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May 19, 2006

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More E-Voting Concerns Surface With State Primaries Underway
The NewStandard (05/17/06) Komp, Catherine

State and local officials are increasingly joining voting-rights groups in questioning the security of e-voting systems, particularly since the recent discovery of a serious flaw in one of Diebold's touch-screen machines. The vulnerability comes from a feature that Diebold included to enable the machines to install software updates with ease, though security experts warn that the same feature could be exploited by anyone with a basic knowledge of the system who wanted to install software that could manipulate votes. Election officials have turned to the security community for independent analysis when Diebold's responses to their concerns have been unsatisfactory. "They just don't get it," said Michael Shamos, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. "We've had many, many discussions. In fact, if you look at their public statements they've made in light of this revelation, it shows that they still don't get it." Diebold argues that tampering with the machines would require the involvement of a malicious election official, a possibility which the company discounts. Only California, Iowa, and Pennsylvania have addressed the Diebold problem so far, though many state use the systems. In Iowa, Deputy Secretary of State John Hedgecoth ordered election officials to run a final software upgrade and seal the machine with a memory card inside immediately prior to the upcoming election. "So we are controlling both the software in the field with a final version that is decided upon by our elections division, and then we're securing the memory card against tampering on Election Day," Hedgecoth said. As concerns about e-voting systems in general have reached a fever pitch, voters in Arizona have filed a lawsuit to block the state from purchasing systems that "are not trustworthy or transparent," following similar suits filed in California, New York, and New Mexico. For information on ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Nominee Says N.S.A. Stayed Within Law on Wiretaps
New York Times (05/19/06) P. A20; Lichtblau, Eric

Gen. Michael V. Hayden, President Bush's nominee for CIA director, told a panel of senators at his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday that the National Security Agency (NSA) did not exceed the bounds of the law in carrying out secret wiretaps on international phone calls and email of Americans without warrants, as authorized by the president shortly after 9/11. Democratic senators bluntly questioned Hayden about the surveillance's legality and whether he had deceived Congress and the public about the program. Hayden referred to the program's legal and constitutional authority, and the need to keep its operations clandestine as being paramount to its effectiveness. He also mentioned his discussions with NSA lawyers about the program's legal viability under the president's authority as commander in chief under Article II of the U.S. Constitution. According to Hayden, the lawyers "were very comfortable with the Article II arguments and the president's inherent authorities." However, he confessed his ignorance of the Justice Department's official opinion establishing the legal motivation for the program, and admitted his inability to recount any significant discussion about the congressional authorization in 2001 to apply all necessary force against Al Qaeda, which the White House now claims helped legally empower it to authorize the surveillance program. Hayden acknowledged that there was substantive talk within the Bush administration, and between the NSA and the White House, about carrying out the operation.
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Searching for the Soul in the Machine
IST Results (05/18/06)

Five European research groups are collaborating on the NEW TIES project to develop an immersive computing environment filled with millions of self-evolving software agents. Research in social learning has lagged behind individual and machine learning, according to project coordinator Gusz Eiben. The project will include researchers from various disciplines who will focus on different aspects of the agents' behavior. "For the linguists and sociologists, the main motivation is to study existing processes in societies and languages," Eiben said. "The computer scientists on the other hand want to develop and study machine collaboration, with an eye on future applications in robotics...Obviously, it will be important for them to be able to cooperate with each other." The project's twin goals are to observe natural processes and to further the creation of collective artificial intelligence. The NEW TIES engine will soon run on a grid of 60 computers, supporting about 1,000 agents at first, though eventually it will support millions. Each agent will have a unique identity, complete with a gender, life expectancy, metabolism, size, and fertility. Parents will pass those traits to their offspring, and agents will be able to learn from each other's experiences. "It's a given of the NEW TIES project that we are not hardwiring agents," said Eiben, adding that the research is designed to see how the agents learn and adapt on their own to various challenges, such as changing seasons and threats from enemy groups. Beyond a native vocabulary with a few simple words, the agents will have to develop their own methods of communication. Eiben says the researchers are almost ready to begin the experiment, though he hopes to scale up to 5,000 computers before the project concludes in August 2007.
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Academia Welcomes New Thinking on Foreign Researchers and National Security
ResearchResearch (05/17/06)

