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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


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Volume 7, Issue 804:  Wednesday, June 15, 2005

  • "Are Security Threats Really Overhyped?"
    IDG News Service (06/13/05); Gross, Grant

    Gartner principal analyst Lawrence Orans and Gartner vice president John Pescatore recently released a report of the top five most "overhyped IT security threats." The list includes attacks on IP telephony and mobile devices, because warnings about such attacks are significantly ahead of any great risk. Orans points out that eavesdropping on IP telephony, one of the overhyped warnings, is almost impossible since attackers must be inside the building and have access to the corporate LAN. Consultant Tom Grubb agrees that pointing out overhyped security warnings is valuable, because the attention might divert enterprises away from more serious cybersecurity issues; Grubb believes the Gartner analysts were merely saying that IP telephony security is not as important right now than other forms of security. However, AT&T managed security services vice president Stan Quintana disagrees with the Gartner inclusion of IP telephony on its overhyped list, because enterprises should protect all of its IP telephony technology due to pending threats. In terms of mobile malware attacks, the likelihood that an attack will spread and cause significant damage is unlikely, but security vendors are continuing to hype mobile security applications. Orans and Pescatore's list also includes fast-moving worms, since they are not likely to do much damage when enterprises use virtual private networks (VPNs); wireless hotspots, since VPNs also protect corporate data transferred using one of these locations; and the intense focus on regulatory compliance as key to security when in fact most of the recent regulations are not focused on IT security.
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  • "Building a Computer-Readable Web"
    IST Results (06/14/05)

    The Web Service Modeling Framework (WSMF) created by researchers working on the IST Semantic Web Enabled Web Services project is overcoming the problem of automated query and analysis of Web page data. "The idea is to enable software applications to carry out a complete instruction such as, say, searching for a person on the Web, finding him, and then obtaining further details from subsequent queries," explains Holger Lausen of the Innsbruck-based Digital Enterprise Research Institute. The goal of the project, which concluded in February, was to enable "reasoning machines" to accomplish such tasks without the need for distinct manual instructions. WSMF consists of four main components: ontologies to provide the appropriate terminologies; objectives to define the problems to be solved; Web service descriptions to define service aspects; and mediators to bypass inter-operability issuers. Project partner Hewlett Packard developed a prototype Web-based shipping management application under the framework to coordinate segments of its multi-party shipment process. The application allowed HP computers to communicate with those of different couriers to coordinate each part of the shipment process. An application that balances funds across different client accounts was developed for the financial sector, while another partner is working on a unique Web consulting tool under WSMF.
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  • "DARPA Assailed for Cutting Back Support of Basic Computing Research at U.S. Universities"
    Today's Engineer (06/05); Reppert, Barton

    The computing research community jas joined forces in criticizing the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for reducing funding of basic, open-ended, "blue-sky" computing research at colleges across the country. In a joint statement to the House Committee on Science for a May 12 hearing, the ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee and five other organizations said "we are concerned about DARPA's diminished role in supporting computing research and the impact that it will have on the field, DARPA's mission, and the nation as a whole." The committee staff received a report that showed that DARPA computer science funding for universities fell 42.5 percent from fiscal year 2001 to fiscal year 2004, from $214 million to $123 million. At the same time, the National Science Founding has provided more funding for computing research through its Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Directorate. The cut back in funding is a dramatic shift in the historic role of government in supporting such research, according to Russ Lefevre, vice president of technology policy activities for IEEE-USA. Lefevre says the recent Science editorial co-authored by ACM President David A. Patterson and the University of Washington's Edward D. Lazowska stresses the importance of the issue. They write that the "policy changes at the agency, including increased classification of research programs, increased restrictions on the participation of non-citizens, and 'go/no-go' reviews applied to research at 12- to 18-month intervals, discourage participation by university researchers and signal a shift from pushing the leading edge to 'bridging the gap' between fundamental research and deployable technologies."
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    For more on the hearing, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/weblog/index.php?p=278#more-278.

