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June 16, 2006

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Computing Leaders Praise House Appropriators for Innovation Funding
Computing Research News (06/15/06)

ACM and the Computing Research Association (CRA) praised Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and his House colleagues for passing legislation supporting President Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). The bill would increase NSF research funding by 8 percent, or $439 million more than last year's allotment, and provide an additional $104 million to the research activities at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Eugene Spafford, who chairs the ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee, commended the lawmakers for their commitment to preserving the U.S. culture of innovation and boosting the economy. "The computing research field is a crucial example of how federal investment in fundamental research drives economic growth. These increases would reverse a lengthy trend of flat or declining budgets in computing research that threaten to put future innovation at risk," Spafford said. "Chairman Wolf and his committee have created a historic opportunity to secure the Nation's leadership in research in information technology and other physical sciences," said CRA Chair Daniel Reed. "By acting to fulfill the promise of ACI, the subcommittee has made a down payment on America's future competitiveness." While the committee's move is an encouraging sign for those calling for greater federal commitment to scientific research, the ACI still faces numerous hurdles, such as potential opposition from Gulf Coast representatives who are likely to protest the cuts to the funding of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which could steal away some of the increases to the NSF and NIST.
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Politicos Mull Action Against Patent System Abusers
CNet (06/15/06) Broache, Anne

U.S. politicians gave technology representatives seeking legislative protection against patent trolls a sympathetic reception this week. While it may prove difficult to work in legislation dealing with the issue in a legislative season shortened by midterm elections, Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who have both introduced patent-reform proposals, would like to see new laws passed this year. The Supreme Court decision eBay v. MercExchange earlier this year settled the issue of when it is appropriate to issue an injunction in a patent case, which committee members agreed had been one of the more complicated questions under consideration. The court determined that courts must consider numerous factors before granting patent holders injunctions against infringers, such as the possibility of monetary compensation or other remedies. The legislators were especially receptive to the corruptive effect the patent system can have on innovation, noting a concurring opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy criticizing the emergence of an industry based on exorbitant licensing fees. "Is that an activity that is essential to innovation in America, that should be rewarded and that the process should accept and legitimate?" Berman asked. He is also concerned with the quality of patents issued and the way that compensation is awarded to patent holders. Both Berman's and Smith's bills would establish a "post-grant opposition system" that would allow the public to dispute the validity of a patent for a certain amount of time without having to file a lawsuit. Amazon.com's Paul Misener urged lawmakers to focus on the manner by which damages are awarded, specifically the practice of calculating damages owed to a patent holder by estimating lost profits.
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Professors Make Presentations at IT Conference
Pennsylvania College of Technology (06/14/06)

The Third International Conference on Information Technology: New Generations featured a keynote address delivered by Jacob R. Miller, and a paper presented by Sandra Gorka, both charter members of the ACM's Special Interest Group for Information Technology Education. In a speech titled "Experiential Learning: Bringing Practical Experiences Into the Classroom," Miller, an associate professor of computer science at the Pennsylvania College of Technology's School of Business and Computer Technologies, discussed his efforts to develop and incorporate real-life scenarios into his Network Design and Management course. He based his simulations on the real problems that companies face, and explained that a course may serve as an alternative to a lab or an internship depending on its scope. Gorka, an assistant professor of computer science at Penn College, presented the paper, "Hiring the IT Graduate: What's In the Box," which discussed and recommended a model IT curriculum, and described how the industry can evaluate students and offer input to designers of the curriculum. SIGITE is focused on developing model curriculum and accreditation standards for IT. The conference on digital information and communication technologies took place in April in Las Vegas. For more information on SIGITE, visit http://www.sigite.org/content/index.maml
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EC
Computational Complexity (06/15/06) Fortnow, Lance

