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August 28, 2006

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This Is Only a Drill: In California, Testing Technology in a Disaster Response
New York Times (08/28/06) P. C1; Markoff, John

In an effort to modernize emergency-response tools, groups from the Pentagon, nongovernmental organizations, and dozens of technology companies participated in a five-day simulation to test their latest digital disaster-response tools. Dubbed Strong Angel III, the training effort brought together more than 800 military officers, first responders, and experts in wireless networking from technology companies such as Google and Microsoft. "My view is that the value of Strong Angel is 70 percent in the social networks that will be created," said Eric Rasmussen, a Navy surgeon who organized the conference. "What we do is try to bring people with disparate backgrounds together and ensure that they are forced to enter into a conversation." The participants began by constructing a makeshift command center in a vacant building near the San Diego airport. The effort to create a state-of-the-art ad hoc wireless network that could route satellite map coordinates, video images, and other data failed to get off the ground, and the network jammed with an overload of bandwidth-intensive applications. There were some notable successes, however, such as the work of several companies to enable sharing of a set of data digital satellite maps based on a Microsoft technology called Simple Sharing Extensions. The technology, which was built on industry standards such as RSS, was used to overlay on the maps event data relayed by emergency workers from across the San Diego area. Bringing together rivals like Google and Microsoft to collaborate on projects such as the satellite-image mapping application was at the core of Rasmussen's vision for the event, he said.
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Anita Borg Institute Names Scholarship Winners
Electronic News (08/25/06)

The Anita Borg Institute (ABI) for Women and Technology has recognized the efforts of three women in advancing the role of women in technology and awarded them Change Agent scholarships that cover all expenses to attend the upcoming Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference. The winners are Ijeoma Ihenachor of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, Claudia Medeiros, a computer science professor at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Suriya Thevar, a professor and head of the Department of Library and Information Science at Annamalai University in India. Intel has announced that it will become a full sponsor of ABI and provide funding for the Anita Borg Leadership Award, which will be announced at the conference. "Companies big and small must aggressively draw on the valuable talents and life experiences of women to compete effectively in the global high-tech industry," said Intel CTO Justin Rattner. "Our investment in ABI is but one of the steps Intel is taking to ensure diversity in our workforce that ultimately results in greater creativity and innovation." Ihenachor has been a leader of Nigeria's "Take a Daughter to Work" program, and serves as an executive member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers. In her work, Medeiros has focused on designing and developing scientific databases, and has played a leading role in more than 30 multinational research and development projects. Thevar is India's ambassador to ACM, and services as director of Annamalai's Women's Training Center in Information and Computer Technology.
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Offshoring Data to Get Recrunched
EE Times (08/25/06) Leopold, George

The National Academy of Public Administration is reexamining the offshoring data compiled by the Commerce Department in an effort to determine the impact of sending an increasing number of U.S. tech jobs to China, India, and other less expensive countries. The panel aims to create a framework for sharing and analyzing the data collected by government agencies. One potential result of the panel's work could be to formulate a memorandum explaining the implications of the labor statistics on outsourcing and offshoring that could inform a government response to the dramatic increase in the number of jobs being sent overseas. Contrary to the position of the industry, the Commerce study found that in an effort to save on labor costs, design-engineering jobs are in fact being sent to countries such as India. The report, which was suppressed by the White House for two years, also found that government and industry needed to provide more data to flesh out the analysis of the effects of outsourcing. Many companies are spending more aggressively on setting up facilities overseas than at home, said project director Kenneth Ryder, citing AMD, which last week announced that it would open a second research campus in Shanghai, part of a region that accounts for more than two-thirds of the world's notebook PC production.
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3D Design Platform Connects Varying-Standard Applications
IST Results (08/28/06)

While the technology behind 3-D graphics design has taken off in recent years, progress in the field is still plagued by interoperability issues among the software tools that designers use to create content. To address the problem, IST is funding the Uni-Verse project, an open, distributed Internet-based platform to create 3D graphics, bridging the gap between open-source and proprietary tools. The system dispenses with the need to convert incompatible files, which streamlines the design process and reduces mistakes. The platform is built on the low-latency Verse protocol, which enables multiple applications to work in concert by transmitting data over a network. To harness the compatibility of Verse, the developers rewrote the code of open-source tools such as Blender, and developed plug-ins for proprietary tools such as 3D Studio Max. Developers in different locations can use the Internet-based platform to work simultaneously on the same project. A problem that many designers find is that they cannot see the ultimate product of their work, and feel in essence that they are working blind, but Uni-Verse automatically converts the 3D texturing work and adds it to the model, so designers do not have to wait for the rendering process to determine what changes need to be made to their work. In addition to expediting the workflow at design studios, the Uni-Verse platform could also have significant benefits for architectural firms. "There is a lot of interest in this platform," said Uni-Verse coordinator Gert Svensson. "We were at the recent SIGGRAPH tradeshow in Boston and the general consensus among people working in the 3D design industry is that Uni-Verse solves a technological problem that is extremely important in the sector."
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The Future of Programming: Less Is More
eWeek (08/28/06) Taft, Daryl K.

