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August 7, 2006

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E-Voting Security Under Fire in San Diego Lawsuit
Computerworld (08/04/06) Songini, Marc

A lawsuit has been filed in San Diego Superior Court seeking a complete hand recount of all the paper ballots cast in the special election on June 6 that resulted in Brian Bilbray capturing the 50th Congressional District seat. The suit, which names Bilbray and County Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas as defendants, also calls for the election to be invalidated due to alleged violations of the security procedures surrounding the Diebold e-machines. One of the suit's main points is Haas' so-called sleepover policy by which poll worker supervisors had the machines at their homes for periods of time ranging from three days to more than a week before the election. "During these sleepovers, the voting machines were unsecured, subject to access by innumerable neighbors, strangers, and family members, and stored without records or proof of actual chain of custody, eliminating the ability of any person to detect whether or not fraud or improper access to the voting machines occurred," the lawsuit claims. The suit also charges that in a violation of state and federal law, poll workers received keys for the touch-screen voting machines. The suit also cites a report claiming the discovery of "heretofore unknown switch" in the circuitry of the Diebold TS machine that is the predecessor of the touch-screen system used in the election. That switch enables the machine to be booted from an external source, completely circumventing the software and safeguards. The suit also accuses Haas of failing to collect or suppressing relevant materials, including electronic programs and ballots, as well as audit logs. Haas says the sleepover practice is common in California and other states. Diebold maintains that someone would need unrestricted access to exploit the alleged vulnerability in the TS system, and that the machine would fail if it was tampered with. For information about ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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The Magic of SIGGRAPH
MIT News (08/04/06) Vol. 126, No. 30,Gleitzman, Benjamin P.

The ACM-sponsored SIGGRAPH convention, one of the world's largest conferences devoted to computer graphics, rivals Disney World for the claim of the "happiest place on earth," writes Benjamin Gleitzman. After being held for many years in Los Angeles, SIGGRAPH returned to Boston last week, drawing thousands of attendees from around the world. Monday's fashion show featured designs such as clickSneaks, a pair of women's tennis shoes that play the sound of heels clacking with each step through built-in speakers. The Flame 5 jacket notifies the wearer through heat when it has received an SMS message via Bluetooth phone, and the No-Contact jacket emits 80,000 volts of electricity to ward off would-be assailants. At the Emerging Technologies area, attendees had the chance to interact with exhibits such as the DigiWall, which offers climbing games through interactive hand and foot holds that are lit up and linked to an array of sensors. Researchers at the University of Tokyo showcased the Forehead Retina System, which enables the user to receive tactile electronic feedback through the forehead. One exhibit produced a video mosaic in real time that depicted the viewer using live video feeds. Another was the Multi-Touch Interaction Wall, a 16-foot-long structure developed by researchers at New York University that detects numerous touch points from multiple users. MIT's Tangible Media Group presented a modular toy endowed with a kinetic memory that can remember actions that it is taught by its user, and an electronic music performance application that can improvise combinations of music samples.
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Solving the Security Challenge of Dynamic Networks
IST Results (08/07/06)

As the world evolves toward seamless data communication between devices on networks running on any type of protocol, European researchers working under three IST projects are attempting to ensure that those communications are secured. Due to the continuous emergence of new threats, the researchers are developing adaptive and evolutionary security applications. "The most relevant issue is that the combination of heterogeneity and dynamism will make it impossible for security engineers to foresee all the possible situations that may arise and to create solutions for them," said Antonio Mana, scientific coordinator for the SERENITY project, which is establishing a platform to enable the automated integration, configuration, monitoring, and evolution of security and reliability in ambient intelligence environments. Pervasive computing presents other challenges, as increasingly complex networks have to scale to a greater degree, according to Daniele Miorandi, scientific coordinator of the BIONETS project, which is using an approach inspired by biology to enable self-healing and self-configuring services to evolve spontaneously. The third project, MOBIUS, seeks to secure next-generation networks by protecting the individual and heterogeneous devices using the Proof Carrying Code (PCC) paradigm, where each component proves its trustworthiness with a formal proof. By verifying individual elements of a network, the PCC approach complements centralized mechanisms for establishing trust. The BIONETS researchers are working on security issues in dynamic networks from the outset. "With dynamic networks there's no fixed infrastructure, the stable part is reduced or disappears, so we need to integrate security into the system from the very beginning," said Joachim Posegga, co-leader of the BIONETS security work package. The researchers are working to balance flexibility with the degree of security that can be guaranteed, while also ensuring that economic constraints are not exceeded.
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Scientists Develop Artwork That Changes to Suit Your Mood
University of Bath (08/03/06)

