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


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 855:  October 17, 2005

  • "Technology Experts Help Colleges in the Gulf Region to Get Back Online Since the Hurricanes"
    Chronicle of Higher Education (10/13/05); Carnevale, Dan

    The hurricanes that swept through the Gulf Coast region inflicted significant damage on the technological infrastructure powering the area's colleges and universities. Many schools around the country have dispatched technology experts to the region to help restore Internet access, which will help local relief workers communicate with their families in addition to restoring connectivity to area colleges. The American Distance Education Consortium has coordinated much of the relief effort, having already sent more than $100,000 worth of equipment to the affected areas, such as satellite dishes to provide Internet access to areas without cable hookups. The technology experts are careful to coordinate with relief workers already on the scene so as not to get in their way, though they have enjoyed a warm reception as relief workers welcome the prospect of Internet access. Despite extensive damage, Internet and DSL service survived unscathed in some buildings, such as the AgCenter Research & Extension at Louisiana State University. In the case of the AgCenter, the job of the Higher Education Telecommunication System's David Cory and Max Gordon was to extend the connection to trailers that had been converted into makeshift office space. They said the job was not very different from outfitting a new cubicle with Internet access, except their work did not have to be as neat. Most of the students at the University of New Orleans are working adults, and more than a third have registered for classes since the hurricane. Because so many are scattered around the country, the university felt that it needed to offer courses online. Gordon and Cory jumped into the project, installing two 60-pound satellite dishes to serve as temporary hookups after the EPA declared the building was safe to work in, and they succeeded in helping the university open by its deadline.
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  • "At Microsoft, Interlopers Sound off on Security"
    New York Times (10/17/05) P. C1; Markoff, John

    Microsoft recently held its second Blue Hat conference, where a small group of independent security researchers are invited to the company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters to share details of their work exposing vulnerabilities in Microsoft's programs. The conference, held last week, comes after a year of intense focus on security that has signaled a clear shift in Microsoft's priorities. The hackers in attendance identified the manner in which Windows operating systems address peripherals, and its forthcoming Xbox 360, as specific targets for hackers. The Blue Hat gathering marks an about-face in the way Microsoft views the hacker community. The Blaster and Slammer worms fundamentally altered Microsoft's position toward security, as they began to compromise the company's stature in the eyes of customers. The white hat hacker community has taken notice of Microsoft's efforts to improve security, and has been largely receptive to the software giant's overtures, though many warn that security could be just entering a new era with the growing use of mobile devices. The widespread, scattershot attacks such as Blaster will also likely become a thing of the past, as profit is now the motive for more precise, targeted attacks, rather than Web-wide assaults designed solely to create chaos. Microsoft has been using a technique known as fuzzing in the development of its software, where tens of thousands of combinations are tested automatically in the search for flaws. According to company officials, Microsoft has significantly reduced the number of security bulletins it has issued in the last few years.
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  • "Linux Calling: Are Cell Phones Ready?"
    CNet (10/14/05); Shankland, Stephen

    The Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) is launching an endeavor to bring Linux to mobile phones. Aimed at broadening the scope of the open source community, the Mobile Linux Initiative will attempt to improve the operating system to meet the demands of mobile phone applications. OSDL members include Intel, PalmSource, and MontaVista, which has already created a version of Linux that powers several Motorola handsets. At present, Linux is most suited for high-end phones with large memories and powerful processors, but the group will turn its attention toward more widely used, less expensive devices. The Mobile Linux Initiative will seek to enhance the software powering the mainline kernel, which is the core of the operating system controlled principally by Linus Torvalds, who has historically steered Linux development away from embedded devices such as mobile phones. The project will seek to introduce some commonality among the interfaces used by processor makers with the goal of developing a unified power management approach to conserve computer battery power. OSDL also wants a mobile Linux version to address the interruptions that afflict baseband processors, a problem that only "real-time" operating systems have been able to solve in the past. Meanwhile, similar projects are already underway at the Consumer Electronics Linux forum and the Linux Phone Software Forum. Stuart Cohen, CEO of OSDL, says the three groups have been coordinating their efforts to avoid turf wars and ensure that the work of each group is complementary and not redundant.
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  • "Behind Artificial Intelligence, a Squadron of Bright Real People"
    New York Times (10/14/05); Markoff, John

