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August 21, 2006

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A Move to Secure Data by Scattering the Pieces
New York Times (08/21/06) P. C5; Markoff, John

When Chris Gladwin, the software designer who sold his online music store Music Now in 2004, set about trying to digitize and secure the 27 GB of music, photos, and paper documents that he had been accumulating for years, he turned to an old technique employed by early cryptographers. The result was Cleversafe, an open-source project that secures data by breaking it down into pieces so that the files can only be reassembled by the computers that created them. The program could lower the cost of storing data on the Internet, Gladwin claims. "If we distributed data around the world this way, it would be a pretty resilient way to store data," said former ACM President David Patterson, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. Gladwin is banking on the continued proliferation of digital data of all kinds, including new breeds of digital cameras that will drive demand for more secure and private backup applications. In developing Cleversafe, which will cut the amount of storage space required for secure backup by more than half, Gladwin drew heavily on the landmark paper "How to Share a Secret," written in 1979 by Adi Shamir, a designer of the public-key cryptography algorithm. Gladwin designed a series of software routines to copy PC data into fragments of distributed file systems that could then be retrieved to reconstruct the original. Currently, Cleversafe runs on an experimental research grid located at 11 sites throughout the world, though Gladwin hopes that eventually a commercial network of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of sites will emerge. Unlike existing storage projects, Cleversafe distributes data in encrypted chunks rather than making copies. The approach is similar to the SETI@Home project, which collects idle processing power from a network of computers to power a distributed supercomputer.
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Paper Trail Flawed in Ohio Election, Study Finds
Computerworld (08/21/06) Songini, Marc

A new study funded by the Board of Commissioners of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, has once again called into question the reliability of electronic voting machines. The study claims that even the voter-verified paper trail produced by the Diebold machines was not reliable, noting that 10 percent of the paper votes were "either destroyed, blank, illegible, missing, taped together, or otherwise compromised." The study was conducted by the Election Science Institute (ESI), a San Francisco-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting the development of accurate, auditable election systems. "What we found is that when you take this [technology] out of the lab and put it in a real work environment with real voters, you're going to have some issues you need to resolve," said ESI's Steven Hertzberg. In a letter to Cuyahoga County commissioners, Hertzberg wrote that the systems do provide some benefit for the voters, noting that they are easier to use than the old punch-ballot systems that they replaced. However, he also warned that the county should view the machines as a calculated risk, citing the 72 percent of polling places in which the study found a discrepancy between the paper ballots and the record on the machines' memory cards. Forty-two percent of those discrepancies entailed errors with 25 or more votes. The study also reported that 87 paper rolls and 28 voting machines were missing, and warned that printer malfunctions could cause serious election problems. A Diebold spokesman challenged the study's methods, claiming that the discrepancies resulted from matching paper records with the wrong memory cards. Diebold also expressed dismay that it was not allowed to participate in the analysis of the election. Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell says the machines meet both state and federal requirements for certification, and that any problems are the result of flawed procedures or inadequately trained workers.
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San Diego Supercomputer Center Staff Help Nation's Archivists With Digital-Preservation Expertise
University of California, San Diego (08/18/06) Mueller, Paul K.

Computer scientists are poised to work more closely with archivists in helping the nation to preserve its digital records. At the recent joint meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA), and the Council of State Archivists (CoSA), the SAA elected Richard Marciano, director of the Sustainable Archives and Library Technologies (SALT) lab at the University of California, San Diego, to a three-year term on the steering committee of its Electronic Records Section (ERS). The election of Marciano marks the first time a computer scientist will be a member of ERS and help guide the archivist organization in its electronic preservation initiatives. "These collaborations are a two-way street," said Marciano. "Not only do information technologists provide useful insights for digital preservation, the problems archivists face in preserving digital records are now also enriching computer science research." Marciano introduced Chien-yi Hou, a colleague at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) who specializes in digital preservation, as the type of professional today who can bring computer scientists and archivists together. Reagan Moore, director of the Data Intensive Computing Environments (DICE) group at SDSC, delivered the keynote address to the ERS meeting, noting that data-grid technologies could be used to build preservation tools and that iRODS (the Integrated Rule-Oriented Data System) has potential for use as a data management application.
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Speedy Silicon Sets World Record
BBC News (08/17/06)

