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ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either AutoChoice Advisor or ACM. To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.
Volume 7, Issue 809:  Monday, June 27, 2005

  • "Viruses, Security Issues Undermine Internet"
    Washington Post (06/26/05) P. A1; Cha, Ariana Eunjung

    The Internet is falling prey to a growing body of security threats, as the network with a billion users but no owner still relies essentially on a global honor system. "The Internet is stuck in the flower-power days of the '60s during which people thought the world would be beautiful if you are just nice," says Karl Auerbach, a computer scientist working actively to improve the security of the Internet. Increased security concerns and the growing feeling that the current Internet will never realize its promise are leading many to advocate a second look at the network, a so-called Internet 2.0. As the Carnegie Mellon CERT Coordination Center reported an increase in the number of vulnerabilities from 1,090 in 2000 to 3,780 in 2004, a unified response has been hindered by disputes over property ownership and profits. The Internet's architects never spent much time thinking of defenses to internal attacks, focusing instead on external threats, such as natural disasters, while ignoring the central threat the network now faces. As the number of users proliferates and hackers develop increasingly devious ways to attack Web sites and compromise security, some have speculated that instead of applying temporary patches, portions of the Internet will need to be rebuilt from the ground up. As current governing bodies exert only a tenuous regulatory authority over the Internet, there have been calls for turning control over to an established central organization, such as the United Nations. Amidst the scramble to define the next generation of the Internet, security remains the prime mover in a field of diffuse visions. Some companies are heralding "return addresses" for emails that would remove the mystery of a sender's identity, and others, such as the small academic coalition Internet2, advocate a compartmentalized Internet where users would convene in small groups created for very specific purposes, such as a chat room for parents of children on the same soccer team or some other easily-defined group that would deny access to anyone not of that community.
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  • "Java Faces Open-Source Swarm"
    CNet (06/27/05); LaMonica, Martin

    In an industry moving inevitably toward open-source sharing, Sun Microsystems holds a tenuous grasp on the Java language it created. At the upcoming JavaOne conference, Sun will unveil GlassFish, which provides non-open-source access to code along with another project of an unspecified name that will pertain to the Java Business Integration specification. Sun faces mounting competition from other software developers making bolder forays into the open-source field, such as BEA Systems that will announce the open-source frameworks Spring and Struts at the conference. The open-source push, designed to generate a higher-quality Java model through industry-wide collaboration, has left Sun on the outside looking in, according to some experts. "The convoluted way that Sun has managed the whole process has cost them a great deal with their reputation in the developer community," says analyst Dana Gardner. While Sun has consistently taken the stance that central control over Java ensures greater compatibility, Sun has made some concessions to the development community, such as the Mustang edition of the Java 2 Standard Edition, which enables the viewing of code as it is written. Even as developers warm slightly to Sun as the company relaxes its grip on Java, competitors are offering appealing alternatives such as integrated development environments (IDE), "frameworks" that accelerate Java programming, scripting languages, and even the LAMP combination stack. The Java Community Process (JCP), which regulates application programming interfaces, inhibits Sun's evolution in the market compared with open-source alternatives, says Exadel CEO Fima Katz. Katz says, "Sun is losing momentum. Because of the slow (JCP) process, people are frustrated."
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  • "NSF Seeks Broad Internet Research Agenda"
    Federal Computer Week (06/27/05) Vol. 19, No. 21, P. 54; Sternstein, Aliya

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is increasingly focusing on development of the next-generation Internet. Leading the effort will be Massachusetts Institute of Technology research scientist David Clark, the former head of the National Research Council Computer Science and Telecommunications Board who has led efforts to develop the Internet since the 1970s and who recently received NSF backing to study how computer scientists could design a new Internet architecture that would gain worldwide acceptance and address the security vulnerabilities of the current infrastructure. The NSF has plans to create a cyber infrastructure office that would be devoted to such issues, but funding constraints has put the plan on hold. Nevertheless, the agency plans to solicit proposals for a next-generation Internet architecture this fall. Already, the NSF's focus on Internet research has yielded big results. The National Archives and Records Administration is working closely with the agency on the $500 million Electronic Records Archives project designed to make government records available on the technology of the future, whatever that may be. Robert Chadduck, research director for NARA's ERA project, says experimentation is a key focus, while "all work presumes Internet access." Meanwhile, network design and developing a new, more secure network architecture has become a key focus for computer researchers. An NSF-funded workshop that included Clark, Princeton University computer science professor Larry Peterson, and others, produced a report calling for more federal research into network architecture.
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  • "Building Strength in Computer Science"
    AAAS (06/24/05); Lempinen, Edward

