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June 5, 2006

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Several Lawsuits Target E-Voting
USA Today (06/05/06) P. 1A; O'Driscoll, Patrick

With the primary election season on the horizon, voting rights groups have filed lawsuits in at least six states to block the purchase or use of computerized e-voting systems. The most recent challenge came in Colorado, where the non-partisan advocacy group Voter Action filed suit last week against the state and nine counties, following similar court actions initiated by the group in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Other groups have filed lawsuits in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Voting rights advocates say the software in e-voting machines is prone to tampering and ballot manipulation, and that election results are unverifiable in the absence of a recountable paper trail. Under pressure from a lawsuit, several counties in California have already dropped their touch-screen voting machines in favor of systems with printed ballots read by optical scanners. Six of eight states holding primaries on Tuesday will use touch-screen systems, which are in use in approximately one-third of counties throughout the United States. While there has never been a confirmed incident of manipulating an actual election, a Finnish security expert found significant flaws in a Diebold machine last month. Diebold says the vulnerability is strictly theoretical, and that it will be fixed later this year. E-voting defenders claim that problems typically occur when poll workers are inadequately trained or when the systems are hastily set up. "Certainly none of the allegations of security breaches on the equipment have ever been demonstrated to be true," said R. Doug Lewis of the Election Center. Many states began investing in e-voting systems after Congress authorized more than $300 million to replace outdated voting machines under the Help America Vote Act of 2002. For information on ACM's e-voting activities, please visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
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Group Seeks to Make Computer Science More Attractive
Chronicle of Higher Education (06/09/06) Carnevale, Dan

A new coalition of 10 institutions is attempting to revamp the image of computer science in an effort to reach out to women and underrepresented minorities. The Stars Alliance recently won a three-year, $3 million grant from the NSF. Many schools intentionally make introductory computing classes so difficult that only the most serious students pass, which cuts out intelligent students who could go on to become skilled computer scientists, according to Larry Dennis, dean of the College of Information at Florida State University. "We're looking at curricular and infrastructure changes to make these courses more attractive to everybody," he said. "Not just women and minorities, but everybody." One approach offers courses on more application-oriented skills, such as multimedia and Web-site development, rather than intensive concentration on mathematics and programming. The 10 participating institutions will try to market their program to other schools to broaden the appeal of computer science among women, who Dennis notes are typically more interested in the social implications of computing. The consortium is also developing a program for computer-science majors to mentor students in middle school and high school. In addition to kindling interest in computers among younger students, the mentoring program will teach undergraduates to discuss and teach computing using everyday language.
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GNU Radio Opens an Unseen World
Wired News (06/05/06) Norton, Quinn

With the aid of a Universal Software Radio Peripheral (USRP), Linux users can harness the power of a general radio to capture the FM spectrum, read GPS transmissions, and decode HDTV. Eric Blossom came up with the idea for the USRP when he set out to create a software HDTV receiver before Congress passed broadcast flag legislation restricting the types of hardware that could receive the high-definition signal. "We'd just go build one of those things (in software) and moot (broadcasters') control over the hardware," Blossom said. When he ran into the problem of bringing the antenna to the computer, Blossom teamed up with Matt Ettus, who secured funding from the NSF to develop the USRP by billing it as a low-cost solution for widespread radio deployment. Ettus' motivations were more technical, however, as he was mainly drawn to the challenge of decoding HDTV. Ettus and Blossom hope that decentralized control of the radio spectrum will lead to greater innovation in a world no longer hemmed in by the constraints of bandwidth. Just as blogging democratized content on the Web, universal access to radio will give everyone the capability to be a broadcaster, Ettus says. Toby Oliver's company PathIntelligence uses GNU radio and the USRP to monitor pedestrian traffic to shopping centers in the United Kingdom, using the mobile phones' control-channel signals to locate the position of a phone by triangulation. Shopping-center owners can use the technology--in essence an extremely localized GPS device--to monitor traffic flows to see which stores are most popular. "Only recently, in the last 12 months, has computing power enabled me to do what I need to in general-purpose software without the expensive development of dedicated DSPs," said PathIntelligence's Toby Oliver.
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Government, Internet Firms in Talks Over Browsing Data
Washington Post (06/03/06) P. D3; Ahrens, Frank

