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May 25, 2007

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Welcome to the May 25, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Study Reveals What Women Want From IT Jobs
PressEsc.com (05/24/07) Panditaratne, Vidura

A Penn State study of 92 female IT professionals shows that the traditional sales pitch focusing on job promotion and security actually stops women from taking information technology jobs. Eileen Trauth, a professor of information sciences and technology at Penn State, says that human-resource workers need to recognize that women have diverse values and motivations throughout the course of their careers and hiring and retention practices need to be adjusted to fit those needs. The study focused on three traditional "career anchors"--technical competence, managerial competence, and organizational security--while interviewing women from a variety of ethnic identities, ages, and backgrounds. All of the women work in IT positions ranging from Web developers and IT administrators all the way up to CIO and upper-level managers. The study found that, contrary to traditional theories, none of the anchors alone was a deciding factor in the women's career choices. About 30 percent said they valued careers that let them perfect technical skills while others said they wanted career paths with managerial opportunities. Women interested in management were most attracted to the opportunity to supervise, manage, and coordinate the work of others, and several spoke on the importance of earning graduate degrees to move into management. The research is described in a paper, "What Do Women Want: An Investigation of Career Anchors among Women in the IT Workforce," given at the recent SIGMIS Computer Personnel Research Conference in St. Louis.
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Phishers Can Use Social Web Sites as Bait to Net Victims: Informatics Study
Indiana University (05/24/07)

Popular social network sites such as Facebook and MySpace are being used by cybercriminals to gather personal information to create targeted phishing attacks, according to Indiana University School of Informatics researchers. In their study, "Social Phishing," the researchers established a baseline for the success rate of traditional and social network-based phishing attacks. Phishers steal personal information by sending authentic looking requests, either by email or instant messaging, asking someone to click on a link and submit their information on what looks like a legitimate Web site. "Phishing has become such a prevalent problem because of its huge profit margins, ease in launching an attack, and the difficulty of identifying and prosecuting those who do it," says associate professor of informatics and computer science Filippo Menczer. "Our study clearly shows that social networks can provide phishers with a wealth of information about unsuspecting victims." The study sent email messages to two groups of students asking them to enter their university ID and password. One group received an email from what they thought was a friend, while the other group received an email from a stranger. Only 16 percent of students who received an email from a stranger entered their information, while 72 percent of those receiving emails from "friends" gave away their information. Associate professor of informatics and member of the research team Markus Jakobsson says they were astonished by the 72 percent response rate. The researchers suggested some countermeasures to prevent phishing, including digital signatures on emails to verify the source, browser toolbars that alert users to spoofing attempts, spam filters that detect spoofed emails, and providing users with a secure path to enter passwords, alerting users that they are trying to authenticate to an unknown site. The study is scheduled to be published in the October 2007 issue of Communications of the ACM.
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Carnegie Mellon Project Boosts Book Digitization Efforts
Carnegie Mellon News (05/24/07) Spice, Byron; Watzman, Anne

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed a way for people to help create digital records of books every time they solve CAPTCHAs, the distorted word puzzles commonly found when registering at a Web site or making an online purchase. Researchers believe that about 60 million CAPTCHA puzzles are solved everyday around the world, each taking an average of about 10 seconds to solve and type in. "Humanity is wasting 150,000 hours everyday on these," said Carnegie Mellon assistant professor of computer science Luis von Ahn, who helped develop CAPTCHAs about seven years ago. To take advantage of that manpower, Von Ahn devised a system that uses CAPTCHAs to help create digital records of books. The huge, numerous efforts to digitize books and store them online is primarily done through optical character recognition (OCR), but OCR frequently does not work on older, faded, or distorted texts. The Internet Archive scans about 12,000 books a month, and sends von Ahn images that the computer is unable to recognize. Von Ahn then splits those images into single words that can be used in his reCAPTCHA tests. To ensure people are correctly deciphering the printed text, reCAPTCHA requires users to type two words, one of which the system already knows. If the user types the known word correctly, the system has greater confidence that the unknown word was submitted correctly as well. If several visitors type the same answer for the unknown word, the system knows the word can be archived. Internet Archive director Brewster Kahle said he believes reCAPTCHA is a brilliant idea that utilizes the Internet to correct OCR mistakes. "This is an example of why having open collections in the public domain is important," Kahle said.
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WPI Receives $2 Million Award to Develop an Intelligent Tutoring System That Can Improve Math Education
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (05/23/07)

