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ACM TechNews
June 15, 2007

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Welcome to the June 15, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Criticism Grows as House E-Vote Debate Delayed
Computerworld (06/14/07) Songini, Marc L.

The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, which addresses security and reliability problems in electronic voting machines and would require all touch-screen voting machines to provide a paper trail, is drawing criticism and has even lost the support of a co-sponsor as it waits for a Congressional vote. Former co-sponsor of the bill and presidential hopeful U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) described the bill as "a voter reform bill rapidly losing support," and said he plans to introduce a separate bill that would require all ballots in a presidential election to be hand counted. The bill was approved by the U.S. House Administration Committee in May, but has not been debated by the full body. A spokesman for the bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Rush Holt (D- N.J.), said the delay was because of other Congressional priorities, and no prediction was given for when debate on the e-voting bill would begin. Criticism of the bill from voter advocacy groups and analysts has markedly increased, with some saying that touch-screen systems should be completely banned, and others arguing that the legislation favors e-voting machine vendors over the public. The bill also restricts machine source code inspections to experts, and forbids them to share any information unless "egregious flaws" are found. Holt's spokesman said the bill does not specify a specific e-voting technology. "It is agnostic on equipment choice, as long as the voting system meets the principles of verifiability and audit-ability," the spokesman said.
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ACM Research Contest Showcases Innovative Computing Projects
AScribe Newswire (06/14/07)

ACM presented awards and cash prizes to the Grand Finals winners of its Student Research Competition (SRC) at the ACM Awards Banquet June 9 in San Diego. The competition featured research projects from an international pool of nearly 200 graduate and undergraduate students. The winners were recognized for their achievements in computing research, which covered topics such as computer graphics, programming tools, wireless networks, mobile phone design, non-visual Web browsers, biomedical information extraction, data exchange, and grid computing. The SRC was previously held as part of the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education conference, but is now held throughout the year with at least 10 presentations at various ACM SIG conferences, each conference focusing on different areas of computing. "We know from events like ACM's International Collegiate Programming Contest that early practice and preparation for these competitions is a major advantage in demonstrating success in these problem-solving projects," says Ann Sobel, chair of the SRC Committee and associate professor at Miami University of Ohio. "We're pleased to see these competitions continue to expand to additional ACM conferences in many diverse areas of computing." The first place winner of the graduate student competition was Eugene Borodin of Stony Brook University for his research on computers and accessibility. The undergraduate winner was Anselm Grundhoefer from Bauhaus-University, Weimar, for his research on real-time images for computer graphic applications.
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Computers on Space Station Crash; NASA Weighs Options if Repair Fails
Washington Post (06/15/07) P. A11; Kaufman, Marc

Russian and NASA engineers are trying to discover what caused the crash of two computer systems essential to the operation of the international space station. NASA officials said the situation appears to be improving and some communication has been restored to the Russian computer systems, but the agency is making contingency plans in case the systems can not be repaired, including abandoning the $100 billion facility. NASA's chief of space operations William H. Gerstenmaier said the system failure is complicated and will probably take days to fix. "At this point, we don't know the root cause of the problem," Gerstenmaier said. "Fortunately, we have a lot of flexibility in terms of timing." The computer systems, which control thrusters to keep the station properly orbited and control the oxygen production and carbon-dioxide scrubbing systems, started to have problems after new solar panels were deployed. The three-person station crew was joined this week by a seven-member team on the space shuttle Atlantis. NASA officials said there is currently no danger to any crew members. Michael T. Suffredini, manager of the space station program at the John Space Center in Houston, said the computers may be sensitive to variations in an electric signal that can cause static. Such static "noise" may have started after the new solar panel array was connected. The computers appeared to be stuck in a rebooting cycle, and the system failure led to a number of false fire alarms. Suffredini said he fully expects the problem to be solved, but as a precaution NASA is considering extending Atlantis' stay because the shuttle's power and thrusters could be used to keep the station properly situated so the solar panels face the sun. If the Russian oxygen production machine cannot be restored, the space station has a 56-day supply of oxygen available.
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Will Making Computer Science More Fun Attract College Students?
Computerworld (06/15/07) Weiss, Todd R.