Using images compiled from a Webcam and software that can recognize eight principal facial features, researchers at the University of Bath and Boston University have created electronic artwork that adapts to mirror the expression of a person who is looking at it. When a person is angry, for instance, the colors are dark and look as if they were applied to the canvas with violent brushstrokes. The colors become more vibrant and appear less harshly applied as the person's mood becomes happier. The research has already led to software that can generate intricate artistic renderings of photographs, and allows designers to produce animations straight from digital footage. "The program analyzes the image for eight facial expressions, such as the position and shape of the mouth, the openness of the eyes, and the angle of the brows, to work out the emotional state of the viewer," said Bath computer scientist John Collomosse. "It does it all in real time, meaning that as the viewer's emotions change the artwork responds accordingly." All that individual viewers need to use the program are a Webcam and a desktop computer. "The empathetic painting is really an experiment into the feasibility of using high-level control parameters, such as emotional state, to replace the many low-level tools that users currently have at their disposal to affect the output of artistic rendering," Collomosse said. The researchers used sophisticated rendering techniques to create the images and make them look like they were painted on canvas.
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Low-Tech Lawmakers Try to Handle High-Tech Issues
Baltimore Sun (08/07/06) P. 1A; Puzzanghera, Jim

Net neutrality, online privacy, and social networking sites are among some of the high-tech issues Congress is pondering, but a lack of knowledge among lawmakers has thus far stymied any concrete decision making. "To our industry and our customers, very important issues are being decided today in Congress," said Amazon's Paul Misener. "Much of the concern is decisions might be made without a complete understanding of the facts." As major overhauls to the nation's telecommunications law are considered, some hark back to the last time such drastic changes were enacted in the 1990s, when measures designed to increase competition within the telephone industry actually led to mergers that closed the market to smaller players. About $1 million a day is being spent by lobbyists to convince lawmakers to make a stand one way or another. But little has been accomplished thus far over fears of unintended results. For example, legislation to maintain Net neutrality has been rejected by Senate and House committees on the grounds that the issue has not been sufficiently explained. Another issue, predation on social networking and blogging sites such as MySpace.com, has brought about a bill already passed by the House that would restrict access to such sites at schools and libraries receiving federal dollars. But school districts have warned that the bill is missing a strict definition of what sites are covered in the censorship, which could restrict access to some educational sites.
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Yahoo Ramps Up Research
Technology Review (08/03/06) Greene, Kate

While Yahoo has historically trailed rivals Google and Microsoft in rolling out new products and technologies, the company has rededicated itself to research, hiring industry luminaries such as the University of Wisconsin's Raghu Ramakrishnan, a data-mining expert who will develop the company's social search technology. In another sign of its new focus on research, last year Yahoo hired former Verity CTO Prabhakar Raghavan to head its Yahoo Research division. Raghavan, who is amassing a cadre of top-tier researchers from disciplines ranging from economics to sociology, described his research initiatives in a recent interview. Yahoo Research focuses primarily on five areas: search and retrieval, data mining and machine learning, user interfaces, utility computing, and microeconomics. Raghavan and his team are working to give the computer interface a more natural feel, and to provide new ways to retrieve and present information, with the computer ultimately doing more of the thinking. As an example, Raghavan cites Yahoo Answers, where members of an online community can seek and provide answers to specific questions. Drawing on different facets of sociology, computer systems, and microeconomics, Raghavan's team is working to improve the routing method that provides answers to information seekers. Rankings systems for answers vary significantly from Web search rankings, he says. It involves creating a reputation platform and, unlike eBay's seller reputation platform, giving people an incentive to use it. Raghavan also predicts that the browser will be supplanted as the primary window to the Internet by new interfaces, particularly in emerging markets.
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It's Alive (ish)
Wired News (08/01/06) Keim, Brandon

