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May 22, 2006

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Welcome to the May 22, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Building on the Future of the Web
BBC News (05/22/06) De Roure, Dave

Reflecting on the 12 years since the first World Wide Web conference at CERN in Switzerland, computer scientist Dave De Roure looks at the progress the Web has made and the important events the annual conference has hosted. While 1994's conference brought together developers to hear Web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee talk about HTML and its uses for cross-referencing scientific papers, today's Web has become an integral part of daily life and the conferences now draw all sorts of people. The four-day WWW2006 conference is to be held May 23-26 in Edinburgh, where important decisions will be made about the Web's future. One key topic will be the "Semantic Web" project, which aims to make the meanings of the Web's millions of text pages understandable to computers, not just to humans. The Semantic Web will allow automatic processing of many different types of information, from bank statements to diary appointments, and can also transform physical things, people, and places into information computers can understand, De Roure writes. "The bridge between the virtual and physical worlds continues to become narrower with the mobile revolution and the Web's potential to connect billions of mobile devices across the world," writes De Roure. A person using a mobile device might search for a retailer selling a certain type of product, for example, and receive information not just about the closest such retailer, but about the closest retailer that is open at that moment and is offering the cheapest such product. Another key topic at the conference will be how people use and contribute to the Web, incorporating such trends as the use of blogs and wikis and social networking. For more information on WWW2006, see http://www2006.org/
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IBM Researchers Probe Nanometer-Scale Memories
EE Times (05/19/06) Walko, John

IBM researchers are seeking to develop nanometer-scale terabit memories that the company is referring to as "probe-based storage." This MEMS-based memory technology remains a high priority at IBM's Zurich research facility, although the company has not yet decided whether to move development on to the next stage. Early on, the work was led by physics Nobel laureate Gerd Binnig along with microfabrications specialist Peter Vettiger. "While we have working parts and have demonstrated complete data storage systems, there are still technical issues to solve, and the company has made no commitments to a product," said Paul Seidler, manager of the 50-year-old IBM Zurich lab's Science and Technology Group. Scaled-down MEMS techniques are used to locate and melt holds in a polymer on a movable silicon substrate. The substrate is moved under the desired read/write head for addressing bit locations; to write data, the head is heated and melts a hole in the polymer through static tension. The unheated head can read the data back, and data can be erased by melting the displaced polymer back into the hole. Massive parallelism can enable high data rates using these probes.
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Heard the One About the 600,000 Chinese Engineers?
Washington Post (05/21/06) P. B3; Bracey, Gerald W.

Gerald W. Bracey, author of "Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered," says while Americans are inundated with huge amounts of statistics on a daily basis, a few linger in our memory, including the recently announced numbers of 600,000, 350,000, and 70,000. Bracey says these are supposedly the number of engineers manufactured by China, India, and the United States, respectively, in 2004, and that they initially drew attention when they appeared in a Fortune magazine story last July. Bracey adds that these figures got apparently perfect credibility when they were presented in a press release in October concerning a new report from the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy, a joint organization of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, which, along with the National Research Council, are overall known as the National Academies. Wall Street Journal columnist Carl Bialik, dubious of these numbers, investigated their sources, and found out, among other discrepancies, that the figure for the number of Chinese engineers was outdated and that there was no apparent origination for the Indian figures. Separately, Duke University researchers discovered that the United States produces 137,437 engineers each year with a minimum of a bachelor's degree while India manufactures 112,000 and China manufactures 351,537. "That's more U.S. degrees per million residents than in either nation," Bracey notes. "Statistics that end up as conventional wisdom even when they're wrong usually become popular by being presented as fact in a highly visible and respected source--such as a cover story in Fortune or a National Academies report," Bracey writes.
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Voice Encryption May Draw U.S. Scrutiny
New York Times (05/22/06) P. C11; Markoff, John

The FCC, in trying to force Internet and VoIP service providers to adopt technology that will enable law enforcement to monitor phone calls, has left a backdoor open--encryption programs that operate directly between computers and not through a hub. Walking through that door is Philip Zimmermann, creator in 1991 of Pretty Good Privacy, software used to encrypt and decrypt email that drew government scrutiny for possible violations of export restrictions on cryptography technology, and more recently Zfone, which encrypts computer-to-computer phone conversations. Unlike similar technology, Zfone performs decryption within the digital voice channel as the call is set up rather than leaving the decryption key residing on a network of computers. For now, the technology does not violate any U.S. regulations due to this difference, but in England, where the government wants to give law enforcement the power to force businesses and individuals to disclose encryption keys, the issue is not so clear. Zfone works on free VoIP software programs such as X-Lite and Gizmo but not on Skype calls, which German officials recently announced they can now intercept and decrypt. Zimmerman's software is downloadable for free for now though its creator hopes one day to license it to VoIP software and hardware developers.
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Researchers: Spend to Protect Against One Attack, Not Many
IDG News Service (05/19/06) Kirk, Jeremy

