Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

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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 Thunderstone or ACM. To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.
Volume 7, Issue 860: Friday, October 28, 2005

  • "New Tech Speaks Many Languages at Once"
    CNet (10/27/05); Kanellos, Michael

    Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Alex Waibel has developed software that will enable people to communicate with each other in different languages through the real time translation application known as Lecture Translation. Another of Waibel's technologies beams translations to listeners in a variety of languages through directional speakers. Translation Glasses transcribe the oral speech into subtitles displayed on a miniature LCD screen. Waibel's Muscle Translator uses electrodes to glean the electrical signals from the muscle movements in the face created through speech, potentially allowing for phone calls to be made without sound. Recent advances in machine translation have given computational linguistics renewed appeal. Waibel wanted to create translation technologies that are "good enough" to address the linguistic barriers that have become increasingly common as cultures overlap. Research in machine translation has shifted away from trying to train computers on all of the semantic rules and exceptions of language, and instead focuses on statistical analysis, mapping one word at a time to another. Google recently won a National Institute of Science and Technology computerized translation contest with a statistical model that demonstrated the increased accuracy of translations as the body of samples for the computer to analyze grew. Statistics are still imperfect, as in Waibel's models the translations between similarly structured languages, such as Spanish and English, are more fluid than the translations between English and German, for example. Waibel holds out the possibility of using an intermediate language to translate between wildly different languages, such as Korean and Catalan, though he admits that such capabilities lie well down the road.
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  • "From Jets to Potato Chips, Q-Bits to Hobbits, the Experts Are Speaking at SC05"
    dBusinessNews (10/26/05)

    This November's Supercomputing 2005 conference (SC05), sponsored jointly by ACM and the IEEE Computer Society, will host technology experts at work in a variety of industries, such as Procter & Gamble's Thomas Lange, who is using modeling and simulation technologies to determine the effects of a potato chip's aerodynamics on the production process. The conference, which takes place November 12-18 in Seattle, will host presentations on a range of topics, including the aerodynamics of household products, tsunamis, as well as the "Gateway Discovery" theme, which addresses the future potential of supercomputers. There will be presentations on the more traditional approach to aerodynamics from Boeing and General Electric Aircraft Engines. Mshmro.com's Wu-cheng Feng and Michael Zyda of the University of Southern California's GamePipe Lab will present their research on gaming technologies in the Masterworks Session. Other presentations will include Panesas' Garth Gibson speaking on storage architecture and Sun's James Hughes addressing data security. Quantum cryptography and quantum chemistry will also be popular topics, with presentations from Geordie Rose of DWave and Audrius Berzanskis of MagiQ. "Since the early years with Seymour Cray, the ACM/IEEE SC Conference Series has had a tradition of delivering a spectacular lineup of invited speakers. This year it is both my honor and privilege to inspire and illuminate our Gateway to Discovery with visionaries whose efforts are charting our journey into the 21st century," said SC05 technical program chair Jeff Kuehn, Advanced Computing Researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
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    For more information, or to register for SCCSTo register http://sc05.supercomputing.org/

  • "Women Valued for Technology Roles"
    BBC News (10/28/05)

    The overall prize at the first Blackberry Women and Technology Awards went to Jackie Edwards, a lecturer at De Montfort University, for her use of a robotic dog to generate enthusiasm for careers in IT and bridge the gender gap by making technology more approachable. The awards were held in London partially to address the disparity between the UK's overall workforce, half of which is made up of women, and the IT workforce, where women's participation has dropped to 21 percent. The awards will be held again next year, and received praise from Glenda Stone, who heads Aurora, a professional women's networking and advocacy organization. "They reinforce the reality that women make a significant contribution to technology and use technology in every aspect of their personal and business lives," Stone said. MSN's Gillian Kent, who has campaigned for child protection online, was also recognized, as was Accenture, which was selected as the company that best advances women in technology. IBM's Sue McDougal was recognized as the best female role model in technology. A recent report issued by DTI identified the importance of female role models and mentors, citing as the principle reasons why women leave technology professions in their 40s as an imbalance between their work and personal lives and a widespread culture that undervalues women's skills.
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    For information on ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women

  • "Nokia, MIT Team on New Research Lab"
    TechWeb (10/27/05); Gardner, W. David