Lab-raised brain cells at the Georgia Tech Institute of Technology are now able to send and receive signals like real brains. Researchers at Georgia Tech achieved the breakthrough by creating "neurally controlled animats," which consist of a clump of rat neurons about the size of a stamp, grown atop a grid of electrodes in a dish, and hooked up to a robot or computer. The scientists are stimulating individual cells to study how they interact and change, with hopes of gaining a better understanding of how the brain develops from the time someone is born. Daniel Wagenaar, a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology who is involved in the project, says a human learns to control more of their body over time, and interactions with the environment are a factor. "We hope to get, at the very simple level of small nervous system, some insight into how that occurs," says Wagenaar. The Georgia Tech scientists have used neural pattern firings to get a virtual mouse to move to the right, a dish-brain-controlled robot to avoid a moving target, and a robotic arm connected to a clump of neurons to create art. The next step is to get the animats to learn. Steve Potter, a Ga. Tech neuroscientist, believes the research could improve neural prosthetics, the study of neural pathologies and artificial intelligence.
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Hackers Meet to Exploit Computer Flaws
Associated Press (08/06/06) Goodin, Dan

The recent Defcon computer-security conference in Las Vegas, which drew roughly 6,000 participants, offered attendees a chance to take part in 17 games, including a sort of virtual capture the flag where the players searched for cryptic messages that conference organizers had embedded in servers. The object was to discover vulnerabilities in the devices that corporations rely on to grant employees remote access or to process credit card transactions. The games provide the security researchers a legal way to demonstrate vulnerabilities to corporations, consumers, and government agencies. Seventeen-year-old Dan Beard showed off a pellet-shooting robot with a camera that can see all 30 of the half-dollar-sized targets placed roughly 10 feet away. The cameras in most of the competing robots could only see a portion of their targets at once. Defcon also featured a lock-picking contest where participants competed to be the first to open a door secured by a knob lock, dead bolt, and padlock.
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Tech Pros Getting Extra Pay for Hot Skills: Report
InformationWeek (08/03/06) McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

Companies are finding new ways to compensate IT workers who have skills that they cannot do without. According to a new report from Foote Partners, many employers are increasing the pay of IT professionals who have certified and noncertified skills that they demand, rather than offering bonuses. In fact, Foote, in its survey of 54,000 IT workers in the United States and Canada, has found that about 51 percent of IT professionals now receive additional compensation. "When it comes to pay, you need to be as creative as possible--you need to find ways to compensate key technical, customer, process, and business skills," says Foote President David Foote. Companies are focusing less on job titles, and are paying a SAP developer with skills in a key module more than its other SAP developers, for example. Salary premiums for 122 certified skills averaged 8.3 percent of base pay per skill during the second quarter, with skills in application development and programming languages drawing the largest increase in pay. Business enterprise is a noncertified skill that is garnering an average premium of 8 percent as a percentage of base pay.
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Disabled Technologies Pave the Way for Next Generation Mobile Web
University of Manchester (08/03/06)

Researchers at the University of Manchester will be working to make the next generation mobile Web as easy to use as the Internet over the next three years. Dr. Simon Harper from Manchester's School of Computer Science will lead a team of scientists that will develop new software designed to improve the mobile Web's ability to access content from conventional Web sites. Mobile phones have small screens, which make it difficult for users to navigate a Web site and read its content, and service providers determine how the content is displayed. "Our aim is to change this by enabling Web accessibility and mobile technologies to interoperate," says Harper. Technology used by the blind and visually impaired will influence the new software developed by the Reciprocal Interoperability between Accessible and Mobile Webs (RIAM) project. The researchers plan to develop a validation engine to determine whether a Web site is accessible and compatible with the mobile Web, as well as a transcoding program that removes clutter from Web pages and rearranges content into a format that is mobile Web-friendly. Semantic Web specialist Ian Horrocks and Web accessibility specialist Yeliz Yesilada will assist Harper on the RIAM project, which is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
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Moore of the Same
Engineer Live (08/04/06) Flaherty, Nick

