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Volume 5, Issue 588:  Monday, December 29, 2003

  • "Around the Globe, New 'Silicon Valleys' Emerge"
    Christian Science Monitor (12/29/03) P. 1; Sappenfield, Mark

    Silicon Valley's offshore migration of research and design operations not only threatens the preeminence of the high-tech hub--and the job security of many employees--but also serves as evidence of the rapid growth of rival tech centers elsewhere in the world. The groundwork for this trend was laid out by Silicon Valley itself: Many foreign professionals brought in during the Internet boom attained skills that they are now applying to form their own startups back in their native lands. Possibly even more significant than this is the reconfiguration of the global communication network facilitated by recent advances in the Internet, wireless networks, and telecommunications. "Innovation is becoming a truly global phenomenon," notes Jim Koch of Santa Clara University's Center for Science, Technology, and Society. However, not everyone thinks Silicon Valley's leadership position is in danger. Many argue that the Valley's combination of abundant venture capital, world-class universities, and willingness to take risks sets the region apart and will allow it to maintain its edge over growing overseas tech centers such as Bangalore in India. Ravi Chirevolu of Charter and Venture Capital reports that Bangalore has less of an affinity for risk-taking than Silicon Valley, adding that high-risk investment is a key component of remaining on the leading edge of innovation. "The real innovation is still happening here, and I expect that to continue," says Steve Bird of Palo Alto-based Focus Ventures.
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  • "This Car Can Talk. What It Says May Cause Concern."
    New York Times (12/29/03) P. C1; Schwartz, John

    Privacy proponents say the relationship between American motorists and their cars is changing with the emergence of advanced automotive technologies such as the OnStar system, a location tracking service popular for its promise to thwart carjackers, yet which experts such as Cornell University's Curt Dunnam argue could just as easily be used by law enforcement or even hackers to monitor car owners' whereabouts and activities. OnStar's Geri Lama assures that her company cannot release customers' location data to law enforcement officials except under court order, while only the craftiest hackers can crack the code needed to track location-based data or unlock car doors. Nevertheless, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse founder Beth Givens, talking about the erasure of motorists' personal freedom with the advent of monitoring systems, declares, "Now, the car is Big Brother." Other automotive technologies that have privacy advocates worried include electronic toll systems, chips installed within tires, and most notably, "black box" sensors designed to relay critical information in the last few seconds before a collision. Though Sally Greenberg of Consumers Union acknowledges that such technology can save lives, she wants the federal government to exercise caution in making sure the technology is not used to the detriment of personal privacy. The government is currently weighing regulations to standardize black box data as well as how that data is collected, while the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is working out a global black box standard. However, cases of privacy infringement involving vehicle tracking systems have already cropped up: Data recorded by an OnStar system was employed to convict a man of a fatal hit-and-run accident in 2001, while last year a woman was stalked by a man who installed a tracking device in her car.
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  • "The Fantasy and Reality of 2004"
    Wired News (12/29/03); Delio, Michelle

    Influential technologists hope for the best in 2004, but largely expect slow progress in terms of privacy policy, open-source adoption, fighting spam, and other issues. Moving forward on the privacy versus security issue is tough because it involves introducing difficult new ideas into a sometimes stale debate, says U.S. Department of Homeland Security chief privacy officer Nuala O'Connor Kelly; she sees slow, incremental progress in melding security and privacy efforts in 2004. Copyright reform continues to be one of the most outstanding sore points for Internet-enabled creative culture, says ibiblio director Paul Jones, whose volunteer-run digital library is the world's first and largest. He expects corporate interests to keep their extended hold on distribution of important works. Open-source activist and publisher Tim O'Reilly hopes that Apple will apply its applications innovation to the entire Macintosh platform, a move he says will set an example for the rest of the PC industry in the manner of the original Apple human interface guidelines; he says that Linux on the PC desktop is poised to move forward with Nat Friedman's Dashboard for Linux, while Web services data vendors such as eBay, Amazon.com, and Google will miss an opportunity to create an "Internet operating system" because of increased competition among themselves. U.S. technology vendors such as Cisco and Websense continue to sell out human rights and freedom of speech interests in China, says Hacktivismo founder Oxblood Ruffin, whose group advocates using hacking as an activist tool. He says the Chinese government reverse-engineers U.S. commercial Internet technology to create more and more powerful Web controls behind the Great Firewall. Virtual community pioneer Howard Rheingold says he and like-minded colleagues will begin putting together a map of interdisciplinary academic and technological development on a scale never before seen.
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  • "Device Guards Net Against Viruses"
    Technology Research News (12/24/03); Patch, Kimberly