    That five robots completed the 132-mile course through the Nevada desert last weekend constituted a major victory for artificial intelligence, a field that has long been beset by disappointment and the failure to live up to its expectations. Guided only by GPS tracking, the winning entry came from a team of Stanford researchers whose modified Volkswagen dubbed Stanley completed the course in six hours and 53 minutes. The move from logic and rule-driven systems to an approach more concerned with probability and statistics has helped researchers advance artificial intelligence beyond mundane tasks of voice recognition and into more complex applications such as driving. Thanks to the incorporation of sensors in new artificial intelligence systems, devices such as Stanley can make decisions based on probability. The Stanford lab created the first autonomous vehicle in 1975, which was moving in increments of two feet by the end of the decade, though speculative interest cooled considerably as development stagnated in the 1980s. Automobile safety has generated renewed interest in artificial intelligence, particularly from government agencies such as Darpa, which sponsored the Grand Challenge in Las Vegas. While some are concerned that Darpa's funding of artificial intelligence will relegate the field to military contractors working on classified projects, ACM President David Patterson reminds us that the Stanford victory demonstrates the ability of the academic community to achieve great success on a limited budget. "This is consistent with the history of our field," said Patterson. "This demonstrates the importance of the participation of government-funded academics."
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  • "Ready for High-Tech Progress?"
    Washington Post (10/17/05) P. A15; Mallaby, Sebastian

    At Howard University last week, Bill Gates concluded his campus tour where he outlined his vision of the future of technology in an effort to stimulate interest among college students in computer science. The new breed of technology will be enabled by omnipresent wireless connections, speech recognition, and digital photography. Technology will infiltrate into virtually every area of the home, as plasma screens promise to become photo albums and digital tablets in the kitchen will display recipes and shopping lists. The rate of technology's development outpaces other areas of human activity, and can lead to seismic changes in our social structure virtually overnight. As Wikis become more pervasive, the format of the workday will be overhauled, as meetings will be convened over the Internet rather than in person, saving countless hours of labor wasted as people attend meetings where only a portion of the information discussed is relevant to them. While the promise of new technologies never comes without some drawbacks, such as spam and identity theft, Gates' vision is so overwhelmingly ambitious that it highlights the lack of attention lawmakers have paid to the United States' ability to capitalize on the potential of technology. On the bright side, Gates estimates that of the top 20 computer science facilities in the world, between 17 and 19 are American. While Microsoft has yet to move many software jobs overseas, Gates stresses the need for federal research funding and a more moderate approach to visa laws, so that the United States can remain what he terms "an IQ magnet."

  • "Techies: They're Everywhere"
    USA Today (10/17/05) P. B1; Fetterman, Mindy; Hansen, Barbara

    A recent survey seeking to identify where the most technologically savvy residents live in the United States found that it is a diverse group spanning across conventional boundaries of age, gender, income, and location. Early adopters are found in every county across the country, accounting for roughly 29 percent of the population, with the heaviest concentration in urban areas. Denver boasts four of the 25 top counties, while the area surrounding Washington extending from Northern Virginia to Baltimore accounted for six of the top counties. Because the survey is based on the percentage of county residents who are early adopters, it highlights the technological savvy of many non-coastal areas with smaller population densities, and ranks Santa Clara as 149 on the list, owing largely to its sprawling geography that includes many residents outside of Silicon Valley. The survey also found that the embrace of technology is more a function of lifestyle than income, as many younger residents who do not command high incomes opt to spend their money on the latest gadgets. Among the criteria included in the poll were the use of the Internet to make phone calls, substituting land lines with cell phones, purchasing a home theater, and using a Wi-Fi network. Acknowledging that early adopters will always be a minority, companies can only expect widespread success for their devices when they begin to appeal to the consumers that are part of the herd. Apple's iPod has achieved this by bringing the popularity of sharing music into a legal forum with its iTunes site, while overhauling the MP3 player with a sleek design that is easy to use, appealing to the conservative consumers who are not early adopters.
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  • "The Tricky Art of Program Testing"
    ITworldcanada.com (10/14/05); Hodson, Bernard A.