    MIT and Nokia have announced their plans to jointly open the Nokia Research Center Cambridge, a facility that will integrate 20 researchers from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Laboratory (CSAIL) and 20 from the Nokia Research Center. There are already projects for the new center in development, such as research to develop new user interfaces and more power-efficient devices. The center is scheduled to open on Jan. 1 with five projects on its list. "For Nokia, this is a fresh approach to our research collaboration with universities," said Nokia's Bob Iannucci, who will head the company's research effort. Nokia is the world's largest seller of mobile devices, and the partnership with MIT will bring the company into closer contact with U.S. carriers, particularly the U.S. GSM providers such as T-Mobile and Cingular. The lab's researchers will also explore applications of the Semantic Web, which was partially developed by CSAIL and Nokia. Nokia has long supported MIT, and was a founding partner of MIT's Oxygen Alliance project to develop a new breed of computers. MIT President Susan Hochfield says, "Information and communication technologies are becoming ever more critical in all aspects of our personal and professional lives. By carrying out long-term research in these fields, including novel uses of hand-held devices, MIT and Nokia will make new communication opportunities and services available for people around the globe."
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  • "Budget Forecast Predicts More U.S. R&D Cuts"
    EE Times (10/26/05); Leopold, George

    The U.S. high-tech industry will have to be creative in finding money to fund research and development over the next 10 years and beyond. The Government Electronics & Information Technology Industries Association presented a Pentagon budget forecast at a conference this week in Falls Church, Va., that indicates military spending for research, development, test and evaluation will fall from around $68.8 billion in fiscal 2005 to about $60 billion (in constant fiscal 2006 dollars) by 2011. Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office projects that there will be a steady decline in military spending on R&D after 2012. Most federal spending on R&D comes from the Department of Defense. The decline in federal spending on R&D comes at a time when development costs continue to escalate. The high-tech industry "must find ways to bring down the cost of technology innovation," says Cecil Black, an executive with Boeing who presented the budget forecast.
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  • "Open Source Group to Be Formed for Storage Infrastructure Software"
    ITNews

    Several major storage companies have formed an alliance aimed at providing customers with greater choices in storage infrastructure software based on open standards. The project will be known as Aperi, and will count Cisco Systems, Computer Associates, IBM, and Sun, among others, as its members. The group is predicated on open development and will tap its members for programming contributions to be integrated on a common platform. The group believes that a standard platform will give customers greater choice in selecting individual storage applications, and will minimize the complications involved in updating systems and training employees. Aperi will build on existing standards, such as the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S). The companies involved in Aperi are unified in their belief that the collaborative, open source initiative will provide customers with more choices and flexibility at a time when interoperable data storage needs are proliferating. "Storage vendors have taken a significant step forward today to unite under a common goal of providing flexibility, simplicity, efficiency, and common standards for customers," said ACM President David Patterson, the Pardee Professor of Computer Science at University of California, Berkeley. "Collaboration at this level is the only way we will manage and overcome the information explosion we are seeing today."
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  • "Who Owns XML?"
    Technology Review (10/26/05); Roush, Wade

    XML has become ubiquitous among Web programmers, powering data description and structuring to enabled its sharing across the Internet, software developer Scientigo claims that it holds two patents covering the concept of formatting data in a self-defining package to ensure correct display irrespective of the data's location. Scientigo intends to pursue licensing agreements with corporate XML users or sell its patents to another company. The prospect of a proprietary XML is unnerving to many developers, as they are quick to attribute the Internet's success to open standards such as XML. Most protocols and Internet features are not protected by patents, or are freely available because their inventors have waived their intellectual property rights. A proprietary realignment can temper developers' enthusiasm, as was the case when SCO sued IBM for using its Unix code, and Linux's popularity slipped noticeably. Scientigo claims that its XML claims pertain to namespaces, and that it merely seeks compensation for use of its intellectual property. Scientigo's Paul Odom says the infringement occurs with the concept of "neutral form," where information defines itself and allows third parties to understand its meaning and relationships. Scientigo views its case as different from SCO's, which involved copyrights, because it is a patent dispute, and therefore the lines of infringement are easier to define. Scientigo insists that it is only interested in monetizing its patents and may consider selling them, but that it has no interest in pursuing unreasonable licensing demands that would obstruct XML development in the community.
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  • "Microsoft to Offer Online Book-Content Searches"
    New York Times (10/26/05) P. C5; Hafner, Katie

