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Volume 7, Issue 849:  October 3, 2005

  • "In Challenge to Google, Yahoo Will Scan Books"
    New York Times (10/03/05) P. C1; Hafner, Katie

    The goal of the Yahoo-led Open Content Alliance (OCA) is to digitize hundreds of thousands of books and technical papers and put them online for anyone to access. The project stands to rival Google's effort to create a searchable archive of library collections, but without running the risk of copyright violation, because the OCA will initially concentrate on digitizing works in the public domain. Furthermore, the alliance is seeking permission from copyright holders and is making works available via a Creative Commons license, where the copyright holder sets usage conditions. In another break from the Google project, OCA's digitized works will be accessible to any search engine. Among the organizations and institutions participating in the OCA is the Internet Archive, which will perform the actual digitization and archival of books. The University of California, meanwhile, will contribute up to $500,000 to the project in its first year and scan 5,000 volumes of early American fiction initially; an additional 5,000 to 15,000 volumes will be scanned within the next year. "Our approach is very collection-focused, to seed meaningful collections and get other libraries around the world to do the same," says UC California Digital Library librarian Dr. Daniel Greenstein.
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  • "Pointers to an Era of Easy Computing"
    Financial Times (09/30/05) P. 11; Taylor, Paul

    The recent Demo conference showcased technologies designed to ease information access and manipulation, a sign that tech innovators are striving to satisfy users' demands for more usability. One such technology was the latest version of ActiveWord Systems' InkPad software, which lets PC and tablet PC users initiate application programs, go to Web sites, or find info by typing or writing a user-defined keyword. United Keys highlighted a keyboard outfitted with function keys with miniature LCDs that could be programmed to operate with specific software applications, while Pie presented a desktop device that automatically detects any devices connected to a wired or wireless home network and then fixes, updates, and configures them when necessary. EZ Systems' Everdesk application combines email and file management so users can manage email alongside files stored in Windows folders. Talkplus' Mobile Call Manager, touted as the first cellular voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service in the world, supposedly enables subscribers to make VoIP calls with existing phones without the need for a broadband network. Meanwhile, Always-On Wireless' WiFlyer+v is a mobile communications hub that offers wireless networking and VoIP to both home users and business travelers. Also spotlighted at the conference were technologies described by Demo executive producer Chris Shipley as "really big ideas," among them: U3's SmartDrive, a USB technology and software development kit.
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  • "AJAX Gives Software a Fresh Look"
    CNet (10/03/05); LaMonica, Martin; Ricciuti, Mike

    Several companies are working to send ripples throughout the PC software market with AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript+XML), a suite of standardized development methods that promises to bring Web pages experientially closer to desktop applications in terms of interactivity and functionality. Analysts say AJAX-style applications can be hosted outside a corporate network and can operate on any operating system. Furthermore, the applications are accessible from multiple locations as well as handheld devices or PCs, while advocates say the Web approach's built-in data backup and update mechanism could simplify business application administration. Besides easier management, a Web-based architecture's advantages to IT administrators include a common security system, according to Zimbra President Scott Dietzen. He says perhaps the architecture's most significant aspect is its ability to enable his company to integrate email and other applications in unique ways. It is doubtful, however, that AJAX will unseat Microsoft as the dominant applications provider. Industry executives note, for example, that the development tools for writing AJAX-style applications lack the sophistication of those for other programming languages.
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  • "Microsoft Woos Hobbyist, Child Programmers"
    IDG News Service (09/30/05); Montalbano, Elizabeth

    Microsoft's Coding4Fun Web site was started by product manager Daniel Fernandez and another engineer "to rejuvenate the hobbyist market," which Fernandez feels became underserved in recent years as the company concentrated on enterprise software. The site, along with the upcoming Express Edition of Microsoft's Visual Studio development toolset, is designed to attract hobbyist and child programmers to the Windows operating system. Microsoft is courting third parties through Coding4Fun to supply content that will encourage hobbyist developers to build new applications using the .Net Framework and Windows, says Fernandez. The site showcases Kid's Programming Language (KPL), a new development language designed to supplant BASIC as the language children start programming with. Coding4Fun stresses KPL's goal to "make it fun for kids learning to code." Fernandez says Microsoft envisions KPL as an easy way to get children started in programming, and an easy transition to Visual Studio Express, which shares many similarities with KPL's development environment. JavaLobby founder Rick Ross thinks the impetus behind Microsoft's attempts to woo programmers to Windows before they enter a formal science program is Java's replacement of C++ as the first programming language students learn in school.
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  • "Grant Allows IU to Process Larger Data"
    Indiana Daily Student (09/30/05); Wilson, Mike

