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January 2, 2008

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Tests in Ohio Point to E-Voting Insecurities
Computerworld (12/31/07) Weiss, Todd R.

Recent tests of Ohio's electronic voting systems exposed security shortcomings that are a continuing danger to the accuracy of elections, concludes a report released by Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. The report recommends several steps to minimize those threats, including centralizing the electronic voting counting and no longer using touch-screen voting machines. "These findings do not lend themselves to sustained or increased confidence in Ohio's voting system," Brunner writes in the report, noting that the e-voting machines "do not meet computer industry security standards and are susceptible to breaches of security that may jeopardize the integrity of the voting process." Johns Hopkins University computer science professor Avi Rubin, who heads the e-voting activist group ACCURATE, says that Ohio's security problems are so severe that it is not surprising they are trying to eliminate touch-screen machines. "I don't think it's impossible to build high-tech voting systems," Rubin says. "But it will require a lot more quality control and effort than we've seen so far."
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Electronic Passports Raise Privacy Issues
Washington Post (01/01/08) P. A6; Nakashima, Ellen

U.S. citizens that travel frequently between the U.S. and Canada or the Caribbean will soon be offered RFID-embedded passports that can be read from 20 feet away. The cards are intended to be more convenient for travelers but create security and privacy concerns due to the possibility of data being intercepted. The RFID passport card costs $45 and cannot be used for air travel, and citizens have the option of a $97 card that is more secure and can only be read at a distance of three inches. "The government is fundamentally weakening border security and privacy for passport holders in order to get people through the lines faster," says Center for Democracy and Technology deputy director Ari Schwartz. Schwartz says the problem with using RFID for identification is that the technology was not designed to be secure or to track people, it was designed to track goods during shipping. The government says the chip will contain a unique identifying number linked to information in a secure government database but not to names, Social Security numbers, or any other personal information. The card will also come with a protective sleeve to prevent hackers from scanning data wirelessly. Schwartz says a reader with a strong battery could detect the chip's signal from as far as 40 feet away, and that the chip could easily be reproduced to fool a border agent. Last year, the Government Accountability Office reviewed technology similar to that being used in the passport cards and reported that the technology should only be used to track goods, not to identify people. The State Departments wants to being issuing the passport cards this spring.
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Fewer Women Choosing Computer Science Careers
Orlando Sentinel (FL) (01/01/08) Kelly, Kumari

Fewer women are choosing professional computer-related careers, and the number of women in computer-science graduate programs has dropped to its lowest level in nearly a decade. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of women choosing computer science as an undergraduate major fell nearly 70 percent nationwide. "For most girls, it may indeed be intimidating to walk into a class of 40 people and see one other girl in the room," says University of Central Florida student Chistie Lo. "I've had classes where I was the only woman in the room." Women have been steadily leaving computer science-related careers since the 1990s, and gender gaps in some technology-driven careers such as electrical engineering continue to widen. Women account for 51 percent of workers in professional occupations in the United States, but only 26 percent of IT professionals. In 1996, women accounted for 41 percent of IT managers, but by 2006 that number was down to 26 percent. The government and other experts say that efforts to attract more girls to mathematics and science-related fields, and to provide more mentoring for women already working is such fields, are already having positive effects. "There is all kinds of research to show that when you have a diverse work force, you get innovative ideas really directed at the needs of consumers," says Compel Consulting President Patricia Shafer, who authored a 2007 report titled "Women in Technology 2007." Shafer's report found that about 75 percent of women in technology liked their jobs, but 48 percent felt there was inequality that favored men and only 27 percent had mentoring programs at their company.
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Q&A: Author Nicholas Carr on the Terrifying Future of Computing
Wired News (12/20/07) Reiss, Spencer