    The pressure to bring a software program to market on time and under budget confounds the already difficult task of testing for logic flaws. Often it is useful to enlist the aid of someone who is familiar with the system but who was not directly involved in the programming to help test the application. Testing becomes more difficult when programs have to link with other applications and operating systems that are often less than perfect, as the logic must address their bugs as well as those within the program itself. Interfacing with other programs often means that data will have different structures when passing from one application to another. When it comes to compatibility, Java run systems can be especially problematic. In addition to other applications and operating systems, many programs will also have to interface with networks, servers, and the Internet, further muddying the picture for programmers. Another question arises with program documentation, and at what point in the development process it should be completed. Documentation that happens early in the process can lead to frequent updates as the software evolves, while waiting until development is complete often means that it will be done haphazardly, as programmers will be eager to move on to their next project. A good technical writer can help this process by communicating with the development team as the project progresses, producing a document that will endure over time and allow future users to see into the program and modify it as their requirements change.
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  • "Super-Smart USB Card Delivers Rich Multimedia Content"
    IST Results (10/13/05)

    To meet the growing demand for multimedia content and interactive television, the IST program FULL SPEED has created a high-throughput platform offering smartcard connectivity through the channel USB 2.0. Using FULL SPEED, smartcard applications such as Pay TV and on-stream data processing can be embedded directly. The FULL SPEED platform enabled the creation of an inexpensive set-top box that directly integrates streaming and deciphering capabilities. Based on a CPU and Java operating system, an open 32-bit multi-protocol chip card executes cryptographic tasks and multimedia applications. FULL SPEED will also offer greater personal and end-to-end security. A recent demonstration of the technology showcased its high-throughput capacity. In the demonstration, video that was stored on a server and encrypted by a key was exchanged at intervals of 10 MB before being sent to the terminal through the Ethernet port. Through the FULL SPEED USB interface, the data were decrypted directly and sent to the terminal to be viewed, offering a host of potential applications in the consumer electronics market once the industry adopts the smartcard interface.
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  • "EU Says Internet Could Fall Apart"
    Guardian Unlimited (UK) (10/12/05); Wray, Richard

    The future of the Internet may be up for grabs at the World Summit on the Information Society, scheduled for Nov. 16-18 in Tunis, with the United States once again at odds with the rest of the world, this time over Internet governance and control of the Domain Name System, currently overseen by ICANN, which is technically under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Commerce, though the latter has never interfered with the former's decisions. The European Union has unveiled a plan calling for greater sharing of oversight, a proposal backed by the developing world, including vocally by countries such as Iran and Pakistan. The United States contends that many of those calling for a more open Internet are also notorious repressors of freedoms of expression. President Bush's Internet advisor, Michael Gallagher, says, "They are looking for a handle, thinking that the DNS is the meaning of life. But the meaning of life lies within their own borders and the polices that they create there." Even European backers of plans to divest the United States of its authority know the tenuity of their position. "We really can't have a Europe that is applauded by China and Iran and Saudi Arabia on the future governance of the Internet," says former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt. "Even those critical of the United States must see where such a position risks taking us." The United States meanwhile has pledged not to relinquish control. "We are firmly committed to a multi-stakeholder approach," said ICANN President Paul Twomey. "We expect to evolve, we expect to keep changing. We are concerned about the stability [of the Internet] and we think it's best to evolve existing institutions."
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  • "How We Choose the Words We Do"
    New Scientist (10/15/05) No. 2521; Buchanan, Mark

    Luc Steels of the Sony Computer Science Laboratory Paris and his colleagues have used the simple "naming game" computer model to display the process of how a new thing acquires a name. For example, the emergence of unwanted email resulted in terms such as unsolicited email and junk mail to describe it, but spam has become the word of choice for many. The computer model shows that the hearer listens and memorizes potential words for a new thing until a word emerges that the hearer recognizes. Once the listener understands a potential word, the other words for a new thing that have been made up or heard are discarded. Steels believes such complex models have uses in computing, such as the need for programmers to come up with standards for having commercial or scientific databases communicate effectively. Programmers may be able to use the computer model to enable computers to develop a common language for communication on their own.
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  • "Untangling a Web"
    Science News (10/08/05) Vol. 168, No. 15, P. 230; Greene, K.