The rise of open source has shifted the face of programming toward a more dynamic framework that will be less encumbered by configuration concerns and proprietary infrastructures, some developers say. The grassroots community-development model produces simplified code that could bring the age of the vendor-created enterprise code to an end. XML will be the core data type for languages and databases by 2010, said Borland Software's David Intersimone, adding that future languages will be able to verify correctness and testing with syntax extensions. Artifact management, testing, audits, and refactoring will all be automatic in the development environment of the future, Intersimone says. By 2010, he predicts, there will be Web services and libraries of reusable, distributed objects available for developers. The platform of the future should enable developers to extend an existing language, but also simplify the process of creating a new language with an intelligent editor for it, according to JetBrains CEO Sergey Dmitriev. "To run platforms written in such a DSL [domain specific language], the platform should support writing generators to any existing runtime platform--Java or .Net or whatever," he said. "Using such specialized DSLs allows writing programs on a much higher level, so these programs will be much more maintainable and expressive." Dmitriev terms this approach language-oriented programming, and expects future languages to offer more expressive knowledge representations. Programming needs to become creative again, Dmitriev says, which will require better tools. An understanding of new programming skills, particularly service-oriented architecture for business, will be increasingly important, says JackBe CTP John Crupi. "In the future, Web-based applications will subscribe to business events and be mostly based on this interaction model. This new Web event model requires programmers to program at the business event level and less at the user event level."
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Patent Fight Rattles Academic Computing
Associated Press (08/27/06) Pope, Justin

Washington, D.C.-based Blackboard has been awarded a patent that establishes its claims to some of the essential features of the software that powers online education. Blackboard's patent does not refer to any device or to a specific software code, but rather to the basic framework of so-called "Learning Management Systems." Critics of Blackboard's patent say it lays claim to the very idea of e-learning. They add if the patent is allowed to stand, it could hamper the cooperation between academia and the private sector that has characterized e-learning for years and explains why online classrooms are so much better than they used to be. Michael Feldstein, assistant director of the State University of New York's online learning network, says Blackboard's patent is "antithetical to the way that academia makes progress." Critics such as Feldstein have taken to the blogosphere to make their case against Blackboard's patent. Over the last several weeks, a voluminous Wikipedia entry has emerged tracking a history of virtual classrooms as far back as 1945 in an effort to prove that the idea was not Blackboard's. For its part, Blackboard--which recently became the leading company in the field by purchasing rival WebCT--says critics misunderstand what the patent claims. The company says the patent is necessary in order for it to protect its $100 million investment in e-learning technology. "It just wouldn't be a level playing field if someone could come onto the scene tomorrow, copy everything that Blackboard and WebCT have done and call it their own," said Blackboard general counsel Matthew Small.
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African Languages Grow as a Wikipedia Presence
New York Times (08/26/06) P. A15; Cohen, Noam

An African-language version of Wikipedia, the open-source Internet encyclopedia, was a topic of discussion at second annual Wikimania conference this month. There are currently about 38 Wikipedias written in African tongues, though most of them lack articles; the first African-language Wikipedia to contain 1,000 articles is the one written in Swahili. Ironically, many of the Wikipedias' primary contributors are people who did not grow up speaking the language. "[The main contributors to the Swahili Wikipedia] are all white, and to me it is very interesting--it shows that the world is not flat, that the world is still round," noted Wikipedia contributor Ndesanjo Macha. "We have allies, people who are willing to help us, but we need to be in charge of our own identity. When it comes to producing information, we don't want to be dependent." Yale University researcher Martin Benjamin said Africanist professors have previously been hesitant to contribute to African-language Wikipedias, either because they feel the process takes too long, the technology is intimidating, or academics have a snobby attitude toward amateur contributors. Dutchman Kasper Souren is attempting to generate interest in a Wikipedia written in the Bambara dialect by offering to pay contributors a dollar for every article, a strategy that critics say undermines the online encyclopedia's open-source principles. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said at the conference that the Wikipedia foundation would probably get a grant before the end of the year to support an African-language Wikipedia facilitator who would coordinate contributions among bloggers, academics, community leaders, and graduate students and "jumpstart" the encyclopedia's expansion.
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Tiny Ion Pump Sets New Standard in Cooling Hot Computer Microchips
UW News (08/23/06)

