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ACM TechNews
January 31, 2007

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Olde Fashioned Legal Loopholes Allow Rigging of Hi-Tech Elections
VoteTrustUSA (01/30/07) Stanislevic, Howard; Washburn, John

Elections can be fixed by exploiting legal loopholes in election reform legislation, leading software test professional John Washburn and computer network engineer Howard Stanislevic to conclude that any such legislation should be rated according to its ability and intent to lower the risks of such exploitation. Election management servers (EMS) can be linked to the Internet even though Internet connections may be prohibited for voting machines on which votes are cast, creating a situation in which a Trojan horse program can be introduced or the ballot definition corrupted, facilitating the election of the wrong candidate or the disenfranchisement of voters, among other things. A second loophole allows a high failure rate for equipment while not disqualifying equipment from service. This renders denial of service attacks indistinguishable from "normal" in situ malfunctions that fall under federal standards, once again clearing the way for voter disenfranchisement and the election of the wrong candidate. Instructions that direct voters to confirm voter verifiable records are insufficient or nonexistent, which means the wrong candidate could be elected while discrepancies between the DRE Summary screens and voter certifiable paper records cannot be spotted by voters even in the event of a full recount. A fourth loophole is the lack of a requirement to conduct statistically meaningful audits, which can lead once more to the election of the incorrect candidate. Former ACM President Barbara Simons thinks Internet access to election management systems is "a very bad idea," and draws a distinction between Internet connections and the display of election data on a Web site, which presents no danger. Washburn and Stanislevic think that "anyone with a bona fide interest in election integrity should be on the lookout for the above loopholes ... in any current or proposed legislation and must fight to close them before it's too late." For more information about ACM's e-voting activities visit http://www.acm.org/usac
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A Lively Market, Legal and Not, for Software Bugs
New York Times (01/30/07) P. A1; Stone, Brad

Both hackers and security companies engage in the buying, selling, and trading of software vulnerabilities, but for a researcher who has discovered a bug, the black market is often more tempting. Companies such as Microsoft encourage security researchers to report bugs rather than sell them, but there is no monetary incentive to do so. "To find a vulnerability, you have to do a lot of hard work," says Evgeny Legerov, founder of a small security firm in Moscow. "If you follow what they call responsible disclosure, in most cases all you receive is an ordinary thank you or sometimes nothing at all." Instead, Legerov's company sells this information directly to corporate customers at prices starting at $10,000 for periodic updates. In the 1990s, a sort of agreement was reached where security researchers would inform software manufacturers of bugs and allow time for them to release official patches before disclosing the flaw to the public, as long as the manufacturer gave them credit for their discovery. However, this era of researchers who were satisfied by simply being recognized began to erode about five years ago as security companies began to purchase vulnerabilities and provide clients with solutions, claiming that both clients and manufacturers were notified before the public. The criminal marketplace for vulnerabilities, and the high prices it can generate, gained attention in January 2006, when a group of Russian hackers were found to have sold a zero-day program aimed at Windows Metafile (WMF) that led to spyware and malware being planted in tens of thousands of computers worldwide. "You will always make more [money] from [selling vulnerabilities or malicious code to] bad guys than from a company like 3Com," says eEye Digital Security co-founder Mark Maiffret.
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Took Time, But Finally Tech Jobs Are Rising
Investor's Business Daily (01/30/07) P. A5; Krause, Reinhardt