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and Carnegie Mellon University researchers have received a four-year, $2 million award to continue research on ASSISTment, a computerized tutoring system designed to help middle school students master mathematical skills. ASSISTment will provide schools with the long-term data on student performance required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and will provide teachers and parents with instantaneous, day-to-day feedback on what students have and have not learned, making it easier to tailor instruction to help students understand concepts they are having problems with. WPI associate professor of computer science and leader of ASSISTment research Neil Heffernan says ASSISTment is the only system that can provide longitudinal data, benchmark skills assessment, and student tutoring without taking time out of classroom instruction. Kenneth R. Koedinger, Carnegie Mellon University associate professor in the Human Computer Interaction Institute and co-principal investigator on the grant, says students should not have to stop learning to take a test, particularly a practice test. "Students keep learning while they are using the ASSISTment system, and we are showing that we get just as good if not a better idea of what they know and do not know than we can from high pressure, one-shot tests." The ASSISTment system, which was built around more than 900 test items from the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System 8th grade math exam, will be expanded to include sixth and seventh grade mathematics and will be able to generate user-friendly reports to show teachers and parent how individual students are performing. Finally, the system will utilize new features to help students achieve mastery of math topics. The system will track each student's progress and record which skills they have not yet mastered.
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SIGGRAPH 2007 Papers Program Reveals Innovative Research
Business Wire (05/23/07)

A record 108 papers on the most innovative research in computer graphics and interactive techniques will be presented at ACM's SIGGRAPH 2007. Modeling, animation, rendering, and imaging, as well as related subjects such as visualization, computer vision, human-computer interaction, and applications of computer graphics will be the focus of the papers. "The SIGGRAPH Papers review process, with its unique blend of internal and external reviewers, its long and detailed reviews, and its large face-to-face committee meeting, is recognized as being one of the fairest and most thorough peer review systems in computer science," says Marc Levoy, SIGGRAPH 2007 Papers Chair from Stanford University, about the task of assessing 455 international submissions. Select highlights of the SIGGRAPH 2007 Papers Program include Image Deblurring with Blurred/Noisy Image Pairs by researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Microsoft Research Asia; Scene Completion Using Millions of Photographs by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University; Active Refocusing of Images and Videos by researchers at CVLAB, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne and Columbia University; and Interactive Cutaway Illustrations of Complex 3D Models by researchers at the University of Washington and the University of California, Berkeley. Researchers will have 20 minutes to present their papers, which will be followed by five minutes of discussion led by the session chair. SIGGRAPH 2007 is scheduled for August 5-9, 2007, at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, Calif. [For more information about SIGGRAPH 2007, or to register, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2007/]
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The Top 10 Dead (or Dying) Computer Skills
Computerworld (05/24/07) Brandel, Mary

Although few technology skills can truly be called "dead" because there will always be employers with older systems that require such skills, technology experts have compiled a list of skills and technologies that, while not dead, are on their last legs. These technologies include Cobol, nonrelational database management systems, non-IP networks, cc:Mail, ColdFusion, C programming, PowerBuilder, certified NetWare engineers, PC network administrators, and OS/2. All of these technologies have been replaced by newer technologies, with fewer instructors in these fields. However, although they are not being used by new companies and taught to new computer students, that does not mean there is no demand for programmers with these skills. Heikki Topi, chair of computer information services at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., and a member of the ACM's education board, said that plenty of companies still run on these systems. "When you talk to practitioners, they'll say there are applications in thousands of organizations that have to be maintained."
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U of C Scientists Unveil the Virtual Human
University of Calgary (05/23/07)