At this week's ACM Conference on Electronic Commerce in Ann Arbor, Michigan, technologists gathered to discuss the economic dimension of computer science, such as Internet auctions and economic factors that can resolve algorithmic problems, writes Lance Fortnow in his blog. The conference mainly attracted computer scientists from large companies, with relatively few representatives from the economic and business communities in attendance. Much of the discussion at the conference focused on sponsored search auctions where companies like Google and Yahoo! receive bids for keywords. Developing the right economic model and bidding mechanisms for these auctions continues to challenge computer scientists. With 172 participants, this year's EC broke its attendance record.
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Carnegie Mellon Researchers Teach Computers to Perceive Three Dimensions in 2-D Images
Carnegie Mellon News (06/13/06)

A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University has developed a computer-imaging technology that enables computers to discern the geometric context of objects, leading to a more thorough understanding of the images that they view. Using machine learning techniques, the researchers created an application that trains computers to distinguish between vertical and horizontal surfaces in pictures of outdoor settings, and then create a 3D reconstruction of the image. "The technique provides an approximate sense of the scene, a qualitative grasp of the structure of a scene," said Alexei Efros, assistant professor of computer science and robotics. Discerning vertical and horizontal surfaces is critical for understanding an image's broader geometric context, as just 3 percent of photographs are taken at an angle. A machine learning program formulated statistical associations between shapes after it was fed 300 images containing examples of vertical and horizontal surfaces. The researchers created a graphics program that can cut and fold images along their vertical and horizontal surfaces to create 3D images. Object-recognition has long been impeded by computers' inability to comprehend a scene's geometric context. While researchers had previously been able to describe an object's geometry with relative ease, matching actual pixels up to the description proved to be much more difficult. The ability to recognize objects is key to understanding an image's geometric context, said Martial Hebert, professor of robotics. "If you find a car," Hebert said, "you know it is on a flat surface."
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Government Increasingly Turning to Data Mining
Washington Post (06/15/06) P. D3; Mohammed, Arshad; Goo, Sara Kehaulani

The federal government is increasingly looking to private industry to furnish it with personal data that would otherwise be beyond its reach, such as purchasing histories and financial records. Industry observers say the government has increased the amount that it spends purchasing data from private companies since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that it will most likely continue to rise. Critics claim that the program intrudes on personal privacy and exceeds government authority, while also questioning the utility of data mining software to sift through millions of records to detect suspicious activity. While most government data mining initiatives are designed to improve services or customer relations, agencies are increasingly enlisting the private sector to aid in the search for terrorists. The Defense Department mines data from Internet searches and the intelligence community to search for individuals linked to terrorist activity, and a Navy program harvests data to help locate weapons of mass destruction and narcotics. Cogito sells the National Security Agency software to sift through phone records and other data. Selling software to government agencies is a booming business, according to Cogito's William Donahoo, who adds that the NSA could determine patterns of terrorist activity from call records without knowing the contents of the conversation. Critics claim that the data mining initiatives are a waste of time, and that they are more likely to generate false positive than they are to actually catch terrorists.
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Mobile Data Retrieval Improved With New Algorithm Developed by Penn State Research
Penn State Live (06/15/06)

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have devised an algorithm that could enable cell phone users to retrieve data from television programs without having to frequently switch channels, keeping energy consumption to a minimum. "Currently, mobile devices retrieve broadcast data similar to how TV viewers watch TV shows simultaneously broadcast--by switching channels," said Prasenjit Mitra, assistant professor in Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology. "But with our algorithm, cell phone users don't have to wait for fewer broadcast cycles to retrieve the data as the mobile device can pick up objects broadcast across parallel air channels." Disseminating data for mobile devices now occurs through either broadcast, which sends data to multiple people through parallel air channels, or unicast, which sends data to one person. The current algorithm only captures data in accordance with the broadcast schedule, wasting both time and energy. "If you can retrieve all the data you want in fewer broadcast cycles, then the user saves on time and battery power," Mitra said. "The power-consumption reduction is achieved because the technique fetches all the objects requested by a client while minimizing the number of channel switches required."
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Tech Jobs Mixed Bag, Studies Say
Investor's Business Daily (06/15/06) P. A4; Howell, Donna

