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September 13, 2006

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Welcome to the September 13, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Stemming Spam: Internet Routing and Spam Data Reveal Trends to Help Researchers Build Better E-mail Filters
Georgia Institute of Technology (09/12/06)

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have found that addressing spam at the network level could be a more effective solution for Internet service providers than today's message content filters. They have also developed algorithms that can detect when a computer is a member of a botnet, as well as a technique for bolstering the security if the Internet's routing structure. "Content filters are fighting a losing battle because it's easier for spammers to simply change their content than for us to build spam filters," said Nick Feamster, an assistant professor of computing. "We need another set of properties, not based on content. So what about network-level properties? It's harder for spammers to change network-level properties." The research will be presented at the ACM SIGCOMM conference on September 11-15 in Pisa, Italy. The researchers spent 18 months collecting Internet routing and spam data from one domain. They found that they can identify which Internet service providers are transmitting spam, as well as the numerous narrow ranges of IP address space that are only producing spam. Spammers exploit vulnerabilities in Internet routing protocols by broadcasting a route for that space to the routers on the Internet, enabling them to assign their machines any IP address within that space. They then send spam from those machines and promptly withdraw the route of transmission. The IP address is no longer reachable and the route disappears by the time the recipient can file a complaint. "Even if you're watching the hijack take place, it's difficult to tell where it's coming from," Feamster said. "We can make some good guesses. But Internet routing protocols are insecure, so it's relatively easy for spammers to steal them and hard for us to identify the perpetrators." Feamster hopes that his research will lead to more secure Internet routing protocols and improved spam filtering.
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Sandia Fingerprinting Technique Demonstrates Wireless Device Driver Vulnerabilities
Sandia National Laboratories (09/12/06)

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have demonstrated a wireless-networking vulnerability that could enable a hacker to identify an 802.11 wireless driver without modifying the device. By making the unique "fingerprinting" technique publicly known, the researchers hope to improve the security of wireless communications. Device drivers have become a principal vulnerability in today's operating systems, Sandia's Jamie Van Randwyk says. Video and keyboard drivers are unlikely targets because it is difficult to gain physical access to them, but some types of drivers, such as wireless cards, Ethernet cards, and modems, can be compromised without physical access, Van Randwyk notes. "Wireless network drivers, in particular, are easy to interact with and potentially exploit if the attacker is within transmission range of the wireless device," he said. The research demonstrates that an attacker can monitor a victim's wireless traffic so long as he is within transmission range. Since the attacker is not sending data, he essentially operates invisibly, making the attack difficult to detect. Wireless configurations periodically send out probe request frames to scan for access points, but the requests are not governed by any standard 802.11 specifications. The fingerprint technique highlights the vulnerabilities that arise from different wireless device drivers performing the probe request function differently. The fingerprinting technique tested at accuracy rates between 77 percent and 96 percent, depending on the setting of the network.
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Will Airport of the Future Fly?
CNet (09/13/06) Olsen, Stefanie

At the opening session of the FAA/NASA/Industry Airport Planning Workshop, Cisco Systems' Dave Evans articulated a bold vision of technological transformation for airports, where virtual intelligence agents could check in bags, new sensor networks could improve security, and pilots could even fly a plane from home using a remote brain-machine interface. Evans described RFID readers that could enable airlines to identify passengers by their cell phones and check them in remotely, while new display technologies could change the way that flight information is presented inside the airport terminal. Evans told the audience that he has developed software that could enable virtual intelligence agents to learn from their interactions with human airport workers. Executives in attendance from the airport industry reacted to Evans' predictions with a mixture of excitement and fear, as well as a healthy dose of skepticism, given that airports still lack some of the most basic technological needs, including devices to scan passengers and luggage for dangerous devices such as bombs. Government regulations also stall the adoption of new technologies. "I think it's a real challenge for government to react to technology changes whether it's security or flying," said Steve Martin, CFO of policy and planning for Airports Council International, North America. "I don't see government agencies being able to keep up with technology's exponential growth." Nevertheless, the participants expressed measured optimism that policymakers might cut through some of the red tape if they were shown simulations of how new technologies could improve the airport industry.
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DePauw to Host Midwest Celebration of Women in Computing Conference
DePauw University (09/12/06)