Washington State University, Vancouver assistant professor of computer science Scott Wallace and University of Puget Sound assistant professor of computer science Andrew Nierman believe that computer game-inspired lesson plans will attract more students into the field of computer science. The two researchers recently received a $147,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to create interactive computer game models and sample course curriculums that colleges and universities could use to attract potential computer science students. "Nationwide, we're facing a real shortage of computer scientists, so if we can make the field more interesting, that is a goal many people are interested in pursuing," Wallace says. Work on the two-year project started in April, and course material will be made available to schools as it is completed, Wallace says. Wallace has incorporated computer games into computer science classes for the past two years, and says that prestigious colleges worldwide have also been adding computer game design classes as a way to attract more students. Results from a recent Computing Research Association Taulbee Survey on enrollment and employment of Ph.D.s in computer science and computer engineering schools show that after six straight years of decline, the number of new computer science majors in the fall of 2006 was half of the number in the fall of 2000, dropping from 15,958 to 7,798. A study by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles showed that interest in computer science and computer engineering as a major dropped 70 percent between 2000 and 2005. "Students don't find computing very interesting and compelling very often," says Computing Research Association executive director Andrew Bernat. "There are a lot of schools that are trying to find ways to make it more compelling while teaching the subject matter."
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NATO to Study Defense Against Cyberattacks
USA Today (06/15/07) P. 20A; Michaels, Jim

NATO defense ministers have agreed to study how to protect its 26 member states from cyberattacks. The decision follows the electronic attacks that were launched against Estonia's public cyberspace controlling banking, email, and other functions in April and reached a high point in May. "Urgent work is needed to enhance the ability to protect information systems of critical importance," says NATO spokesman James Appathurai. NATO says the cyberattacks, which nearly brought Estonia to its knees, were launched from computers in about 50 countries. The nation has embraced the Internet, and many Estonians vote, bank, and carry out other functions online. NATO protects the alliance's own network, but its political leadership would have to decide whether to expand its mission to include cyberpspace protection, adds spokeswoman Sheena Carrigan.
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BSC Director Wins International Award
HPC Wire (06/13/07)

ACM and the IEEE Computer Society have named Mateo Valero the winner of the 2007 Eckert-Mauchly Award, which honors those who have made outstanding contributions to computer and digital systems architecture. Valero, a professor at the Technical University of Catalonia and director of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, played a leading role in building a world class computer architecture research center, made key contributions to vector computing and multithreading, and blazed a new trail in instruction-level parallelism. High performance architecture is the focus of the research of Valero, who has been an ACM Fellow since 2003. The Eckert-Mauchly Award is the computer architecture community's highest honor, and Valero will be the first Spaniard and second European to receive the award. "Receiving this award is to recognize the effort of a lot of people who collaborated with me and, especially, my PhD students," says Valero. ACM and IEEE will present the Eckert-Mauchly Award to Valero at the 34th International Symposium on Computer Architecture 2007 (ISCA 2007), which will be held in San Diego. The award is named for J. Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly, the designers and builders of the first large scale electronic computing machine.
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Intel Readies Massive Multicore Processors
CNet (06/14/07) Kanellos, Michael

