trigger a notification requirement, given that companies will have an obvious incentive to downplay the severity of a breach to their customers.
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As Outsourcing Gathers Steam, Computer Science Interest Wanes
Computerworld (05/05/06) Thibodeau, Patrick

The gathering momentum of outsourcing IT work as a business strategy correlates to a declining interest in computer science among U.S. students, according to a Computing Research Association (CRA) study that found a 17 percent drop in the number of bachelor's degrees in computer science awarded at Ph.D.-granting universities in the 2004-05 academic year compared with the previous year. The widely reported declines threaten to choke off the availability of highly trained, entry-level IT workers. The waning interest can principally be attributed to the rise in offshoring, the continued perception that IT is a volatile field in the wake of the dot-com bust, and the generally lackluster IT job growth. In the high-tech sector, IT employment rose 1 percent from 2004 to 2005, the first increase since 2001. That increase, which brought the number of high-tech IT jobs to 5.6 million, was weighted down by the slumping telecommunications sector, which saw the elimination of 42,000 jobs between 2004 and 2005. In that same year, software jobs increased by 32,000, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics is predicting a 48 percent increase in the number of software engineers by 2014. Computer science enrollments have dropped by half from the 2000 mark of around 16,000, in what CRA's Jay Vegso describes as a "delayed reaction to the 2001-2002 slowdowns in the tech sector." Others argue that the declining enrollment in computer science paints a darker picture than the reality, as many companies are strategically hiring candidates from a variety of backgrounds, including liberal arts, and providing them with IT training on the job. "The world is asking for completely different type of professional," said David Foote of the consultancy and research firm Foote Partners. To read "Globalization and Offshoring of Software: A Report of the ACM Job Migration Task Force," visit http://www.acm.org/globalizationreport
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Chip Power Breakthrough Reported
Wall Street Journal (05/08/06) P. B6; Clark, Don

The tiny Silicon Valley firm Multigig has reported a breakthrough in the synchronization of the functions of computer chips that could resolve the pressing issue of power consumption and improve the clock circuitry currently deployed in numerous kinds of chips. Clocks can consume more than half of the power of some chips, most of which is wasted by the one-way flow of energy from electrical pulses. The energy consumption problem has prompted companies such as Intel to essentially abandon the practice of increasing clock speeds to improve computing performance. Multigig founder John Wood developed a technique of sending electrical signals around square loops, imitating the working of a conventional clock where most electrical power gets recycled. The company reports a 75 percent energy savings over traditional clocking techniques. The multiple loops help to synchronize the timing pulses, combating the effect known as skew where electrical pulses arrive at slightly different times and undermine the clock's precision. Multigig is in talks with chip makers to license the technology, which could be used for synchronizing the frequencies of communication chips as well as microprocessors. "This is a dramatic way of clocking circuits," said Gartner's Steve Ohr, adding that it could be years before manufacturers incorporate the research into commercial products. "Intel is not going to redesign the Pentium tomorrow because of it."
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Mapping a Path for the 3D Web
CNet (05/08/06) Terdiman, Daniel

Leaders in the fields of video game design, social networking, geospatial engineering, software development, and other areas met for the first Metaverse Roadmap Summit to discuss a future increasingly defined by immersive, virtual environments such as Google Earth and Myspace.com. Participants at the event, produced by the Acceleration Studies Foundation (ASF), held a series of discussions and presentations to formulate a picture of what the metaverse, or the 3D Web, will look like in 10 years. Event organizers will cull through transcripts of the sessions to formulate a written document that reflects the prevailing conclusions of the summit. Consensus was in short supply, however, as many attendees seemed to take exception with the notion that a prevailing 3D Web will be in place by 2016. Much of the discussions centered on augmented reality, in addition to the research breakthroughs required to facilitate the 3D Web. Participants were unable to agree on whether a prevailing 3D Web should be proprietary or open source, though most acknowledged that Microsoft and Google would be the most likely companies to provide the tools required to build such an environment. Attendees also agreed that mobile devices will play a larger role in the development of an immersive 3D Web as they become capable of performing more of the functions of a desktop. Despite the lack of agreement on many of the issues under discussion, the general feeling among participants was positive. "I'm not necessarily a huge believer in central planning of technological and cultural advances," said Corey Bridges, co-founder of the Multiverse Network. "But happily, that's not what we're doing here. We are identifying areas to explore. We're seeing mountains in the distance and saying, 'There's something there, someone should go investigate it.'" The ASF plans to continue holding full roadmap summits every two years.
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Welcome to the New Dollhouse
New York Times (05/07/06) P. 2-1; Schiesel, Seth

