Timely Topics for IT Professionals
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Volume 5, Issue 523: Wednesday, July 23, 2003
- "Making It Illegal to Hire Abroad"
Wired News (07/23/03); Glasner, Joanna
State and federal lawmakers are considering legislation that limits overseas outsourcing in response to more and more U.S. companies shifting technology and service jobs to countries where the labor pool is cheaper as well as larger. The New Jersey state assembly is expected to vote on a proposed law requiring companies to employ only citizens or legal U.S. residents for certain contracts in the fall, while another bill under consideration focuses on restricting offshore call centers. Meanwhile, a bill the Maryland legislature is mulling over would ban overseas workers from being hired for government contract jobs. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) recently declared that concerns over whether federally funded programs may be training American workers for jobs that are being outsourced overseas prompted to him to request a report from the General Accounting Office detailing how the technology job market is being affected by offshore outsourcing. Gartner analyst Debashish Sinha doubts that outsourcing is chiefly responsible for fewer job opportunities available to U.S. IT workers, and attributes most job losses to diminishing demand for services as a result of the economic downturn. "It seems the overseas outsourcing market is being used more as a scapegoat for the troubles the U.S. IT industry is going through," Sinha attests. Economic Policy Institute economist Josh Bivens concurs, saying that recent data from the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis supports the conclusion that the IT job market is following the same downward curve of the overall economy. Bivens acknowledges that there will likely be an increase in the overseas outsourcing of call center operations and other lower-level service jobs, but believes businesses will continue to keep their top people in the United States.
- "Think Fast! New Supercomputers Race Toward Unimaginable Speeds"
Cox News Service (07/22/03); Toner, Mike
Experts such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher Jack Dongarra note that supercomputing speeds are increasing at an exponential rate: The gigaOPS benchmark of a billion operations per second that was the peak of supercomputing speed in 1985 is now surpassed by PCs that cost less than $1,000, while contemporary supercomputers have attained speeds measured in teraOPS, trillions of operations per second. The fastest existing supercomputer is Japan's $500 million Earth Simulator, which is capable of over 35 trillion calculations per second. On the horizon are Red Storm, a joint Sandia National Laboratories/Cray project to build a 40 teraOPS machine that can model nuclear weapons detonations; IBM's ASCI Purple, a 100 teraOPS machine that the U.S. Energy Department will use to simulate how high explosives, air turbulence, and materials properties behave; and Blue Gene/Lite, also from IBM, which could be used to simulate protein folding thanks to its 367 teraOPS capacity. Later Blue Gene iterations could reach or exceed a petaOPS rate of a quadrillion operations per second, which is expected to be achieved before 2010. Supercomputers such as the Earth Simulator, which is used to simulate global temperatures, predict natural catastrophes, and model the whole Earth as a system, can process enough data to allow researchers to virtually experiment with systems and processes that are too dangerous, big, or unpredictable to control in reality. Commercial applications of supercomputing include drug design, weather forecasting, and film animation, but the major breakthroughs stem from government-funded research. For instance, the ASCI White supercomputer was developed to run simulations of nuclear explosions so that the Energy Department could better manage the aging U.S. nuclear stockpile.
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- "IT Gender Gap Under Study by Pair at RIT"
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (07/20/03); Daneman, Matthew
The National Science Foundation has awarded Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) assistant professors Elizabeth Lane Lawley and Tona Henderson a grant of $323,000 to fund a two-year study of the difficulties female undergraduates encounter in college IT courses. The researchers will spend the first year polling incoming RIT students to determine the issues women face, while the second year will involve a nationwide survey of female IT students to find correlations. The American Association of University Women estimated that the percentage of women who earn bachelor's degrees in computer science fell from 37 percent in 1984 to less than 28 percent in 2000, and other analyses clearly document that computer science studies are male-dominated. There is considerable anecdotal evidence that IT is just as unfriendly toward women as computer science. Only 19 percent of the 678 RIT students who were awarded IT bachelor's degrees in the 1997-1998 school year and the 2001-2002 year were female. Furthermore, IT deans who convened recently in Oregon reported the same problems, according to RIT Associate Dean Eydie Lawson, who adds that one possible reason for this gender gap is a lack of emphasis on the sciences to young girls. Lawley concludes that generating more women IT graduates would benefit technology in general. "Based on what we know about psychology, the way women use tools is so very different than the way men use tools," she explains. "We're not going to have good tools unless we have people who understand the context in which the tools will be used."