Moore's Law could become obsolete in 10 to 20 years, but engineers will have millions of transistors on a chip for progress to continue, according to Gordon Moore, chairman emeritus of Intel in an interview with Engineer Live. The inventor of Moore's Law says the law is good for consumers because it makes electronics more affordable, but forcing the industry to move quickly is also an incredible challenge. In 1965, Moore noted that computer power doubled every year due to the increasing density of components in chips, but 10 years later he changed his prediction to every two years. The co-founder of Intel, in 1968, acknowledges that software tends to trail hardware, considering hardware is needed so people can develop and debug applications. Moore is intrigued by the potential applications for nanotechnology, but he does not believe it will replace integrated circuits (IC). He also has concerns about the way researchers are approaching artificial intelligence, suggesting that good language recognition may allow humans to one day hold intelligent conversations with computers. Moore says he would encourage young people to explore all career opportunities, including computers, but he does find biotechnology to be very fascinating.
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Bear-Hug: New Robot to Be Therapeutic Companion
Technovelgy.com (08/02/06) Christensen, Bill

Researchers at MIT have developed a robotic companion bear that could be used in therapeutic applications. Underneath Huggable's silicone skin and plush fur is a full-body skin covered with three types of sensors: Electric field, temperature, and force. Huggable has cameras for eyes and microphones for ears, as well as an inertial measurement unit. Voice coil actuators with position sensing enable Huggable's neck, shoulders, and face to move smoothly, and an embedded, wireless-enabled PC directs the robot's actions and supplies care givers with important patient information. The researchers say that a novel feature in Huggable is its ability to interact with people based on its sense of touch. Touch interactions are especially important for companion animals, the researchers say. Animal companionship has been found to lower stress, heart rate, and respiratory rate, and to facilitate increased socialization with others.
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The Four Faces of Net Neutrality
eWeek (08/06/06) Rash, Wayne

The debate over net neutrality is about much more than speeds and tiered services for people such as Dr. Rene Alvarez, a surgeon from Homer, Alaska. During a recent meeting in Boston, Alvarez noted that the Internet does not serve simply as his patients' link to movies and games, but is instead "their lifeline, their link to the outside world." Alvarez is concerned that patients living in small towns in Alaska's interior cannot shoulder an additional increase in Internet access charges. Such an increase could discourage the use of remote medicine, particularly if it is seen as a bandwidth-intensive, upper-tier service, he said. It remains unclear how Alvarez and his patients will ultimately be affected by the net neutrality debate in Washington, which is set to resume next month. On one side of that debate is telecoms such as AT&T, whose CEO, Ed Whitacre, proposed a system in which users such as Google pay more based on the amount of bandwidth used. That proposal was met with intense criticism by Google, which says it already pays a large sum of money to access the Internet, along with a large bill for the company's internal network. Although Google says it can afford to pay for special access, such a system might limit the number of companies that want to start to doing business on the Internet, said Google's chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf. Google is pushing for net neutrality legislation to prevent that from happening. However, it appears unlikely that Congress will adopt net neutrality legislation. The House defeated an amendment on June 8 that would have required net neutrality provisions on the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act of 2006. A Senate version of the bill does not include any net neutrality requirements.
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A Conversation With Jordan Cohen
Queue (08/06) Vol. 4, No. 6, P. 14

In a discussion with UC Berkeley computer science professor John Canny and IBM's Wendy Kellogg, former VoiceSignal CTO and current SRI International scientist Jordan Cohen talks about the status and future outlook on speech technology. Cohen says whether embedded voice recognition or dialogue-based systems will have a role to play in emerging markets such as the home, the automobile, and medicine may be determined by a "wild card," which is the increased connectivity of cell phones and their evolution into IP platforms. Among the new services Cohen thinks speech technology is helping bring about are location-based services and social networking services. "The killer application is probably going to end up being some kind of interface with search, which seems to be the very hot topic in the world today; for mobile search especially, speech is a pretty reasonable interface, at least for the input side of it," Cohen explains. He adds that success of such applications will hinge on how well the multilingual environment is represented. The implementation of speech on phones faces the challenge of usability: "The trick for a developer is to find a place where the speech is of some finite value to the customers, where the value is more than they get from the application without the speech," remarks Cohen. He suggests that people considering speech technology should find an application that appeals to a market and where speech adds value.
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Designing Speech Recognition for the Next Generation
Speech Technology (08/06) Vol. 11, No. 4, P. 23; Donatelli, David

