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Volume 7, Issue 803:  Monday, June 13, 2005

  • "College Students Continue to Shun Computer Science"
    SearchCIO.com (06/08/05); Tucci, Linda

    UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute estimates that the percentage of incoming college students interested in studying computer science fell 60 percent between fall 2000 and fall 2004, and is now 70 percent below its peak in the early 1980s. The percentage of prospective female computer science majors fell 93 percent since its 1982 peak, having dipped 80 percent between 1998 and 2004. Jay Vegso with the Computing Research Association (CRA) says the numbers of students declaring computer science as a major can be deceptive, noting that "the other thing that is going on is the rise of IT in other majors and these programs are not tracked very well." Chairman of Boston University's computer science department Azer Bestavros acknowledges a significant decline in computer science graduates over the last several years, but claims this fall-off is somewhat offset by the higher quality of incoming students in 2004 and 2005. He partially attributes the high numbers of students entering computer science in the late 1990s to the field's reputation as an easy path to a lucrative career, and the waning demand for tech jobs subsequently cooled ambitions among incoming students. Bestavros says this was a generally positive development for both the industry and the profession. "The bubble made it too easy for a workforce that was not up to par," he explains. Both Bestavros and the CRA concur that student enrollment in computer science is tightly intertwined with the economy, given that economic growth is driven by technology.
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  • "Fields of Learning Theory, Machine Learning Grow Together at University"
    University of Chicago Chronicle (06/09/05) Vol. 24, No. 18; Koppes, Steve

    The University of Chicago recently played host to workshops on learning theory and machine learning, two disciplines that are increasingly intermixing, according to Toyota Technological Institute (TTI)-Chicago professor John Langford. The learning theory workshops involved the sharing of ideas between mathematicians, statisticians, and computer scientists on the mathematical properties of evolutionary processes, and one workshop emphasized the evolution of language. Computer science professor Partha Niyogi says language evolution illustrates the transmission of knowledge through learning instead of inheritance. "You actually have to learn [your parents'] language not just from data provided by them, but also data provided by many other language users in the community in which you are immersed," he explains. The learning theory workshops were organized under a $2.2 million National Science Foundation grant awarded to Niyogi and TTI-Chicago professor Stephen Smale. The two-week-long Machine Learning Summer School involved the participation of around 100 students and represented a collaborative initiative between TTI-Chicago and the university's computer science department. The field of machine learning focuses on teaching a computer to learn from experience to carry out tasks that people can perform, but at substantially less cost. Niyogi says learning theory and machine learning have many mathematical foundations in common, and both the Machine Learning Summer School and the learning theory workshops represent the culmination of the three-month Program in Learning Theory and Related Areas organized by the university's computer science department and TTI-Chicago.
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  • "Report on DHS Cybersecurity Initiatives Expected Next Month"
    National Journal's Technology Daily (06/08/05); Albanesius, Chloe

    Before the end of this month, the Homeland Security Department (HSD) will release an update to its cybersecurity response plan that further maps the cyberdefense capabilities of the department and determines what capabilities need alignment with the Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), according to HSD acting director Andy Purdy, who recently spoke at a National Information Security and Privacy Advisory Board meeting. Purdy says the department is increasingly working with Internet service providers and forming other public-private partnerships with the aim of improving cybersecurity. Purdy says the most effective means to improve cybersecurity is for increased efforts from users, software manufacturers, and hardware manufacturers to ensure a reduction of cybersecurity risks. Although domestic cybersecurity is the agency's top priority, Purdy says international cybersecurity efforts are also underway. The National Cyber Response Coordination Group will release a similar update in July with the goal of urging federal agencies to take more action on cybersecurity issues.
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  • "Roadcasting: A Potential Mesh Network Killer App"
    Technology Review (06/05); Hellweg, Eric