The U.S. Justice Department and FBI are holding discussions with leading companies in the Internet field to convince companies to retain data on Web surfing for possible use in child pornography and terrorism cases. Google, Yahoo!, AOL, Microsoft, and others are involved in the negotiations, and Microsoft has stated that the issue of consumer Internet privacy and retaining data is best seen as a balance of privacy and law enforcement concerns. The Justice Department and FBI may seek legislation from Congress requiring data retention. They hope to base their request on a potential industry consensus solution outlined in these ongoing negotiations. However, in the first meeting between the Justice Department and the companies, government officials were stern in their demands. The second meeting featured more of a dialogue. Internet companies are wary of changing the current process so drastically that it degrades consumer privacy on the Internet. Currently ISPs and Internet companies refer possible illegal activity online, such as viewing child pornography, to law enforcement officials. Officials then must return with a warrant or subpoena to obtain Web surfing records.
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What a Difference Two Decades Can Make
Advanced Imaging Pro (06/01/06) Nelson, Lee J.

Over the past 20 years, imaging has rapidly emerged as a complex field with many subdisciplines, including remote sensing, medical imaging, and machine vision. In a recent interview, five imaging experts discussed the evolution of the industry. Twenty years ago, medical imaging systems were powered by custom hardware, sharing data was difficult and required custom programming, and electronically transmitting metadata was impossible. Research and development mainly occurred in national laboratories and large corporations, and remote sensing systems only worked at very limited distances. While hundreds of companies were racing to unlock the potential of machine vision, most products fell short of customer expectations because of a weak general purpose computer platform and cumbersome user interfaces. While transporting metadata is still problematic, exchanging medical imaging data through DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) is now standard practice. The areas of sensors, optics, and software control have all seen major improvements in the last two decades, and increases in chip efficiency and processing power have brought many applications out of the lab and into practical use. Appearance-based recognition has come to replace model-based methods, which has prompted a flood of research in the areas of illumination effects, image acquisition, and object detection. As it has matured, the imaging industry has become fragmented into niche applications. Twenty years ago, the industry relied on costly and expensive embedded systems, compared with the current embedded systems built around DSPs and microprocessors. The emergence of Microsoft as the singular operating system environment and the development of low-cost plastic lenses both had a seismic impact on the development and maturation of imaging.
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Security Researchers to Produce New Tools
Concordia Journal (06/01/06) Vol. 1, No. 15,Black, Barbara

Cybersecurity has emerged as the most important challenge for computing researchers ever, according to Mourad Debbabi, a Concordia Research Chair who is leading a security research project with almost $1 million in joint funding from Bell Canada and the Canadian Department of National Defense. "The tremendous success of Internet-related technologies, such as Web services, voice-over IP, mobile telephony, and so on, coupled with advances in hardware and software engineering are giving rise to challenging and very interesting research problems," he said. The project's first initiative will focus on securing free and open-source software. The second phase will formulate tools and techniques for conducting forensically sound investigations of cybercrimes, collecting evidence and verifying and sequencing information to support the work of law enforcement.
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Online Throngs Impose a Stern Morality in China
New York Times (06/03/06) P. A1; French, Howard W.

The Internet is increasingly being used by Chinese users to investigate others and mete out punishment for morality offenses both real and imagined. For example, Chinese Internet users have used the Web to scrutinize husbands suspected of cheating on their wives, investigate fraud on Internet auction sites, examine the secret lives of celebrities, and look into unsolved crimes. In one recent incident, a man used an Internet bulletin board to accuse a college student of having an affair with his wife. Within days, hundreds of thousands of anonymous Internet users formed teams that hunted down the student, forced him to leave his university, and caused his family to barricade themselves inside their home. The phenomenon, known as Internet hunting in China, is setting off alarm bells in the country. Many are comparing it to the Cultural Revolution 40 years ago, when mobs of students taunted and beat their professors. Mass denunciations and show trials were also common during this period. In order to deal with the problem, the government is considering registering all Internet users. However, free speech advocates say there is no reason for the Chinese government to place such restrictions on the Internet. "The Internet should be free, and I have always opposed the idea of registering users, because this is perhaps the only channel we have for free discussion," said Zhu Dake, a sociologist and cultural critic at Tongji University in Shanghai. "On the other hand, the Internet is being distorted. This creates a very difficult dilemma for us."
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Twelve Research Grants Awarded to Help Fund Innovation in Search Technology
PRNewswire (06/01/06)