DePauw University is expected to draw approximately 100 women from 25 schools across the Midwest to its campus in Greencastle, Ind., for the Midwest Celebration of Women in Computing (MidWIC) conference, scheduled for Sept. 29-30, 2006. DePauw computer science professor Gloria Childress Townsend, co-organizer of MidWIC, says the event will build on the success of the Indiana Women in Computing annual conference in February, which she chaired. Sheila Castaneda, associate professor and chair of computer science at Clark College, will deliver the keynote address. The conference will have a papers program and publish conference proceedings that include copies of papers, with hopes of preparing female computer science students for the writing, reviewing, and publishing process. ACM's committee on Women in Computing (ACM-W) is a sponsor of MidWIC, and will join Microsoft and Google in providing scholarship grants. "MidWIC will connect women in computing from these diverse settings, emphasizing the importance of graduate school and remaining in the computer science field to affect the technological future where women's influence and unique perspective will be essential," says Townsend. For more on ACM-W, visit http://women.acm.org
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New Global Grid Computing Technology Demonstrated by Researchers in US and Japan
Carolina Newswire (09/11/06)

U.S. and Japanese researchers have demonstrated an automated interoperability between a national grid computing testbed in each country. Linking Japan's G-lambda project and the United States' Enlightened Computing project is the first demonstration of interoperability between grid initiatives in two countries at this scale. Many believe that the seamless connection of geographically distant grid environments will be the key to the next generation of Internet services. Grid computing is of particular value for large-scale scientific research projects, enabling scientists to share equipment and work on high-speed optical networks operating at 10,000 times the speed of the broadband connections at individual users' homes. The U.S. and Japanese researchers demonstrated how network connections to the grid, which typically take weeks to establish, can be created "on demand" using new software applications, providing access to the grid resources only for the time that is needed, whereas connections previously have been tied up for months or even years. "This has been a wonderful collaboration to demonstrate the interoperability of resource management middleware," said Tomohiro Kudoh of Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. "In addition, we together obtained a lot of knowledge about the middleware integration in terms of the architecture as well as the implementation. This collaboration will become a model of future service infrastructure provided by multiple organizations in multiple network domains." Researchers developing next-generation optical networks hope to use what is called the optical control plane to deliver control of the network and resources to software programs. The optical control plane regulates the creation, management, and release of optical-network connections, as well as the algorithms that determine the most direct path between resources.
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Simulating September 11
The Engineer Online (09/12/06)

A team of researchers at Purdue University has developed a detailed simulation based on scientific principles and mathematical models to examine what likely transpired when the World Trade Center's North Tower was struck by a hijacked commercial airliner on Sept. 11, 2001. The plane and its mass are represented as hundreds of thousands of "finite elements," or tiny squares with specific physical properties. The simulation could help determine which parts of the building's structural core were affected and how the tower eventually collapsed from the fire that was fueled by some 10,000 gallons of jet fuel. The first simulation, which depicts how the plane ripped through several stories of the building in a half-second, was the product of 80 hours of work by a 16-processor high-performance computer, said Purdue computer science professor Christoph Hoffmann. "This required a tremendous amount of detailed work," Hoffman said. "We have finished the first part of the simulation showing what happened to the structure during the initial impact. In the coming months, we will explore how the structure reacted to the extreme heat from the blaze that led to the building's collapse, and we will refine the visual presentations of the simulation." Hoffmann and his colleagues are trying to determine how many columns in the building's core of 47 heavy steel I-beams were initially destroyed. It now appears that 11 columns were destroyed on the 94th floor, 10 on the 95th floor, and nine on the 96th floor, said Purdue engineering professor Mete Sozen. "This is a major insight. When you lose close to 25 percent of your columns at a given level, the building is significantly weakened and vulnerable to collapse," Sozen said. The researchers, drawing partially on the findings of a similar study on the September 11 attack on the Pentagon conducted in 2002, have concluded that most of the structural damage in such a collision is the result of the impact of the mass of fluid on board.
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Australia's Jobs Boom for Robots
Age (Australia) (09/12/06) Timson, Lia