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a reliable and efficient cooling device that could fit on a computer chip. The tiny device creates an air jet at the chip's surface through an electrical charge, an advance that could be invaluable as heating becomes an increasing problem with smaller and denser chips. "With this pump, we are able to integrate the entire cooling system right onto a chip," said Alexander Mamishev, associate professor of electrical engineering at Washington. "That allows for cooling in applications and spaces where it just wasn't realistic to do before." The idea is not new, but the researchers' prototype is the first working device created using the method. Using an electrical field, the device can propel air at speeds previously attainable only with conventional blowers. In testing, the pump significantly cooled a heated surface using just 0.6 watts of power. The prototype features an emitter with a tip radius of around 1 micron, which creates air ions that are propelled within an electric field to the surface of a collector. While traveling to the collector, the ions create a stream of air that blows over the chip's surface, whisking away the heat. The pump could be an improvement over cooling systems that circulate liquids over the chip's surface. While the technology is promising, the pump is still very complex, and it remains uncertain which materials will be best to build such high-performance and durable systems.
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Super Computer: Tech Guru Tackled Social Ills, Too
Wall Street Journal (08/26/08) P. A7; Clark, Don; Miller, Stephen

William C. Norris, the founder of a company that made faster computing machines than IBM in the 1960s, died Aug. 21 at age 95. Norris grew up in Nebraska during the Depression and attended the University of Nebraska, before he had his first experience with calculating machines while helping the U.S. Navy decode enemy communications during World War II. He joined several other veterans in setting up Engineering Research Associates in St. Paul, Minn., in 1946, but in 1957 would leave to form Control Data, which later won a legal battle with IBM by settling its antitrust suit in the early 1970s. Control Data would grow to employ 60,000 by 1984, but competition from Japanese companies and IBM in the large commercial computer category and the emergence of the personal computer would force Norris to sell and close some businesses. By that time, Control Data had branched out into computer services, and Norris' pioneering computer services in education and other areas enabled the company to survive. "He was way ahead of his time in understanding that computer hardware was going to become commoditized," says Robert Price, who replaced Norris as CEO when he retired in 1986. Norris did not care much for Wall Street, which criticized him for focusing too much on social initiatives, such as building plants in inner cities, setting up training centers for teachers and engineers, and for launching ventures targeted to farmers, convicts, and entrepreneurs. Norris believed his greatest accomplishment was Plato, an early online community where learning, message exchanging, and game-playing took place.
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Reaching Agreement Over Ontology Alignments
University of Southampton (ECS) (08/24/06) Laera, Loredana; Tamma, Valentina; Euzenat, Jerome

Ontologies are critical for inter-agent communication, and interoperability resides in the ability to reconcile disparate existing ontologies whose format may be variegated and whose domains may overlap; this reconciliation typically depends on the presence of correspondences or mappings between agent ontologies. The authors offer a framework enabling agents to agree on the terminology they use for communication by permitting them to express their preferred choices over candidate correspondences. A value-based argumentation framework is employed for the computation of each agent's preferred ontology alignments. The basis of argumentation is an exchange of arguments, for or against a correspondence, that interact with each other through an "attack" relation. An argumentation schema is instantiated by each argument, which employs domain knowledge taken from extensional and intensional ontology definitions. With the generation of a full set of arguments and counter-arguments, the agents consider which of them should be accepted. The authors define two different types of alignment, an agreed and agreeable alignment; the agreed alignment is the series of mappings based on those arguments contained in every preferred extension of every agent, while the agreeable alignment is the extension of the agreed alignment with those mappings supported by arguments which are in some preferred extension of every agent. "The dialogue between the agents can...consist simply of the exchange of individual argumentation frameworks, from which they can individually compute acceptable mappings," write the authors.
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Internet Search Engines Go on Trial
New Scientist (08/19/06) Vol. 191, No. 2565, P. 24; Reilly, Michael