The massively popular domestic simulation video game The Sims has found its greatest audience in children, and among girls in particular, shattering the conventional perception of video games as a male-dominated activity given to violence and competition. No points are awarded in The Sims, and players cannot win; they can merely try to live the best life possible given their circumstances and propel their characters toward happiness. Since its introduction in 2000, The Sims has sold more than 60 million copies around the world. Psychologists agree that playing with dolls is an important tool for self-discovery among children and especially girls, and The Sims represents the migration of that activity from 3D plastic models such as Barbie to a virtual environment. To build on that connection, Carnegie Mellon doctoral candidate Caitlin Kelleher helps lead a workshop that encourages girls to take in interest in computer programming through the use of interactive storytelling software. Electronic Arts, which makes The Sims, reports that more than half of its players are female, a marked departure in an industry where males typically account for more than three-quarters of the customer base. Many girls report that their interest in The Sims wanes as they approach their late teens and the emotions and situations that they simulated in the game, particularly their relationships with boys, become a more important part of their real lives. James Gee, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin, sees the declining interest in video games among girls corresponding to their pursuit of computer science as a course of study. "They give up their interest in video games around the same time they give up their interest in science and math and that's a real problem because boys use video games to cultivate an interest in technology, and if girls give that up we're going to continue to see a real gender imbalance in these areas."
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Hard Questions While Waiting for the HPCS Downselect
HPC Wire (05/05/06) Vol. 15, No. 18,

The author asks several questions to be considered while awaiting this summer's High-Productivity Computing Systems (HPCS) downselect from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The first query explores whether shared-memory and distributed-memory system architectures provide inequitable opportunities for deploying dynamic load balancing, while the second query asks what additional elements must be incorporated within an already formidable collection of heterogeneous system hardware to produce a genuine heterogeneous system architecture. The author describes an optimal heterogeneous system architecture as having high global system bandwidth to allow long-range communication latency and to streamline the programming load by alleviating the performance nonuniformity of memory accessing; a wide assortment of combined, compile-time, runtime, and hardware parallelism mechanisms that would adjust to dynamic variation of the amount, kind, and granularity of an application's parallelism; a variety of similar mechanisms that would perform the same function, only this time focusing on the application's locality; and diverse work queues of fine- and medium-grained parallel activities that would be dynamically self-scheduled by various kinds of various "virtual processors." A cost-effective system architecture must employ all of these mechanisms to yield high performance without overtaxing global system bandwidth. A heterogeneous architecture's most important benefit is its ability to build a hybrid system architecture integrating properties of parallel von Neumann machines and parallel non-von Neumann machines. The author observes that designers are agreeable with parallelism diversity but churlish toward locality diversity, and notes that articulating the full vision of heterogeneous processing makes sense from a crusader's perspective.
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Lab Aims to Make Items Disabled-Accessible
Associated Press (05/06/06) Bluestein, Greg

Companies are turning to Georgia Tech Research Institute's accessibility division for testing to ensure that their electronic devices meet the federal guidelines for making products accessible for people with disabilities. The federal statute, known as Section 508, requires companies to upgrade their electronic devices for the disabled in order to sell them to the federal government. Copy machine companies have responded to the federal guidelines by incorporating tactile displays and voice controls into their products. Georgia Tech researchers have worked with Ricoh to improve accessibility, and the office equipment manufacturer has settled on a final model for its copiers that includes tilted screens for wheelchair users and other improvements. The institute offers more comprehensive testing than the procedures carried out in-house at companies, and as an independent facility it is more concerned with the accuracy and integrity of the examination than whether a product passes or fails. The lab was launched during the Cold War to test the usability of military systems and other items, and half of its work remains focused in this area. "It's hard to get more real than military testing," says senior research scientist Brad Fain. "When your life is on the line, every move counts."
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Five Technologies You Need to Know About
TechWeb (05/03/06) Jones, George

