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January 9, 2008

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Could It Be? Data Shows U.S. Info Tech Jobs Grew 8 Percent in 2007
InformationWeek (01/09/08) Murphy, Chris

Year-end data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that the U.S. information-technology job market grew 8 percent in 2007. The IT job market added nearly 300,000 workers to employ an estimated 3.76 million people last year, up from an increase of 292,000 jobs and total employment of 3.46 million in 2006. Computer scientist and system analyst positions grew the fastest at 15 percent to add 110,000 jobs, and was followed by IT management positions, which grew 17 percent to add 66,000 new jobs. The programmer segment was the only category that declined, falling 7 percent to lose 37,000 jobs, but programming is still the third most populous IT position at more than 500,000 jobs. Rochester Institute of Technology professor Ron Hira, a leading researcher of tech-related employment, remains cautious about the meaning of the data because the IT unemployment rate is 2.1 percent, compared with 2.2 percent in 2006, and because salaries have only increased moderately. As for 2008, an increase in defense spending should lead to more IT jobs but that could be offset by layoffs in the financial services industry, which is a big IT employer, Hira says.
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University Alliance to Increase Robotics Education, Research at Historically Black Universities
Carnegie Mellon News (01/08/08) Spice, Byron; Watzman, Anne

Carnegie Mellon University and six other research universities are collaborating with eight historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the United States to promote robotics and computer science education for African-American students. Funded by a three-year, $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the Advancing Robotics Technology for Societal Impact (ARTSI) Alliance will develop outreach programs to encourage African-American students to pursue careers in computer science and robotics. ARTSI will also provide mentoring programs for undergraduate students. African-Americans currently account for only 4.8 percent of the almost two million U.S. computer and information scientists, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports will be one of the fastest-growing occupations over the next decade. Carnegie Mellon professor David Touretzky and Spelman College professor Andrew Williams collaborated on establishing a robotics education lab at Spelman and three other HBCUs, which developed into ARTSI. Touretzky says ARTSI activities will vary depending on the need of each institution, as some are just now getting their first research-quality robots and will need to develop basic curricula. In addition to Spelman College, participating HBCUs include Hampton University, Morgan State University, Florida A&M University, Norfolk State University, Winston-Salem University, the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and the University of the District of Columbia.
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Women Can Be a Force When They Work Together
Economic Times of India (01/09/08) Jayashankar, Mitu

ACM A.M. Turing Award winner and IBM Fellow Emeritus Frances Allen is one of the most successful computer scientists in the world. In an interview, Allen says the creation of computer science as a field brought more men to the industry as it grew primarily out of engineering schools. Up until that point there was a significant number of women in the field as programmers as it was believed women were good at handling detailed work.. Over the past 40 to 50 years, Allen says programming has become more isolating and less of a collaborative effort, which may be one of the reasons women are no longer as interested in the field. She says part of the problem is that there is no sense of balance between work and life in the industry. "There is a very clear career path for women in the management side, but companies do not offer a technical career path and that troubles me a lot," Allen says. "It is definitely a problem for women of getting heard in a meeting, or getting your ideas on the table as they have a different style from the men ... women can be a force when they are working together professionally in getting other women recognized." To view Frances Allen's Turing Award lecture, visit http://awards.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1012327&srt=alpha&alpha=A&aw=140&ao=AM TURING
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Stanford Builds a Better Virtual World, One Tree (or Millions) at a Time
Stanford Report (01/07/08) Stober, Dan

The casual computer user is typically completely unable to build three-dimensional objects, which is a major setback in unlocking the full potential of virtual worlds, says Stanford computer scientist Vladlen Koltun. "There is a very, very tiny community of people around the world who are skilled at creating three-dimensional objects," Koltun says. "Which is one of the reasons why you don't see three-dimensional content on the Web; because nobody can create it." To make 3D objects more prevalent in virtual worlds, Koltun, along with the Stanford Virtual Worlds Group, set out to prove that object construction can be sophisticated without being difficult by designing a variety of trees that the group is now distributing for free. Trees were chosen because botanists have already cataloged and categorized the trees of the real world in great detail. Koltun's team incorporated that data into a mathematical engine that uses about 100 different attributes to create trees. The program, called Dryad after a tree nymph in Greek mythology, allows users to create unique trees by navigating the "space of trees" and changing direction. An information-sharing technique in the software allows Dryad to improve every time someone chooses a tree. Dryad trees can be viewed from any angle. The trees can also be downloaded in the OBJ format and loaded into any major modeling program.
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German Activist Move to Block E-Voting
Computerworld (01/08/08) Kirk, Jeremy