Scientists and computing experts will gather to discuss the future of robotics and other technologies at the Computing the Future Symposium at the University of Sydney tomorrow. Australia's vast expanse of land, hostile environment, and sparsely populated remote areas make it an ideal environment for the development of autonomous systems. "Australia may end up being one of the biggest users of robotics in the world," said leading Australian roboticist Hugh Durrant-Whyte, director of the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence for Autonomous Systems at the University of Sydney. At cargo terminals, field robotics applications have already demonstrated their potential for commercial settings, and in the coming decade, automated systems will be deployed in mining, agriculture, and defense, Durrant-Whyte says. Despite the technological advances, consumer applications remain farther off, as robots still have difficulty negotiating stairs or executing tasks such as pouring a glass of water. Also speaking at the conference will be Howard Charney of Cisco Systems, who will challenge the audience to advance innovation by using the Internet as an educational tool, and to continue investing in broadband infrastructure. "The network of tomorrow will be evolutionary and it will build on the (Internet) of today. It will be much faster, much more secure with (clear) video and audio, but all dreams will come to a halt if broadband rollout can't be done faster," Charney said. Albert Zomaya, head of the School of Information Technologies at the University of Sydney, will discuss Australia's role in bioinformatics and biomedical imaging. Zomaya likens the role that computer science plays in biology to that historically played by math in physics, though he warns that there needs to be more funding in Australia if it is to compete with the United States and Europe.
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Net Neutrality Bill May Die This Year
CNet (09/12/06) Broache, Anne

Before Congress left Washington for its August recess, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) suggested he was confident that he would be able to round up the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster on a sweeping communications bill that includes everything from changes to the way the government subsidizes rural telecommunications to a revival of the controversial "broadcast flag" copy protection. But at a committee event in Washington on Tuesday, Stevens said the debate over Net neutrality is holding up the bill and could cause it to be derailed this year. Top Senate committee aides say it is impossible to predict whether their bosses will be able to pass the communications legislation this year, particularly since Congress is set to recess again in a few weeks. Even if the legislation stalls this year, the debate over Net neutrality will not likely end anytime soon, some aides say. "That issue is not going to go away until we have a whole lot more (broadband) competition than we do today, at least in my view," said James Assey, senior counsel to Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee. Others say the current bill offers sufficient protection in the "Internet consumer bill of rights" section of the legislation, and note that failure to pass any new laws is worse. Lisa Sutherland, staff director for the committee's Republican side, says, "If we don't get a bill up at all, we basically have the status quo, and there are zero protections on Net Neutrality."
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How Harmud Pilch, Avid Computer Geek, Bested Microsoft
Wall Street Journal (09/12/06) P. A1; Jacoby, Mary

A German linguist and self-styled computer geek, Harmut Pilch is leading the charge against a new patents court in Brussels that is supported by Western technology giants including Microsoft and Siemens. "Patents on software mean any programmer can be sued at any time," Pilch said. Last July, some 200 programmers followed Pilch's call to protest at the European Parliament, demanding the right to a free exchange of computer code. In response, Parliament scuttled a law that technology companies had spent years and millions of euros trying to get passed. The battle is now over the creation of a special patents court that would hear appeals cases from across Europe. The court is supported by the likes of Microsoft because national courts often reject software patent claims. Pilch's group, the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), believes that computer language should be no more a marketable commodity than human speech. Claiming that copyright law already offers sufficient protection from piracy, Pilch wants to protect Europe from the software patents that he says have already undermined innovation in the United States. The current debate dates back to 2002, when the European Commission proposed a law that would subordinate the national courts to the pro-software patent European Patent Office, arguing that a streamlined patent system would improve European competitiveness. Having won over pro-industry members of Parliament, who voted in 2005 to abandon the proposed software law, the FFII has now redirected its energies toward defeating the proposal for a patent court.
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Personal Data Protection Vital to Future Civil Liberties
IST Results (09/13/06)

