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June 12, 2006

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Wiretap Rules Are Same for Web Calls
Washington Post (06/10/06) P. D1; Hart, Kim

Internet-based phone services are legally obligated to allow wiretapping by law enforcement officials, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled 2-1 on Friday, upholding an FCC ruling that Web-based phone service providers must follow the same rules as traditional phone companies. However, the court also ruled that private networks such as those at universities and peer-to-peer systems such as instant messaging networks are exempt because they are beyond the law's reach. Making broadband service wiretap-compatible could make such services more expensive, while analysts say more regulation of Web-based phone service is also possible as the FCC may decide that Internet phone companies must pay into the universal telephone service fund. Judge David B. Sentelle, writing for the majority, said the FCC "offered a reasonable interpretation" of the law, while Judge Harry T. Edwards in dissent wrote that the law "does not give the FCC unlimited authority to regulate every telecommunications service that might conceivably be used to assist law enforcement." The court's decision may still be appealed. University of Colorado professor Philip J. Weiser says the ruling will force network providers to reengineer their networks, but those costs probably won't be passed down to users. He says, "Any provider of broadband networks now needs to make accounts wire-tappable. That's not the way they're engineered and it's certainly not the cheapest way."
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Security Onus Is on Developers
eWeek (06/12/06) Coffee, Peter

At last month's JavaOne Conference, a panel of experts from industry and academia convened to discuss the role of application developers in ensuring software security. Cigital CTO Gary McGraw noted the major difference between Java and C from a security standpoint, and that Java cleaned up many of the shortcomings of C. The type-safe Java environment is less prone to bugs, and it provides more cycles to consider security from an architectural standpoint. Regardless of the quality of the individual programmer, mistakes are inevitable, and the most important security considerations revolve around detecting and eliminating the bugs after they occur, said Bill Pugh, computer science professor at the University of Maryland. While overall security has improved, software developers are failing to keep pace with the hackers, and some still incorrectly maintain that security is primarily an operating system or a networking problem, according to David Wagner, professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. When Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy first saw the Java-predecessor Oak, he recognized it as an opportunity to develop an environment with a formal semantics where programs are meaningful. Java, Joy notes, is only one layer of an evolving level of higher and higher abstractions required for thorough testing of the high-level properties of a software application.
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Brainstorming Ways to Push Open Source
IST Results (06/09/06)

The IST-funded FLOSSPOLS project, which set out to assess the current state of the open-source movement, found that interoperability among different software applications is still lacking. Building on the FLOSS project, which established the world's largest clearinghouse on open-source usage and development, FLOSSPOLS aimed to preserve the European Union's lead in the open-source field. "Our study revealed that preference is often given in business tenders to certain vendors with mostly proprietary software at national and international levels," said project coordinator Rishab Ghosh. "Whether explicit or implicit, this preference is illegal under EU rules. Hardware preference is already outlawed, yet the use of specific software can often limit competition even more." Ghosh says that even in the absence of major policy support, the rate of open-source adoption in Europe is encouraging, and a program within the European Commission has arrived at a definition for open standards, though it has yet to receive formal approval from the commission. Ghosh is encouraged by the Open Source Observatory, an EC-supported project that serves as a repository for information on open-source deployments by public organizations throughout Europe. In its analysis of gender, the project found that women account for just 2 percent of participants in open-source development and production, while they make up 20 percent of general software developers. The project concluded that women face active discrimination, and that European governments need to do more to encourage female participation in the open-source community. The project notes that some companies are more likely to hire developers with open-source skills than applicants with strong university credentials, suggesting that schools should do a better job of partnering with the development community.
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Idea for Electronic Message Tax Prompts Swift Outcry in Europe
New York Times (06/12/06) P. C9; Crampton, Thomas

European Parliament member Alain Lamassoure's informal proposal to tax emails and text messages throughout Europe provoked howls of outrage from Internet users as well as phone companies and ISPs. "Taxation of emails or Internet flies in the face of principles the EU has been trying to support," declared secretary general of the European Internet Service Providers Association Richard Nash. "This is one of the more bizarre initiatives, and it is unlikely to increase the popularity of the European Union if it succeeds." Jupiter Research analyst Thomas Husson estimates that West Europeans spent $19 billion sending 157 billion phone text messages last year, while IDC reckons that upwards of 60 billion emails will be sent daily this year worldwide, compared to 31 billion in 2002. European text messages cost about 0.10 euro to 0.15 euro each when charged individually, and Lamassoure said this offers plenty of latitude to reduce consumer prices and impose a levy of 0.01 euro a message. Lamassoure said measuring emails for taxation would be more difficult at first, but explained that while he appreciated Internet users' concern over his proposal, "it is absurd to say that my ideas will kill the Internet." Some technology experts and politicians say the issue spotlights disparities between light and heavy Internet users, who usually pay the same monthly fees. "The current system of payments for the Internet made sense when it all started, but the incentives are getting more and more misaligned," reported technology consultant Esther Dyson, who prefers a system where senders would pay on a graded scale to make sure their messages reach their destination; this scheme would lower spam and have the cost borne by senders of unwanted email, she believes.
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Revamping the Web Browser
Technology Review (06/12/05) Roush, Wade

