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ACM TechNews
January 10, 2007

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Welcome to the January 10, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Congress to Take Up Net's Future
New York Times (01/10/07) P. C1; Labaton, Stephen

The debate over Net neutrality continues, as new legislation is being drafted by Congress and familiar arguments from each side are being voiced. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-S.D.) and Sen. Olympia J. Snow (R-Maine) introduced a bill last week that would prevent Internet service providers from charging content providers for preferred access over their network. "The success of the Internet has been its openness and the ability of anyone anywhere in this country to go on the Internet and reach the world," Sen. Dorgan said. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has also announced plans to introduce similar legislation. Content providers and the consumer groups that support them claim that New neutrality laws are needed to ensure the ability to develop and make new and improved services available to users, and to help ensure the survival of small businesses. However, telephone and cable companies claim that such laws would prevent them from making investments in expanded networks that would benefit the general economy. While the issue is normally thought to be split along partisan lines, a June 2006 vote in the House saw 58 Democrats vote against a Net neutrality measure put forth by Rep. Markey. Many Democrats who oppose the legislation are allied with unions, who believe that allowing service providers to charge for priority access, or simply for access in general, will lead to further construction of network infrastructure, meaning demand will increase for the services offered by members of these unions. Nevertheless, new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is a big supporter of Net Neutrality legislation, and the recent FCC ruling on the AT&T acquisition of SBC, which states that AT&T cannot offer a service that "privileges, degrades or prioritizes any packet" for a period of two years, also adds some momentum to the previously stagnated drive for Net neutrality.
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ACM Names 41 Fellows for Contributing to Computing and IT
AScribe Newswire (01/08/07)

ACM has named 41 members ACM Fellows for their work in both the practical and theoretical aspects of computing and IT. "The breadth and depth of the contributions these computing scientists and professionals have made to our world and the way we live are remarkable," said ACM President Stuart Feldman. "These individuals deserve our acclaim for providing dedicated leadership, solving complex problems, and pursuing productive careers in information technology." From the corporate sector: Fellows named from Microsoft Research were commended for a range of efforts, including information retrieval, human-computer interaction, computer architecture, and computer graphics; Google Fellows for their data integration, AI, information retrieval, and knowledge representation work; IBM Fellows for their database systems and scalable distributed systems contributions; and Yahoo, Intel, and HP Labs Fellows for their work in fields including knowledge discovery and data mining, parallel computing, and sensor networks, among others. Of Universities with ACM Fellows, MIT Fellows were recognized for their contributions to dataflow computing and verification, algebraic specification and abstract data types, and parallel and distributed computing; Stanford Fellows for work in network switching and queuing and multiprocessor design. Other Universities with Fellows include Rutgers; Purdue; Northeastern; Northwestern; Penn State; Penn; Michigan at Ann Arbor; Texas at Austin; Maryland; Brigham Young; Rochester; UC San Diego; UC Los Angeles; Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Colorado at Boulder; Portland State; and Brown. Worldwide, one Fellow from the Class of 2006 was named at each of the following: National Taiwan University in Taipei, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale, Lausanne, in Switzerland, and the University of Dundee in Scotland. For non-profit research institutes: Argonne National Laboratories, RAND Corporation, and the International Computer Science Institutes all had ACM Fellows, who worked in fields ranging from message passing protocols to Internet measurement and intrustion detection. A full list of the 2006 ACM Fellow can be found at www.acm.org/awards.
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Scott Rosenberg: What Makes Software So Hard
CIO Insight (01/05/07) Cone, Edward

