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Volume 7, Issue 869:  November 21, 2005

  • "Who Has the Right to Control Your PC?"
    CNet (11/21/05); Borland, John

    The revelation that 4.7 million Sony CDs distributed to stores contained rootkit software that embeds itself in the depths on a computer's operating system, rendering the machine vulnerable to viruses, has not only caused Sony to undertake a massive recall and exchange program, but has touched off a debate about the fundamental issue of who should be able to control people's computers. While critics argue that the rootkit software was an unacceptable invasion of users' machines, Sony is certainly not the first company to install unwanted material onto a PC. Automatic update features that come from applications such as instant messaging, DSL-networking, and media players are a recurring example, which rarely come with precise and understandable licensing agreements. The rootkit fiasco signifies the convergence of the entertainment industry's long-standing grievance with users who copy their music and movies; an estimated 30 percent of Americans claim to have burned copies of CDs, and PC users who expect a semblance of privacy and personal ownership. Questions about regulating spyware and adware have been swirling for years, and legislation addressing that issue is currently pending in the House. Agreement is mounting among Internet companies that consumers should be notified immediately about potentially dangerous functions contained within downloads, and a coalition has emerged including Yahoo!, AOL, Verizon, and Computer Associates to grant Trusted Download Program certification to software that discloses the effect it will have on a computer once downloaded. The fallout from the rootkit issue has also attracted the attention of the recording industry, and prompted statements from record companies avowing not to place any form of spyware on their products.
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  • "War-zone Test for Babel-fish Tool"
    Wired News (11/18/05); Glasner, Joanna

    DARPA has developed a translation tool that would enable soldiers to communicate in Arabic via a laptop containing software for voice recognition and translation. While it is not designed to completely replace human interpreters, the system will facilitate rudimentary conversation by instantly translating from English to Arabic and vice versa with a computerized male voice. The DARPA project, called TransTac, emerged from a prior initiative by SRI International to create a translating PDA that is already in use by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. That device, known as the Phraselator, has limited use in nations with low literacy rates and where citizens are largely unaccustomed to the PDA interface. TransTac improves on those shortcomings by offering spoken translation that can synthesize conversations from several feet away, though in Iraq, its developers are struggling to fine-tune the device to interpret the Arabic dialect that differs considerably from Modern Standard Arabic. The absence of formal rules for Iraqi Arabic makes it difficult to work with the Iraqi vernacular, and the program has difficulty interpreting speakers with very different voices. No one in the military expects the technology to serve as anything more than a supplement to human interpreters, but in triage conditions where no translator is available, the software could be highly valuable, and in some situations could be more reliable than and trusted than local civilians. DARPA has requested $10 million in funding for TransTac, which it hopes will be tested in Iraq as early as summer 2006.
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  • "Sun Exec Calls for a Net Summit of Engineers"
    IDG News Service (11/21/05); Blau, John

    The World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, Tunisia, has brought governments, educators, civil rights activists, and other nontechnical people together to discuss the future of the Internet, but a global gathering for technical people also could be beneficial, says Sun Microsystems co-founder and chief researcher John Gage. "What's really missing in the documents signed here is the need to spend money on bringing together engineers, students, and others designing the Internet--from all countries and all levels of wealth," says Gage. "The many voices of all those people building the Internet around the world aren't always heard." Industrialized nations do not always understand the challenges that tech workers in developing nations face, says Gage. He cites the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Society as groups that would offer tech workers from developing nations the opportunity to participate in the discussion. Computer and telephone companies, and network-based enterprises could help fund a global tech summit, Gage says.
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  • "Are We Losing the Global Race for Talent?"
    Wall Street Journal (11/21/05) P. A17; Kapur, Devesh; McHale, John