German computer club the Chaos Computer Club (CCC) has asked a court to grant an injunction that would prohibit the use of electronic voting machines in state elections scheduled for later this month. CCC's Frank Rieger says the government does not have the technical knowledge to ensure that machines have not been manipulated. E-voting machines made by Nederlandsche Apparantenfabriek (Nedap), with software from Groenedaal, are currently scheduled for use in an election on Jan. 27 in eight cities and districts in the German state of Hesse. Meanwhile, another e-voting case filed in early 2007 is currently pending before Germany's Constitutional Court, which could influence any future use of e-voting machines in Germany. Nedap machines have been used in the Netherlands, France, and Germany without controversy, but in each country activists tried to stop the use of the machines due to security concerns. In a 2006 paper, Dutch researchers found that undetectable control over the machines and the election could be obtained in a short amount of time, and that radio signals from a Nedap model could be used to eavesdrop and monitor how people vote.
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Wikipedia Co-Founder Tries Similar Idea in Search
Investor's Business Daily (01/08/08) P. A5; Deagon, Brian

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales' latest brainchild is Wikia Search, a for-profit search engine that Wales says he launched partly to make a political statement that supports open source. He views it as unhealthy that a small group of players control the flow of all search engine traffic, a model that is inconsistent with the traditional open Internet. As with Wikipedia, Wikia Search's content will be provided by thousands of volunteer contributors, and Wales says the software and data will be released under a free license. "We have open-source software and cheap commodity computers in an open, neutral setting so that people can innovate very cheaply," he says, adding that this allows people to experiment and perhaps make search a ubiquitous infrastructure component. Wales anticipates that many organizations will build their own search engine services thanks to the software's availability on an open platform, and he says the trick to persuading people to use Wikia Search is delivering quality and a search experience that is at least as good if not better than their preferred search engine. "Because we are putting all the software out there in an open-source fashion, we expect in some ways to generate our own competition," Wales says. Wikia Search has received $14 million in financing, and Wales says it will be funded via an advertising business model. He says Wikia Search volunteers sign in with their user account, and they can build a profile, connect to friends, send messages, and perform other social networking activities.
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Intel Predicts the Personal Net
BBC News (01/08/08)

Mobile devices might soon "augment reality" by providing information from the Internet in real time, predicted Intel CEO Paul Otellini at the Consumer Electronics Show. He said that devices will become location-aware and will provide access to the Internet over WiMax wireless connections. "Instead of going to the Internet, the Internet comes to us," Otellini said. "We need a ubiquitous, wireless broadband infrastructure. Eventually we will blanket the globe in wireless broadband connectivity." Otellini said his future will require exponentially more powerful processors that use less and less power, which will require breakthroughs in chip development. At CES, Intel unveiled a range of new processors, including chips for "mobile Internet devices," which Otellini said will be able to deliver the Internet "with no compromises," and will be only slightly larger than mobile phones, but are expected to shrink in size by a factor of four within two years.
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UCSD Joins the Green Grid
UCSD News (01/07/08) Zverina, Jan

The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) has joined the Green Grid, an international consortium of companies dedicated to advancing energy efficiency in datacenters and computing systems. Joining the Green Grid complements the university's efforts to reduce power consumption, including efforts at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), the largest datacenter on the UCSD campus. SDSC is undergoing a "green" building renovation that includes a variety of energy-saving designs, materials, and practices. The 80,000-square-foot building, which is scheduled to open next year, received the 2005 Best Practices Award for innovative heating, ventilation, and air conditioning design from the Higher Education Energy Partnership. By joining the Green Grid, UCSD researchers, engineers, students, faculty, and staff will be able to learn new energy-saving practices with other Green Grid members. "We're looking forward to participating in the wealth of programs that this consortium is focusing on, such as research, standards and best practice guides, and continuing education, says UCSD's Steven Relyea. "By becoming a member of the Green Grid, we hope that other academic institutions will join the consortium so that universities everywhere can benefit from this exchange of innovative ideas and solutions."
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Microsoft Patents Frustration-Detecting Help System
Ars Technica (01/03/08) Reimer, Jeremy

