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Volume 7, Issue 865:  Wednesday, November 9, 2005

  • "Research Money Crunch in the U.S."
    CNet (11/08/05); Reardon, Marguerite

    Attendees at last week's Marconi Society symposium voiced their concerns that a lack of funding for research is causing the United States to lose its competitive edge in technological innovation. The group noted that famous research facilities such as AT&T's Bell Laboratories, IBM's Watson Research Center, and Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center have scaled down their efforts and are moving away from their historic focus on long-term research. The group also identified a plateau in government funding, describing the 1960s as a bygone era when the government energetically poured money into research, creating DARPA specifically to support the type of risky, cutting-edge research that led to the development of the Internet. As government funding stagnates, the United States runs the risk of falling behind Asia and Europe, which are attracting a greater portion of the world's scientific research. The proposed budget for 2006 allots $132 billion for scientific research, which represents no significant change from the previous year. "The government isn't stepping up to the plate," said Marconi Society Chairman Robert Lucky. "We're eating our seed corn." In addition to simply earmarking more money to scientific research, many technology experts advocate a shift from short trial periods where projects can be abandoned after a matter of months to a more patient, long-term approach. Also, the focus on national security has closed many research projects off to members of the academic community. The NSF has also seen a jump in the number of proposals submitted, which, coupled with stagnant resources, means more projects will go without funding. Increased competition also makes it difficult for corporations to engage in research that will not yield an immediate profit.
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  • "History's Worst Software Bugs"
    Wired News (11/08/05); Garfinkel, Simson

    As software wields a steadily growing influence on our daily lives, the bugs that undermine its functionality have the potential to cause major disruptions in technologies that many of us take for granted and cause serious accidents. While some look to the few incidents where lives were lost as strong arguments against human's reliance on software, technologists counter that more intelligent processing will ultimately save more lives than it claims. One notorious incident occurred between 1985 and 1987 when the Therac-25 medical accelerator fell prey to a bug known as a race condition, and administered lethal amounts of radiation, killing five. Another occurred in 2000, when a group of Panamanian doctors manually overrode a feature in a piece of visualization software designed to shield cancer patients from unnecessary radiation, causing at least eight patients to die. On Jan. 15, 1990, a bug in a new version of software that powered AT&T's long-distance switches caused its computers to crash, setting off a chain reaction that eventually cut off long-distance service to 60,000 people for nine hours. The engineers fixed the problem by reloading the old version. In 1993 an error in Intel's Pentium chips that caused mathematical inaccuracies of 0.006 percent cost the company $475 million, when it eventually agreed to replace the chip for anyone who complained, rather than those who could demonstrate their need for extreme accuracy, as it had originally offered. An error made when transcribing a formula from a piece of paper into code led to a miscalculation of the Mariner I space probe's trajectory in 1962, which ultimately caused mission control to destroy the rocket. And in 1996, an integer-conversion error caused the Ariane 5 Flight 501's computers to crash, and the rocket disintegrated 40 seconds after its launch.
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  • "Legal Pressure Shutters Grokster"
    Washington Post (11/08/05) P. D1; Krim, Jonathan; Ahrens, Frank

    In a move lauded by entertainment industry executives, Grokster will terminate its file-sharing service as part of a settlement with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Music Publishers' Association. Four months earlier, Grokster lost a crucial case in the Supreme Court, which ruled that peer-to-peer (P2P) services could be held liable for inducing unlawful file-swapping by customers. But Grokster's capitulation is no guarantee that other file-sharing services will follow suit, and Grokster's shutdown will certainly not prevent people who have already downloaded its file-sharing software from using it. Legal services that offer fee-based file-trading are gaining popularity, but free file-trading is still predominant, with Web monitors reporting that song-swapping comprises roughly 70 percent of all P2P activity. Concurrent with the rise in P2P activity is a flattening out of U.S. digital music sales. RIAA chief executive Mitch Bainwol said in an interview that digital piracy cannot be completely stamped out, but expressed confidence that "we can get to a point where the legal services will dominate." Electronic Frontier Foundation senior staff counsel Fred von Lohmann argued that the music industry's attempts to control its offerings through technology or litigation are futile, citing "laughably weak" safeguards. He recommended the industry compete with free services by reducing prices, making more content available, and loosening strictures on the ability to transfer files among diverse devices and locations.
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  • "SC05 Announces HPC Analytics Challenge Finalists"
    Business Wire (11/08/05)