A quintet of emerging technologies have the potential to dramatically improve computing in terms of efficiency, performance, and functionality very soon. Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) is a technique, or rather a frame of mind, whose integration of Web development technologies results in highly practical and responsive Web sites and services; AJAX harnesses JavaScript's client-based functionality and XML's efficient and direct delivery of specific data to enable developers to construct Web pages that are as responsive as desktop pages. Intel's upcoming Core microprocessors, which are slated for release in the second half of this year, promise to boost chip performance and speed while lowering operating temperatures, and can cooperate in dual-core and multi-core assemblies. NAND flash memory is ideal for use in solid-state hard drives because it can read large files and quickly erase and write data, supporting lower power consumption, faster read/write times, and better reliability. This upholds the expectation that affordable storage drives with no moving parts will be realized as flash memory becomes less expensive and more pervasive. Holographic storage technology can boost disk storage capacity almost 10-fold through the use of 3D imaging, and support substantially higher data transfer rates. InPhase Technologies has promised to roll out the first commercial holographic storage product later in 2006, and subsequent products are expected to boast even more capacity. AMD-Virtualization (AMD-V) from AMD and Virtualization Technology (VT) from Intel may accelerate and disentangle software-based virtualization by encoding virtualization capability within hardware, allowing desktops to run multiple tasks without impacting CPU performance.
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Pundits Discuss the Internet's Future
Wall Street Journal Online (05/05/06)

ICANN Chairman Vint Cerf and CNET Networks editor at large Esther Dyson weigh in on the future of the Internet. Both agree that the Internet will be ubiquitous in the future, pervading every aspect of our lives, but where they differ is in the specifics that they stress. Cerf stresses the growing interlinking of broadband and mobile devices and sees the Web gradually becoming integrated with entertainment and consumer electronic equipment, then household and office equipment, then our cars, and then our bodies. He sees broadband reaching Mars through an Interplanetary Internet by the close of the decade. Thus users on Earth will be able to view and control future missions to Mars and eventually other planets. Cerf believes that the domain name system must be outfitted with a capability to process different languages. Cerf writes, "The Internet reaches only about a billion users so there are another 5.5 billion to go. It is beginning to include a good deal of information in many languages, but the domain name system needs to be outfitted with a similar capability." Dyson agrees that the Internet's spread is inevitable and says that, eventually, every thing will have an online identity. Dyson writes, "The Internet so far has existed mostly in cyberspace, linking computers fed data by humans and by other computers. The Internet of the future will be much more tightly linked to physical space. First of all, many of its future users will connect via cell phones, and the Net will know more about their physical locations and their identities than it does about those who reach it by computer." However, she says that with the ubiquity of the Web also will come an erosion of user privacy. She says one of the big challenges is determining who controls the vast quantities of information a Net-connected future entails.
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Change in ICT Design for Visually Impaired Urged
Silicon Republic (05/04/06) Larkin, Elaine

Information technology will leave the visually impaired behind if the issue of accessibility is not realistically addressed, according to the Visually Impaired Computer Society (VICS), part of the Irish Computer Society. The lobby group says the use of tactile, audio, or large print as human computer interface features would make computer products more accessible for the visually impaired, but the conventional computer screen prevents them from using electronic systems. "At present the vast majority of ICT products are completely unusable by those with vision problems except by means of expensive and inelegant bolt-on interfaces," says IT professional Ronan McGuirk, founding member of VICS. McGuirk has authored a paper that calls for the implementation of the Design for All (DFA) principles during specification, design, and manufacturer of ICT products. VICS, which plans to introduce the paper May 12 in Dublin, says it would be cheaper to incorporate accessibility during the design stage than to do so later on, and adds that better labeling is needed to make accessible products easier to identify. VICS Chairman Tony Murray says Apple, which has built a screen reader into its operating system for the new Mac, is one of the few companies that has embraced the process. Murray, a software engineer at AIB, adds that VICS is at work drafting a paper on standards for accessible products.
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Cyberspace Running Out of Room
TechWeb (05/04/06) Sullivan, Laurie

Frost & Sullivan says the popularity of smart phones, IPTV, and other gadgets will soon force cyberspace to run out of room. By 2012, about 17 billion devices will connect to the Internet, according to IDC. Experts also say the current Internet protocol version 4 (IPv4) limits services of multimedia content and data communication, including mobile IP, P2P and video calls. The Office of Management and Budget is requiring all federal networks to have the ability to send and receive IPv6 packets by the middle of 2008. Presently, just 30 percent of the Internet service provider networks will support IPv6 by 2010, and 30 percent of user networks by 2012, according to a study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the RTI International on IPv6 migration. The NIST/RTI study estimates it will cost the United States $25.4 billion between 1997 and 2025 just to upgrade from IPv4 to IPv6. Some equipment manufacturers will offer the transition to the IPv6 protocol in regular upgrades, while some will charge a fee for the features. Sam Masud at Frost & Sullivan advises companies to start building transition strategies now. "Lucent says they can convert all their mobility applications to support IPv6 in about three years," says Masud. "It wouldn't surprise me if that self-imposed time table is extended." Companies can currently choose from three migration strategies--dual stacks, tunneling, and translation.
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Richard Stallman Sets the Free Software Record Straight
Linux Insider (05/02/06) LeClaire, Jennifer

