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October 11, 2006

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Welcome to the October 11, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Standards to Stimulate E-Voting?
CNet (10/06/06) Lombardi, Candace

The CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week convened a panel of election and data specialists to discuss the challenges of incorporating technology into the voter registration process in order to assure accuracy and maintenance. A major problem identified by the panel is a lack of standardization in the way that voter information is stored. The way in which first and last names are broken down in some registries while being lumped into a single name in others was cited as one obstacle. Suffixes such as Jr. and Sr. only add to the confusion. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 included no such rules or recommendations for standardization. A system known as Texas Election Administration Management (TEAM), scheduled to be operational by 2007, is accessible via the Internet and allows local changes to state ballots. The service allows a voter's information to be transferred within the state should they move, but before such a system can be implemented, the old data must be cleaned up. Current possibilities for exchanging data between states include Election Markup Language (EML) and Extensible Markup Language (XML). TEAM uses an XML-based format called EDX; 254 of Texas's counties have chosen to implement TEAM, but 27 have chosen to remain offline. Meanwhile, an unwillingness to join the e-voting trend is causing problems for the standardization efforts as some districts prefer their own, traditional, systems. Panelist Thad Hall, a professor at the University of Utah and co-author of "Point, Click, and Vote: The Future of Internet Voting," compared this reluctance to the VHS vs. Betamax debate where consumers sat back and waited to see which format would gain prominence. "I am confident that three or four years from now, everyone will come online," said panelist Ann McGeehan, director of elections for Texas. The Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is cited as a success of standardization; where 450 formats were condensed into a single standard in six years. For information about ACM's many e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Conference Gives Pep Talk to Encourage Women in Technology
San Diego Business Journal (10/09/06) Yarnall, Amy

Last week's Sixth Annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference, sponsored by ACM and the Anita Borg Institute, provided a place for women to discuss both the technology industry and the state of women in it. Attendance exceeded expectations by a third, totaling 1,200 men and women. Anita Borg Institute President Telle Whitney said "there simply aren't enough people to do the technology jobs" on a global level, making it a valuable, yet often neglected, resource for women. "This conference is a wonderful place where women in various technologies can come together. These women have conversations not around the issues of their companies but of the commonalities they share with other women," says Fran Berman, director of UC San Diego's Supercomputer Center. At the Technology Leaders Workshop held at the conference, Berman observed that mentoring programs are clearly needed, "to connect the mentees of the company with the mentors." This collaboration is what the conference is beginning to embody, as many women go back to work with a list of suggested modifications. One attendee, Rivi Sterling, said when she returned to Microsoft following the 2000 conference, she expressed the need to "get involved with this conference and start doing something to get women into the pipeline," a suggestion Microsoft took. The company is now a supporter of the annual event.
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Flaw Found in European Voting Machines
IDG News Service (10/06/06) McMillan, Robert

Electronic voting machines used by 90 percent of Dutch voters can be easily tampered with, says Dutch e-voting researchers in a report published Friday. The researchers say, "We don't trust voting computers. Anyone, when given brief access to the devices at any time before the election, can gain complete and virtually undetectable control over the election results." Radio emanations can be studied to find out what votes were being cast, according to the researchers, who also claim that all that is needed to break into theWedap/Groenendaal ES3B voting machine, the same type used in France and Germany, is a key that can be purchased on the Internet. The same type of key is also available for the Diebold voting machines used in the U.S., according to Edward Felten, the director of Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy. Felten and his colleagues conducted a test in which they claim to have been able to install vote-altering software on Diebold's AccuVote-TS machine in less than a minute. While Diebold disputes these claims, Felten calls the security problems facing e-voting "very difficult or even infeasible to address." The manufacturer of the voting machine used in the Netherlands, Nedap, claims that it is significantly more difficult to tamper with the results of an e-voting system than a paper ballot system. When asked if manipulation of their machines was possible, the company responded, "everything can be manipulated." Edward Felten is a member of the Executive Committee of ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee; http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Bottlenecks in Parallel Programming Hurt Productivity
Electronic News (10/10/06) Davis, Jessica