    HPC Analytics has announced the six finalists competing in its challenge to be held at the upcoming Supercomputing 2005 (SC05). The entries, submitted by researchers, engineers, and analysts from around the world, represent an array of sophisticated data analysis and visualization applications to help solve advanced scientific and computational problems. The Terascale Music Mining project seeks to produce terascale repositories of music in a variety of forms that are both secure and accessible. The Network Traffic Analysis with Query Driven Visualization entry helps manage information to enable search and identification of 1.1 billion records, consisting of 25 fields each, and collected over 24 weeks. The Simulated Pore Interactive Computing Environment (SPICE) seeks to ascertain the process through which protein biomolecules are translocated over protein pores through a computational analysis of the biomolecule's free energy profile. Bridging the Macro and Micro: a Computing Intensive Earthquake Study Using Discovery Net provides an analysis of earthquakes through high-performance computing methods. Visualization of Large-scale Unsteady Computational Fluid Dynamics Datasets is a novel visualization technique to enable more effective queries of unsteady databases. Finally, the Real Time Change Detection and Alerts From Highway Traffic Data project compiles and tests data from 830 highway traffic sensors placed throughout the Chicago area, as well as weather and textual data to provide real-time detection of traffic condition changes.
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  • "HP Testing Material to Replace Newsprint"
    San Francisco Chronicle (11/07/05) P. G1; Pimentel, Benjamin

    Hewlett-Packard is developing a computer display that could be rolled up to offer the same flexibility as a newspaper or a magazine. Flexible displays have been a goal of the technology industry for more than 20 years, and Xerox has already produced some electronic displays that can be used for store signage or advertising, while HP and Philips have produced their own flexible displays that can be folded or rolled to stand in for paper. HP is betting that e-books will eventually become a mainstream technology, and has created an electronic paper technology that contains 300 books on a tablet with a thickness of one inch, allowing the user to turn pages by tracing his finger over a strip of glass. Thus far, e-books have been easier to make than electronic newspapers or magazines, as scientists have been confounded by the difficulty of imprinting durable circuits onto a material that could be distorted and folded, as well as the challenge of creating flexible displays. HP has developed a roll-to-roll process that would enable the mass production of electronic paper with flexible displays, in contrast to the batch process used to make flat panel television sets and integrated circuits today. Still, the market for electronic paper is uncertain. The improved quality of LCD technology has made reading documents on a screen easier on the eyes, which has cast further doubts on the viability of electronic paper. Many do not expect electronic paper to completely replace traditional newspapers and magazines, predicting instead that it will become a completely new medium unto itself.
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  • "Homeland Security's Vague Cyber Plan"
    CNet (11/07/05); Broache, Anne

    The Department of Homeland Security has released the latest version of the federal government's cybersecurity proposal, and is welcoming comments on the plan through Dec. 5, 2005. Although the draft National Infrastructure Protection Plan is supposed to offer more detail than the preliminary report issued in February, the proposal remains largely couched in generalities. The draft includes some specifics, but they are mainly limited to a 16-page appendix in which recommendations are made with regard to threat analysis, response readiness, and training. The draft is designed to outline a strategy for shoring up "critical infrastructure" and "key assets," from power grids and dams to computer systems. The proposal puts the onus on Homeland Security and state and local governments to create information security policies and to know if their systems are vulnerable; on academia and the research community to establish best practices for IT security; and on the private sector to devise cyber-protection standards that are satisfactory.
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  • "UK's First Optical Network Gives Boost to e-Science"
    EurekAlert (11/04/05)