The U.S. tech sector has added a considerable amount of jobs for the first time since 2001, largely due to venture capitalism. Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network released a study showing that the area added over 33,000 jobs in fields throughout the sector during the 12 months ending June 30, 2006. Startups and entrepreneurial activity contributed a great deal to the growth, says Joint Venture President Russell Hancock. "VC is a leading indicator, while employment still lags a bit. We're seeing a real upturn in VC activity into new areas," Hancock says. He expects Silicon Valley to add 30,000 to 50,000 jobs in 2007, numbers that he calls "hopefully more sustainable" than previous bubble levels. Large companies such as Intel and Hewlett Packard have been cutting jobs, but have been able to increase productivity, while others have been moving work to lower-cost areas. The U.S. chip industry seems to be rebounding, as it added 1,100 jobs in the first half of 2006, and currently has 75 percent of the workforce it did in 2001 and a global market share of 47 percent. Texas' "telecom corridor" has seen recent success, thanks in part to RFID and VoIP companies. Overall, the total jobs cut by tech and telecom companies reached a six-year low of 131,200 in 2006, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Meanwhile, North Carolina is an emerging tech hotbed: Google will build a $600 million data center in Lenoir that will employ over 200 people, and Dell opened its Salem plant in late 2005, employing 1,100.
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New York Halts E-Voting Machine Testing
Computerworld (01/29/07) Songini, Marc L.

The New York State Board of Elections has suspended the evaluation and certification of e-voting machines because Ciber, the company contracted to do the job, had not met the requirements established in 2005. A Ciber representative says, "The issues found in the audit do not reflect on the accuracy of tests conducted before the audit. Ciber was accredited at the time those tests were conducted, and they met all of the standards set for testing and accreditation at that time." The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) confirmed that the failure to meet requirements was due to problems in the company's documentation process, although the specific problems were not identified. Ciber had requested a special interim accreditation available to businesses whose applications for 2005 certifications had not yet been processed, but the EAC turned down the request. Ciber has sent a portion of the audit report conducted by the EAC to the New York State Board of Elections for review. The Ciber representative said the issues initially raised in the audit have been addressed and the company is waiting for further notification. However, EAC Executive Director Thomas Wilkey wrote a letter to Ciber's Wally Birdseye claiming that the company had failed to follow its own quality management requirements. The Ciber representative said "we don't feel it's appropriate to comment further on the [audit] process while its still underway. Our focus is to concentrate our resources on addressing any issues, completing the process, and achieving accreditation."
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Women in Tech: A Call to Action
InfoWorld (01/29/09) Nobel, Carmen

The changing characteristics of IT are making it more conducive to female employees, and while they should not be hired based simply on stereotypes, women traditionally posses the attributes that many IT departments will begin to need more and more. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2006 women held just 26.7 percent of U.S computer and mathematics jobs, a percentage that has been falling for some time, and can be seen in nearly every category of IT. Women have also been leaving IT jobs at an alarming rate. Mobile technology allows for significantly increased flexibility for IT employees, so women with children are not as restricted in their abilities as an employee. "Goodness, if we can outsource call centers in India, we can help people have virtual office and flexible work hours," says former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. As IT becomes less of an isolated area within a larger company, the range of skills required of IT employees is widening. Fiorina says, "The ability to collaborate with others, the ability to communicate clearly, and the ability to see the forest and not get lost in the trees," are now more necessary than ever. Fiorina says that when hiring, companies should look at previous experience and increase training efforts in order to find and build employees that provide valuable skills that are currently scarce within IT, and while women should not be hired simply because they are women, most IT departments could balance their overall skill sets by seeking out female potential employees. The role of female IT professionals as mentors and role models cannot be underestimated, as this is considered the most effective ways to cultivate interest among young women and current female employees.
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FBI Turns to Broad New Wiretap Method
CNet (01/30/07) McCullagh, Declan

A University of Colorado law professor recently detailed an FBI surveillance technique where electronic information from thousands of users is obtained and placed into a searchable database if a specific individual or their IP address cannot be found. This "full-pipe" surveillance is capable of recording all Internet traffic flowing through a network, with interception occurring inside an IP's network at the junction point of a router or network switch. "You intercept first and you use whatever filtering, data mining to get at the information about the person you're trying to monitor," said Paul Ohm, who shed light on the practice at the Search & Seizure in the Digital Age Symposium held at Stanford last week. This new system is being called more invasive than the FBI Carnivore surveillance program, which was abandoned two years ago. Federal law states that the FBI must perform "minimization," whereby agents must "minimize the interception of communications not otherwise subject to interception" and inform the supervising judge as to what is happening. However, another section of the law states that if the information being obtained is in code or a foreign language and no expert in that language is readily available, "minimization may be accomplished as soon as practicable after such interception." Since digital communication is all encoded, investigators can record as much as they please, without sorting it out until later. In 1978, U.S. v. Pine stated that investigators are allowed to keep listening to a tapped phone line in order to prosecute other illegal activities not originally mentioned in the wiretap order, suggesting that the same could be done with information obtained through full-pipe surveillance.
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Can Software Catch Up to ICs?
EE Times (01/29/07) Crawford, Catherine