Microsoft has filed a patent application for a system that connects frustrated computer users with others who have had or are having similar experiences. The patent includes biometric feedback that can initiate certain features in software, making some industry watchers concerned that the patent is the first step toward allowing corporations and governments to closely monitor their citizens. The patent application begins by describing the relationship between a typical computer user and their applications, documents, and daily tasks. Problems arise because users have trouble keeping a mental map of where documents are stored and how they relate to their daily tasks. Microsoft's patent proposes a program that monitors a user's computer activities and identifies other users who are currently involved in the same activity. The software then provides a way for users to answer each others questions. The biometrics are used to tell if the user is having any problems by monitoring certain behaviors tied to frustration, such as an elevated heart rate or taking an abnormally long time to complete a task.
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Fraudsters Beware: Iowa State Engineer Is Developing Cyber Technology to Find You
Iowa State University News Service (12/27/07) Krapfl, Mike

Iowa State University professor Yong Guan and his students are developing technologies to fight cyber crime and make online activities more secure. One of the technologies detects "click fraud," in which the number of clicks to ads posted on Web sites is falsely inflated in order to increase pay-per-click advertising. Guan says the technology will help online advertisers such as Google and Yahoo reduce fraud. Guan also says that his research could help millions of computer users who do not have the time or ability to ensure their machines are updated with the latest security patches and safeguards. Guan is developing technology and techniques for collecting evidence from computers, network hardware, cell phones, and electronic devices to help find the true origins of cyber criminals and attackers. Guan is also working on three projects to improve the security of wireless networks. The first examines how a new secure coding model can be protected from attacks while transmitting network traffic. The new method sends and combines messages in groups to save energy and increase capacity. The second project aims to develop location-based security systems for wireless technology by limiting access to certain documents or networks based on location. The third project will help secure wired and wireless multicasts by protecting and managing lists of Internet accounts, which could help limit access to content.
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LiSA, a Robot Assistant for Life Sciences
ZDNet (01/07/08) Pipuepaille, Roland

The German government has launched an initiative to develop safe and cost effective robot assistants. One such robot, called LiSA, is being built at the Fraunhofer Institute and should be ready by March 2009. LiSA will interact with technicians in life science labs and autonomously perform routine tasks such as transporting multiplates and setting up stocking stations. LiSA is designed with a sensing gripper arm designed to hold plastic dishes that senses, cushions, and can protect humans from injuring themselves on the robot, as well as a thermographic camera to register body heat to tell if a human hand is in the way. The foam and textile skin of the robot can also sense and compensate for accidental jostling. "Flexibility, safety, and intuitive operation are crucial for the acceptance of an assistant robot that shares a work environment with human workers and interacts with them," states the LiSA project Web page. "Hence, along with the development of the mobile platform and navigation in dynamic environments, these aspects are also top priorities in the project."
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50 Experts Attend Computer Forum
Gulf Times (Qatar) (01/06/08)

The Asian Computing Science Conference in Qatar recently drew more than 50 computer scientists from around the world. Hosted by Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMUQ), the computer and network security conference offered 25 regular presentations for researchers from universities in Japan, India, Iran, the United States, and France. Andrei Sabelfeld from Chalmers University in Sweden discussed the latest developments in the area of declassification, while Kazuhiko Kato from the University of Tsukuba in Japan spoke about advances in architecture that will improve the security of computers. MITRE's Joshua Guttman talked about new ways for performing verification tasks. CMUQ computer science professor Iliano Cervesato organized the event, and he is also planning the 15th Logic for Programming Artificial Intelligence and Reasoning (LPAR) conference in Doha in December that will attract at least 100 computer science experts from across the globe.
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Napkin PC Enables High-Tech Doodling
PhysOrg.com (01/05/08) Zyga, Lisa

