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December 22, 2006

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Paper Jams a Problem for Electronic Voting
Associated Press (12/21/06) Manning, Stephen

Paper jams have emerged as a major problem for the "paper trail" e-voting strategy that was advocated by many experts as a way to ensure a means of independent verification for electronic voting. Johns Hopkins computer scientist Avi Rubin points out that the flaws only exist in the current paper trail system and that the idea should not be abandoned: "This isn't what we had in mind when we called for paper. I have yet to see a paper trail system I like." In an audit of its paper records, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, found that the manual count did not match the computer-tallied results because 10 percent of ballots were either smeared, torn, crumpled, or blank. Machines also jammed in California, Mississippi, and Missouri. In North Carolina's Guilford County, an audit of a sample of voting machines revealed that 9 percent of printers either malfunctioned or had paper problems. "How many votes were lost as a result of that, with the printer chewing it up?" asked George Gilbert, elections director for the county. "If you don't have a complete paper record, you can't use it for a recount." Diebold's David Bear says the problems with the company's machines were the fault of election workers. He says, "The technology has proven itself in thousands of elections." Some states that adopted touch-screen voting systems with no paper trail are now questioning the current drive for optical scan machines, claiming that the idea behind recent election changes was to get away from paper, as well as citing the high cost of replacing a relatively new system. For information about ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Slowing the Data-Center Power Drain
Wall Street Journal (12/21/06) P. B3; Carlton, Jim

The Department of Energy recently brought together Intel, AMD, and several other hardware and software giants to discuss the growing need to cut down on the amount of power being consumed by data centers. Earlier this month, Congress passed a bill that would direct the EPA to research and support the implementation of energy-efficient servers. While Silicon Valley is not usually so accepting of government encroachment, they are welcoming federal resources in addressing this problem. "I think it's about time that industry and government started working together," says consultant Pamela Gordon. The number of servers in use worldwide has doubled, from 14 million in 2000 to 28 million today, and the power consumed by them has gone from about 250 watts per server in 2000 to 400 watts per server today. HP's Paul Perez says that 40 percent of a data center's budget goes to power consumption, a problem he calls "dirty laundry that people don't want to talk about." Along with purchasing more efficient servers, the government should promote the need to redesign other components of the data center as well such as air conditioners and power supplies, says Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory staff scientist Jonathan Koomey. He says, "In the data center, there are dozens of companies whose products are represented." Sun's David Douglas says the lack of an agreement on how to measure energy efficiency is a big part of the industry's problem; executives predict that a standard should be established within the next year.
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IBM Claims Photonics Speed Record
EE Times (12/21/06) Johnson, Colin R.

IBM's Thomas J. Watson Center says it has achieved a new world record for silicon photonics speed, and that the chip created for demonstration, a CMOS optical delay line, will prove that optics on chips can reach the integration levels displayed by electronic CMOS integration. IBM researcher Yurii Vlasov says that "it is not the small size of our device, even, that is most impressive. Rather it is the level of control we achieved in our waveguide dimensions--the gap between the waveguide and the ring, for instance, has to be precisely controlled to within just a few nanometers, making our device the world's first to qualify as silicon optical nanotechnology." The nanosecond-scale delays achieved by the CMOS chip could reduce congestion at busy switches in present-day network connections. "The light goes around each of the 100-ring resonators between 60 and 80 times to achieve the long delay time," says Vlasov. Other groups have encountered the problem of either making the signal's bandwidth too narrow or too wide. IBM was able to create a relatively large delay in a small footprint, and have a bandwidth that is sizeable enough to generate significant bit rates of 5 Gbps to 10 Gbps. From here, IBM plans to progress from 10 bits to hundreds of thousands of bits, in order to remove the need to ever switch from optical to electrical signals, even if data is transmitted through many switches and through repeaters from thousands of miles. "We plan on building a silicon photonics toolbox--everything engineers will need for future on-chip optical interconnects," says Vlasov.
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Robots of the Future
Technology Review (12/22/06) Graham-Rowe, Duncan