    Five students in Carnegie Mellon University's Human-Computer Interaction Institute Masters Program have developed a working software application for roadcasting, a concept that integrates mesh computer networking, personalized digital music, and open-source software to give motorists a new in-vehicle entertainment experience. Roadcasting software lets users create playlists, or personal radio stations, and store them on stereo hard drives; the music drivers listen to on their playlists will be broadcast and available for reception by any other vehicle equipped for roadcasting. A motorist dissatisfied with his music can lock on to other roadcast stations that match his or her preferences using the software's collaborative filtering features. The success of roadcasting hinges on the advancement of mesh networking technology, and JLH Labs CEO Jason Hill is confident that "automobiles absolutely lend themselves to mesh networks." A representative for General Motors says the company sponsored the roadcasting project, but the software's release into the open-source community means that anybody can develop it for commercial use. Roadcasting project manager Megan Shia says the developers assumed that mesh networking protocols would be available by the end of the decade. The developers are also confident that the project falls within current licensing parameters. "I'm under the impression that if our sponsor were to employ this for commercial use, there'd be a BMI fee," says project leader Whitney Hess.
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  • "Robots Dance, Play at World Robot Expo in Japan"
    Associated Press (06/09/05); Kageyama, Yuri

    A wide variety of prototype robots on display at the World Expo in Japan illustrate their potential as tools for entertainment, care-giving, lifesaving, and information processing, although researchers say safe and reliable public use is several years away. The most human-like robot at the exhibition is the Repliee Q1expo: The machine, which is covered by a skin-like material, simulates breathing and can pretend to look as if it is reacting to approaching people. Developers believe Repliee could be a progenitor of robots that sell tickets and help elderly people navigate streets, for example. Many of the robots are designed as communications aids, an example being a videophone-like device that displays a 3D image of the caller on its face and mimics the caller's movements with its mechanical arms. Another robot can hit baseball pitches of up to 100 mph thanks to a vision system that processes 1,000 images per second, and Hiroshima University professor Idaku Ishii thinks the robot not only has enormous potential as a training tool for baseball players, but as a super-fast device for processing data. The slithering Kinshachi Robot swims like a fish, and Ryomei Engineering says it is designed to monitor bridge safety and collect information for fishing while in the ocean. Among the entertainment-oriented robots at the expo are a pair of humanoids programmed to perform a slapstick comedy act, and a teddy bear that moves its arms and nods its head in time to the sound of a human voice, which developers claim can help children communicate with adults.
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  • "Summer Students Bring Professor's Ideas to Life on the Web"
    AScribe Newswire (06/10/05)

    The Knapp Instructional Technology Summer Internship program at Wellesley College gives students an opportunity to put their computer skills to work, and helps professors offer a better learning experience in the classroom. Nine students at the all-women's college in Wellesley, Mass., have been selected for the program out of 50 applicants this year, and they will work 35 hours a week to bring the classroom-learning dreams of professors to life. For example, professor Jack Chen, who teaches an introductory course on Chinese cultural history, used the program get an interactive Web page with maps that show how the Chinese landscape has changed over time, an image database, and timelines that would generate excitement from his students regarding about 3,500 years of literature, politics, intellectual history, and culture. Professors will start selling their ideas to the interns this week, and ultimately 15 technology projects will be accepted, and will be worked on from June 22-Aug. 12. Interns do not need to be highly skilled with computers, although graphic arts and a writing background may give them an advantage, because they are provided with preliminary training. The program offers female students an opportunity to explore a career in Technology; participants have gone on to work in digital media at Microsoft, and to perform Web design for a bank.
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  • "Flocks of Flying Bluetooth Bots"
    The Feature (06/09/05); Pescovitz, David

    Roboticists at the University of Essex plan to present a scientific paper on their efforts to combine swarm intelligence and cluster computing during the 2005 IEEE Swarm Conference in Pasadena, Calif., this week. The project involves the development of a wireless network of a swarm of miniature unmanned air vehicles (UAV), which use Bluetooth to become one powerful supercomputer as they fly in the sky. The UltraSwarms, which are flocks of UAVs that are about the size of a shoebox, could serve as a distributed monitoring tool in the years to come, providing a way for gathering data from the sky on military surveillance missions, highway traffic, and crowds at major events, and a way for relaying the information to a command center. The current prototype makes use of gumstix embedded platforms equipped with Bluetooth, and computer modules that also use Intel XScale processors, which are found in Linux smartphones. Rather than have a single UAV on a military reconnaissance mission pass over an area several times gathering video and then send the data to a remote command center for speedy analysis, the cluster of UAVs would collectively process the data as a supercomputer. "An UltraSwarm could do the processing in the air instead of sending it to the ground and waiting for the results," explains project collaborator Renzo de Nardi, a Ph.D. student at Essex.
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  • "Indian Scientist Develops New Tech for Data Transfer"
    Siliconindia (06/05)

