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Volume 7, Issue 854: Friday, October 14, 2005

  • "Top Advisory Panel Warns of an Erosion of the U.S. Competitive Edge in Science"
    New York Times (10/13/05) P. A16; Broad, William J.

  • A board of experts from the National Academies reported on Wednesday that if the United States does not undertake a comprehensive program to reinvigorate its focus on science that it is in danger of losing its competitive advantage in a world of emerging national powers. The group called for more scholarships to draw students to math and science, as well as a 10 percent increase in national investment in research over the next seven years. It also recommended that broadband access should be provided at low cost throughout the country. The panel cited as its goal the creation of quality jobs in new industries to be developed by innovative engineers and scientists. While the panel's findings have received some preliminary Congressional support, the proposals call for additional funding of $10 billion per year, which could be a hard sell in a time of an overstretched federal budget. The panel contrasted the 70,000 engineers who graduated in the United States last year with the 600,000 in China and 350,000 in India, and highlighted the fact that 21 countries outperformed U.S. 12th graders on basic knowledge of science and math. The panel's recommendations double those set forth in a similar proposal by lawmakers five months ago, and include the creation of a research program for the Energy Department modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, as well as adjusting the visa laws to encourage foreign students to seek employment in the United States. The panel also called for $500,000 grants to be awarded to the nation's most promising young researchers, as well as incentives for increased private investment in innovation.
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  • "The Hundred Dollar Man"
    Technology Review (10/13/05); Pontin, Jason

    Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of MIT's Media Lab, believes that the elimination of profits, costly displays, and proprietary software will enable him to build a laptop that costs less than $100. Education ministries in underdeveloped countries would purchase hundreds of millions of them and distribute them freely to children in Negroponte's vision that holds technology as central to education in the developing world. To fund the widespread purchase of inexpensive laptops, Negroponte said that a variety of options are being considered, such as UN relief and World Bank financing. Negroponte allows for some latitude in the figure of $100, though he hopes to ultimately bring the cost below that mark. He rejects reconfigured, second hand desktops due to the high costs of installing software and shipping, and believes that using mobile devices such as cell phones would compromise the reading experience. To those who are concerned that cheap laptops could be the frequent target of theft, Negroponte answers that saturating the market would ensure that there was not a secondary market for the computers, thereby eliminating the incentive for stealing them. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization set up to oversee the project is working with organizations such as the UN to address issues concerning demand and distribution. Negroponte stresses that OLPC has the singular goal of treating computers and online access as basic human rights, and that concerns about profitability would inherently conflict with universal implementation of the program.
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  • "Security Fix Assures Long Election Nights"
    Atlanta Journal-Constitution (10/13/05); Whitt, Richard

    The security software installed on Georgia's new touch-screen voting machines threatens to considerably slow the process of tabulating ballots, and there is concern that it will not improve before the municipal elections to be held next month, or even by the 2006 congressional elections. In some counties, the counting process has spanned into the next day, though many officials believe that the increased security is worth the delays in light of the spectacle of the 2000 presidential election in Florida. Some officials hold out the hope that as election workers become more familiar with the technology and share their techniques that the process could be accelerated. Georgia contracted with Diebold Elections Systems for $54 million to install software that encrypts voting results in their flow from precincts to county headquarters, where they must then be decoded to produce an official tally. Prior to the installation of Diebold's software, the voting machines could decode ballots almost instantly, but that process now takes about 30 seconds per card. Even with the added security measures, some voting groups and computer experts argue that the machines could be tampered with and are pressing for the addition of printers to create a paper trail that would enable voters to double-check their ballot, though there is concern that such a measure would slow the process even more. Maryland, Ohio, Utah, and Mississippi are also introducing Diebold's touch-screen voting machines. Despite the added slowness of the machines, Georgia election officials are sticking with them, and maintain that they are still markedly faster than old-fashioned paper ballots.
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  • "The Web: Industry Dismisses U.N. Control"
    United Press International (10/12/05); Koprowski, Gene J.