Even as new online content was proliferating at a staggering pace, the technology for searching the Web via a browser experienced very few changes from 1997 to 2004, the same years that Microsoft's Internet Explorer dominated the browser market. A host of startups has appeared in recent years offering new software features that challenge much of the conventional wisdom guiding browser design. Companies are beginning to develop new browsers more suited for social-networking activities, such as blogging, RSS feeds, and photo sharing in an attempt to keep pace with the growth of Web content. "The Web today is very different from the Web of the '90s, which was very much a one-to-many experience," said Peter Andrews of Flock, one of many companies creating entirely new browsers. "Now you have a growing community of producers building a many-to-many Web--and browsers should integrate the functionality to support that." One new application, Browster, offers a free supplement to Firefox and Internet Explorer that causes a small icon to appear when hovering over a hyperlink, and a preview window appears showing the page where the hyperlink leads. Unlike other preview tools, the Browster window shows the destination page in full, but disappears when a user clicks outside of it, ultimately reducing dependency on a browser's "Back" button. When a user scrolls a mouse over a list of Google or Yahoo! search results, full-page previews pop up because the software pre-fetches a page for every result. The hover feature has been so popular that users have been deploying it on sites across the Web, even though it is fastest on Google and Yahoo! results pages, according to CEO Scott Milener. Flock and others are developing applications that could be even more versatile than Mozilla's Firefox browser, such as a built-in feed reader and an integrated search tool for both the Web and the desktop.
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IBM Technology Helps People Learn to Read on the Web
Journal News (NY) (06/11/06) Alterio, Julie Moran

Researchers at IBM have developed a Web-based technology that teaches people how to read and gives encouragement when they pronounce a word correctly. The product of 10 years of research in speech recognition and human-computer interaction, Reading Companion uses voice-recognition technology to "listen" as a user reads into a microphone while a panda on the screen either responds with praise for a correct reading, or by encouraging the reader to try again. "The way kids learn to read ideally is sitting on a mother's or aunt's or grandfather's lap. You get instant feedback when you pronounce a word wrong. That's what we were trying to reproduce in a software solution," said IBM's Jennifer Lai. Most reading programs focus mainly on comprehension, and pay little if any attention to pronunciation. The software lets children practice their reading independently, without having to worry about making mistakes in front of the whole class. In addition to enhancing voice-recognition technologies for general use, the Reading Companion could greatly improve literacy, as nearly 90 million adults in the United States would function better in society with a higher reading level, according to the National Center for Family Literacy. IBM has pledged $2 million to deploy Reading Companion in 62 U.S. and Canadian schools and adult education centers, with plans to add more international sites later this year. Reading Companion, the first Web-based speech-recognition program, required developers to devise a method for rapidly sending packets of audio data over the Internet while ensuring that the software retains enough data to make meaningful analysis of the reader's fluency. Reading Companion could also have a significant impact on adults whose native language is not English, as it challenges them to read e-books on useful life skills such as writing a resume or visiting a doctor.
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Google Researchers Propose TV Eavesdropping
InformationWeek (06/07/06) Claburn, Thomas

Google is in the early R&D stages of developing a scheme that would enable a laptop PC to capture TV sound and immediately deliver personalized Internet content to the computer. Two researchers from the company presented a research paper on the use of ambient-audio identification technology in such a manner last week at the interactive television conference EURO ITV in Athens, Greece. "We showed how to sample the ambient sound emitted from a TV and automatically determine what is being watched from a small signature of the sound--all with complete privacy and minuscule effort," Michele Covell and Shumeet Baluja wrote on the Google Research Blog. "The system could keep up with the users while they channel surf, presenting them with a real-time forum about a live political debate one minute and an ad-hoc chat room for a sporting event in the next." Google has not announced any specific product plans for a scheme that could become a promising advertising tool for marketers who want a better understanding of the mass media audience. The company maintains that it takes privacy seriously, and that the system would not be intrusive to the point of intercepting any conversations in the background. Google could ultimately draw more people away from TV and to the Internet if the technology proves to be a success, says analyst Cynthia Brumfield.
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Computer 'Beings' Evolve as Society
Discovery Channel (06/08/06) Staedter, Tracy