Intel researchers are developing methods that would mask the intricate functionality of massive multicore chips to make it easier for computer manufacturers and software developers to adapt to them, according to Intel's Tera-scale Computing Research Program co-director Jerry Bautista. Bautista says the multicore chips will likely contain both x86 processing cores, similar to the cores in the majority of Intel's server and PC chips currently on the market. For example, a 64-core chip might contain 42 x86 cores, 18 accelerators, and four embedded graphics cores. The easy-to-use multicore systems would "cloak" all of the cores in a heterogeneous multicore chip in a metaphorical exoskeleton so that all of the cores look like a series of conventional x86 cores, or even just one large core. "It will look like a pool of resources that the run time will use as it sees fit," Bautista says. "It is for ease of programming." A hardware scheduler would also be used to divide computing jobs between cores on a chip so certain computing tasks can be completed faster, as well as prevent any single processing core from performing calculations nonstop and creating "hot spots." Intel has also developed a low power input-output (I/O) system. Currently, I/O systems need about 10 watts of power to shuffle data at 1 terabit per second. Intel has developed an I/O system that can transfer 15 gigabits at 75 milliwatts, and one that is capable of 5 gigabits per second at 14 milliwatts, about 14 percent of the power used by current 5 Gbps systems. Intel executives say they would like to see massive multicore processors released in about five years, but that a lot of work still needs to be done.
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Evacuation Software Finds Best Way to Route Millions of Vehicles
University of Arizona (06/11/07) Stiles, Ed

University of Arizona assistant professor of civil engineering Yi-Chang Chiu has been developing Multi-Resolution Assignment and Loading of Traffic Activities (MALTA), software designed to simulate large-scale evacuations during a disaster to help transportation officials determine the best traffic management strategy. "Solving large-scale evacuation problems is overwhelming," Chiu says. "No one can just sit down with a map and draw lines and figure out the best answer to problems like these." Chiu says MALTA reacts to a situation in real time, adjusting as the scenario changes. The software relies on detailed traffic census data collected by state and city transportation departments, as well as real-time traffic surveillance data. The software predicts actions drivers may take, such as when they leave and what road they take, and adjusts for factors that may alter drivers' plans, such as radio reports, congestion, and freeway message boards. The program is also able to predict airborne hazards, such as toxic gas from a refinery fire. By using air-plume dispersion models and wind direction, speed, and temperature, the program can calculate health risks and potential casualties. The program also provides post-disaster assistance by helping officials make choices such as which highway to repair and open first. Chiu says MALTA will be ready soon for state transportation and emergency medical agencies. The next generation of MALTA uses parallel processing and is designed to run faster, handle larger networks, and respond minute-by-minute to real-time emergencies.
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Robocar II: Defense Agency 'Challenge' Turns to Urban Streets
San Jose Mercury News (CA) (06/15/07) Nauman, Matt

Stanford University's racing team passed the first test in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Urban Challenge. Stanford's autonomous vehicle, a Volkswagen Passat dubbed Junior, used position and orientation sensors, Lidar sensors, and GPS signals to navigate an obstacle course with no human guidance. The robotic car drove along a predetermined course, obeyed stop signs, negotiated intersections with other traffic, slipped around stopped cars, and made U-turns after waiting for other cars to pass through the intersection. DARPA's Urban Challenge is intended to accelerate the timetable to deploy unmanned vehicles in ground combat. DARPA representatives are scheduled to visit a total of 53 teams for the preliminary trials. In August, DARPA will announce the 30 teams that will advance to a qualifying event in October, and about 20 teams are expected to compete in the DARPA Urban Challenge race in November. In 2004, DARPA staged its first Grand Challenge, a desert race, but no team completed the course. In 2005, five teams finished, with Stanford taking first place and the $2 million prize. This year, prizes of $2 million, $1 million, and $500,000 will be awarded to the top three finishers. "The robot drove very well today," says Mike Montemerlo, the team's technical leader and a senior research engineer in the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. Montemerlo says Junior's sensor technology enables it to scan in every direction 15 times a second, while its programming allows it to react to that information and make decisions on which way to go.
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Bangalore to Host India SSME Meet - 2007
Moneycontrol.com (06/14/07)