    The argument that the responsibility for Internet governance should be taken away from the United States and given to the United Nations does not hold up under scrutiny because private companies working in cooperation--not the U.S. government--truly control the Internet, according to legal experts. "The Internet is a private network of private networks," explains .NU Domain CEO Bill Semich. The United Nations and International Telecommunications Union (ITU) are fighting for control of the Internet, but the Internet is composed of private businesses that voluntarily choose to use the U.S. Department of Commerce root servers, Semich says. "There is no technical requirement or national or international law that they do so--they just do it so it will work universally," he says. The argument posed by the United Nations and other international bodies is in many ways academic, says Semich. "Any system manager who wished to do so could, instead, choose to use a U.N.-based or ITU-based root server in their DNS cache," he says. The U.S. government helped develop the Internet by providing funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency NETwork (ARPANET), but Dallas-based attorney Peter Vogel notes that the Internet's growth did not truly take off until such technologies as the personal computer, Internet browser, computer mouse, and graphic user interface came along. Vogel asserts that if the United Nations did oversee the Internet, it would be disastrous for e-commerce and the Internet community.
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  • "State, Local Governments Look for Ways to Comply With HAVA Mandates Without Busting Their Budget"
    County News (10/03/05) Vol. 37, No. 18, P. 2; McLaughlin, Alysoun

    The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) takes effect on Jan. 1, 2006, requiring the presence of a direct-recording electronic (DRE) system or comparable system for people with disabilities at each polling place. Some states have already mandated counties to purchase DRE machines, which will have to create a permanent paper trail under the new law, in addition to an internal storage capability, such as a smart card, tape cartridge, or diskette. While the law was deliberately written vaguely so as to afford states considerable discretion in its implementation, many counties are purchasing DRE machines with audio capability to assist the blind and other features to help the disabled. There is a growing body of litigation seeking to clarify HAVA, and long-promised federal guidelines could appear only after counties have made their purchasing decisions. Many counties are seeking to defray the cost of implementing DRE machines by conducting elections through the mail or by consolidating precincts. Vermont recently announced that its residents will be able to cast their votes through a telephone system, where voters place a call to a secure location, and follow the voice prompts to cast their vote. The system is HAVA-compliant, as it creates a paper ballot that it scans and resubmits to the voter for verification. Electronic voting has not been universally embraced, as critics such as Ellen Theisen, who founded VotersUnite!, believe paper ballots are the only fair way to conduct an election. Theisen has helped develop a paper ballot prototype known as the Voting-on-Paper Assistive Device (V-PAD), patterned on a tactile ballot that enables a disabled voter to record his choices without a computer. Some advocates for the disabled contend that no single system will address the needs of every voter, and instead advocate a range of voting options.
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  • "Developers 'Should Be Accountable' for Security Holes"
    ZDNet UK (10/12/05); Espiner, Tom

    Former White House cybersecurity advisor Howard Schmidt and the British Computing Society disagreed at Secure London 2005 on who should be accountable for the security of code. Schmidt said software developers should be held accountable for the code they write, while the BCS said companies should be responsible rather than their developers. "I know a lot of developers who would be very uncomfortable with that level of accountability, especially if that were legal accountability," says a spokesperson for the BCS. The spokesperson also noted that code is not static and it can be altered after it has been purchased, security attacks often occur because the latest patch or system has not been installed, and buyers need to make sure their vendor uses their own security product. Schmidt, currently president and chief executive of R&H Security Consulting, believes many software developers lack skills in writing secure code and need better training. "Most university courses traditionally focused on usability, scalability, and manageability, not security," he said. He also cited a Microsoft survey that said 64 percent of software developers lacked confidence in their ability to write secure applications.
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  • "Liberty Alliance Releases Legal, Privacy Guidelines"
    IDG News Service (10/11/05); Kirk, Jeremy