    Indiana University has been awarded a $1.72 million National Science Foundation grant to build a data capacitor as a temporary storage receptacle for massive amounts of data awaiting analysis by supercomputers. The size of data sets analyzed by the IU supercomputer is limited by the computer's storage capacity, but the capacitor will allow vast chunks of data to be transferred into the supercomputer, permitting more information to be recorded and saving time for researchers, according to IU's Craig Stewart. With the capacitor, "researchers of many disciplines will be better able to draw from their data the information and meaning it contains," said IU vice president for research Michael McRobbie. Stewart also noted that IU will be able to participate more extensively in the NSF's TeraGrid project to build a national supercomputing cyber-infrastructure thanks to the data capacitor. He said the experimental capacitor will be up and running for the spring semester.
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  • "Microrobots Show Promise in IT, Security"
    Dartmouth Online (NH) (09/28/05); Beale, Matt

    Dartmouth researchers have developed the smallest mobile, untethered robot in the world after seven years of effort. The microrobot is a mere one-tenth the thickness of a single human hair, and can crawl like an inchworm and be steered without being connected to a power source. The device walks on a grid of electrodes that serve as both power supply and control mechanism, and it lacks wheels or joints because they are unworkable at such a tiny scale. The research team was awarded a grant by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Domestic Preparedness to develop the microrobot for possible security applications such as identity verification and information protection. Dartmouth computer science graduate Igor Paprotny envisions a group of people who each carry a vial of microrobots as a means of identification. "They each spread some on a substrate and enter a PIN or something," he explains. "If we're all who we say we are, the microrobots assemble into a key, or message that, say, gives you the code to activate a nuclear weapon." The microrobot was created through cooperation between Dartmouth's computer science and engineering departments.
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  • "Global R&D to Reach $1 Trillion in 2006"
    E-Commerce Times (09/27/05); Mello Jr., John P.

    Worldwide research and development spending will reach $1 trillion next year, according to a new survey from Batelle and R&D Magazine, with the Asian region responsible for much of that growth. The survey credits increased offshore outsourcing, particularly in the United States, as a key driver of the Asian region's expanded R&D activity, although Batelle research scientist Jules Duga notes that internal investment is also playing a significant role. The survey finds the United States still has the lead in terms of gross R&D spending, which is expected to total $312.2 billion this year, compared to China's R&D outlay of $125.49 billion and Japan's $123.33 billion investment. However, the U.S. portion of global R&D spending is expected to slip from 32 percent in 2005 to 31 percent in 2006. Concurrent with this will be an upward trend in Chinese global R&D spending from 12.8 percent this year to 13.6 percent next year. "The major reason that the U.S. relative share is going down is not because our spending is going down, but because other people's is moving ahead," Duga explains. He lists Korea and Singapore as other hot Asian R&D markets, and calls electronics, pharmaceuticals, specialty chemicals, and communications the premiere sectors for R&D investment. The survey projects that the rapid R&D growth in the Asian region will continue for five to 10 more years.
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  • "Grid Project Lends a Hand to Katrina Victims"
    Grid Computing Planet (09/27/05); Shread, Paul

    Local police and fire departments, hospitals, schools, and relief organizations in areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina are using portable networking technology from the World Wide Consortium for the Grid (W2COG) for communications. W2COG can create a mobile network where there is no existing infrastructure, using mobile satellite communications gear, 802.11, and technology from companies such as Cisco, Microsoft/Groove, Radiant, and Skype. The international organization has set up the Internet backbone and communications network in Bay St. Louis, Miss. The technology is making it easier for entities such as the police and fire department, the National Guard, and non-governmental agencies to collaborate, says W2COG executive director Chris Gunderson. A year ago, W2COG used its portable technology to aid in the tsunami relief effort.
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  • "Location System for Wireless Sensor Networks"
    Basque Research (09/27/05)

