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January 22, 2007

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Putting the Brakes on Light Speed
Washington Post (01/19/07) P. A8; Weiss, Rick

University of Rochester scientists have developed a process for slowing down light while retaining its ability to carry information. Today's fiber-optical systems use electrical signal processors, but a way of reducing the speed light moves at could bring about an age when computers process information using optical beams. The field of "slow light" is less than a decade old, but "This is a big step toward bringing slow-light technology into practical usage," said Stanford University professor of electrical engineering and applied physics Steve Harris. Not only is this new method far simpler than those previously developed, but it allows the light to retain information. A popular way of slowing light is routing it through a dense material, but this causes changes in wave forms that result in whatever data being carried to be lost. The University of Rochester team built a four-inch-long chamber filled with cesium gas heated to over 200 degrees Fahrenheit that created a sort of photonic pileup in the pulses of laser light sent through it. The technique maintained the peaks and troughs of the light waves, so that they did not cancel each other out. The beam of light was sent through a minute stencil of the letters "UR," for the school, in order to show that the shadow-like image remained after the light passed through the chamber and resumed its normal speed; the image was even visible when a single photon was sent through the tube. Necessary for high-speed optical information processing is the ability to control time delays, so the researchers created a knob that can do so by changing the temperature inside the tube.
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David Farber: Hold Off on Internet Neutrality
Sacramento Bee (CA) (01/21/07) Farber, David; Katz, Michael

Proposed Internet neutrality legislation would prevent the Internet from improving as it should and provide no consumer benefits, says the Sacramento Bee's David Farber. Citing expert opinion that innovations such as improved security and reliability could result from an updated Internet, Farber believes competitive practices, such as traffic management and pricing, must be allowed. Traffic management, which would give priority to certain content, would allow for vital processes, such as medical processes, to be favored over less vital processes, such as music downloading. Farber says if prices could be charged for premium service, suppliers could offer a better product, and there is nothing "undemocratic" about providing consumers with greater functionality. Farber acknowledges the negative side of discriminatory practices, especially when carried out by competitive service providers. Politicians must act with caution when deciding what practices promote or inhibit competition. The case-by-case approach that has historically been used in antitrust proceedings, where practices must be shown to restrict competition, would be effective here as well, says Farber. He does not place all of his faith in the market, but maintains that Internet neutrality is a harmful fix for a problem that does not fully exist.
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'Between Now and the End of 2008 There Will be Another 7 Million Robots in the World'
Herald Sun (AU) (01/21/07) P. 74; Gates, Bill

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates explains that improving technology and falling costs will bring about a proliferation of robots in the next few years, although no one is really sure what the world will look like after these developments. "We probably won't call them robots: The new machines will be so specialized and ubiquitous," says Gates. The robotics industry is driven by large corporations selling specialized devices for business and an increasing number of start-ups selling novel toys, gadgets, and other niche items. Gates reports that the industry "is also...highly fragmented...with few common standards or platforms," while projects are intricate and progress is slow. Although the timeframe for the global impact of robotics is unknown, there is little doubt of the ability of robotics to change the world. The components needed to bring robotics into the mainstream are being made more effective and are being produced at lower prices than ever; a few examples are distributed computing, voice and visual recognition, and wireless broadband connectivity. According to Gates, the major obstacle facing robotics companies is the lack of compatibility between software used in different robots, meaning that building a new robot means starting from scratch. Researchers have had a more difficult time creating robots that can sense and respond to their environment than expected, but increasing access to computing power is helping this challenge. "Many see the robotics industry at a technological turning point where a move to PC architecture makes more and more sense," says Microsoft strategic staff member Tandy Trower. Trower has worked on improving the ability of hardware and software to process incoming data and send the necessary signals to a robot's motors, a concern known as concurrency, which is a challenge also brought about by the introduction of multiple-processor computers.
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Improved Nanodots Could be Key to Future Data Storage
EurekAlert (01/19/07)

