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July 17, 2006

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Welcome to the July 17, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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The IT Profession: 2010: The World Gets Smaller Still
Computerworld (07/17/06) Brandel, Mary

While lower-skill IT jobs continue to fall victim to outsourcing, demand for IT professionals, particularly those with business or project management skills, is on the rise. Over the next few years, countries such as India, China, Brazil, and Russia will continue to mature, further solidifying the view among U.S. companies that it is economically untenable to hire highly paid domestic workers for basic programming, tech support, quality assurance, and other low-skill positions. In the face of the ongoing globalization of IT, some are keener to see the trend as an opportunity than a problem. "Would it be the worst thing in the world if you did your first three years of IT in Ireland, Germany, India, or China?" asks John Wade, CIO at Saint Luke's Health System. With the retirement of the baby boomers looming, Edward Gordon, author of "The 2010 Meltdown," looks ahead four years to 79 million people leaving the workforce with only 49 million entering, while the demands on the technology economy will continue to grow. As globalization continues to reshape the economy, U.S. hegemony in software design is by no means assured, according to Moshe Vardi, the Rice University computer science professor who co-authored the "Globalization and Offshoring of Software" report issued by ACM. "Years ago in the software area, there was one serious competitor--the U.S.--and that's changing." Rising wages in India could make China, Eastern Europe, and Latin America the new hotspots for outsourcing. Meanwhile, new platforms such as the Semantic Web and Web 2.0 could spark a new wave of innovation and startups creating considerable job opportunities in the United States, Vardi predicts. With low-skill labor readily available from a host of overseas markets, the jobs that will be created in the United States will place a premium on aggregating service management, business analysis, and project management. To view "Globalization and Offshoring of Software--A Report of the ACM Job Migration Task Force" visit http://www.acm.org/globalizationreport
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H.P. to Unveil Radio Chips to Store Data
New York Times (07/17/06) P. C8; Markoff, John

Hewlett-Packard is rolling out a wireless chip that can be attached to virtually any object and provide video, audio, or textual information about it through an inexpensive reader. Though hesitant to speculate on commercial applications, company officials suggested that the device could be used to connect audio that could be played back to a photograph, or to read and update a patient's medical information from an ID bracelet. In their first iteration, the chips store up to 512,000 bytes of information, and are intended for a different purpose than RFID tags. "What we're talking about is distributing digital information in the physical world," said Hewlett-Packard's Howard Taub. Hewlett-Packard's Memory Spots are only readable from close distances, but store much more information than RFID tags. Like RFID technology, reading devices emit radio fields, which in turn power the Memory Spots, though Hewlett-Packard executives envision broader applications for the technology than just supply-chain management and basic identification. If mass-produced, the devices could cost as little as 10 cents each. Though their commercial success is far from assured, one notable advantage of the chips is their small processor that enables some data-protection features.
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AI Reaches the Golden Years
Wired News (07/17/06) Cohn, David

Leading artificial intelligence experts will gather in Boston this week to commemorate the field's 50th anniversary and take stock of its accomplishments and shortcomings. "Artificial intelligence has accomplished more than people realize," said futurist Ray Kurzweil. "It permeates our economic infrastructure. Every time you place a cell phone call, send an email, AI programs are directing information." The term "artificial intelligence," now firmly etched in popular culture, was coined at a 1956 Dartmouth workshop intended to describe the application of human intelligence as computation. Though computers have been able to defeat the world's top chess players, artificial intelligence still struggles with problems such as image recognition, and has yet to come close to being able to carry on a conversation. Defeating chess champion Garry Kasparov signaled a shift in artificial intelligence away from trying to simulate general human intelligence in favor of comprehensive knowledge in specific areas. Artificial intelligence applications have nevertheless seen many practical applications: banks use artificial intelligence programs to monitor for fraud; cell phone companies use them for voice recognition; and doctors use them to help treat patients. Artificial intelligence is also becoming increasingly important to the scientific community, where the aggregation of data is outpacing scientists' ability to analyze it. A notable achievement came last year with the robotic car Stanley's successful victory in the DARPA Grand Challenge road race. Taking the successes and failures of artificial intelligence in sum, Stanford's John McCarthy, who helped organize the 1956 workshop, believes that the field is still very much in its infancy. "I think 200 years from now we are going to smile back and think of this era as blind and stumbling people who were trying to make progress but didn't know where to poke."
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DHS Asset Database Can't Support Vaunted Infrastructure
Government Computer News (07/12/06) Dizard III, Wilson P.