    A new algorithm for determining the position of each node of a wireless sensor network is the subject of a thesis by Jagoba Arias Perez, who is in the department of electronics and telecommunications at the University of the Basque Country. Wireless sensor networks offer the benefit of having a network remain up and running when one sensor fails because another sensor will take over the function until the issue is resolved. Sensors in such networks are not installed in the circuit itself but in autonomous circuits, which allows for distributed control and measurement. Organizing cooperation between the numerous nodes participating in the operation of a wireless sensor network is a challenge because the location of each node and the geographic organization are not known. The algorithm calculates the best estimate of the position of the node, taking into consideration the economic viability of a wireless sensor network with respect to the low cost needed for design and production of nodes. It also enables each node to automatically calculate its own location and ultimately aid in fixing a position.
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  • "Cornell Researchers Receive $2 Million Federal Grant for Computational Social Sciences Project Using Web Archive"
    Cornell News (09/28/05); Aloi, Daniel

    The National Science Foundation has awarded a $2 million grant to a team of Cornell University researchers to develop "cybertools" that can distill and analyze information from massive data repositories for computational social science research. The project ultimately aims to aid statistical and observational analysis of social and information networks, using the Internet Archive as its key data source. As one of the project's initial goals, 200 terabytes of data will be transferred from the Internet Archive to a Cornell computer server. The cybertools research is a component of the Institute for the Social Sciences' 2005-08 interdisciplinary theme project, entitled "Getting Connected: Social Science in the Age of Networks." The cybertools will be used to map the spread of innovation in its various manifestations, such as new technologies, fads, social and business practices, fashions, markets, opinions, norms, and urban legends. Data will also be taken from Web logs and interactive community databases, which record interactions with an exacting amount of detail. Other social phenomena the project will focus on include how social norms evolve and how opinion becomes polarized in evolving networks.
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  • "With Friends Like These, Who Needs Actual People?"
    WFAA.com (09/30/05); Landers, Jim

    Japanese companies are investigating the possibilities of robotic companions for Japan's growing elderly population, concurrent with young people's declining willingness or ability to care for the aged. Honda and Toyota, for example, are developing a humanoid robot that can walk, talk, answer questions, play music, or use the Internet. Honda's Yuji Hatano says a humanoid, bipedal form, as opposed to a wheeled or multi-limbed form, is easier to for people to accept. Honda has spent two decades developing Asimo, a robot that can walk, run, climb steps, dance, and navigate via sensors and cameras. Sony's Qrio is a small humanoid that can recover from falls, talk in Japanese, and pitch baseballs. Dallas Personal Robotics Group President Dale Wheat believes the Japanese labs' emphasis on friendly, humanoid robots is partly underlined by a national fear of technology reinforced by films such as "Godzilla" and "The Terminator." "We Americans would design something based on what it needs to do, but the Japanese have a different perspective," Wheat explains. "It's cheaper for them to buy security-guard robots than to hire security guards because of the population pressures."
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  • "Ubuntu Carves Niche in Linux Landscape"
    CNet (09/30/05); Shankland, Stephen

    In the competitive Linux marketplace, the Ubuntu project has managed to attract a sizable following since its inception two years ago, thanks almost entirely to Mark Shuttleworth's funding of Canonical and the Ubuntu Foundation. The third version of Ubuntu, known to developers as Breezy Badger, is due out Oct. 13, and will support the Linux Terminal Server Project that caters to the education community; a configurator will ease the installation of add-ons and a customized version for computer makers. Shuttleworth has insisted that Ubuntu remain in a single, supported version that is freely available, instead of following the industry trend of offering one widely supported version for a fee and another, largely unsupported, version for free. Competition in the Linux space is stiff, as Ubuntu is up against established outfits such as Red Hat and Novell in vying for the attention of the splintered development community. Although Hewlett-Packard and VMware have incorporated Ubuntu in some of their latest products, it is still lacking widespread commercial support. Ubuntu grew out of Debian, though it has not joined the Debian Common Core Alliance, an initiative that seeks to make various distributions based on that platform compatible. In some ways, Ubuntu is a victim of its own success, as the global support it enjoys often pulls the project in different directions, as a vibrant user base brims with ideas that cannot all be implemented simultaneously. The introduction of a KDE user interface offers an alternative to the GNOME default, which has become increasingly important as Ubuntu grows into a more universal distribution.
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  • "Development Study: Haste Makes Waste"
    Computerworld (09/23/05); Hayes, Linda