In his book, "Dreaming In Code," Salon founding editor Scott Rosenberg examines the persistence of a dysfunctional software development culture, using the trials and travails of the Open Source Applications Foundation's initiative to build Chandler, an improved personal information manager, as an example. Rosenberg says missed deadlines, postponements, and other problems are par for the course in the development of nearly all software systems, and unlike classic engineering, there is little analysis of past mistakes. He agrees with the 1975 text by Frederick Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month," that throwing more programmers at a software project can become a hindrance. Rosenberg believes the difficulty of software development lies in the clash between industry's philosophy of pushing for exponential development and the linear pace of human experience and creativity. "One reason the whole engineering approach has proven so difficult for the software field is also one of the unique things about software: Once a particular problem is solved, it's almost infinitely cheaper to use the existing solution," the author observes. Rosenberg dismisses the idea that a "physics of software" is likely or possible, but says developers are loath to accept this fact. According to him, a combination of cultural and managerial difficulties contribute to many problems in major projects. Rosenberg thinks it makes more sense for developers to follow an iterative release-test-improve strategy through techniques such as agile programming instead of attempting to make a huge, all-or-nothing leap toward the project's ultimate goal.
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Congress Off to Slow Start With Tech
CNet (01/09/07) Broache, Anne

The newly elected Democratic Congress does not have plans for introducing technology legislation in its initial 100-hours agenda, but Democratic aides say such issues are important to the economy and will be addressed in time. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the "innovation agenda" is very important to her, including providing nationwide broadband Internet within five years and boosting grants for science and math scholarships. Although such hot-button issues as patent reform, H-1B visas, and Net neutrality are temporarily off the table, some technology-related issues are being addressed right away. A bill is being introduced by Democrats that would increase oversight of the government warrantless wiretapping program, in part by adding to the investigatory power of the Department of Homeland Security's chief privacy officer, in order to monitor expected data-intensive watch lists and identification regimes; another measure will concentrate on the privacy implications of government data mining. Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is receiving Justice Department support for his bill that would require jail time for commercial Web site owners who did not label relevant sites as sexually explicit. The NSA Oversight Act, which has been introduced by a Republican and a Democrat, would reform the process for granting warrants for wiretaps. A permanent ban on Internet taxes was proposed by a bipartisan group at the Senate's first session, but another proposal made by Stevens would make communications services subsidize service in rural areas, schools and libraries; the fees currently come from the long-distance revenues of telecoms. Finally, a measure was introduced by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) that would prohibit American companies from blocking U.S. government content on the Internet in foreign countries, or provide foreign governments with information about users.
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CMU Professor Investigates Vote
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (01/09/07) Amen, Rob

The design of Florida's electronic ballot may have led 18,000 people to not vote for a candidate in the 13th Congressional District during last fall's general election, although seven leading computer scientists continue to study the software used in the touch-screen voting machines. A study from Michael Herron, an associate professor in the Department of Government at Dartmouth College, cites poor ballot design as the likely problem. The 25-page e-ballot had the race between Republican Vern Buchanan and Democrat Christine Jennings atop the second page, and it was in between two races that had a large number of candidates. Some voters may not have realized the Buchanan-Jennings race was a separate contest, says Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Mike Shamos, who added that "the banner for the [U.S. House of Representatives] race was very subdued." After testing the software of the iVotronic machines of Election Systems & Software, the Florida Department of State uncovered no flaws and believes ballot design and voter intent were behind the lack of votes. Like the state, the research team has not found any problems with the software so far. "[The work] is not complete, and we might yet find something," says Shamos, who expects the team to report its findings in January.
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After Years of Effort, Voice Recognition Is Starting to Work
Wall Street Journal (01/10/07) P. B1; Gomes, Lee

While fully functional, ubiquitous voice recognition remains far away, new technology is allowing more and more machines to understand spoken commands. At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, Bill Gates and Ford Motor executives discussed the use of Microsoft Sync software to allow drivers to adjust their car stereo or make phone calls using voice commands. Microsoft Vista has speech recognition software included in it, but Microsoft is not currently promoting or providing much support for its use. Naturally Speaking is the present leader for PC speech recognition, as most who use it agree that it works rather well out of the box and that corrections are easily made. This software allows a user wearing a headphone to dictate text that then appears on the screen; the software improves in effectiveness as it trains itself to a user's unique speaking style. Analyst Bill Meisel says the technology is mostly applied to legal and medical practices, as the average PC user is perfectly happy using a mouse and keyboard to communicate with their computer. Increasing computer power means that voice recognition programs, which use statistical methods to match spoken sounds to words in a database, can now be trained for thousands of hours before being shipped, compared with dozens of hours 10 years ago. Meisel predicts that speech recognition will next appear in search engines, as both Yahoo and Google are planning to release voice-enabled search for mobile devices. IBM has envisioned software that can create transcripts from meetings of as many as four or five people, as well as translation software for broadcasts. The latter technology is far from being perfected, but it is currently able to convey general meaning.
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Apple Packs All Kinds of High-Tech Goodies Into iPhone
USA Today (01/10/07) P. 4B; Baig, Edward C.