  • "European Commission Mulls Who Should Govern the Internet"
    Out-Law.com (06/07/05)

    The European Commission has published a 13-page communication that calls for a new cooperation model for Internet governance, but does not get very specific about a role for ICANN. "Existing Internet governance mechanisms should be founded on a more solid democratic, transparent, and multilateral basis, with a stronger emphasis on the public policy interests of all governments," says the paper. The new model would include governments, the private sector, civil society, and international organizations, but not replace "existing mechanisms or institutions," and the paper does not discuss how ICANN would function in such a structure. The EU Telecommunications Ministers are scheduled to address the paper on June 27, 2005. The communication comes ahead of the second World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunisia in November, when a working group will report on the issue of Internet management. Other than the decision to set up the committee, parties were unable to reach many agreements on the issue at the first WSIS gathering in Geneva in December 2003. Developing nations tend to favor control in the hands of an international body, while developed countries want to be more directly involved in regulatory activities.
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  • "Grey Matter, Blue Matter"
    Economist (06/09/05) Vol. 375, No. 8430, P. 75

    IBM and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) of Switzerland are collaborating on an effort to reproduce the human brain using computers. In a project expected to take two to three years to complete, the two will work to build a simulation of a neocortical column of the human brain using IBM's Blue Gene/L supercomputer. The neocortical column contains about 10,000 nerve cells that when placed side by side (there are about 1 million of them in the human brain) comprise the "gray matter" of human intelligence. Under the project, a single individual processor will be programmed to replicate a single individual nerve cell in a column. The EPFL's Brain Mind Institute will contribute its database on the workings of the neocortex, the columns' natural habitat and the section of the brain responsible for learning, memory, language, and complex thought. Biologists and computer scientists will use the information garnered from the database to connect the artificial nerve cells in a way that mimics reality, giving electrical properties to each and telling them how to communicate. The task is tremendous given that every human nerve cell has about 10,000 connections. After this project is completed, the researchers will work to develop more columns and get them to interact with each other, and on a micro-level, to simulate the molecular formation of the brain and look at the impact of gene expression on brain function. If Moore's Law holds true, IBM believes the entire brain can be simulated within 10 to 15 years.
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  • "How Computers Make Our Kids Stupid"
    Maclean's (06/06/05) Vol. 118, No. 23, P. 24; Ferguson, Sue

    A growing body of evidence suggests that excessive use of computers and the Internet can impair children's learning faculties by distracting them from homework, encouraging compulsive behavior and superficial thinking, and supplanting live student-teacher interaction. Analysis of the results of the OECD's PISA international standardized tests by University of Munich economists Thomas Fuchs and Ludger Woessmann finds that teenagers with the greatest access to computers and the Internet both in school and at home score the lowest. The economists believe the best level of classroom computer and Internet use should fall somewhere between "a few times a year" and "several times a month." An e-learning-supportive document from the British Department of Education and Skills says home computing can positively affect learning, but only if students integrate such practices with school experience. However, the same report indicates that few students successfully combine these pursuits, partly because teachers have no direct control over students' after school activities. Fuchs thinks regular use of computers at school can be detrimental to the reading literacy of students, since the development of reading skills is so reliant on interaction between students and teachers. Todd Royer, faculty chair of the Toronto Waldorf School in Canada, says computers are not introduced to students until Grade 9, by which time they should have cultivated a sense of character strong enough to use the technology in a responsible way. He is particularly concerned that students possess the critical ability to draw distinctions between legitimate information and irresponsible online content such as hate propaganda.
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  • "Internet Founders Honored With Computing's "Nobel""
    San Francisco Chronicle (06/11/05) P. C1; Kopytoff, Verne