    A recent study has found that increased funding has little impact on the overall quality of a project. Qualitative Software Management's estimation product, known as SLIM, provides an empirical analysis of a variety of projects addressing IT, real time embedded systems, and engineering. Offering accurate project estimation has been a long-standing but elusive goal of the software industry. In repeating a study it had conducted in 1996, SLIM confirmed that the delivery difference between a large team and a small team was only 12 days; that result came partially because large teams created more than six times the number of errors as small teams. Large teams failed to deliver significant improvements in cost, time, or quality, widely recognized as the three major metrics of software development. The SLIM study confirmed the theory that adding more resources to a project yields diminishing returns. The efficiency of small teams is fostered by an atmosphere of intimate collaboration, and the information produced does not take as much time to sink into each member of a smaller team. The diminishing quality stems from the absence of a holistic view of the project when it is broken down into compartmentalized segments and distributed to each member of a large team; this approach can lead to errors and complications that arise from cobbling together bodies of code written by different authors not in communication with each other.
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  • "Cornell Vehicle Will Try to Drive 175 Miles of Rough Terrain Without Human Control for a Prize of $2 Million"
    Cornell News (09/27/05); Steele, Bill

    Cornell University's entry into the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) 2005 Challenge is "Titan," a Spider Light Strike Vehicle equipped with a GPS system, inertial and attitude sensors, light detection and ranging sensors, stereoscopic vision, and an artificial intelligence decision system that maps out the vehicle's immediate surroundings. This year's DARPA Challenge is a 175-mile off-road race between unmanned vehicles in Nevada; the vehicles will have 10 hours to complete the course without any human assistance, navigating rough desert terrain and avoiding natural and man-made obstacles. The builders of the vehicle that finishes the race first within the allotted time will win $2 million, but the route the vehicles must follow will not be disclosed until the beginning of the race on Oct. 8. Titan's decision system can choose what path to follow and sends commands to the mechanisms controlling the engine, transmission, and brakes, and it can also perform three-point turns and get out of dead ends. Titan's AI thinks faster than the vehicle moves thanks to donated Opteron server computers, and the AI can also monitor Titan's health with sensors that read engine and transmission temperatures. The Cornell vehicle has been tested off-road under rainy and hot conditions with no system failures. DARPA expects the race to encourage the creation of autonomous vehicles that can transport supplies or conduct reconnaissance in hostile areas without putting troops in harm's way. Space exploration and disaster response are other potential areas where the vehicles could be employed.
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  • "'The Time of Robotics Has Arrived'"
    Washington Technology (09/26/05) Vol. 20, No. 19, P. 48; Beizer, Doug

    Defense Department-funded initiatives are underway to develop unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) to reduce casualties on the battlefield and guard facilities, and the key to realizing this vision is developing sensors, software, and networking methodologies that permit autonomous operation. General Dynamics Robotic Systems President Scott Myers says several years of development are likely before UGV technologies are on the same level as current unmanned aerial vehicles. Sebastian Thrun with Stanford University's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory says a major challenge to UGV developers is safely running autonomous vehicles on highways and in back country, given the many obstacles they must deal with. He notes that impediments could be missed or misread by the vehicle's sensors if the land's contour interferes with line of sight, a problem that becomes more pronounced the faster the vehicle travels; Thrun suggests more intuitive sensors as a possible solution. Northrop Grumman will develop a UGV for surveillance purposes under the aegis of the U.S. Army's Family of Integrated Rapid Response Equipment program, while General Dynamics has a contract to deliver a similar technology called the Mobile Detection Assessment and Response System. The latter will inspect locks, patrol for intruders, and check inventories using radio frequency identification tag readers. University of Southern California professor George Bekey says mobile robots are being developed in Europe mainly for civilian and urban applications, according to the International Study of Robotics Research sponsored by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Institutes of Health.
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  • "The Global State of Information Security 2005"
    CIO (09/15/05) Vol. 18, No. 23, P. 60; Berinato, Scott; Ware, Lorraine Cosgrove

    Even as preventative security measures grow more sophisticated, the security industry remains loosely coordinated and decentralized, and struggles continually to keep up with the steady proliferation of threats. A recent study found that many security administrators are indifferent to government compliance regulations, and are often lax about risk management, as only 37 percent responded that they had in place an active security strategy. Much of the problem with cybersecurity is that the daily occurrence of multiple threats has administrators constantly scrambling to put out fires, leaving them with little time to formulate long-term strategies. Though information security remains overwhelmingly reactive, organizations are beginning to pay it more attention, as witnessed by the growing number of executive positions created to deal expressly with security. The results are tangible, as the higher up in the organization the security executive position is, the better the organization's security rating. Having high level security executives in place also tends to align security more closely with the direction of the business. Still, companies with high-level security positions are outnumbered by those that have yet to elevate the role. Larger companies have very recently stepped up their monitoring of employees to rein in risky activities, such as instant messaging. There is also a widespread disregard for the Department of Homeland Security as a leader in cybersecurity. In dealing with government regulations, there is a pervasive ignorance about their scope and intention, as an alarmingly high number of respondents reported either that regulations do not apply to them, or that they are knowingly non-compliant. Though the number of incidents reported held steady, many of those surveyed were unsure of the extent of the damage. Similar uncertainty was reported when respondents were asked about the budgetary allotment reserved for security, and 16 percent were unsure if their security budgets would increase or decrease in the future.
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  • "Open Source Goes Corporate"
    InformationWeek (09/26/05) No. 1057, P. 38; Greenemeier, Larry