The long-awaited Apple iPhone was unveiled by Steve Jobs at Macworld in San Francisco on Tuesday, and its capabilities seem to mark a new direction in cell phone technology. The device features a 3.5 inch touch-screen display that can detect whether it is being held horizontally or vertically and orient itself accordingly; another sensor detects when the device is being lifted to a user's ear so the display can be turned off, saving power and preventing any buttons from being inadvertently touched. While music cannot be wirelessly downloaded from iTunes, the iPhone can be docked and connected to a computer in the same way as any iPod. A feature known as Cover Flow lets users scroll through album covers to find the music they want; podcasts, TV shows, and movies can all be viewed on the device as well. Phone numbers and other contact information from a PC or Mac can be transferred to the device. Voicemail is displayed visually, allowing users to choose those messages that interest them and ignore those that do not. A full-scale version of Apple's Safari Web browser is included on the device, and several free email options are available. The interface also includes Widgets, the light applications that are found on Macs, which provide real-time information such as weather or stock prices. The phone works on Cingular's GSM and Edge wireless networks, and offers both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support. Battery life is limited to five hours when talking and browsing the Web.
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Spafford Leads as Computer Advisor, Scholar
Purdue Exponent (01/10/07) Thomas, Andrea

Eugene Spafford is internationally known for his work in information security and ethics, but has always been respected for his dedication and positive attitude toward his field, his ability to work with people, and his sense of humor. Despite once quipping that trying to get useful information from the Internet is like trying to take a sip from a fire hose, he has not abandoned his own efforts to improve Internet functionality. "I'm intrigued by the problem," says the ACM U.S. Public Policy Committee Chairman and Purdue University professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering. "I think there is an incredible potential there; it's an interesting challenge." He still runs the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security, which was the first of its kind when he developed it. Spafford works a great deal at bringing talented individuals into computing, but devotes an equal amount of energy to making sure that those already in computing are paying attention to more than just the computers. He says, "It's important to think about people and communication. There are issues that don't get solved with programs or mathematics; the field is beginning to change to recognize that, but it's got a ways to go." Over his career, Spafford claims to have learned three valuable lessons: That "Individuals can make a difference;" that trying new things is very beneficial, as "Some people seem very daring and some people seem very lucky, but you can make a lot of luck by actually thinking a little bit and then trying things;" and that promoting students and colleagues is the most rewarding thing he does, even though this is not a commonly held idea "in business or personal relationships." For more information on USACM, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Finding Patterns of Importance in a Deluge of Data
Dartmouth News (01/09/07)

Two Dartmouth engineers have devised PQS, an algorithmic and software framework they say is an ideal means of drawing conclusions from the massive amounts of data gathered by computer network monitors, surveillance cameras, financial records, and countless other sources. PQS researcher and Dartmouth engineering professor George Cybenko says, "PQS closes the gap between gathering a tremendous amount of valuable data and figuring out what the data means." The system can be used to analyze credit reports in order to detect identity theft, find attacks on computer networks, and track activity at national borders, among other tasks. Cybenko adds, "PQS can do for discrete, categorical data analysis problems what classical times series analysis did for finance and control systems where the data are numerical." The two engineers founded their work upon the idea that sensed environments of any kind are made of processes with unique elements; PQS is able to observe and comprehend the changes that occur in these processes. Cybenko's partner on the PQS project, Dartmouth Thayer School research associate and lecturer Vincent Berk, says he finds the network security monitoring capabilities of PQS the most exciting. He says, "PQS brings together the information, and effectively focuses on the most important issues first. To my knowledge there has not been a new software technology that is this versatile since the introduction of relational databases."
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Technology Clears a Path for Putting Robots to Work
Boston Globe (01/08/07) Bray, Hiawatha; Joh, Carolyn Y.