    MatrixView Technologies in India has developed a new compression technique that offers huge improvements in data transfer and management. Adaptive Binary Optimization (ABO), using simple repetition coding, can capture and store large volumes of data and images at lower processing power, and transmit the data to another location using lower bandwidth connectivity, and without any "loss" of data. "In this ABO technology, we maintain a binary index to store the original location of the data when we do the rearrangement and coding," explains Arvind Thiagarajan, an engineer in electronics and communication who co-founded the company. "At the decompression stage, we can bring back the original data since we had already indexed the location." He used the ABO technology on images from a hospital in Singapore to achieve 35 times lossless compression, compared to four or five times and a level of data loss with JPEG and MPEG, and 2 GB of space instead of 60 GB was needed. The technology, which has patent applications pending, could boost productivity by at least 40 percent for doctors and lower costs for their offices and patients.
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  • "Microsoft Research Awards New Faculty Fellowships for 2005"
    Campus Technology (05/27/05)

    MIT computer science and computer graphics professor Fredo Durand is among the 2005 winners of faculty fellowship awards from Microsoft Research University Relations. Durand will receive a cash grant of $200,000 for his work involving realistic image synthesis and computational photography, in which he focuses on how humans respond to their visual environment and what makes a picture stimulate an observer. "Beyond the computer graphics community, I think that the impact of my work will lie at the interface between vision and graphics," says Durand. "Our work on computational photography is the convergence of computer vision and computer graphics, with exciting cross-fertilization between these two fields." Other first-, second-, and third-year professors awarded for their promising computer science research include University of California, Berkeley's Dan Klein, who is designing systems that automatically detect linguistic structure to learn language; and Harvard University's Radhika Nagpal, who applies biological systems' collective behavior to self-organizing and self-repairing systems. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Wei Wang, who focuses on data mining for bioinformatics applications, and Georgia Institute of Technology's Subhash Khot also were award winners.
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  • "Nature Spies"
    Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA) (06/09/05); Bowles, Jennifer

    Computer scientists and biologists have outfitted 30 acres in the James San Jacinto Mountain Reserve with an array of automated sensor devices in order to gather more environmental data faster and with less impact on the ecosystem. Most of the sensors use wireless technology, and some cameras with robotic controls are even mounted on cables between trees so that scientists can observe a larger area. Some cameras are submerged underground, monitoring root growth, while others are focused on local acorn woodpeckers' favorite trees in an effort to decode those animals' communications. Small sensors are spread throughout the area to detect environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, and even how cool night air filters into the mountain valley, which James Reserve director Michael Hamilton says is crucial to triggering seedlings to sprout, for instance. The sensor projects are funded by the National Science Foundation and administered in part by the University of California, Los Angeles' Center for Embedded Network Sensing. The researchers at the center see the James Reserve systems as testbeds for new sensor technologies, but ecologists say the continuous feeds of information are dramatically accelerating scientists' knowledge of that ecosystem. It would take years to gather similar data because scientists have to trek up to the valley and bring back samples to study; now they can simply monitor subjects via the Internet and observe plants and animals in their natural state. The information is crucial to determining "hot moments," such as points when the forest's existence is endangered by pollution or an invasive plant species is poised for massive growth, says Hamilton.
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  • "New Standards for Voting Equipment in Development"
    County News (06/06/05) Vol. 37, No. 11, P. 3; McLaughlin, Alysoun