The University of Calgary has completed its work on CAVEman, the world's first complete object-oriented computer model of a human body, which will be beneficial to researchers who are studying genetic diseases and physicians in need of surgical training. CAVEman is a 4D human atlas that resides in the CAVE, the cube-shaped virtual reality room that acts as a "research Holodeck." In the CAVE, the CAVEman, which is projected from three walls and the floor below, floats in space. Researchers will be able to translate medical and genomic data into 4D images, and literally get inside their experiments. And the model of the complete human is at least 10 times the resolution offered by other virtual systems, and it can be scaled to any size, and select components or the total model can be displayed at any time. "The project is a major breakthrough in medical informatics and systems biology," says Dr. Grant Gall, dean of the faculty of medicine at the university. Benedikt Hallgrimsson, associate professor of cell biology and anatomy, adds, "As the technology grows, it will be useful for diverse studies of growth and development, both for creating predictive models and also for complex visualization."
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College or H-1B Visas; Educate Tomorrow's Workers or Import Them, Report Says
San Francisco Chronicle (05/24/07) P. C1; Abate, Tom

A Public Policy Institute of California report says that California's shortage of college-educated workers could slow the state's economic growth unless more residents finish college or employers are allowed to import more foreign talent. The report supports the case of high-tech employers who argue that Congress needs to redesign the nation's immigration laws to allow more college-educated foreigners to obtain H-1B visas so they can work in the country for up to six years. However, University of California at Davis computer science professor Norman Matloff, an outspoken H-1B visa critic, says the study is flawed because it automatically accepts the idea of a labor shortage without considering his counter-argument that employers would prefer to hire younger, inexpensive college-graduates than older, more experienced, and more expensive tech workers. As more tech companies form in other parts of the country, California has become increasingly unable to rely on domestic migration to boost its ranks of college graduates and has been forced to rely on educated workers from abroad. For instance, the report notes that in 1960, only 8 percent of college-educated California residents came from other countries, but by 2005 that number increased to 31 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of jobs that will require a college degree is expected to increase. In 2005, of the 15.1 million jobs in California, only 31 percent required a bachelor's degree or higher, but by 2025 about 41 percent of the state's projected 19.7 million jobs will require at least a bachelor's degree. Abdi Soltani, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity, says the report should provoke California to refocus its efforts to help young people and their families, particularly from minority groups, be more aware of the benefits of a college education and the availability of financial aid.
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New Approach to Fixing Spreadsheet Errors Could Save Billions
Oregon State University News (05/24/07)

Oregon State University computer scientists have developed GoalDebug, a new, simpler method to fix errors in spreadsheets that could potentially help businesses around the world reduce errors and save billions of dollars. GoalDebug, short for "Goal Directed Debugging of Spreadsheets," enables non-specialists to identify and fix a problem by selecting from a list of suggestions. An estimated 11 million people in the United States create about 100 million spreadsheets a year, but experts say they are notorious for containing errors. "Most users of spreadsheets are overconfident, they believe that the data is correct," says OSU associate professor of computer science Martin Erwig. "But it has been observed that up to 90 percent of the spreadsheets being used have non-trivial errors in them." Erwig says part of the problem is that so many spreadsheet users have very limited training or interest in computer software programming and simply want, and expect, the program to work. "There are dozens of places an error can be made," he says. "And these errors can be awfully difficult to spot, especially with large spreadsheet that have thousands of cells." GoalDebug attempts to identify the most common human mistakes and then suggests what the correct approach might have been. A study performed by recent OSU doctoral graduate Robin Abraham found that in 80 percent of the cases, the needed change was one of the top five suggestions made by GoalDebug, and in 72 percent of the cases the correct solution was one of the top two suggestions. Erwig says the system gives users a prioritized list of where the problem is most likely to be that allows people with comparatively little training to identify and repair errors.
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Digital Showcase Touts Interdisciplinary Innovation
UCLA Today (05/22/07) Lin, Judy