The Department of Homeland Security maintains a database of key resources and infrastructures that is so flawed that it cannot serve as a useful tool on which to base decisions regarding the protection of national resources, according to a statement issued by the department's inspector general. Faulty data-collection practices have led state officials to include irrelevant assets in the lists they submit to the National Asset Database, the report charges. Since 2003, the department has been collecting data about critical infrastructure to support the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP). Among the inspector general's list of flaws, however, was the fact that the database does not distinguish the criticality of its roughly 77,000 assets. The report also criticizes the database for not providing a comprehensive picture of the nation's resources, its lack of sophisticated risk-assessment tools, and the substantial amount of work it still requires to be completed. Some of the entries are missing ZIP codes or facility names, while the accuracy of others is obscured by language-translation problems. In one instance, "officials estimated that on average each [critical infrastructure/ key asset] record they researched was missing information for about seven fields," according to the report. With much of the data being furnished from state officials who are not trained to identify the most critical resources, the database contains several comical and embarrassing entries, such as Nix's Check Cashing and Amish Country Popcorn. In response to the criticisms of the report, DHS officials claimed that the agency is understaffed and underfunded. They also said the database is designed to be comprehensive, and that its assets can be mined by more specific programs and reporting methods.
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Girls Build Airplanes and, Hopefully, an Interest in Science and Engineering
University of St. Thomas Bulletin Today (07/17/06)

Seventh-graders attending the free, week-long Science, Technology, and Engineering Preview Summer (STEPS) camp for girls at the University of St. Thomas will learn how to build and fly radio-controlled airplanes, hopefully kindling an interest in science and technology. Since its inception at St. Thomas in 2000, more than 1,100 girls will have passed through the program by the time the final session concludes July 27. The dozen STEPS programs being conducted throughout the country this year have drawn participation from more than 1,000 girls, according to Bart Aslin, chief foundation officer at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation, which helps academic institutions establish the camps. "Our foundation supports programs like STEPS to influence young women and minorities to pursue career opportunities in manufacturing, science, engineering, and technology. Studies show that young people make their scholastic career decisions around sixth or seventh grade and the camps give them an opportunity to explore their interests," he said. "The ultimate goal is to increase the number of students choosing these careers." Women account for just around 20 percent of undergraduates earning bachelor's degrees in physics, computer science, and engineering. That figure drops to 14 percent in the disciplines of electrical and mechanical engineering. In the St. Thomas program, the girls receive instruction in electricity, Web design, computer-aided design, robotics, and other subjects. In addition to the physical construction of the plane, the girls spend time on a flight simulator to familiarize themselves with the remote controls they use to fly the planes. To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://women.acm.org
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Gadgets Get the Feel of the Tactile World
New Scientist (07/15/06) Vol. 191, No. 2560, P. 26; Marks, Paul

Haptic devices, or devices that stimulate the sense of touch, are approaching a price point that could finally enable widespread deployment of gadgets such as a cell phone with a GPS device that would guide a user to his destination through physical impulses. Whereas haptic devices have so far been limited to simplistic uses such as the vibrating feature in cell phones and game controllers, new applications could transform entertainment and communications, and provide assistance for the visually impaired. Video-game controllers will take a giant leap forward with the Novint Falcon, a device that can simulate the weight and recoil of a gun and the feeling of wading through water. The controller is made up of a round gripper attached to a base with three mechanical arms, which create a three-dimensional resistance when force is applied from motors in the base. The device uses a commoditized version of the technology that enables computer artists to sculpt virtual clay and allows surgeons to manipulate robotic arms. As researchers look to develop even more sophisticated haptic devices, they face a major challenge in creating hardware that can simulate texture and elasticity to the same ultrasensitive degree as human skin. "The hand is exquisitely sensitive to a range of textures," said Susan Lederman, head of the Touch Lab at Queen's University in Ontario. "The ideas in this field have always been inhibited by the technology available." A team of Canadian researchers has developed a tactile display for mobile devices consisting of an array of electrically charged bars that, when touched by a finger, tricks the brain into thinking that the finger is actually touching an object with shape or texture. Meanwhile, NTT has developed a handheld device that it will showcase at this month's SIGGRAPH conference that actually pushes a user in a given direction by creating the sensations of movement.
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Aussie Steps Into ICANN Hot Seat
iTWire (07/14/06) Corner, Stuart