Trackers of employment trends appear to be mixed on the outlook for the U.S. technology market. On Wednesday, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) released a study that indicates new jobs have not been a large factor in the rebound of the tech market. The report notes that 76,300 tech jobs were added from April 2003 to February 2006, which is less than a quarter of the number of jobs lost from March 2001 to March 2004, a period in which the economy went into recession for eight months then recovered over the course of two years. "Employment levels have been very volatile over the last couple years and remain so," says Nik Theodore, a professor at the University of Illinois who co-authored the study. Though the WashTech study says Washington, D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco have had solid growth in tech jobs, the Monster Employment Index says there is high demand for tech workers in Cincinnati, Phoenix, and Kansas City, Mo., and that growth was strong from March 2005 to March 2006. Meanwhile, IDC economist Anna Toncheva says tech has been stronger than the overall market, with IT-related employment rising 1.83 percent since last March compared with 1.5 percent for all jobs. Also Wednesday, staffing firm Robert Half Technology released a survey of over 1,400 hiring managers that shows that 13 percent plan to make IT hires in the third quarter, 3 percent plan to cut back, and the rest do not intend to make any changes.
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Protecting Sensitive Data: Researchers Develop Fail-Safe Techniques for Erasing Magnetic Storage Media
Georgia Institute of Technology (06/12/06)

Researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute have developed a technique for quickly erasing magnetic storage media by using powerful magnets. The project was inspired by the mid-air collision that forced the crew of an intelligence-gathering aircraft to land in Chinese territory four years ago. The crew's inability to erase sensitive data prompted the initiative to develop rapid-erase technologies. "This is a very challenging problem," said Georgia Tech's Michael Knotts. "We had to verify that the data would be beyond all possible recovery even with unlimited budget and unlimited time. Commercial devices on the market for data erasure just couldn't fill the bill, because they were magnetically too weak, they were physically too large and heavy, or they didn't meet stringent air-safety standards." The researchers used a magnetic force microscope to monitor data patterns and determine how effectively they had been destroyed. In the search for a data-destruction method that would be suitable for an aircraft crew, the researchers explored many possible techniques, such as burning diskettes, crushing data drives, and destroying media chemically. The first year of testing proved that none of those procedures was viable, leaving the researchers with just magnetic techniques to explore. They first had to figure out how different magnetic storage devices function in order to determine how to erase all of their data. They used neodymium iron-boron magnets that can each weigh up to 125 pounds to break through the metallic housings that encase some drives. The end product of their research would enable members of an aircraft crew to simply insert removable media into a motorized device to erase the data. The different techniques for destroying data include numerous safeguards to protect against accidental erasure.
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Error-Check Breakthrough in Quantum Computing
New Scientist (06/08/06) Simonite, Tom

Scientists at the University of California in Santa Barbara have developed a new method for determining the level of information decay within a quantum computer. Their accomplishment is significant because previous attempts to measure the status of a qubit--the unit of information in a quantum computer that can simultaneously represent two states--have corrupted its quantum properties. Though there is already an error-checking method for quantum computing based on ion traps, many scientists are skeptical about its ability to scale to the extent required for practical use. The California researchers developed an alternative method for checking errors that could potentially scale to a much greater extent. They created a qubit using two superconducting materials with an insulating barrier in between, achieving superposition by passing an electrical current through the component. The scientists obtain a partial measurement of the qubit by lowering the energy barrier that supports the qubit's state of superposition and collapsing its quantum waveform into one of the two positions. The researchers discovered how to reveal the qubit's state of superposition without making it collapse, inviting the possibility that a real quantum computer could determine when a qubit is still available to perform quantum computations. "It's the dark horse of the quantum computing race," says researcher Nadav Katz. "It suggests we will be able to use systems based on it to do computations." Also, conventional production techniques can be used to manufacture the hardware for the system.
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U.S. Joins Industry in Piracy War
Washington Post (06/15/06) P. A1; Ahrens, Frank