ACM and IBM announced the first "Service Science, Management, and Engineering -- SSME Meet 2007," intended to help representatives from academia, industry, and government cooperatively brainstorm on emerging trends in an increasingly services-based economy and the "interdisciplinary curriculum" necessary to create the technical talent that is currently needed. The conference will be held on June 21 at the Hotel Taj West End in Bangalore, India. "The SSME summit will aim at triggering a national discussion on SSME as the focus for growth and competitive advantage, and to build the foundation of a new interdisciplinary curriculum in leading Indian universities," says IBM's India Research Laboratory associate director Guruduth Banavar says. Banavar says the services needed in today's economy requires the creation of a new academic discipline, and that curricula must change to reflect the realities of today and tomorrow. To developed workers with cross-disciplinary skills, many leading universities are exploring and investing in the field of service science, also known as service sciences, management, and engineering. University of California Berkeley, Arizona State, and North Carolina State, among many other American universities, have developed graduate level programs in service science, and universities in Europe and Asia are doing so as well. Services now account for more than 50 percent of the labor force in Brazil, Russia, Japan, and Germany, and more than 75 percent in India, the United States, and the United Kingdom. ACM Bangalore chapter chairperson Murali Grandhi says, "It's important for all college students with a passion for innovation to understand that technology is becoming more pervasive, less costly, and more useful in business."
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Nanotube Circuits Made Practical
Technology Review (06/14/07) Greene, Kate

Carbon nanotubes are poised to replace silicon in microelectrodes because they offer superior speed and better power efficiency. However, nanotubes are fabricated in different directions, making it impossible to know which nanotube formed which transistor, leading to chaotic arrangements and electrical malfunctions. To solve this problem, Stanford University researchers have written a program that finds a working circuit layout, no matter how chaotic or misaligned the nanotubes may be. Stanford University assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science Subhasish Mitra and his team have created algorithms to sort through the chaotic nanotubes. The researchers looked at a specific type of digital logic gate called a 2-input NAND gate, which contains two parallel transistors, and will not work if the nanotube transistors are misaligned. To create a circuit with properly aligned nanotubes, the algorithm uses a combination of mathematics and Boolean algebra to define regions in a batch of nanotubes. Depending on the design of the circuit, the algorithm creates a design that defines legal and illegal regions for the gates to exist. When nanotubes cross regional boundaries, they are chemically etched away to avoid conducting current to another transistor. Mitra and his team generalized the approach so that it will work for any arbitrary logic gate. The algorithm does not solve every problem with carbon-nanotube transistor production. As much as 30 percent of a typical batch of nanotubes act as a metal, constantly conducting electricity, which makes them useless as transistors. It is also difficult to control the density of carbon nanotubes from one batch to the next, and if the batch is not dense enough there will not be enough nanotubes to make logic gate circuits.
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Bones Could Allow Data Swap Via Handshake
New Scientist (06/13/07) Marks, Paul

Rice University researchers Lin Zhong and Michael Liebschner, with funding from Microsoft and Texas Instruments, are conducting research that could eventually lead to new ways for people to communicate with electronic devices through their bodies. Wireless radio signals are already used to control gadgets and implants, but Wi-Fi and other sources can cause interference, making such devices unreliable, potentially dangerous for medical patients, and hackable by anyone with an antenna. To avoid such complications, the researchers are exploring using sound instead of radio waves. Bone is an excellent conductor of sound, but has only been used to transmit analog signals for limited, specific purposes. When testing to see if a digital signal could be sent over longer portions of the body, such as from a sensor worn on the wrist to a headset, the team used a small vibrator on various parts of the body. The skeleton was able to conduct low-power vibrations from one location to another with surprisingly few errors. "This is quite amazing because all the links involved multiple bones and many joints," Zhong said. Liebschner believes that the greatest advantage to such a system is security, since data is transferring completely within the body and can only be accessed via direct physical contact. Zhong said that it may even be possible for people to exchange information through a handshake.
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China Aims to Top U.S. in Cyberspace: U.S. General
Reuters (06/13/07) Wolf, Jim