While every year experiences advances in robotics, 2007 has the makings of a revolutionary year for the field. The DARPA Urban Challenge, set for November 2007, could include at least on robot car that is able to negotiate urban traffic while obeying traffic laws and avoiding pedestrians. In other robots, the electric motors and pneumatic pistons that have given them their strength in their past are being left behind in favor of synthetic muscles; while the early going was difficult for researchers, a team at the Nanotech Institute at the University of Texas, Dallas, has made carbon nanotubes into muscles by spinning the molecules into "yarn." Microsoft hopes that its release of a robotic developer's kit will do for robotics what Microsoft originally did for the PC, now that the cost of robotics hardware is relatively low and demand is higher than ever. The toolkit is intended to make robots truly helpful around the home. Household robots experienced a great rise in popularity during 2005 and 2006, surpassing that of industrial robots. South Korea is expected to deploy the first multifunctional home robot, as its government hopes to have a robot in every home by 2013. Safety is not being ignored in the midst of this progress: Bristol Robotics Laboratory (U.K.) director Chris Melhuish says candidly, "If [robots] are powerful enough to do something useful, then they are powerful enough to be dangerous." Roboticists from across the globe will converge in Rome this April to discuss necessary safety solutions, before lawsuits concerning robot-related injuries begin piling up.
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Cyberspace May Overcome Ethical Constraints in Experiments
UCL News (12/20/06)

Immersive virtual environments may allow researchers to carry out experiments that had been previously prohibited due to ethical considerations. Using a virtual environment, University College London was able to recreate Stanley Milgram's renowned 1960s experiment concerning obedience to authority. The same sort of extreme social conditions were simulated in a study led by UCL Department of Computer Science professor Mel Slater, who remarked, "It has been argued before that immersive virtual environment can provide a useful tool for social psychological studies in general and our results show that this applies even in the extreme social situation investigated by Stanley Milgram." In this re-creation, subjects asked a series of memory-based questions to a virtual female, delivering "shocks" of growing intensity each time she answered incorrectly; with each shock her responses indicated increased pain, and eventually she demanded the experiment be stopped. Of 34 subjects, 23 saw and heard the virtual woman in a computer generated immersive virtual environment, made possible by a surrounding real-time display, while 11 communicated through a text interface only. Nearly all of the subjects delivered the full 20 shocks to the virtual female; the three who did not deliver at least 19 shocks could see and hear her. According to Slater, physiological measurements "demonstrate that even though all experimental participants knew that the situation was unreal, they nevertheless tended to respond as if it were." These results give hope to the use of virtual environments for getting around the roadblocks that ethical regulations present to research.
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How Biometric Security Is Far From Foolproof
Wall Street Journal (12/21/06) P. B3; Bulkeley, William M.

As more businesses begin relying on biometric security devices, many wonder how susceptible they are to fakery, and their fears may be justified. International Biometrics, a consulting firm, was hired by a New York-based financial group to look into the plausibility of such "spoofing." Most fingerprint scanners simply take a picture of the fingerprint and compare it to those in a database, so "any high-resolution image will have a high chance of spoofing an optical sensor," says International Biometric's Ross Mitchell. Systems employing non-optical sensors, such as thermal or ultrasonic, could be less vulnerable, but vulnerable nonetheless. West Virginia University researchers claim to be able to fool various types of fingerprint readers between 40 percent and 94 percent of the time, using fingers from cadavers or made of Play-Doh, and Tsutomu Matsumoto, a Japanese mathematician at Yokohama National University, claims to have fooled readers using fingerprints made out of gelatin. Manufacturers downplay security threats, citing that most successful spoofs involve molding an actual fingerprint, which would be very difficult for a criminal to obtain, and that making a replica of a fingerprint on a piece of glass is extremely difficult as well. However, Mitchell believes that even the most advanced biometric readers, "despite high matching accuracy, could be fooled using cheap materials." Although iris recognition technology being developed is a more secure form of biometrics, it too could be fooled using a high-resolution photo, so developers are working to overcome that by attaching a light that would contract the pupil and prove that the eye is real.
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Better, Faster -- Easier to Use
Nature (12/21/06) Ledford, Heidi