Researchers working under the SWAMI project set out to determine the privacy implications of the ongoing miniaturization of intelligent devices that can be embedded throughout the environment to capture and relay personal information. With microelectro-mechanical sensors the size of a grain of sand capable of detecting a whole spectrum of environmental conditions, from light to vibrations, the environment is becoming much more intelligent, but the era of continuous communication could have troubling implications for security, privacy, and civil liberties. Observers believe that ambient intelligence could be a major boon to Europe's economy, and the field has already received considerable research funding. But in order to deliver customized information and services to individual users, an inordinate amount of personal data must be stored, where it could be vulnerable to abuse. "Most people would be shocked to find out just how much information they consider private is already in the public domain," said David Wright, the project's information coordinator. The SWAMI researchers explored several everyday scenarios that demonstrated how information could be misused in a world of intelligent environments, such as a hacker accessing the control system of a traffic grid powered by ambient intelligence, or the theft of a large volume of personal data from a data-aggregation company whose main system is powered by ambient intelligence. Wright and his colleagues compiled a list of proposed measures for safeguarding personal data, including the privacy-enhancing technology that can be incorporated into fourth-generation mobile devices. They also call for legislation at both the national and European levels to meet the challenges of increasingly intrusive technologies.
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Google Seeks Help With Recognition
Business Week (09/07/06) Holahan, Catherine

No stranger to massive projects, Google is now attempting to digitize the entirety of the world's printed material with its Books, Scholar, and News Archive initiatives. But as it tries to build the world's largest online library, Google is seeking help, having released its character-recognition scanning software to the open-source development community. Google's first step in improving optical character recognition (OCR) technology was to debug Hewlett-Packard's old OCR engine, which had recently been released to university researchers in Nevada after sitting idle since 1995. Google opened the debugged version to the development community in the hopes of greatly expanding its capabilities to surpass existing OCR search engines. OCR technology makes documents readable to search engines; without it, a scanned page simply appears as an image, and the search engine is unable to locate keywords or phrases within the text. The HP program, Tesseract, lags well behind the standards of current commercial OCR applications, however. Google hopes that by enlisting the development community, the HP engine will not only overcome its deficiencies in areas such as reading gray scale and text with background color, but also vault ahead of existing OCR search engines, which often have difficulty reading foreign languages, handwriting, and irregular fonts and layouts. In the past, Google has also had trouble with blurry or off-center scans that are sometimes unreadable to the OCR engines. "If you look at OCR over the past 10 years, not much has happened. There are some programs out there that are pretty good, but we wanted to see if by putting OCR out there we could improve it," said Google's Chris DiBona.
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Supercomputing: The Next Industrial Revolution
Industry Week (09/13/06) Ahalt, Stanley

As small and midsize manufacturing companies throughout the country struggle to compete with foreign rivals, they must embrace new technologies that can reduce production costs, streamline work processes, and improve product quality, writes Stanley Ahalt of the Ohio Supercomputer Center. The high-performance computing power that facilitates computer modeling and simulations is no longer beyond the reach of smaller enterprises. Just as PCs have become smaller and more affordable for consumers, high-performance computing technology today is scalable for companies of all sizes and for any purpose, and Japanese and Chinese companies have already begun to invest heavily in the technology. Supercomputing technology can generate better product models and reduce time to market, while simulations can clarify the choice between alternative processing techniques. Pringles, for example, is borrowing the airline industry's aerodynamic analysis methods to prevent potato chips from flying off the assembly line. Using simulations, Goodyear has dramatically cut its spending on physical tire prototypes. The supercomputing charge has been taken up by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who said, "We see as a key trend here is that we'll have supercomputers of all sizes, including one that will cost less than $10,000 and be able to sit at your desk or in your department and be very, very accessible...we need an approach here that scales from the smallest supercomputer that will be inexpensive up to the very largest." In that vein, the Ohio Supercomputer Center has developed the Blue Collar Computing program, which aims to provide smaller companies with access to supercomputing resources. The program has drawn the support of legislators and President Bush.
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Beer Project Is a Lot of Froth and Bubble
Age (Australia) (09/11/06) Hearn, Louisa