Difficulty programming the code on which supercomputers run is the major impedance to productivity in engineering and scientific discovery, according to a survey of 500 users of parallel high-performance computers (HPCs) by the Simon Management Group. The survey found that writing parallel code, programming efficiency, translation, debugging, and the limits of software are the most common bottlenecks throughout all industries using supercomputers. Even though C and Fortran are often used for prototyping, those surveyed said decidedly that an interactive desktop tool would be preferable, if only it could be easily bridged to work with HPCs. The dilemma is a result of the fact that machines are unable to deal with the processing and memory requirements of the large data sets produced by scientific and engineering research. The survey found that the average median-sized data set used in a technical computing application today ranges from 10 GB to 45 GB, and is expected to rise to 200 GB to 600 GB in only three years. "The study demonstrates that programming tools have not kept pace with the advances in the computing hardware and affordability of HPCs," says Simon Management Group President Peter Simon.
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WWW2007
Mark Little's Weblog (10/08/06) Little, Mark

The Web Services Track of the Sixteenth Annual International World Wide Web Conference is accepting original papers describing work in all areas of Web services. Possible topics include, but are not limited to: service contract and metadata; orchestration; choreography and composition of services; large scale XML data integration; dependability; security and privacy; tools and technologies for Web Services development, deployment, and management; software methodologies for service-oriented systems; the impact of Web Services on enterprise systems; Web Services performance; architectural styles for Web Services computing; application of Web Services technologies in areas including e-commerce, e-science, and grid computing; and impact of formal methods on Web Services. Papers are due Monday, November 20, 2006, and acceptance will be announced on January 29, 2007. The conference will be held Tuesday-Saturday, May 8-12, 2007. Papers will undergo three rounds of peer review by members of an International Program Committee, and those accepted will be printed in the conference proceedings published by ACM. For additional information go to http://www2007.org.
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EU and Industry Shun MIT-style Research Project
Financial Times (10/11/06) P. 3; Bounds, Andrew

Both national governments and industry have decided not to contribute any funds toward the project of creating a European Institute of Technology (EIT), intended to compete with MIT and the cutting-edge research it contributes to the U.S. Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, still supports the plan, which he sees as a way to join business and academic resources to benefit the EU economy, and will use existing funds, including regional research budgets, to meet the 2.4 billion euro budget scheduled between 2008-2013. Approximately 1.3 billion euro will be taken from structural funds intended to aid development in poorer regions and train workers. There is a possibility of the Institute bringing in 200 million euros from the products it develops, but money will still be taken from the yet-to-be approved general research fund that supports universities. "This will not gain the EIT any support in the research community. They would prefer to have funding for concrete projects than something that provides a promise for the future," says a senior Commission official. The EIT is expected to be approved by the Commission next week, and its board will be comprised of business professional. Many opponents are critical of the central structure proposed by Barroso, claiming "there is already top notch research going on across Europe. How can we help the institutions that are there to co-operate better and know what the others are doing? asks one European diplomat." The EIT is planned to have a staff to manage "knowledge communities" that some worry will interfere with the currently established European Research Council, consisting of leading university scientists, which is only a year old. Barroso maintains that the EU is falling behind because its "institutions are too small."
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Spooky Steps to a Quantum Network
New Scientist (10/04/06) Merali, Zeeya