    The Internet should be able to adapt if its busiest routers were to go down, according to a new mathematical model of the Internet by John Doyle of the California Institute of Technology and his colleagues. Doyle and his team have mapped the Internet using the HOT (highly optimized tolerance) class of models, rather than the scale-free models that many information engineers support. In the HOT model, the Internet does not have any central hub, and the master routers lie at the periphery. As a result, if a highly connected router on the periphery goes down, Internet traffic would move to another well-connected router. Doyle and his team used the map of Internet2 to test the model. Fan Chung of the University of California, San Diego, stresses the importance of gaining a better understanding of the Internet architectures, adding that HOT models can even provide some insight into networks such as the immune system. Such a map would allow Internet experts to track malicious software, but it does not protect the network from attacks. Doyle's research will appear in the next issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

  • "No Pause to Refresh: More Robust Web Apps"
    Computerworld (10/10/05) P. 23; Havenstein, Heather

    To address the browser limitations that detract from the Internet user's experience, an emerging group of rich Internet tools is appearing to preserve the interactive qualities and rich content features in applications accessed through a client. Their goal is to dispense with the need to refresh a page every time new data are entered or received, which will allow businesses to shuttle more client/server applications to the Web, enabling improved e-commerce and call center applications that demand elaborate user interaction. Conventional applications based on HTML require a new HTTP request each time data must be refreshed, which can be prohibitively slow for interactive applications in which data continually change. In one example of a rich Internet application, a rendering engine in the client can cache data and relay back and forth with the server without having to refresh the Web page as often as HTML applications do. Rich Internet applications can plug into integrated development environments and supply the tabs and windows required for interactive features without the elaborate coding of HTML applications. Gartner estimates that at least 60 percent of new application projects will contain rich Internet technology by 2010. EarthLink is rebuilding its Web email application using open source tools instead of its traditional HTML platform. Thanks to the increased speed, users will be able to perform other applications while Web email functions in the background, according to EarthLink's John Foltz. EarthLink plans to finalize the beta version by the end of the month.
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  • "Teaching With Tech"
    U.S. News & World Report (10/17/05) Vol. 139, No. 14, P. 54; Hallett, Vicky

    U.S. colleges and universities are eagerly implementing and experimenting with new technologies to enhance the learning experience, although many students and faculty are concerned that such tools provide more opportunities for distraction than study. Theoretically, advanced technologies such as Wi-Fi laptops and CPS units can give professors a better idea of how well the class is grasping the material, and how many students are present or paying attention. The improvement of study habits through technology is another goal for schools. Podcasting, for example, is growing in popularity because podcasts can be disseminated rapidly and easily over course Web sites, a notable advancement over tape recording. MIT's Eric Klopfer is testing "Environmental Detectives," a gaming concept in which students carry GPS-capable PDAs and use them to roam around campus gathering data and conducting interviews to unravel a mystery. An upgrade will assign a specific role to each student that dictates what kind of information they can collect in order to encourage problem-solving through teamwork. Digital libraries and information networks through which students can access resources outside of libraries are also technologies being deployed on campus. Among those who frown on the augmentation of lectures with technology such as electronic visual aids is Johns Hopkins University professor Maurice Bessman, who says, "it's counterproductive when teaching because the students look at the pictures instead of listening."
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  • "US Still World's Top Spammer"
    IDG News Service (10/13/05); McMillan, Robert

    In a recent report, security vendor Sophos determined that about 26 percent of worldwide spam originated within the United States, which is down from 42 percent in 2004. The reason for the drop, according to Sophos senior technology consultant Graham Cluley, is more effective prevention methods by ISPs and the work of antispam task forces. Meanwhile, spammers are focusing on the growing broadband connections in South Korea and China with the amount of spam originating in South Korea up 8 percent from 2004 to 2005 and the amount in China up 7 percent, according to Cluley, who points to the total amount of spam remaining the same between the two years. Spamhaus Project volunteer John Reid asserts that one way to significantly decrease spam is for ISPs to prohibit almost all of their users from establishing servers running the Internet standard port 25. Reid believes the policy would not affect the vast majority of non-spammers and points to previous attempts in Canada proving the method successful.
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  • "802.11n or UWB?"
    NE Asia Online (10/05); Yomogita, Hiroki; Nozawa, Tetsuo

