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June 26, 2006

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Auditor's Report Criticizes Florida's Voter Database
Computerworld (06/26/06) Songini, Marc

Florida Auditor General William Monroe announced in a report published earlier in June that the state's voter registration information can be at risk for theft, corruption, access that is not authorized, and change, in spite of the most stringent effort of elections authorities. The report discovered multiple IT security problems with Florida's main voter registration database. For example, says Florida auditor general's office IT audit manager John Ingram, the system review determined that a state employee was inappropriately granted access to the database and that a worker whose contract was concluded mistakenly held on to access. The auditor's report suggests that Florida Secretary of State Sue Cobb's office establish a set of security protocols to help county authorities make certain that Florida Voter Registration System information is shielded from unapproved access. In addition, the report calls on Florida to set up virus protection, patch management, upkeep, and system recovery standards. Consultant Paula Hawthorn points out that possible security and information-integrity troubles with voter registration databases are not new to Florida. Hawthorne was co-chair of a committee established by ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee (USACM) that studied the condition of voter registration databases and determined that the voter registration database plans of numerous states do not have satisfactory security measures. To view the report--Statewide Databases of Registered Voters--visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/VRD
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Largest Digital Art Exhibition Debuts in Boston at SIGGRAPH 2006
VFX World (06/23/06)

The SIGGRAPH 2006 Art Gallery: Intersections will be on display between July 30 and Aug. 3 at ACM's 33rd International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in Boston. It is among the biggest digital art exhibitions in the world, featuring sculptures and wall-mounted paintings and collages. The pieces exemplify such new art forms as motion painting, LED optical art, robotics, and electronic fiber art. Interactive exhibits will allow visitors to move objects on a light table to create music, move virtual people with their heart rate, and use Voice over Internet Protocol technology to create a Web mosaic. The 150 works of art on display are from artists, researchers, and technologists from more than a dozen countries. Bonnie Mitchell, SIGGRAPH 2006 Art Gallery chair from Bowling Green State University, says, "These are some of the most innovative digital artists in the world. The breadth and depth of the content is staggering and should leave the audience breathless. Furthermore, it is amazing and inspiring to see people from around the world creatively pushing the boundary of what can be done when art and technology collide." To learn more about SIGGRAPH 2006, or to register, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2006/
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Some Rights Reserved: Advancing Flexible Copies
New York Times (06/26/06) P. B1; Rohter, Larry

A worldwide alliance of artists, scientists, and attorneys met in Rio de Janeiro this past weekend to establish a "creative commons" that permits artists and others to determine which rights to their work they want to keep and which they would prefer to share. The Creative Commons system permits creators and patrons of culture to see or listen to a digital work and to copy, remix, or try it out, so long as the author is correctly credited. Since the launch of the Creative Commons idea three years ago, around 145 million "creations" have been registered, and over 100 million of those licenses have been given out in the past six months. Blogs comprised the biggest number, followed by images, and then music, although the video industry is expanding. Microsoft last week made available a plug-in for Windows Office software that allows users to label their own creations, such as Word documents and PowerPoint presentations, with a Creative Commons license. Activists from several nations, however, including Australia and France, contend that musical collection societies are attempting to stop artists from making their work accessible under any system other than typical copyright. These groups, which obtain performance royalties on music from radio stations, recording firms, and others, have threatened to fine or bring action against musicians who license their work via Creative Commons.
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Putting Services at the Heart of Tomorrow's Software
IST Results (06/26/06)

Microsoft and Computer Associates are involved in a four-year project with other corporate, academic, and research partners in Europe to develop methods, tools, and techniques for system integrators and service providers to accommodate the linking together of small, functional services that perform a larger task. Participants in the approximately 15.2 million-euro SeSCE project say it is the last key step in the move toward Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), and could allow computing to fulfill the promise of offering improvements in productivity and functional flexibility. The group addressed the issue of standards, but the focus of its work is on service engineering, service discovery, service-centric system engineering, and service delivery. The tools, protocols, and methods embraced by SeSCE to develop a service development platform include a search engine and semantics for service description and testing. Halfway through the project, SeSCE has a demonstrator of its service composition platform, and partner Telecom Italia plans to show how SMS and GPS services can be used to update a commuter's schedule to take account of a traffic jam. "If the driver is going to be late for a meeting because of traffic, for example, the service can alert his or her assistant who changes the schedule and rearranges any meetings," says Matteo Melideo, coordinator of the SeSCE project. "Then an SMS message is sent to the driver's mobile phone providing a confirmation of the new schedule." IST has another project that has business workflow and service composition techniques that are in line with the SOA model, but the Adaptive Services Grid needs more advanced semantic tools.
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Magnetic Field Research Could Make Computers 500 Times More Powerful
University of Bath (06/22/06)