Researchers at the Australian research agency CSIRO plan to spend the next four years developing software tools that will allow animators to more realistically recreate the movement of water for movies and games. Creating the animation of liquids is difficult because the researchers also have to factor in the behavior of motion, foam, bubbles, splashes, waves, eddies, and whirlpools. The team of scientists recently completed the first stage of the project by using simulated scenes from the sinking of the Titanic as an example of animated motion of water. The researchers had to use difficult mathematical algorithms to calculate the behavior of flowing water, which was then rendered in software for simulating the motion of different objects. "That was quite challenging to do using proper physics and is something we believe is quite unique in our simulations," says Mahesh Prakash, a research scientist at CSIRO. Resolution was an enormous concern for the researchers because if they did not have enough the animated fluid would resemble flowing ice. The researchers solved this problem by using Computational Fluid Dynamics, which gave animators control of every individual particle in a fluid. CSIRO scientists are now turning their attention to other liquid behaviors, and hope to simulate the formation of bubbles, foam, and spray, by animating actions such as the pouring of beer, by the end of the year.
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Breakthroughs in Open Source
InfoWorld (09/04/06) Vol. 28, No. 36, P. 20; Binstock, Andrew; McAllister, Neil; Venezia, Paul

Community-driven or open-source software development is highly valued because it cultivates software products organically, and the resulting innovations often accommodate functional areas not covered by proprietary software. The basic building blocks of enterprise Java, which include the Eclipse and NetBeans development environments, the PMD source code validator, Ant, Hibernate, Maven, and JUnit, are all open source, while the JavaServer Faces, Struts, and Spring open-source frameworks have also proven valuable, along with containers such as Apache Tomcat, Geronimo, Jonas, Jetty, and Resin. There is an assortment of open-source multimedia projects underway, among them the Ogg Vorbis "lossy" audio compression technology, which is royalty free and can deliver better sound quality than MP3 at a similar compression grade via advanced psychoacoustic modeling; meanwhile, the BBC Research-sponsored Dirac project seeks to improve video delivery through the use of wavelet compression. To address the content problem that is hindering the adoption of open-source multimedia products, Sun Microsystems is supporting TheOpenMediaCommons initiative to develop DRM technology in a community-driven manner. The open-source Linux operating system can deliver advantages to embedded system devices through its low cost, openness, and flexibility, easing the construction of complex embedded applications, accelerating the production of prototypes and time-to-market, and nurturing a climate of "competitive collaboration," among other things. Open-source has started to penetrate the security industry because the products are developed by scores of quality assurance teams, which entails the faster detection of bugs and far more scrutiny paid to fixes than in the commercial sector. Nearly all scripting languages are open source, and this property is critical to their success because it is directly responsible for building developer communities. Finally, open-source enterprise messaging is gaining credibility as an alternative communications medium for small to medium-sized organizations; the advantage over proprietary messaging is a long-term guarantee to customers that their data will be accessible when they need it.
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Are You Being Served?
Public CIO (09/06) Vol. 4, No. 4, P. 52; Douglas, Merrill