    The communicability of computer viruses is often related to people's unwillingness to install and regularly maintain virus-filtering software on their systems, and Washington University and Global Velocity researchers have devised a new, hardware-based countermeasure called the Field Programmable Port Extender. The reconfigurable device scans data packets passing through a network byte by byte, blocking any packets that contain an Internet worm or computer virus signature. The Field Programmable Port Extender's reliance on hardware rather than software makes the system sufficiently speedy to scan high-speed backbone Internet traffic for viruses. Global Velocity co-founder John Lockwood says the device boasts a data-filtering rate of 2.4 billion bits per second, and claims the network-level protection offered by the Field Programmable Port Extender could make the system more effective at stopping worms and viruses than software running on end-users' computers. The hardware produces an abundance of specially-tailored circuits that individually scan data for a specific virus or worm type, and Lockwood notes that network managers can easily update the system's worm or virus signature database via a Web-based interface. He explains that the viability of the Field Programmable Port Extender stems from the construction of protocol processing circuits capable of scanning high-speed TCP/IP traffic as well as recognizing malware even when it is fragmented and distributed among multiple data packets and traffic flows.
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  • "DARPA Evaluates Proposals for Self-Regenerative Systems"
    Computerworld (12/22/03); Anthes, Gary H.

    The goal of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Self-Regenerative Systems (SRS) initiative is to develop next-generation security and survivability technologies enhanced with coarse-grained diversity so as to minimize the impact of any given vulnerability, which is key to waging network-centric warfare. The agency says that such systems must be capable of self-optimization, self-diagnosis, and self-repair through self-awareness and reflection, and will use biological processes and human cognition as templates. DARPA program manager Lee Badger comments that the introduction of computerized diversity based on natural systems could help reduce the security vulnerabilities stemming from an electronic monoculture, a problem due to the widespread use of common software because of current economies of scale. Badger remarks that there are several possible strategies to achieving software diversity: In a rewriting approach, an existing software component could be specialized by passing it through a filter, or the code could gradually drift within its functional specifications via a genetic algorithm strategy. In talking about why such approaches work better than making a larger effort to write better code, Badger explains, "Our strategy has been to find and remove defects in software, but as software grows to a very high level of complexity, our chances of actually finding and removing all flaws...are getting very small." The program manager notes that defensive systems that learn to combat threats by updating their virus or attack signature databases can only fight new, unforeseen attacks by employing "anomaly detection," which is inherently flawed because of the potential to tag valid behavior as anomalous. Badger hopes that biologically inspired systems could become capable of learning about their environment over time so they can anticipate threats, in the same way that the immune system learns and adapts its defenses from exposure to germs. DARPA will assess proposals from universities and companies to develop technologies for its SRS program.
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  • "The Year's Lowlights and Highlights in Technology"
    SiliconValley.com (12/28/03); Gillmor, Dan

    Dan Gillmor notes the ups and downs of 2003 in terms of technology, tech policy, and the economy in general, writing that progress continues to be made even in the face of bad decisions and abuses by malicious parties. He gives low marks to the U.S. Patent and Copyright Office for continuing to approve "idiotic patents for non-inventions," and to companies for leveraging such patents to hurt competitors and force people to pay undeserved royalties. A central target of Gillmor's scorn is the SCO Group, which sued IBM and threatened Linux users in response to its declining competitiveness. Also on Gillmor's hit list is the U.S. entertainment industry, for abusing copyright law so as to strangle technological innovation, all in the name of halting piracy. Gillmor criticizes the Bush administration's erosion of fundamental civil liberties and bipartisan congressional support on this issue, though he notes that both left-wing and right-wing organizations have spoken out against this development, and made some progress with legislators, who are still too few in number. The author believes protectionist economic policies, tax cuts, and provisions that mainly benefit the wealthy will exacerbate the already calamitous budget deficit. Among those receiving high marks from Gillmor are technological innovators, who for the most part are improving people's lives; activists who made it their business to question the security of online voting, overcome government censorship, and promote representative democracy both inside and outside the United States through grass-roots journalism; and acknowledgement of the importance of network-edge residents, as demonstrated by Howard Dean's Web-based, activist-influenced presidential campaign, for instance.
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  • "We Hate Spam, Congress Says (Except When It's Sent by Us)"
    New York Times (12/28/03) P. 1; Lee, Jennifer 8.