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For information regarding ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women
- "Spotlight on SIGGRAPH 2003"
Videography (07/21/03); Grant, Darin
The latest creative and technical developments in computer graphics and interactive technology will be on display at the annual ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) conference July 27-31 at the San Diego Convention Center. Attendees will have the opportunity to choose from 45 different sessions in the SIGGRAPH Courses program, whose offerings range from basic knowledge of computer graphics and their use in animated filmmaking to techniques video professionals can use to create and distribute their work in multimedia formats to more artistically-oriented sessions focusing on independent animation and short films. The SIGGRAPH Papers Sessions will concentrate on presentations about cutting-edge computer graphics breakthroughs, such as how the technology can capture a greater spectrum of light than video does, and better ways to digitally replicate the sheen of human hair. State-of-the-art computer graphics concepts and techniques will be presented and shared at the Sketches and Applications forum, and SIGGRAPH's Emerging Technologies program will allow participants to experience the latest interactive technologies hands-on. Attendees will be able to experiment and create with the latest hardware and software at the Guerilla Studio, while the Art Gallery and Computer Animation Festival will spotlight animation, sculptures, prints, and video conceived and executed by digital artists. Some 26 works of art were selected out of more than 600 submissions to be included in the Electronic Theater, while 52 were included in the Animation Theater.
For registration and other information about ACM's SIGGRAPH conference, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2003/
- "Bring on the Telematics Revolution"
TechNewsWorld (07/21/03); Koprowski, Gene J.
Spurred by major electronics makers, telematics technology is expanding beyond fleet vehicles and luxury automobiles, and broadening its applications to include more sophisticated features in addition to location tracking. IBM will introduce its "Touch by Voice" system this July, enabling drivers to access navigation directions through voice command; Hyundai is enhancing its vehicles with an end-to-end telematics system that can notify emergency services when the airbag is deployed, track stolen vehicles, and allow drivers to access news, stock quotes, and weather forecasts via a driver information portal; Johnson Controls and QNX Software Systems are co-developing a system in which drivers can operate a Bluetooth mobile phone while keeping their hands on the wheel; and General Motors and RiverPark are collaborating on embedding OnStar systems into mobile homes so that vacationers can access emergency services and information on local services. Developers are also establishing connections between vehicle telematics systems and home networks, allowing drivers to remotely assert a degree of control over their households. UBS Warburg expects the telematics market to leap from $650 million today to $41 billion by the end of the decade. Most analysts anticipate that telematics systems will eventually enable vehicles to wirelessly communicate with each other. Strategy Analytics director Joanne Downie predicts that "Telematics, in the coming years, will make cars part of a seamless computer user environment in the United States, Europe and Asia." However, the industry is concerned that an FCC mandate to enable all wireless phone networks for enhanced 911 services will extend to telematics technology, and industry experts generally agree that such regulations could inhibit future market growth.
- "Pentagon Wants to Make a New PAL"
Wired News (07/23/03); Shachtman, Noah
The Pentagon is investing $29 million in an effort to develop a Perceptive Assistant that Learns (PAL)--software that, like a real-life office assistant, can intuit the needs of the boss and automatically perform tasks to meet those needs. "The idea is to develop a system that will adapt to the user, instead of the other way around," explains Dejima President Antoine Blondeau. A grant of $7 million has been apportioned to Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science to build a peacetime PAL programmed to schedule meetings, manage Web sites, and respond to routine email by itself; SRI International, Dejima, and a conglomerate of other researchers will receive the remaining $22 million to build a PAL that would be used by the military. PAL will be based on modified versions of off-the-shelf software, while modules and elements will be added to key the software to user preferences and determine when the software should interrupt the user with inquiries. Carnegie Mellon researcher Scott Fahlman says the program "must respond to specific instructions--i.e., 'Notify me as soon as the new budget numbers arrive by e-mail'--without the need for reprogramming." Jan Walker of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has made digital assistant research a high priority recently, argues that PAL could enhance battlefield strategy by shrinking command center staff, thus giving the center more mobility and increasing its protection. GlobalSecurity.org John Pike adds that such a program could eliminate soldiers' reliance on thick field manuals and allow them to operate more efficiently in combat situations. However, Federation of American Scientists defense analyst Steven Aftergood doubts that the PAL program will make much of a difference in terms of military value.