New products are bringing the consumer robotics market into the realm of functional, customizable household tools, and allow them to do much more than simply entertain. This year's CES is hosting two new robotics toolkits: One from iRobot, the Roomba creator, and the other from Microsoft. IRobot Chairman Helen Greiner says, "There's a lot of people with a passion to build robots. We let you basically hit the ground running--literally running." The $129 iRobot Create is basically the foundation of the Roomba, minus the vacuum capabilities, and can have customized parts and software added to it. Robots have become less expensive thanks to falling costs of sensors, memory, and other technology, but the new platforms being released are expected to have a bigger impact on robotics than lower prices will. Microsoft Robotics Group general manager Tandy Trower says that those in the field are "all saying something significant is beginning to come together here, but it's being limited; it's being held back because it's just too hard for people to invest and get started in this technology." With platforms that take away the trouble of writing software for robots, this democratization of robotics is expected to signify the next step in computing: "When the PC will get up off the desktop," as Bill Gates says. Robotics Trends President Dan Kara says that "devices that bridge the gap between the virtual world of computers and the real world of mechanical objects" are the "next big thing" that the industry has been searching for.
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Whoosh! Goes the Internet: International Research Team Blazes the Optical Trail with Record-Setting Molecules
Washington State University (01/02/07)

New organic molecules that convert light energy into usable form with unprecedented efficiency could allow for incredibly fast optical technology. The molecules, known as chromophores, recently exhibited the level of "optical brawn" theorized in 1999 by WSU physicist Mark Kuzyk, who led this most recent research, and are 50 percent more effective than any molecules previously tested. University of Leuven chemist Koen Clays had begun using a tested known as hyper-Rayleigh scattering, which measures the strength of a molecule's interaction with light, when he realized that some of the molecules he had been sent to test were the type that Kuzyk mentioned in his 1999 paper. Head author of the paper detailing the WSU findings and WSU and University of Leuven joint Ph.D. student in chemistry Xavier Perez-Moreno says, "We use the quantum limits to try to get a clearer view of the nonlinear optical interaction and we wish to unveil the unifying principles behind the interaction of light and matter--a very ambitious goal." Lehigh University physicist Ivan Biaggio says the combined work "is a very important contribution that may help the community to finally deliver the all-optical switching performances that are needed for tomorrow´┐Żs all-optical data-processing networks, an aim that has eluded researchers for 20 years." The new design that has emerged includes one electron-donating component at one end of every molecule and an electron-receiving component at the other end; while previous efforts tried to smooth out the "bridge" that connects the end of the molecules, Kuzyk found that making this structure "bumpy" actually improves the electron's interaction with light, because as he explains, "By inserting these speed bumps, you're causing it to bunch up in certain places, and preventing it from interfering with itself."
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Major Blend of Aesthetic, Technical Skills
Daily Northwestern (01/09/07) French, Julie

A new Northwestern University School of Communications adjunct major, called Animate Arts, combines disciplines that would not normally be grouped together, including computer science, art, and music, in order to allow students to experience and gain an understanding of work in fields very different from their own. The faculty and students stress that neither art, music, or computer skills are required for students to enroll in the major. Four core Animate Arts courses give students a fundamental basis in these disciplines, and additional electives and a senior project let them pursue their own interests. The program has attracted students from majors such as theatre, economics, and engineering. Since most Animate Arts students are skilled in a single discipline, the program allows them to diversify their skills and fill in knowledge gaps in order to provide them with a comprehensive educational experience. Ian Horswill, program director and associate professor in the electrical engineering and computer science department, says many students expect the program to be a video game design major, but he stresses the program is not vocational training. However, video games design does require several different skills, so the Animate Arts' "theory-centered" approach could be very beneficial to someone interested in this field; some students have modified video games for their projects.
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Researchers: Hack Will Help Kill HD DVD Copy Protection
IDG News Service (01/08/07) McMillan, Robert