    At next week's Supercomputing 2005 (SC05) conference, UKLight, the United Kingdom's first optical network devoted to research, will perform astronomy, particle physics, and molecular biology applications to test its e-Science capabilities. The network has a capacity of 1 Gbps and links to other similar networks throughout the world, enabling scientists move data directly from one location to another at great speeds. UKLight will participate in a bandwidth challenge where systems compete to set a data transfer record of 6 Bbps. In the field of radio astronomy, UKLight will be used to relay information in real time from radio telescopes placed around the world. The experiment will test the ability of optical networks to fuse data from scattered locations into the equivalent of one unified telescope. The GridPP particle physics test will gauge UKLight's ability to track the movement of vast quantities of data in anticipation of handling the needs of the Large Hydron Collider when it becomes operational in 2007. The Simulated Pore Interactive Computing Experiment (SPICE) will measure the effect that access to supercomputers, facilitated through optical networks such as UKLight, has on researchers' abilities to model elaborate biological processes. SPICE will model a DNA molecule as it moves through a protein nanopore within a cell membrane. Other projects will simulate the flow of blood across the web of human arteries and address fluid-dynamics problems requiring advanced computations.
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    For more information on SC05, or to register, please visit http://sc05.supercomputing.org/

  • "Critics Press Companies on Internet Rights Issues"
    New York Times (11/08/05) P. C6; Zeller Jr., Tom

    Several U.S. fund management firms and investment companies are urging Internet companies to address the need for freedom of speech after a controversial incident involving journalist Shi Tao, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison after Chinese officials and Yahoo's Beijing division sought out his identify through his email address. Tao's harsh sentence was the result of him forwarding an email oversees written by the Chinese government that warned Chinese news stations not to broadcast the 15th anniversary of the killings of protesters in Tiananmen Square. This has created a push for companies to regulate polices for worldwide free speech online. Companies such as Microsoft and Google have received strong criticism for filtering words such as "human rights" and "democracy" from their search engines in China. Chinese officials have been able to censor Web traffic and spy on Internet users with the use of Cisco's technology, which makes up the majority of Internet software in China. This has prompted 26 companies and organizations that represent approximately $21 billion in assets to sign a resolution to oversee and evaluate technology companies' relationships with authoritarian governments, promote free speech on the Internet, and request that companies implement a company-wide human rights policy by May 31, 2006. This proposal will be voted on at Cisco's annual shareholder conference Nov. 15. Many executives at Cisco are against the initiative, but Adam Kanzer, general counsel and director of shareholder advocacy for Domini Social Investments, says this is the best alternative.
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  • "Paperless E-Voting Era Ends"
    Inside Bay Area (CA) (11/09/05); Hoffman, Ian

    Beginning on Jan. 1, every e-voting machine in California will be required to produce a paper trail in a move that many believe signals the beginning of the end for paperless e-voting. The paper trails will support an automatic recount of 1 percent of California's precincts, and will be used in a full recount if there is a challenge to the election. The road to e-voting has been controversial, as many computer scientists have argued that the machines could succumb to a programming error or a security vulnerability, in addition to their hefty cost. Still, the ambiguities of paper voting, as personified by the 2000 presidential election, made many eager to embrace e-voting machines. By way of compromise, California became the first state to mandate that every e-voting machine have a printer attached to generate a paper trail. "It's been a long road to get where we are now, where the use of paperless electronic machines is on the decline," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation.
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    For more information on e-voting, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm

  • "Engineering Makeover Seeks Image Upgrade"
    Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal (11/06/05); Roberts, Timothy

    Engineers need an extreme image makeover, according to several California State University engineering departments who met in October on the campus of San Jose State University to discuss a possible way to meet an impending engineer shortage. The California Employment Development Department predicts the need for computer software engineers will increase 43 percent by the year 2012, and the engineer supply in states such as California cannot meet the demand. "We need more engineers," said CSU Chancellor Charles Reed. "If we are going to be globally competitive, we have to do more." Several experts suggest part of the makeover should be the mix of engineering and business to create an advanced degree that is more marketable. A certificate program is being offered at the University of California-Berkeley for engineering students to study business and MBA students to study engineering in the school's management technology program. Not everyone is pleased with the concept, such as Silicon Valley Engineering Council President Ron Kane, who said, "If they are taking some of those (math and science) courses away, replacing them with business courses, that would be creating a new area that is not engineering. Those people shouldn't be counted as engineers." Despite the controversy, companies are still seeking more interdisciplinary engineers for the changing market.
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  • "In Oregon, Brushing Up Their Shakespeare, Helped Along by Software"
    New York Times (11/08/05) P. B1; Hafner, Katie