A technique known as quantum entanglement is being used in studies which are beginning to overcome the two major problems facing quantum computer technology. First, in order to be transmitted over long distances, quantum bits (qubits) must be made into photons. Second, errors occurring during transmission must be identified and corrected. Quantum entanglement links particles together no matter how far apart they are; measuring a quantum property of one particle immediately affects the other, and by doing so, information can be "teleported" between pairs of entangled particles. UCLA's Todd Brun explains that for a quantum network to exist, qubits must be contained in atoms or ions, processed, and then turned into qubits of light to be transmitted between computers. He claims that this can be done by teleporting the state between a photon and an atom. "Potentially, the only limit is how far light can travel without the signal becoming degraded," says the University of Copenhagen's Eugene Polzik. Polzik notes that quantum states can be easily distorted during transmission, and the problem often lies in identifying which of the two possible errors is present. Heisenburg's uncertainty principle helps explains why trying to measure one type of error can create the other type of error, which Brun says is a problem. But Polzik is impressed by what he calls "such efficient quantum error correction codes" developed by Brun. The breakthrough was a result of sharing entangled pairs of particles between transmitter and receiver before the transmission of data. In theory, when the receiver combines these particles with its entangled twins, it can determine between both types of quantum error.
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$100 Laptop May Be at Security Forefront
Associated Press (10/09/06) Bergstein, Brian

In creating the $100 laptops planned to be distributed to 7 million children around the world, software developers have instituted groundbreaking security measures. The developers working on the One Laptop Per Child project envision a computer that does not need virus protection, because applications are run in a "walled garden," meaning that an application does not have access to all files on the computer, unlike conventional systems that are vulnerable to exploitation, theft or erasure of information. "It's essentially unbelievably difficult to do anything to the machine that would cause permanent hardware failure," says Ivan Krstic, a software architect at One Laptop Per Child who focuses on security. The specialized encryption technology serves as a security back up, preventing the BIOS software, which runs when the computer is first turned on, from being overwritten, thus the computer could not be made unbootable. When the machine enters the child's school's wireless range, all data will be backed up on a server. While these measures are believed to be effective, children can tweak the computers and learn how they operate, meaning they could potentially turn off the security measures. One thing that could worry developers is the fact that the machines will be able to interact in a "mesh" network, sharing data and programming code, but Krstic promises that this element would be "really scary if we were not paying attention to it...But we think we have solutions to all of these problems." The bright-colored, hand-cranked, wireless-enabled laptops will be distributed in Thailand, Nigeria, Brazil, and Argentina.
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Video Searching by Sight and Script
Technology Review (10/11/06) Borrell, Brendan

University of Leeds computer scientist Mark Everingham has created a system that can search for videos on the Web by actually knowing what appears on screen. The system, which was developed for searching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on YouTube.com, using face recognition, close-captioning information, and original scripts, and is able to name the faces that appear on screen. "We basically see this as one of the first steps in getting automated descriptions of what's happening in a video," Everingham says, who presented his research at the British Machine Vision Conference in September. Current searches are limited to metadata or text descriptions written by the users who submit each video clip. By combing the script, which reveals "what is said," and subtitles, which reveal "what time something is said," speakers can be identified by the program, says Everingham. The program is able to recognize faces using distinct features, as well as detect whether or not the person shown is the one talking. The result is a detailed shot-by-shot annotation of the clip. Oxford computer scientist Josef Sivic, who helped develop the system, says the research could pave the way for more advanced search programs that would be able to give descriptions of everything going on in a scene, such as "Buffy and Spike walking toward the camera hand-in-hand." Alex Berg of the University of California, Berkeley's Computer Vision Group says, "The general idea is that you want to get more information without people having to capture it." However, AOL Video's Timothy Tuttle warns that legal barriers, similar to those that have dogged efforts to index print material, could slow searchable video initiatives.
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Leapfrogging the Petaflop Race
HPC Wire (10/06/06) Vol. 15, No. 40, Wenk, Herbert