Five research institutions in Europe have teamed up to create a computer simulation of an artificial world that reproduces individual, evolutionary, and social learning. The NEW TIES (New and Emergent World Models Through Individual, Evolutionary, and Social Learning) project will make use of millions of computer generated entities that live and pass on information necessary for survival before they die. The team of computer scientists, sociologists, and linguists involved in the project is using a computer to generate each random agent, which will vary in gender, life expectancy, fertility, size, and metabolism, enabling each one to respond differently to the same sets of circumstances they face. The researchers are focusing on presenting the agents with challenges in order to examine how they adapt and develop their own world models. They believe the project will have an impact on machine learning, such as exploratory or search and rescue robots that need to work together to accomplish a task. The team also believes policy makers will be able to use the simulation computer project to see how a new law would impact society. The researchers say tracking the behavior of the numerous agents will be a challenge because they can not analyze each one on an individual basis. "You have to have new facilities in data mining to understand what is going on in your population," says senior researcher Michele Sebag, an artificial intelligence expert at the University of Paris-Sud.
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Intel's Long-Range Research Focuses on Energy Efficiency and Performance
Network World (06/08/06) Leung, Linda

At its fourth annual Research at Intel day, Intel opened its doors to the public and showcased its latest research projects being developed under its campaign to improve computers' energy efficiency and performance. In his keynote address, CTO Justin Rattner said Intel hopes to achieve a 10-fold improvement in the energy efficiency and performance of its processors over the next three to four years. Intel is also pursuing a number of enterprise projects focusing on virtualization, security, and data center performance. One project uses traffic-adaptive filtering technology that creates shortcuts, commonly used paths between the client and server. Intel demonstrated the application by launching a denial-of-service attack against a router, and the firewall protected the video-streaming application that was running from being disturbed, which also increased throughput. Another project is bringing Trusted Platform Modules (TPM) to the virtual computing environment. Intel's project places software-based Virtual TPMs in front of virtual machine clients to verify their status for the authentication server, which then chooses whether or not to deny the virtual machine access to the server it is requesting. Intel partnered with researchers at Arizona State University on a project focusing on dynamic thermal management of a data center. The job scheduler considers the temperature of individual servers or server blades when deciding which part of the data center to allocate a job, resulting in a more holistic workflow management. Intel has also developed a technique for system nodes to communicate with each other about potential low-level threats without reporting false positives.
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Sun Labs' New Boss
CNet (06/08/06) Cooper, Charles

Bob Spoull, a member of the legendary team of researchers at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the early 1970s, discussed his ambitions for his new position as the head of Sun Microsystems Laboratories in a recent interview. While at PARC, Spoull was part of the core group of developers writing the Alto operating system. Spoull says that researchers at Sun should support the activity of product developers by keeping apprised of the latest developments in the technical community. Spoull describes the current state of innovation as incremental, noting that the gradual progression of research occasionally crosses thresholds, such as the effect that the digital camera has had on the way people take pictures. Spoull says that Sun Labs will continue its efforts to balance basic research with the demands of the market, and that the primary focus of the research and development division is to add value to Sun. To attract the top talent, Spoull says that Sun has to set up international research centers and bring foreign students to the United States. There is no concrete answer for how technology companies should structure their staffing, but Spoull believes that a healthy balance of outsourced and domestic workers is the best approach. To ensure that the United States produces enough Ph.D.s to sustain the growth of the IT sector, Spoull says that primary and secondary schools must ensure that they are providing students with adequate training in both technical and non-technical fields.
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Researchers at Carnegie Mellon Study Cheaper Ways to Run Data Centers
Chronicle of Higher Education (06/16/06) Vol. 52, No. 41, P. A33; Kiernan, Vincent

Carnegie Mellon University has built a $1.2 million computer center to study why it costs so much to run a data center. The Data Center Observatory can hold 40 racks of computers and consume more energy than 750 average-size homes. Gregory R. Ganger, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, says there is little information on where money goes in running a data center, which can cost four to seven times annually as much as building a facility. Electricity and maintenance are part of the cost, but no one knows how much is spent on the various problems computer-support members fix or how they divide up their time to address arising issues. The data center includes equipment that will track the performance of its systems, while computer-support staff will keep detailed logs of their jobs, and researchers will analyze the logs and readings from instruments. Ganger, head of the project, says the results should ultimately help to lower the operational costs of data centers. The data center features an efficient cooling strategy that has the computers blow hot air into a "hot aisle," where it is cooled before it is allowed to mix with the rest of the air in the room.
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Momentum for Global Internet Regulation Mounting
E-Commerce Times (06/08/06) Koprowski, Gene J.