The academic research community is happy that the Department of Commerce intends to delay proposed alterations to alleged "deemed export" rules, regulations that oversee and limit foreign researchers who work with sensitive items. The department will instead announce in the near future the establishment of an advisory panel to recommend ways of balancing national security with research and higher education interests. Association of American Universities Interim President John Vaughn said that the initial IG suggestions would have delayed research and would have sent the message that leading global talent was not welcome. Vaughn stressed his association's stance that exemption from deemed export regulations for basic research should stay intact and that the exemption must also apply to the tools and technologies vital to the conduct of the research. Meanwhile, Carnegie Mellon University President Jarod Cohon said that it is crucial that any limits on fundamental research done in America's universities by foreign national be carefully reviewed as their contributions keep promoting the nation's economic well-being. In addition, the Computer Research Association stated in its blog that the department's decision is "a nice win for the science community."
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Computing, Connecting, Competing: Microsoft Looks Ahead
Washington Post (05/19/06) P. D1; Goo, Sara Kehaulani

As head of Microsoft's five research labs, senior vice president of research Richard Rashid is tasked with thinking into the future to come up with ways computers cans influence society. In this interview, Rashid points to quickly increasing storage capacities as affording many new opportunities. At Microsoft's research lab in Cambridge, England, a researcher has developed a device that Rashid refers to as a "black box for a human being" that literally just takes pictures. Combined with the vast storage capacity now available for computers, such a device could be used by the medical profession to boost the cognizance of someone whose memory is flagging. Rashid also points to the increasing mobility of computers made possible by expanding wireless networks that enable cell phones to be converted into data sources that could one day be used to collect information on the environment surrounding users. Rashid is an avid fan of gadgets himself. "When I buy a gadget, whatever function it performs, it should have all the things I care about," he says. It's "the notion that your game console, your PC and your cell phone now all can have the same information. That's not where we are--we're far from it. But that's where we can go." Summing up, Rashid says computing technology will play an integral part in the future, as it does now, in man's inherent need for social contact.
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Gamers Help the Blind Get the Picture
New Scientist (05/16/06) Marks, Paul

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have devised an online game whose aim is to find ways to make Web sites more accessible to blind people, who are often unable to learn the contents of images placed online. The game, "Phetch," seeks to encourage Web users to generate better captions for online images. Playable online at peekaboom.org/phetch/ by groups of three to five people, the game assigns the role of "describer" to one person while the rest become "seekers." The describer is shown a randomly chosen Web-site image and has to write a short paragraph to describe it, and then the seekers use search engines to try to find the right image. "We hope to collect captains for every image on the Web", said Phetch team member Shiry Ginosar, although she concedes that it may be difficult to get Web designers around the world to use the better captions. CMU researchers previously had developed a game called "Peekaboom" designed to improve image recognition algorithms by having one player try to guess an image using only the clues given by another user. The game aids computers identify images because players will focus on the most important part of images first when describing them.
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Some Seeking More Visas for Skilled Foreign Workers
San Antonio Express-News (TX) (05/18/06) Lorek, L.A.

Technology companies say they will need to hire more foreign workers in order to meet the demands of the marketplace in the years to come. According to the Labor Department, 2 million jobs will be available in computer science, mathematics, engineering, and physical sciences in the United States by 2012. As a result, the industry is pressing lawmakers on Capitol Hill to expand the H-1B visa policy, which would allow more highly skilled tech workers from overseas to stay in the United States. Earlier in the month, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced the "Securing Knowledge, Innovation and Leadership Act of 2006" in an effort to raise the cap on the H-1B visa program to 115,000, and exempt professionals who hold advanced degrees from U.S. universities. "A crucial part of our growing economy is our ability to innovate," says Cornyn, chairman of the Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship subcommittee. "This bill would help cultivate a system that ensures these talented people--and their jobs--remain here." The current cap stands at 65,000, but up to 195,000 skilled foreign workers were able to obtain H-1B visas from 2001 to 2003. Though SAS Chief Executive Jim Goodnight says tech companies have had to outsource work to India and China because of the current limit, unemployed tech workers maintain that employers are using the H-1B visa program to hire cheaper labor.
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Female Tech Researchers Are No Drop-Outs
Silicon Republic (05/17/06) Larkin, Elaine

