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Volume 8, Issue 889: Friday, January 20, 2006

  • "Google Resists U.S. Subpoena of Search Data"
    New York Times (01/20/06) P. A1; Hafner, Katie; Richtel, Matt

    Google is continuing its resistance to the government's request for records detailing users' search queries as the Justice Department steps up pressure on the search giant to ferret out child pornographers, having recently sought an order from a federal judge to mandate Google's compliance. Google has defied the government since the first subpoena was issued in August, claiming that disclosing its records could compromise the company's trade secrets and its users' identities. The Justice Department's move fits into a broader trend of the government's recent aggressive pursuit of its law enforcement agenda, though the Google subpoena is seen by many privacy advocates as a fishing expedition, as it does not target specific individuals, but rather intends to cull through potentially billions of random search queries. The Google subpoena, which was issued to aid enforcement of the Child Online Protection Act of 1998, seeks a list of 1 million random Web addresses in Google's index, as well as the records of one week's worth of search queries. Though the government has been cagey on how exactly the data will be used, the Justice Department's Charles Miller said the initiative is designed to gauge the effectiveness of filtering software and to attain an estimate of how much content exists online that would be harmful to a minor. The Justice Department reports that Yahoo!, MSN, and AOL have all complied with a similar directive. The government motion gives Google 21 days to comply, though the company has said that it intends to fight vigorously, vowing that it cannot abide by any scenario where its users could be identified by their search queries.
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  • "In Threat to Internet's Clout, Some Are Starting Alternatives"
    Wall Street Journal (01/19/06) P. A1; Rhoads, Christopher

    Though the Internet has been without significant competition for more than a decade, infrastructure developments in other parts of the world have led to the creation of rival systems, such as Chinese and Arab suffixes written in the characters of their native languages, inaccessible to the rest of the world. Germany has developed a system as a political protest to the Bush administration's foreign policy. The current Internet contains 264 suffixes, or roots, administered by ICANN, which operates under the Commerce Department, though the emergence of new networks worldwide threatens to undermine the universality of today's system. Deviating from those 264 roots is the basis for alternative systems, which are sometimes created to contest U.S. governance, and other times out of frustration with ICANN's perceived slowness to respond to requests for new roots. With more than half of today's Internet users outside of the United States, international pressure has been mounting to turn ICANN over to multilateral control, though the United States fended off such demands last November when more than 170 nations protested U.S. control at a United Nations summit in Tunis. Paul Vixie, one of the key architects of the domain name system, has partnered with Germany's Markus Grundmann, who founded the Open Root Server Network (ORSN) as a political protest and an alternative to the U.S.-controlled Internet. Vixie is apolitical regarding ORSN, though he agreed to operate one of its central servers, or mirrors, for Grundmann. Many in the Internet community were outraged that Vixie would willingly abet an effort that threatens to fragment the international community, though Vixie sees the move as a check on the ICANN system. The Dutch system UnifiedRoot goes a step farther, offering organizations a customized root that would be inaccessible to users of the ICANN system.
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  • "Computer Science Growing Into a Basic Science"
    Financial Express (India) (01/20/06); Sadagopan, S.

    While computer science began as an esoteric discipline concerned principally with mechanical calculations, the field has expanded to address the most sophisticated problems in physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, and engineering thanks to modern microprocessors and mass production of semiconductors, writes S. Sadagopan, director, IIIT, Bangalore. Among the milestones in the evolution of computer science were the defeat of chess champion Gary Kasparov at the hands of IBM's Deep Blue supercomputer, the launch of the 100 percent digitally designed Boeing 777 aircraft, and the mapping of the human genome. This was the backdrop of the recent Tech Vista, organized by Microsoft Research, India. Oxford professor C. Anthony Hoare, recipient of the 1980 ACM A.M. Turing Award, described his interests in machine translation and program verification, defined as checking for correctness, rather than simply testing for errors. Hoare also invented the widely used Quick Sort algorithm. Raj Reddy, founder and director of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute And co-recipient of the 1994 ACM Turing Award, detailed his Million Book Digital Project, and attendant issues of machine translation, automated classification, and data mining. Maria Klawe, dean of engineering and applied science at Princeton and former president of ACM, described the Aphasia Project, which attempts to develop mobile devices that present images, text, and sound in the manner required by those who suffer from cognitive disorders. Microsoft's Dan Ling outlined projects that address the interaction between humans and their mobile phones, in a clear indication that computer science is no longer a discipline devoted strictly to powering machinery. Computer science has a bearing on every other scientific discipline, and is coming also to have a profound impact on our quality of life.
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  • "Defender of the GPL"
    CNet (01/19/06); Shankland, Stephen