In a scholarly paper to be presented in June at England's University of Cambridge, a research team from Florida Atlantic University will make a strong and somewhat unusual mathematical case for how companies should spend their IT budgets. The researchers studied how firms can assess their vulnerabilities, determine the risk, and figure out the damage potential. The paper places threats into two categories: distributed attacks, which appear in the form of viruses, spyware, and spam, and focused attacks by a hacker. What the researchers determined, through risk analysis and equations, goes against apparently intuitive computer security efforts. Instead of spending evenly to protect against all attacks, it is not automatically the correct approach if one type of breach could create numerous times more harm than another type. While the "eggs in one basket" effort may worry IT administrators, the research paper reveals that with restricted budgets, compiling defenses against one attack may be the smartest way, as focused attacks have typically proven to create more economic damage than distributed attacks. "We're proposing that companies should look at vulnerabilities of a system, and if they are in high-vulnerability and high-loss scenario, they really, really should spend the most money on targeted attacks trying to prevent hackers," professor Qing Hu said.
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Net Neutrality Field in Congress Gets Crowded
CNet (05/19/06) Broache, Anne

Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Byron Dorgan (R-N.D.) on Friday introduced the "Internet Freedom Preservation Act," a bill that represents Congress' sixth attempt to legislate net neutrality principles this year. Specifically, the bill would forbid broadband service providers from blocking, interfering with, discriminating against, impairing, or degrading access to content or preventing users from attaching devices of their choosing to the network. In addition, network providers would be forbidden from making special deals with content providers to ensure faster delivery or improved quality of service and would be required to offer all Internet material on an "equivalent" basis. The bill was immediately praised by net neutrality advocates such as Amazon.com, eBay, Google, and Microsoft, who said the measure will "allow innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors who rely on the certainty of that open marketplace to continue to fuel the engine of our nation's economy and our global leadership in Internet technology and services." Meanwhile, the U.S. Telecom Association--which represents large and small telephone companies--called the bill a "harmful, anti-consumer" regulation and said that if it were ever enacted into law it would drive up the cost of broadband and "deny Americans the new, competitive video services they have come to expect." Snowe and Dorgan's bill is likely to be the subject of debate at a hearing on May 25 about the net neutrality provisions--or as critics charge, lack thereof--in a sweeping telecommunications bill currently under consideration by the Senate Commerce Committee. The current language of that bill would instruct the FCC to be on the lookout for any incidents that could be considered violations of net neutrality and report its findings to Congress.
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Sun's McNealy Urges Developers to Change the World
InfoWorld (05/19/06) Krill, Paul

Sun Microsystems Chairman Scott McNealy, who resigned as the conglomerate's CEO in April, presented a call to developers on May 19 to help out in bridging the global digital gap. In a morning keynote address and press conference, McNealy noted that 75 percent of the world's individuals are not on the Internet, something he called an "enormous tragedy" and a "huge economic opportunity." He said the industry must eradicate this divide through development of technologies that are Java-enabled. To do this, McNealy said, developers may have to work a little longer into the night "because you're kind of cursed with the opportunity" to change the world. He said, "We're going to solve [the digital divide] through Web services, through thin clients, through network computing, and we're going to do that without torching the planet." McNealy also emphasized the crucial mass of Java, which he pointed out adds 3 million users per week. McNealy supported plans to provide Java through open source, which would allow the sharing of the technology and would reduce the barrier to entry and exit and leverage the community at-large's contributions.
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U.S. Renews Contract for Oversight Of Internet
Washington Post (05/20/06) P. D1; Mohammed, Arshad

The Bush administration revealed on a federal government contracting Web site on Thursday that it will renew its sole-source contract with ICANN, giving the group exclusive control of managing the Internet. Under the terms of the contract, which would run for one year with four one-year options, ICANN would keep managing the Internet's domain name system by overseeing the master DNS list. "We continue to believe ICANN is uniquely qualified to perform the services," says Ranjit de Silva with the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil are critical of the role the Commerce Department plays in overseeing ICANN. The Bush administration is now caught in a battle between U.S. lawmakers that want the United States to keep its oversight, and other countries that want to be involved. The Commerce Department says that other groups have until June 17 to let it be known that they are capable of meeting the contract's technical guidelines and prevailing over the agency's presumption that ICANN is the best choice to continue managing the Internet's address system. The Center for Democracy & Technology's David McGuire says, "Most people in the Internet space believe that despite its flaws, ICANN is the only organization that could conceivably fill its role in the Internet management space."
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Local Access Networks for Low-Cost Broadband Services
IST Results (05/19/06)