Designer Avery Holleman is targeting creative groups with a new PC concept that makes use of e-paper and radio-frequency technology. The Napkin PC resembles a napkin holder and is filled with e-paper "napkins" and can hold colored pens. An architect, artist, or engineer who suddenly has a new idea can simply grab a napkin and doodle on it with a pen, which sends data to the napkin interface using short-range RF technology. The pen and napkin also use long-range RF to communicate with a base station PC. The Napkin PC allows users to easily share their ideas, connects napkins to create a large-scale display, and uses little power. The concept makes use of a single-layer flexible circuit board for inductive power; has the pen wirelessly power the napkin when it is in close range; and the e-paper napkins retain the bright, full-color images for some time. Users sign their name to load features such as settings and bookmarks, and the device also keeps track of their work.
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Malware Honeypots Wait for '08
InfoWorld (12/28/07) Hines, Matt

The Distributed Open Proxy Honeypot Project, launched by the Web Application Security Consortium (WASC) in January 2007, will be re-introduced with new improvements in January 2008. After collecting data for 11 months, project researchers spent December 2007 reviewing results and strategizing for 2008. As a result, in 2008 WASC will fine-tune its methods for tracking malware distributors and will also expand its existing network of honeypots. The WASC initiative monitors Web traffic for malicious activities using a network of 14 specially-configured open proxy servers. The innovative system is more effective than traditional honeypot applications, which cannot offer sufficient real-time intelligence for defending against modern, swift, customized threats, says WASC project leader Ryan Barnett. The WASC effort gains new information about cyber-criminals' techniques by advertising its undefended open proxy server to the Internet as the type of anonymous conduit preferred by attackers. System improvements in 2008 will involve implementing more successful methods for correlating anomalies and categorizing attacks. Project researchers would also like to gain assistance from the open-source community in analyzing the raw data. The proxypot model enables researchers to monitor the source IP addresses being utilized by cyber-criminals. Further analysis of the results would let WASC determine which sites were being targeted and notify any companies concerned. At the moment, the project aims to develop an early warning system to facilitate the security industry's response to attacks as they emerge, though the project could one day be used to uncover malware sources and block threats.
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Individual Privacy Under Threat in Europe and U.S., Report Says
Associated Press (12/30/07)

International rights group Privacy International warns that individual privacy is under threat in the United States and Europe as governments introduce surveillance and information-gathering legislation in the name of security and controlling borders. Privacy International reports that Greece, Romania, and Canada have the best privacy records of 47 countries studied, while Malaysia, Russia, and China rank the worst. Britain and the United States are ranked as "endemic surveillance societies," the lowest-performing group. "The general trend is that privacy is being extinguished in country after country," says Privacy International director Simon Davies. "Even those countries where we expected ongoing strong privacy protection, like Germany and Canada, are sinking into the mire." In the United States, civil liberties groups have criticized the Bush administration for its involvement in domestic wiretapping, which allows monitoring of international phone calls and email messages involving people suspected of terrorist links, without a warrant. Britain was criticized for plans for a national identity card, a lack of government accountability, and the world's largest network of surveillance cameras. Davies says the loss of computer disks with personal and bank information on 25 million people in Britain highlights the risk of centralizing information on huge government databases. The report says that privacy protection is generally worsening across Western Europe while it is improving in former Communist states in Eastern Europe. The report also says concern over terrorism, immigration, and border security is driving the spread of identity and fingerprinting systems, often without regard to individual privacy, and that the trends are being fueled by the development of a "profitable surveillance industry dominated by global IT companies and the creation of numerous international treaties that frequently operate outside judicial or democratic processes."
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Can You Count on These Machines?
New York Times Magazine (01/06/08) P. 40; Thompson, Clive