Lawsuits targeting search engines allege that the engines are discriminating against vendors by unjustly manipulating results through the alteration of their rankings, and this raises the larger issue of whether biased results are truly generated by search engine algorithms. New York University's Helen Nissenbaum, who claims there is an inherent bias in search engine results, contends that knowledge of engines' operations is within the public interest, given the technology's widespread presence. "These lawsuits are important because they can start the discussion of search engine transparency," she reasons. Studies by researchers have generally agreed with Nissenbaum's theories about biased results, noting that search engines and the hyperlinked Internet framework adhere to a popularity-based scheme in which newer and smaller Web sites are pushed to the margins. Users tend to click mainly on popular, high-ranking pages, which boosts their popularity and traffic, while less popular sites maintain a low ranking. A recent Indiana University study that focused on three Internet models and their impact on traffic to popular and less popular sites concluded that search engines mitigate rather than increase the inherent bias of the Internet. Study co-author Filippo Menczer says most submitted queries are specific as well as variegated, and bias "doesn't go away entirely, but you can see it's more spread out." Santa Clara University cyber-law researcher Eric Goldman argues that exposing the operational mechanisms of search engines could actually increase bias through the machinations of organizations or individuals.
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Lawyer Sees Need in Hollywood for New Digital Licensing System
Investor's Business Daily (08/24/06) P. A4; Deagon, Brian

Carole Handler of Foley & Lardner says in an interview that Hollywood is finally copping to the fact that digital piracy is an intractable problem without a digital content licensing system. She cites Stanford professor Larry Lessig's vision of a creative commons that "would reserve some rights but not all rights to content, freeing some rights that copyright owners traditionally exploited." Handler describes the creative commons as a compromise measure stating that "there are definitely protectable and copyrightable interests. But there are other rights of the copyright owner that really are changing by virtue of new technology." Determining the scope of fair use is a key copyright issue that must be addressed in the context of new media, according to Handler. She notes that the movie industry has begun to realize that the digital downloading of film represents an opportunity rather than a disadvantage. "What [the studios] are doing, intelligently I think, is saying, 'This is technology that people want to use to see their movies,'" she says. Handler observes that new technology such as digital video recorders has shifted control of content from broadcasters to consumers, which calls for new business models.
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Mainframes Learn New Tricks
eWeek (08/21/06) Vol. 23, No. 33, P. 13; Taft, Daryl K.

As the number of developers with mainframe skills faces declines, IBM and some of its affiliates are partnering with universities to revive interest and developing new mainframe tools and programs to support modern architectures. In recent years, IBM has seen its mainframe business pick up while the number of developers who write programs for mainframes has actually declined. With many programmers skilled in IBM's z/OS mainframe operating system nearing retirement, the shortage in that area will be particularly acute. Many newcomers enter the field with little or no mainframe experience because many colleges have dropped their mainframe-related courses. IBM's Academic Initiative for System z now includes more than 250 colleges and universities throughout the world, bringing mainframe instruction to more than 10,000 students. IBM partnered with the Share conference to launch zNextGen, a community for professionals who are new to the mainframe environment. IBM got involved with the program both to foster a community of mainframe professionals who could interact and learn from each other, and to formulate an agenda that IBM and Share could help them work through. Since the mainframe sector is so heavily skewed toward older workers, entrants to the field have a wealth of established best practices and mentors to use as resources. Professors attending the Share conference suggested that the name "mainframe" might be dropped in favor of a new term that does not carry the musty connotations of decades-old technology, such as "large-scale computing" or "large-systems computing." IBM is also developing a new set of mainframe tools to cover run times, testing, debugging, service-oriented architectures, and other functions. Also, COBOL programmers need to cultivate skills in more up-to-date architectures such as Java, XML, and SOA, said IBM's Michael Connor.
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The Educated Browser
EContent (09/06) Vol. 29, No. 7, P. 12; Bernstein, Jared

A team of researchers at George Mason University is developing techniques to simplify the process of compiling bibliographies for academic research projects. Led by assistant professor Dan Cohen, the team was originally working with the Scribe initiative, a free program under GMU's Center for History and New Media (CHNM) that supplies electronic note cards to users so that they can manage citations by entering the metadata for each source. Confident that there must be another way, Cohen and his group secured funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences to develop a better alternative. Less than a year later, they produced Scholar, an open source tool that runs in the Firefox browser, unlike existing tools such as EndNote that run as a separate application. "The Web browser is where students, teachers, and professors are doing an ever-greater amount of their research," Cohen said. "And with digitized collections such as Google's massive library project coming online in the next few years, the amount of time spent working in the browser will become even more significant." The program will enable researchers to grab a citation with a single click and store it in their browser. They can then take notes on the item, link it to others, and organize the annotations and metadata together, which CHNM says should improve the functionality of museum and library collections. The information retrieved by the SmartFox tool is completely searchable, and it is stored on the client's computer, rather than the institution's server. "After putting the bibliographic information into the browser, the program becomes aware of what they're researching," Cohen said, adding that Scholar can detect citations on a Web page, take snapshots of a page, and add descriptions to digital images.
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Put the User in the Driver's Seat
Embedded Systems Design (08/06) Vol. 19, No. 8, P. 37; Murphy, Niall