    In the last few years, immigration barriers have caused the influx of highly skilled, legal workers entering the country to decline at a far faster rate than has the flow of largely unskilled, illegal immigrants. The failure of Congress to pass the legislation that would triple the number of skilled workers allowed into the country on H-1B visas, coupled with the first decline in enrollment among foreign students in American universities since the 1950s, has cast a long shadow over the future of U.S. innovation, write University of Texas-Austin government and Asian studies professor Devesh Kapur and Queen's School of Business economics professor John McHale. As evidence of the United States' reliance on foreign talent, the 2000 census reported that 51 percent of workers holding doctorates in engineering were foreign born. Emerging economic powers such as India and China are placing more value on their education system, while they are seen as increasingly attractive targets for outsourcing initiatives by U.S. companies. Historically, research and development had been the sole province a company's home country, and less skilled work was outsourced, though an increasing number of companies are beginning to outsource innovation to countries such as China, despite that nation's poor track record on intellectual property rights. Since 9/11, the United States has drastically restricted immigration, citing security concerns, though in the past few years it has made progress in lessening the screening backlog. While some critics argue that a liberal immigration policy in western countries is detrimental to the success of the economies of developing nations, skilled workers are far more likely to return to their home country than unskilled workers, bringing back the wealth of training and experience they acquired while working or studying abroad.
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  • "Two Thumbs Up"
    Forbes (11/15/05); Hoffmann, Leah

    "Sentiment analysis" has the potential to transform a simple Internet search by determining whether a return is positive or negative, similar to the way in which a dictionary indicates a word is used in the wrong context. Researchers are compiling thousands of indicator words--words such as "good," "bad," or "beautiful"--that will help determine whether a return is likely to be favorable, which would aid in the process of sorting returns according to relevance. "The variety of words that people use for subjective expressions is staggering," says Janyce Wiebe, a professor of computer science at the University of Pittsburgh, who is using a dictionary of about 8,000 words and phrases to study how context impacts the meanings of words. At the Canadian National Research Center's Institute for Information Technology, Peter Turney has assigned positive or negative values to a document's adjectives, averaged the values to obtain an overall opinion score, and has achieved accuracy rates ranging from 70 percent to 85 percent, depending on the kind of document. Customizable sentiment analysis programs are now being used to track online hotel reviews, speeches made by business leaders, and more. In a few years, companies in greater numbers are likely to embrace the technology when algorithms have been refined to deliver greater accuracy, says Cornell University computer science professor Lillian Lee.
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  • "Eye Recognition"
    The Engineer (11/15/05)

    Researchers from England's University of Bath have developed improved an computer algorithm that could enable identification through the iris of a person's eye. University of Bath electronic and electrical engineering professor Don Monro says the algorithm was 100 percent accurate in preliminary testing. Bath researchers are now preparing for a broader trial of 16,000 students and faculty members, as well as independent testing by U.K. and U.S. government agencies that are working to develop living passport technologies. Because there are no two identical irises, eye recognition is considered the most reliable of all biometric identifiers, including fingerprints. Algorithms extract an encrypted barcode from a digital image of an iris that is then stored in a database to be recalled for comparison with an image taken of the iris of a person trying to gain access to a secure location or to sensitive information. Despite the promise iris recognition offers, some analysts believe that innovation in the field has been curtailed by a lack of competition, as a broad patent covering iris authentication only recently expired. Creating a large, publicly available database is also important for companies to test their research, which is why Monro decided to make his database available online, so that scientists around the world could freely access it.
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  • "Iowa State IT Students Try Their Luck Against Hackers"
    InformationWeek (11/16/05); Kontzer, Tony

    College students will go head-to-head this weekend at the 2005 Cyber Defense Competition, held at Iowa State University, for a $100 gift certificate to the school bookstore in a competition designed to see who has the best defense for hackers. The event was started two years ago at a National Science Foundation workshop by academic and industry professionals who wanted a competition for students interested in IT security. The event is one of several nationwide and will consist of 11 teams of Iowa State students who will focus on protecting business information from a team of volunteer hackers, mostly from private companies that belong to the FBI's local InfraGard chapter. "Hopefully, the network teams keep the network up and running, and stay one step ahead of the hackers, just like in the real world," says Nate Evans, student director of the competition and a senior computer science major. The competition will take place at the university's Internet Scale Event and Attack Generation Environment, a state-of-the-art security testing facility funded by a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Iowa State plans to open the competition to students from other schools in the region next spring, and also launch a similar competition for industry, government, and academic IT professionals.
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  • "Corporate Ethnography"
    Technology Review (11/17/05); Fitzgerald, Michael