The possibility of a global regulatory framework for the Internet will likely be a focus of the next World Summit on the Information Society meeting scheduled for October 30 to November 2 in Athens. The groundwork was already laid at the last WSIS meeting in Tunis with an agreement to establish an Internet Governance Forum under the umbrella of the U.N. aimed at encouraging international participation in Web governance. The author of this article questions how an organization that has proven so inept at doing what it was formed to do initially, keeping peace in the world, could possibly do a good job with governing the Internet, especially considering that the current model seems to be working just fine, with the private sector kicking in any time a problem, such as spam, rears its head. In the end the debate is not about a better Internet but about wresting away its perceived control by U.S. hands. "In many respects, the debate is about who makes the rules, and how the process works," says Thomas Smedinghoff, a partner at the Chicago law firm of Wildman Harrold. "But it's also a debate between those who favor centralized regulation of Internet activities and those who favor a market-driven environment free from intergovernmental oversight and control."
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Software Could Add Meaning to 'Wiki' Links
New Scientist (06/07/06) Sparkes, Matthew

Researchers at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany have made alterations to the software that powers Wikipedia that would enable editors to enhance the meaning of the links between pages. With the team's MediaWiki system, authors could add meaningful tags, or annotations, to articles and the hypertext links that connect them. Relevant pages would display the annotations buried in the tags, explaining the relationship between two topics. Annotations could facilitate more intelligent searches of wiki sites, the researchers claim, and they believe that specialized communities that maintain their own wikis will likely be the first adopters. "I think early adoption will be led by communities interested in data such as animal species information," said the project's Markus Krotzsch. "Semantic information is most useful in situations where data can be clearly defined." Adding meaning to online content is the essence of the vision for the Semantic Web promoted by Web architect Tim Berners-Lee and others. The researchers are hopeful that Wikipedia will incorporate their software, though they admit that it might have a hard time supporting such a popular site--Wikipedia receives around 4,000 page requests per hour.
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Deploying a Sensor Network in an Extreme Environment
University of Southampton (ECS) (06/11/06) Martinez, K.; Padhy, P.; Elsaify, A.

The GlacsWeb project employs long-lasting wireless sensor nodes implanted under the surface of a glacier, and these nodes employ a totally customized approach to ensure the researchers have direct governance over power management, software, and hardware. The passive sensor probes are encased in plastic and lowered under the ice, feeding data into a low-power base station on top of the deployment site; the base station currently runs embedded Linux and spends most of the time in standby mode. The station uses 500 mW 466 MHz radio modems to transmit the data to a PC at a local cafe, and from there the data is routed to a U.K. server. The system's performance since deployment reflects the researchers' design decisions and how well they reduce expected risks. The data collected by the system has not only yielded insights on sub-glacial processes, but also on system behavior, such as the communications systems' tendency to be affected by cold and rainy conditions. This year's GlacsWeb deployment will involve a multiple-hop, self-configuring ad-hoc network that would ideally boast fully autonomous and manual-intervention-free probes that offer greater energy efficiency and enhanced data collection. Researchers' direct control of sensor nodes has allowed a multi-agent-based sensor network control protocol to be designed for the project. The researchers say the earlier GlacsWeb deployments and their performance offered clues into refining the system "to be more fault tolerant and 'smarter,'" giving them reason to "believe that the deployments have proved to be essential to a better understanding of how to make real sensor networks."
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The Internet's Future
Washington Post (06/12/06) P. A20

As the Senate opens hearings on whether to write a Net neutrality provision into law, it will hear arguments from a broad coalition warning that a non-neutral Internet could dramatically slow connection speeds for amateur users and small enterprises, while extracting fees from larger companies for swift delivery in what would create a tiered Internet environment with those able to pay the most receiving the best quality of service. This is a baseless argument, however, writes a Washington Post editorial, as it discounts the fundamental economic realities of the Internet service market. Net neutrality advocates warn that without codifying a flat structure for delivery of Internet content, the Internet would begin to resemble cable television, delivering only corporate content. More than three-fifths of the country is served by at least four broadband providers, creating a competitive environment where users have legitimate alternatives in a self-organizing market, unlike the cable industry. If one Internet service provider began charging additional fees for rapid delivery, another provider in the market would step in and offer a cheaper alternative. A more compelling argument for Net neutrality claims that higher entry barriers to the Internet could stifle innovation, as upstart companies would have a harder time competing with entrenched players and developing new applications, raising the question of whether Internet telephony or instant messaging would have taken off had bandwidth been a rarer commodity. However, with the U.S. Internet infrastructure falling behind that of East Asia and Europe, a non-neutral Internet would enable AT&T, Verizon, and others to offer faster connections in more parts of the country, enabling the spread of streaming video and other services, the Post argues.
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Trust Me, I'm a Robot
Economist Technology Quarterly (06/06) Vol. 379, No. 8481, P. 18