In a recent interview, Free Software Foundation President Richard Stallman discussed his thoughts on the movement that has become his life's work, the draft update of the General Public License (GPL), and how the GNU Project is often conflated with open source. Stallman looks at free software as an essential human right, including the freedom to run a program in any way the user desires, freedom to study and change the program's code, freedom to copy and distribute the software, and the freedom to distribute altered versions of the code at any time. The desire to safeguard those freedoms became the foundation for the GNU operating system. Linux, initially released in 1991, was re-licensed under the GNU GPL in 1992 as free software. Its growing popularity for practical applications throughout the 1990s meant that many Linux users were oblivious to the ethical motives behind the GNU Project. Stallman rejects the label "open source" for his project because it is based on a more pragmatic philosophy that ignores the loftier ideals of free software. While it only departs from the previous version in the details and offers no new sweeping ideals, version 3 of the GPL contains an explicit patent license grant to apply around the world, as well as a patent retaliation provision to deter anyone from trying to sue for infringement on a GPL-covered application. GPLv3 also contains a provision to prevent what Stallman calls "tivo-ization," meaning that a device powered by free software will not run on modified versions of its source code. "Tivoization turns freedom 1, the freedom to make and use a modified version of the program, into a sham," Stallman said. Another important provision in the draft update calls for international application of the license, regardless of the country's specific language or intellectual property laws.
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Cybersecurity Research Plan Identifies Threats
Federal Computer Week (05/01/06) Vol. 20, No. 13, P. 54; Sternstein, Aliya

Industry leaders who have been urging the Bush administration to devote more resources to cybersecurity are optimistic that a recently issued report by the National Science and Technology Council will lead to increased federal funding. The "Federal Plan for Cyber Security and Information Assurance Research and Development" highlights urgent threats to U.S. technological infrastructure and calls for increased federal funding for research that would help manufacturers incorporate greater security features into their products before they are delivered. "This is the first document that I've seen that focuses on outcomes rather than favorite research projects," said Alan Paller of the SANS Institute. The document recommends exploring security issues that could arise from new broadcast protocols, wireless protocols, and ad hoc networks, while also cautioning against potential threats from optical computing, quantum computing, and pervasively embedded computing. The plan also calls for much needed metrics to gauge the government's ability to hold up against an attack, Paller said, though he criticized the council for not including specific figures for how much the government should pay for the research. Included in the proposal are the public Internet and the networks and systems that control the power grid, communications systems, and other vital elements of infrastructure. The plan identifies software testing, wireless security, access control, and authentication as some of the highest funding priorities. Increased funding is the key to acting on the report's recommendations, says Ed Lazowska, who served as co-chairman of the now-defunct President's IT Advisory Committee. Lazowska said he has a simple message for John Marburger III, the president's science advisor: "Spare me the recommendations and show me the money," adding that "it's time for leadership and investment."
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IDEs of Change
Electronic Design (04/27/06) Vol. 54, No. 9, P. 52; Wong, William

Parallel to the consolidation of the integrated development environment (IDE) space is an increase in IDE sophistication, and general IDEs that are open to plug-ins from third parties are rising to the top of the graph. The complexity of developing an IDE lies in the many assorted features an IDE has and the support it delivers, and one approach to IDE development can be made through the target operating system or platform and the programming language. An editor, a compiler tool chain, and a debugger are usually the fundamental constituents of an IDE, but the growing complexity of programming projects has nurtured a similar growth in IDE complexity. IBM's open-source Eclipse platform, which makes the plug-in specification and underlying IDE available to any third party, enables third parties to focus on the Eclipse platform while also allowing their products to be employed by any user working with an Eclipse-based platform. Strategies for maintaining IDE simplicity include the improvement of developers' IDE experience through the use of wizards, profiles, and enhanced help mechanisms that notify developers about features or simplification of feature access; avoidance of turning the IDE into an all-encompassing system; and concentration on a specific environment. Macraigor Systems President Craig Haller notes that most debugging methods used by developers remain relatively unchanged after three decades, and though more complex tools are offered by numerous debuggers, the tools are often hard to use, target a specific IDE, or are simply unknown to developers. Some debugging improvements have originated outside of IDEs.
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A Universal Translator in Your Pocket
New Scientist (04/27/06) Vol. 190, No. 2549, P. 26; Graham-Rowe, Duncan