Aussie corporate affairs specialist Paul Levins has been named the first vice president of corporate affairs at ICANN. Though admitting that ICANN is far from perfect, Levins says that its Internet governance model "has been successful and it has been scrutinized though the U.N. process and the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunin. I think ICANN has enough credibility and the ICANN board has key architects like Vint Cerf and people who currently manage the Internet globally. It has built up enormous credibility." He stresses that ICANN's model may not be the best available but it is the one the world will have to deal with, so it's best to correct flaws, a major one being ICANN's failure to communicate effectively with stakeholders, particularly those in the non-English-speaking world. This is largely due to the fact that the organization does not have a staff exclusively tasked with this goal. "They had a media advisor who did the job for a couple of years after they started up, but even that role has been empty for the past year," he said. "So the burden has fallen onto the senior management team and they have had to share that along with their other responsibilities. That is less than desirable: You need someone with specialist skills." Levins intends to fill that role, which will also entail the revamping of ICANN's Web site to reflect the international nature of the Web. "I want to have a 'DNS for Dummies' in book form and to experiment with a lot of visual material in a cartoon or comic book form: the sort of thing people can pick up and say, 'This is how I can participate in the management of the Internet.'"
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Renowned Thinker Sees Boundless Future
Pioneer Press (07/12/06) Suzukamo, Leslie Brooks

Ray Kurzweil recently delivered a speech at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul that touched on a wide range of subjects, from molecular computing and cybernetics to nanorobots. The greatest thinker on artificial intelligence today, according to Bill Gates, is a well-known computer scientist who specializes in pattern recognition. Most of the books he has written are about thinking computers and the potential contributions of technology to biological advances, and in his new book, "The Singularity Is Near," Kurzweil says unlimited power, life expectancy, and human progress will be a near reality in 25 to 30 years. Innovation is accelerating, Kurzweil says in an interview with the Pioneer Press, adding that the powerful tools available today will be used to develop even more powerful tools in the years to come. Moore's Law transcends computers, says Kurzweil, who expects to see the reprogramming of biological processes in the next 15 years, a development that will allow people to overcome major diseases. Kurzweil has often been right in his predictions, such as the world chess champion would lose to a computer by 1998, which happened in 1997, and the development of a world communications network, which has emerged in the form of the Web. He expects to see huge strides in biological technology, with hardware that mimics human intelligence available for $1,000, and technology that can stifle the pace of cancer and heart disease.
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Turing-Inspired Scripting Language Simplifies Simulation Complexity
Embedded.com (07/13/06) Shankar, Deepak; Koivisto, Daryl

Deepak Shankar and Daryl Koivisto of Mirabilis Design detail how simulation kernels can be streamlined through the use of SmartMachine, a platform-independent overlay architecture exploration language that piggybacks on concepts devised for the original Turing Machine. Creating models with simulation languages is a point of difficulty, as they take a much longer time to build relative to the solutions being supplanted. The SmartMachine is much further along than the Turing Machine in terms of deployment. It is also more akin to a state-machine, can easily accommodate threads, and works on memories. SmartMachine is made up of 10 instructions, 40 keywords, and a just-in-time compiler that can ratchet up simulation performance 10 to 100 times that of existing scripting languages. Software estimation, real-time operating systems, hardware refinement, multi-threaded applications, complex functional expressions, switch fabrics, protocol state diagrams, advanced statistics generation, and algorithm analysis are just some of the applications that can benefit from the use of SmartMachine, particularly in circumstances where the model schematic size and simulation speed are important. With SmartMachine, modelers can craft reusable blocks. The language is flexible and offers ease-of-learning and use, small code footprint, and native code speed simulation performance.
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The Bookshelf Talks With Seth Lloyd
American Scientist (07/12/06) Vol. 3, No. 7,Ross, Greg

Quantum-mechanical engineer Seth Lloyd, author of the book "Programming the Universe," perceives quantum computers as actual devices as opposed to a metaphor, while acknowledging that the computers' most valuable property is their ability to help people better understand nature. He notes that his own experience in building quantum computers has shaped his view of the world, adding weight to his belief in the theory of a computational universe. Quantum computers store and process information at the atomic level, and Lloyd describes the largest general-purpose quantum computer currently in existence as being composed of only about 12 atoms, or quantum bits. Lloyd says it is within our abilities to build special-purpose analog quantum computers of a billion billion bits that can simulate and replicate natural forces far beyond the capabilities of classical computers. Such computations are possible because atomic-scale computers exhibit weird quantum-mechanical behavior. Lloyd has envisioned a 1-kilogram quantum laptop that can carry out an astronomically large number of logical operations per second, the catch being that to do so it must operate at an astronomically high temperature. He says building a general-purpose quantum computer with vast numbers of bits is important, but even more important is gaining greater comprehension of natural quantum processing. "Unless we can understand how the world processes information at a quantum level, we will remain in the dark," Lloyd concludes.
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Microsoft Research Automates Hunt for Search Engine Spam
eWeek (07/13/06) Naraine, Ryan