A hacker has recently published software, known as BackupHDDVD, that could facilitate the cracking of the Advanced Access Content System (AACS) copy protection encryption used on HD DVD and Blu-Ray disks. The software itself did not crack the encryption, but if the right title keys, numeric codes used to unlock digital content, are found, BackupHDDVD could allow users to unscramble the content of a disk. Princeton computer science student Alex Halderman and researcher Ed Felten say the software is "the first step in the meltdown of AACS." Content Scrambling Software (CSS), the system used to protect DVD, was hacked by three individuals only a few years after it release. While AACS allows Hollywood to revoke a key, meaning changing a new movie so its keys cannot be read by a HD DVD or Blu-Ray player that has been cracked, this system only works if hackers publish their findings, and even if a key is revoked, disks that have already been published cannot be changed. Halderman says, "What the future looks like to us is that some individuals will have cracks that they don't publish and which Hollywood is unable to revoke. Other people will have cracks that they do publish, and which will work for all old disks." He says it is just a matter of time until title keys are available, but Gartner analyst Mike McGuire says Hollywood will not suffer too much as long as they keep movies from being illegally cracked and traded while they are still in theatres.
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DOE Awards 95 Million Hours of Supercomputing Time
HPC Wire (01/08/07)

The U.S. Energy Department's Office of Science has allocated a total of 95 million hours of computing time on some of the most powerful supercomputers in the world to 45 projects under the aegis of its 2007 Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program. The projects were selected on the strength of how suitable they were for supercomputing and their research's potential impact. Nine of the winning programs are industrial in nature, adding up to twice as many companies with INCITE awards in 2007 versus 2006. Accelerator physics, fusion energy, environmental science, chemical sciences, climate research, computer science, engineering physics, life sciences, materials science, nuclear physics, and nuclear engineering are among the research domains to be covered in 2007. The study of global climate change, the design of less noisy automobiles and better commercial aircraft, and analysis of supernovas and nanomaterials are some of the research's practical applications. "The Department of Energy's Office of Science has one of the top 10 most powerful supercomputers in the world and four of the top 100 and we're proud to provide these resources to help researchers advance scientific knowledge and understanding," declared Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. "I look forward to witnessing the promise of these efforts as some of the world's greatest thinking minds use some of the world's greatest thinking computers."
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Desktop Fabricator May Kick-Start Home Revolution
New Scientist (01/09/07) Simonite, Tom

Desktop fabrication could become as popular as personal computing as the rapid prototyping machines become more affordable, according to some advocates of the self-assembly technology. The Freeform fabricator, which can be put together with a normal soldering iron and screwdrivers for about $2,400, has been developed by Cornell University researcher Hod Lipson and graduate student Evan Malone. Such rapid prototyping equipment usually costs anywhere from $20,000 to $1.5 million. The standard Fab@Home device connects to a desktop computer, and special software is used to control its operation, which involves squeezing material from a mechanical syringe to create objects layer-by-layer. The machine is about the size of a microwave oven. Adrian Bowyer, a researcher at Bath University in the United Kingdom, believes the unit can be used to make inexpensive injection-molded products that are already commercially available. "I can imagine people swapping plans of things to make online, or paying to download them instead of going to the shop," he says. Bowyer believes affordable rapid prototyping machines have the potential to replace traditional manufacturing practices.
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Skills Crisis Deepens as Employers Stand By
IT Week (01/08/07) Murray, James

E-Skills UK CEO Karen Price says the new quarterly skills report from her organization "confirms that skills gaps among ICT professionals and IT users remain a serious issue for employers." Recruitment and Employment Confederation's Dave Pye agreed, noting that "fewer people are coming out of university with IT skills and that is having a knock-on effect on the market." The latest bulletin from the government and employer-backed organization shows that during the second half of 2006 nearly one-fifth of employers said their overall staff does not have enough IT skills, which is a record for over a year. As for IT workers, 11 percent of employers said their IT skill level was lacking, and most of these respondents were medium- to large-scale companies. E-Skills surveyed 1,000 employers, and 13 percent said they were having problems finding workers for their IT openings, especially for software engineering positions. Meanwhile, e-Skills found that only 29 percent of IT workers had received job-related training, which was down eight percentage points from 2001. The percentage of employers looking to recruit IT workers rose to 17 percent.
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Google Joins Large Synoptic Survey Telescope
University of Arizona (01/05/07)