The Pentagon hopes that its backing of new supercomputer technology will be utilized by both private and government researchers, which should boost the number of people writing code for the new machines while causing the cost of developing applications to fall. The supercomputers to be developed by Cray and IBM, which received nearly $500 million in grants, will be approximately 10 times faster, and easier to program, than existing supercomputers. Prototypes will be finished by 2010, including operating systems and software tools, with government agencies being the first to receive the technology, but smaller versions will be offered to researchers. While the speed of processors has been increased over the years, the rate at which they can access the computer's memory has stagnated, and since some believe this problem will reach a point where scientists are unable to put these machines to use, the IBM and Cray teams aim to enhance programming languages to overcome lags in communications. IBM claims that since it manufactures its own chips, its processors can be effectively optimized. Cray buys processors from another company and combines them with its own tools, such as vector processors that can execute calculations on several multiple pieces of data simultaneously. Cray also plans to use two separate operating systems, one that performs simple operations such as memory access and input and output regulation, with the other handling data.
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Nano-Welds Herald New Era of Electronics
New Scientist (12/19/06) Vol. 391, No. 2577, P. 6; Simonite, Tom

Researchers in Switzerland are developing a new welding technique that operates at scales of a billionth of a meter and could make the assembly of electronic components possible at a scale never before possible. One of the techniques, known as "nanorobotic spot welding," joins objects the same way an electrician would solder materials together, using molten copper. "We position a 50-nanometer-wide carbon nanotube filled with copper inside a nanorobotic manipulator, and run a small voltage through it to melt the copper," explains the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems' Lixin Dong, a contributor to the project. In these experiments the manipulator was configured so as the copper melted it connected the nanotubes to each other. These low resistance electrical connections could be used to make tiny transistors, in a way that is "easier and take[s] less energy than ... people do now," says Dong. This technique could be used to make many joins simultaneously, by running voltage through self-assembled structures of nanotubes. Another method of nanowelding, developed at Bath University, requires only an electron microscope. The electron beam inside the microscope creates what are usually unwanted amorphous carbon out of carbon-based contaminants, but this effect can be used to weld nano-sized items to a surface or even construct items from scratch. Lead researcher Sergey Gordeev explains that by "varying the beam and rotating the target," researchers can construct any 3D shape.
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Scalable Video Coding and Other Wireless Highlights
UCSD News (12/15/06) Kane, Daniel

The Fall 2006 Research Review of the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering's Center for Wireless Communications (CWC) covered such topics as scalable video coding. Central to the concept of scalable video coding is the idea that a single compressed video stream can be provided and any user can take only what is needed to deliver optimal quality video based on technical limitations. Video can be coded to reflect different scalability levels, including spatial, temporal, and signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), which was the focus of CWC director Pamela Cosman's session at the Research Review. The act of encoding an original video and routing it to a viewer involves the transmission of data about each frame as well as a series of detailed instructions on how information can be shared between frames in the presence of redundancies, or when the same objects show up in multiple frames. A disconnect between the version of the video sent by the encoder and the version sent by the decoder leads to an accumulation of errors caused by "drift," and Cosman and former student Athanasios Leontaris worked on a strategy for regularly cutting off drift by referring back to the base layer at regular intervals. Cosman cited H.264, the international video compression standard for scalable video coding she works with, for its remarkable flexibility: Rather than instructing how to encode a specific video, H.264 sets guidelines for video compression and decompression. "Scalable coding is going to have increased prominence and utility in the future," Cosman predicted. "People are using increasingly heterogeneous devices and connections to access the same Web sites, video and audio conferences, and other sources of content. We are developing ways to get this information to all these different kinds of devices even while the bandwidth is in flux because users are mobile or their networks are getting congested."
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Snake-Like Robot and Steady-Hand System Could Assist Surgeons
Johns Hopkins University News Releases (12/20/06)