A team of researchers from the University of Southampton has developed the world's fastest transistor of its type simply by adding fluorine, a tweak that they claim could lead to faster, less expensive mobile phones and digital cameras while still using conventional manufacturing techniques. "It just takes a standard technology and adds one extra step," said Southampton professor Peter Ashburn. They used a simple device known as a silicon bipolar transistor, which consists of three layers of semiconducting material laid out in a sandwich structure, with two types of one material on either side of a filling made of a different material, in this case silicon around a boron filling. This kind of chip is created through a manufacturing process that heats and diffuses the boron layer, which makes it thicker and slows the flow of electrons through it. Adding fluorine implants to the silicon using a technique known as ion implantation creates tiny clusters of missing silicon atoms that suppress the diffusion of boron, leaving a thinner layer that keeps the electrons moving quickly. "It's atomic engineering, even smaller than nanotechnology," said Ashburn. The transistor tested at 110 GHz, which means that a complete circuit built around the technology could likely operate at around 11 GHz, accounting for the tenfold reduction from a transistor's speed to the actual chips that they could power. That eclipses the previous transistor record of 70 GHz held by electronics maker Philips. Mobile phone circuits currently operate around 1 GHz.
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How Biotech Is Driving Computing
CNN Money (08/18/06) Taylor, Chris

Biotechnology is emerging as the most challenging frontier for the next generation of supercomputers. Japanese researchers have built a $9 million supercomputer that has broken the petaflop barrier, performing at a rate roughly three times faster than IBM's BlueGene/L. Pharmaceutical companies require supercomputing power to test the thousands of chemical compounds that could become the next miracle drug, as well as the ways that each will interact with the trillions of proteins in the human body. Proteins, the enormously complex strings of amino acids, must be mapped in 3D. The Japanese computer, MDGrape-3, is not officially the world's fastest computer because it cannot run the software required by the official rankings. Nevertheless, one of Merck's subsidiaries has already asked the researchers for some time on the computer. IBM is renting out time on Blue Gene to QuantumBio, a company that provides protein-testing services to pharmaceutical companies. As a result of the research, DNA sequencing could become a standard procedure at a routine visit to the doctor's office. As the biotech industry develops, its demands could have a similar effect on supercomputing as the space race did on the development of mainframe computers. Ultimately, genetic science could reshape the nature of computing itself, as researchers have already demonstrated the ability to replace silicon-based materials with DNA as the logic gates that power a computer. At present, the main obstacle to DNA computing is speed, though by the time that Moore's Law runs into its inevitable endpoint, scientists could have a sufficient understanding of DNA computing to make it a viable replacement.
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'Electro-Spin' Trick Boosts Quantum Computing
New Scientist (08/16/06)

A team of researchers from Delft University in the Netherlands has created a device that can manipulate the "up" and "down" spin positions of the electrons in quantum dots using existing fabrication techniques. "This is a breakthrough experiment," said Guido Burkard, a physicist at the University of Basel who did not participate in the research. "The major benefit of making a qubit using this method is that they are built upon existing semiconductor technology." The resulting silicon chip could lead to quantum computers capable of performing multiple applications simultaneously. Using conventional lithography, the Dutch team created a device with two electrodes that creates a circuit by applying voltage to two semiconducting quantum dots, each 100 nm wide. The voltage prompts the electrons to bounce back and forth between the dots, though each dot can only accommodate one electron at any given time. Since electrons of the same spin state cannot land on the same dot, electrons of different spin states get jammed--one on each dot. Once the electrons were jammed, the researchers isolated the dots from the circuit, and then altered the electron's spin on the first dot using an electric field. Then, current will only flow through the circuit if the spin state of the first electron has been switched. Electro-spin qubits can now begin to catch up with more mature areas of quantum computing. "I see no roadblocks to moving towards the first implementation of small quantum algorithms using electron-spin qubits," Burkard said.
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With Its Future Uncertain, Bell Labs Turns to Commerce
Wall Street Journal (08/21/06) P. A1; Silver, Sara