    Guidelines designed to help organizations sort through legal and privacy issues associated with the development of federated identity systems were released by the Liberty Alliance Project on Oct. 11. Although Russ DeVeau of Liberty Alliance Communications said the project's underlying technologies are mature enough for companies to construct federated identity systems, the companies need to reach an agreement on what types of data will be shared and what security and privacy measures must be implemented in order to establish a "circle of trust" among participating organizations. The alliance's Public Policy Expert Group (PPEG) devised the guidelines. PPEG Chairman Michael Aisenberg said liability and indemnification are not inherently addressed by the Liberty technical architecture, since those issues are a matter for the service vendor and the customer to resolve. He added that the guidelines are advantageous in that they are generated by the marketplace rather than as a government mandate, as government regulation chills technology and stifles innovation. PPEG members include the U.S. General Services Administration, Oracle, Sun, and the Business Political Action Committee.
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  • "The "Robust Yet Fragile" Nature of the Internet"
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (10/11/05) Vol. 102, No. 41, P. 14497; Doyle, John C.; Alderson, David L.; Li, Lun

    The Internet is particularly desirable as a case study for modeling complex networks that frame robustness and fragility as unifying concepts, but alternative Internet modeling strategies are frequently based on dramatically different expectations, and elicit divergent conclusions about the system's basic characteristics. Luckily, these differences can be clarified and resolved through a deep comprehension of Internet technology along with a novel skill for measuring the network. Research indicates that the current router-level Internet is much closer to the highly optimized/organized tolerance/tradeoffs (HOT) network model than the scale-free (SF) network model. The SFnet model asserts that the Internet has an Achilles' heel in the form of "hubs" through which most traffic is channeled, and which would fragment the network if removed. The actual Internet does not conform to this architecture, because it is comprised of multiple, moderately loaded, redundant HOTnet-type backbones, which support its ability to redirect traffic when core routers fail to such a degree that end users usually do not experience any noticeable performance deterioration. Measuring the "essential" elements of a highly evolved system such as the Internet must entail the consideration of performance, constraints, and tradeoffs. However, the Internet's exceptional robustness and adaptability carries with it an equivalent vulnerability to components "failing on" through exploitation or usurpation of the mechanisms underlying its robustness.
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  • "Gates Displays Software's Future to UW-Madison Students"
    Wisconsin Technology Network (10/12/05); Chappell, Les

    Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates recently presented his vision for the future of the computer industry to a group of students at the University of Wisconsin as part of his three-day college tour aimed at highlighting the ongoing relevance and vibrancy of the field. Gates outlined his dream of a unified platform for business and entertainment, and stressed the need to make technology available to every student in the world. Gates said the ongoing development of software will eliminate the need for paper when taking notes and will remove the film from cameras, as well as rendering CDs obsolete as vehicles for storing music. Video will follow suit, though the high bit rate will demand increases in speed before CDs are removed from that medium. Gates also showcased some of Microsoft's new technologies, such as the Xbox 360 and the Microsoft Max photo album system. The new Xbox will integrate with media players such as the iPod and will function as a stereo system, in addition to its capability of downloading photographs from a digital camera. Integration is central to Gates' vision, as he identified linked frameworks that can perform a variety of tasks as the future of technology. He appealed to the students to enter into the "golden age of computer science," noting that the future will be shaped by engineers who bring a fresh perspective and are not hampered by limitations that have impeded technologies in the past.
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  • "How Computer Maps Will Help the Poor"
    Christian Science Monitor (10/12/05) P. 13; Ulrich, Thomas

    Residents of poor neighborhoods in San Jose, Calif., are taking over for San Jose State University computer and engineering students in mapping their communities using GPS receivers, digital cameras, tablet PCs, and pocket PCs. The community mapping project was first launched in 2003, an effort involving planners, students, and teachers who combed the Five Wounds-Brookwood Terrace area, interviewing residents about their needs, observing landmarks and recording their locations, and reporting the results to city representatives. The initiative prompted city officials to add new streetlights, sidewalks, and traffic signals, and to consider adding 17 acres of parkland by 2008. Experts say the expansion of the community mapping project to include 19 other distressed communities, which puts such mobile technology in the hands of residents, gives the underserved an opportunity to participate in democracy in the form of reporting specific problems to city leaders. "Community mapping projects hold great potential for giving a voice to community members who are typically underrepresented in planning and development decisions," says Hollie Lund, assistant professor of urban and regional planning at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. The project has more mobility in mind than technology, says SJSU management information systems associate professor Malu Roldan. "Ultimately, it will lead to social and economic mobility for residents of the communities we serve with the applications we build," Roldan says.
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  • "Students Stalk Cyber Prey"
    Tallahassee Democrat (FL) (10/10/05); Bridges, Tony