- "Power Sharing: Distributed Computing Moves Beyond the Search for ET"
San Mateo County Times (07/20/03); Brevtti, Francine
Distributed or grid computing allows ordinary individuals to help search for a cure to cancer or participate in socially or scientifically significant projects by donating idle computer power. People support distributed computing initiatives out of a sense of altruism, feeling a need to contribute to such goals as the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life through SETI@home, or understanding diseases and finding new disease treatments through Stanford University's Folding@home. There are also grid computing projects that are intellectually stimulating, such as The ChessBrain Network, a portal users can access to play chess with others online, or DALiWorld, a virtual oceanic environment where users can interact with fish avatars. Eric J. Korpela of the University of California, Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory says distributed computing projects fall into three categories: Corporate computers working as a grid to address in-house problems; academic initiatives in which supercomputers are shared between institutions; and public resource computing, which rely on individuals volunteering computer power. In a typical public resource computing setup, volunteers log on to the project Web site and download client software that is installed onto their hard drives and can tap into their computers' resources while the machines are not being used. Distributed computing can help solve complex computational equations that require vast amounts of processing power, though Jupiter Research analyst Matthew Berk notes that this method is only applicable to a limited number of computing problems, and adds that the Internet's networking power is critical to grid projects. "We've gotten to a place where things are so well networked, and our ability to take advantage of this networking is so fine-tuned, we can have projects that can call out to distributed independent resources at will," he boasts.
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- "Controversy Surrounds Employees on L-1 Visas"
Dallas Morning News (07/22/03); Godinez, Victor
Critics claim that the L-1 visa program, which allows companies to transfer foreign staff to the United States for the purposes of consultation, cross-training, or management education, is being exploited to essentially replace American workers with overseas professionals willing to work for less. Immediate past president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers LeEarl Bryant says the law authorizing the approval of L-1s contains a loophole that allows employers to bring workers to the United States and then outsource them to other companies, thus displacing American personnel. "It's even worse [than H-1B abuses] because it's manipulating the system to avoid paying those people prevailing U.S. wages," Bryant notes. Chris Bentley of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services reports that the government acknowledges the loophole's ramifications, and his agency is evaluating the L-1 program as well as probing possible abuses. However, he points out that the sluggish economy is apparently causing the number of L-1 visa holders and H-1B holders to decline. The office of Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who proposed a bill in May that would eliminate the L-1 loophole, issued a statement that certain employers are threatening to deny severance pay to American workers if they refuse to train their L-1 replacements. L-1 visa holders are allowed to remain in the United States for up to seven years.
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- "Program to Create Next-Generation Computer Security Experts"
Mississippi State University (MSU), an academic institution certified by the National Security Agency as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education, aims to build a new generation of cybersecurity specialists for both the government and the private sector using MSU's high-performance computing resources. MSU Center for Computer Excellence director and former Army colonel Ray Vaughn explains that his center trains students on $200,000 worth of cutting-edge gear to cultivate skills in a wide spectrum of cybersecurity issues, including shielding critical national infrastructure from cyberspace-based attacks, computer hacking, methods terrorists use to hide information, and assaulting computer systems by overloading them. Vaughn points out that breeding next-generation security experts is critical, because "Computers are inherently insecure, and theres a growing shortage of computer security people." Vaughn and department associate and artificial intelligence expert Susan Bridges have together persuaded government and private industry to provide almost $5 million in funding over the past five years. Bridges explains that artificial intelligence is employed to detect the presence of network intruders. The Federal Cyber Service Training and Education Initiative's Scholarship for Service program and the Defense Department's Information Assurance Scholarship Program have been the primary sources of roughly $3 million in grants for the MSU center's Cybercorps Scholarship Program. Federally funded scholarships are set up so that students receive free tuition and school supplies in exchange for a period of federal employment. Vaughn is working with Iowa State University and University of Kansas officials to set up a National Center for Information Protection as part of a joint federal/industrial/academic effort to tackle future cybersecurity problems.