Despite the continued advances in chip technology, the software necessary to take advantage of them is not available, writes Catherine Crawford, chief architect for next-generation systems software at IBM Systems Group's Quasar Design Center. She writes that although the number of floating point operations per second on processors and systems has not yet reached its limit, the amount that most software can utilize is still behind today's available capacity. Meanwhile, innovative multicore processor architectures have shown ability to utilize considerable computing power in entry-level servers with multiple processors. To make use of the computing power, developers must focus on programming methodology enablement and the corresponding application framework and tools. The world's first supercomputer based on Cell Broadband Engine (Cell BE), known as Roadrunner, is one such architecture that can reach over 1.6 petaflops. Roadrunner's architecture, multiple heterogeneous cores with a multitier memory hierarchy, is made completely from commodity parts. Opteron processors will handle standard processing, and Cell BE processors will handle the more mathematically and CPU-intensive tasks. The system is based on a "division of labor" philosophy. A set of computational kernel developers are maximizing performance from the microprocessor ISA; library developers will use frameworks such as Roadrunner's to create multicore memory hierarchy libraries from the kernels; and application developers will then connect these libraries using standard compiler and linker technology. The Roadrunner approach shows how costs can be significantly lowered by using consistent API methodology across a variety of multicore architectures without introducing new languages.
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New UNH Model Measures Cyber Threat
Foster's Daily Democrat (NH) (01/26/07) Kressler, Thomas R.

Students and researchers of the University of New Hampshire's Justiceworks Technical Analysis Group have developed a computer model that can be used to evaluate the threat of a cyber attack posed by a specific terrorist group, individual, or nation. The Cyber Threat Calculator produces a value indicating the level of threat based on several variables, the two most prominent of which are intent and capability. Actual groups and countries were used as case studies when the Threat Calculator was demonstrated at the Department of Defense cyber crime conference in St. Louis. A friendly but technologically advanced country would have a high variable for their capability to harm the United States, but the threat level would be brought down by their low variable for intent to do harm. The Threat Calculator is designed to evaluate large-scale strategic threats, rather than tactical threats such as viruses, worms, and identity theft. The United States must prepare for attacks on targets such as power grids, emergency response systems, financial services, and telecommunications, says UNH professor, Justiceworks researcher, and contributing research for the Department of Homeland Security Andrew Macpherson. Justiceworks plans for the Threat Calculator to be on the Web by late summer so any organization can utilize it.
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The Vanishing IT Woman--System i Women Respond
IT Jungle (01/29/07) Roberts, Mary Lou