Nicholas Carr's new book, "The Big Switch," examines the emerging "World Wide Computer," or the network of dummy PCs linked to massive server farms in the data cloud. Carr sees the future of computing as troublesome because he anticipates all computers will be linked into essentially a single computer, largely eliminating privacy. Carr says that most people have already made the switch from desktop to cloud computing, with increasing numbers of people using Web applications such as Flickr and Gmail instead of traditional programs on their hard drives, and many people made the switch without even knowing it. "People say they're nervous about storing personal info online, but they do it all the time, sacrificing privacy to save time and money," Carr says. "Companies are no different. The two most popular Web-based business applications right now are for managing payroll and customer accounts--some of the most sensitive information companies have." Carr argues that although computers are a liberating technology, they can also be a controlling technology. He says that "as systems become more centralized--as personal data becomes more exposed and data-mining software grows in sophistication--the interests of control will gain the upper hand. If you're looking to monitor and manipulate people, you couldn't design a better machine." Carr says the scariest thing about the future is not that computers are starting to act more human, but that humans are starting to act more like machines, focusing more on the speed of locating and reading data. "We're transferring our intelligence into the machine, and the machine is transferring its way of thinking into us," Carr says.
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Cyclists' Cellphones Help Monitor Air Pollution
New Scientist (01/02/08) Simonite, Tom

The MESSAGE research project in Cambridge, U.K., is using bike couriers to monitor air pollution by collecting and sending data through a small wireless pollution sensor with customized software attached to the bike. "Mobiles are everywhere, and now have a lot of computing power," says Cambridge University computer scientist Eiman Kanjo, head of technical development for the project. "They can provide an alternative to expensive custom hardware and report from places that otherwise aren't monitored." The couriers are outfitted with air-pollution sensors and GPS units that connect to their cell phones via Bluetooth. Customized software allows the phones to constantly report the air quality and location to servers in the lab. "They cycle around the city as usual and we receive the data over the cell phone network," Kanjo says. "We can find out what pollutants people are exposed to and where." The sensors are kept in storage containers on the bikes and record levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Following initial trials, the sensors were made smaller, more accurate, and capable of detecting carbon dioxide. Eventually, it may be possible to combine the GPS unit with the sensor in a single device, or to use phones with GPS capabilities, but currently phones are not accurate enough.
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MIT Students Power Supercomputer with Bicycles
Computerworld (12/19/07) Gaudin, Sharon

A group of cyclists from MIT powered a supercomputer for nearly 20 minutes by pedaling, marking the largest human-powered computation in history. The supercomputer, a SiCortex SC648 supercomputer, was calculating research on nuclear fusion, and drew 1.2 kilowatts of energy. According to the researchers, a conventional supercomputer could require 10 times the power to run the same program. SiCortex is a Maynard, Mass.-based company that focuses on energy-efficient supercomputing. A spokesperson from the event says the human-powered session produced more computations than took place in the first 3,000 years of civilization, and that more arithmetic calculations were performed than were done before 1960. The MIT team was highlighting the need for sustainable energy supplies, as well as competing for the Guinness World Record, and for prizes in a bike company-sponsored competition called "Innovate or Die," in which contestants use bike power in innovative ways and post their submission on YouTube.
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The U.S. Could Lose Top Talent
Christian Science Monitor (12/31/07) P. 9; Barrett, Craig

The European Union's "Blue Card" proposal could enable the next Silicon Valley to emerge in Europe, writes Intel Chairman Craig Barrett. In October, EU officials proposed creating a temporary but renewable two-year visa, with a streamlined application process that would allow highly educated foreigners to begin new jobs within one to three months. While Europe is sending the message that it wants to attract the world's top talent to bring innovation to its markets, U.S. officials are still bogged down by immigration issues. The United States offers the H-1B visa and employment-based (EB) green card programs, but they have severe shortage problems as well as inflexible country quotas that might leave professionals from China and India in limbo for five to 10 years, which would hurt their opportunities for promotions and raises. Many foreign-born professionals who have lived in the United States for years and have graduated from American universities are now looking to explore opportunities elsewhere. Barrett says U.S. companies depend on foreign-born scientists and engineers to stay competitive, considering foreigners already account for more than half of the nation's engineering master's students and Ph.D. recipients.
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The Library of Congress in Your Wrist Watch?
University of California, Riverside (12/20/07) Lovekin, Kris