    In a recent interview, Free Software Foundation attorney Eben Moglen discussed the updated version of the General Public License (GPL), which deals explicitly with software patents and digital rights management (DRM). Moglen characterizes the first update since 1991 as an evolutionary progression, addressing the positive technological and social changes that occurred in the last 15 years, as well as the negative changes in the legal environment. Moglen cites IBM's patent reform lobbying in Washington as evidence that the process is inherently flawed, given that by the numbers, IBM is the greatest recipient of patents. Moglen distinguishes between patents and copyrights, noting that copyright law supports the notion of free software where ideas can be re-implemented and re-described, regardless of their origin, whereas patents impose long-standing and rigid ownership restrictions. The license was revised to deal with the sweeping popularity of free software, so that it will apply with equal effectiveness throughout the world, and to programs written under different licenses, such as Eclipse and Apache, though Moglen notes that both of those licenses permit code to be used in a proprietary fashion, while the GPL remains a copyleft license. The new license also stipulates that any code dynamically linked to GPL code must be available for release. The question becomes complicated when the proprietary video drivers used in the Linux kernel are factored in, though Moglen argues that a pure GPL license cannot link to proprietary video in any capacity. Moglen also takes TiVo to task, maintaining that it should respect the rights of its users, rather than collecting data on what buttons users are pushing. He is sharply critical of the movie industry, claiming that while it relies heavily on free software, entertainment companies such as Disney still refuse to respect the rights of the free software community.
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  • "U.S. Fills Its Latest Quota of H-1B Visas for Foreign Workers"
    InformationWeek (01/18/06); Murphy, Charles

    The extra 20,000 H-1B visas that were made available to foreigners who earned an advanced degree in the United States have all been taken; the allotment of 65,000 general H-1B visas for this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, were all taken by August. The additional 20,000 visas were established as a way to keep people from other countries that are earning a master's degree or higher at U.S. schools from leaving the country and taking their advanced skills with them. It's also hoped that the program will encourage foreigners to seek advanced degrees in the U.S. The controversial H-1B visa program is championed by many tech companies who say it is needed to attract the world's best talent and to make up for the lack of qualified workers in the U.S. However, opponents of the program say the program is used a way to keep U.S. wages low by using low-cost foreign workers. Although IT employment has picked up lately, the number of programmers employed today, 581,000, is down 22 percent from 2000.
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  • "Instant-on Computing"
    Technology Review (01/19/06); Bullis, Kevin

    With smaller, denser transistors threatening to overheat laptops and drain their batteries, many technologists are searching for alternatives to the conventional transistor as the main engine of a computer's processor. A team of Notre Dame researchers has taken a major step forward with the discovery that magnetic nanoparticles can theoretically be combined to stand in for a logic gate, using the particles' magnetic fields for processing information, rather than electricity, which could lead to a computer 1,000 times more efficient than today's products. While the research is unlikely to see commercial application within the next 10 years, it nonetheless brings "a note of optimism that there are physical processes that can be used for computing that can be very, very low power consumption," said Hewlett-Packard's Stan Williams. He also notes that the research could lead to instant-on computing, as well as the ability to survive power disruptions, since the process does not require electricity to maintain its settings. Central to the technology are nanoparticles that flip when they interact with similar particles that are close by, triggering a chain reaction of flipping particles, and transmitting information like a bucket brigade. Building on that premise, the Notre Dame team encircled one nanomagnet with four others, three of which function as inputs that direct the central magnet's position, which then dictates the position of the output magnet. Using one input as a master control enables the configuration to act as a programmable logic gate. The process is not yet refined enough to be applied to large-scale computing, notes Notre Dame electrical engineering professor Gary Bernstein, who expects the first commercial applications of the technology to supplement transistors rather than replacing them altogether.
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  • "A Universe of Good Intentions, a World of Practical Hurdles"
    Washington Post (01/19/06) P. D1; Walker, Leslie