Tufts University computer science graduate David Donatelli writes that his generation is more than willing to incorporate speech technology into their daily lives, provided that applications dovetail with their unique requirements and perspectives. Such needs include ease of use, though one must not underestimate stylishness. Donatelli explains that speech technology is appealing to his generation because there is a newness and a coolness about it that promotes engagement. "Products that are cool and intuitive form an intellectual connection with the user because of the power the technology affords, as well as an emotional connection because of the way the interaction occurs," he notes. The combination of style and ease of use is best illustrated today by products that use a graphical user interface rather than a voice user interface. Donatelli writes that cell phones for the most part lack speech recognition software, voice mail is viewed by his contemporaries as tedious and clumsy, and voice dialing is unreliable and integrates poorly with users' contact lists. Integrating speech technology into systems people employ on a daily basis--cable TV, cars, video games, home appliances, etc.--is key to its success among Donatelli's generation, according to Tufts University senior Sean Brown.
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Assurance & Agile Processes
Dr. Dobb's Journal (07/06)No. 386, P. 42; Berg, Cliff; Ambler, Scott W.

Software security and reliability are not addressed by agile methods because it is assumed that the project's customers will deal with such issues; yet a sturdy agile framework that covers application assurance is a necessity, write Assured By Design founder Cliff Berg and software process improvement consultant Scott Ambler. Design plays a critical role in assurance: The design establishes not only the presence of, but the reasons for, the elements in an application. To ensure the agility of a design, the programmer must create the minimal design required at the time, maintain only those components that must be maintained to fulfill the application's mission, define success criteria or tests that the design must satisfy from the beginning, and require that the design be "tested" with each system build. Verifying that a design complies with the above criteria can involve several techniques, including manual inspection of the code that might be able to access the resource directly; automated inspection via parsing tools or code scanning; runtime checking via dynamic tools; and adequate developer awareness. Agile methods frequently raise assurance issues such as the necessity to concentrate on a comprehensive design, documentation of the design and its intent, nonfunctional testing, and a partitioning of high-risk modules. A number of practices must be followed to ensure assurance from an agile point of view, including the use of the design rather than the code as the focal point of proof of correctness and completeness in instances where a requirement cannot be effectively confirmed with execution tests; guaranteeing that collected requirements cover assurance objectives; the employment of test-driven development and other methods to continually verify the deployment's compliance with both ongoing design and requirements; and the enhancement of the third practice with randomized testing to evaluate assurance. Berg and Ambler conclude that "Explicit steps must be taken to ensure that the required assurance will be provided by the software application, so that it holds up under the stresses of high-visibility, high-usage, and mission-critical dependence that is characteristic of so many of today's Internet-facing applications in large organizations."
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A Great Leap in Graphics
Scientific American (08/06) Vol. 295, No. 7, P. 80; Gibbs, W. Wayt

Consumer PCs may soon become capable of rendering quick, high-quality 3D graphics through new and faster ray tracing methods. Swift algorithms and custom microchips that support the ray tracing of 3D models can now render hundreds of frames of an intricate and rapidly changing scene in less time than conventional ray-tracing software takes to render just one frame. This should add realism to fast-moving computer imagery, and make it easier to generate as well. Today's computer video cards and home console game machines use raster graphics systems that first break down a 3D scene into polygons, which gives real objects an unnatural look when curves are approximated as facets; curves can be rounded out with additional polygons, but this gives rise to rendering times whose length increases in proportion to the scene's geometric complexity. Furthermore, graphics processing units cannot properly render "shadows, reflections, and other effects," according to Saarland University computer science professor Philipp Slusallek. Ray tracing sends virtual rays through the pixels of the 2D display to render the 3D scene, which is stored as a database of objects that can include flat and curved surfaces. A ray striking an object causes the system to launch "shadow" rays toward each light source in the scene and rays to check for indirect illumination by other objects; the ray tracer additionally tests for the reflection, refraction, or color change of the original ray by surfaces. Real-time ray tracing boasts three advances to dramatically slash per-frame rendering times from hours to a fraction of a second: Rays running in lockstep on multiple levels via multicore CPUs; hierarchical splitting of the 3D scene by acceleration structures to distribute computational cost equally among the various segments; and customized microchips from Saarland University.
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