    MSN Book Search marks Microsoft's entry into the online book-search market that has seen increased interest since the inception of the Open Content Alliance, an organization formed to support the digitization of the contents of millions of books. Microsoft intends to join the alliance, and is contributing $5 million, which is enough to fund the scanning of around 50,000 books. Yahoo! recently joined the alliance, which also counts as members several universities, the Internet Archive, and the National Archives of Britain. A test form of MSN Book Search will go online in early 2006, and will offer the contents of books that are out of copyright at no cost, though Microsoft is still working with publishers to determine a fee structure for copyrighted materials so as to avoid legal actions similar to those recently brought against Google for its Print service. Members of the Open Content Alliance will ask permission of copyright holders before digitizing their work, unlike Google, which offers an opt-out provision that shifts the burden of action onto the rights holder. The Open Content Alliance was the conception of Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, who has said that bringing Google into the fold of the alliance is one of his greatest hopes. Kahle said talks with Google are moving forward, though a spokesman for the search company stated that Google has yet to decide whether or not to join the alliance.
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  • "Web 2.0 Cracks Start to Show"
    Wired News (10/27/05); Jardin, Xeni

    Troubles with Web 2.0 technologies such as Flickr, BitTorrent, tagging, and RSS syndication have started to emerge, though backers claim Web 2.0 is hardened to prevail against the kinds of problems that affected free email, BBSes, and Usenet. Wikipedia is a frequent target of critics, who claim the site's open, participatory nature has led to spurious entries and variable quality, while journalist Nicholas Carr has dismissed a sizable portion of participatory media as "mediocre." "Online, free media is one of the contributing factors to the shrinking circulation of good newspapers," he argued. "Now, traditional media is shifting away from large investments in bureaus and hard reporting, and towards cheaper content and opinion-making." Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales insisted that fixes to address quality and reliability are under development, including a system to tag finished articles that have been rigorously reviewed by a team of editors. Others say the problems attributed to Web 2.0 services may have more to do with human nature given the technology's reliance on public participation and openness. Nevertheless, some Web 2.0 services have been less problematic, such as the largely unexploited Flickr online photo-sharing service. Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield said the system is designed to guarantee that correcting bugs is easier than creating them. He did not deny that malicious parties will probably concoct new techniques to exploit the system, but noted that "we're aware, and we're prepared."
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  • "Internet to Ask, 'How May I Serve You?'"
    USA Today (10/27/05) P. 1B; Maney, Kevin

    The Internet is transforming into an "interactions Web" as the boundaries between the Web, the computer, and users blur, the Internet's penetration into everyday life deepens, and Web site content is increasingly generated by users. "We believe the first 10 years of the Internet were a warm-up for what's about to happen," says Morgan Stanley Internet analyst Mary Meeker. Factors driving this new wave of Internet-delivered services include a critical mass of broadband-enabled households, and the sharp decline of digital content creation and tech company startup costs. Among the interaction Web's most interesting developments are Web services: Web sites can interact via XML and RSS, and the next rung up is automated Web sites that can seek out and organize online content based on user preferences. Rearden Commerce founder Patrick Grady says, "The Web ought to be an always-on personal assistant. It ought to know who you are and where you are and understand the context of what you're trying to do, and do things on your behalf." User-generated content is another hot area, an example being the Current TV cable channel, which broadcasts programming submitted over the Web, based on the responses of visitors. Executives and investors are expecting Web sites and people to mesh together even more thanks to the user-generated content trend. This will in turn fuel the Web's further integration into people's lives. "That's the next wave of innovation--not the Web page but delivering services through the Internet. This is not your father's Internet," says Sun Microsystems President Jonathan Schwartz.
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  • "Privacy Survey Puts Online Policies to the Test"
    The Privacy Place (10/28/05) Ant´┐Żn, Annie

    The Privacy Place, a three-year-old Web site created by privacy researchers to make information about policy issues available to policy makers, software developers, and citizens, is conducting an online survey to test customer knowledge and comprehension of corporate privacy policies. The site is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, North Carolina State University, and is a research affiliate with Purdue University's Center for Education and Research for Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS)-the largest information security university center in the U.S. The online survey focuses on privacy policies and user values. A scenario is established for participants who are asked to imagine they are considering buying medication from an online pharmacy (BrandX) that requires they provide personally identifiable information. Participants are given BrandX's Privacy Policy to read-or not-and then proceed with the survey. Researchers expect results from the survey will establish valuable information regarding privacy policy expression and user comprehension thereof. The group is looking for volunteers to participate in the survey, which should take 5-10 minutes to complete.
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  • "Gadgets Drive Extreme Data"
    Australian IT (10/25/05); Dearne, Karen