    More than 200 corporate ethnographers from high-tech companies, specialist shops such as IDEO, and tech-intensive businesses such as Wells Fargo attended the first-ever Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC) at Microsoft's campus Nov. 14-15, 2005, to celebrate the growth of their field. Ethnographers used to work primarily as consultants years ago, but many work directly for companies these days. Ethnography is viewed as a form of applied anthropology that provides a qualitative examination of human behavior, and yields a form of market research. For example, an ethnographer helped determine that Japanese people do not use instant messaging on their PCs because they consider an interruption to be impolite. Corporate ethnographers tend to focus on how a product would impact the context of people's lives, and Tim Plowman, a design anthropologist at Cheskin, adds that successful products are often created to provide something meaningful to people. "Companies want to find out how meaning manifests itself in people's lives, and ethnography is a good way to get at that," he says. Ken Anderson, an EPIC organizer and design anthropologist at Intel, adds that ethnography provides insight into market needs, which ultimately can lead to product innovation.
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  • "Our Challenge: Find Talent to Replace Software Pioneers"
    Mercury News (11/18/05); Mills, Steve

    Santa Clara County and the rest of the state of California could face some serious economic difficulties if the software industry's pioneers are not replaced as they reach the age of retirement in the next few years, writes IBM Software Group senior VP Steve Mills. The baby boomer generation--Americans born between 1946 and 1964--is responsible for laying the groundwork for much of the scientific achievement and development of new industries. The United States made a conscious effort to focus on math and science in the 1960s, in response to the launch of Sputnik in 1957 by the Soviet Union. The same kind of effort is needed today to stem the loss of information technology workers in the years to come, particularly at a time when fewer college students are pursuing computer science degrees and the demand for tech skills remains high. The industry will need to come up with ways to pass along the technical knowledge to the next generation, and a better job must be done to convince more young people to study for careers in math, science, and engineering. The popularity of TV shows such as "CSI" as well as computers, video games, iPods, and other devices could be used to cultivate the technical interest and skill of young people.
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  • "Ethernet's Inventor Sounds off"
    EE Times (11/11/05) No. 1397, P. 22; Mannion, Patrick

    In an interview, Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe, currently at Polaris Ventures, shared his thoughts on the current state of optical, wireless, and supercomputing technologies. Metcalfe sees video and location technologies as especially promising, and is actively pursuing alternative energy solutions as a venture capitalist. To address the proliferation of spam, Metcalfe argues for a two-pronged solution of permission and economics, where email would carry a cost and no one would be able to send a message without the recipient's permission. He argues against filtering, as he feels that email should always be encrypted and should not be accessible to a third party. Central to security is the issue of anonymity, which Metcalfe argues is the root of spam, viruses, and worms because it is the default setting of the Internet, and will only be resolved once router vendors begin to inspect source fields. In terms of overall security, Metcalfe has retreated from his dire predictions of the mid 1990s that the Internet was destined for a calamitous outage, for which he credits its resilience and consistent pace of improvement. Metcalfe wholly supports the ascendancy of blogs at the expense of daily newspapers for what he calls FOCACA, or freedom of choice among competing alternatives. Eventually, some blogs will be edited and filtered, and as search technologies become better at ferreting out the most relevant, they will become an increasingly viable alternative to traditional news media. Ethernet remains a sound commercial venture because of its business model, Metcalfe says, while Zigbee promises to become the Ethernet of embedded computers, whether it sits on magnetic radio, ultrawideband (UWB), or 2.4-GHz radio.
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  • "Spray-On Computers Reach Hard Places"
    Discovery Channel (11/16/05); Staedter, Tracy

    The Speckled Computing consortium is notable because of the interdisciplinary course of action the researchers have taken, according to Roger Meike, senior director at Sun Microsystems Laboratories. "Other people may just be focused on wireless communication or the sensor and those are important and feed into the other disciplines, but they are so interdependent that all of these different things have to play together," explains Meike. The consortium, a collaboration between researchers from five universities, is delving into sensing, computer processing, and wireless computing to create a dense network of tiny computers that can communicate with each other. Consortium director D.K. Arvind and his team are engaged in simulations involving specks that measure 5 millimeters square, and their efforts are based on a network of 100 wireless devices. A network of thousands of sensors could be used to monitor aircraft wings for structural problems or to rehabilitate people who have suffered a stroke. "Because they are so small, you can extend computing and sensing to areas that couldn't be reached before," says Arvind, who is also a computer science professor at Edinburgh University. Each Specknet sensor has it own processor; about 2 KB of memory; and a program that gives it the ability to gather information, work with other local specks, and act on the data.
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  • "MyTea: Connecting the Web to Digital Science on the Desktop"
    University of Southampton (ECS) (11/15/05); Gibson, Andrew; Stevens, Robert; Cooke, Ray