The U.S. government is actively supporting the entertainment industry's push to curb the global trade of pirated music and movies. The United States has made enforcement of anti-piracy provisions a top requirement for Russia's admittance to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Intellectual property experts and law enforcement officials have estimated that Internet piracy costs U.S. companies up to $250 billion a year. With U.S. exports of copyrighted entertainment reaching $626 billion a year, the government is now asking the industry what it can do to help curb piracy. Despite some notable successes in the fight to safeguard copyrights, the number of peer-to-peer users has increased in the past year. China and Russia top the U.S. trade representative office's list of the worst intellectual property offenders. The U.S. government clashed with Sweden over Pirate Bay, a prolific and illegal file-sharing site that uses the BitTorrent file-swapping technology. Under heavy U.S. influence, Swedish authorities shut down the site, sparking widespread criticism in Sweden of the United States for meddling in Swedish affairs. Since Pirate Bay was shut down on May 31, protesters have agitated for Swedish authorities to return its confiscated servers; meanwhile, the site's administrators have relocated to the Netherlands and resumed service. In assessing Russia's bid to join the WTO, the United States is cautious to avoid the mistake of China. "We let China in and China has not fully complied with the WTO requirements" for safeguarding intellectual property, said Motion Picture Association of America President Dan Glickman.
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An Adaptive Interface for Controlling the Computer by Thought
Basque Research (06/13/06)

A researcher from Pamplona, Spain, has developed an adaptive interface that enables users to operate a computer with their thoughts. Public University of Navarre PhD candidate Carmen Vidaurre Arbizu recently defended her doctoral research on a brain-computer interface (BCI) technology that takes instructions from the brain's electroencephalograms. Previous BCI applications did not give users feedback, and subsequent technologies, while able to display brain patterns on a screen, could only be used by a limited number of users. Arbizu's system provides experienced users with feedback upon the first use. The user and the system adapt to each other to the point that initial trial sessions can provide feedback without corrupting the experiment. Experiments with the technology have shown that most people are capable of learning how to direct an adaptive BCI. The interface has four components that, respectively, acquire and process the brain signal, extract its characteristics, classify it, and issue feedback.
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Of Device and Men: Android Research Helps Explain Human Behavior
Indiana University (06/12/06)

The Fifth International Conference on Cognitive Science will give scientists the opportunity to learn more about the latest research being conducted by android expert Karl MacDorman. The associate professor in the human-computer interaction design program at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Informatics is organizing a symposium on android science for the July 26, 2006, conference in Vancouver, B.C. Android science offers a cross-disciplinary strategy for testing and potentially verifying hypotheses about the behavior of humans. "Very humanlike robots provide an experimental apparatus and test bed that has great potential to help neuroscientists, psychiatrists, social and cognitive scientists and others understand how and why we act the way we do," MacDorman says. He has a positive outlook of the view that humans will react positively to more humanlike robots, but only to a certain point. "If very humanlike robots are capable of eliciting human-directed expectations, human participants can be used to evaluate the human likeness of their behavior to an extent that would be impossible if mechanical-looking robots were used instead," says MacDorman. Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of the robotics laboratories at Osaka University in Japan, is helping to organize the symposium. MacDorman worked with Ishiguro before joining IUPUI last year, and he helped develop the android that was presented at the 2005 World Exposition in Japan.
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Rewriting the Net Address Books
BBC News (06/14/06) Ward, Mark