Researchers at Microsoft are taking a new approach to cracking down on spam in search engine returns. By employing a context-based strategy that makes use of URL-redirection analysis Microsoft hopes to find the spammers and notify search engines before they index the spam sites. Search engines pick up spammers because they post millions of phony comments on message boards and blogs, says Yi-Min Wang, the Microsoft researcher who leads the Strider Search Defender project. Spam has become such a huge problem on the Web that almost every search query now returns a spam site, says Wang. Spammers trick search engine users into clicking on their fake sites by creating doorway pages on reputable domains, then spam the doorway pages to forums, blog comments, and archived newsgroups all over the Web in an effort to move near the top of the search engine results page. Wang's team views a spam page as a dynamic program, and plans to use the Microsoft Research prototype technology Strider HoneyMonkey to analyze traffic results from each page visit with an actual browser. "By identifying those domains that serve target pages for a large number of doorway pages, we can catch major spammers' domains together with all their doorway pages and doorway domains," says Wang.
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Threats From Hackers 'Converging,' Researchers Say
E-Commerce Times (07/13/06) Koprowski, Gene J.

Security vulnerabilities in the three media of email, the Web, and instant messaging are converging, experts warn, increasing the risk level facing computer users. "The increased convergence of threats across email, Web, and IM, combined with the increased sophistication of techniques, is an interesting new development," said Mark Sunner, CTO of MessageLabs. "Today, we see a growing number of emails and IMs containing links to Web sites where malware or spyware is automatically downloaded, as opposed to the traditional method where the message itself has a piece of malware attached." MessageLabs, which recently conducted a detailed study of the changing landscape of security threats, found that spam is generally on the rise, and that viruses and phishing attacks are becoming increasingly targeted. The portion of global email that is spam increased to 64.8 percent in June, a 6.9 percent jump from the previous month. Israel remains the world's leading target for spam, which accounts for 75.9 percent of all of its email traffic. In the wake of the Nyxem.D outbreak in February, India is still the country most subject to virus attacks. Spyware distribution is becoming increasingly aligned with spam and viruses, Sunner said. "For example, we have seen more evidence of spammers employing spyware to make their campaigns more effective. This leaves businesses with the increasingly complex challenge of securing company data and intellectual property without sacrificing important avenues of employee communication," he said. ISPs are beginning to work together to curb the spread of spam through associations such as the London Internet Exchange (LINX), a consortium of 220 ISPs. While spam continues to plague much of the world, there are anomalies that defy the trend. Australia, for instance, saw its rate of spam decline by more than 50 percent in the nine months leading up to June.
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Megatrends: The Global Factor
Electronic Design (06/29/06) Vol. 54, No. 14, P. 21; Schneiderman, Ron

A number of wide-ranging developments or "megatrends" are anticipated in the next few years, and companies, government agencies, and market research organizations are taking notice. Wireless is expected to reach a massive scale of ubiquity and lead to fundamental changes in people's work, behavior, leisure activities, health care, learning processes, and daily life, according to Phil Asmundson of Deloitte & Touche USA's Technology, Media, & Telecommunications Industry consulting practice. The digital home is projected to become a megatrend riding on many factors: The federally-mandated switchover from analog to digital TV broadcasting, an explosion of IP-enabled devices, a boom in the adoption of wireless products and services, and growing momentum for HDTV, etc. Another megatrend is equipment manufacturers' increased concentration on designing environmentally friendly products per directives driven by the European Union and other institutions. The success of location-based products and services is being fueled by advances in the Global Positioning System (GPS), while emerging global markets such as China, the Middle East, South Africa, and India are becoming very lucrative areas for exploitation thanks to lower material costs, economies of scale, and more highly integrated chip designs. Where people are educated and where they work is becoming another megatrend, and debate is brewing over the United States' future status as the global center for innovation. Declining numbers of U.S.-based high-tech workers adds weight to the argument that the H-1B visa program should be expanded, while transitioning the program from a temporary to a permanent measure is seen by some as critical to sustaining America's innovation capacity and its satisfaction of high-tech workforce demands.
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Software U
Forbes (07/24/06) Doyle, Tim