The high performance computing race is heating up, following the September announcement that Japan's RIKEN Institute plans to build a 10 petaflop system within the next six years. The United States is considered to be the favorite to develop the first petaflop computer, but Japan views supercomputers as "Key Technology of National Importance" and is not focused on watching out for nuclear stockpiling activity. The first petaflop system could be built within the next couple of years, and it could very well have a mixed hardware environment that is similar to the special purpose hardware that RIKEN uses in its MD-GRAPE3 machine, which is used for molecular dynamics and multi-body calculations. Earlier in the year, a system based on the chip setup performed at a level that surpassed 1 petaflop. Dr. Mitsuyasu Hanamura, head of the applications software group at the RIKEN Next-Generation Supercomputer R&D Center, says the system's architecture could consist of scalar nodes, vector computers, and special purpose computers. Japan says the Next-Generation Supercomputer Project will lead to new research discoveries, developments in science and engineering, the emergence of helpful predictive models, and strengthen the economy and industries, improve medical care, and make the nation safer. The government is contributing a grant of approximately 750 million euros to the project.
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Novel Workflow Language Tackles Climate Change Computing Challenge
Innovations Report (10/06/06) Goode, Matt

The BBC Climate Change Experiment has taken a unique approach to handling the complex distribution of large datasets for analysis. The experiment is using a workflow language that is able to adjust to the specific needs of the data at runtime and dynamically accommodate any changes in the location or subdivision of data. Oxford University researcher Daniel Goodman developed the workflow language, Martlet, in response to the experiment's use of climateprediction.net, the major e-Science project in the United Kingdom that relies on the spare computer capacity of more than 200,000 people around the world to model the Earth's climate. The distribution of data between servers in different parts of the globe by climateprediction.net was problematic considering the dataset was too large to return to a single location for analysis, and because the dataset splits into a number of pieces. "Existing workflow languages are not up to the task because they implement a style of programming where the number of data inputs and the paths of data flow through the workflow are set when the workflow is submitted," explains Goodman. "This makes them unable to cope with subsequent changes to the dataset." Martlet, which is based on an alternative programming style often used in workflow languages, could influence other researchers to take a similar approach to developing sophisticated algorithms.
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Tactile Passwords Could Stop ATM 'Shoulder Surfing'
New Scientist (10/06/06) Simonite, Tom

A new system for entering a PIN number at the ATM is being developed using a system based on feel rather than sight. The practice of "shoulder-surfing," where someone watches numbers typed by an ATM user, is the target of new technology being devised by computer engineers at Queen's University in Belfast. Users would move a pointer over a grid of nine blank spaces displayed on the ATM screen using their fingertips. When they pass over a different box, the tactons beneath their fingertips change. When the user comes across each specific pattern of their code, they click. "The tactile displays are under you fingertips so there's less chance of an observer "shoulder-surfing," says Ravi Kuber, who created the system with colleague Wai Yu. Rather than remembering a number, ATM users would have to remember the feel of four distinct patterns made up of nine pins that can create many unique patterns. "Even if someone tried to share their information, there's no guarantee another person could replicate it," says Kuber. The feasibility of this technology is being tested. In one study, 16 subjects used the tactile system to log into their computers everyday for two weeks, and were able to remember their code after two weeks of not using it and sign in by the second attempt, but the average sign in time was 38 seconds. "Finding patterns that aren't too hard to identify is the biggest problem...an array of nine pins is crude compared to our sense of touch, there's no reason the hardware couldn't be improved," Kuber says. The system was presented last month at the British Computing Society's Human Computer Interaction Group conference at Queen Mary of London.
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Scientists Build Better Navigation Aids
Associated Press (10/08/06) Bluestein, Greg

Portable devices are being developed that will help people find their way around on foot, accurate to a much higher degree than current GPS navigation devices that cannot tell the difference between details such as walls and paths. Scientists at the Georgia Institute for Technology are working on a product that could help blind users find things as specific as doors or a bathroom indoors and outdoors. The System for Wearable Audio Navigation (SWAN) would include a headband holding sensors and a wearable computer. Light meters and thermometers would determine between indoors and outdoors. Cameras would determine distance. A compass would determine direction, and an inertia tracker would determine orientation of the user. The headset would create audible blips that would quicken as a predetermined object or destination is approached, much like sonar. Bone-conducting headphones could be worn right behind the ear in to keep the user's ear unobstructed. "It's going to take time...But getting floor plans for buildings is possible. We're trying to show that given a map, we can show the blind how to get places," says Bruce Walker, an assistant psychology professor who contributed to the development of SWAN. The project will not be completely finished until 2010 and could still face the limitations of GPS, including limited range indoors. "We all know that GPS is a marvelous addition to our array of options...But it does have limitations as far as accuracy goes. If they could come up with some way to make the system more accurate, it would be appealing to a lot of people," says Melanie Brunson, director of the American Council for the Blind. Other uses for this technology include guiding emergency response teams and soldiers in unfamiliar grounds, Walker says.
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Faster Development Through Modeling
Dr. Dobb's Journal (10/05/06) Cahoon, Jeff