China wants to replace the United States as the dominant power in cyberspace, according to 8th Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, who is the head of a new three-star cyber command at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The command, which already contains about 25,000 military personnel involved in everything from electronic warfare to network defense, was created to maintain control over the cyber domain, which is critical to communications, surveillance, and infrastructure security. The Defense Department's annual report on China's military power said that China believes computer network operations, attacks, defense, and exploitation is critical to achieving "electromagnetic dominance" early in a conflict. The Pentagon said China's People's Liberation Army has created information warfare units to develop viruses to attack enemy computers, and that China is also investing in electronic countermeasures and defenses against electronic attacks. Elder said the majority of China's cyber-operations is industrial espionage, executed by criminals, hackers, and "nation-state" forces, with the objective of scanning U.S. networks for trade and defense secrets. Experts say a successful attack on the U.S.'s cyberspace infrastructure could interfere with global positioning satellites and satellite communications, jam radar and navigational systems, and generate fraudulent Internet financial transactions.
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Guessing Robots Predict Their Environments, Navigate Better
Purdue University News (06/12/07) Venere, Emil

Purdue University engineers are developing robots capable of predicting the layout of unfamiliar surroundings. The robots use P-SLAM, a new software algorithm that allows them to create maps to predict what lies ahead as they travel through a new environment. Purdue University professor of electrical and computer engineering C.S. George Lee says the more repetitive the environment, the more accurate the robots predictions will be. "For example, it's going to be easier to navigate a parking garage using this map because every floor is the same or very similar, and the same could be said for some office buildings," Lee says. The algorithm modifies an approach developed in the 1980s called simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) that uses data from sensors to orient a robot by drawing maps of the immediate environment. The new method has been named P-SLAM because of its ability to predict what lies ahead. Potential applications for P-SLAM robots include domestic robots and military and law enforcement robots that search buildings and other environments. A simulation of a robot using the algorithm found that the robot was able to navigate a virtual maze while exploring 33 percent less of the environment than would normally be required. "Its effectiveness depends on the presence of repeated features, similar shapes and symmetric structures, such as straight walls, right-angle corners and a layout that contains similar rooms," Lee says. Future research will focus on robots working as a team as well as "object-based prediction" that can recognize objects such as doors and chairs.
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Microsoft Camp Gives Girls Look at Tech Jobs
In-Forum (06/13/07) Rogers, Melinda

Microsoft is hosting a technology camp for girls called DigiGirlz at its offices in Chicago, Dallas, New York, and Fargo, N.D. Teenagers from seven states, grades eight through 10, attend sessions on computer hardware, software, programming, Web site construction, Internet safety, resume building, and leadership and career opportunities. Microsoft gives each camper about $1,000 worth of software and products that they can use to practice at home. Microsoft community affairs manager Babs Coler says the camp is one of Microsoft's efforts to encourage young women to pursue careers in technology. Coler says many of the girls are from rural areas and exposed to limited career options and that an objective of the camp is to get the girls to "think outside the box" and pursue their passions in ways that can revitalize the community. Coler says the number of women entering technology fields is at its lowest level since 1972, a discouraging fact to Microsoft recruiter Wendy Hill. Hill cited Grace Hopper, who developed the first compiler for computer programming language in the 1940s, when emphasizing the importance women have in the development of technology. At Microsoft's Fargo office, 41 percent of its 1,293 employees are women, and 25 percent of Microsoft's 46,691 employees nationwide are women.
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Data Deluge Coming
Australian IT (06/12/07) Wilson, Eric

Australian commerce and society are about to be inundated by business intelligence (BI) applications that promise to invert traditional IT practices over the next decade, according to a report by analyst and S2 Intelligence director Bruce McCabe. He makes more than 100 forecasts in his study, and warns that 50 percent of all vital BI products will not generate satisfactory results until 2013. The study anticipates a major shortage of BI skills, which could impede some of S2's projections; current BI software utilizes business-owned data sources, while next-generation software is expected to blend in a massive amount of outside data of divergent quality. The report predicts that the government will play a major role in analytics services, facilitating a much clearer perspective of community trends for businesses. S2 forecasts that governments, manufacturers, farmers, and councils will be able to perform comprehensive environmental analysis via "distributed sensor networks" in the field, while business inputs, outputs, and market data will be used by analytics software to furnish profit and loss reports. McCabe's report expects more effective and earlier managerial decision-making through the exploitation of data much sooner after it is generated, which supplies a reason why BI investments are building momentum despite high failure rates. More public disclosure of information on the Internet is also expected by S2, making analytical ecosystems drivers of the information economy. BI latecomers will not find any "shortcuts to building a culture that understands data quality, knows the limitations of machine analysis, and strives to continuously improve everyday business decisions," the report concludes.
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IP Address Depletion Looms, ARIN Warns
Network World (06/07/07) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