    The federal spam control law that goes into effect on Jan. 1 does not extend to members of Congress who send out unsolicited messages to constituents in order to attract voluntary subscribers to the legislators' email lists; these messages are not subject to House rules that bar taxpayer-supported congressional mass communications 90 days before an election, although free postal mail from House members to voters is still banned. Many congressional members laud the policy, passed by House Administration Committee vote in September, for enabling less expensive and more efficient correspondence with constituents, but consumer advocacy organizations claim the measure may give an unfair edge to incumbents over challengers, adding that such bulk emails constitute spam when they are sent to constituents without their permission. "They are regulating all commercial spam, and at the same time they are using the franking privilege to send unsolicited bulk communications which aren't commercial," observes David Sorkin of Chicago's John Marshall School. "When we are talking about constituents who haven't opted in, it's spam." Prior to the institution of the policy, messages sent to over 500 constituents had to be approved by the franking commission and was subject to a 90-day blackout before an election, while individual responses to citizens were free of such strictures. Congressional officials criticized the old policy as unwieldy, but the unsolicited messages they send to constituents to build their email lists under the new policy still must be approved by the franking commission and must halt 90 days before an election or primary. House members insist that their unsolicited emails are not spam, since they are directed to constituents who have the right to opt out. However, critics note a striking similarity between the technology behind both political and commercial bulk email.
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  • "Aust, US Researchers Develop Sonic Authentication Tool"
    ZDNet Australia (12/19/03); Pearce, James

    Australian and American researchers have created a "sonic key authentication" tool designed to encode public key authentication as sound bursts so that identity verification can be effectively carried out on phone lines, not just the Internet. Distribution costs are lowered by delivering sonic key authentication as software, while Qualcomm senior engineer Michael Paddon reports that "Any device with a microphone and speaker can talk this protocol." He adds that deployment costs of sonic key authentication are insignificant, given the near-ubiquity of the phone system. Paddon thinks sonic key authentication could be downloaded into mobile phones wirelessly. He notes that "The private key stays private inside the phone, it's generated inside the phone and it never leaves the phone," which maintains the security of the key except when the phone is stolen. Paddon explains that a personal identification number would be needed to access the key, which would give users sufficient time to disable the key before a thief can cause damage. Sonic key authentication is ready for implementation, and Qualcomm is currently looking for business partners to make the technology commercially viable.
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  • "Online Data Conflict With Desire for Privacy"
    Washington Post (12/26/03) P. A15; Wong, May

    The Internet makes searching for people much easier and makes personal information such as phone numbers much more important. Though offline tools for finding people have long been available through commercial services or at libraries, the proliferation of personal data on the Web and people-finding Web tools are making personal information more important for more people. New York City resident Sonjia Kenya, for example, says she never gives out her phone number to men who ask her out anymore after learning people can use it to find her home address on Google. More than two years ago, Google added a feature that produces links to maps when users enter a listed phone number. People who want some level of protection can call their local phone company and ask that their number be removed from phone book and 411 listings. Growing amounts of online records, however, provide other ways for people to find phone numbers and other information: Fired Global Crossing employee Steven Sutcliffe was convicted of identity theft because he published online the social security numbers and home addresses of former co-workers and bosses; at the same time, animal rights group Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty was protected under free-speech laws for publishing home addresses to executives of Huntingdon Life Sciences and affiliates' executives. Despite the danger of online search tools, online map tools are a must-have for many consumers and companies, says Pew Internet and American Life Project director Lee Rainie. His group surveyed Internet users in 2002 to find one in four used Google to find online information about themselves, and that 25 percent of those people were surprised at what was available.
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  • "Caution Over 'Computerized World'"
    BBC News (12/23/03); Hermida, Alfred