    The traditional tool for recording the process of experimentation, the lab book, is poorly suited to bioinformatics, given the field's in silico nature. A fast experimentation cycle is encouraged by the low cost of bioinformatic experimentation, but tracking back the methods and/or hypotheses that led to the results is difficult without an extra step of post hoc rationalization. The authors outline the myTea interaction framework and architecture as a tool for simplifying this process through the use of Semantic Web technologies. MyTea supports the automatic capture and annotation of elements in a bioinformatician's exploratory analysis for simple recovery and post hoc examination. The myTea interface is designed to support bioinformaticians in the steps leading up to the use of myGrid's Taverna service, which enables the creation of templates or workflows that automatically run searches using various research databases and tools, saving a significant amount of time and allowing experimental details to be compulsorily captured. The myTea system consists of an automated/annotatable lab book or report, a bench that allows researchers to track processes that they wish to record in the report, and a datastore where data generated by the bench and used by the report resides. The system expedites the "last mile" of connecting Web-based services with desktop/local processing; supplies mechanisms to process and store desktop analysis within triplestores, ontologies, and other Semantic Web technologies that are Web-accessible and Web-sharable; and offers new mechanisms via these services to facilitate easy handling and owner-ascertained sharing of reports and/or reports and associated information.
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  • "Next Leg for W3C, Semantic Web"
    InternetNews.com (11/07/05); Boulton, Clint

    The Rule Interchange Format (RIF), a new Semantic Web group, was recently founded by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to standardize the rules that drive information across the Web, without regards to format so it can start the integration and transformation of data from several different sources. RIF will provide a way to allow rules written for one application to be published, shared, merged, and reused in other applications and by other rule engines. The idea for RIF was started in April 2005 at a W3C rule languages for interoperability workshop attended by over 60 organizations, including IBM, Oracle and General Motors, who were interested in developing the Semantic Web. Interoperability is the main tool of the Semantic Web, allowing users to take data from multiple sources regardless of the technology used to create it, store it, or send it. Tim Berners-Lee, W3C director and chief architect of the Semantic Web, says bringing business rules vendors, users, rule language designers, and developers together to implement a rules standard is a giant step in achieving the full power of the Semantic Web, which can be tapped for information in the manner of a large database. The addition of metadata to the current Web gives access to the data in ways that were impossible before.
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  • "Sputnik, Races, and the State of U.S. Education"
    EDN (11/10/2005) P. 12; Barrett, Craig

    Results from ACM's International Collegiate Programming Contest prove one of the signs the U.S may have already lost its leads in science and technology, writes Intel Chairman Craig Barrett. The comptetion has come to be dominated by Asian and Eastern European colleges and universities over the past decade, with 1997 being the last time a U.S. school won the event. Barrett says the U.S. must become more serious about producing more students who are interested in pursuing careers in science and technology because the future of the country, including its economy and national security, depends on innovation. The nation is producing fewer engineers at a time when demand is soaring. A national program is needed to improve the quality of teachers at the grade school level, and offer scholarships and low-interest student loans to those who are pursuing technical degrees, Barrett writes. Incentives should be offered that would make top foreign students want to stay in the country rather than go back home and compete against the U.S. Barrett recommends the federal government also set aside more funding for investment in basic research and development. The U.S. was able to win the space race, but the current level of science and technology education is more of a challenge.