    Computer science researchers at Florida State University are developing new technology that will allow law enforcement officials to gather evidence against online criminals such as cyberstalkers. The technology consists of software that victims can install on their computers that connects to a remote police computer, which enables the officer to view every email and chat session that is seen by the individual. "It's the equivalent of having a cop standing in your house watching," says Leo Kermes, a graduate student at FSU's Florida Cybersecurity Institute and a project designer. The program offers a private chat channel so that the victim and police officer can exchange messages, and even gives the law enforcement official the ability to take control of the victim's computer for direct communication with the stalker. Also, the technology features a recorder that captures every communication and plays it back like a video. "The main point of this is to support the victim and capture the evidence," explains project head and computer science professor Sudhir Aggarwal. The Florida Computer Crime Center will test the technology, which is funded by a $281,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice, and suggest improvements to FSU.
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  • "In HAL's Footsteps"
    InformationWeek (10/10/05) No. 1059, P. 54; Dunn, Darrell

    IBM has steadfastly promoted the concept of computers capable of self-monitoring, self-diagnosis, and self-repair, a milestone that can only be reached through the collaborative participation of multiple vendors, tackling the problem in a piecemeal fashion. Many companies are working to enhance system management through the use of virtualization and other emerging technologies. Hewlett-Packard's Shane Robison says the vision of autonomic computing is very long in the offing, and his company is "more interested in the interim steps leading up to a vision where the focus is on service-oriented architectures and grid computing." IBM and some 60 other tech vendors have been developing standard components that can be incorporated into software and hardware to represent event management and other functions, under the auspices of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards. Alan Ganek with IBM's Tivoli software unit says businesses can halve the time it takes to seclude and complete problem-determination cycles because these components can be automatically processed and examined. Intelligent IT systems that can anticipate and fix problems without human assistance are highly attractive to business-technology managers, who hope they will enable IT departments to devote more time and money to developing new technology by relieving them from the burden of system maintenance. SingleStep Technologies CTO Ophir Ronen says, "These autonomic capabilities exist now and are helping customers get a handle on the cost and complexity associated with delivering IT services."
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  • "A Female Sensibility"
    Newsweek (10/03/05) Vol. 146, No. 16, P. E20; Dickey, Christopher; Summers, Nick

    The free download Facade is the latest effort by videogame designers to turn large numbers of women into gaming consumers. Created by Andrew Stern and Michael Mateas, Facade offers more complex characters and plots than the typical videogame of fight if kicked. Facade is "like standing on a stage with two improvisational actors" in a drama, according to Stern, as a couple, Trip and Grace, argue over their unraveling marriage. The player enters the room and they deny anything is wrong, before trying to get the player to take sides, and it is up to the player to decide whether to help the couple, provoke the situation, or even flirt with Trip or Grace. Players do not win or lose, but rather the point is to get them intensely involved in the game, which has attracted approximately 150,000 downloads since July, and at least half, perhaps more, have been by women. Broadband Internet access and artificial intelligence have enabled videogame makers to take characters and plots to the next level, and designers believe this will make games more appealing to women. The gaming industry is trying to capitalize on the interest women displayed for Sims games, in which players were able to create a whole world based on their need for money, food, shelter, and love; and multiplayer online games, in which players can inhabit characters, including nurturers, in a fantasy environment of swords and sorcery. "Female gaming is the last frontier; 2006 is going to be a milestone year," predicts GamesSpot.com director Ankarino Lara.
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  • "Pulse Defense"
    Military Information Technology (10/04/05) Vol. 9, No. 8; Chisholm, Patrick