Domain Name System (DNS) inventor Dr. Paul Mockapetris anticipates the DNS' eventual replacement. "The Internet is all perishable technology that is going to get replaced or extended," he says. Aspects of the DNS are already starting to be concealed from users, such as addresses that are now replaced with a shortcut or nickname, according to Mockapetris. When people use search engines such as Google, they do not even have to type in the full domain. Mockapetris initially designed the DNS system to accommodate some 50 million Net names, but those numbers have swelled. A January 2006 survey found that there were at least 394 million registered domains. The DNS' underlying technology still exists, but less people are confronting it directly, according to Mockapetris. He also notes that a new uniform addressing system requires a much larger population than is supported by the current DNS. The process of unifying the big databases held by cable firms, telephone operators, and Internet service firms are starting to transpire. "I think, long-term, it's going to change hugely," Mockapetris predicts. "I really believe the future of the Internet is ahead of it."
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Internet2 Chooses Company to Build Its New National Fiber-Optic Network
Chronicle of Higher Education (06/15/06) Kiernan, Vincent

The Internet2 high-speed-networking consortium will announce that its new national fiber-optic network, NewNet, will be constructed by Level 3 Communications, following the 2007 expiration of its contract with Qwest to lease high-speed lines for Internet2's Abilene collegiate network. NewNet will compete with National LambdaRail and offer services in every part of the country with the exception of the upper Midwest and a great deal of the Northwest. National LambdaRail has the advantage because it runs its own fiber-optic lines, while NewNet's lines will be controlled by Level 3, says National LambdaRail President Thomas West. Internet2 President Douglas Van Houweling says NewNet's ability to make speedy connections for special purposes will separate it from its competition, despite West's claim that his network can also supply optical links on demand. On-demand availability will change the way researches view the network, according to California Institute of Technology professor Harvey Newman. "Right now, the users as a community don't have any sense of the network as an entity," he explains. "But that will change when researchers can tinker with the network themselves. It would spark creativity in the way we exploit networks."
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The Best-Laid Plan?
Federal Computer Week (06/12/06) Vol. 20, No. 19, P. 20; McAdams, Jennifer

Opinion is divided on the relevance of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace (NSSC), with some experts dismissing it as a public relations maneuver whose generalized approach to cybersecurity policy renders it ineffective, while others argue that its guidelines are essential for cybersecurity preparation and response initiatives. "The national strategy strikes the right balance between overarching priorities and specific implementation strategies," says Andy Purdy with the Department of Homeland Security's National Cyber Security Division. Director of DHS' Cyber Security Research and Development Center Marcus Sachs reports that the NSSC originally had many specific guidelines that were removed in response to industry feedback, and he makes a case for retaining the strategy because it serves as "an anchor point from which ideas begin." Critics such as James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies refer to the NSSC as a "fossil" that needs a DHS-developed deployment schedule, without which there is no framework to mobilize industry around cybersecurity. Specific implementation strategies are desired by most information security departments because they have limited resources, notes Forrester Research analyst Khalid Kark. NSSC supporters cite the creation of Staysafe.org, an NSSC-inspired consumer site designed to increase public awareness of cybersecurity and safety issues, as an example of the strategy's relevance to industry recognition of the need for strong cybersecurity. Government Insights research director Thom Rubel says the most significant aspect of the NSSC is its role in the deployment of the Federal Information Security Management Act. But he points out that the document "does not address unique private-sector economic and privacy considerations and seems to undervalue contributions that the identified partners--private, state and local governments--can contribute to an effective national cybersecurity effort."
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No Escaping H-1B
InformationWeek (06/12/06)No. 1093, P. 40; McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