    A research team at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA) reasons that the purported benefits of pervasive computing, which in terms of the next decade could mean a billion people having access to a trillion electronically connected objects, must be weighed against the implications for privacy, health, society, and the environment. "I am not saying I am against technology, but we should be aware there is a price to pay," warns EMPA computer science professor Lorenz Hilty. Pervasive computing means the widescale emission of low-level radiation, and researchers are very concerned about the effects of long-term exposure to this radiation on the human body, even though Hilty notes that no evidence of a health threat has been documented. Ubiquitous radio sensors also imply constant surveillance and an erosion of personal privacy, and Hilty explains that this factor could seriously impede the development of pervasive computing. "Pervasive computing means that we would have to change our view of privacy," he maintains. Electronic waste, which is already a growing problem, could become even worse with pervasive computing, and thus necessitate a change in how waste is managed.
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  • "'Get Me Rewrite!' 'Hold On, I'll Pass You to the Computer'"
    New York Times (12/25/03) P. E8; Eisenberg, Anne

    Regina Barzilay of MIT and Lillian Lee of Cornell University have developed a computer program that can automatically paraphrase English sentences: The program culls text from online news services on particular topics, determines distinguishing sentence patterns in these clusters, and employs these patterns to generate new sentences that convey the same message with different wording. Potential applications for such a tool include report summarization, document checking for repetition or plagiarism, and a way for authors to automatically rewrite their prose to readers of different backgrounds, which Lee describes as a "style dial." Kevin Knight of the University of Southern California remarks that the program may even be able to help facilitate machine translation. Barzilay and Lee tested the program by having a computer categorize Agence France-Presse and Reuters articles according to subject, and then look for sentence clusters possessing similar words and phrases; the researchers used a genetic analysis technique to ascertain patterns within the sentence groupings, and these patterns were compiled through statistical testing. Once the computer is given a new sentence and instructed to paraphrase it, the sentence is compared to the sentence pattern database, and is revised through substitution of stored phrases. The researchers explain that the program is relatively competent at rewriting news service text, which is typically Spartan. "The writing the program used had to provide variation in wording, but not too much variation," Lee notes. Barzilay reports that the system performed well at paraphrasing short articles, but ran into difficulty with longer articles marked by more idiosyncratic prose.
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  • "What's In Store for 2004"
    ZDNet (12/21/03); Farber, Dan

    Dan Farber predicts that in 2004 companies will regret outsourcing their IT services in the hopes of cutting costs, as the schism between IT workers and management widens. Noting that an enterprise's internal business and technical knowledge is an essential advantage, Farber warns that companies are risking calamity by offshoring operations that are better handled internally, and recommends that firms considering offshore outsourcing deals should study Meta Group analyst Dean Davison's "Top 10 Risks of Offshore Outsourcing" first. He also comments that outsourcing's promised cost savings are often exaggerated. Farber writes that the penetration of wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi into mainstream consciousness in 2003 will lead to further developments in 2004: Wi-Fi connectivity will be embedded in most notebooks, speed will increase and security issues will be resolved as new standards emerge, and the accelerated adoption of voice-over-IP will lead to more handling of voice traffic by wireless local area networks. On-demand computing promises to lower IT solution delivery and maintenance costs, and Farber foresees that it will remain the chief topic of high-level conversations about strategic IT and business goals in 2004, while new products and programs will boost efficiency levels. He expects "automation" to become the dominant term for technological solutions that promise to address companies' chief concerns, and maintains that "2004 will be another year of laying the foundations for automation, providing an infrastructure to support automated configuration, patch management, provisioning and perimeter security." Systems capable of self-management and self-healing are also expected to advance, and Farber believes most business applications will be centered around Web services in a few years, meaning it will pay for enterprises to adopt a service-oriented architecture.
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  • "Unexpected Twists in Internet Law"
    CNet (12/23/03); Isenberg, Doug