    The ACM bestowed its highest honor upon Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn at its annual banquet held last weekend in San Francisco. The ACM's 2004 A.M. Turing Award, the computing industry's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, was given to Cerf and Kahn for their innovative efforts to develop technology that allows computers to share information. The duo is credited with developing Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) in the 1970s, technology that formed the backbone of the Internet, email, and instant messaging. ACM executive director John White says, "There is a lot of talk about who did what with the Internet. There's no doubt that they did a lot of the backbone." The $100,000 award will be split by Cerf and Kahn, who also have received the Charles Stark Draper Prize from the National Academy of Engineering in 2001 and the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1997. Kahn says, "Something like the Internet didn't just happen whole cloth. We worked on top of a lot of other people."
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    For more on the ACM's A.M. Turing, and this year's recipients, visit http://www.acm.org/awards/taward.html.

  • "Making IT Women-Friendly"
    Baltimore Sun (06/14/05) P. 1C; Patalon, William III

    Over 250 women from over 20 nations have descended in Baltimore, Md., this week to attend a symposium put together by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's Center for Women and Information Technology. The symposium's goal is to establish a five-year initiative to help women across the globe obtain greater access to, and leadership in, information technology, in both the business world and the public policy sector. Claudia Morrell, director of the center, says, "We're looking at achieving some very concrete actions." The symposium working group would like to have a leading presence at the World Summit on Information Society, set for November in Tunis. A recent study revealed that enrollment of women in computer science between 1998 and last year declined by 80 percent, versus a 32 percent decrease for men and women combined. Although the dot-com disintegration explains part of the drop, researchers think the numbers underscore the frustration women feel about cultures that are frequently less than open to women in technical sectors. In the coming decade, women will comprise most of the new entrants into the domestic workforce, the National Science Foundation reports.
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    For information on ACM's Committee on Women n Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Microsoft Research Aims to Ease Development"
    IDG News Service (06/13/05); Ribeiro, John

    Microsoft Research India in Bangalore is developing new technology that will make it easier for software developers and systems integrators to add new features or modify functionality in enterprise business applications. The effort, called the Rigorous Software Engineering project internally, seeks to define a system at a higher level of abstraction and generate code from it, which would allow modifications to business requirements of applications to be done at a higher level so that code does not have to be directly modified. "Our goal is to move up the process entirely to a level of abstraction where the programmers will express what they need to do at a level closer to the application domain, and there will be tools that will enable them then to translate it downward to the level of verification and testing," explains Padmanabhan Anandan, managing director of Microsoft Research India. "Ultimately we think that if all goes well, there should be a dramatic increase in the productivity and maintainability of the software." The project also seeks to develop tools that will offer a look into systems and how they operate at abstract levels, and improve documentation of design rules and thought processes in their development. Microsoft adds that developers and SIs would not have to spend as much time on programming at the level of languages. The first prototypes are expected to be built around Microsoft platforms.
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  • "Scheme Promoting IT Jobs to Girls"
    BBC News (06/14/05)

    The South East England Development Agency is funding a program that seeks to encourage girls to pursue IT-related careers. The Computer Club for Girls (CC4G) is a government initiative designed to educate school girls that IT jobs are not exclusively for boys. The program is being introduced to 3,600 schools across England, but will also be taught in community centers and other venues. Participants will be able to engage in a variety of computer-based activities, including mixing music and creating a fashion show. The agency hopes the program, which will target 150,000 girls age 10 to 14, will cause them to view IT-related fields with a different mindset. Currently, women comprise just 20 percent of the technology workforce. CC4G's Ruth Kelly says, "It is absolutely vital that we take every opportunity to help girls recognize the relevance and attractiveness of careers in science and technology." Agency head Pam Alexander says the next challenge is to extend the program from "14-years onward."
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  • "Somehow, Usenet Lumbers On"
    Boston Globe (06/13/05) P. C3; Bray, Hiawatha