Students in the class of UCLA assistant professor of Germanic languages Todd Presner are not limited to reading about Berlin in a traditional textbook. Using Hypermedia Berlin, an Internet-based digital mapping platform, the students can experience Berlin as it exists today, but also travel back 800 years to take in the culture, language, and history in which the city is rooted. Presner developed Hypermedia Berlin with the help of an interdisciplinary team of geographers, urban planners, architects, and computer scientists. Hypermedia Berlin represents one way in which digital technology is being used creatively for teaching and research at UCLA, and it was on display at the university's May 10 event "Countries, Cultures, Communication: Digital Innovation at UCLA." More than two dozen digital creations were showcased, and some 350 faculty, staff, and students in attendance had an opportunity to test-drive the Web-based applications. Other creations included video clips of storytellers narrating "Arabian Knights," a visual simulation of The World's Columbia Exposition of 1893, a Web site offering access to resources that will help improve the lives of people with disabilities, the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, and the California Land Opportunities Tracking System. "This showcase presents the best of UCLA," said Vice Chancellor Roberto Peccei, whose office was a host of the gathering. "It is really interesting to see that digital innovation is not in one little niche of the campus but is all over the place."
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NCSA Embarks on Diverse Projects With 17 Fellows
HPC Wire (05/21/07)

Seventeen researchers, 11 of whom are from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will be awarded fellowships from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) to work on collaborative projects in next-generation computers, petascale applications, and virtual world design, among other areas. Roy Campbell from U of I's Computer Science department and Guy Garnett from the School of Music plan to co-develop a framework for generating 3D virtual environments for the sciences, education, and the arts using NCSA's collaborative and cyber-environments expertise. Caroline A. Haythornwaite of U of I's School of Library and Information Sciences will partner with Michael Welge and Xavier Llora to devise methods and tools to examine "communal conversation" produced through email, chat, blogs, and bulletin boards. 2007 summer fellow Yaohang Li of North Carolina A&T State University plans to enhance the resolution of computationally predicted protein structures in collaboration with NCSA's Rick Kufrin and Eric Jakobsson, while analysis of the recently sequenced honeybee genome to uncover molecular clues of the insect's social behavior will be the focus of U of I's Saurabh Sinha. He will be aided by NCSA in the adaptation of genomics tools to exploit cluster and grid computing systems, while the center will also supply expertise in data management and analysis. "NCSA's fellowships enable researchers to address their most challenging research questions with the assistance of our expert staff and the benefit of our expertise in information technology, high-performance computing, data analysis, and other critical areas," noted NCSA director Thom Dunning. "Our mission is to advance discovery by empowering our collaborators."
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Can Cyborg Moths Bring Down Terrorists?
Times Online (UK) (05/24/07) Bebber, David

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding research that seeks to raise moths that can be remotely controlled to spy on enemies inconspicuously. A computer chip implanted in the moth while it is a pupa, in the cocoon, will allow the moth's entire nervous system to be controlled remotely. If successful, the moth would fly into enemy training camps and bases undetected and send video and other information back to a control center. Rodney Brooks, director of the computer science and artificial intelligence lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which participates in the research, says U.S. military research has increasingly focused on robotics, and the remote-controlled moths are one of a number of new technologies that will soon be utilized in combat zones. "This is going to happen," Brooks says. "It's not science like developing the nuclear bomb, which costs billions of dollars. It can be done relatively cheaply." Brooks says previous experiments have used simple animals, such as rats and cockroaches, that can be remotely controlled, but this is the first time the chip was implanted during an animal's developmental stage and "grown" inside the animal. Speaking at the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and computer science, Brooks says debates over stem cell research would "pale in comparison" to the increasingly blurred line between creatures, including humans, and machines. "Biological engineering is coming," Brooks says. "There's going to be more and more technology in our bodies, and to stomp on all this technology and try to prevent it happening is just? Well, there's going to be a lot of moral debates."
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Computer Viruses Invade SSU Class--on Purpose
Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.) (05/22/07) Halverson, Nathan