    Ultra-Wideband (UWB) and IEEE 802.11n are vying to become the standard wireless interface for home digital equipment, and both are supported as industry standards by multiple competing organizations. With a coverage radius of 200 meters, 11n is the most probable candidate for the home network backbone, while the optimal employment of UWB will probably be as a means to interconnect devices in a short range. But 11n has begun to catch up to UWB in terms of portable equipment application thanks to technological enhancements driven by the rivalry between the two technologies. The division of 11n into three specs for HDTV video streaming to AV home decks, PC and corporate communications, and mobile equipment is anticipated, with the mobile spec expected to support an effective data rate of over 50 Mbps as well as interoperability with other 11n specs. Meanwhile, 11n is thought to maintain compatibility with existing wireless LAN better than UWB, and UWB is considered more likely to reduce power consumption. The decision of which scheme manufacturers should select hinges on the application and content in question. The development of 11n seems to be pointing toward a unified standard, but the IEEE 802.15 working group's effort to harmonize the competing D-UWB and Wireless UWB schemes appears to have hit a snag, owing to substantial divergence in transmission techniques and lingering tension between the two groups of manufacturers. The DS-UWB group seems poised to lead commercialization with the rollout of a chipset product.
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  • "TR 35"
    Technology Review (10/05) Vol. 108, No. 10, P. 41

    Among Technology Review's 35 top innovators under the age of 35 are Stewart Butterfield, whose Flickr photo-sharing site enables users to make their photo collections searchable by content; University of Toronto professor Parham Aarabi, who has enhanced computers' listening facilities through an algorithm that can ascertain the direction of speakers and augment the speech of any individual speaker; Aster Data Systems' George Candea, who has conceived of "crash-only" software that can be trained to watchdog itself and "microreboot" in response to problems; and Digital Divide Network director Andy Carvin, whose vision for bridging the social gap between Internet haves and have-nots involves the creation of mobcasting software that integrates blogging with cell phones. Sun Microsystems' Brian Cantrill makes the list for his D-Trace real-time software diagnostics application, while Bram Cohen earns his place with BitTorrent distributed file sharing. Other honorees include Dodgeball founder Dennis Crowley for his mobile text messaging system for socialization; Tropos Networks' Narasimha Chari for creating the gold standard for wireless mesh networking; ThingMagic co-founder Yael Maguire, whose achievements include the creation of nuclear magnetic resonance sensors and software-defined radio for radio frequency ID chips; Caltech's Tracy Ho for her distributed random network coding scheme; and MIT computer scientist Samuel Madden, who has simplified wireless sensor networks with such innovations as TinyDB software. Rosum's Matthew Rabinowitz is mentioned for improving the accuracy of GPS technology using the synchronization codes in broadcast TV signals, UC Santa Barbara's Haitao Zheng earns kudos for her work with cognitive radios, and Adam Stubblefield of Johns Hopkins University makes the grade as an outstanding tester of various technologies' security systems.
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  • "Pervasive Computing in Sports Technologies"
    IEEE Pervasive Computing (09/05) Vol. 4, No. 3, P. 22; Chi, Ed H.; Borriello, Gaetano; Hunt, Guerney

    The enhancement of sports by ubiquitous computing technologies is a fascinating trend, and researchers are concentrating on the application of such technologies to athletic performance, leisure and entertainment, and game rules. Equipment augmentation and unique performance measurement and analysis could potentially benefit nearly any sport, giving athletes a better understanding of how their heart rate, muscle movements, and orientation contribute to their performance; the issue for researchers is to determine which performance-measuring sensors are the most appropriate and how they should be employed. Wearable sensors worn by downhill skiers, for instance, could help trainers design better programs for muscular control. Pervasive computing technology can be incorporated into sports entertainment to increase the enjoyment of spectators or participants; spectators prefer to be completely immersed in watching live sports, so the technologies must be an aid to this experience rather than a disruption. The Frauenhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits has developed a new system that tracks both soccer balls and players on the field, which could enable coaches to better understand athletic performance as well as make the game more entertaining for spectators. Making new technology and standards acceptable to sports authorities often requires the rules to be changed to suit the technology, rather than vice-versa. For example, a prototype sensor-equipped chest protector that measures force prompted the World Taekwondo Federation to halve the number of scoring judges around the competition ring when such devices are used, so that they can score matches more accurately.
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