    In order to keep the U.S. technology workforce strong, computer science needs to be marketed to students in such a way as to claim back its eroding popularity and the exclusionary trend that has kept women and minorities out of computer-related fields must be reversed, concludes a new study from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and funded partially by the National Science Foundation. These "non-traditional" students, many of whom are older and have families, often face discrimination in the academic world, as insensitive instructors and a skewed financial aid system hold them back while white males retain the predominant position in the field. Computer science as a whole, though, has suffered a 60 percent decline in interest in the four years since 2000, according to a recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. Schools such as DeVry Institute of Technology and Strayer University have emerged as an alternative to conventional colleges, boasting the most computer science bachelor's degrees in 2001. The alarming contrast between IT's growing importance and declining interest, particularly among women and minorities, has industry experts scrambling for solutions. The report cites greater faculty diversity, expanded investment in schools that cater to non-traditional students, and increased financial aid.
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  • "SIGGRAPH 2005 Panels Discuss Future of Computer Graphics & Interactive Technology"
    Business Wire (06/23/05)

    The Panels program has been finalized for the upcoming SIGGRAPH 2005, the 32nd International Conference on Computer Graphics & Interactive Techniques being held July 31 to August 4 in Los Angeles. The conference will provide a forum for industry experts to "discuss everything pertinent pertaining to computer graphics and interactive techniques," said Jill Smolin, SIGGRAPH 2005 Panels & Special Sessions chair. Among the scheduled panels, "Believable Characters: Are AI-Driven Characters Possible, and Where Will They Take Us?," seeks to pin down the source of success of the most realistic game characters. Daniel Goldman of the University of Washington will moderate a panel outlining the influence academic research wields on animated production techniques. A related panel that Michelle Riel and Helen Thorington are slated to moderate will discuss the reciprocal influence between art and technology. Gil Irizarry of Conoa, Inc. will moderate a panel assessing the open source movement and the effect that sharing code with developers across the industry has had on the graphics community. The conference, sponsored by ACM SIGGRAPH, is expected to draw almost 30,000 professionals throughout the interactive technology and computer graphics fields from around the globe. "These conversations help forge new direction as well as enhance understanding--all in a cooperative, respectful, and positive environment," said Smolin.
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    For more information on SIGGRAPH, or to register for the conference, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2005/.

  • "New Software Changes Wireless Technology Functions on Demand"
    NASA News (06/23/05); Lorentz, Katie

    Researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland have built a test-bed for the low-cost development of software defined radio (SDR), a next-generation of wireless technology that will give wireless devices the ability to perform new functions on demand. The test bed will facilitate partnerships in the field and allow NASA to provide seed funding for new technologies. In SDR, which NASA will use to transmit data rather than sound, the transmitter modulation is created by a digital signal processor to produce digital signals that are converted to "analog" and then sent to the transmitter's antenna. Signals are recovered with a computer. SDR will allow gadget makers to install a generic radio chip into electronic devices so that they can later be "educated" to perform tasks for which they were not originally created. NASA wants to use the technology to educate satellites. "Many of the current satellites were developed with a fixed set of data rates and modulations, so they can only talk to the ground or the space network," says SDR technologist Jason Soloff. "SDR would allow us to switch between a ground network and a space network with simple uploads, making the satellite or instrument much more flexible." Thus, a network of satellites could be programmed to give a more complete picture of a specific scientific event or two satellites could be taught to share data. Soloff envisions the first spaceflights incorporating SDR taking off within three to five years.
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  • "Deafblind Slate 'Senseless' Tech"
    BBC News (06/27/05); Adams-Spink, Geoff

    A new survey conducted by the British charity Sense polled the deafblind community and found that nearly half of the respondents reported trouble using common technologies such as remote controls, mobile phones, and washing machines. Common complaints highlighted the ongoing reduction in the size of phones and the small print of instruction manuals, both of which pose difficulties for the blind, as well as inattentive service when shopping for electronics. While the deafblind are a relatively small group, their insight offers the potential for a broader application to the much larger community of those afflicted with only one of the conditions, according to Lucy Drescher and Nick Southern, authors of the report. "Technology that works well for them will also work well for millions of people with either hearing or sight impairments." Citing the increase in this demographic brought on by an aging population, Sense endorsed simple steps such as canvassing the deafblind community for design advice, incorporating assisting tools such as larger buttons and prominent color contrasts, and placing larger, easier to read screens on devices such as mobile phones.
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  • "Microsoft Pushing Spam-Fighting System"
    Associated Press (06/22/05); Jesdanun, Anick