Mary Lou Roberts says people are responding positively to her citation of a Gartner study in an earlier story, which contends that the decline in female IT workers is proceeding at a higher rate than their male counterparts possibly because women's needs and desires are not being met in the IT arena. "Many women ... are choosing to stay home, partly because business has not understood that women have multiple priorities and that women are still the primary caregivers," notes analyst Nate Viall, who adds that women put less stock in their work than men. The deceleration rate for females enrolling in computer science and IT management college programs is three times faster than for males. Bytware President Christine Grant partly attributes the lower number of women entering IT to the fact that although computers are more prevalent in education now, the methods of teaching computer use and counseling people for tech careers have hardly changed in two decades. "Perhaps girls ... see computers as a means of efficiency for improving a job and not so much as a career," she reasons. "Only through continued exposure to the career opportunities will we see an increase in girls pursuing IT college degrees and career paths." Though Grant acknowledges that men and women will always be subject to general stereotyping, she notes that each person should be considered according to his or her individual skills in relation to the job he/she is applying for. E.D. Smith & Sons IT director and past president of COMMON Beverly Russell argues that many women choose not to enter IT because the after-hours commitment to the job does not appeal to them; on the other hand, women whose roles as caregivers and child raisers have been resolved are more likely to devote more time to work and ascend the career ladder. One of the distinctions Russell makes between men and women is their expectations of technology, observing that women are less tolerant of failures and outages, and a combination of this attitude and good problem-solving and communication skills can make them outstanding candidates for i System management positions.
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Fortress a Big Jump on Fortran
Australian IT (01/30/07) Gengler, Barbara

Sun Microsystems has released an open-source prototype of Fortress, a high-performance, statically checked, nominally typed, and component-based programming language intended for work requiring heavy use of mathematics. Also available are a series of draft specifications of Fortress and published formal calculi and soundness proofs of some of the language's main features. Fortress is meant to be a secure replacement for the five-decade-old Fortran language, although no backward compatibility with existing Fortran versions has been built into the new language. Fortress includes an object-oriented type system, first-class functions, a component system supporting separate compilation, and secure upgrade of program components, according to project leader Eric Allen. The language is only part of a 10-year effort by Sun to design a supercomputer of the future, says Sun's Guy Steele, who explains that too often the mistake is made of trying to design a programming language that "that is all things to all people." Fortress' dynamic compilation capabilities will allow optimization to be done while programs are being written. Other features such as Fortress's component system and test framework will allow program assembly, while testing will allow compiler optimization across library boundaries. The language will run on many different platforms such as supercomputers that have large stores of addressable memory, commodity clusters, and workstations. Sun's long-term goal is a compiler that can improve performance by adjusting the compiler version of software as it runs.
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Tech's Dark Potential Troubles Terror Expert
Mercury News (01/29/07) Davies, Frank

Former U.S. terrorism czar Richard Clarke's new book, "Breakpoint," pictures a world at the mercy of cyber terrorism, where biotechnological advancements allow wealthy parents to create ideal children and brain links offer enhancements that could change the very nature of humanity. At a recent book signing, Clarke cited a Chinese general who claimed that "China could turn off the U.S power grid (through a cyber attack) during a war." Clarke, who said he spoke with futurist Ray Kurzweil about the technology discussed in the book, claimed, "Some of these things sound like science fiction, but they're not." He noted the difficulty in projecting when certain technologies will emerge; even if they are banned in the United States, they could be developed elsewhere. "We need to be aware of what's coming, because sometimes new technologies burst on the scene before we decide if we want them and what the consequences are,'' Clarke said. Nanotechnological and neurological innovations currently allow brain implants to provide hearing to the deaf and allow the paralyzed to move a mouse-like device with their thoughts alone, and the military has already tested brain-computer linkage and worked on exoskeleton body suits. Bioethicist James Hughes, who admits that "the scenarios Clarke describes are quite plausible," stresses the need to make such technology widely available if it does become a reality, rather than allowing it to be limited to those who can most afford it.
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Survey: The Demise of Unix Is Exaggerated
InformationWeek (01/29/07) Gaudin, Sharon

Enterprises still prefer Unix, especially high-end versions, even though x86-based systems continue to make significant strides with regard to capabilities, scale, and availability, writes Gabriel Consulting Group analyst Dan Olds in a new report. The research and analysis firm surveyed 277 data center managers and found that Unix usage is on the rise at almost 70 percent of the companies, most of which had 1,000 to 10,000 employees. The use of Unix was said not to be increasing or actually decreasing by 22 percent to 26 percent of data center managers. Also, usage of low-end Unix systems remains steady. "We believe that the much discussed death of Unix, like the death of the mainframe and the minicomputer, is more myth than fact and will remain so for at least the next decade," writes Olds. "Unix systems and their associated applications fulfill vital functions in many organizations and the costs and risks of switching to a different system architecture are too high to justify benefits that may not be as significant as promised."
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A Computer Program Wins Its First Scrabble Tournament
Chronicle of Higher Education (01/26/07) Read, Brock