- "Cheaper Optics-Chip Link on Tap"
Technology Research News (07/23/03); Smalley, Eric
Speeding up Internet access requires an affordable technique to broaden high-bandwidth fiber-optic lines to the home, but fiber-optic connection costs are a formidable barrier. Researchers from the Italian Institute for the Physics of Matter and the University of Rome Three may have found a way to overcome this barrier by cheaply manufacturing fast photodetectors in the near-infrared light range using germanium, which University of Rome Three's Gianlorenzo Masini notes is compatible with silicon. The researchers discovered that depositing a thin layer of germanium on a silicon substrate caused the electrons generated by the germanium's absorption of infrared light to pass into the silicon, allowing light to be converted into electricity faster and more efficiently. The 120-nm polycrystalline germanium films can be produced at 300 degrees Celsius, a relatively low temperature. The silicon is monocrystalline to maximize the collection and transfer of energy from the germanium. The photodetectors can detect information-bearing light pulses at up to 2.5 Gbps, as well as light at the 1.3- and 1.5-micron infrared wavelengths used in optical filters. For the photodetectors to work, the light pulses the device receives must be relatively strong, and Masini notes that the research team is attempting to refine the manufacturing technique in order to boost the device's sensitivity. He adds that the device could be ready for commercial use within one to three years.
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- "Wireless Raises the Final Standard"
ZDNet UK (07/22/03); Goodwins, Rupert
An industry consortium working on ultrawideband (UWB) radio specifications is finalizing a proposal that could dramatically change the wireless networking landscape, writes Rupert Goodwins. After the FCC approved UWB, with the caveat that devices emit less radio signals than an ordinary CD player, involved companies set about working on the technology according to the new regulations. The result is the Multiband OFDM, which applies the well-known networking concept of Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing to wireless UWB. Though unfinished, the system involves three to 13 bands, each 528 MHz wide and containing hundreds of carriers at 4 MHz intervals--hence the resemblance to other OFDM applications in digital radio, ADSL, and wireless networking. OFDM UWB products should be available that can broadcast signals several yards at 500 Mbps by the end of 2004. This will prove a boon for home networking, but UWB will still not be able to increase power enough to broadcast as far as 802.11, because of FCC regulations. However, OFDM UWB devices will essentially work as software radios since the 13 possible bands span 3.4 GHz to 10 GHz. OFDM UWB devices could be able to read the airwaves and decide which signal to tap into, whether it be 802.11, UWB, or other emerging standards such as Zigbee. Widespread OFDM UWB technology would greatly increase the appeal of pervasive wireless networking because it would virtually eliminate the problem of standards obsolescence.
- "Middleware Could Help Link Real-Time Battle Data"
EE Times (07/18/03); Yoshida, Junko
The Object Management Group (OMG) has adopted a middleware specification that proponents say will enable unprecedented real-time communications between different battlefield systems. The Data Distribution Service for Real-Time Systems (DDS) standard was proposed by Real-Time Innovations (RTI) and Thales Group, network software suppliers to the defense industry. DDS sets up a so-called "publish-subscribe" network where data producers and data consumers trade information on a distributed network without special links. The publish-subscribe model allows larger amounts of data to be communicated in real time than a traditional client/server system, making multinational coordination or communication between land-, air-, and sea-based systems easier. The OMG already manages the client/server Common Object Request Broker Architecture (Corba), and the Unified Modeling Language protocol. "The military/aerospace market takes the Object Management Group very seriously," declares RTI's Bruce Ericson. "They will adopt the standard very vigorously." Besides military applications, DDS could also be used in other massive, real-time communications systems, such as in avionics or industrial automation.