    The implementation deadline of January 1, 2006 for satisfying the voting equipment standards mandated by the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) is an unrealistic goal for many states, according to the Information Technology Association of America's Michael Kerr at a May 25 hearing of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC). Updated voting systems guidelines and standards that the EAC and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) were commissioned to submit by Jan. 1, 2004, are still under development because of funding and staffing problems, and NIST has said that a new re-draft of standards will not be ready before Jan. 1, 2006. Both the EAC and NIST have promised to give state and local officials guidance in their struggle to meet the HAVA requirements before the deadline. NIST submitted a document to the EAC on May 9 that enhances the 2002 voting system guidelines and emphasizes new accessibility and security standards, as well as rules for assessing printer technology that produces a voter-verifiable paper trail. These recommendations will be made available for public comment and approval for a three-month period once the EAC sends them to the Federal Register for publication, but counties do not have the time to wait for finalization before deciding what voting technology they will buy, raising the risk that the equipment will not comply with revised standards that may not be released until sometime next year. Among the solutions proposed at the recent EAC hearing was a two-year delay of the HAVA deadlines so that counties can wait until the voting system standards are finalized to make equipment purchases. The most workable solution seems to be incorporating language into federal appropriations legislation that bans the Justice Department from using its funding to enforce HAVA provisions requiring states and counties to buy new voting technology.
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  • "Automatic Source Code Review Is Development Tools' Next Frontier"
    eWeek (06/06/05) Vol. 22, No. 23, P. D6; Coffee, Peter

    Automatic source code review, in which a programmer's work is compared against an expanding archive of coding standards, is increasingly necessary for those with the responsibility of equipping development teams. Managers should make an effort to include convenient customization and extension of rule bases within the criteria, and target clear and consistent support for coding standards as an overall goal, writes Peter Coffee. Developers and large development teams are increasingly codifying richer and more expansive volumes of knowledge and practice to facilitate fast and precise authentication by automated tools. The National Institute of Standards and Technology's Software Assurance Metrics and Tool Evaluation (SAMATE) project is one initiative software tool purchasers can refer to. Last month the SAMATE engineers issued a project plan that considers the potential application of automated tools at various points in a software project's life cycle, with a particular emphasis on the "assessment, auditing, and acceptance" stage. Source code scanning products listed on the SAMATE site--some open source and some proprietary--address varying degrees of standards compliance. Coffee says development managers should be mindful of Perl programming expert Teodor Zlatanov's advice in "The Road to Better Programming" that "a programmer shouldn't be required to follow precise code guidelines to the letter; nor should he improvise those guidelines to get the job done."
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  • "OASIS to Tackle SOA Definition"
    SD Times (06/01/05) No. 127, P. 1; Lee, Yvonne L.

    A new Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) committee is tackling the definition of service-oriented architecture (SOA) in order to facilitate more detailed cooperation on specialized SOA implementations. Another OASIS committee, the ebSOA technical committee, was unable to create architectural patterns for SOAs in electronic business because committee participants had different, sometimes conflicting, definitions of SOA, says Adobe Systems senior software strategist Duane Nickull, who is chairman of the new SOA Reference Model (SOA-RM) committee. The SOA-RM group will identify the components of SOA and describe their relationship, similar to how car parts and their relationship are understood. "You would say that a drive shaft is connected to the axel by the universal joint," says Nickull as an example. Besides helping the ebSOA committee, the common view will help organizations understand what they need for SOA and help vendors target those needs.
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  • "Internet Security...Writ Very Small"
    Network World (06/06/05) Vol. 22, No. 22, P. 1; Messmer, Ellen

    Iowa State University researchers have developed a version of the Internet in microcosm to be used as a cyber-defense test bed, according to computing professor and project leader Doug Jacobson. The Internet-Simulation Event and Attack Generation Environment (Iseage) was funded primarily by a $500,000 grant from the Justice Department, which has promised an additional $700,000 for this summer. Iseage, which resides on a high-speed LAN, was used by students engaged in Iowa State's Cyber Defense Competition last month. The contest involved teams who defended Web sites running on Windows, Unix, and open source operating systems against security professionals representing hackers. Iowa State student and winning team member Sean Howard says the battle waged on Iseage imparted the experience of defending a corporate network. Jacobson says simulating the complexities of real-life cyberattacks is commercially desirable; "Our goal is to have [Iseage] as a point where organizations can test security paradigms," he explains. Iowa State will permit organizations to use Iseage to model their networks with defense in mind, for an as-yet undisclosed fee. It is also expected that the state of Iowa will employ Iseage to assess its network's resiliency against various cyberattack scenarios.
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  • "The Looming Threat of Pharming"
    InfoWorld (06/06/05) Vol. 27, No. 23, P. 39; Leon, Mark