Two new developments by Johns Hopkins' National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Computer-Integrated Surgical Systems and Technology could allow surgeons to operate with a greater degree of safety and perform operations that are currently impossible. A snake-like robot could make incisions and execute other procedures in narrow regions with greater control, and a steady-hand robot could solve the problems caused by the natural tremor of a surgeon's hand. The engineers and computer scientists involved are also developing a system to make records of all procedures, which could be consulted with regard to the patient's response to the treatment. JHU professor of computer science and director of the center Russell H. Taylor explains that, "Human hands are remarkable, but they have limitations. We can help by building tools that act like unhumanly small and highly dexterous hands." The snake-like robot, which can move with six degrees of freedom, would enter the patient through a tiny incision, removing the current need for surgeons to insert inflexible implements into narrow areas. The surgeon would operate the robotic tentacles at a workstation equipped with a 3D view of the operating site. The steady-hand system, designed for microsurgery, uses a technique called cooperative manipulation, where the robot grasps an implement and operates it in tandem with a surgeon. This system has been used to successfully simulate injections into blood vessels in the eye, using chicken embryos. Both developments need about five more years of lab testing and prototype advancement, but Taylor thinks both will eventually make there way into operating rooms.
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I, Robot; You, Human: IU Android Expert Guides Discussion in Science Journal
Indiana University (12/20/06)

Connection Science devotes its December issue to the possibilities of android science. The special issue of the journal addresses ideas such as whether more advanced human-like robots will one day have moral and legal rights that humans will have to respect. Karl F. MacDorman, associate professor at the School of Informatics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of the Intelligent Robotics Lab at Osaka University, co-edit the issue. At the 2005 World Exposition in Aizu, Japan, they unveiled their android Repliee Q1Expo. "An android offers a good balance between experimental control and ecological validity because it looks more human than other devices and can support more humanlike interaction while still being precisely controllable," MacDorman writes in the introductory editorial. The question of whether androids will be able to connect with people and form relationships is raised in an article written by MacDorman and the University of Hertfordshire's Stephen J. Cowley, while MIT's Sherry Turkle addresses the ethics of having people establish unauthentic relationships with robots. "The challenge today is to develop 'mindful' machines that use [physical] movements that can be experienced as expressions of purpose and intention" that androids can mimic, MacDorman and Cowley write.
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Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative Moves to Next Level with Hewlett Foundation
Carnegie Mellon News (12/14/06) Potts, Jonathan

CMU researchers have received the largest grant yet from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, $2.25 million, for further development of the Open Learning Initiative (OLI), used in the study of whether online education programs along with traditional classroom instruction could make it possible for students to finish college courses in less time than usual. Faculty from various departments are collaborating to create online versions of entry-level courses, with the aim of making quality university education widely available via the Internet. "The Open Learning Initiative may prove to be a tipping point for online instruction," said Joel M. Smith, vice provost and chief information officer for Carnegie Mellon. "The courses are proving exceptionally effective in providing online instruction with little intervention by human instructors." OLI utilizes CMU research into the ways that people learn most effectively; the system provides immediate feedback, points out a student's weaknesses, and offers customized tutoring to let them work at their own pace. "By exploring the efficacy of online learning, the Carnegie Mellon initiative holds the promise of transforming education," said Catherine Casserly, a program officer in education at the Hewlett Foundation. Students in 2005-2006 were able to complete a statistics course using only OLI in the same time frame, and do just as well on exams, as those students enrolled in the traditional classroom-oriented statistics course. The next study will test whether students using OLI in addition to classroom instruction can complete a 15-week course in half that time.
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ICANN to Undergo Transparency Review
IDG News Service (12/19/06) Kirk, Jeremy

The U.K.-based governance group One World Trust will conduct a review of ICANN's transparency processes and comment on the matter in a public report to be issued sometime in 2007, according to an ICANN official. ICANN vice president of corporate affairs Paul Levins says ICANN is already making changes to its accountability practices. "Frankly, the community has told us this is an issue we need to deal with," he said. Levins says ICANN launched a consultation in October with the aim of introducing new management operating principles. ICANN also is making changes to its Web site to increase the accessibility of the site's 12,000 pages, and it will make improvements to the way it documents its board meetings.
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Solid-State PCs: Computing's Next Horizon
TechNewsWorld (12/21/06) Germain, Jack M.