    Businesses today have to contend with extreme data, an enormous volume of real-time and around-the-clock, unstructured data employees and consumers generate in the form of short-hand text messages, pictures, voice snippets, and video clips, says a new report from the Leading Edge Forum, the think tank of Computer Science Corp. "Because consumers are now using a range of portable digital devices and things like location, messaging, shared community, and searching technologies, they're creating data in ways that simply weren't possible before," says Dr. Derek Binney, CSC Australia innovation office director. According to the report, "Extreme Data: Rethinking the I in IT," exabytes, or 10 to the power of 18, is now the measure for data, and a University of California at Berkeley study reveals that 5 exabytes of new data was created and stored in 2002, which is enough to fill the U.S. Library of Congress half a million times. Businesses will have to accommodate devices such as mobile and camera phones, PDAs, digital cameras, video recorders, and music players into their processes and support them. The report notes that privacy, security, and data management will remain challenges for businesses. However, the report adds that "the benefits of having data everywhere are manifold, with efficiency, convenience, and flexibility topping the list."
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  • "STEM Employment and Salaries, 1994-2003"
    CRA Bulletin (10/24/2005); Vegso, Jay

    A recent GAO report shows that employment rose 23 percent in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from 1994 through 2003, and mathematics and computer science-related jobs rose 78 percent during the 10-year period. In comparison, employment in other fields increased 17 percent. Also, the number of women involved in STEM work is projected to have risen from about 2.7 million to about 3.5 million, which is not a substantial increase for the category. Black employees accounted for about 8.7 percent of STEM workers in 2003, compared to about 10.7 percent of workers in the civilian work force, and Hispanics represented about 10 percent of STEM employees that year, compared with about 12.6 percent of Hispanic workers in the private sector. Median annual wages and salaries rose in the four STEM fields, ranging from a 6 percent increase in science to a 15 percent increase in engineering, adjusted for inflation.
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  • "Festival Promotes High School Females' Interest in Math, Sciences"
    The Daily Orange (10/24/05); Hicken, Melanie

    Organizers of the seventh annual Sonia Kovalevsky festival at Syracuse University are calling the Saturday event a success. Named after the first female to receive a doctorate in mathematics, the festival is designed to encourage local high school girls who have an interest in math or science that they can excel in such fields. The festival attracted 35 girls, who had an opportunity to attend two of five morning workshops led by female professors in math, science, computer science, and engineering, such as "Biometrics: Recognition of Humans Through Faces," facilitated by Dr. Lisa Osadciw and Yanjun Yan. The workshops were interactive in that the girls were given problems to solve that required critical thinking. In the afternoon, the professors participated in a panel discussion, which gave the girls a chance to learn about various fields and their career opportunities. "The festival is a great way to let the girls and their families know that [these careers] are an option," says Marjory Baruch, an adjunct professor in computer science who organized the festival. The SU mathematics department and the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science hosted the event, which was funded by SU and the Technology Alliance for Central New York.
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  • "College of Computing at Georgia Tech Creates Language Development Technology to Help Hearing Impaired Children"
    Georgia Institute of Technology (10/18/05)

    Scientists in the College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology have used sophisticated gesture recognition technology to develop a new learning tool for hearing-impaired children. As part of the CopyCat project, the researchers have created a sign language development tool that comes in the form of an instructive computer game. Hearing-impaired children can use CopyCat, which makes use of a virtual sign language tutor, to interact with and sign to on-screen characters in an engaging and enjoyable manner. CopyCat is designed to speed up the linguistic development of hearing-impaired children, who often have limited exposure to sign language in their early childhood other than in school because they tend to have hearing parents who do not know or are not very proficient in sign language. "The computer provides a patient, skilled, communicative partner for the children anytime they choose, and that level of interaction is invaluable," explains Dr. Harley Hamilton, an education technology specialist at the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf. The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research helped fund the project.
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  • "Foresight to Forge Strong ICT Future for Europe"
    IST Results (10/27/05)

    The IST-sponsored FISTERA project conducted an analysis of future scenarios that could play out in Europe's information communication technologies (ICT) segment laid against a global backdrop. FISTERA examined the results of national foresight activities in nine EU countries, Israel, Japan, the United States, and Korea, and collaborated with ICT researchers and policymakers. The program is more concerned with the broad integration of social, economic, and technological issues rather than specific issues. FISTERA analyzed patent data to gauge the comparative R&D capacities of the United States and Europe, and found that in overall patent activity, Europe is behind the United States and Japan, though its stronghold on communications technologies helped close the gap to some extent in the 1990s. Europe is also catching up in data processing, and is leading in certain wired and wireless technologies, due largely to the success of Nokia and Ericsson. Europe is also ahead in voice synthesis and recognition technologies, though it was described only as a fringe player in printers and hard disks. FISTERA held as its premise the belief that ICT will be essential to solving the challenges posed by aging, cultural diversity, and the fear of eroding cohesion in the EU. The foresight analysis studied scenarios that alternately had Europe emerging as a cohesive leader in ICT or becoming marginalized in that area as nations develop independently and the EU falls prey to divisiveness.
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  • "Shrinking Degrees of Separation"
    Computerworld (10/24/05) P. 36; Anthes, Gary H.