    Despite the fact that Microsoft's spam-fighting technology Sender ID delivers about 10 percent of legitimate email messages to junk folders, the company announced plans to become more aggressive at rejecting mail sent through company or service providers not registered with the Sender ID system by the end of this year. The system requires that ISPs, companies, and other domain name holders submit their mail servers' unique IP addresses, so the Sender ID system can verify emails were sent from those particular IP addresses, but only about 25 percent of email currently has the necessary Sender ID data. The Internet Engineering Task Force disbanded its Sender ID task force last September amid patent disputes, but nevertheless encouraged Microsoft and others to continue developing their spam-fighting systems. The Direct Marketing Association's Jerry Cerasale believes Microsoft's move is "a necessary step to protect both corporate brands and consumer confidence." Microsoft's Craig Spiezle acknowledged that some critics of the Sender ID system are concerned about disruption of mail-forwarding services or "send to a friend" links. Spiezle asserts that Microsoft is monitoring the situation to prevent any such disruptions.
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  • "'Bionic' Arm Brings Back Sense of Touch"
    Chicago Tribune (06/23/05); Kennedy, Kelly

    Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago director Todd Kuiken has invented a prosthetic arm capable of giving its wearers the sense of feel. The device has been tested on Jesse Sullivan, a former lineman for a power company who lost his arms after grabbing a live high-tension wire. By pulling out the four main nerves used to connect the arms and fastening them just under the skin on the chest, Kuiken was able to recreate the sensation of feeling in the mechanical hand. The prosthesis has a computer in the forearm wired to the hand and a "plunger" device on his chest. The hand sends signals to the plunger through the wires, thus pushing the skin and simulating the nerves in Sullivan's chest to simulate sensation in the hand. If one of the mechanical hand's fingers is touched, Sullivan can feel it and identify which finger it was. He can even sense hot and cold and, with the incorporation of six motors, can put on his hat in one movement just by thinking about it. The new arm is still in the experimental stage of development, but Kuiken expects to have Sullivan use it by the end of the year. It has cost about $100,000 to make in parts alone. The Rehabilitation Institute has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to fit a woman veteran with a prosthetic arm. It was also awarded $5 million from the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust to establish the Searle Program for Neurological Restoration. Institute researchers expect to help patients control wheelchairs though brain/computer interaction and to communicate by typing messages with thought. Kuiken wants to develop a prosthetic leg that would allow amputees to "feel" when they take steps.
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  • "Warp Speed for Wireless Networks"
    BusinessWeek (06/21/05); Kharif, Olga

    As new technologies for wireless networks race to speeds significantly faster than Wi-Fi, a gold-rush mentality has created a fiercely competitive market that, having yet to agree on even the most basic standards for the future, will provide users with a dizzying array of options. While technologies such as Intel's new WiMax seeks to overtake Wi-Fi, the battle is also on for the future of short-distance connectivity, as at least six alternatives to Bluetooth are in the works. However, next year's debut of 802.11n is poised to increase current Wi-Fi speeds tenfold, so supplanting its market share will not be easy. "Because Wi-Fi was so popular, it takes away a lot of the demand for other technologies," says analyst Allen Nogee, citing its user-friendly simplicity. MIMO, a radio technology popular among cellular networks, is one contender in the battle to overtake Wi-Fi. MIMO promises high-quality, cell network video, and may be an alternative to Ethernet connections, said Airgo CEO and MIMO inventor Greg Raleigh. Still, WiMax's 30-mile network capacity may give it an edge in sparsely populated settings. In the short range market, ZigBee technology, supported by Freescale and Analog Devices, may win out as it supports a wide spectrum of household applications, such as remotely transmitting readings from a utility meter and powering a home theater system. The one hope for cooperation in the market may be efforts such as Intel and Freescale's initiative to fuse multiple technologies onto a single chip. Still, companies such as Dell, among others, remain cautious, and are opting to wait to see which technologies drop off before they choose the one to endorse.
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  • "Adding a New Dimension to Television"
    IST Results (06/23/05)

    IST-funded Advanced Three-Dimensional Television System Technologies (ATTEST) has developed a three-dimensional television display that eventually may enable home viewers to feel as if they are right in the center of a movie. To accomplish the feat, a range camera was converted into a broadcast 3D camera, algorithms were developed to convert existing 2D video into 3D, and coding schemes were created within current broadcast standards to permit the transmission of depth data. But to get 3D-TV into the home, project coordinator Marc Op de Beeck of Philips Research in Holland explains, "all parts of the video chain (content generation, coding, transmission and display)" must be "optimized to one another" and be available concurrently. Under ATTEST, two 3D displays have been created, offering free positioning within an opening angle of 60 degrees and based on head tracking to project appropriate views. Op de Beeck says ATTEST proves that glasses-free 3D-TV is now possible technically, and its commercial introduction could happen in a few years. Initially, he says "2D and 3D-TV will co-exist," which means that 3D-TV technology "has to be compatible with the 2D-TV systems available today."
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  • "Report: Tech Jobs Rise on East Coast"
    CNet (06/23/05); Frauenheim, Ed