Women studying subjects such as science, engineering, and technology are less likely to drop out than their counterparts in humanities and social sciences, according to the report on Women in Science and Technology (WiST)--The Business Perspective. Presented at a conference in Vienna this week, the report found that women and men have the same drop-out rate in science and engineering. "This means that the number of women entering science and technology education is relatively low compared to other areas but within the academic setting the pipeline does not leak as much in the hard sciences as it does in the social sciences and the humanities," says the report. Women are not pursuing studies in science and technology in larger numbers because they do not want to work in isolation or in environments that are overly male, the study suggests. They are also looking for professions that can accommodate their desire to have a life away from their job. The Austrian EU Presidency and the European Commission organized the conference, which is aimed at boosting the number of women in the science and technology industry. "If we don't create a fairer system where we all can participate equally we lock out a huge pool of talent and potential that we just can't afford to lose," said Janez Potocnik, European Science and Research Commissioner. For information on ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://women.acm.org
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NCWIT/NSF Town Hall: IT Innovation and the Role of Diversity
Black Engineer (05/17/06) Deen, Lango

U.S. corporations are sabotaging themselves by ignoring a large chunk of the talent pool, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), a growing coalition of corporations, government agencies, universities, and nonprofits advocating a more representative workforce. NCWIT founder and CEO Lucinda Sanders and University of Oregon computer science professor Jan Cuny shared their thoughts on the relationship between diversity and competitiveness in a recent interview. Cuny also heads the NSF's Broadening Participation in Computing Initiative, which recently partnered with the NCWIT to launch an Innovation Town Hall meeting at the National Academy of Engineering. NCWIT has formed an alliance of academic institutions focused on attracting more women to IT and faculty advancement. Cuny argues that the key to advancing women and minorities in IT is collaboration, and that the various organizations promoting participation among women, Hispanics, Native Americans, and other groups must coordinate their efforts with each other. Women often suffer from a confidence problem when competing with men in a professional setting, Sanders says, also noting the conflict between work and family, though she admits that many corporations are restructuring IT careers to make them more flexible and conducive to women with families. While the number of students pursuing degrees in computing has gone down dramatically in recently, Sanders eschews the myth that computing is an ailing profession, citing the recent ACM study on offshoring that found that there are more tech jobs today than at the height of the dot-com boom.
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Super High-Def Video: Eyes Open Wide for Tech on the Way
Seattle Times (05/17/06) Dudley, Brier

Supercomputing researcher Larry Smarr wowed technology investors and entrepreneurs with a demonstration of an advanced digital theater during the Future in Review (FiRe) conference this week. Those who attended the conference were able to look at ultra-high resolution screens and a wall-size virtual-reality display as part of the tour of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology facility, a joint venture between the San Diego and Irvine campuses of the University of California. Smarr described the realistic videoconferencing rendered with superfast Internet connections as "telepresence." The digital theater features the first "super-high definition" projector system in the country, which generates images that are four times the resolution of standard high-definition, and the cameras deliver content at 6 Gbps, compared with 1.5 Gbps for regular high-definition. The theater has access to 100 GB of bandwidth, and its seats have a gigabit Ethernet connection and power jacks. Smarr also demonstrated a prototype of a personal computer with a 100 million-pixel display that could be about 10 years away. The powerful system had a cluster of 28 Linux PCs, with a 29th PC acting as a controller, powering the stack of 55 flat-panel displays.
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Social Dynamics in MMOGs
DocBug (05/17/2006)

The social dynamics of multiplayer games was the focus of a presentation delivered at this year's ACM Computer Human Interaction conference. Researchers from PARC and Stanford University offered another perspective on the common belief that the opportunity to socialize makes multiplayer online games more popular than single-player games. In the paper, "Alone Together? Exploring the Social Dynamics of Massively Multiplayer Online Games," the researchers detail some key differences in the social activities of MMOG players. The researchers installed /who-bots on several World of Warcraft servers, and in observing play habits learned that gamers do not often work together, particularly in the early stages of the game. "WoW's subscribers, instead of playing with other people, rely on them as an audience for their in-game performances, as an entertaining spectacle, and as a diffuse and easily accessible source of information and chitchat," according to the paper. "For most, playing the game is therefore like being 'along together'--surrounded by others, but not necessarily actively interacting with them." The paper also notes that gamers who often play alone tend to improve more quickly, and that core players of a guild play regularly together and their skill levels are about the same.
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Making Computers Smarter
Red Herring (05/11/06)