    The Oregon Shakespeare Festival held annually in Ashland was transformed when Microsoft's Brian Schroeder arranged for the donation of $150,000 worth of software. As a result, the festival has new computers and a wireless network, and a small team of in-house programmers who developed software to cue lights, place scenery, monitor costumes and props, and sell tickets to a managed database of customers. The festival produces 11 shows on three stages during its season, for a total of roughly 775 performances, demanding the continual striking and rebuilding of sets. The costume tracking software offers images and sizes, and face-to-face meetings concerning matters such as the design of props have been greatly reduced thanks to the ability to email detailed images, while the automated lighting program cut lighting costs from $55,000 to $1,200. William Bloodgood, the resident scenic designer at the festival, has traveled to other venues, but admits that the festival's technology is unparalleled.
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  • "EU Optimistic Over Wider Governance of Internet"
    Reuters (11/07/05); Jones, Huw

    Several countries feel the United States has too much power over the Internet, but the 25-nation European Union is optimistic a change will come soon at an upcoming conference. The World Summit on the Information Society will be held in Tunis from Nov. 16-18. More countries want a say in the control over the domain name system that regulates Internet traffic. Jean-Francois Soupizet, deputy head of international relations at the European Commission, said final negotiations are almost complete. He said, "We are entering into the final phase of negotiations with quite an optimistic point of view. We have already the elements for an agreement, notably a workable definition of Internet governance." Although Soupizet said the UN was against interfering with the administration of the Internet's infrastructure, he did say, "Only when this is not working properly, then we could consider intervention. This point is now widely shared by all parties at WSIS...and will be reflected in the Tunis agenda for action." The UN-sponsored event will push for more international Internet governance despite opposition from U.S. officials. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) is adamant against the UN controlling the Internet. Software firms and Internet firms also fear that too much government involvement may lead to increased regulation and taxes. However, the UN believes that a multi-national plan for the Internet will be more democratic and fair for everyone.
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  • "You've Come a Long Way, But Today IT Is It"
    Roanoke Times (VA) (11/06/05); Kantor, Andrew

    Female participation in the IT sector lags significantly behind the growing demand for workers, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that IT will claim eight of the 10 fastest growing jobs between 2000 and 2010. The shortage of workers needed to meet the growing demands of the IT industry leads to offshore outsourcing initiatives and importing workers from other countries on H1-B visas. Despite growing demand and potentially lucrative compensation, the Department of Commerce reports that only 1.1 percent of undergraduate women pursue IT careers, compared to 3.3 percent of men. While it is a point of clarity that women will be integral to solving the domestic shortage of IT workers, there is no single explanation as to why they are reluctant to enter into the field. It has been suggested that girls have a narrow circle of people to whom they look for career advice, and, to their credit, parents are showing signs of evolving away from discouraging them from entering into technical fields. In college, however, IT loses traction with women as it is assailed by images of friendless nerds toiling in isolation at their computers, too preoccupied with abstruse technical matters. Women typically prefer to work in a collaborative setting, and are most engaged by the social component of their occupations. They are also drawn to careers where they feel they can make a difference, and many fail to see the social utility in technical occupations.
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  • "GANDALF Conjures up Faster, Seamless Internet Technique"
    IST Results (11/07/05)