Microsoft Live Labs has named the winners of $500,000 in grant money for its Accelerating Search in Academic Research request for proposal (RFP), which will enable the recipients to continue their study of Internet search technologies, and data mining, discovery, and analysis. "Through this RFP process, we have found a wealth of academic talent and ideas for search and algorithm development that we think will transform our ability to harness the power of the Web in the years to come, allowing users to focus less on the work of searching and instead reap the rewards of discovery," says Gary William Flake, director of Live Labs. The 12 RFP winners will each receive between $25,000 to $50,000, and have access to extensive data logs from MSN and an increased quota of queries to the MSN Search software development kit. Winners include "The Truth Is Out There: Aggregating Answers From Multiple Web Sources," which involves information retrieval research from Amelie Marian of Rutgers University; and "Vinegar: Leading Indicators in Query Logs," which covers machine learning, human-computer interaction, and data mining research from Eytan Adar, Brian Bershad, Steven Gribble, and Daniel Weld of the University of Washington. "VISP: Visualizing Information Search Processes," is a proposal by Lada Adamic and Suresh Bhavnani of the University of Michigan focusing on natural language processing and human-computer interaction research. "Entity and Relation Types in Web Search: Annotation Indexing and Scoring Techniques," focusing on machine learning, information retrieval and natural language processing research, was proposed by Soumen Chakrabarti of the Indian Institute of Technology, while University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign researcher Kevin Chang's "Deepening Search: From the Surface to the Deep Web" proposal for information retrieval and information integration research was also a winning RFP.
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The Code That Keeps Your Fingerprints Secure
New Scientist (06/03/06) Biever, Celeste

Researchers at the Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL) have developed a technique that secures biometric information by creating a second code that can not be used to recreate the biometric. The algorithm comes at a time when the government and companies are storing the biometric information of millions of people, and there are concerns that it would not be difficult for thieves to gain access to a biometric and then use it to steal a digital identity. Conventional biometric systems store the raw details of fingerprints, iris scans, and facial images. However, the algorithm from Emin Martinian and his colleagues at MERL does not store the raw materials, but manipulates the code to produce a shorter code called a syndrome. The algorithm is designed to manipulate the ones and zeros of a biometric code and as a result, gaining access to a syndrome will not do a hacker any good because he would have no idea how to find its match in order to "correct the error" and reconstruct the original biometric. "The only person who should have your fingerprint is you, on the end of your finger," says MERL director Joe Marks. Martinian says the algorithm is safer than the warped biometric system being developed by IMB researchers, which he maintains would not be able to prevent a thief from using a warped biometric to decrypt the data.
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MSpace: What Do Numbers and Totals Mean in a Flexible Semantic Browser
University of Southampton (ECS) (06/01/06) Wilson, Max L.; Schraefel, M.C.

Browsers that employ current search models frequently use numeric volume indicators (NVIs) based on the initial selection of a target, and the researchers investigated how such indicators might be represented by semantic browsers employing a flexible exploratory search interface such as mSpace. MSpace has a browser that follows a columnar slice design in order to explore intersections between domains, and the authors reason that NVIs could represent three characteristics within the mSpace paradigm: The number of items in the next column to the right, the number of items in the column that the data is centered around, and the number of items in the final column, if that column is understood to be the "goal" of the query. The researchers organized a study to determine from these three cues immediate expectations as to the information represented by NVIs in a flexible exploratory search interface, and how various cues affect participant motivation for interpreting the meaning of the NVIs. None of the participants selected the hypothesis that based the figures on the final column, suggesting that such an approach should be discouraged. The researchers drew three potential conclusions from the experiment: Most immediate participant expectations for NVIs are oriented around their representation of a number of specific artifacts that represent a domain focus; the introduction of ambiguity into exploratory situations causes participants to consider different representations; and the combination of visual and numeric size cues appears to yield additional advantages outside of NVIs by themselves. The authors' research indicates little understanding of how NVI expectations will shift during longer interaction with Semantic Web-based browsers.
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The Enemy Within: Terror by Computer
New Zealand Herald (06/01/06) Shreeve, Jimmy Lee