University of California, Riverside professor Sakhrat Khizroev is researching lasers that could eventually lead to a 10-terabit hard drive only one-square-inch in size, 50 times the data density of today's magnetic storage technology. Khizroev, along with University of Houston professor Dmitri Litvinov, has developed a nanolaser that can concentrate light as small as 30 nanometers, which is molecular in size for many substances. The nanolaser can also focus 250 nanowatts of power, enough to ensure effective information storage. The next objective is to refine the nanolaser to produce light beams as small as five or 10 nanometers. The technology used to manufacture the nanolasers was adapted by Khizroev's lab from technology commonly used in semiconductor manufacturing diagnostics. Khizroev says there are still several challenges, including lubricating tiny parts and integrating the nanolaser with a recording head, but he says the 10-terabit hard drive will be a near-term innovation, perhaps in as little as two years. Long term, Khizroev says the use of photochromatic proteins with nanolasers should help create nanocomputers capable of storing increasingly large amounts of data in smaller places, and proteins paired with nanolasers should also impact energy harvesting and a variety of medical applications.
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Technological Gadgets Smarten Up
Wall Street Journal (12/31/07) P. B3; Charny, Ben

Improvements in software and the development of more-powerful chips has led to the reinvention of devices that were once considered "dumb," such as the TV remote or personal navigator. New, smaller, more-powerful chips will have the most immediate impact on the design of the latest navigation systems, handsets, cell phones, and televisions. The change can most easily be seen in personal navigation devices. Two years ago, they were dumb devices with black and white screens with a functionality limited to giving directions. Now, navigation devices can read out the names of streets and find nearby attractions. Some even come with walkie-talkie radios, play music and videos, and even answer cell phone calls. "Wait till we see the first hardware to combine digital television and navigation devices," says Nav N Go CEO Leon van de Pas. "If you have a navigation device in you car, kids will be able to use it to watch high-definition TV or play a game on it. With these things, you don't need to buy personal digital assistants or car DVD players anymore." Televisions are also being upgraded with broadband capabilities so people can incorporate their TV into the local network and view Internet content directly on their television.
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Companies May Have Found a Way Around H-1B Visa Limits
InfoWorld (12/28/07) Snyder, Bill

Advocates of American tech workers say companies are using L-1 visas to bring in workers to do jobs for low pay. The L-1 visa program is designed to allow multinational companies to transfer foreign managers and specialists to their offices in the United States for a limited period of time. While tech companies continue to complain that the 65,000-cap on the H-1B visa program prevents them from finding enough highly-skilled workers, the number of L-1 visas issued has averaged 315,000 over the last three years. Immigration records show that 14 of the 20 companies that have the most employees with L-1 visas are offshore outsourcing firms. India's Tata Consultancy had the most with 4,887 L-1s in fiscal 2006, and had 3,601 in fiscal 2007 to trail only Cognizant, a U.S.-based outsourcer with a major presence in India that had 4,869. "I find it hard to believe that any one company has that many individuals ... legitimately being transferred within a single year," Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said earlier this year during a debate on immigration reform in Congress. When the 20,000 foreign workers who receive advanced degrees from U.S. universities are also counted, the total number of visas issued to highly-skilled workers each year is about 400,000, according to the federal Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) agency.
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Boston Public Library to Put Historical Documents Online
InformationWeek (12/27/07) Gardner, W. David

A group of nonprofit library and archival organizations is digitizing books and historical documents from the 19-member Boston Library Consortium, which includes the 3,700-volume personal library of U.S. President John Adams. A variety of organizations and benefactors are supporting library digitization projects including Public.Resource.Org, the Internet Archive, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Open Content Alliance. "Unlike corporate-backed efforts by Google, Microsoft, Amazon, et al, which all impose different, albeit understandable, levels of restriction to protect their investment the [Boston Library Consortium] has shown libraries all across the country the right way to take institutional responsibility and manage this historic transition to a universal digital archive that serves the needs of scholars, researchers, and the general public without compromise," says the Sloan Foundation's Doron Weber. The Boston Library Consortium has partnered with the Open Content Alliance to establish the Northeast Regional Scanning Center at the Boston Library, hosted by the Internet Archive, which will make scanned material available to be indexed by any search engine. Members of the consortium include Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Brown University, the University of Massachusetts, Wellesley College, and Williams College.
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Human Factors Researchers Test Voting Systems for Seniors That Can Improve Accuracy and Speed for Voters of All Ages
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (12/20/07)