The 2000 election debacle prompted national initiatives to modernize voting systems throughout the United States, but electronic voting systems may cause even worse headaches, an especially urgent issue as the next election rolls around. Unpredictable failures, voters' difficulty using the machines, and other problems have shaken people's faith in the technology, and states are scrapping touch-screen devices as officials such as Ohio secretary of state Jennifer Brunner contend that the systems "may jeopardize the integrity of the voting process." Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Michael Shamos contends that about one in 10 touch-screen machines "fail" in each election, and a scenario in which a very close presidential election is decided by a handful of votes cast on malfunctioning machines is very disturbing for election observers. Though state officials in California and Ohio have raised the specter of hacking as one of the chief reasons for their rejection of touch-screen voting, the threat of miscounts stemming from error, incompetence, and unreliability is far greater. Computer scientists such as Princeton University's Ed Felten note that risk of failure is an inherent part of software complexity, while critics also cite poor design as another reason behind touch-screen voting systems' unreliability. Determining the magnitude of design flaws is difficult for computer scientists because touch-screen vendors fiercely protect their source code as a trade secret, critics contend. Vendors counter that they allow a small number of approved elections officials in each state and county to access the source code, which is almost always tested by the government prior to use. However, critics respond that if this is the case then more diligent security testing is necessary, as evidenced by the proliferation of buggy and unreliable touch-screen machines.
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Agile Principles Are Changing Everything
SD Times (01/01/08)No. 189, P. 1; DeJong, Jennifer

Although the formal adoption rate of agile software development is modest, underlying principles such as incremental requirement definition, inviting customer feedback, testing code while it is being written, and frequent builds are enjoying wide proliferation. "Agile principles have become IT best practices [for software development]," says IBM agile practice leader Scott Ambler. Every facet of software production is being transformed by the growing interest in agile practices, according to interviews with analysts, developers, consultants, and tool makers from which three key observations were inferred. The first observation is that the inversion of the roles of the project manager, business analyst, programmer, and tester by agile practices makes the adoption of agile principles tougher than many teams assume. The second observation is that there is no consistency in the application of agile practices between teams, which raises issues about whether a process can be enhanced by adding one or several agile practices. The third observation is that the agile development approach is not as dogmatic as it was six years ago when the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was introduced. The early days of agile development yielded important lessons, such as that rigidly following a methodology may not be viable in reality, according to the Eclipse Foundation's Bjorn Freeman-Benson. Forrester analyst Peter Sterpe says some teams embrace agile practices as a solution to failing projects, but this does not constitute agile development. Freeman-Benson concludes that a process achieves agile status when one practice leads to another practice, acknowledging that craft is needed to select a balanced set of practices. Though a report from Forrester documents the wide recognition of agile benefits such as reduced time-to-market, improved predictability, and better quality, there is a lack of empirical evidence that such advantages exist.
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Computer Science Education: Where Are the Software Engineers of Tomorrow?
STSC CrossTalk (01/08) Dewar, Robert B.K.; Schonberg, Edmond

AdaCore's Robert B.K. Dewar and Edmond Schonberg, computer science professors at New York University, say that today's computer science graduates are not equipped with the skills they need to work well in the current software industry, leading to the conclusion that "we are training easily replaceable professionals." They recommend an approach to CS education characterized by the earlier introduction of formal methods such as model checking and linear temporal logic for the design of concurrent systems, and a central role for programming languages. Dewar and Schonberg stress a heavier concentration on floating-point computations, and they deem the use of Java as an introductory programming language to be "a misguided attempt to make programming more fun, perhaps in reaction to the drop in CS enrollments that followed the dot-com bust." At the same time, the authors recognize that Java has a certain value in CS instruction, in that it can help programmers' gain an understanding of concurrent programming and the understanding that a program can be instrumented to analyze its own state and determine its own behavior in a dynamically shifting environment. Dewar and Schonberg cite the need for CS students to become fluent in a number of diverse programming languages, such as C, Lisp, and Ada. Knowing C is especially critical, as it forces students to achieve a clear understanding of the hardware/software relationship, according to the authors. They express consternation that scripting languages are so popular in introductory programming courses, as they lack strong typing and do not support the learning of algorithms and performance analysis. Dewar and Schonberg write that students must not just be taught the right programming languages, but also must be exposed to the tools for building large-scale reliable programs.
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