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have been able to limit the variation in nanodot switching response to less than 5 percent of the average switching field, according to a recent paper published in the Journal of Applied Physics. They also believe the design of the multilayer films, which are the starting material for the nanodots, is the reason for the wide disparity in the way nanodot arrays respond to magnetic fields. The research represents a potential breakthrough for improving digital storage, which has data needs that are believed to double every year. The NIST researchers worked with scientists from the University of Arizona on the project, which used electron beam lithography to pattern multilayer thin films for nanodots that were 50 nanometers wide. Commercial nanodot drives would offer 100 times more storage space than current hard disk drives. Nonetheless, researchers may need to combine nanodots with an approach that also uses a laser to heat and switch individual bits. According to lead author Justin Shaw, heat would make it easier to switch nanodots.
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Women Abandoning Tech Jobs
silicon.com (01/18/07) Ranger, Steve

Research conducted by trade group Intellect has returned some rather alarming data about the declining numbers of women in IT. Women currently make up only 16 percent of the nation's tech workers, a 2 percent drop from two years ago. This statistic is "very worrying," says Intellect program manager Carrie Hartnell, who also points out that 61 percent of these women are at the level of database administrator, showing how few women are able to climb the management ladder. Perhaps most damaging is the frequency of senior female execs leaving the industry, depriving the industry of valuable experience, as well as removing potential role models for young females interested in IT. "From the research we've done there is still a feeling that the long-hours culture and the lack of understanding about flexible working has an impact," Hartnell explains. Intellect is concocting an "action plan" to improve gender diversity in IT based on its findings. One element of the plan is the establishment of focus groups that will allow companies to create policies to bolster recognition of good practices. [[For information about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://women.acm.org]]
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Linux Guru Argues Against Security Liability
ZDNet Australia (01/19/07) Espiner, Tom

Red Hat developer Alan Cox told a House of Lords committee on science and technology that a developer's obligation to create secure software is ethical, not legal. Cox, who was among the leading developers of the Linux kernel, spoke of both open- and closed-source software developers as he discussed the generally accepted fact that no one knows how a completely secure program could be built. Closed-source companies cannot be held accountable for breaches of their software because it would do great damage to relationships with third-party vendors, said Cox: "[Code] should not be the [legal] responsibility of software vendors, because this would lead to a combatorial explosion with third-party vendors," he explained. "When you add third-party applications, the software interaction becomes complex. Rational behavior for software vendors would be to forbid the installation of any third-party software." Stressing the communal nature of open-source code, Cox said, "Potentially there's no way to enforce liability." Since many companies implement open-source code in their products, the transfer of liability would cause many problems. Open source developer and security researcher Adam Laurie told the committee that while manufacturers have an obligation to the public to make it easy for them to secure their computers, usability can trump security. He believes programmers must be held accountable for software that they claim is secure, yet has been proven not to be.
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Congress Lights Fire Under Vote Systems Agency
InternetNews.com (01/19/07) Hickins, Michael

The Election Assistance Committee (EAC), which has been advised to accredit two new independent testing labs by the National Institute of Standard and Technology, will most likely be the target of substantial congressional scrutiny during the coming year. Members of both houses have made their intentions to reform the way Americans vote. Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has announced that hearings concerning electronic voting machines will be held and corresponding legislation will be introduced. "One-third of voters cast their ballots in the midterm election using new electronic voting machines, and problems arose, not only in Florida, but in various jurisdictions across the country," said Feinstein. Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.) has said that "the integrity of electronic voting machines is a number-one priority for the Committee on House Administration," of which she is the new chairman. Millender-McDonald has asked Florida courts to grant access to the source code of voting machines in Sarasota County, where 18,000 people did not vote in the congressional election, yet voted in others on the ballot. She is expected to subpoena the source code if the Florida courts do not do so. As the ranking member of the Administration Committee, Millender-McDonald took part in hearings on verifiable paper trails this summer and fall, where she questioned EAC chief Donetta Davidson concerning suspected flaws in current voting systems guidelines and testing activities. More recently, the EAC has been criticized for not revealing that a lab used to test software for voting machines did not receive proper interim certification, yet continued testing software upgrades in the weeks preceding the November election.
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W3C Talks Up Next-Gen Multi-lingual Talking Web
VNUNet (01/15/07) Jaques, Robert