Important guidelines about the safety and ethical uses of robot technology must be developed as robots migrate from the industrial sector to the consumer arena, according to a new robo-ethics group that recently gathered in Italy to discuss the issue. Chairman of the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology's European Robotics Network Henrik Christensen expects the legality of robotic sex dolls resembling children and the admission into households of robots that are strong or heavy enough to crush people to be among the many issues that will gain relevance in the next several years. As robots become more complex, autonomous, and learning-capable, the question of whether their designers should be liable for accidents or malfunctions will become more difficult to answer, notes University of Southern Denmark professor John Hallam. University of Sussex artificial intelligence expert Blay Whitby says efforts to address these concerns are so far insufficient, but there is growing interest among researchers to improve robot safety. The regulation of robot behavior will become more complicated as self-learning mechanisms are incorporated into robotic systems, explains Institute of Intelligent Systems for Automation roboticist Gianmarco Veruggio; unpredictable failures will further cloud the issue. Whitby says Isaac Asimov's vaunted Three Laws of Robotics will not work because they require the presence of a human-like intelligence to operate, which is beyond the capabilities of robots today. IRobot's Colin Angle doubts that learning-capable, general-purpose robots will grow pervasive, and instead expects relatively dumb machines designed for specific chores to become the norm.
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The Case for the Two Semantic Webs
KMWorld (06/06) Vol. 15, No. 6, P. 18; Weinberger, David

Though the Web is full of meaningful data and contextualized links that often describe the contents of the destination page, the calls for the Semantic Web stem from the frustration at the inability of the syntax of the Web (HTML) to capture that meaning, writes David Weinberger. The new syntax, Resource Description Framework (RDF), describes relationships between two terms, collectively forming an ontology. The Semantic Web standard OWL is used to express ontologies. Beyond RDF, Semantic Web proponents agree on very little, however. There are multiple ontologies for law terms that compete with each other, and each suffers from trying to create comprehensive, objective descriptions for an overwhelmingly large body of inherently subjective material. An alternative to this top-down approach calls for creating as few new ontologies as possible, relying instead on existing ontologies that could come from other domains. Rather than creating a new definition for a relationship, users should take advantage of an existing ontology that already has a definition for the relationship, via a URI. That way, applications will see that the relationship has a common definition on all sites that support the Dublin Core. This approach calls for building the Semantic Web incrementally, and while it lacks an overarching development plan, it is more agile than the top-down plans and thus more likely to succeed. Opinions vary widely on the transformative potential of the Semantic Web, while Weinberger argues that most of the ways that users currently add meaning to the Web, such as reputation systems, XML playlists, and buddy lists, will continue very much as they are today, and that "the Semantic Web will help where it helps."
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Gone Swimmin'
IEEE Spectrum (06/06) Theberge, Michelle; Dudek, Gregory

The latest product of a multi-university effort by Canadian researchers to develop an unmanned, durable vehicle that can autonomously probe and gather data in aquatic environments is Aqua, an amphibious, six-flippered robot that can travel both underwater and on land. The battery-powered robot's compact design makes it easier to deploy than earlier underwater vehicles (UVs), while its half-dozen flippers give it a wider range of motion, maneuverability, and stabilization. Aqua's vision is provided by three video cameras--two fore and one aft--and its video input is sent to its operator through a fiber-optic tether. The machine can be controlled remotely by joystick or can autonomously respond to visual cues. The robot's walking ability, facilitated with the addition of rubber appendages, was inherited from RHex, a hexapod robot developed by a joint American-Canadian research program sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. An Aqua field test in Barbados underlined several technical challenges: Overheating was a problem that presented no difficulty underwater, while on land the problem was mitigated by shading the UV. A bigger problem was the tendency for the Aqua's vision and control modules to crash whenever the vision module experienced a surge in its energy demand, and this issue was addressed by rerouting the power to the vision and control modules independently. It is the researchers' hope that the monitoring abilities of machines such as Aqua will help conservationists preserve the world's endangered coral reefs.
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