Lucent's storied Bell Labs, which over the past decade has been reduced to a third of its former size, is now under the direction of entrepreneur Jeong Kim, who took the reins at the research facility last year with the singular goal of making it profitable. Kim has refocused the efforts of many of the labs' scientists on projects that could have immediate commercial applications--projects that are expected at a minimum to recoup six times the expected cost of research. Funding is doled out in accordance with a project's financial potential. Kim is also looking to bring in more government grant money to accelerate the conversion of basic research into marketable products. Kim's corporate-minded management style represents the new face of research at Bell Labs, which, like other major industrial labs, has seen its funding drop for projects without immediate commercial potential. Lucent's pending merger with Alcatel could also have an impact on the operations at Bell Labs, as many of the research facility's scientists fear that they could be among the 9,000 workers expected to lose their jobs after the merger is completed. Lucent CEO Patricia Russo claims that there is "absolutely no intention of separating Bell Labs from the company," and that the labs' funding will not be affected by the reorganization. "Bell Labs will be an integral part of the combined company, and is critical to its future success," she says. Alcatel executives have not commented definitively on the role they expect Bell Labs to play after the merger, but have said that they will work to balance basic research with commercial considerations.
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Eye Tracking Technology Poised to Be Next Trend to Immerse Gamers
Queen's University (08/10/06)

Video-game companies see eye-tracking technology as a potential tool for enhancing the gaming experience of players. Eye-tracking technology has been around since the late 1960s, and people with limited mobility, pilots, and market researchers have largely put the application to good use. According to a new study from researchers at Queen's University in Canada, playing a game with your eyes allows gamers to feel more immersed and have more fun in a virtual environment. School of Computing associate professor Nicholas Graham and PhD candidate David Smith integrated a Tobii 1750 desktop eye tracker with several commercial video games, and found that 83 percent of gamers playing Quake 2 and 92 percent of those playing Neverwinter Nights felt more immersed in the games using the technology. "Eye-tracking technology allows us to build interfaces that respond to users' intentions rather than just their actions," says Smith. Although eye-tracking technology feels more natural than playing a game with a mouse, the feature presents control issues because subconscious eye movements make for inadvertent selections of items or directions. The researchers presented the study at ACM's International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology in June.
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Network Time Protocol Works With IPv6
Network World (08/16/06) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

A series of tests run last month by researchers involved with Moonv6, the world's largest native IPv6 testbed, have demonstrated that the Network Time Protocol (NTP) runs over IPv6, the upgrade to the Internet's main protocol. As part of the tests, Moonv6 researchers set up a wide-area link between the University of New Hampshire and the military's Joint Interoperability Test Center in Fort Huachuca, Ariz., to run NTP--which is used to synchronize the timing of network equipment for regular network operations as well as anti-hacking and disaster recovery efforts--over both IPv4 and IPv6. Capt. Jeremy Duncan, a communications interoperability and integration officer with the U.S. Marine Corps, says Fort Huachuca had two servers running NTP, one server running IPv6, and another running IPv4. Both servers were performing updates via NTP, what was tested in native IPv6 and dual-stack IPv4/IPv6 modes. Duncan said the tests went well. Researchers also tested management services such as the use of Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) version 6 with NTP running over IPv6, said Glenn Burdett of Spectracom, a Moonv6 participant. "The bulk of the testing was to prove out NTP, to make sure that machines could be synched up over the LAN and the WAN," he said.
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The Organic Automaton
Scientific American (08/17/06) Musser, George

The vision articulated by futurist Ray Kurzweil holds that computers will eventually be able to run software that can fully simulate the human brain. Critics argue that the theory is flawed because software does not develop according to Moore's Law, and that software's uneven track record is not a strong predictor of reliable simulations of living organisms. Software has also become so complicated that even minor changes to one area of code affect other parts in unintended ways because of the interrelated complexity of many of today's applications. Most modern software is developed through an evolutionary progression where programs move in unanticipated and increasingly complex directions. One line of thought holds that improved testing will solve the software reliability problem, while another argues that making computers more like organisms is the answer. Computers patterned after living organisms could continue to function even when they encounter a problem. The idea is that instead of trying to prevent crashes, developers should design systems that can recover from them more quickly. Going a step further, IBM is promoting autonomic computing, which attempts to make machines self-aware and able to monitor and repair themselves.
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Some Online Video Games Found to Promote 'Sociability,' Researchers Say
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (08/16/06) Lynn, Andrea