  • "Fixing the Requirements Mess"
    CIO (11/15/05) Vol. 19, No. 4, P. 52; Lindquist, Christopher

    Software projects can be undone by a requirements process in desperate need of repair, and some CIOs are trying to implement fixes by rewriting the process and convincing both the business and development sides to support the rewrites. Not every CIO takes the same approach, but all concur that there should be a selection of a formal requirements-gathering process and an unwavering commitment to that process. To deliver a call center management application on time, ADP Employer Services CIO Hugh Cumming drastically reduced the number of stakeholders from 40 active participants to five and determined from them what specific requirements were truly necessary. This approach reflects his philosophy that IT should draw a line in the sand more often if it wishes to avoid unmanageable requirements lists, while calming stakeholders' fears by demonstrating that the effort will yield at least some returns. Capital One CIO Gregor Bailar sought to add flexibility to the requirements process through agile development, in which teams of business people, operations staff, and IT personnel worked together throughout the project, frequently pausing to evaluate their progress and make changes as needed. The initiative substantially sped up the development cycle while improving the quality of the deliverables at the same time. Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals' Robert Sherman says rewriting the rules of development means that "IT is going to have to understand the intersections between requirements and business processes." To do this, he created his own schema for tracing requirements back to every impacted business process in order to better measure how the application affected the business, and to uncover concealed stakeholders.
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  • "China Design"
    BusinessWeek (11/21/05) No. 3960, P. 56; Rocks, David

    China's design business is undergoing a transformation driven by Chinese firms eager to build global brands and foreign companies seeking more mainland sales revenues. Concurrent with improvements in local design is the growing realization that multinationals must offer products with a specific Chinese appeal, which has led to their establishment of China-based design shops for studying local preferences. Many Chinese companies still fail to understand the vital role design plays in product differentiation, and the threat of piracy has also discouraged design investment; the good news is that the Chinese government seems more willing to prosecute pirates, while Chinese designers are beginning to score wins in international contests. Chinese companies are also bringing their management methods into line with modern techniques practiced by industry leaders around the world. Another defining characteristic of the best Chinese companies is their commitment to perfecting designs even when previous product iterations fail to catch on. Both domestic and foreign firms must contend with a shortage of local design experts, which China is attempting to remedy by opening new design schools and vastly increasing design's presence in national curriculums. Chinese design lags behind that of Japan or Korea because Chinese students need better instruction in the area of product functionality, not just stylishness.
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  • "OWL Exports From a Full Thesaurus"
    Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science & Technology (11/05) Vol. 32, No. 1, P. 22; Eman, Jay ven

    Software applications are currently incapable of even the most basic forms of analysis and processing, such as fundamental interpretation of information and the postulation of keyword context. Semantic Web initiatives such as the Web Ontology Language (OWL) seek to enable such ability in applications. The World Wide Web Consortium's OWL guide states that "OWL is intended to provide a language that can be used to describe the classes and relations between them that are inherent in Web documents and applications." By defining individuals, classes, and their properties, OWL formalizes a domain; an OWL ontology distinguishes itself from a philosophy ontology by including instances or members of classes. More data about the classes that thesauri terms represent and how classes, subclasses, and members relate to each other can be described through the use of OWL. The semantic meaning of a thesaurus' basic classes and properties is supplied by an OWL thesaurus output, which contains two core elements: An XML/RDF schema that articulates the thesaurus structure's basic definition, and the terms of the thesaurus tagged in keeping with the OWL recommendation. An OWL-wrapped thesaurus is not enough to deliver the Semantic Web's full potential, so additional semantic meaning--such as how a thesaurus term relates to the described entity or object--is required. The W3C OWL recommendation ought to be broadened to encompass the decision algorithms employed in the machine-automated indexing process.
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  • "Total Recall"
    IEEE Spectrum (11/05) Vol. 42, No. 11, P. 24; Cherry, Steven

    Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell maintains a record of his daily activities through MyLifeBits, a system in which his routines are captured by a wearable camera and sensors, and indexed in a PC database. The SenseCam around the wearer's neck snaps pictures in response to changes in lighting, orientation, temperature, acceleration, and infrared. The images are sent to the database, where the user can replay them on the PC as a memory aid. The location of the user is also recorded via a separate GPS receiver, which will be incorporated, along with audio recording capability, into a later version of the SenseCam. Bell also digitizes all documentation and other material that plays a part in his daily life, when possible. Microsoft's Visualization and Interaction for Business and Entertainment group is working on a user interface that complements MyLifeBits by making the information contained in the database easily digestible. Microsoft thinks MyLifeBits could give the flagging PC market a boost as well as help people more efficiently manage an ever-expanding range of information. The driving principle behind MyLifeBits is mankind's decreasing reliance on actual recall, concurrent with its increasing dependency on finding information when it is needed.
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