The performance of the computer program Quackle at the Toronto Computer vs. Human Showdown in November represents another high point for artificial intelligence in gaming. The open-source program defeated the former Scrabble world champion, David Boys, in a best-of-five series. Boys, a computer programmer who won the championship in 1995, took the first two games, but Quackle won the last three, inserting letters in opportune places that excellent human players perhaps would not have noticed to spell words. Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Jason Katz-Brown was a chief designer of Quackle, which finished the event with an impressive 32-4 record. Quackle defeated another Scrabble-playing program, Maven, for the opportunity to play Boys. Maven had a record of 30-6. Quackle's victory follows the well-publicized loss of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov to Deep Blue.
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Daylight Saving Changes: No Y2K, But There Could Be Headaches
Network World (01/25/07) Mears, Jennifer

IT shops must gird themselves for an earlier than usual switch to daylight-savings time this year if they wish to avoid problems with timestamp-reliant applications that could put record compliance assurance, operating room scheduling, billing, contract deadlines, and other processes at risk, according to industry experts. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 decreed an extension of the daylight-saving schedule by a month, with the period commencing on the second Sunday in March and ending on the first Sunday in November. This change could disrupt IT systems that automatically implement daylight-savings time according to the old schedule, and thus IT professionals need to closely examine their systems and applications to ascertain which could be thrown out of whack when the change takes place and then take remedial action. "My fear is that a lot of people aren't going to realize this is a big issue until months down the road when they say, 'Oops, why aren't these dates lining up,'" says TrueCredit CTO Scott Metzger. The majority of major IT vendors have Web pages detailing what fixes are needed for their products to comply with the new schedule, while smaller vendors are also taking steps to update their products. Metzger says most of the updates his team has been working on are focused on Java virtual machines. Advances in Technology CIO Rich Debrino notes that there should not be many difficulties for systems connected to external network time servers. IT consultant Mike Sly is nonplussed that so many people seem unaware of the daylight-savings switchover problem.
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Researchers Pave the Way for Canada's First Intelligent Home
CNW Group (01/25/07)

Researchers in Toronto have tested in clinical trials a home-based computer prompting system and an emergency response system that use artificial intelligence. The computer prompting system was found to increase hand-washing by about 25 percent, while the emergency response system was found to have detected 77 percent of staged falls. Developed by researchers at the Intelligent Assistive Technology and Systems Lab, a joint venture between the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and the University of Toronto, the home-based systems were created with older adults who have cognitive impairments in mind. The computer prompting system essentially acts as a "talking" bathroom that provides video and verbal cues from a computer screen. The emergency response system makes use of ceiling-mounted cameras throughout a house to feed pictures to its computer system in order to analyze images, as well as a voice recognition system that asks occupants if they need help. "Our systems use computer algorithms that act more like a human in terms of rational thought and decision-making," says Toronto Rehab researcher Dr. Alex Mihailidis, who adds that they are not meant to replace assistance from caregivers. "However, the results from our studies are encouraging and show that the use of artificial intelligence in a home setting can provide safety and security and enhance the quality of life for older adults who would like to remain in their homes as they age."
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Adobe to Send PDF to Standards Group
CNet (01/28/07) LaMonica, Martin