    A coalition of academics, scientists, and nonprofit organizations has formed the Digital Universe Foundation to create a new directory for credible information on the spectrum of human knowledge that will provide users with a more visual browsing experience. The Digital Universe is headed by former NASA researcher Bernard Haisch, who expects the project to be completed over the next several years, and possibly decades. Unlike other directories and search engines, the Digital Universe eschews advertising and gives editorial control of its content to a group of self-organizing experts. The Digital Universe also displays a graphical overlay on top of each Web link, but to access it today, users must download a version of the Mozilla browser, though the designers are reconfiguring the directory so that it will be accessible through any browser. The Digital Universe is the brainchild of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Joseph Firmage, founder of Serius and USWeb, who recruited a panel of scientists and experts to develop the content for his multimedia encyclopedia. Instead of advertising revenue, Digital Universe owner ManyOne Networks plans to offer free basic access, with a bundled package of premium services available for $7.95 a month, including video and radio programming, email accounts, and chat rooms. The Digital Universe, which has already raised $10.5 million in funding from private investors and foundations, links mini-sites, or portals, through a visual directory of three-dimensional images. There are currently 40 portals, but Firmage wants eventually to have hundreds of thousands, all vetted by experts, in addition to entries clearly delineated as user-written and links to the outside Web. While providing reliable academic information on the Web is a lofty goal, and the project is still young, the graphical content of the Digital Universe is inconsistent and often difficult to navigate.

  • "Most of State's Vote Machines Not Ready for Primary Time"
    Los Angeles Times (01/19/06); Pasco, Jean O.

    California election officials report that just five of the state's 58 counties have e-voting systems that are certified for the June primary elections. As the Jan. 31 application deadline for certification approaches, it remains unclear what will happen to those counties that fail to gain certification, though pressure has been mounting on Secretary of State Bruce McPherson to accelerate the testing and approval process. "Obviously, if a county is relying on certification to be done in time and it doesn't happen, it's going to be a hell of a scramble," said state Sen. Debra Bowen after a committee session to address the matter. Currently, 17 counties use machines that already contain demonstrated vulnerabilities, while another 11 counties have been rebuked by McPherson for using machines with software glitches. Recent revelations have found inaccuracies in the November special election results in the systems of two counties, as well as a glitch in Orange County machines that can link a ballot to an individual voter. California officials under fire for the slow certification process have in turn leveled the same charge against federal officials, who must certify a system before the state can approve it. The committee discussed the potential vulnerabilities in the Diebold machines that 17 counties have already purchased, and Bowen called on McPherson to announce his plan to test a dozen systems that counties hope to use in the June election. California is also grappling with the absence of standards in the paper recording systems that the state requires, as well as how to make the printouts accessible for voters with disabilities.
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    For information on ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm

  • "Software Is Close to Putting Users on the (3-D) Map"
    Wall Street Journal (01/19/06) P. A11; Keeton, Ann

    Three-dimensional city mapping could one day be a common feature on GPS-enabled mobile phones, providing users with live maps that replicate their surroundings and guide them to their destination. GoogleEarth and Microsoft's Live Local have already mapped several cities with three-dimensional views through a technology that combines aerial and ground-level photography through a technology called 3D Situational Awareness. While the government and military have been developing computer-enhanced mapmaking technologies for years, the key to commercial acceptance will be to create as many maps of as many places as possible to ensure the widespread use of the technology. Consumer embrace has been sluggish, however, as Planet 9 Studios, which partnered with GoogleEarth in 1999, has been putting three-dimensional maps of cities online for a decade, but only in the past year has consumer interest been piqued, according to CEO David Colleen. As the inordinately expensive process of photographing the entire world from above neared completion, and developing technology steadily improved the quality of the photography, popularity among consumers spiked. While detailed, real-time maps will likely be a popular feature on next-generation mobile devices, flat screens will have difficulty portraying topographical undulations, and some mapmakers are concerned that the quality of the technology will fall short of the high standards set by graphically-rich video games.