IST is behind a project in Europe to develop a network architecture that will facilitate the delivery of low-cost broadband services to users. "At the end of the first phase [February 2006], we have been able to reach a consensus on the access architecture, and to give input to the standards bodies, in particular to ETSI, the DSL Forum, and the Home Gateway Initiative," says MUSE project coordinator Peter Vetter of Alcatel Research & Innovations in Belgium. The use of Ethernet protocols will help ensure access to a wider market at a lower cost. Video telephony and conferencing, video-on-demand, IP telephony and high-speed Internet services, and time-shift TV have all been the focus of tests during the MUSE project. The next phase focuses on embedding new service enablers into access network elements, providing fixed-access architecture support for fixed/mobile convergence, studying distributed architectures, and extending the access network. The new embedded service enabler technology is the key to the type of service the MUSE project envisions. "Imagine being able to maintain a single video connection, continuously and without a break, from when you start inside your home in the morning, to your journey on the bus or train [at lower quality], to when you arrive inside your office [at higher quality]," says Vetter.
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2010: The Year of the Techie
ZDNet UK (05/17/06) Donoghue, Andrew

The "Eye to the Future -- How Technology, Media and Telecommunications Advances Could Change the Way We Live in 2010" report published by Deloitte says that technology will continue to play a vital role in the evolution of the workplace in the direction of mobility and in determining personal success within that shift but warned that unless steps are taken now, the world will suffer from an skilled IT workforce shortage by the close of the decade. "More and more, the ability to get things done is expected to depend on the ability to understand and use increasingly complex technology," said the report. "Those with a greater degree of technological literacy may find themselves moving up the corporate hierarchy more quickly than those without." The automobile industry especially will see advancements in technology, the report says. "By 2010 workers may select their car partly on the basis of the range of work tools provided. Desired features may include technology that can read out incoming emails to the driver; allow the driver to dictate responses; permit the driver to set up meetings, update 'to-do' lists and write short memos." But unless private industry and governments worldwide begin investing more in skills training, a global IT workforce shortage will hinder progress. Despite the advent of mobility, PCs will continue to be the computing device of choice among workers, the report says, with 150 million new PCs expected in developed markets between now and 2010 and 566 million in the developing world. The report estimates that 41 million employees around the globe will spend at least one day each week teleworking by 2008 thanks to technology's growing reach.
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Programming OpenMP on Clusters
HPC Wire (05/19/06) Vol. 15, No. 20,Hoeflinger, Jay; Meadows, Larry

OpenMP programs cost less to program and maintain, but OpenMP's reliance on a shared memory has kept its use restricted to a single multiprocessor machine. Cluster OpenMP from Intel addresses this limitation by facilitating the operation of an OpenMP program across a cluster of multiprocessors, using a software layer that deploys a distributed shared memory (DSM). Cluster OpenMP thus offers a cheaper hardware purchase and a cheaper option for programming. Cluster OpenMP uses as its foundation an exclusively licensed version of the TreadMarks DSM system, augmented to accommodate bigger volumes of sharable data, a higher number of processors, multiple threads per process, and the ability to function on modern cluster interconnects. A wide swath of applications are naturally well-suited to Cluster OpenMP, such as those that execute rendering, data-mining, parallel search, speech and visual recognition, and genetic sequencing. Any application that utilizes a large volume of read-only sharable data and only a small amount of read/write sharable data while employing synchronization lightly is a potentially good Cluster OpenMP candidate. The identification of sharable data is crucial to adjusting the performance of OpenMP programs, since it reveals insights into data access properties that are often concealed because of OpenMP's procedural focus.
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Time to Revise the Teaching of IT
Computing (05/18/06) Glick, Bryan