    The adoption of Linux and other kinds of open-source software is rapidly expanding in major companies, although not all the issues associated with using free software have been addressed. UPS is migrating its Tivoli servers to Intel-based Red Hat servers running Enterprise Linux, and moving its UPS.com Web site applications to Red Hat as well. Yahoo! employs several open-source technologies, including the PHP programming language, Apache Web server, and MySQL database, the last of which is incorporated into the core infrastructure of the Yahoo! Finance Web site. Disney, meanwhile, plans to move its business-to-business and business-to-employee Vignette portal to the open-source Tomcat servlet engine, and is hosting Java-based Web services on open-source JBoss. Challenges large companies face as they adopt open source include the successful integration and ongoing support of open source in commercial software environments; guarantees that open-source code will not be targeted by intellectual-property lawsuits; establishment of procedures to avoid violating licensing agreements that differ from usual terms; and setting limits for open-source adoption. Open source's promised benefits include additional flexibility and lower costs, but few multibillion-dollar firms are jettisoning their proprietary software just to switch to open source. Some companies are taking a cautionary approach to open source because certain applications lack maturity. "The challenges get greater and greater as you move up the software stack because of the need for customization within the company where that software is used," says Charlie Brenner of Fidelity Investments' Fidelity Center for Applied Technology.
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  • "Wireless Broadband: The Long and Winding Road"
    InfoWorld (09/26/05) Vol. 27, No. 39, P. 32; Gruman, Galen

    Truly ubiquitous high-speed mobile data services are a long time in the offing. Early deployments of third-generation cellular data technologies are largely delivering on their promise with their combination of near-universal connectivity, reasonable network speeds, and implementation for minimal investment. Some analysts are skeptical that mobile WiMax will ever live up to its hype, which includes providing mobile users landline performance over wide areas. "It will take years to build out the [WiMax] infrastructure, but 3G will be pervasive in about two years," says Innovativ's Ed Partenhope, who nevertheless thinks cities aiming to build urban Wi-Fi networks will ultimately migrate to WiMax. Mobile access to WiMax networks is enabled by the IEEE 802.16e standard, which is still about 12 months away from approval, while standards-compliant hardware has not emerged. The WiMax Forum was established to certify products that fulfill interoperability requirements, but vendors are already rolling out WiMax-labeled products even though compatibility tests are incomplete. Convincing carriers to deploy WiMax following standardization will be difficult, considering that existing 3G networks perform as well as current orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) technologies, according to Ovum analyst Roger Entner. Both he and SBC Laboratories' David Deas believe carriers will employ some variety of OFDM, probably dubbed "4G," as 3G networks reach throughput limits.
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  • "E-Passports Debut, and Not Everyone Is Cheering"
    Card Technology (09/05) Vol. 10, No. 9, P. 14; Davis, Donald

    The global deployment of electronic passports that use contactless smart card technology to carry biometric identifiers has provoked concern about security, interoperability, and cost. The ACLU pointed out e-passports' vulnerability to data skimming, which prompted the U.S. government to re-assess its position on basic access control that would require a passport's data page to be opened and scanned before the contactless chip can be read, thus creating a unique cryptographic key that prevents the reading of a traveler's passport without the traveler's knowledge. The addition of a metal foil to the passport book could thwart the interception of data as it is transmitted through the air between the passport and reader, but passport consultant Bill Perry says this measure could introduce problems in production and interfere with data exchanges. Most governments will equip the passports with security measures to foil data skimming, but their goal of enhancing border security could be undone if chips and readers from different suppliers fail to communicate and travelers are held up. There are worries that basic access control could cause unacceptable delays, although experts insist that the technology is being continuously improved. Privacy proponents also warn that e-passports will encourage the establishment of a global database of biometrics from millions of individuals, and make travelers' personal data accessible to unethical governments. A high price tag is another potential source of trouble, while doubts linger about the durability of the e-passports.