Scientists and researchers at IBM's annual Almaden Institute conference agreed that computers must abandon their existing structure in favor of a more organic model if they will ever be able to emulate human intelligence. Rather than writing software to mimic human behavior, cognitive computing researchers should base more of their work on neuroscience and psychology, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology is urging academia and industry to spend $4 billion over the next decade developing new computing theories. "The brain isn't like a [current] computer. It's more like an evolutionary jungle," said Gerald Edelman, a Nobel Laureate and the director of the Neurosciences Institute. "They learn by making mistakes, just like we do." Edelman believes the software approach to artificial intelligence is too rigid, focusing so much on following rules that the machines cannot learn from their errors. Meanwhile, researchers at Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) have used IBM and SGI supercomputers to generate artificial neurons and synapses. Other research is closer to the market. Robert Hecht-Nielsen, director of the confabulation laboratory at the University of California, San Diego, demonstrated Chancellor, a cat food dispenser powered by technology that enables it to predict language and communicate with pet owners about buying more food. A more distant project is developing a device that functions as a form of neural prosthesis for patients whose hippocampus has been damaged to the point where their cognitive or functional brain capacity are impaired. "The hippocampus acts like a set of parallel processors," said Ted Berger of the University of Southern California.
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Scientific Publication Honors Purdue Professor for Research
Purdue Exponent (05/17/06) Israel, Sheryl

Purdue University School of Industrial Engineering professor Gavriel Salvendy has been honored in the field of ergonomics and human factors by the scientific publication Ergonomia for his studies of the interactions between humans and computers and the effective use of new technology. Salvendy's work has focused on making it simpler for users to search and retrieve data on computers. "It used to be really difficult to find information on the computer," says Salvendy. "I develop methods for more effectively selecting and training personnel, dealing with stress management at work, enhancing productivity and designing computers for ease of use." According to the professor, computers should be designed "so that all of society can get information easily."
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Doing Something About the Lack of Women in IT
Network World (05/17/06)

The Students and Technology in Academia, Research and Service Alliance of 10 universities has received a $2 million National Science Foundation grant to diversify the IT workforce in the United States by encouraging women, minorities, and the disabled to participate. Florida State University research associate Anthony Chow says there could be as many as 1.5 million new IT jobs in six years, while a declining number of available foreign IT professionals will create a shortfall unless more students are lured into the IT field. The consortium plans to promote the "coolness" of the profession using Web and print ads, mentors, and student word of mouth to increase interest in computer science and boost its diversity.
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Politicos Propose New Action on Net Neutrality
CNet (05/18/06) Broache, Anne

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee released a five-page bill that would embed new provisions requiring so-called network neutrality in current federal antitrust laws. The bill was created to give Internet users an insurance policy if they are harmed by broadband network operators who discriminate against content and service providers. The bill is being endorsed by Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Rick Boucher (D-Va.), and musician Moby. The fact that 98 percent of Americans only have two choices for broadband service is evidence that an antitrust solution is needed, according to Sensenbrenner. The bill would make it illegal under antitrust law for network operators to charge fees or not provide their services on "reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms." It would also stop broadband providers from blocking, impairing, or degrading sites or services. The net neutrality issue has become a controversial topic recently. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) says if Congress does not try and protect Net neutrality, a lot of people may not be able to access the Internet. Some of the world's biggest hardware makers recently sent a letter to Congress speaking out against new Net neutrality laws.
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Cyber Threats to U.S. Business Grow More Dangerous
Reuters (05/14/06) Rothstein, Joel

Scott Borg, director of the Cyber Consequences Unit (CCU), says attacks on U.S. computer networks are becoming more dangerous and could lead to the destruction of companies or even death. The CCU, which is funded by the Homeland Security Department, is trying to figure out how to prevent attacks in regards to plans to cause power blackouts, plots to tamper with pharmaceutical products, or schemes to reprogram machinery to build dangerously defective products. "Up to now, executives and network professionals have been worrying about what adolescents and petty criminals have been doing," said Borg. "They need to start worrying about what grown-ups could do." Some potential attacks may include shutting down computer systems for several days, changing specifications at automobile plants that may cause cars to explode, and tampering with medical data. The CCU uses its resources to figure out how technology can be used to harm the United States by holding cybersecurity classes for U.S. companies, and investigating attacks on computer systems. After consulting with banks, manufacturers, and other industries, the CCU created a security checklist for companies that identifies 16 potential methods of attack.
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'Mashup' Websites Are a Hacker's Dream Come True
New Scientist (05/13/06) Vol. 190, No. 2551, P. 28; Marks, Paul