Online video gaming has come under criticism for encouraging isolation and passive consumption of media, but new research suggests massively multiplayer online video games (MMOs) should be viewed as places where informal social interaction occurs. "Virtual worlds appear to function best as bridging mechanisms, rather than as bonding ones, although they do not entirely preclude social ties of the latter type," according to the study "Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as 'Third Places,'" published in the early August issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Constance Steinkuehler, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Dmitri Williams, a professor of speech communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, came to the conclusion after playing games and conducting random interviews of players on their reasons for playing, their in-game social networks, and their life away from games. Although players may not gain deep emotional support in a virtual third place, the venue provides an opportunity for gamers to broaden their worldview. MMOs enable gamers to interact with each other in-game through multiple real-time voice or text conversations, cooperate as they play, and form long-term player groups in which relationships can be built. More than 9 million people worldwide spend about 20 hours a week playing MMOs, and they may be drawn to the games because they have nowhere to hang out. "Perhaps it is not that contemporary media use has led to a decline in civic and social engagement, as many have argued, but rather, that a decline in civic and social engagement has led to a 'retribalization' through contemporary media," says the study.
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Romanian Rhapsody
Business Week (08/21/06) Matlack, Carol

Bucharest, Romania, is on the verge of becoming the Bangalore of Eastern Europe because of the talent pool and low wages that the local market has to offer. Companies such as Oracle, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Accenture are investing millions of dollars in Bucharest by opening offices, hiring thousands of IT workers, and buying startups and their technologies. Romania is attractive because 60 percent of its workforce is believed to speak at least one foreign language, and because a programmer can be hired for about $500 a month, which is comparable to salaries in India and is 50 percent less than those in Poland and the Czech Republic. But what sets Romania apart is the excellent training and problem-solving skills of its computer specialists, who can handle more advanced research and development. Varujan V. Pambuccian, a computer scientist who is a member of Romania's Parliament, says the country has about 16,000 software engineers, and about half focus on research and development rather than coding. Oracle will be increasing the number of people it employs for software development and product support in northern Bucharest to 1,000 in a few months, and the company also subsidizes IT courses at local universities. Such investment is even prompting Romanians who have left the country for employment abroad to return home.
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Inside the Robot Factory
PC Magazine (08/16/06) Ulanoff, Lance

Attendees of the recent RoboBusiness Conference were treated to a look inside Carnegie Mellon's storied Robotics Institute. In addition to the institute, Carnegie Mellon also maintains two other robotics facilities: Robot City and the National Robotics Engineering Consortium. The institute is Carnegie Mellon's largest department. Its 98 graduate students and technical staff of 200 explore autonomous systems, vision, speech, and manipulation. CMU computer science and robotics professor Matthew Mason, the direct of the Robotics Institute, says, "Part of the fun of robotics is that you're relating what machines can do to what humans can do." Initially funded by private industry, the institute now relies more heavily on government grants, though the Defense Department has cut its funding in half since the Sept. 11 attacks. Among the projects underway at the institute are robots designed to build and repair the International Space Station, locate meteorites, and navigate the abandoned mines around Pittsburgh. While the institute is home to experimentation and innovation, the NREC is devoted to finding practical applications for technology. The professional engineers working at NREC have developed a robot to strip the paint off large ships and a system to inspect the conveyor belts in mines. These days, their major focus is on military applications, such as autonomous unmanned ground combat vehicles.
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An Evaluation of Information Quality Frameworks for the World Wide Web
University of Southampton (ECS) (08/16/06) Parker, M.B.; Moleshe, V.; De la Harpe, R.

The retrieval of relevant information from the Internet is beset by a lack of information quality standards for Web publishers, and University of Southampton and Cape Peninsula University of Technology researchers assess World Wide Web information quality frameworks to identify what components they have in common as well as elements they are missing. An evaluation of 13 frameworks unveils a series of common dimensions, including accessibility, accuracy, objectivity, relevancy, consistency, appropriateness, believability, representation, reputation, source, security, speed, ease of manipulation, value-added, timeliness, free-of-error, completeness, and understandability. The most frequently occurring dimensions in the frameworks are accessibility and timeliness. Accessibility focuses on technical accessibility and the issues of data representation and data volume. The problem of technical accessibility becomes apparent when security access and Web page permissions block accessibility, while the data-volume issue deals with the provision of applicable data that increases value to tasks in a timely way. Timeliness and thus accessibility problems could crop up when large volumes of data need to be updated to the Web site. The least frequently occurring quality dimensions are ease-of-manipulation and value-added, and the low occurrence of the value-added dimension dovetails with the lack of information quality in individual Web pages. The researchers conclude that a World Wide Web information quality framework should feature the accessibility, timeliness, accuracy, relevance, believability, completeness, objectivity, appropriateness, representation, source, and understandability dimensions, at minimum.
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Who Said the Net Was Fair?
New Scientist (08/12/06) Vol. 191, No. 2564, P. 17; Biever, Celeste