Computer translation researchers are improving translation systems by giving them the ability to learn new languages on their own. They are turning to software to train translation systems on large amounts of text and the usage of different types of words in various positions in sentences on a day-to-day basis, and unlike previous rule-based programs, the application does not get confused by exceptions to grammatical rules or bad grammar. "After decades of stagnation, something major is happening to create the technologies we have always dreamed about," says Alex Waibel, director of the International Center for Advanced Communications Technology. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have developed the TransTec (Translation Systems for Tactical Use) program--a handheld device with speech recognition, translation, and voice synthesis software--that the U.S. military would like to use to translate spoken conversations with Iraqis in real time. Waibel also has a team at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany that has trained a system on European Parliament session speeches, in order to develop an application that can translate lectures in real time and run on systems that are more powerful than handheld computers. However, processing power of handheld devices will continue to improve, and some observers are optimistic that in the next couple of years people will be able to speak into their cell phone to translate their words for someone else, and have the other person speak into their phone to translate their response. The advances could eventually lead to a universal translator that whispers translation in your ear as you carry on a conversation. Google is considering taking advantage of translation technology, as are the developers behind the new European search engine Quaero.
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SysML Effort About to Bear Fruit
SD Times (05/01/06)No. 149, P. 15; Moore, Alan

Artisan Software Tools' Alan Moore, architect of the SysML 0.99 specification, expects the spec to be adopted by the Object Management Group as a technique for modeling complex systems. SysML 0.99 is the end product of the SysML Merge Team (SMT), whose participants include some of the most prestigious tool vendors, leading industry users, professional organizations, and government bodies. The SysML visual modeling language extends UML 2 to facilitate complex system specification, analysis, design, and validation. SysML reuses a subset of UML 2 concepts and diagrams, and enhances them with some novel diagrams and constructs that are applicable to systems modeling. The spec's major structural extension, the Block, is employed as a general-use hierarchical structuring tool that defines a system as cluster of components and links between them that effect communication and other types of interrelationships. The other major SysML extension is support for requirements. SysML offers extensions to activities to characterize how material, energy, or information is distributed throughout a system, permitting modelers to prescribe limitations on the rate at which items flow along edges in an activity, or inside and outside of behavioral parameters. SysML describes system properties and their relationships through the use of parametric models, which requires the presence of a ConstraintBlock to define a series of parameters and one or more expressions that state how a change in one parameter's value affects the other parameters' values.
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RFID: Beyond the Drive for Five
Design News (04/24/06) Vol. 61, No. 6, P. 48; Murray, Charles J.

Although radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags have not yet reached the much-desired nickel price point, the tremendous strides the technology has made in terms of cost and performance should not be discounted. The price of RFID chips has been falling about 5 percent to 10 percent a year for the past six years, concurrent with technological improvements; RFID tags are being used in applications that were unheard of 10 years ago, regardless of the failure to cut their price down to five cents a unit. RFID tags are expected to be incorporated into low-cost everyday objects, which will eventually lead to an "Internet of things" wherein virtually everything is networked through the Web, predict researchers. The Internet of things cannot be realized without low-cost RFID tags, but researchers anticipate that everyday items will include RFID via integration into the corrugate of cardboard boxes during manufacture. Ongoing initiatives in this area will play a vital role in reducing the price of RFID, because it removes the need for certain tag components. Price is still one of the few advantages bar codes have over RFID tags, which is why efforts to drive the tag cost down to five cents are still going strong. Among the techniques RFID chip makers are employing to lower costs is "self-adaptive silicon," which generates special transistors featuring gates that can store bits of memory. Sanjay Sarma, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and research director for MIT's Auto-ID Center, says, "These RFID technologies will co-exist with the bar code for a long time into the future. But they will provide information that a bar code can't...The question now is the tipping point. When do you get to the percentage that causes you to say, 'I'm going to put the tag inside the corrugate?' In the next year, we could see it happen."
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