    The Internet entered into strange legal territory in 2003 with the upset victory of file-sharing services, passage of a nationwide anti-spam law, and entrance of the Supreme Court into Internet law. Congress' Can-Spam Act of 2003 supercedes more than 30 state laws concerning spam but does not ban unsolicited email outright; meanwhile, pop-up advertising was ruled legitimate by at least three court decisions in 2003. Technologies used to filter spam and block pop-ups are becoming more effective and pervasive: File-sharing companies Grokster and StreamCast received a boost in April when a federal district court said their operation was not liable for users' illegal infringement of copyrighted material, unlike the centralized file-sharing service Napster. Congress also tweaked Internet domain names in 2003 by passing the Truth in Domain Names Act, which prosecutes site owners who hijack or use misleading Web addresses to garner Web traffic for illicit sites. The Supreme Court also weighed in on Internet law for the first time in 2003 by upholding the Children's Internet Protection Act that requires libraries to install porn-filtering software on Internet-connected computers in order to receive federal assistance for Internet connectivity. Internet taxes loom after Congress allowed the five-year moratorium on e-commerce tax to expire in November; meanwhile, a few large retailers agreed with 38 states to voluntarily begin collecting sales taxes on e-commerce sales in order to better integrate their online and offline operations, which had been separated in order to avoid sales tax payments. Looking ahead, the Supreme Court revisitation of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) in 2004 will perhaps be the most important legal issue for the new year. COPA requires Web content to meet "contemporary community standards" and could pose First Amendment threats.
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  • "How Do You Save Old E-Mails?"
    TechNewsWorld (12/22/03); Meier, Peg

    Librarians and archivists are pushing for the preservation of electronic data often in paper form, given the fact that computerized recordings deteriorate faster than paper, while rapidly changing technology outdates old data storage systems. Though these developments may prompt computer experts to regularly move information to new operating systems, casual emailers are unlikely to make such a dedicated effort--but many ordinary people want to hold on to electronic correspondence and other computerized records for sentimental value. For example, to preserve an archive of the long-distance Internet romance between him and the woman who would become his wife, Randall Michalicek has saved their correspondence both as a hard-drive file on his computer and as a paper print-out; his wife also printed out their emails and stored them at a relative's house. Craig Wright, curator of manuscripts at the Minnesota Historical Society, notes that his organization has been receiving more and more records in electronic media, and he holds workshops on organizing family papers. Though some people believe burning valuable documents onto CDs is one way to preserve important files, Wright points out that technological changes could make the data on those CDs inaccessible in a decade, much less a century. Meanwhile, University of Minnesota archivist Dave Klaassen stores his private correspondence both electronically and as printed records. On the other hand, certain librarians are concerned with being inundated by all the emails being generated by the "paperless society" that they would need to print out to preserve, especially since surveys indicate that a mere 3 percent to 5 percent of these messages have long-term value.
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  • "From High Tech to Mall Tech"
    Boston Globe (12/22/03) P. C1; Howe, Peter J.

    What was once cutting-edge research has become shopping-mall gadgetry: Fiber-optic cable, for example, delivered revolutionary telecommunications capabilities and now is showcased in three-foot-high Christmas trees whose needles emit multicolored light. The three-foot version tree is available for just $90, but uses cheap plastic fiber-optic cable that carries light from the base of the tree just far enough to reach the branch ends; by comparison, the super-thin glass strands used in long-haul telecommunications networks transmit 10 billion data pieces per second for 40 miles or 60 miles before having to be boosted again. If those high-end fiber-optics were integrated into the Christmas tree, the light emitted would be so intense it would burn people, says Corning vice president Dan Collins. Next-generation wireless Boxing Robots and Roomba robot vacuum cleaners are at the mall-end of the artificial intelligence and robotics technology spectrum. The toys and toy-like household tools are sold at the Sharper Image alongside RoboScout, a two-foot-tall robot servant that can record 15-second spoken memos and deliver drinks. At MIT Media Lab just a few miles away from the mall robots, Robotic Life Group director Cynthia Breazeal is working to push artificially intelligent robots into more practical uses, such as work assistants or healthcare orderlies; her group's aim is to make robots a long-term presence in people's daily lives. Other examples of once-vaunted technology making its way down the ladder is data storage, now available in 128 MB increments on a key chain or postage-size flash card. Enterprise Storage Group analyst Steve Duplessie notes that 40 GB used to be a sizeable amount 15 years ago but today is hardly enough to store just a few hours of entertainment.
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  • "DARPA"
    Esquire (12/03) Vol. 140, No. 6, P. 182; Junod, Tom