Though there is a certain degree of relevancy in "net neutrality" advocates' warning that the openness of the Internet could be endangered without legislation requiring equal prioritization of all Web traffic, the truth is that such equality does not exist, and may even be anathema to innovation directly fueled by unequal treatment of traffic, writes Celeste Biever. Net neutrality proponents' fears were sparked by the AT&T/SBC and MCI/Verizon mergers, which gave individual companies end-to-end control over data packets for the first time. This development has opened the way for the companies to charge their richer customers to prioritize packets, which could be a crippling blow to small startups that cannot afford such service. Yet large Web sites have been paying for faster data delivery for a number of years; many users are unaware that 15 percent of all Web traffic is sent to the Web user's computer from servers owned by Akamai, not from the site the user is visiting. Not only does this method offer smoother Web browsing, but it can also defend a company's own servers against denial of service attacks. A lack of net neutrality has proven beneficial to some innovative Internet applications, such as spam filtering. Andrew Odlyzko of the University of Minnesota's Digital Technology Center reports that the blockage of malicious data packets would be hard to enforce with net neutrality legislation in place. "How do you define a spammer?" he queries. "Any kind of net neutrality legislation would interfere with at least a few of the common practices on the Internet today."
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Wireless Works Wonders in Tibet
Wired News (08/17/06) Jardin, Xeni

Yahel Ben-David--a former Silicon Valley dot-commer--and members of the underground security group Cult of the Dead Cow are working with Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala, India, to build a low-cost wireless network in this high mountain village near the Chinese border. The network, called the Dharamsala Wireless Mesh, is an example of "light infrastructure," a concept that is gaining popularity among tech developers. Light infrastructure networks are decentralized, ad-hoc networks that can deliver essential services faster than conventional means. However, the Dharamsala Wireless Mesh is not available to everyone. Unlike similar community wireless projects in the United States, the Dharamsala Wireless Mesh is not open to laptop users. And since bandwidth is limited, costly, and comes from government-controlled telecom provider BSNL, access to the network is restricted mostly to schools, government offices, and nonprofits, who pay a small fee and host equipment to broaden the network's reach. Nonetheless, many in Dharamsala are hoping that the network will eventually be made available to others so that it can help the area's economy grow.
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Transformations of the Research Enterprise
Educause Review (08/06) Vol. 41, No. 4, P. 26; Braman, Sandra

The U.S. agenda for research and information technology continues to be influenced by political, economic, and intellectual developments that generate future computational, networking, and data challenges, which are interconnected. The modern research environment is characterized by a number of developments, including the erosion of the boundary between basic and applied research; computation's stature as the "third branch" of science, along with theory and experimentation; the expanding role of computation in all disciplines; and the growing transdisciplinary nature of large research projects. The context for IT engagement with research in higher education is determined by themes that have emerged at the point where national policy, disciplinary developments, institutional habits, and the evolution of research techniques converge. These themes include the advent of computation as a basic, distinct research step, the effects of globalization, research projects' increasing scope, a movement toward interdisciplinary research collaborations, research democratization, and the identification of the importance of knowledge reuse. Tension between centralization and decentralization, technological innovation speed and institutional innovation speed, academic institutions' requirements and external funding agencies' requirements, the needs of the many and the needs of the few, faculty desires and administrator mandates, and other competing factors stems from these themes. New opportunities for IT specialists, researchers, and administrators of higher education institutions can be found in these research enterprise transformations. Despite the critical role national policies play in academic research, economic support for academic institutions as centers of knowledge generation and circulation does not always result from appreciation of the knowledge economy, although institutional players are expanding. Future research and IT challenges in the area of computation include the problem of providing enough capacity, while networking challenges include governance and dealing with assorted national and international grids; data issues include the exponential growth of data and how it affects computing capacity.
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