    The IST project GANDALF has developed a new technology that can increase data rates by 1,000-fold compared to existing DSL and 100-fold compared to Wi-Fi. GANDALF's technology also enables data to flow seamlessly over both wireless and fixed-line communications, which makes the project the only one in the world to have made progress so far in both areas. In order to overcome the challenge of using the same technology for both fixed-line and wireless, as well as the need to obtain higher rates of data transfer, GANDALF's project partners developed a technique using an optical feeder that allows data to be sent over cable in a format that also allows it to be transmitted over wireless networks; this duality ensures that the access nodes and the modems of end users are all the same regardless of whether they are receiving data via cable, radio, or both. One of the major advantages for operators is that the cost of implementing the GANDALF technology is minimal, according to GANDALF coordinator Javier Marti at the Technical University of Valencia in Spain. This will ultimately reduce costs for operators by reducing bandwidth requirements at the transmitter end, and by simplifying the electronics involved at both the transmitter and receiving ends. So far, in-lab tests of GANDALF have achieved a data transfer rate over both fixed-line and wireless of 1.25 Gbps, and the project partners are currently studying other capabilities of the system. Marti says the project partners are also planning to test the capabilities of creating wireless access at double radio bands using both the base-band intermediate frequency, which would allow additional bandwidth to be added immediately as and where needed.
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  • "Easy Animation to Get Novices Jumping for Joy"
    New Scientist (11/05/05); Biever, Celeste

    Two researchers on the West Coast have developed software that will make it easier to animate a sketch. Richard Davis of the University of California at Berkeley and James Landay of the University of Washington at Seattle presented the K-Sketch software during the User Interface Software and Technology conference in Seattle last week. Whereas current animation software requires expert users, K-Sketch enables the average computer user to sketch something on a Tablet PC, choose the parts to animate, and then drag the objects over the display for sweeping, looping, or spinning movements, which are recorded and played back as animation. Davis and Landay say K-Sketch could be used by bloggers or engineers to illustrate ideas, and animators to sketch new cartoons for colleagues and clients. Animating sketches is an area that continues to attract the interest of researchers such as those at MIT, where Randall Davis is incorporating AI for the recognition of shapes and simulation of motion.
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  • "No Easy Road to Interoperability"
    Government Computer News (11/07/05) Vol. 24, No. 32; Jackson, Joab

    Tim Bray, an original developer of XML, said in a recent interview that the language was born out of the shortcomings of HTML in transferring information from one machine to another. Currently employed by Sun Microsystems, in addition to chairing the IETF's Atom Publishing Format and Protocol Working Group, Bray said the growing use of the Web infrastructure for business applications demanded a language more suited for machine-to-machine interchanges. In creating XML, Bray and his colleagues took the Standard Generalized Markup Language, simplified it greatly, and made it more suited to a Web environment. While many wish to apply XML to semantic interoperability, Bray cautions that while XML is relatively simple, interoperability between departments on even the simplest terms can be nightmarishly complex. Bray sees a vast potential in the Resource Description Framework (RDF) for its ability to construct elaborate data structures, though he warns that it remains unproven. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) has enjoyed more success than any other offshoot of XML, and there are currently more than 10 million RSS feeds around the world. Despite its precipitous growth, a recent survey indicates that RSS feeds are in use by only 11 percent of Web users, leaving the technology with considerable room for further development, particularly in simplifying the subscription process to a single click. Further impeding the popularization of RSS are the nine competing versions that currently exist, none of which has gone through a standards process. The Atom group attempts to unify the successful parts of each version and codify them as a standard. While there is considerable interest in binary XML, Bray warns of abandoning the language's original textual transparency in favor of a more complex, opaque version.
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  • "Social Networks and Social Computing"
    Internet Computing (10/05) Vol. 9, No. 5, P. 14; Churchill, Elizabeth F.; Halverson, Christine A.

    Though "social networking" has only recently come into vogue as the study of online interactions between people through the Internet, behavioral scientists have long been studying a wide variety of social networks. Modern-day social network analysis (SNA) involves the use of data based on relationships between things rather than the characteristics of individual entities, which establishes networks of at least two social entities and the connections between them as the fundamental unit of analysis. These relationship networks can be mapped out in a sociogram that reveals substructures within networks, such as cliques within a larger group. Shifting patterns in social networks over time can outline the networks' formation, expansion, and erosion, and understanding such patterns in diverse kinds of networks can reveal potential causes and effects of change, and allow network evolution under various interventions to be predicted. The emergence of computer-based networks has led to a substantial increase in sociability among friends and strangers, and given researchers the means to gauge the interactions transpiring in evolving, stable, and changing social networks. A core component of SNA is the interaction between the activities of individuals or nodes, and the dynamics of the networks containing those nodes. Through the Internet, we have become cognizant of people's wants and abilities to form social networks that transcend geography.
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