    The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) mission is to seek opportunities or "gaps" to solve problems that may be deemed impossible by conventional wisdom, and then bring in experts who are considering such problems and plant them in a brutally competitive atmosphere to get results. DARPA focuses on "high risk, high payoff" opportunities in which the best ideas are not only applicable to national defense, but can be extended to applications outside the battlefield, and that promise a boost in current capacity or a decrease in cost by at least one order of magnitude. One of DARPA's key lures to researchers is that, unlike other government agencies, the organization shields inventors and creators from political interference. DARPA also encourages radical innovation among researchers by indemnifying them from the consequences of their ideas. Among the projects DARPA is pursuing is the creation of undetectable and untraceable radios that operate on the frequency of 60 GHz, and the Walrus, an aircraft carrier-sized blimp to transport U.S. troops anywhere. Another area of research and development, initiated by DARPA program manager Alan Rudolph, is the creation of adaptive robots modeled after cockroaches, bumblebees, and geckos that could be used respectively as thought-controlled prostheses to aid wounded soldiers or amplify human strength, a bomb detection system, and enhanced climbing tools. Meanwhile, program manager Clark Nguyen challenged a think tank of classical physicists and microelectromechanical systems researchers to conceive a micro-scale atomic clock; their work has in turn spawned other R&D projects, such as the creation of a superefficient fuel cell battery. One of the most radical DARPA projects, headed by Lt. Cmdr. Dylan Schmorrow, envisions noninvasive "symbiotes" that enhance soldiers' brain functions as needed.

  • "The Anti-Video Game"
    Discover (12/03) Vol. 24, No. 12, P. 34; Johnson, Steven

    The brainchild of Corwin Bell and biomedical engineer Kurt Smith is "The Journey to Wild Divine," an interactive CD-ROM that can be used as a biofeedback system by immersing the user in a virtual environment that is explored and manipulated according to physiological cues of stress and relaxation. The tool involves sensors worn on the fingers to determine the user's state of awareness by measuring galvanic skin response and heart rate, and interacting with the artificial world of Wild Divine trains the user to change that state in order to solve puzzles and pass tests so that new areas of the game can be accessed. Conventional biofeedback systems have long promised a way to attain better self-control, but their reliance on uninspiring graphs to represent users' physical state, coupled with the bulkiness and cost of biofeedback equipment, has limited their usability. Wild Divine offers a relatively cheap and simple method for users to achieve equilibrium between the body's sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, which is a clinical description of the "heart breath" technique many Yogis espouse. "You have this ancient technology in yoga and meditation that dates back thousands of years, but being in the scientific paradigm that we're in, we want proof," explains Bell. "I felt that yoga and meditation were really important tools, but I still wanted that printout at the end of the session to show me what was happening to my body." Wild Divine's creators believe such a game allows people to regulate internal systems while saving them the bother of attending yoga classes or traveling to retreats. It also opens up the possibility of software tools that function according to the user's energy level and psychological state.
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  • "The Flexible Factory"
    Software Development (12/03) Vol. 11, No. 12, P. 30; Szyperski, Clemens; Messerschmitt, David G.

    Software creation generally falls into one of three development strategies--creating code from scratch, software reuse, and component assembly; the third option offers the most promise by creating, in essence, a software supply chain that improves quality-cost options in keeping with the accompanying shift of competition. Software components must possess five primary qualities: They must be multi-use, non-context-specific, composable with other components, impervious to modification (encapsulated), and units of independent implementation and versioning. Though components are more expensive to build and sustain than handcrafted or reusable modules, there are clear benefits, including minimization of defects and improved quality, application of component upgrades to multiple users even though the upgrade primarily serves one user, and a foundation for more flexible systems that can change to accommodate fluctuating demands. Economically, components are more likely to be bought outside, and offer more potential to boost software productivity than reuse. The similarity of software components to standard reusable parts could ignite the software equivalent of an industrial revolution, once certain problems are overcome. Challenges that need to be met include a movement away from the incorrect analogy between a software program and a hardware product; programs should not be through of as hardware products so much as flexible factories for such products. A rich and abundant marketplace for software components is gaining momentum, but is still in an early stage of development. Finally, an industrial software revolution has a better chance of taking place if conventional warranty, liability, and insurance policies are overhauled to handle software's quirks.
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