Sonoma State University (SSU) professor and former chair of the computer science department George Ledin Jr. created a class that taught students how to design and execute malicious programs that can take over a computer, steal information, or cause the computer to erase vital information and need a complete overhaul. Ledin believes that teaching students how to write computer viruses will give them a better understanding of how malicious programs are made and the knowledge needed to create better defenses. The controversial class, which SSU officials call the first of its kind in the nation, has drawn heavy criticism from members of the computing community. Three security software development companies sent SSU hostile letters, according to Ledin, and have pledged not to hire SSU graduates. That threat did not stop 15 students from signing up for the course. To prevent any malware created during the course from endangering any computers on the Internet, all work was done in an isolated lab disconnected from the network. Ledin acknowledged that there is a danger that some student might maliciously release a virus, but like with other academic fields that deal with dangerous and controversial material, teachers must rely on the students' ethics. To help reinforce those ethics, SSU assistant professor of philosophy John Sullins was added to the course as a second instructor, and continuously reminded students of the potential consequences. Ledin developed the idea for this class after writing an editorial emphasizing the need for better education on malware for an ACM publication. Ledin said that despite the criticism he plans to teach the course again. "There is a perception that this is a taboo topic and shouldn't be taught," Ledin said. "But if we are going to develop better security, we need to know how these programs work."
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Moore's Law Meets Gore's Law
IDG News Service (05/23/07) Mullins, Robert

Intel researchers, speaking at In-Stat's Microprocessor Forum 2007 this week in San Jose, said they can increase the performance of microprocessors while reducing leaked, or wasted, electricity by adding a new layer to the silicon. The technology supports Moore's law, but also takes into consideration what is being called Gore's law, a concern for reducing energy consumption to help reduce power use and carbon emissions. The new chips use "high-k metal gate" instead of silicon dioxide, which provides better insulation and reduces energy leakage. The high-k coating, which will be used in Intel's upcoming 45-nm processor, code-named Penryn, is expected to use 30 percent less power, operate 20 percent faster, and leak five times less electricity than current 65-nm processors, said Intel fellow Mark Bohr. Intel is also researching tera-computing, which involves processors with as many as 80 cores. Tera-computing could increase the ability to perform parallel processing, said Intel's director of tera-scale computing research Jim Held. Held says the benefits of tera-computing are still a ways off, however, and hinge on software and internal memory development keeping pace. Advanced Micro Devices is also working on more power-friendly technology by researching mobile processing platform technology. AMD's Griffin processor features processors that power down when not in use, according to AMD fellow Maurice Steinman. In-Stat principal analyst Max Baron said such innovative technologies may end the era of processors as commodity products, because the price for such advanced technology is likely to increase beyond what the consumer is willing to pay.
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IT: The Next Generation
Computing (05/24/07) Richards, Justin

A recent roundtable discussion organized by the British Computer Society concluded that unless a greater effort is made to attract young people to computing, and dispel the mechanical image that surrounds it, computing may be unable to revolutionize some of the most important issues of the 21st century, including environmental and social concerns, as it did for the workplace and education only a few years ago. The discussion highlighted how the infrastructure that surrounds most major aspects of work, education, and government have shifted toward digital forms, but the technology that surrounds us is considered mundane and unremarkable. The panel also discussed the future of computing. As technology and wireless networking continues to develop, computing will shift away from familiar desktops, laptops, and PDAs and will become embedded into building architecture, furniture, and daily routines, invisible but ever-present in the fabric of everyday life. Human-computer interfaces will become more blurred, as increasing numbers of people choose to have implants that can assist them while traveling or act as payment systems. Over the next 50 years, new computing paradigms will emerge out of quantum physics and biological computing. However, a significant potion of young talent will not view technology as a fulfilling career path, primarily because they believe the IT industry does not fulfill its promises.
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Globalization Has Made Software Development a National Security Issue
Computerworld Australia (05/23/07) Rossi, Sandra