On May 7, the board of trustees of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) resolved that it would consider making policy changes aimed at encouraging "migration to IPv6 numbering resources where possible." In making the announcement, ARIN said the migration would be necessary due to the depletion of IPv4 numbers. The resolution came as a surprise to those parties that have not been preparing for a migration to IPv6, says Apparent Networks chief scientist Loki Jorgenson, noting that ARIN has changed its stance on IPv4 and IPv6 from neutral to pro-IPv6. Jeff Doyle, a member of the IPv6 Forum and the North American IPv6 Task Force, says the announcement indicates that IPv6 is on the cusp of building real momentum. "That announcement by ARIN is the first indicator of stricter policies to come that, as the IPv4 address space becomes smaller and smaller, they're going to make it intentionally more and more difficult in order to push people to IPv6," says Doyle. Observers predict that ARIN's announcement will motivate software vendors to finally start supporting IPv6 in earnest.
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People Study Group Gets Technical
EE Times (06/11/07)No. 1479, P. 16; Johnson, Colin

Intel's People and Practices Research Group researchers how people live and work and has had a strong influence over the company's overall corporate strategies and technology development. The research group is a team of non-engineers, including ethnographers, anthropologists, and psychologists, that look at social science to guide the company's choices. "We hire people who understand people," says the group's director Maria Bezaitis. "We start in the social world and work our way back to technology." The group has lead to the creation of ethnographic teams that are now embedded in three of Intel's five divisions. One of the most recent results of the group was the creation of the Mobile Clinical Assistant (MCA), the first platform designed specifically for health care. The MCA was designed based on the needs that were expressed during interviews with nurses and doctors. Another product of the People and Practices group is a project called Undersound that would allow London Underground users to upload a song at the ticket booth, and download a song while waiting for a train. Each song could be downloaded only once a day, and would also provide information on where it was first uploaded and where the song has traveled. The idea is to prompt casual conversations between strangers and create imaginative theories as to who uploaded the song first. The researchers are also developing a theory based on people's perception of time and how they communicate with each other. "We are currently formulating the idea of personal time zones," says senior researcher Ken Anderson. "We want to find ways that technology can resolve these conflicts with our concept of personal time zones, then develop a portfolio of objects that can assist people."
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Breaking Network Logjams
Scientific American (06/07) Vol. 296, No. 6, P. 78; Medard, Muriel; Effros, Michelle; Koetter, Ralf

Communications networks could become substantially more efficient and reliable through network coding, which is founded on the principle that it is more useful to send evidence about messages than the messages themselves. This approach calls for the replacement of network routers by coders, and when receivers collect the evidence sent by coders, they infer the original message from the accumulated evidence. Communications systems are modeled after the transportation paradigm of roads and cars, with communications channels being the roads and bits being the cars; exceeding a channel's capacity hampers reliable communications, and computer networks suffer from bottlenecks because there are so many branching, merging, and intersecting channels. In a network coding scheme, coders can combine multiple bit streams in a single hybrid stream that provides evidence of each message and thus boosts efficiency by avoiding logjams. A network's capacity would never be decreased in a networking coding setup because in a worst-case scenario it would precisely emulate the actions of router systems. Changes to the system over time will make redesign unnecessary to sustain optimum network performance if network coding is employed. Relatively complex networks could also be fortified against attacks via network coding, because evidence is interchangeable, and thus some packets of evidence can go missing without creating difficulties. Network managers will not have to open new communications channels in order to supply users with the advantages of network coding, which will be complementary to other communications technologies to the degree that users will be able to squeeze maximum performance out of them.
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