If terrorists turn their attention away from the physical to the digital world, there may be even greater damage than the Sept. 11 attacks, say cyber-security experts. Computer network attacks are dangerous enough to kill people and destroy companies, according to Scott Borg at the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit. "Up to now, executives and network professionals have worried about what adolescents and petty criminals have been doing," says Borg. "In most cases, these kinds of cyber attacks aren't very destructive. The reason is that businesses generally have enough inventory and extra capacity to make up for short-term interruptions." In the past, hackers focused on credit cards or personal information found on the Web, but now they are starting to focus on databases. Borg gives examples of possible scenarios such as the tampering of a pharmaceutical company's database or changing specifications at a car factory, which may cause a car to catch on fire. Those kinds of attacks could crash the economy with just the click of a mouse, according to Borg. Officials say their biggest fear is over electronic attacks that focus on the networks that make up the critical national infrastructure. "People claim no one will ever die in a cyber-attack, but they're wrong," says Richard Clarke, a former cyber-security expert in the Bush Administration. "This is a serious threat."
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Escape the Software Development Paradigm Trap
Dr. Dobb's Journal (05/29/06) Bereit, Mark

IRIS Technologies product development director Mark Bereit refutes the assumption that software development will always be difficult and bug-ridden, noting his suspicion "that these limitations apply, not to all possible software development, but solely to the software development paradigm that we've followed, unchallenged, for decades." He proposes reworking the software development model and studying other engineering disciplines for inspiration, eschewing habits that impose the limitations. Bereit cites the commonly accepted view that software systems can fall apart just from a single point of failure, which resides in each line of code. He does not point to a shortage or surplus of code reuse, but rather its employment to do something entirely different from what developers think they are doing, namely the construction of massive algorithms instead of components. According to Bereit, what is needed is a way to divide software development into more workable segments so that the CPU is not overtaxed, though he is not proposing multithreading. The author uses the basic principles of mechanical engineering as a jumping off point in his suggestion that software development should incorporate the involvement of "trustworthy components, specifications, and margins; that it should allow assemblies of increasing complexity to be built from trustworthy lesser components; it should involve a team approach to performing complex tasks; and it should be something that can be generally dependable and trustworthy." Splitting up a task between multiple processors is the optimal teamwork strategy Bereit recommends. The new software development model must include a new framework for communications and management of common resources, which should point to a way to enable the same processor to execute different tasks at different times.
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GPL Patent Rule Pending
SD Times (06/01/06)No. 151, P. 1; Handy, Alex

Corporate patent holders are concerned about a provision in the draft update to the GNU General Public License (GPL) that could limit their ability to defend their software patents. The current draft states that companies that initiate litigation to block others from copying changes they made to a program protected by the GPL forfeit all rights to use that GPL code. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has found that patent retaliation clauses are generally ineffective, and thus only included one mention of the problem in the draft, according to Eben Moglen, president of the Software Freedom Law Center. The FSF is likely to address the concerns of corporate patent holders during the initial comment period, said Diane Peters, who is serving as general counsel for the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and discussing the changes to the GPL with large corporations. Peters noted that the controversial clause would force companies to choose between suing and running the GPL software in question, and that it is "the first time FSF has reached in and controlled private behavior." Peters warns of a situation where a company could unknowingly have GPL software somewhere in its stack. If it filed a suit to protect a patent, the target of the suit could conceivably dig up the GPL code and invalidate the lawsuit. Peters hopes that that sort of uncertainty will be cleared up when the next iteration of the draft document appears around the beginning of July. Moglen also notes that the update makes GPL code compatible with code released through other licenses, such as Apache, though it remains unclear how it would be determined which license is dominant after a merger.
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The User's View: Customer-Centric Innovation
Computerworld (05/29/06) Pratt, Mary K.

In an effort to bring a fresh perspective to the design of technology solutions, some companies have begun hiring anthropologists to work with or even lead their development teams. Companies value anthropologists because they can look at technology from the user's perspective by asking questions about how people work and the types of tools that they do and do not use. While technologists can get wrapped up in adding more tools and automation to an application, anthropologists can give them guidance on whether the tools will actually be used or if they will just by an annoyance. While observing systems administrators at IBM, anthropologist Jeanette Blomberg found that they typically create their own local tools to help in the management of their systems. IBM's Eser Kandogan then built a program to support the systems administrators' tools based on Blomberg's observations. "Technologists tend to look at the user and the user's relationships to the technology. It tends to be very task-focused," says consultant Patricia Sachs. "Anthropologists look at the missing layer." Research about the way people interact and communicate with each other at Intel led to a program for virtual collaboration that facilitates multiple methods of communication, such as instant messaging and a shared white board. IT anthropologists are still a rarity, though companies are increasingly realizing the value of multiple perspectives when developing new technologies. Adding an anthropologist to an IT department can also create a cultural clash, as many IT workers might have difficulty accepting the validity of an anthropologist's methods.
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Designers Wrestle Media Fragmentation
EE Times (05/29/06)No. 1425, P. 45; Merritt, Rick