    Technology-related job postings are up 26 percent to 69,957 on Dice.com so far this year through June 1, 2005, according to the online recruiting company. Three East Coast markets had the strongest gains: Philadelphia, New York, and Boston metropolitan areas, which experienced increases of 41 percent, 38 percent, and 36 percent, respectively. New York led all markets with 8,644 job postings, followed by Washington, D.C., with 7,592, Silicon Valley with 6,355, Los Angeles with 4,480, and Chicago with 2,991. Philadelphia had 2,888 job listings, and Boston had 2,257. Demand for .NET programming skills grew the most at 52 percent, followed by HTML at 38 percent, and XML at 37 percent. However, the demand for Perl fell 12 percent. Reports about the tech jobs market, including a recent report from staffing firm Robert Half Technology, have been largely mixed, with some calling for improving job prospects in the months to come, and another noting the impact of further automation and offshoring.
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  • "The Big Picture"
    TheFeature (06/23/05); Pescovitz, David

    Fours Initiative CEO John Poisson, who spent two years as head of Sony's mobile research and design division in Japan, says that camera phones could revolutionize communications if only their utilization would catch on among the public. As it stands, they are now used mainly to capture an experience and relay that experience to a friend or family member. But the multimedia messaging services (MMS) interface on most cameras has hampered widespread adoption of camera phones as communications devices. Rather than giving an instant messaging-like experience, sending photos over cell phones is often a complicated task. Poisson says the MMS on most phones is "user-hostile," and often does not easily allow for adding such things as music or icons or providing avenues for feedback. He says, "It's simply a send mechanism and not a communication mechanism. That ignores the very nature of what this mobile device is." The pay-per-use model employed by many service providers further hampers adoption, taxing not only the sender of a photo but also at times the receiver. Carriers are trying to lock-in customers through unlimited picture messaging when they should be focusing on making the experience more fun and simpler. Poisson's company is developing software and services to allow people to use camera phones as "media-powered communication." He says, "Principally, the idea is not just about sharing photographs, but sharing experiences."
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  • "Patent Reform Hits the Hill"
    Tech Central Station (06/21/05); DeLong, James V.

    The tech industry has its hands full in trying to get Congress to make injunctions more difficult to obtain, as lawmakers take up the issue of reforming the patent system, writes James V. DeLong, director of the Center for the Study of Digital Property at the Progress & Freedom Foundation. Intel, Apple Computer, Oracle, and the Business Software Alliance are leading the effort, and have persuaded Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the IP subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, to add to H.R. 2527: "In determining equity, the court shall consider fairness of the remedy in light of all facts and the relevant interests of the parties." Smith introduced the bill last week, and it also encourages district courts to stay the enforcement of any injunction pending appeal of the case. Patent reform legislation seeks to lower patent costs, particularly litigation costs, address "patent quality," and strengthen patent rights. Lawmakers are unlikely to side with the tech industry, considering several associations of IP owners, the pharmaceutical industry, an increasing number of companies that specialize in creative innovations, and universities want to protect the enforcement of patent rights. Smith plans to move his bill, which has a good chance of passing, to markup by the end of June.
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  • "Real-Time Speech Translation Decreases Language Barriers and Improves Communications in Iraq"
    United States Joint Forces Command (06/20/05); Colaizzi, Jennifer

    The U.S. Joint Forces Command has responded to its shortage of military linguists in Iraq by turning to real-time language translation technology. American soldiers at military checkpoints have been given one-way phrase-based handheld computers equipped with speech-to-speech translation technology that provides an audible oral translation and verifies the process by producing a written translation on the screen of the laptop. USJFCOM says the technology, which translates English to Arabic and Arabic to English, has applications in force protection, medical, training, and civil affairs, including house and vehicle searches. "It comes in handy when [warfighters] proceed from house to house and ask questions like, 'do you need medical attention?'" says Air Force Col. Michael Nowlin, speech translation program manager for USJFCOM. Nowlin says the software works with modern standard Arabic, and that problems can arise when military personnel come in contact with people in smaller communities who speak a regional dialect. USJFCOM has had to spend more time collecting phrases and adding the nuances of the dialects to the multiple databases used by the speech-to-speech translation technology.
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  • "Flying High With Virtual Airways"
    New Scientist (06/18/05) Vol. 186, No. 2504, P. 46; Scott, Phil