    Usenet, founded in 1979 at Duke University and the favorite online hangout for computer buffs for years, is making a comeback after being overwhelmed by spam and piracy since America Online made it easily accessible in 1993. Usenet, a type of peer-to-peer network, is a system comprised of thousands of online bulletin boards each dedicated to a different subject. The boards' messages are kept on thousands of computers that continuously update one another. A user can post a message to a bulletin board and his Usenet server transmits a copy to all other servers. In the meantime, the user's server gets all of the messages sent to all the other servers on the network. Usenet has a large advantage over Web logs and Web-based bulletin boards in that it is permanent. Google, for instance, maintains an accessible index of essentially all Usenet postings. Usenet's leading drawback is that it is often inundated by piracy, with file traders swapping movies and music by employing special software to breaks up the illegal files and encode them in a usable format. In fact, today Usenet handles over 2 terabytes daily, much of it is movie and music files. However, other Usenet services are more admirable, such as Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional program, which supports free online technical support. The company began its MVP program in 1993, and now there are 2,800 volunteers answering technical questions in exchange for some free software and other perks from Microsoft. Microsoft is now slowly moving some MVP resources off of Usenet, but many other Usenet-based tech support options are also available.
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  • "Sun Builds a Fortress for Scientists"
    SD Times (06/01/05) No. 127, P. 14; Lee, Yvonne L.

    Sun Microsystems is developing a technical language called Fortress that is envisioned as a successor to Fortran, although the new language will not be ready for at least another five years. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is helping fund the development of Fortress in the hope that the language will ultimately produce technologies for government and industrial applications. In April of this year Guy Steele Jr., Sun fellow and principal investigator for the programming languages research group, introduced the Fortress language at the Sun Labs Day. Steele said that Fortress will make extensive use of libraries, thus making the language "growable" and flexible. "Whenever we're tempted to add a feature to the language, we ask ourselves, "Could this feature be provided by a library instead?" Steele said. He explained that Fortress will be similar to Java in that it compiles application components into platform-independent bytecode before runtime while interpreting parts of the application at execution. The language will attempt to be a leader in the field of symbolic programming of equations, and Steele predicts that scientists and mathematicians will be more productive by making programs resemble equations.
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  • "Xen Getting Multiprocessor Support"
    CNet (06/13/05); Shankland, Stephen

    Version 3.0 of XenSource's Xen software will likely undergo testing this month and could be ready for release in August or even sooner, according to company founder Ian Pratt. Xen is a type of software known as a "hypervisor," allowing multiple operating systems to run on a single computer to access computer resources. Whereas previous versions of Xen permitted operating systems to use just one processor, Xen version 3.0 differentiates itself by allowing operating systems to access multiple processors. The software will also support Intel's Virtualization Technology (VT) and, eventually, AMD's Pacifica. Updated versions of Xen 3.0 will receive additional improvements, Pratt said, including faster networking links among different virtual machines and a "shared buffer cache" that will allow individual partitions to access data faster by sharing a processor's high-speed cache memory. Pratt says Xen will likely be able to support VT and Pacifica in a single version, and Intel is helping make this proposal a reality, says Jun Nakajima of Intel. "We are evaluating this proposal and will work on enhancing the VT-x code to provide the right level of abstraction to support other VT-x-like technologies," says Nakajima. Analyst Gordon Haff says Xen is still relatively immature, explaining, "We'll be able to say it's truly mature when it gets rolled into enterprise Linux distributions and has all the ancillary command and control tools."
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  • "Poker-Faced"
    Los Angeles Times (06/12/05); Menn, Joseph