The First Public Working Draft of Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML) 1.1 could help improve voice applications over the Web. Crafted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), SSML 1.1 is designed to serve as an upgrade to SSML 1.0 by making it easier for users of mobile phones, desktop computers, and other devices worldwide to listen to synthesized speech. SSML 1.1 offers greater support to languages around the world, such as the disambiguation of "word boundaries" in Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and other languages that do not account for white space as a boundary, according to W3C. Other improvements include the clarification between the speaking voice of the author and the language that is spoken, finer-grained control over lexicon activation and entry usage, and tighter alignment of the Speech Interface Framework with upcoming specifications. The release of SSML 1.1, which could lead to the development of multilingual voice applications, comes at a time when more Web content is being published in Chinese and Indian languages.
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Nordic Researchers Aim for Multiprotocol Multisensor RFID Tag
RFID Journal (01/19/07) Wessel, Rhea

Nordic researchers developing a multiprotocol radio frequency identification (RFID) tag that could be used in a number of applications and regions will find out later in the year whether the project will be extended for another three years. Researchers involved in the IntelliSense RFID initiative plan to incorporate environmental sensor technology into the multiprotocol RFID tag, and expect to complete work on developing sensors for measuring humidity and pH later in the year. Launched in January 2006, the IntelliSense project is expected to have by the end of the year a fully operational RFID tag that supports the ISO 15693 and ISO 18000-6C protocols and is able to monitor air pressure, temperature, humidity, and pH. An extended project would allow the researchers to proceed next year with integrating the 18000-4 standard for tags operating at 2.45 GHz. "Today, there are different types of protocols for different types of applications, such as logistics or consumer applications," says project coordinator Ovidiu Vermesan. "Our goal is to merge these protocols so that one can use one tag for different applications." SINTEF in Norway and VTT in Finland are heading the project, which has received $3 million from the NORDITE research program.
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Georgia's Unusual 'Electoral College'
Chronicle of Higher Education (01/19/07) Vol. 53, No. 20, P. A29; Foster, Andrea L.

A joint venture between Kennesaw State University and the Georgia state government involves the participation of computer experts in the deployment of e-voting machines, and the effort is drawing interest from Washington as government officials and scientists struggle to reform electoral processes across the country. Kennesaw State's Center for Election Systems recruits students and others as e-voting machine inspectors, trains election officials and poll managers throughout the state, constructs a ballot database, and interacts with voting machine manufacturer Diebold Election Systems. It is the center's perception that the election process' workings should not be disclosed, while many computer and political scientists argue that a transparent election process will help ensure reliability. They are calling for the inclusion of a voter-verifiable paper trail in e-voting systems to ensure accuracy in the event of recounts, among other things, and this is a universal requirement of legislation about to be reintroduced in Congress. Diebold has caught a lot of flak over the reported insecurity of its e-voting systems, but Kennesaw State professors and students say such claims are exaggerated and not based on serious research. The voicing or display of political bias by students and staff members is not allowed so that the center can avoid accusations of election rigging. Kennesaw State computer science department Chairman Merle King says a federal standards compliance test is run on the Diebold systems used in Georgia before the center conducts its own testing for adherence to state standards. An opponent of projects such as Kennesaw State's is NotableSoftware President Rebecca Mercuri, who contends that public universities' reliance on state money sets up a bias toward appeasing state officials.
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Creating the Future of Optics and Photonics
Photonics Online (01/16/07) Pearson, James

The Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL) at the University of Central Florida, founded in 1986, was the first photonic program in the U.S. to become a full college headed by a dean, and its research activities continue to cover the leading trends in the fields of photonics and optics, writes CREOL and Florida Photonics Center of Excellence (FPCE) director of research and administration Dr. James Pearson. New visualization displays, such as those in eyeglasses, could become mainstream as a result of CREOL research into virtualization hardware. Bessel beam imaging is being used to produce a narrow beam of light for a long distance, and can be used for high-resolution imaging over a depth of focus of a few millimeters. High-speed communications and signal processing could receive a boost from CREOL work concerning optical frequency combs that would facilitate unique types of high-speed transfer of coded optical signals. High-efficiency optical transmitters and receivers offered by heterostructure devices could be made possible by Zinc Oxide-based compounds (ZnO) that have been found to enable epilayers to maintain relatively efficient levels of electroluminescence at temperatures up to 650K. High-resistivity ZnO substrates are being created that are better quality than those currently available using liquid phase epitaxy, meaning that volume holograms could replace components in optics, laser systems, and data storage. Extreme ultraviolet optical sensors are being suggested as the future of manufacturing small-scale chips, since they could enable optical lithography to continue fulfilling Moore's Law. Other research is focusing on transflective LCDs, and an adaptive-focus liquid crystal lens that could mimic human vision. Finally, work in laser doping, a process for doping wide bandgap semiconductors with both n- and p-type dopants, aims to construct efficient LEDs.
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Interview: Must-Know Security Insights for 2007
Business 2.0 (01/07) Fortt, Jon