- "New Privacy Laws Less Likely"
IDG News Service (07/21/03); Gross, Grant
Congress is prioritizing spam legislation over online privacy legislation, as evidenced by the list of privacy proposals that are nowhere near approval and being criticized by privacy proponents and the technology sector. Sen. Diane Feinstein's (D-Calif.) Notification of Risk to Personal Data Act, which uses a recently enacted California law as a template, would require companies to immediately alert customers of hacker intrusions that may have compromised their personal information. However, Greg Garcia of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) says both Feinstein's bill and the California law are vague when it comes to providing companies with a "reasonable basis" to conclude that their networks have been compromised, and argues that it would be better policy to notify law enforcement of such possible leaks before alerting consumers. The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a strong advocate for privacy legislation and a supporter of Feinstein's measure, expects a dearth of Republican sponsors will damage the bill's chances of approval, and CDT associate director Ari Schwartz says the proposal might fare better if it were reworked into an amendment to another bill. He adds that the current congressional emphasis on spam has its good points--antispam legislation, after all, supports consumers' privacy. Meanwhile, a bill reintroduced by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) and co-sponsored by 22 other members of Congress would require companies that collect personal information to inform customers of how such information will be used; the measure would also allow customers to prohibit companies from sharing their data and electronically report identity theft to the FTC. NetCoalition's Markham Erickson calls Stearns' proposal an improvement over Sen. Ernest Hollings' (D-S.C.) Online Personal Privacy Act because it bans private lawsuits.
- "Trends Point Toward New Internet Architecture"
CIO Update (07/14/03); Singer, Michael
The Burton Group says in its "Vision 2003" report that developments in network security, Internet Protocol telephony, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), mobile and wireless networking, and virtual private networks (VPNs) are causing vendors and investors to focus on enterprises, and Burton research director David Passmore argued at the recent Catalyst Conference that these trends will spur many businesses to restructure their networks. This is welcome news compared to developments in 2001 and 2002, which Passmore characterized as "arguably the worst two years in the public networking area, with significant residual effects on service providers and enterprises." Important events in the security arena that promise to have a significant impact on network architecture include the enhancement of firewall products, the transition of intrusion detection systems into in-line intrusion protection systems, and the tighter coupling of security products with a unified system featuring centralized policy management. Carriers are being pressured to build an IP- and MPLS-based common background by merging Asynchronous Transfer Mode/frame relay, private IP, public IP, and voice networks, while MPLS and alternative VPN routes based on encrypted tunneling methods or virtual routing should be able to coexist. The rapid evolution of wireless local area network (WLAN) technology will be ratcheted up even further as more mobile operators perceive the integration of WLAN hotspots and third-generation cellular systems as the key to smooth roaming. The Burton Group anticipates that IP-based phone systems will inevitably become mainstream, and the largest trend to expect is for enterprises to opt for Internet Small Computer Systems Interface (iSCSI) instead of Fibre Channel.
- "I/O Moves Into the Express Lane"
Computerworld (07/21/03) Vol. 31, No. 35, P. 23; Mitchell, Robert L.
The standard expansion bus in most desktops is based on an 11-year-old technology that's due for replacement. Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) bus specification supports 1 Gbps bandwidth speeds, which is more than enough for general PC applications, but is hitting against performance ceilings in graphics and server systems. The PCI-SIG vendor consortium is backing a new PCI Express standard that would carry an aggregate bandwidth of 160 Gbps and would more easily work with other serial technologies such as Serial ATA and InfiniBand. Attached devices can be plugged and swapped without involving the processor chip set, since they communicate with one another directly. PCI Express is a fundamental change in technology and not compatible with legacy PCI devices. This has made some vendors decide instead for PCI-X 2.0, an improvement on the existing specification that allows twice as much throughput. The issue is only of pertinence in the server market, where there is a need for a faster interconnect, and also where Intel, the main backer of PCI Express, plays second fiddle to Broadcom's ServerWorks in server chip sets. Dell Computer is one of the few companies planning a direct shift to PCI Express, since it believes devices based on the older technology will soon become a liability. In the PC market, Intel is expected to push faster adoption once more high-performance applications such as streaming video and graphics appear. PCI-SIG Chairman Tony Pierce says that as Gigabit Ethernet becomes standard on desktops, high-end application demand will materialize and make PCI Express more attractive.