Software development has been transformed into a issue of national security as a result of IT globalization, according to a warning from former U.S. cybersecurity czar Andy Purdy. "Companies are looking for the least expensive source of production, but there isn't enough concern about the security of these networks and the data being stored on them," he reported. "If the software is being developed in a part of the world that poses a risk we need to address this." As special government employee on the U.S. Department of Defense Science Board Task Force on Software Assurance, Purdy is attempting to improve the quality of software and broaden collaboration via a partnership between the public and private sectors. At the AusCERT 2007 IT security conference, Purdy urged delegates to support the U.S. Homeland Security Department's Software Assurance Program, whose goal is to decrease software vulnerabilities through international collaboration. He lauded software vendors for their recognition of the software quality problem and their attempts to rectify their development processes. Purdy commented that security must be embedded in the software development lifecycle, and pointed out that the Software Assurance Program focuses on the areas of people, processes, technology, and acquisitions. The initiative's acquisitions component will involve the release of guidelines for outsourcing and offshore software development.
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DHS Publishes Sector-Specific Protection Plan for IT Infrastructure
Computerworld (05/22/07) Vijayan, Jaikumar

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security this week released the Sector Specific Plan (SSP) for IT, which outlines a number of actions that technology companies and government entities can take to reduce the threat of terrorism to the nation's IT infrastructure. The plan establishes shared security goals and initiatives, describes roles and responsibilities for stakeholders in the IT industry, and provides opportunities for integrating public and private sector preparedness efforts and technologies. The document also discusses strategies for preventing, protecting, and responding to threats to the IT infrastructure; identifying vulnerabilities; and analyzing and sharing threat information, data recovery, and out-of-band data delivery. In addition, the SPP outlines a plan for measuring progress and assigning responsibility for implementing recommendations. "It's very much saying these are our challenges and here's a set of action steps we need to take if we are to mitigate those challenges," says John Sabo, president of the IT-Information Sharing and Analysis Center (IT-ISAC), one of the entities that helped to develop the SPP for IT. Sabo says it is important to ensure that the strategies spelled out in the SPP are used.
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Usability Engg Professionals Grow in Pune
Financial Express (India) (05/22/07) Nair, Geeta

Usability experts in Pune view the Indian city as a potential center for usability engineering, and are now holding discussions with universities to add the emerging discipline to their curriculum. The number of usability engineers has been growing in Pune, which is home to Persistent Systems, whose usability engineering chief is Jhumkee Iyengar, who has a MS in Human Factors Engineering from Tufts University. Persistent Systems' technical manager of usability engineering is Samir Chabuksar, who earned the same degree from Clemson University and spent six years in the United States developing usable software interfaces. C-DAC's National Multimedia Resource Center is in the city and Dr. Dinesh Katre heads the center's Human Computer Interaction Design group, and Symantec has its User Centered Design Group. Independent companies include Pure IT Group, which focuses on usability in the Internet and telecom sectors, and Genesis Usability is run by usability specialist and graphical user interface design consultant Atul Manohar. Usability could account for 10 percent of the outsourced product development market, says Chabuksar. Some 60,000 usability professionals are needed, according to a Jacob Neilson survey. India has about 1,000 usability professionals, but IDC and NID are not producing enough graduates.
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Entering a New Dimension
T.H.E. Journal (05/07) Vol. 34, No. 5, P. 24; Starkman, Neal

Advanced display technology is expected to transform the classroom by making keyboards a thing of the past through breakthrough interaction techniques that allow people to manipulate information via finger and hand movement. New York University research scientist Jeff Han is working on "multi-touch interaction," while Andy Wilson of Microsoft Research is focusing on a similar technology called TouchLight. Wilson says he foresees a future in which "potentially any surface in the world is a site of input and computation, and the very displays we use and spaces we inhabit are aware of our presence." Thornburg Center director David Thornburg is expecting 3D displays to supplant conventional computer screens, because multicore processors will provide the parallel processing needed to furnish affordable 3D displays. Thornburg even imagines a future in which schools use androids of historical personages to educate students through interaction. International Education Technology Associates CEO Perry Reeves believes display projectors will become less costly, brighter, and boast shorter throw distances. Toshiba has devised a new LCD panel that uses low-temperature poly-silicon technology to function in both dark indoor and bright outdoor environments. And Jim Phillips with Hitachi's StarBoard Group identifies interactive whiteboards as a "huge growth area," and anticipates a movement toward pen interaction, backlit wireless projection, larger screens, mobile panels, multiple inputs, and the merging of distance learning and videoconferencing.
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