    Computer software handed chess legend Garry Kasparov his first professional loss and rewrote 2,000 years of strategy in backgammon, but can it conquer poker? The answer, say experts, is yes but not now and maybe not in the near future as well. Next month, Las Vegas will host the "World Series of Poker Robots." The $100,000 top prize is being offered by GoldenPalace.com of Antigua. Already, "robots" are playing online poker, much to the consternation of the $8 billion online gaming industry, but software capable of consistently winning against the good players has not yet been developed. Poker, unlike the other games that have been mastered by software, relies largely on human behavior and recognizing that behavior. Thus, while it is possible to program odds, rules of betting, and even the bluffing behavior of known players, the betting behavior of new players is impossible to predict. The trick is to develop a program that can pick up on behavior before a strong human opponent is capable of picking up on the robot's behavior. Meanwhile, even the mid-level poker players of today can beat the best software out there.
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  • "Internet Piracy Sails On"
    Washington Post (06/13/05); MacMillan, Robert

    The Supreme Court is soon expected to issue a decision in the MGM vs. Grokster case, a ruling that will have ramifications for the file-sharing and recording industries and the issue of Internet piracy. In advance of the ruling, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has issued a report claiming that file-sharing networks could be a good way to distribute music and that file-sharing networks are not solely to blame for the problems facing the recording industry. The OECD's report takes the position that there is no casual connection between decreasing music sales and the increasing popularity of file sharing. The report acknowledges that music industry revenues dropped 20 percent from 1999 to 2003 but points to illegal CD copying and other factors as potential culprits. Responding to the report, International Federation of the Phonographic Industry spokesman Adrian Strain said that the OECD fails to recognize the overwhelming number of peer-to-peer services that are infringing upon copyrights and the extent of the damage sustained by the recording industry as a result. Meanwhile, a recent report from the NPD Group states that increasing numbers of people have "large video files" on their home PCs. And an article for the Boston Globe written by Forrester Research publisher Jimmy Guterman candidly details how easy it was for Guterman to download and view a copy of the most recent Star Wars film in late May.
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  • "Software a Sight for Sore Eyes"
    SiliconValley.com (06/13/05); Ha, K. Oanh

    IBM's Web Adaptation Technology software permits people with impaired vision and disabilities to control Web pages to meet their needs. The software can recite out loud what is on the page, enlarge text, block distracting screen backgrounds or animation, and make the keyboard simpler to use. The technology is being introduced as well for use by kids with learning disabilities and physical problems. IBM implemented Web Adaptation Technology three years ago at SeniorNet Centers throughout the United States. In early 2005, the software was placed on the Web download. IBM provides free access to the technology via its nonprofit partners and is dispensing the software through 40 partners in 13 nations. There are 10,000 users of the technology, and IBM intends to make it available to even more people.
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  • "The Future Starts Here"
    Popular Science (06/05) Vol. 266, No. 6, P. 55; Davis, Jill; Stroh, Michael; Keats, Jonathon

    Popular Science spotlights several research projects with stunning potential as future technologies. The RoboCoaster envisioned by Gino De-Gol aims to take a time-honored thrill ride to a new level by enhancing a traditional roller coaster with virtual-reality simulation and videogame-like interactivity. The RoboCoaster track would be enclosed within a series of domed theaters onto which virtual scenes are projected, while patrons would ride the track at the end of an articulating arm; visitors could select the experience that most appeals to them, and later be able to interact with the simulation as in a videogame. A holographic video-projection system has been demonstrated by University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center researcher Harold Garner, who intends to refine this concept into holographic television. Garner came up with the idea to fire a laser at a digital micromirror device programmed to reflect a series of 2D interference patterns, which disrupted the laser light in such a manner as to reflect a 3D hologram; he is now developing 3D TV with the use of a display consisting of layers of microthin LCD panels that can be made transparent or dark when electrically charged. University of Southern California electrical engineering professor Armand Tanguay Jr. is developing implantable retinas to help blind people see better with funding from the U.S. Energy Department and the National Science Foundation, but his long-term goal is to implant a camera behind the pupil that would beam an image to an external digital image processor, which would in turn feed the image to an electrode array fixed to the retina that then stimulates the nerves to produce sight. Architects Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake's SmartWrap could pave the way for infinitely customizable residences by printing micro-components for climate control, lighting, and power generation onto clear polymer walls.
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