The proliferation of mashup sites could present a major security threat, warned some participants at last month's Computer-Human Interaction conference in Montreal, Canada. Mashups, or Web applications that combine information from two or more sites, are often hastily thrown together with no guarantees of accuracy, and privacy and security concerns are sometimes just an afterthought. Mashups have become very popular for the local information they provide--neighborhood crime data overlaid on a Google map, for instance--but there is nothing to stop people from using them to collect addresses or other sensitive identifying information. Mashups have appeared that help commuters monitor traffic and travelers map their journeys, and new mashup sites are appearing at the rate of 10 a week. Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! have all made the application programming interface (API) of their mapping sites freely available, recognizing that mashup sites help broaden the footprint of their service. But mashup creators do not take the precautions to address concerns such as data integrity, system security, and privacy, according to Hart Rossman of Science Applications International. "How do you know the data is real?" Rossman asks. The owners of the sites from which mashup creators pull their data neither know nor care that their information is being used, and the absence of encrypted ID certificates in the exchange between the mashup creator and the source invites the possibility that the data could be coming from a spoofed site, Rossman warns. Mashup sites also do not have rules governing how people's personal information can be used, and viruses could be specifically written to attack mashup sites. A mashup worm could follow the data back to its origin and corrupt its contents, says Rossman. The mounting security concerns come as some mashups, particularly in the travel sector, are growing into huge, multi-million-dollar ventures that play an increasingly important role in people's daily lives.
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The Givers and Takers of Open Source
InformationWeek (05/15/06)No. 1089, P. 44; Babcock, Charles

The bulk of the work that goes into developing open-source software is left to uncompensated, mostly anonymous volunteer coders, while large companies to whom the software often plays a critical role could pull more weight by getting their own programmers to contribute. Apache Web Server project co-founder Brian Behlendorf partly attributes the comparatively low levels of corporate participation in open-source development to a cultural disparity: He says that whereas business programmers usually focus on the bottom line to the exclusion of all else, open-source developers have a "willingness to challenge authority, the passion to work on an interesting problem well past the end of the workday, and the time and space to be able to build the right solution to a problem rather than just the most expedient." Another factor discouraging big companies from contributing to open source is their reluctance to cede the rights to the software they develop, as dictated by the General Public License. Open-source hard-liners may actually welcome the large companies' overall policy of non-involvement, as it alleviates fears that too much involvement could degrade the quality of open-source software. Open-source coders are often generalized into two categories: Core contributors who undertake big projects and tend to hail from small companies, universities, government agencies, and consulting firms; and large-company employees who are more proficient at spotting glitches, testing code, and suggesting patches and improvements. Many corporate open-source users obtain their software from commercial open-source vendors, which can chill the impulse for altruism. The blunt criticism open-source enthusiasts apply to each other's work, which is so critical to the software's quality, is a rarity in large companies. The potential for hobbyists to make money from their efforts is also growing, which will complicate matters unless the profit-driven open-source development model and the purist model can find a way to live together.
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What's the Matter With the Information Technology Workforce?
First Monday (05/06) Vol. 11, No. 5,Subramaniam, Manimegalai M.; Burnett, Kathleen

The continued economic competitiveness of the United States depends on a viable, diverse, and proficient information technology workforce (ITWF), and ensuring the existence of such a workforce requires having IT stakeholders agree to a common operational definition of IT work before the workforce is classified and educational programs are developed, write Florida State University College of Information associate professor Kathleen Burnett and FSU doctoral candidate Manimegalai M Subramaniam. There is currently no consensus on the definition of an IT worker, and this is attributable to the continuously shifting parameters of the IT field due to the constant injection of new knowledge. "A definition based solely on job titles is problematic because it may not fully capture all IT workers of interest and those it does capture may be performing work that is only tangentially related to the job title itself," the authors write. Definitions based on job descriptions, though more comprehensive, overlook key questions, such as whether trainers of IT workers also fall under the IT worker category. A standardized classification system will allow assorted studies about the ITWF to be more consistent and comparable across data systems, leading to a more accurate count of IT workers, which is essential to developing proper intervention strategies for addressing workforce shortages. Using an agreed upon definition of IT as the basis for classifying the ITWF can enable the prevention of future shortages by tapping a largely underused pool of professionals, including women, minorities, and the disabled. "Without agreed upon operational definitions, common language, or well-defined parameters to map the scope of the workforce, research findings on the ITWF are practically inadequate in supporting appropriate curricular design," the authors contend. They propose organizing a wide-ranging convention of IT stakeholders to work out a common definition, using wiki database software and ontology to circumvent time and distance limitations.
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