The University of Bath is among the universities and research centers participating in a three-year study that aims to use inverse electron spin resonance to carry electric signals without wiring. The resulting magnetic fields could make computers 200 to 500 times faster without altering their size. If the study is a success, Dr. Alain Nogaret of the University of Bath's Department of Physics believes computers with wireless semiconductors could become reality in five to 10 years. Additionally, the technology could quicken the process of collecting data from health monitoring sensors and result in the development of a system of integrated circuits that can be rerouted and maintain operations in the event of a connection failure. Nogaret says, "We can only go so far in getting more power from silicon chips by shrinking their components--conventional technology is already reaching the physical limits of materials it uses, such as copper wiring, and its evolution will come to a halt."
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No Pictures Please: Researchers Develop System to Thwart Unwanted Video and Still Photography
Georgia Institute of Technology (06/17/06)

A team of Georgia Tech researchers has developed a technology that can block the operation of video and still digital cameras using off-the-shelf sensors, lighting equipment, a projector, and a computer. The system detects digital cameras by scanning for the reflectivity and shape of their image-producing sensors. Principal commercial applications include the prevention of illegal video copying in theaters or other venues and protecting against surreptitious photography in small, restricted areas, such as government buildings or industrial environments. The image sensors in cameras are retroreflective, meaning that they direct light back to its origin instead of scattering it, which could make them easy to detect in a darkened theater. The researchers' prototype locates a camera's image sensors, known as CCDs, using visible light and two cameras, though a commercial application could employ invisible infrared lasers and photo-detecting transistors, transmitting information about a suspicious reflection's properties to a computer to determine if it is, in fact, a camera. "The biggest problem is making sure we don't get false positives from, say, a large shiny earring," said Jay Summet, a Georgia Tech research assistant. "We need to make our system work well enough so that it can find a dot, then test to see if it's reflective, then see if it's retroreflective, and then test to see if it's the right shape." Upon detecting a video camera, the system would overwhelm its CCD with a thin beam of white light that would render any video recorded unusable. Neutralizing still images in settings with higher levels of ambient light also shows commercial promise, because the image sensors in most digital cameras and cell phones are placed closer to the lens than in video cameras, making them easier to detect. Most of the remaining obstacles to commercialization involve developing better algorithms to eliminate false positives.
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'Silicon Velcro' Could Make Sticky Chips
New Scientist (06/19/06) Simonite, Tom

A team of German researchers has developed a bizarre form of silicon that can peel apart and stick together which could be used in microprocessors and devices that guide the flow of liquid on a microscopic scale. Called "silicon Velcro," the material was created from black silicon, a substance produced by bombarding normal silicon with high-energy ions or a laser beam and forming a microscopic array of thickly clustered needle-like objects at its surface that does not let light escape. Silicon Velcro could help chip manufacturers manipulate extremely thin layers of silicon without having to use potentially harmful adhesives or heat. "The Velcro could be used as a carrier system," said researcher Mike Stubenrauch. "A carrier wafer could be used to pick up the thin wafer and hold it for processing." The material could also be used to form devices that regulate the flow of liquid at microscopic scales by sticking together a smooth layer and one covered with tiny grooves. Afterwards, the layers can be unstuck to determine what happened inside or retrieve a valuable substance, Stubenrauch said, cautioning that because the needles can break over time, silicon Velcro can only be used a finite number of times. Previous research concerning black silicon had concentrated on its light-absorbing properties, though the application of the material to manufacturing sophisticated microchips is promising, said Darren Bagnall, a microelectronics researcher at Southampton University. "If you want to quickly bolt together chips made using different processing technologies, this Velcro would be good."
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Will the Internet Die in September?
Register (UK) (06/22/06) McCarthy, Kieren