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- "I, Computer"
New Scientist (07/19/03) Vol. 179, No. 2404, P. 40; Aleksander, Igor
Imperial College emeritus professor Igor Aleksander projects that machine consciousness research will yield insight on human consciousness, and lead to a future where many machines will claim to be self-aware. Aleksander places machine consciousness projects along a spectrum, with neurological modeling at one pole and the embedding of preprogrammed rules to control the behavior of an artificial intelligence at the other. Examples of the former include Technical University of Denmark researcher Rodney Cotterill's computer modeling of neurochemical interactions within human and animal brains, and the work of Nokia's Pentti Haikonen focusing on creating artificial brain modules whose neuron numbers correspond to their real-world counterparts. Aleksander writes that Haikonen's research supports his theory that brain cells balance changing sensory input in order to represent real-world objects consistently, suggesting that encoded within the human brain's electrochemical impulses is an unchanging portrayal of the outside world. The author has designed a conscious computer that incorporates a neural "depiction" in the brain that precisely conforms with all inner sensations, with each depiction possessing at least five major axioms of consciousness: An awareness of place, imagination, directed attention, prediction and planning, and emotional experience. Aleksander contends that artificial neural systems have been constructed that approximate the first four axioms, while incorporating the fifth requires further research. Structuring artificially intelligent systems around preprogrammed rules, as Aaron Sloman of the University of Birmingham has done, reportedly avoids the more confusing aspects of the nature of consciousness. Occupying a middle ground between the two extremes of the machine consciousness spectrum is the "global workspace theory" by Bernard Baars of San Diego's Neurosciences Unit, which posits that consciousness emerges when multiple sensory inputs trigger neural mechanisms that compete to ascertain the most logical response; Stan Franklin of the University of Memphis has based his Intelligent Distributed Agents software on Baars' hypothesis.
- "A Chat Room Like No Other"
Discover (07/03) Vol. 24, No. 7, P. 23; Johnson, Steven
"There" is a virtual chatroom technology that allows correspondents to relay their emotional states through electronic avatars instead of relying on emoticons typical of current text-based virtual communications systems. There avatars use both facial expressions and body language to depict emotions: For instance, an online representation can express dissatisfaction by frowning and sagging its shoulders. These expressions are triggered by the There resident's typewritten content--an avatar nods its head when someone types "yes," for example--using software developed by artificial intelligence researcher Jeffrey Ventrella. The software also converts emoticons and abbreviations into the appropriate expressions and gestures. There users view a display of their avatar and the avatar representing the person they are talking to, with accompanying dialogue balloons. There, which is scheduled to launch this summer, will soon provide residents with a tool that enables them to personalize their expressions. Some 62 "genetic pairs" make up There's facial expression system, with each pair representing a specific facial movement. Combining these pairs in novel ways allows new emotions to be generated. Residents can currently select between 100 distinct emotional states, and There CEO Tom Melcher says his company plans to release 10 new emotions every quarter.
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- "Professor Gadget"
Technology Review (08/03) Vol. 106, No. 6; Vandre, Megan
Ted Selker of MIT's Media Lab has acquired a reputation as an innovator whose prototypes and projects have received a great deal of media exposure. His breakthroughs include the TrackPoint, a rubberized mouse button that has become a standard feature on many laptop keyboards, but his current focus is on context-aware computing, the creation of machines that can intuitively guess and respond to users' needs. Selker's central lab is full of context-aware computing prototypes, including a floor laden with sensors that can check the position of people and adjust lighting and projectors accordingly. Another context-aware machine is a futon-like multimedia couch bed that could aid handicapped users by allowing them to remotely control various functions in a reclined position through interaction with projected overhead images. Selker coordinates the Counter Intelligence research group, which is attempting to build a futuristic, computerized kitchen. Technologies being developed and tested by the group include a scanner that assesses available food items and suggests what kinds of meals they would make, and a countertop equipped with a transport system that can transfer dishes into the sink using vibration. Selker attributes his eagerness to solve problems to his critical observation of the world. "Everything bothers me," he says. "Then I try to think about how to fix it."