Google has joined a group of 19 universities, national labs, and private foundations that are building the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), to help them organize the massive amount of data the telescope will gather. The telescope is planned to be up and running in 2013, when it will monitor the entire visible sky each week using its three-billion pixel digital camera. Every night will generate over 30,000 gigabits of image data. The group aims to organize the LSST's huge amounts of information, manage large parallel data systems, and process and analyze data constantly, so results are available to amateur or professional researchers in real time. Google's William Coughran says, "Google's mission is to take the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. The data from LSST will be an important part of the world's information, and by being involved in the project we hope to make it easier for that data to become accessible and useful." The collaboration is expected the provide the public with a novel and dynamic look at the night sky. University of California, Davis LSST Director J. Anthony Tyson says, "Partnering with Google will significantly enhance our ability to convert LSST data to knowledge."
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Digital Home Still Terra Incognita
EE Times (01/08/07) Merritt, Rick

Implementing a home network is an impossibility without ingredients such as seamless product interoperability, ease of use, and quality-of-service (QoS). "There's a huge set of things engineers have to put in place--digital rights management, media formats--and you have to have all the pieces implemented before the content flows," says Intel's Brendan Traw. "If any piece of the puzzle is not present, it doesn't work." The state of home networking is considered to be poor because it lacks interoperability, and there is an overabundance of QoS products as well as home networks. Worse still, there are competing approaches to home automation--ZigBee, Zensys' Z-Wave wireless protocol, and the Insteon hybrid power lines/wireless networking solution from Smarthome--while short-range personal-area networks suffer from fragmentation. A standard protocol for preventing the copying and free distribution of premium content on home networks does not yet exist, and different proprietary digital rights management security products are proliferating. Interconnect options are so numerous as to raise doubts among analysts that any one technology will win out, while the absence of a standard operating system is another factor, despite a continued focus on an open-source Linux solution. At least three major groups are struggling to establish interoperability in the digital household, and these efforts overlap at certain points and miss important elements at others. There are too many participants in the rapidly expanding home networking domain, and each player's desire for an optimal system that benefits them specifically has left the field fragmented, and will probably continue to do so.
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Improving Performance Support Systems Through Information Retrieval Evaluation
Journal of Interactive Learning Research (Quarter 4, 2006) Vol. 17, No. 4, P. 407; Schatz, Steven

Steven Schatz of the University of Hartford presents a study that analyzes existing and new techniques for assessing the success of information retrieval systems, arguing that the principle underlying current methods lacks the robustness necessary to permit testing retrieval using diverse meta-tagging schemas. Traditional measures depend on judgments of whether a document has relevance to a specific query, and a good system returns all relevant documents and no extraneous documents. Traditional theory does not address questions such as when, to whom, and to what purpose are the documents relevant. Schatz notes that metatag-based search systems such as Dublin Core, IMS, SCORM, GEM, and others have been developed based on their expected superiority over traditional methods, but little research has been done to confirm their worth. Schatz's study employs the new, non-relevance-based measures of Spink's Information Need and Cooper's Utility to rate a self-built tag-based search tool and the open-source Swish text-based search engine, and compares the two measures against each other as well as against traditional measures. The two search engines were utilized by 34 educators, who evaluated the information each search engine retrieved. Two-way analysis of variance was used to compare construct measures, which are the product of each of the three measures (traditional, information need, and utility) and a satisfaction rating. A substantial correlation between the three measures was uncovered, signaling that the new measures offer an equivalent technique of assessing systems and have some notable benefits, including the elimination of relevance judgments and the capability of in-situ use of measures. "Rather than being limited to any of these measures as a single measure, using some in conjunction with others clearly offers a richer view," Schatz notes.
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