ICANN's upcoming meeting in Marrakech will be its last under its current Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. government as well as its IANA contract to run the database that specifies where everything is on the Internet, both expiring on Sept. 30. ICANN's relationship with the U.S. government has been criticized by many. The upcoming meeting is scheduled to address several hot topics, including the institution of IDNs, the internationalization of ICANN, and Whois privacy issues. Other contentious issues have not been officially included though they are bound to be on the minds of participants, including U.S. involvement in the rejection of the .xxx domain and ICANN's agreement with VeriSign to avoid litigation, which has yet not been finalized due, some say, to efforts by U.S. Net companies that are unhappy about the deal. Little has been said about what will happen after Sept. 30. ICANN was originally supposed to become independent when the original contract with the U.S. government terminated in 2003. The government, trying to avoid further criticism, has shied away from stating what many believe to be its true intention, to hold onto ICANN for even longer.
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Thousands of H-1B Workers Are Underpaid, GAO Says
InformationWeek (06/22/06) Chabrow, Eric

Thousands of overseas nationals hired under the H-1B program have been paid less than standard wages, the Government Accountability Office announced on Thursday, although the percentage of those being underpaid is small. The GAO determined that the Department of Labor approved 3,229 H-1B applications between January 2002 and September 2005 in which the wage the employer vowed to pay on the application was less than the prevailing wage for that job. For example, in fiscal 2005 Labor approved an application where an employer promised to pay $55,000 annually for a job in which the prevailing wage was $75,000, a difference of 37 percent. The number of petitions not paying the going wage, though, is tiny. Between 2000 and last year, the government sanctioned almost 1.57 million petitions, the overwhelming majority being renewals of H-1B visa holders already working in this country. Information technology positions accounted for two of the leading five jobs for H-1B visa petitions: 674,9085 for systems analysts and 58,429 for other computer-associated jobs. Other leading five positions seeking H-1B visas include college professor and researchers, accountants and auditors, and electrical and electronics engineers. The GAO also found 933 certified applications with employer identification number prefixes that were not valid, which it claims could suggest a fake application.
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Nanowire Transistors Faster Than Silicon
Technology Review (06/19/06) Bullis, Kevin

Harvard researchers have demonstrated that nanowire transistors can yield speeds up to four times faster than traditional silicon devices, potentially leading to inexpensive, high-performance chips for cell phones and displays. By enabling the assembly of memory, logic, and sensing layers on the same chip, the research could also drive speed and conserve space, according to Harvard chemistry professor and lead researcher Charles Lieber. Nanowires are appealing because they require relatively simple lithography, though until now transistors built on the technology had been unable to match the performance of carbon nanotubes and other nano devices. Because they are made with a normal crystal structure with standard electronic properties, nanowires, only about 10 nm wide, have a high level of predictability. Nanowires are likely to find their first uses in ultra-sensitive sensors to detect single molecules. Lieber says nanowires may never yield performance increases sufficient to justify the cost of using them instead of conventional devices in laptops and desktops, though it may well be worth scaling the technology to use in flexible screens, embedding information-processing in the display itself. The technology could also improve compact devices by stacking memory, logic, and sensing circuitry on top of each other. "If you can put ultra-high-performance materials into 3-D structures, through layer-by-layer assembly, it allows you to put a lot more stuff into an area," Lieber says. The main improvement involves the nanowires' "core-shell" structure, which confines electrons to a limited space, enabling them to quickly move through the wires, a critical feature for their increased speed.
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An Intelligent Valuation System
Basque Research (06/20/06)