Florida State University human factors researchers Tiffany Jastrzembski and Neil Charness have identified ways to improve electronic voting accuracy among older voters while simultaneously reducing waiting time at polls. The researchers tested ballot and machine usability with a focus on older voters, who because of reduced vision and motor control can have a more difficult time using computers, particularly in a time-sensitive situation. Two subject groups, ages 18 to 26 years old and 64 to 77 years old, tested four ballot layouts and machine designs, including a touchscreen machine with a full ballot on a single screen, a touchscreen with one ballot per screen, a touchscreen and keypad with a full ballot, and a touchscreen and keypad with a single ballot. The touchscreen with a single ballot per screen produced the most accurate results, but the pure touchscreen with a full ballot had the fastest completion times. Jastrzembski and Charness recommend additional studies with older voters, which could lead to more user-friendly machines and ballots for users of all ages.
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EU Project Develops Affective Interface Technologies for New Media
Cordis News Service (12/20/07)

An EU-funded project has made some key advances in the design of human computer interfaces. Conveying Affectiveness in Leading-Edge Living Adaptive Systems (CALLAS), named after the Greek opera singer Maria Callas, is a project that seeks to develop new multi-model affective interfaces for the new media, digital arts, and entertainment fields by integrating emotional models from a wide range of emotions. The models will be based on the facial characteristics and expressions of spectators during communications, and they will help improve the experience of the final users. The project is looking to use the fundamental role of emotions in conditioning communication between two people to improve interaction between people and machines. The affective interfaces of CALLAS will focus on the key role of new media experiences in digital theater, interactive TV, augmented reality art, and interactive public performances.
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Computer Terrorism Becomes a Concern
Patriot-News (PA) (12/25/07) Lenton, Garry

Malware infiltration, no matter how minor, is a cause for concern among computer security experts across the United States. In September the Government Accountability Office issued a report warning that the computer systems responsible for running the nation's infrastructure are increasingly vulnerable to hackers, and their disruption could seriously affect the national economy. In theory, electric service to a city or a region could be shut down by attackers who exploit poorly shielded home computers across the country. "If everybody who had a home computer would simply enable a firewall and make sure antivirus software was in place and put anti-spam components in their system, there would be a significant drop in what we see," argues chief information security officer for Pennsylvania Robert Maley, whose office impedes 25,000 viruses, 10 million attempts to penetrate firewalls, and 80 million spam emails every month on average. Hackers are now motivated to compromise systems for profit rather than for bragging rights, and there are criminal gangs in Russia and eastern Europe that offer hacking services, according to Maley. Lehigh University professor Dr. Mooi Choo Chuah notes that initiatives to enhance the security of government-controlled systems are gaining traction, but she thinks a greater effort to secure business systems that depend on Internet connections is required. Deputy director of reactor security at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Scott Morris says the increasing reliance on digital information has been accompanied by the growing importance of security.
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Bible Put on a Pinhead-Size Chip
BBC News (12/24/07)

Researchers in Israel have put the Bible on a miniscule chip in an attempt to get young students interested in nanoscience and nanotechnology. Technion researchers used a device called Focused Ion Beam to write the nano-Bible on a silicon surface at the Haifa Institute of Technology. The nano-Bible consists of 300,000 words in Hebrew, and it is covered with a thin layer of gold. The researchers also have plans to photograph the Bible and display it on a giant wall within the Faculty of Physics. "In this picture, which will be 7 m by 7 m [23 ft by 23 ft], it will be possible to read the entire Bible with the naked eye," says Ohad Zohar, one of the project's managers at Technion. "Near this picture, the original--the nano-Bible itself, which is the size a grain of sugar--will be displayed."
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Move Over Silicon: Advances Pave Way for Powerful Carbon-Based Electronics
Princeton University (12/20/07) Schultz, Steven