The digital media explosion is plagued by fragmentation that extends throughout networking standards, security standards, and Linux standards, making the meshing of these various elements a difficult proposition. "The No. 1 challenge is to enable interoperability across a range of platforms where consumers can enjoy content," notes CTO of Intel's digital home group Brendan Traw. "There's a huge set of things engineers have to put in place--digital rights management, media formats--and you have to have all the pieces implemented before the content flows." Digital media interoperability is the goal of standards-setting efforts by the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), the Universal Plug and Play group (UPnP), and Intel's Networked Media Products Requirements (NMPR). DLNA is focused on the referral rather than the creation of standards, and the group usually adopts all of UPnP's work to create application programming interface standards, with the aim of addressing issues UPnP and other groups overlook; Intel, meanwhile, is developing its own slate of interoperability standards through NMPR. Groups addressing DRM interoperability issues include the Coral Consortium, whose approach to defining how a device can negotiate for rights to content on another device DNLA recommends because it enables interoperability even without the involvement of major DRM vendors. Apart from a few companies such as Intel, developers see little chance of a unified standard for consumer Linux. Other areas calling for common standards include remote user interface support over a home network, automated Wi-Fi set-up configurations, and display interfaces.
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Keeping U.S. Leadership in Engineering
Chief Executive (05/06)No. 217, P. 26; Khosla, Pradeep

The United States should focus more on managing the global process of innovation than simply trying to boost its number of engineering students in the years to come, writes Pradeep Khosla, dean of Carnegie Mellon's College of Engineering. The nation is expected to continue to see its numbers fall due to outsourcing and security restrictions, but the country has enough advantages, such as its research infrastructure and culture at universities, to ensure that the most promising students from around the world will be attracted to cutting-edge research opportunities. The United States should continue to make a commitment to its research enterprise, while improving undergraduate education in a manner that would better prepare students for the higher level of work stateside. Universities should come to view themselves as the research and development unit of the industry, which also means intellectual property policies will need to be reevaluated. Carnegie Mellon is making changes in its curriculum that will prepare students to oversee the management of innovation in an environment that is multilingual, multicultural, and multinational. At the same time, talented foreigners would have an opportunity to maximize their knowledge of the U.S. industry. Such an approach would allow universities to be more proactive in their response to global pressures, and forge ties with global businesses and the top talent around the world.
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From COM to Common
Queue (06/06) Vol. 4, No. 5, P. 20; Olsen, Greg

The specificity and niche applications of component software have evolved into a seemingly boundless hodgepodge of products and methodologies, although Coghead founder and CTO Greg Olsen notes that the basic rationales underlying component software--reuse and integration--have not changed much. He observes three trends that contributed to his reassessment of component software throughout its decade-long progression from application component to context-neutral, versatile, specification-written object: A redistribution of complexity from custom-created components into the framework; the emergence of special-purpose component frameworks and frameworks contained in frameworks; and the increasing accessibility of component technology to wider and wider audiences. Olsen notes that a decade ago, a "broker" was the name of the core component of CORBA, the leading component framework. "This terminology reflected a conceptual view of communities of powerful and autonomous components interacting as peers, with the framework acting online as a facilitator," he explains. "In 2006, container is the descriptive noun of choice, and the conceptual view is one where the framework provides a rich, nurturing environment to a community of minimalist components that perform focused tasks and that live blissfully ignorant of the many responsibilities that the framework is managing for them." Olsen also points out that projects currently fueling software development are smaller and more narrowly focused than they used to be, creating an atmosphere where special-purpose component frameworks and frameworks within frameworks thrive. The movement of software components to the masses is a result of the growing simplicity and increased ease of use of component frameworks. Olsen writes that with the improvement of component software technology comes the challenge of developing the techniques, training, curricula, and experience base necessary for successful implementation.
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