Researchers at the Public University of Navarre are using artificial intelligence to create a computerized system that would determine the value of real estate like an experienced and knowledgeable property expert. Existing informatics applications focus on statistical values, while a property appraiser brings a subjective element to his or her valuations. The research team is using artificial intelligence to teach the valuation system how to interpret expressions such as "the house is a disaster," which could mean something different to a number of property appraisers, by "extrapolating the average of what each of the valuers means." The intelligent learning process is modeled after the function of neurons in the human brain. The Navarre researchers are collaborating with the Trabajos Catastrales company on the property valuation system, which has been tested on Pamplona to determine prices for its housing market. The next step is to give the property valuation system the ability to intelligently zone by house prices in a city, province, or region. The researchers expect to complete the project by next December.
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Semantics Poses Challenge for Web Services
IST Results (06/21/06)

Though service oriented architecture holds the vast potential of creating diversified, agile programs that can synergistically combine to solve complex problems, getting those programs to communicate with each other is a major challenge. To address that problem, the IST-funded Adaptive Systems Grid (ASG) program has developed a semantic-service reference platform to demonstrate the ability of the software applications to autonomously combine to solve a larger problem, requiring each program to both announce its own function and recognize the function of others. In the tests, the software executed and combined without human manipulation. Machine-readable semantic descriptions are key to locating and retrieving software and objects on the Web. When developing ontologies, the greatest challenge is to determine the appropriate level of granularity, as coarse-grained ontologies can be created easily, but typically have vague descriptions that make them difficult to locate by search. Fine-grained ontologies are labor-intensive to create, but are easier to discover because of their accurate descriptions. Detailed ontologies and semantics can get extremely complex, as the number terms required to describe specific functions escalates rapidly, and adapting them to other developments becomes expensive. "This is an area that needs more research," said Dominick Kuropka, scientific coordinator of the ASG project. "What is the proper level of expressiveness for modeling of semantic services, which provides a good balance between the investment in ontology and service modeling and obtainable level of utility and automation?" In his search for the balance between cost and detail, Kuropka found, unsurprisingly, that greater detail delivers greater performance, though the greatest performance improvements come in the middle range of detail. The INFRAWEBS project took an alternative approach to service applications, integrating similarity- and logic-based reasoning to retrieve, then clarify, service ontologies.
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Research: Spatial Abilities Key to Engineering
EE Times (06/19/06)No. 1428, P. 12; Schiff, Debra

University of Minnesota postdoctoral research fellow Wendy Johnson and Minnesota Center for Twin and Adoption Research director Thomas Bouchard have conducted a new study that supports the theory that spatial abilities are an important factor for success in the field of engineering. Men have an overwhelming presence in engineering positions, and research from Johnson and Bouchard shows that men are likely to have a higher degree of intelligence in the rotation and focus dimensions. The rotation dimension represents the higher spatial abilities, and the focus dimension signifies the ability to solve problems by focusing on details in a linear fashion. They have found that women tend to have better verbal, memory, and diffusion intelligence, or the ability to solve problems from a number of perspectives at once and synergistically. Georgia Institute of Technology professor of psychology Philip Ackerman says general tests such as the SAT will not show this difference between males and females, but AP tests may reveal the impact of spatial abilities in terms of the major students ultimately choose to pursue. The foreign language exam is the only AP exam on which girls perform considerably better than boys. Their research can be found in the journal Intelligence.
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Diamonds in the Data
Federal Computer Week (06/19/06) Vol. 20, No. 20, P. 26; Sternstein, Aliya

Federal agencies' search for meaningful information within massive databases via data mining often requires a balance between behavioral observation and privacy infringement. As more and more agencies mine personal data, legislators and watchdog organizations are asking for greater compliance with privacy guidelines to ensure that such data is properly shielded. "Increased use by federal agencies of data mining...has been accompanied by uncertainty regarding privacy requirements and oversight of such systems," noted Linda Koontz with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee's Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee in May. Though data mining has no single meaning and some people protest the assumption that such analysis is inherently bad, Koontz says agencies should adhere to the standards of the E-Government Act, which requires the evaluation of proposed data-mining projects' privacy implications. Data mining techniques are being applied to efforts as diverse as anticipating and formulating response strategies for disease outbreaks and terrorist attacks, improving customer service, and spotting and deterring criminal activity. To address the growth of federal data-mining initiatives and the accompanying lack of oversight, Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) has proposed the Privacy Officer With Enhanced Rights Act of 2006, which seeks to bolster the role of the Homeland Security Department's chief privacy officer; he has also requested the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to conduct hearings on the Privacy Act, which is more than three decades old. "The fact that the Privacy Act has numerous exemptions for intelligence and law enforcement purposes...raises key questions as to what privacy rules govern in those circumstances," Akaka says. Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Lee Tien believes agencies need more personnel to enforce data-mining regulation, and to that end has recommended congressionally-approved legislation and funding.
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Tera-Scale Computing: Intel's Attack of the Cores
eWeek (06/19/06) Vol. 23, No. 25, P. 13; Spooner, John G.