    Cornell University computer science professor Jon Kleinberg has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship for his research involving computer and social networking, genomics, and network routing and search. Kleinberg's research in such diverse fields has found connections that can link geographically distant nodes without requiring one to have an overall understanding of the network, a discovery that has led to the creation of decentralized social networks and peer-to-peer file-sharing services. His network search principles that can locate the most appropriate hubs and authorities have been used by search technologies, including Teoma, a search engine that powers Ask Jeeves. Kleinberg believes that search is still a developing area, though he marvels at how much information can be gleaned from relatively simple search technologies. He would like search to become more of an active respondent, and to be able to respond to events in real time. At the root of all research technologies are social networks, said Kleinberg, noting that the common mission is to link people with each other and information. Kleinberg is also critical of the polarization that confounds political discourse on technology, describing it as an impediment to progress.
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  • "The Arms Race"
    Economist (10/20/05) Vol. 377, No. 8449, P. 6

    Intellectual property is now regarded as a business asset throughout the tech sector, and this is fueling a surge in patents and patent enforcement as tech companies seek out royalties. The trend adds to the difficulty of creating new products without unintentionally infringing other patents, raising costs, and increasing the risk of dubious lawsuits. The growth of patents has paralleled that of R&D spending, and the rise in software patents is partly responsible for the increased probability that research will generate patents. Yet economic studies indicate that only about 5 percent of patents ultimately have value, and most patent-generated income comes from a mere smattering of authentically valuable patents; a 2000 report from America's National Bureau for Economic Research also found that secrecy, speed to market, and complementary manufacturing, sales, or service were more effective in shielding innovation than patents. A former search-engine company executive says patent infringement among all the major search firms is unavoidable, so the companies' intellectual-property strategies are geared to maintain a balance of power. ARM's Tudor Brown discourages companies that wish to focus exclusively on the licensing of intellectual property, and says licensing does not yield any significant returns without products or services to complement it. Microsoft's decision to reorganize its approach around innovation and patents has sparked fears that the company intends to wield intellectual property as a weapon against competition by essentially charging an "interconnection fee" to rivals so that their software can interoperate with Microsoft's. Patent-system critics say this signifies a swing that excessively favors intellectual-property holders.
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  • "Ask the Professor: Reconfigurable Programming"
    Government Computer News (10/24/05) Vol. 24, No. 31; Jackson, Joab

    The advent of FPGAs has been marked by wildly different estimations of performance improvements, which George Mason University computer engineering professor Kris Gaj attributes to the individual nature of a given task, namely how easy it is to divide one task into smaller, parallel-executing tasks. Traditional processors execute tasks sequentially, and allocate resources to functions that may not ever be used by a given program, which FPGAs resolve with their ability to be reconfigured. An FPGA's contents can change during program execution, which frees up resources at the beginning of an operation. Gaj predicts that FPGAs will continue to enjoy their greatest popularity in environments requiring scientific calculations, such as human genome mapping, weather simulations, and the space program, and should be considered as an alternative and potential replacement for today's supercomputers. Gaj does not predict widespread commercialization of FPGAs, as they are currently priced well out of the consumer market, and the programming is still at a very complex level, while conventional processors continue to meet the needs of most individual users.
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  • "The Dawn of Digital TV"
    IEEE Spectrum (10/05) Vol. 42, No. 10, P. 26; Rast, Robert M.

    Efforts are underway around the world to phase out analog television in favor of digital over-the-air transmission. Applications and services promised by digital TV include a sharper picture, improved cell phone reception, cell phone-downloadable video, mobile broadband Internet, "narrowcasting" of programs to specific audiences, and enhancement of regular shows with supplemental content. The advent of digital transmission is expected to spur intense competition for precious "beachfront spectrum," particularly by cell phone companies anticipating a 90 percent reduction in infrastructure costs because fewer cells will be needed due to the greater transmission radius of signals at upper 108 MHz frequencies. Parties that stand to make major gains with the replacement of analog by digital include manufacturers, as new technologies and services require new products. Broadcasters will also benefit through upgrades to digital TV, which will improve their quality of service and make them flexible enough to go after new audiences through narrowcasting and other applications. Governments will, in the end, win the appreciation of their constituents by transitioning broadcast TV to a better service and reallocating empty broadcast spectrum to other practical applications. Overall, the availability of new and better services through digital TV with be an advantage to consumers, although poor consumers who cannot afford conversion set-top boxes or switchovers to cable or satellite services will lose out, at least in the short term.
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