Cryptography Research President Paul Kocher outlines in an interview some electronic security threats that people may encounter, along with steps individuals and businesses can take to protect themselves from these threats. Kocher says that the hackers of years past who only wanted attention and bragging rights have been replaced by criminals looking to make money through electronic fraud. Furthermore, a great deal of the work being done to commit these electronic crimes is effectively outsourced to countries with very intelligent people but poor employment opportunities and weak economies, like Eastern Europe, he says. Kocher also explains a new system of attack that Cryptography Research discovered whereby a hacker can figure out a key code by reading the amount of energy a semiconductor chip uses while processing. To protect information, Kocher says you should encrypt all laptops in case they are lost or stolen; never reuse the same password; put a fraud alert on your credit history; ensure that firewalls and virus scanners are active; and put critical data on a physically separate network from the one used for email and Web browsing.
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Software That Learns From Experience
domain-B (01/16/07) Chokshi, Kaustubh

Artificial intelligence software running on Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) is gaining regard for its ability to function in the world of unstructured domains, where logic-based software reaches its limit. AI software is able to analyze previously unseen inputs by learning an underlying domain model from examples fed into the software. ANNs are modeled on the architecture of the interconnected neurons of the human brain, and can be algorithms or linked hardware processing components. Using massive amounts of data and rules concerning data relationships, ANNs are trained to evaluate connections based on patterns in data inputs, in the same way that a child learns to identify all dogs after a single dog is pointed out to them. A program can then tell the network what to do with external inputs. Once training is completed, ANNs are used as statistical experts that can analyze data to identify trends and construct projections concerning a specific area of operation. AI-based software is the only way to achieve accurate predictive analytics from historical data, and its ability to do so improves as more data is passed through it. The pattern recognition ability of ANNs has led to their use in business applications such as consumer profiling and fraud detection. A prominent example of the technology's worth is a program known as Falcon, which uses ANNs in protecting nearly half of the credit cards issued in the United States from fraudulent activity. Speech and handwriting recognition technology also owes a great deal to neural networks. Researchers have recently focused on creating AI software that far surpasses human intelligence in very particular fields. As technology advances, this type of software will most likely become even more widespread.
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Brain Activity Provides Novel Biometric Key
New Scientist (01/16/07) Knight, Will

Researchers at the Center for Research and Technology Hellas in Greece plan to test a biometric system that is able to identify people based on their brain activity this year as a security system for a laboratory in Germany. Dimitrios Tzovaras and colleagues make use of electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the electrical activity in the brain as part of the authentication process, in which individuals wear a cap to wirelessly communicate their uniquely identifiable brain data. The researchers believe such an authentication system could serve as a building or computer security system. Their work is part of a larger initiative in Europe, the Human Monitoring and Authentication using Biodynamic Indicators and Behavioral Analysis (HUMABIO) project, which is integrating various biometric strategies to develop a more effective security system. Although the approach has been found to have an accuracy rate of 88 percent, there is still some criticism that using the cumbersome and invasive EEG cap is not practical. "Wearing a wired helmet with sensors on one's scalp might change the ambiance of the workplace somewhat," says John Daugman, a biometrics researcher at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Another Cambridge researcher, Olaf Hauk, questions its accuracy. "EEG varies greatly depending on a person's alertness, or mental operations," says Hauk, a neuroimaging specialist.
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A Head Start in Computing
New University (01/16/07) Vol. 40, No. 13, Rokhideh, Maryam

The benefits of internships were stressed during a panel discussion that was recently sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery Club at the University of California at Irvine. The panel, which featured professionals from various companies, said internships can help lead to a successful career in computer-related fields because they introduce participants to life in the industry. Paul Salce, a consultant with Unisys, compared internships to taking a "test drive" of a career. Evok Networks CEO Greg Moulton added, "There are lots of different jobs out there, but the only way you're going to be able to differentiate between taking a job where you grimly count the hours to punch out and a job where you don't even view it as work is by taking as many internships as possible to sample the jobs that interest you." ACM Club President Zack Ji, a fourth-year information and computer science major, said internships ultimately helped him find his dream job. The focus on internships gave the ACM Club an opportunity to warn students that work experience is more of a factor in obtaining a good job than a degree.
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Collaborative Development Environments
Dr. Dobb's Journal (01/07) Booch, Grady