    Pharming exploits the requirement that all URLs must be converted into IP addresses via the domain name system (DNS), and the hacker who successfully "poisons" a DNS server will cause that server to respond to an authentic URL request with a bogus IP address. Upon arriving at the phony site, the victim enters an ID, password, and personal identification number, only to receive a pop-up window that claims the password is invalid; the victim then re-enters the data, by which time he has been sent back to the real site, unaware that his account is now open to the hacker. Security experts and analysts agree that the most effective deterrent against DNS poisoning is to ensure that one has the latest DNS software and security patch updates, and they recommend that users running Berkeley Internet Name Domain (BIND) should upgrade to Version 9, which is more or less immune to poisoning compared to earlier iterations. "If you lock down all your servers and make sure they are only pulling off root cache servers, it is going to be very difficult for a hacker to pharm you," says TraceSecurity CTO Jim Stickley. SANS Institute analyst Johannes Ullrich cautions that this do-it-yourself strategy entails a lot of work, given the complexity of maintaining the DNS. The IETF's decade-old DNS Security (DNSSEC) protocol is acknowledged by many experts to be the ultimate defense against pharming, because it facilitates the encryption and signing of DNS data. However, Ullrich says this solution is impractical, a conclusion echoed by Burton Group analyst Dan Golding, who describes DNSSEC as "horrendously complex." He also notes that the inherent difficulty and cost of pharming is such that the number of pharming hackers should be relatively small, though Stickley says the presence of vulnerable DNS servers ensures that pharming will explode, sooner or later.
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  • "The Hum and the Genome"
    Scientist (06/06/05) Vol. 19, No. 11, P. 15; Blackman, Stuart

    The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom is busy expanding its computing infrastructure in order to keep up with the exponential increase in genome sequencing data, which has thus far yielded about 1.2 billion bases from the human genome sequence alone. "We're falling behind in the ratio between computing growth and the actual raw data that we're generating," says Sanger head of database services Martin Widlake. The institute's sequencing center currently manages 300 TB of storage, but IT director Phil Butcher expects petabyte capabilities will be necessary in perhaps three years' time. Sensibly organizing the data so that the load does not become unbearable is another challenge, one made difficult by expanding volumes of stored imaging data and increasing miniaturization and speed of hardware. The expansion will involve four new computer rooms that increase the present capacity more than twofold: IT hardware will reside in three rooms, and the fourth will be used to test and install new equipment as old systems are phased out. The rooms will support scalable cooling to deal with the rise in heat output generated by faster and more numerous machines. Cost-saving measures include the falling price of hardware, contiguous with a planned transition from proprietary to commodity hardware as well as a shift from a closed-source 64-bit operating system to open-source Linux.
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  • "Mobile Media: Making It a Reality"
    Queue (05/05) Vol. 3, No. 4, P. 38; Kitson, Fred

    Fred Kitson with Hewlett-Packard's corporate research labs details two prototype mobile media applications--personal context-aware mobile services that tap radio frequency identification (RFID) technology and an interactive mobile gaming system--and goes into the system and software issues that must be resolved in order to make commercially practical mobile media systems a reality. The challenges of the first prototype, dubbed the inHand platform, included managing the resolution and association of RFID tags with products; determining the effective use of user profile data; and keeping content succinct and to the point. Issues that arose while implementing the Multiplayer Game Service Platform for third-generation mobile networks and context-aware games included deployment of the gaming service user interface and whether additional gaming services such as chat should be external or internal. The various issues complicating the implementation of the prototypes stem from the complexities of creating, receiving, and securely delivering media anywhere, which must be overcome to fully realize mobile media systems. Problems challenging media creation include those related to indexing, searching, and retrieving content as well as facilitating VoIP and other conversational services with an 802.11-linked PDA. Media delivery schemes, meanwhile, must address issues ranging from cost to rapid response time to supplying a wide content selection to deciding what content to cache. Ensuring secure end-to-end media delivery involves figuring out how to maintain media encryption downstream. Kitson's solution is secure transcoding, in which content is encrypted at the sender and decrypted only at the receiver.