Princeton engineers have developed a way of replacing silicon with carbon on large services, which may lead to faster, more powerful cell phones, computers, and electronics. Silicon is largely believed to have reached its limit in the computing industry and graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb lattice, could allow electronics to process information and produce radio transmissions 10 times better than silicon-based devices, according to Princeton professor Stephen Chou. Until now, switching from silicon to carbon was not possible because technologies believed they needed graphene material in the same form as the silicon used to make chips, a single crystal of material eight or 12 inches wide. The largest single-crystal graphene sheets are no more than a couple of millimeters wide. Chou and his researchers realized that large graphene wafers are not necessary as long as they can place small crystals of graphene only in the active areas of the chip. The researchers developed a way of doing this and created working, high-performance graphene transistors as a demonstration. The method uses a special stamp consisting of an array of tiny flat-toped pillars, each one-tenth of a millimeter wide. The pillars are pressed against a block of graphite, which sticks to the pillars. The stamp is removed, peeling away a few atomic layers of graphene. The stamp is then aligned and pressed against a larger wafer, leaving the graphene exactly where the transistors will be built. Chou says the technique is like printing, and can be repeated using a variety of shaped stamps to cover all active areas with single crystals of graphene. The graphene transistors used in the demonstration were more than 10 times faster than silicon transistors in moving "electronic holes," a key speed measurement. Chou says the technique could find almost immediate use in radio electronics, such as cell phones and other wireless devices, and depending on the level of interest from industry, could be applied to wireless communication devices within a few years.
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The Archiving Tsunami
Government Computer News (12/10/07) Vol. 26, No. 30, Wash, Mike

Government Printing Office chief information officer Mike Wash predicts that the GPO will have more than 1 petabyte of accessible content to maintain and manage within the next 10 years. As publications shift to multimedia formats that include audio and video, content size will grow considerably larger, and Web-based services including wikis, blogs, and other collaborative tools will make capturing and archiving the work of the government increasingly difficult. Creating content and access models based on historical trends and anticipated shifts in the industry or markets can help prepare for these expanding volumes, and although predictive models are inevitably wrong, thinking about them can lead to better strategies and solutions. Monolithic computing infrastructures will rapidly become unwieldy and difficult to maintain. However, cloud computing, which stores user data in the Internet cloud and utilizes Web-based applications, and the virtualization of computing systems, will make it easier for computation to be coordinated and distributed, which will support advanced search, data parsing for digitized content, cataloging, and other computational work.
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Bit by Bit, Home Computers Aid Science
Chicago Tribune (12/25/07) Manier, Jeremy

Eight years ago the California-based SETI Institute created the idea of embedding software in home PC owners' screen savers to help search through radio noise for possible signals from alien civilizations. Since then, some 40 research groups have created projects based on the same principle, using a network of personal home computers to help solve complex problems, and now hundreds of thousands of computers are exploring how proteins fold, searching for new prime numbers, and simulating climate change. By creating a network of home computers over the Internet, researchers can access supercomputer-like processing power at a fraction of the cost, cutting the lag time of some calculations from years to days. A project examining how proteins fold called Folding@home is one the largest group efforts, with about 250,000 computers at any given moment, and attracts a large number of video game enthusiasts with PlayStation 3 consoles, which have a speedy graphics processor. Participants normally have a pre-existing interest in the project's subject matter and consider the use of their computer a valuable donation to science. "This is democratic computing, so it's based on the goodwill of a bunch of people from all walks of life, all backgrounds," says University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign physics professor Benjamin Wandelt, director of the Cosmology@home project.
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A Conversation With Mary Lou Jepsen
Queue (12/07) Vol. 5, No. 7, P. 9; Ryan, John

CTO of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project Mary Lou Jepsen and her team tackled numerous design challenges in developing a highly inexpensive, rugged laptop that incorporates extremely low-power electronics, mesh networking, and a display that is readable in sunlight, which was Jepsen's personal contribution. She says in an interview that designing the machine from the display onward has allowed the creation of an entirely new kind of architecture that can be applied to low-cost as well as high-end laptops. The laptop is designed to endure extreme heat and other harsh climate conditions partly by being so low powered, and the mesh networking component establishes an Internet connection, which dovetails with the project's goal of making computers and the Internet accessible to children in poverty-stricken Third World countries so that their education can be substantially improved. Reducing power consumption involves the replacement of the hard disk with flash memory, while Jepsen notes that memory is embedded directly within the display, allowing the screen to remain on while the rest of the motherboard or chipset is deactivated. She says the laptop's user interface "explicitly enables collaboration," which is a key advantage in developing countries where lack of money and resources makes dull and uninspiring rote learning the norm. Jepsen says the laptop her team has designed is very environmentally friendly by virtue of its power efficiency, its five-year lifetime, a lack of toxic materials, and significant weight and size reduction in comparison to typical laptop models. She says the machine's display features a luminance channel that is three times the chrominance channel, which supports sunlight readability and can aid in the reading of e-books.
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