Graham Doxey believes Neumont University in suburban Salt Lake City, Utah, can help ramp up the number of computer science graduates the United States is producing each year. Doxey, Neumont president and veteran with Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers, teamed up with Scott McKinley, a former executive of JPMorgan Chase and Capgemini Asia, and Norwegian software developer and executive Marlow Einelund to get the engineering school up and running in 2004. Einelund's assurances about the shortage of engineering professionals resulted in the founders, their families, and friends investing $4 million in the idea, and the school has since been sold to Great Hill Partners, a Boston private equity firm with $1.5 billion under management that has invested another $20 million in Neumont. The for-profit school in an office park offers a project-oriented, hands-on curriculum that is designed to appeal to employers, and lead to good jobs for its 250 students. Most of Neumont's professors come from corporate America, and new technology is the focus of 70 percent of the 8-to-5 year-round classes, with 30 percent of the time devoted to theory. The school had jobs lined up for its first 27 graduates this spring, and the average starting salary was $61,000. Nonetheless, some in the traditional educational community, such as Carnegie Mellon engineering school dean Pradeep Khosla, have taken issue with Neumont's effort to rush students to the job market and its heavy focus on practice. Doxey says his goal is to produce more computer science graduates than any other educational institution in the world.
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100-Mbps Broadband: How, Why, When, and Where?
EDN (07/07/06) P. 48; Wright, Maury

Multiple-service operators (MSOs) and telecom companies are offering bundled "triple play" packages of voice, video, and data services, but consumers demand new video services--HDTV and DVR, for instance--that consume great quantities of bandwidth, making the last mile seem even further away. Though digital subscriber line (DSL) implementations have surpassed cable globally, DSL may be the most challenging option in terms of video delivery. Consumers want a half-dozen channels in IPTV applications, and two of those channels must be of HDTV quality. This entails 50 Mbps broadband services, at least. The takeup of passive optical network (PON) technology is picking up momentum in Japan and to a lesser degree in North America. The network can be deployed aerially on utility poles, saving money and construction costs. Hybrid PON/DSL networks may be most advantageous for cities where copper-network installations are present. Providers of such services will need to be patient if they want their research and development efforts to pay off. "From the time we kick off a program until we get a production part, it's 18 months to three years," notes Neal Neslusan with Applied Micro Circuits' Transport Group. "Then, you get design wins, and that takes a couple of more years."
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Six Trends Driving the Global Economy
Wired (07/06) Vol. 14, No. 7, P. 132; Anderson, Chris; Brown, Eryn; Kelleher, Kevin

User-generated content is the core component of the most successful Web companies, giving rise to a "peer-production" architecture where amateurs and professionals share a complementary relationship. Standard-bearers include Amazon with its peer reviews, News Corp. with its tens of millions of MySpace pages, Yahoo! with its Flickr photo-sharing service, and Google with its user-based algorithms. Mergers and acquisitions are emerging as a new vehicle for research and development, with companies such as eBay, Yahoo!, and Google buying up firms with entrenched market presence and dedicated R&D efforts rather than building their own R&D departments. Video is proliferating to screens and formats of all kinds, to the point where it is becoming available anytime and anywhere and generating revenue. The multiscreen-video trend has cultivated an explosion in content and hardware, with the Apple Video iPod being just one of the many technologies serving the trend. Online personalization is another movement gaining momentum, and making inroads into such markets as clothing, media, and medicine. The Internet has cemented the concept of open standards and the all-access economy, with such milestones as a simple, easy to use interface provided by Web standards. The open environment has nurtured competition, which has fueled regular improvements.
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Warning: eVoting Ahead
Governing (07/06) Vol. 19, No. 10, P. 44; Perlman, Ellen

There seems to be no clear answer to whether electronic voting systems are as susceptible to tampering and fraud as critics make them out to be. Touch-screen machines from Diebold Election Systems have been frequently targeted by vote-protection advocates, who charge that the manufacturer intentionally inserted a flaw that makes it easy to tweak the systems' workings and manipulate votes. Touch-screen systems have also been criticized as inferior to electronic systems in other industries, but Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Michael Shamos believes these problems can be easily remedied in time for this year's election cycle by instituting appropriate security procedures. In touch-screen machines' favor is the convenience they represent to disabled and non-English-reading voters, which is a requirement of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). E-voting supporters also see a disconnect between the possibility of machine tampering and the actual occurrence of such mischief, arguing that other checks and balances are in place to prevent such incidents. Optical-scan machines, meanwhile, are more popular among local election districts and vote-protection proponents because they provide something akin to a paper trail. A paper trail is a safeguard that many legislators are demanding be incorporated into voting machines, and it is required by law in over half the U.S. states. However, Shamos believes a better solution can be found through research into improved e-voting systems, and reasons that such research could be stifled by state paper-trail legislation. Other complaints with touch-screen machines include their overall design, which Ben Bederson, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Maryland and the director of its Human-Computer Interaction Lab, calls "immature and not up to par with the rest of the computing industry." To read more about ACM's e-voting activities and studies, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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