    Synthetic Vision Systems (SVS) is the latest phase of NASA's Aviation Safety and Security Program, aimed at reducing fatal aircraft collisions with other aircraft and with terrain. SVS hinges on the largest, most detailed map ever created, generated about five years ago using radar mounted on the space shuttle Endeavor to record the topography of 80 percent of the Earth's surface to a resolution of 30 meters. With the addition of realistic color and reference points such as railways, rivers, and cities, NASA created a three-dimensional map of most of the globe. This map can be stored on a server aboard an aircraft. SVS takes GPS measurements accurate to within three meters twice a second and enhances the data with information from a craft's inertial navigation system to calculate a plane's precise position, altitude, and direction. Integrating the data with the map, the system displays a clear digital recreation of the view ahead on a screen viewable by the pilot, regardless of fog, clouds, or time of day. SVS also indicates optimum flight paths and approach routes for landing and picks up transmissions from other aircraft equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast technology to avoid collisions. The system's Runway Incursion Prevention System provides digital maps of every major airport within 30 centimeters along with taxi routes. SVS has been piloted in real flights, sometimes with the windscreens covered. NASA expects to have it fully operational by 2006.
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  • "Electric Transformation"
    CITRIS Newsletter (06/05) Vol. 4, No. 4; Shreve, Jenn

    A multidisciplinary team of researchers affiliated with the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) is developing a system that will enable Californians to automatically adjust their electricity consumption levels in response to shortages in the state's electrical supply grid. California is planning to charge more for energy consumed during peak hours, and demand-response enabling technology will alert residents when electricity prices are high so they can reduce their power consumption. The system will consist of sensor nodes; a self-learning user interface; radios that send and receive data between an external meter, the thermostat, and the nodes; and a wireless network that facilitates communication between these various components. Researchers involved in the project include principal investigator and mechanical engineering professor Paul Wright, whose team plans to embed "energy scavenging" technology within the system to minimize battery consumption. The intuitive user interface is being co-designed by architecture professor Edward Arens of UC Berkeley's Center for the Built Environment, who says ease-of-use is essential to the system's success. He says the interface's simplicity will be comparable to a traffic light's, with colored lights representing variable rates for electrical consumption. Berkeley computer science professor David Culler is developing the network that connects all of the system together, while the Berkeley Wireless Research Center headed by Joe Rabaey is developing the Pico Radios that will be used to send data between devices. The system will be piloted this summer in three California residences and in a built-to-scale model on the UC Berkeley campus. Wright expects his team will spend the next few years shrinking the technology's size and price to incorporate it into homes throughout California.
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  • "T-Engine: Japan's Ubiquitous Computing Architecture Is Ready for Prime Time"
    IEEE Pervasive Computing (06/05) Vol. 4, No. 2, P. 4; Krikke, Jan

    Japan's T-Engine is a ubiquitous computing architecture that is arguably more advanced than any other platform in the world, supporting software resource distribution, tamper-proof network security, and standardized hardware. Developers can use T-Engine to quickly construct ubiquitous computing solutions from commercially available products, including four standard T-Engine boards: Standard T-Engine for smart phones and other portable information gadgets; Micro T-Engine for devices with relatively basic user interface functions (home electronic appliances); Nano T-Engine for small home electronic appliances; and Pico T-Engine for the smallest ubiquitous computing components (valves, sensors, switches, etc.). T-Engine owes a debt to the wildly successful ITRON real-time operating system for embedded systems, an offshoot of computer architect Ken Sakamura's TRON Project. To overcome problems stemming from ITRON's "weak standardization," the T-Kernel real-time operating system is controlled by the T-License, which lets developers modify the code for specific technologies. The Ubiquitous ID (UID) Center, a sibling of T-Engine, supports the framework for embedded electronic tag management through ucode, a multicode tag that automatically identifies data stored in RFID chips, bar codes, smart cards, and electronic tags incorporated into virtual entities; the center's Ubiquitous Communicator reads ucode tags and retrieves relevant data from the database server. Personal Media (PMC) claims its support for T-Engine is helping boost demand for products such as the Cho Kanji multilingual environment, and PMC's Nobuyuki Kashiwa attributes T-Engine's popularity to its open architecture and eTRON security. T-Engine technologies are finding use in an intelligent house from Toyota spotlighted at the Nagoya Expo, while Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport is shepherding the testing of a UID Center project to "tag" sites.
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