The H-1B visa program is touted as essential for the United States' continued global technological leadership, and current proposals under serious consideration suggest leaving the visa cap at its current level or raising it by 50,000 jobs. Critics claim an excessively high H-1B cap will trigger a decline in salaries and dissuade young Americans from pursuing tech careers, while proponents of a raising of the visa cap argue that too low a cap will lead to shortages of top talent in the U.S. workforce, and thus to offshore outsourcing. Advocates of a cap raise also believe more brainy foreigners allowed to work and stay in the country could fuel technological creativity and generate more jobs by introducing new ideas and expertise. The H-1B program requires visa holders to be paid the prevailing wage, but though such workers can apply to switch employers, they have to find another employer willing to accommodate the H-1B requirements; critics such as WashTech/CWA President Marcus Courtney say this rule is being flagrantly abused by employers seeking only cheap labor because of a lack of enforcement. On the other hand, H-1B visa holders with highly sought-after skills can command salaries above the market average. IT professionals must often update their skills and get additional training out of their own pocket, and companies' reluctance to train their personnel would be reinforced by an increase in H-1B visas, one argument goes. The biggest danger is the nation becoming overreliant on imported tech talent while not nurturing domestic talent. At the same time, restrictive immigration policies and growing competition from other countries are discouraging foreign-born talent from applying for jobs in the United States.
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InfoWorld 2006 Compensation Survey: Looking Up
InfoWorld (06/12/06) Vol. 28, No. 24, P. 22; Snyder, Jason

The results of the InfoWorld 2006 Compensation Survey show that salaries are on the rise, but this upward movement does not allay anxiety about job security due to outsourcing, long hours, and contract jobs. The poll of 789 IT professionals indicates a salary upgrade of 4.8 percent--a five-year high--while around 75 percent of senior managers reported a pay raise this year. Middle managers were 28 percent less likely to attribute higher wages to added responsibilities; still, their commitment to company performance is not being overlooked, as evidenced by an increase in profit sharing, milestone incentives, project completion, and professional certifications. The likelihood of hiring freezes has dropped from 42 percent in 2004 to 29 percent in 2006, while the probability of layoffs has declined from 37 percent to 29 percent over the same period. Unstaffed positions were reported by 30 percent of tech executives this year, which some respondents attributed to senior-level turnover. For the second consecutive year, more than 50 percent of all IT workers felt they were not receiving the compensation owed them, while the survey's pay satisfaction mark hit an all-time low of 45 percent. "All the opportunities seem to be four- to eight-month contracts in distant locations," noted a document repository manager. Ten percent of midlevel IT professionals and IT staff harbored concerns that their jobs may be offshored, while 49 percent of senior IT managers believe executive management is accurately estimating IT's value, down from 62 percent in 2004.
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Capturing Experiences Anytime, Anywhere
IEEE Pervasive Computing (06/06) Vol. 5, No. 2, P. 8; Ashbrook, Daniel; Lyons, Kent; Clawson, James

Daniel Ashbrook, Kent Lyons, and James Clawson of the Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Computing speculate on the future path that mobile experience-capture technology may take as it becomes easier and more affordable. The authors study three technologies: The currently available LifeBlog software from Nokia, which integrates media the user has collected into a timeline; Microsoft's in-development SenseCam, a wearable multi-sensor camera that could facilitate on-the-go experience capture and semiautomatic blogging in combination with wireless data transfer capabilities and technology already embedded in several present-day cell phones; and Advanced Soldier Sensor Information System and Technology (Assist), a currently speculative system that can record audio, video, location, photographic, and other information using wearable sensors to help users furnish reports. Ashbrook, Lyons, and Clawson envision an always-on mobile capture system dubbed the iTourist that is wearable, compact, lightweight, and equipped with a high-resolution camera, an LCD screen, light sensors, tilt sensors, a GPS receiver, a digital compass, and the ability to wirelessly communicate with a wristband outfitted with an accelerometer and biometric sensors. "The ability to capture experience automatically using a hands-free system would let users enjoy [a special occasion], no longer worrying about recording it for posterity," the authors write. An iTourist-like device is expected in the near future, once issues such as technology miniaturization, privacy, and legality are addressed. Providing easy mobile access to captured data is also a major challenge for designers. The iTourist's "what have other people called this" functionality was inspired by Marc Davis' Mobile Media Metadata project.
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