As the U.S. economy increasingly shifts toward services and away from manufacturing, business researchers are starting to pay more attention to services as well, and this holds some promise for the public sector. Arizona State University has long been paying attention to the service economy, and its W.P. Carey School of Business has spent 20 years helping companies achieve excellence and innovation in services through its Center for Services Leadership. Mary Jo Bitner, the center's academic director, says the center is working with the university's computer science and engineering programs to seek National Science Foundation (NSF) funding for a cross-disciplinary doctoral program in services science. Other universities that have entered this field are Stanford, North Carolina State, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Penn State, urged on by organizations such as IBM and the NSF. Among the goals of the NSF's Service Enterprise Engineering program is to help boost the service sector's productivity growth--which has been just 0.4 percent a year, compared to 4 percent in manufacturing. Bob Glushko, adjunct professor at UC Berkeley's Services Science, Management, and Engineering program, says academic attention to services stands to benefit the public sector and its CIOs as well. He says services science brings together various disciplines involved in creating effective e-government applications, and employees with training in services science could allow for the creation of more complex systems than are viable now. Meanwhile, Bitner says the topic of "customer co-production" or "customer co-involvement" is another area of services-science research that could be of particular interest to government executives: "Government is doing a lot more with self-service through technology, and the research we've been doing in that area suggests there are a lot of ways you could do that more effectively."
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5 Paths to the Walking, Talking, Pie-Baking Humanoid Robot
Popular Science (09/06) Vol. 269, No. 3, P. 58; Mone, Gregory

Roboticists are working toward a vision of a robotic, humanoid, multi-tasking servant, but challenges in the areas of interaction, locomotion, navigation, manipulation, and intelligence must be met in order to realize this vision. Interactive challenges include making robots capable of understanding people's orders, memorizing names and faces, and assigning significance to words through experiential data. In terms of locomotion, the ideal design for a bipedal robot optimizes efficiency and stability, marrying low-power consumption with reliable balance; better actuators are viewed by some as a short-term solution, while artificial muscles are considered to be a longer-term measure. The advantages of an ambulatory robot as opposed to a wheeled robot include the ability to climb over obstacles, which requires significant advances in navigation. One school of thought advocates equipping robots with sensors to enable a 360-degree perspective, while another prefers binocular vision because it is closer to human perception and vital to understanding how machines can be designed to replicate human abilities. Giving robots the ability of precise manipulation requires breakthroughs beyond versatile hands and fast reaction time; it requires advances in tactile sensitivity, examples of which include MIT roboticist Eduardo Torres-Jara's experiments with artificial skin. The ultimate decision of what kind of artificial intelligence robotic servants will have--top-down or bottom-up--will be left to consumers. Top-down AI is a system is which robots are guided through their chores by dedicated algorithms, while bottom-up AI uses an artificial brain that can learn and mature on its own.
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Congestion Avoidance Based on Lightweight Buffer Management in Sensor Networks
IEEE Transactions on Parallel and Distributed Systems (09/06) Vol. 17, No. 9, P. 934; Chen, Shigang; Yang, Na

Shigang Chen and Na Yang with the University of Florida's Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering propose a lightweight buffer management scheme designed to avoid congestion in wireless sensor networks. Preventing data packets from inundating the intermediate sensors' buffer space is the goal of Chen and Yang's approaches, which automatically adjust the sensors' throughput to close to optimal levels without inducing congestion. Buffer-based congestion can easily occur in a network where the packets converge toward a sink as the result of a surge of sensor input triggered by a critical event. Chen and Yang's buffer-based scheme, in their words, "eliminates the complicated rate-based signaling that is required by many existing congestion control approaches, yet it can produce much larger network throughput and, unlike the rate-based approaches, it does not drop packets." According to the researchers' simulations, a sensor can achieve high throughput and deter congestion simply by allocating a small buffer. Chen and Yang explain that energy can be saved and radio collisions with other sensors transmitting in the vicinity reduced through the elimination of unhelpful transmission and the maintenance of upstream sensor silence via their suggested congestion-avoidance scheme. Comparison through simulation demonstrates that Chen and Yang's buffer-based scheme, unlike other congestion control/avoidance schemes (global rate control, backpressure, etc.), rarely drops packets because of buffer overflow, and can automatically adapt the sensors' data rates to network conditions and yield congestion-free rates that are a marked improvement over other schemes as well.
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