    The Cold War may be over, but the threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack by America's enemies is very much alive, according to a 2004 report. EMPs emit a massive power surge that can disrupt or destroy many electronic devices, crippling vital services and infrastructure. However, electronics used by the increasingly network-centric U.S. military are considerably more hardened against electronic magnetic interference (EMI) than commercial electronics, while some military EMI standards are designed to be EMP-immune. EMI shielding is designed to prevent the electronic device from emitting electromagnetic radiation as well as being penetrated by such radiation; equipment must be cladded by a metal Faraday cage, while electrically conductive gaskets would be used to seal the openings to the cage. The cables and/or wires to the cage must also be shielded, usually by a wire mesh, and regular maintenance and testing is essential to stave off erosion of the EMI/EMP shielding. The increasing proliferation of fiber-optic cable is a good sign, as fiber-optic cable, unlike copper wire, is EMP-resistant; smaller electronics also ease EMI shielding, although researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) warn that smaller sizes mean the devices can be disrupted using less energy. NIST scientist Perry Wilson says the Defense Department is not ignoring the threat of an EMP attack. The Pentagon's "Balanced Electromagnetic Hardening" program supplies science and technology to guarantee that military and civilian infrastructure electronic systems survive multiple forms of EMI assault; and develops cheap, balanced electromagnetic shielding and test technologies for weapons, as well as supporting infrastructure to various Defense Department agencies.
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  • "Trade Groups Speak Out Against Patriot Act"
    eWeek (10/10/05) Vol. 22, No. 40, P. 16; Carlson, Caron

    A half-dozen U.S. trade groups fired off a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) last week to protest the proposed extension of Patriot Act provisions due to expire at the end of 2005. Such extensions were the subject of several bills passed separately by the Senate and the House of Representatives, and both House and Senate legislators are currently preparing legislation that resolves differences between the proposals. The trade groups said businesses are most concerned that the cost of complying with records searches mandated by the Patriot Act will explode, while the threat of lawsuits in countries with stricter privacy laws is also growing. Two Patriot Act provisions are of particular concern to the business community: One provision allows the FBI to acquire a secret search order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court simply by claiming that the records they are after are relevant to an investigation, while the other gives the bureau the authorization to demand records in the absence of court approval through use of a "national security letter." Neither of the pending Patriot Act provision extension bills requires the FBI to display any suspicions connecting terrorists or spies to the sought-after records when using a national security letter. General counsel for the Association of Corporate Counsel Susan Hackett warned that a broad spectrum of records could be demanded by the FBI under this stipulation.
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  • "IT Pros Get Serious About Gaming"
    ITworldcanada.com (10/06/05); Lombardi, Rosie

    The booming gaming industry is presenting a wealth of opportunities for IT professionals. While sales and growth rates are soaring, many continue to regard gaming as an industry outside of mainstream IT. Electronic Arts, which enjoyed $3 billion in global revenue last year, has undertaken many programs to recruit the needed creative and technical talent. The technical aspects of the gaming industry typically divide among 3D rendering, digital imagery, artificial intelligence, physics, and online architecture, according to EA's Alain Tascan. Although the bulk of the programming is done in C++, there is a growing demand in cell phone games for Java and Brew. To create realistic motion simulations of objects such as cars and airplanes, EA hires engineers with practical experience and teaches them the fundamentals of programming. For massively multi-player online games, also known as persistent games, networking skills are important to oversee the communication among players, which can number up to 100,000 at any given time. Database management skills are also required to maintain the profiles and subscriptions of 1 million users. The diversity of skills involved in the industry places a premium on quality project management, which is broadly identified as one of the industry's weakest points right now.
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  • "A Dramatic New Approach to Build the NSDI"
    GeoWorld (10/05) Vol. 18, No. 10, P. 38; Butler, Al; Voss, Alan; Goreham, Dennis

    Building the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), which is needed if homeland security and other vital services are to be firmly supported, is a national initiative requiring federal funding and a consistent series of standards. Setting up a national effort to compile geospatial data consistently is the first step, and the National Geospatial Coordinating Council (NGCC) is recommended as the project manager of NSDI construction. The NGCC should collaborate with federal, state, tribal, and local governments; regional agencies; academia; nonprofits; utilities; and others to build and maintain the NSDI using solid business processes. The council needs balanced representation, a national viewpoint, and sufficient resources to effectively function. The White House and the Office of Management and Budget must expeditiously establish the NGCC and empower it to productively bring forward national policies and cooperative work programs. Collaboration between the NGCC and the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIS) will facilitate cooperative interaction of geospatial activities across government tiers to construct the NSDI. The NSGIS would direct state NSDI entities funded by an NSDI authority supervised by the NGCC.
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