Development can be accelerated through a modeling method that employs free tools and OMG's Model-Driven Architecture (MDA), writes CubeModel founder Jeff Cahoon. The method, which can be used for any application with a set of repeated steps, has five components: Creation of the application model; writing of a miniapplication that deploys the first instance of the repeated set of steps; deconstruction of the miniapplication into template files that supplant the named parts in the repeated set of steps with recognizable strings; writing of code that can reassemble the miniapplication from the templates and model; and generation of all the code for the entire application. Cahoon says the most probable candidate applications that the modeling via code generation technique would benefit are those with many repetitive parts, of which a data warehouse is a prime example. "An enticing aspect of the technique is that the method is not theoretical," notes the author. "There is no need to wait for tools or guess at the details of how it works--all of the components and artifacts for a working data warehouse application are available for review and a test drive, and all the tools are either open source or available free for the purpose of making a prototype." Cahoon also points out that the use of modeling with code generation means fewer typos and bugs, faster implementation of requirements changes, improved modeling with objects in the proper context, actual construction of what is designed by developers, and a better possibility of exploiting future tools by following standards.
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Raytheon Engineer Wins USC Software Award
USC Viterbi School of Engineering (10/03/06)

The University of Southern California Center for Systems and Software Engineering (CSSE) is awarding its Lifetime Achievement Award to Gary D. Thomas for his work in developing widely used tools for calculating the cost and time required for the development of software. Thomas, an Engineering Fellow at Raytheon Intelligence & Information Systems in Garland, Texas, was awarded for his "seminal contributions to software cost models," according to a commendation to be presented as a CSSE forum in late 2006. The system he began working on in the 80s, and still does, Constructive Cost Modeling (COCOMO), made him "a role model for many cost estimation researchers and practitioners," says CSSE co-director and USV Viterbi School of Engineering department of computer sciences director Barry Boehm. "Much of the clarity, consistency, and relevance of the model relationships and data definitions in the COCOMO family can be traced to Gary Thomas' contributions, creativity, and experience in applying the models in wide varieties of applications and situation," adds Boehm. Thomas developed a customized version of COCOMO, called SECOST, for Raytheon, which has "become the industry standard for estimating systems engineering cost and has provided a competitive advantage by providing a framework for establishing an estimate in much shorter time," says a colleague, John E. Reiff. Professor Stan Settles, co-director of CSSE, says "Thomas' talent has supported CSSE's mission of Evolving and Unifying Theories and Practices of Systems and Software Engineering; and whose work has stood the test of time."
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Adapting Multimedia Quality to the User Device
IST Results (10/09/06)

Partners involved in the DANAE project in Europe are helping to develop a new file format that would adjust video quality on the fly for cell phones, PDAs, media players, televisions, and game consoles that are used to access the Web and download from the Internet. The new file format is designed to optimize video for a multimedia device, and adapt media content for the device in real time. "It means that, for example, the quality of the content improves or reduces as coverage improves or degrades," says Renaud Cazoulat, coordinator of the DANAE project. "In the home, it means that bandwidth is shared optimally between all the devices accessing content." The solution makes use of a chain approach in which a master file on a server holds the content, and a media gateway performs the heavy video encoding and adjusting of content, before delivering it to multimedia devices. The DANAE approach uses the scalable video coding (SVC) media standard for quick streaming that would be the equivalent to broadcasting online. Although new microchips for the solution still need to be developed, the technology could begin to appear by the end of 2007.
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Googling for Code
Technology Review (10/09/06) Greene, Katie