British schoolchildren will be taking their GCSE and A-Level exams over the coming few weeks, and a lot will be making final decisions concerning what degree path to study at college. During the last few years, fewer students have been including computer science or information technology among their choices. One reason why such a small number of students are pursuing these sciences may have to do with how they are taught. Some schools, however, try to make technical teaching less boring by using innovative means. During a visit to IBM's Hursley Park research center, the IT head at Rugby School met top inventor Andy Stanford-Clark, who volunteered to come to Rugby and speak to the A-Level class. Stanford-Clark says that students are expected to do classwork, which typically involves projects such as constructing a library system for checking books in and out, processing sales orders, or some other boring information processing job. Stanford-Clark told the class about his home automation system, with which he can switch lights and electrical equipment on and off remotely from his smart phone. The students loved the idea, and Stanford-Clark has since helped them to devise a home automation gateway product that employs SMS texts, directing the students through surveying friends and parents to decide mandates for creating a prototype.
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Only in America? Copyright Law Key to Global Free Software Model
Linux Insider (05/16/06) Meeker, Heather

The free software model is seriously threatened by legal systems that lack strong enforcement of copyright law in nations where the development of software is a booming business, writes Greenberg Traurig shareholder Heather Meeker. She points to the absence of copyright law enforcement in many emerging nations as a far bigger impediment than the ultimate futility of crafting an international open source license agreement that serves all interests. Even countries that may have some form of copyright protection suffer from lax enforcement policies because of cultural barriers (few Chinese people fluent enough to read English license agreements), governmental barriers (the protection of many Russian piracy outfits from international investigation because they are owned by the military), or judicial corruption (as in India), to name a few reasons. Such nations have flaunted open source software as a cheap alternative that will enable them to adhere to copyright rules while living within their economic means, but Meeker points out that free software has a catch--copyleft. She concludes that a lack of voluntary compliance and enforcement will destroy copyleft, which may cancel its practicality to most of the world. "Ultimately, this may be a question of whether the open source model--as opposed to the free software model--works," Meeker contends. "For what is open source software other than free software without enforcement?"
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DHS Privacy Office Bashes RFID Technology to Track People
TechWeb (05/18/06) Sullivan, Laurie

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Privacy Office released a draft report that heavily criticizes the privacy and security risks of using radio frequency identification devices (RFID) for human identification. The technology does not offer a performance benefit for identification purposes compared with other methods, according to the Homeland Department, and could eventually turn the government's identification system into a surveillance system. DHS wants to use RFID to track and locate people across international borders. The report says it is not true that RFID improves the speed of identification. "If RFID is tied to a biometric authentication factor, it can reliably identify human beings; but tying RFID to a biometric authentication negates the speed benefit," according to the report. The committee says DHS' request to track individuals would take away an individual's ability to control when they are identified. The committee suggests that if DHS wants to use RFID technology, individuals should be allowed to turn off signals associated with tracking them or their activities, use of RFID should be limited, and any RFID databases should not be connected to the Internet.
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Futurist Sees World Changed by Technology
Stanford Daily (05/16/06) Cox, Katherine

Artificial intelligence technology inventor, author, and businessman Ray Kurzweil recently gave a talk at Stanford University predicting the "Coming Merger of Human and Machine," as his lecture was partially titled. Kurzweil believes information technologies will continue to experience exponential growth. Kurzweil also believes that artificial intelligence will match levels of human intelligence in the decade of 2020. Overall, Kurzweil noted that world-changing technological inventions--paradigm shifts--are happening in quicker succession in the modern and contemporary ages. Kurzweil says each invention helps make the next one possible at a quicker rate. For instance, while original computer designers designed using paper and pen in the 1950s, today computer engineers have computers themselves to abet and accelerate the design process. He says that analysts underestimate how fast technology can change, plotting future progress in constant terms rather than exponentially. He asks, "How can we make accurate predictions overall when any specific project is completely unpredictable." Wired magazine contributing editor Gary Wolf, reacting to the lecture, said, "If you hear about [Kurzweil] second-hand he sounds like an extremist, but his presentation is so rational and well supported by evidence that it really makes you question your own conservatism and caution."
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Media Lab Project Explores Language Acquisition
MIT Tech Talk (05/17/06) Vol. 50, No. 27, P. 4; Wright, Sarah H.

MIT professor Deb Roy, director of MIT Media Lab's Cognitive Machines research group, is recording and analyzing three years' worth of his new son's daily activities in order to determine how people naturally acquire language within the context of their home, an initiative known as the Human Speechome Project. "Just as the Human Genome Project illuminates the innate genetic code that shapes us, the Speechome project is an important first step toward creating a map of how the environment shapes human development and learning," reports Media Lab director Frank Moss. The National Science Foundation has provided seed funding for the project. Over 300 GB per day of compressed data has already been collected by Roy and his wife through video and audio recording devices installed throughout their home; the project involves temporarily storing the data in a 5 TB disk cache that is then transferred to a petabyte disk storage system at the Media Lab. "We need to keep all the information online so that we can do rapid exploration of patterns hidden within the data," explains Roy. Roy's team will devise machine learning systems that "step into the shoes" of his child by processing all audio and visual input recorded over three years, allowing theories about children's learning processes to be tested. The project has yielded new visualization methods to discover both basic and complex home-based movement patterns, while an array of speech and video processing algorithms is being developed to clarify behavioral and communication patterns residing within the data. Moss says security, Internet commerce, and many other industries could potentially benefit from the data storage and mining tools that are being developed for the Human Speechome Project.
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Engineering Research Takes Multidisciplinary Turn
EE Times (05/15/06)No. 1423, P. 18; Goering, Richard

Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles are blending disciplines such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and computer science as they explore new technology platforms. Speakers at the recent research review session at UCLA's Henry Samueli School of Engineering called for the integration of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology to develop highly functional, low-power systems. Researchers displayed their work on topics such as wireless sensors, biometric tissue engineering, polymer-based pharmaceuticals, and nanoscale materials. The Institute for Cell Mimetic Space Exploration (CMISE) has enlisted mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Chih-Ming Ho to help copy the adaptive ability of natural cells in creating complex artificial systems. Ho notes that both electronic devices and cells have inputs, outputs, and control algorithms to process data. CMISE researchers study living cells with an optical nanoscope and manipulate them with optoelectronic tweezers, while a nano stethoscope monitors the cells' sounds. Meanwhile, the center on Functional Engineered Nano Architectonics is exploring possible solutions for the next generation of nanoscale devices once CMOS scaling reaches its limits. The scaling of IC process nodes could end at around 10 nm as problems such as power dissipation, variability, and a growing number of interconnects become unsolvable, according to Kang Wang, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UCLA. Wang looks to alternative technologies to continue to drive performance, such as molecular switches and spintronics. Researchers are spending more and more time in the field using embedded wireless sensor networks to observe natural processes and close the gap between natural and physical sciences, such as a student project that monitors the levels of arsenic contamination in Bangladesh's groundwater.
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Q&A: Sun's Perlman on Future of Network Research
Network World (05/15/06) Vol. 23, No. 19, P. 19; Brown, Bob

In a recent interview, Sun Labs distinguished engineer Radia Perlman discussed her thoughts on network security and her latest projects at Sun. Perlman says she spends a lot of time moving from group to group looking for an intriguing problem to solve and introducing different researchers to each other. Perlman is critical of the amount of research funding spent on digital rights management solutions, which she believes will not stop the few malicious users determined to pirate music. She also calls for more standards and accountability on the part of software vendors, citing the tendency to blame users for the unexpected malfunctioning of needlessly complicated software. Perlman acknowledges that most users are not interested in products based on standards, gravitating instead toward the least expensive application that works. Perlman is currently developing a security project that would allow for the seamless recovery of data and the reinstallation of the file system from scratch in the event of a meltdown at a data center. The product, known as the ephemerizer, asks for decryption from an outside agent to unlock a file after a system crashes. Perlman acknowledges that IP is entrenched as the method for creating networks, though she believes that DECnet would have been a better protocol, and that bridged networks are inherently weak and unstable. She is now looking for zero-configuration solutions within IP that do more than simply transmit data along her spanning tree. Perlman is frustrated with the way that schools teach networking today, arguing that TCP/IP should not be accepted unquestioningly as the only network solution. "The attitude seems to be that everything about it is perfect, so you just need to get your students to learn how to use it and write applications to it," she said.
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How Our Body's Defences Aid Computers in Distress
New Scientist (05/20/06) Vol. 190, No. 2552, P. 32; Graham-Rowe, Duncan

University of Nottingham computer scientist Uwe Aickelin is leading a team that is developing artificial immune systems for computer networks that more closely mimic the response of the human body. In the past, such research has largely focused on developing an application that monitors a network similar to the way in which white blood cells look out for foreign molecules. However, Aickelin's teams have taken the anomalies of the human immune system into consideration, such as the lack of response to proteins ingested as food or the presence of a fetus. As a result, the researchers have modeled a system, based on the study of dendritic cells, that is only designed to fight off foreign molecules that are causing problems. As the dendritic cells have been found to have a threshold, the software developed by the team is designed to consider an increase in network traffic or a substantial amount of error messages to be danger signs. An outside PC seeking to verify its IP address and check whether it is online would be viewed as a false alarm, while millions of pings would exceed the threshold and be considered a denial of service attack. The team of researchers includes Steve Cayzer, a computational neuroscientist at HP Labs in Bristol, U.K., and Julie McLeod, an immunologist at the University of the West of England.
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