Solid-state computers, which have no hard drive and an operating system burned onto a chip, could replace the current "spinning-plate" model, eliminating the dangers of malware and viruses and increasing processing speed. Solid-state PCs are also likely to use Unix/Linux platforms. Asian companies are currently developing such machines, which may soon be ready for commercial deployment. "Solid-state PCs are entirely feasible to develop, but there still are issues to solve in booting from Flash RAM," says NewForth Partners managing director Robert Hoffer. Solid-state PCs are seen by many as the natural evolution of today's technology, as spinning hard drives have reached their capacity. Savant Protection CEO Ken Steinberg suggests putting the OS in erasable programmable read-only memory (EPROM) since "Quantum physics capability is ready to do this. Memory is very cheap, and quantum physics is getting us to the point of success." Steinberg says that today's computers are susceptible to malware because their device allows write-only access, but this can be changed to allow the OS to be locked-down. Another possible development for solid-state computing would be the storage of data on the Internet, alleviating the need for on-board storage. Ultra-light PCs and laptops are expected to see the first implementation of solid-state technology.
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An Information Overload Study: Using Design Methods for Understanding
Telematica Instituut (12/19/06) Mulder, Ingrid; de Poot, Henk; Verwijs, Carla

Telematica Instituut researchers presented a study at the OZCHI human-computer interaction conference in Australia last month that stressed the employment of design methods for comprehending information overload. They observed that "Whatever people perceive as information overload affects decision-making, quality of work, happiness, job satisfaction, and leads to frustration, stress, and loss of time," and they define information overload as "the feeling of stress when the information load goes beyond the processing capacity." Their research involved a combination of critical incidents collection, cultural probing techniques, and task-oriented storytelling, and from the incidents collection method they determined that most incidents were related to emails that are either ambiguous or overstuffed with information, while "not knowing where to find" new or important information to stay updated or particular information within one source also had relevance. The cultural probes helped the researchers develop practical strategies for addressing or contending with information overload, using postcards that represented the perceived causes of information overload; a questionnaire was also used to ascertain knowledge workers' individual perceptions of information overload and how often they experienced it. Storytelling interviews revealed distinctions in the character and information overload potential of specific tasks. The researchers discovered that there is little overload associated with well-defined tasks, while what overload is involved usually relates to the volume of information, unanticipated waiting times, and limited available time. There is more likelihood of information overload in ill-defined tasks because of the need for interpretation, while for communication tasks the overload potential resides in preparation. A set of guidelines for addressing overload was organized and split into the categories of sender, receiver, tooling, and organization guidelines, each of which require its own specific deployment strategy. It is the researchers' contention that the chief lesson to be learned from their study is that "the heart of what information overload really is may very well lie between tasks rather than within. Task support should therefore be 'focus support' in the first place."
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Girl Techies Need Better Support
IT Week (12/18/06) Bennett, Madeline

Providing young girls with more information on job opportunities in the IT industry could lead more of them to pursue tech-related studies and careers, according to the winners of this year's Axios 'A' Star Awards. "I think the lack of girls going into IT is not due to a lack of interest or ability, but a lack of awareness of the opportunities," says Chloe Brown, the GCSE category winner. Brown adds that she knew little about potential IT jobs before the awards. Meanwhile, Marie Therese Lee, the A-Level category winner, says she was inspired to learn more about IT through her involvement in an IT program that had 15 girls as participants and a female IT teacher. Although Brown and Lee are not pursuing technology degrees, they are interested in careers in IT. Axios Systems founder Alisa Symeonides says the government needs to get more involved in helping to solve the problem. Symeonides says ministers do not even show up at the IT service management specialists awards anymore.
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Strangers in a Strange Land
CIO Australia (12/11/06) Bushell, Sue