A collaborative development environment (CDE) represents a key shift in focus from an individual developer to the development team. CDEs are virtual spaces that allow participants in a software development team to work together on a project, even if they are separated by space and time. They are usually comprised of configuration management systems, issue-tracking databases, instant messaging systems, project Web sites, and other capabilities that would allow software engineers to interact, communicate, and coordinate with each other. One reason why a CDE is materially different from an integrated development environment (IDE) is the fact that it facilitates the software developers' focus on semantically deep artifacts with semantically deep associations. SourceForge and Collab.net are among the few commercial CDEs that focus on software development over the Web, and there are more CDEs for other domains or that serve a certain aspect of the software CDE domain. In order for software developers to make the transition to CDEs, the other domains must be studied. Issues dealing with presentation, simplicity, ease of use, personalization, and culture will have to be addressed if CDEs are to become a sanctuary for collaboration.
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Everything and the Kitchen Sink
eWeek (01/15/07) Vol. 24, No. 2, P. 16; Taft, Darryl K.

Sun Microsystems has announced that it will open-source its new Java compiler, Javac, through a project known as the Kitchen Sink Language (KSL), which will allow programmers to play around with the language in hopes of obtaining data on which to base debates concerning the dynamic language. Javac lead tech Peter von der Ahe says, "I see a lot of proposal for enhancing the language and our team has to turn down most. So how can we experiment?" KSL, a Sun incubator project created by Java creator and Sun Fellow James Gosling, is a forum that will let programmers evaluate the language "by using [it] on their own code," rather than reading abstract specifications and proposals, according to von der Ahe. He understands the potential for chaos that KSL could bring to the language, so he explains that Sun must be "conservative" when evaluating features to implement. In a Jan. 8 blog post, Gosling said, "I've never been real happy with debates about language features. I'd much rather implement them and try them out." Though some took this to mean that Gosling did not like any debate on the subject, he clarified himself by explaining that he did not approve of debate when it was separated from "experiment and data," and that KSL will provide this type of scientific foundation for debating features.
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Multithreading Invites String of Nasty Bugs
Electronic Engineering Times (01/15/07) P. 46; Bier, Jeff

A new paper from University of California, Berkeley, EECS professor Edward Lee has engineers buzzing about the potential of thread-based programming. Multi-threaded programming primarily has been limited to single-core processors, and has performed fairly well, but multicore-chip vendors are now talking up multithreading as a way to take advantage of the processing power of their chips. Multithreaded applications are nondeterministic and very unintelligible to their own programmers, Lee writes in "The Problem With Threads," explaining further that program execution sequence and processor state can be switched at any time. As a result, programmers would never know whether every possible sequence is correct, which means bugs would be difficult to find, according to Lee, who is also a founder of Berkeley Design Technology. Although there are techniques for addressing the nondeterminism in some multithreaded applications, Lee maintains that the approach in flawed. He believes deterministic behavior should be the focus of programming methodology and languages, and that nondeterminism should be added when it is necessary.
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The Enabler
IEEE Spectrum (01/07) Vol. 44, No. 1, P. 51; Patel-Predd, Prachi

The realization that learning requirements differ sharply between people with different abilities or disabilities eventually led Rob Sinclair to become director of Microsoft's accessible technology group, whose focus is enhancing computer software and devices for people with learning or physical disabilities. Thanks to Sinclair's guidance, the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system features augmented screen magnification, voice control, dictation, and greater compatibility with third-party assistive technology products so that disabled users are better accommodated. His overarching objective is boosting the user-friendliness and accessibility of computers for the benefit of disabled as well as non-disabled people through user interface (UI) automation. Sinclair helped conceptualize the Microsoft User Interface Automation Model for enabling interoperability between software applications and assistive technology. "The idea about this is that there has to be some common way of exposing information from an application so that other applications can get to it," he explains. "It allows developers with special expertise to build the speaking application and developers who really understand email to build the email application." In addition, Sinclair believes UI automation has the potential to offer simpler, consistent access across disparate computing platforms, facilitating the expansion of accessible design into "design for all." It is his view that technology should adapt to people rather than vice-versa.
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