Google says its new Google Code Search software code search engine will allow developers to solve problems more easily and thus produce better products faster. The free service will make billions of lines of code available, a good deal of which has not been searchable, including code in .zip and .tar formats. "The first thing someone does when writing a new piece of software is to search for existing things that are related," says Google's Tom Stocky. Searches can be limited to any of 33 programming languages and 18 different licenses. "Programmers can create really advanced queries that can search for obscure function definitions," he says. Stocky says Google makes an effort to detect licenses for each piece of code, but at times none can be detected. "For anyone who didn't want their code to be posted publicly, we have methods for them to remove it," he adds. By allowing programmers to check if anyone has already written the same code they are developing, Google Code Search should actually help prevent plagiarism. Two other companies, Koders and Krugle, also offer code search engines. Krugle founder Ken Krugler says programmers spend 20 percent to 27 percent of their time looking for reusable code. He says, "Everyone talks of code reuse as being the silver bullet to the problem of improving the software creation process...to me search is a key part of that." Google Code Search has already been available to Google engineers, and Stocky expects it will invigorate open-source development by providing programmers with "one place where they can do [comprehensive code searches] quickly." At this point, users can add code that has been missed.
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Cobol: Not Dead yet
Computerworld (10/04/06) Mitchell, Robert

Although Cobol is widely considered an outdated programming language, its use is still widespread, according to a recent Computerworld survey. "Nobody wants Cobol, but realistically they can't get rid of it," says Gartner's Dale Vecchio. The survey found that 62 percent of 352 responding IT managers use Cobol, although 36 percent say they plan to gradually move away from it, while 25 percent say rewriting all the code is too expensive. Cobol has been around since 1960, but its procedural approach is not well suited to writing interactive programs and Web-based front ends. However, rewriting mainframe-based Cobol programs is a large and risky undertaking that most organizations are carrying out with great caution. "What are you getting for the expense?" says Mike Dooley, a software engineering manager. "You have to have a valid business reason to do that." Vecchio says the combination of transferring and rewriting Cobol applications, which require as much as five times as many lines of code as Java or C#, in a single step is a "recipe for disaster." New applications are being written in more recent languages, unless they require batch processing, for which Cobol is still utilized. The developers who originally worked on Cobol are mostly retired, leaving the transition to be done by those who are unfamiliar with the rules under which the code was written, a discovery often made once rewriting is underway. Instead, some have chosen to insulate themselves from the back-end through links to Web applications. "If we get into Cobol.Net, then the Visual Basic .Net application can call the same routines...without having to jump through hoops," says Dooley. After moving Cobol applications off of mainframes with as few changes as possible, many companies are taking the opportunities to reevaluate and restructure applications.
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Content-Sharing Apps Complicate Code Debug
EE Times (10/02/06)No. 1443, P. 1; Lammers, David; Mannion, Patrick

Among the technical challenges of peer-to-peer content sharing on mobile devices is keeping the ever-growing lines of software code secure and bug-free. "The problem is that [debug] is not considered 'productive' work: If you write good code, then you shouldn't have to debug," notes Silicon Insider analyst and editor Jim Turley. "But designers spend more time debugging than coding." Complicating matters is a relative paucity of coders, the advent of multicore processing, and the growing vulnerability to hacking and other security issues that are a natural consequence of increasing connectivity. The proliferation of social networks requires the distribution of data to disparate platforms via middleware, as well as novel development tools and service libraries, says Encirq's Jan Liband. "As more data presents itself to be managed, the challenge is to build a process to handle all of these different data formats, coming in from sensors, from Bluetooth and from the Internet," he explains. Derek Ledbetter of ADI says debug and data-logging methods far in advance of current techniques must be provided. This trend is spawning a strong market for sellers of software development and code analysis products.
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