Adobe Systems this week is expected to describe its plans for submitting its Portable Document Format specifications to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Although subsets of the PDF format have already been standardized, Adobe has been told by customers that making PDF an ISO-approved standard would increase confidence in the product's longevity. "We've already been taking feedback and updating the specification over time," says Adobe's Kevin Lynch. "Now we'll be doing it in a more formal way, through a standards body." The specifications for PDF Reader and Acrobat will be given to the Enterprise Content Management Association, which will convene a working group and pass the specification to a standardization technical committee hosted by the ISO. Lynch expects the process to take from one to three years. Adobe plans to stay compatible with any PDF standards in its own products, and for existing PDF standards to comply with any ISO standard. "We are starting to see the industry get more interested in these document formats being managed by standards bodies," said Lynch. "We see Microsoft responding to that, and we are certainly responding to that, too."
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Winning Ways; Artificial Intelligence
Economist (01/27/07)

Computers have proved their superiority over humans in chess, draughts, Othello, and backgammon, but it seems that yet another game, Go, which humans have steadily dominated, will be soon to fall to the machines. The method used by Deep Blue to defeat Gary Kasparov in 1997 is known as "brute force," where rather than analyzing a single position to figure out the best moves, the technique humans use, the computer considers all of its possible moves, all of the opponents possible replies, and all of its own responses to that move. The computer then looks through the map it has created, which has millions of branches, to find the one move that would leave its opponent the fewest chances of winning. However, this method does not work in Go, a game that has many more possible positions than Chess. A technique known as the Monte Carlo method, originally designed by the Manhattan Project, is now being used to let computers compete with humans in Go. This method uses an algorithm that considers every possible move and plays many random games to find out their outcome; a move is considered good if it wins 80 percent of the time. Monte Carlo techniques are actually a lot faster than brute force, since computers are very adept at generating random sample games. New developments in the Monte Carlo method have allowed programs using it to win computer tournaments on nine- and 13-line Go grids. One program, MoGo has even defeated strong human players on nine-line grids, an unfathomable feat only a year ago, and reached a world ranking of 2,323 and a European top 300 ranking.
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Start of the Hologram Wars?
New Scientist (01/20/07) Vol. 193, No. 2587, P. 22; Graham-Rowe, Duncan

Competing brands of holographic discs that can store up to 300 times as much data as current DVDs could fragment the market, which is already smarting from the continuing format war between Blu-ray and HD DVD standards. The holographic storage methods employed by DCE Aprilis and InPhase Technologies follow the same principles, but the companies differ in how they record and read data because the light-sensitive polymers the companies use are different. Aprilis' polymer employs "cationic ring-opening polymerization," and InPhase undergoes "free-radical polymerization." As a result, Aprilis' drives can read and record discs rapidly--more than 1 Gbps--while InPhase drives have a maximum read speed of 20 Mbps and an even slower record speed. InPhase's product counters its speed disadvantages with market readiness, although the cost of the drives and disk cartridges will probably appeal initially to businesses and governments that generate massive volumes of data every day. Although further behind in terms of development, Aprilis and its partners are pushing for a mass-market version of its product that replaces Blu-ray and HD DVD. A lingering problem is the discs' lack of rewritability.
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Cure for the Multicore Blues
IEEE Spectrum (01/07) Vol. 44, No. 1, P. 40; Goldstein, Harry

Writing code for multicore chips is the purpose of the RapidMind Development Platform, the brainchild of University of Waterloo computer science professor and RapidMind founder Michael McCool. A sore point for programmers is the parallel processing inherent in multicore architecture, and relieving the extra stress this entails is the goal of the RapidMind platform. In theory, programmers could code their entire application to run on multiple cores with the assistance of RapidMind, which takes the most computationally heavy program sections, fragments them, and runs them in parallel on several processor cores simultaneously. As a commercial product, McCool's design for the RapidMind platform was "something that I could teach in about 10 minutes, that you could use without mental overhead so you can focus on the algorithms, not the details of the particular processor." The first step in writing an application with RapidMind is the identification of the components to be accelerated. Rather than writing code using garden-variety C++ terms that stand for subroutines and functions in a C++ library, the RapidMind user employs words from the RapidMind vocabulary that represent subroutines and functions contained in the RapidMind library, and that summon subroutines and functions that run in parallel. RapidMind uses dynamic load balancing to accommodate computationally intensive applications.
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