As it prepares to roll out a spate of multicore processors, Intel is launching its Core Microarchitecture, a novel form of circuitry focused on optimizing power efficiency. Intel researchers have hinted that they envision chips with more than 10 cores by the decade's end. As it moves toward terascale computing, which could ultimately lead to chips with hundreds of cores, Intel's chips will look and function differently than its current technology. Multicore processors work in accordance with the semiconductor design law stating that smaller, slower cores make more efficient use of energy. The individual cores would be the same basic x86 cores that Intel uses today, though they would divide up the workload for a given task and process in parallel. "There's this advantage to simplifying the individual [processor] core, accepting the reduction in single-thread performance, while positioning yourself, because of the power reduction, to put more cores in the die," said Intel CEO Justin Rattner. "That's the energy-efficiency proposition of terascale." Terascale chips would be ideally suited for tasks involving massive amounts of data, though other developments must materialize in order for terascale processing to meet its potential, such as improved memory caches, faster data interconnects, and more efficient clock timing mechanisms. Software developers must also begin to incorporate multicore designs into their applications. Terascale chips will continue to double transistor counts which, already in the billions, could reach 32 billion by the end of the decade. Though the increasing number of transistors have thus far been used to beef up the onboard memory caches and create more complex chips, the shift to terascale processing will entail more, simpler cores. Intel is working with major software developers to ensure that this shift is implemented consistently throughout the industry.
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Machines Mimic Human Sight
InformationWeek (06/19/06)No. 1094, P. 20; Chabrow, Eric

Computer scientists across the country are trying to take visual recognition technology to the next level by giving new systems the ability to sort images in the manner of the human brain. Today's visual recognition technology is taught by a statistical learning system that can only recognize one type of image. However, a computerized visual recognition system using mathematical models based on the way the brain processes images would be able to determine many images. MIT's Center for Biological and Computational Learning is involved in this area of research, and has neurologists studying the way in which the brain responds to images and computer scientists creating mathematical models of neuron simulation patterns. Current visual recognition technology is used for tasks such as recognizing a product on an assembly line, but neuron-based imaging technology could be used to create advanced surveillance software. In addition to being able to recognize a face in a crowd in seconds, neuron-based imaging technology would help neurologists diagnose radiological images. Scientists still do not know enough about how the brain responds to images, and will need more sophisticated imaging technologies to be developed in order to assess the feedback sent by the brain.
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Modern Relics
Government Computer News (06/19/06) Vol. 25, No. 16,Jackson, William

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently hosted a workshop addressing the problem of data loss, attempting to craft a strategy for government, industry, and academia to identify what information should be preserved, and how they should be preserving it. Conference participants estimate that every 15 minutes the world produces enough digital information to fill the Library of Congress, and, though much of it is important to no one, in some areas the creation of meaningful data is outpacing the expansion of digital storage capacities. "So much information is digital, and people are feeling the pain of losing access to their information," said NIST's Josh Lubell. The conference participants agreed on the need to develop interoperability standards for data storage across software and hardware platforms. The National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress are working to preserve digital materials in compatible formats. The library is working with other government agencies and outside contractors to develop a national strategy for the collection and preservation of the fast-growing body of digital material. NIST is especially concerned with the preservation of engineering data, which have become too complex for humans to process without the aid of machines. CAD applications deal with levels of mathematics beyond human comprehension, which binds the designs to the software. When the software becomes obsolete, the designs are at risk of getting lost unless they were created with an eye for interoperability. The private sector has not devoted enough attention to the problem because it is not seen as an immediate business concern, says Lubell. "The business case has to be made first" if people are expected to use standards, he says.
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