The automotive industry has embraced the philosophy that a successful user interface makes the user feel he is in control, while the electronics industry has yet to adopt this view, as demonstrated by the many products consumers return in perfect working order because they cannot master them, writes user interface designer and author Niall Murphy. Some interfaces incorporate second-guessing ability and execute actions automatically by constant scale adjustment to incoming data, but Murphy recommends boosting the scale-changing mechanism's ease of use rather than automating it. Automation must not be excessive, otherwise the user's sense of control erodes and he becomes less accepting of the device. An overabundance of configuration options can also be detrimental, and Murphy notes that "Most users want to get on with using the product, not spend time tweaking the interface that the programmers should have gotten right the first time." The gulf of evaluation is the mental distance a user travels between the data presented on the user interface and useful information necessary for formulating a course of action; reducing this gulf involves lowering the number of things the user must recall, or the volume of info the user must obtain from another source. The gulf of execution is the distance between the start of the decided course of action and the desired end result, and this distance increases as the complexity of the mapping from action to result grows. The gulf of execution shrinks if the user interaction is brought closer to the user's initial decision. One way to reduce the gulf of execution is to restrict the number of buttons or mechanisms on an interface that must be manipulated to perform an action, Murphy writes.
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When TCP Breaks: Delay- and Disruption-Tolerant Networking
Internet Computing (08/06) Vol. 10, No. 4, P. 72; Farrell, Stephen; Cahill, Vinny; Geraghty, Dermot

There are research groups devising delay- and disruption-tolerant networking protocols for those scenarios where standard Internet protocols are insufficient to compensate for such interruptions. The Internet Research Task Force's (IRTF) Delay-Tolerant Networking Research Group (DTNRG) is working on a pair of protocols--the Bundle Protocol and the Licklider Transmission Protocol (LTP)--and this work is overlapping with projects from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) on disruption-tolerant networking (DTN) and the interplanetary networking (IPN) group. The Bundle Protocol, an overlay network store-and-forward protocol, can piggyback on the current Internet protocol suite and packages a unit of applications data as well as any necessary control information; the bundle is then forwarded by nodes along a path comprised of several intermediate machines that can each store it for substantial periods. The LTP protocol is a point-to-point protocol that is both delay- and disruption-tolerant, employing a communications daemon to handle all disruptive events. Though LTP can be used in other contexts, it is chiefly designed to serve as a potential convergence layer to support the Bundle Protocol. Other potentially relevant DTN protocols include the carrier-pigeon IP protocol. The largest missing ingredient in a viable DTN scheme is reliable routing, but hopes are high that commercial DTN applications are on the horizon.
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Robots 'R' Us
Popular Science (09/06) Vol. 269, No. 3, P. 54; Kurzweil, Ray

Futurist, inventor, and author Ray Kurzweil writes that robot technology is advancing toward a point where the boundary between the mechanical and biological worlds is erased. "Once this point comes--once the accelerating pace of technological change allows us to build machines that not only equal but surpass human intelligence--we'll see cyborgs...androids...and other combinations beyond what we can even imagine," he projects. Despite the utilitarian nature of modern robots, the inspiring principle and most popular image of robotic design is a machine that is human-like in both appearance and function. Kurzweil says understanding the human brain's mechanisms is key to building robots with human-level intelligence, and we are moving closer and closer to such a goal through the year-on-year doubling of the performance/price ratio, capacity, and bandwidth of both electronic and biological information technology. He acknowledges the complexity of the brain while also realizing that it has a comprehensible and manageable design principle. "By applying the law of accelerating returns to the problem of analyzing the brain's complexity, we can reasonably forecast that there will be exhaustive models and simulations of all several hundred regions of the human brain within about 20 years," Kurzweil explains. With such advances, a machine with human-level intelligence could be realized by 2029. Kurzweil concludes that detailed androids and robotically assisted life extension and brain enhancement will also be possible by that time.
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