Leadership training is essential for women struggling to make a career for themselves in IT, which has long been perceived as a man's world, and IT gender studies are growing in importance as an IT skills shortage worsens and men's dominance of executive positions continues. Australian Government Information Management Office Department CIO Ann Steward explains that women differ from men in that they cherish a sense of community rather than competition, using herself as an example: "I am ambitious in the sense of I want to do the very best I can and position my organization to the very best, but it's not at the expense of another individual," she says. A distinction between the microclimates of IT is a detail that is often overlooked, according to researchers Nancy Ramsey and Pamela McCorduck, who interviewed some of the most successful women in IT and learned many things of interest. Recurring themes include an enjoyment of competition and long working hours, nurturing corporate cultures, a strong appreciation of their own goals, and excellent mentors. According to Ramsey and McCorduck, women's success in the IT "boys' club" is a direct reflection of their application of traditional feminine habits to supposedly masculine tasks. There is little room for doubt that women who aspire to become CIOs must learn from their male equivalents and become more proficient at networking, and Women are IT (WA) founding member Yvonne Parle thinks women must cultivate a closer relationship with the CEO if they are to succeed. Studies indicate that diffidence is a trait more often found in females than males, while women are thought to be better than men in terms of communications, listening, and mediation skills. "I think one of the key roles in the future IT industry in Australia is that of business analyst and I think...women are better at business analysis than men, because they have an innate ability to listen and to talk and to keep exploring, rather than jumping to solutions," notes Candy Tymson, author of "Gender Games: Doing Business With the Opposite Sex." For information about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://women.acm.org
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Survival Guide: Perspectives From the Field: H. Mike Shealey, Maryland Center for Career and Technology Studies
Washington Technology (12/18/06) Vol. 21, No. 24, P. 30; Beizer, Doug

As the director of the Baltimore Museum of Industry's Maryland Center for Career Technology and Education Studies, H. Mike Shealey is deeply involved in getting children interested in math and science. The center supports schools and communities by training certified Career and Technology and Education teachers and administrators. A program called "Engineering Challenges" holds competitions for students in grades 1-12, where they engage in activities such as building model cargo ships and designing robots, giving them a chance to see the role of engineers in modern society. Shealey says that "Getting kids interested in technology is the most fundamental thing we can do in this country to ensure its future as a world leader. You can have all the resources, but if you don�t have people, you don�t have anything. We need people who understand math, science, technology and the interface of those disciplines." He adds, "We�re hoping to make people technology-literate. Technology is really an understanding of systems, and the 'Engineering Challenge' does just that. It�s not designed to make little engineers; the reality is you are trying to get them to understand technology as a system for accomplishing something."
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What Can Context Do for Web Services?
Communications of the ACM (12/06) Vol. 49, No. 12, P. 98; Maamar, Zakaria; Benslimane, Djamal; Narendra, Nanjangud C.

Interactions between people, applications, and the environment would be substantially enhanced via context-aware Web services, according to Zayed University professor Zakaria Maamar, Claude Bernard Lyon 1 University professor Djamal Benslimane, and IBM India Research Lab staff member Nanjangud Narendra. "To reduce the current limitations of Web services, they must first assess their current capabilities and ongoing commitments, and second, their surrounding environment prior to binding to any composition," the authors note. Context awareness would enable Web services to consider the multiple environmental aspects in which the services are to be carried out; these aspects can be applied to users, their degree of expertise, computing resources, time of day, and physical locations. The deployment of context-aware Web services that evaluate the environment before they accept participating in compositions involves splitting context into the interconnected participation, execution, and preference perspectives. Participation and execution perspectives are linked by deployment, while execution and preference perspectives are connected by tracking, and customization connects preference to participation. "The integration of context into Web services composition ensures that the requirements of and restraints on these Web services are taken into account," the authors write. Two factors play into the contextual semantic composition of Web services: Agreement by Web services on the meaning of the exchanged data, and the automatic resolution of semantic-data conflicts using the data furnished by context. Conciliation of heterogeneous Web service contexts is necessary, and the authors note that context ontology is employed to guarantee recognition of the differences between contexts' arguments.
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