  • "EU Move Prompts Fresh Fears About Software Patents"
    IDG News Service (01/17/06); Taylor, Simon

    Open-source advocates are fearful that a recent EU request for input on how best to protect European intellectual property will spark a renewed effort to place software under patent restrictions in the wake of a similar initiative that failed last year. The EU's Charlie McCreevy believes that sound intellectual property laws underpinned by a unified patent system across the 25 states will be the basis of innovation. A universal patent system has been on the table since 2000, but countries such as Germany and Spain have held up its passage due to the provision that English would be its official language. Open-source advocates fear that Austria's decision to renew the discussions could lead to software patents, which they feel would unfairly benefit larger companies and inhibit innovation. Last year's computer-implemented inventions directive, known by its critics as the software patents directive, was defeated by the European Parliament after an intense lobbying effort. Florian Muller, who led last year's campaign, has said that open-source advocates must "influence the new debate on the Community patent on a timely basis," lest the patent process gather steam and overtake the software arena. The commission is focusing principally on the Community patent, improvements to the existing patent system, and ways to harmonize the process, as well as ideas for modifying the current process while a broader overhaul is debated. One such temporary solution would bring the various national patent systems into closer alignment while still preserving their autonomy. The commission is accepting comments through March 31.
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  • "IT Worker Shortage Feared"
    Toronto Star (01/19/06); Hamilton, Tyler

    Even as the technology industry recovers from the lean years of the early decade, the perception of IT as a tarnished field among parents and educators portends a potentially severe worker shortage in the future. "There's a dichotomy at the moment in what kids are being told and what's needed, and that's creating a (skills) shortage and a problem that will emerge," said Information Technology Association of Canada CEO Bernard Courtois. Despite the creation of 13,000 computer and telecommunications jobs in Canada last year, students are still hearing that IT is an ailing profession. The first gain in the number of IT jobs in four years brings the number of technology jobs in Canada to 597,600, which is still off from the high water mark of 664,200 jobs reached in 2001, although those figures exclude skilled IT workers in non-IT industries, such as banking and retail. Lyndia Leonard, vice-president of the association, says the industry must actively counter this perception by spreading the word that IT still offers many good, well-paying jobs. Software Human Resources Council CEO Paul Swinwood routinely hears reports of 30 percent to 50 percent declines in computer science enrollment from college representatives since 2002, which inevitably leads to faculty cuts and sometimes eliminates entire programs. The declining interest in computer science among students is exacerbated by the impending retirement of a large portion of today's IT workforce: just in the Canadian federal government, 40 percent of IT workers will be eligible for retirement by 2008.
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  • "Supporting Intelligent Content Management"
    IST Results (01/19/06)

    To address the problem of accessing the overwhelming body of disparate content available today, the IST-funded ICONS program has developed a platform supporting uniform access to a host of information contained in Web pages, databases, and legacy processing systems. The ICONS platform supported the integration of the Polish bureaucracy into the elaborate EU system, synthesizing 10,000 documents a month, involving 20 ministries and 12,000 civil servants. Among the most critical issues for the ICONS designers to address were reducing information redundancy and providing more relevant content, organizing the influx of uncategorized documents, and streamlining communication between groups and individuals with user-friendly interfaces. Managing and integrating the content of the Polish bureaucracy would not have been nearly as effective without the ICONS platform, which has also been used to help institutions apply for EU Structural Funds to support their projects. The work of the ICONS group has led to sophisticated knowledge management features, such as rule-based workflow management, automatic text clarification, and a concept glossary that is compliant with the Topic Map standard. Shared definitions of the concepts in the ICONS glossary form the basis of flexible management of business processes. "We are confident the platform supported by the ICONS methodology will compete with the leaders in knowledge, content, and workflow management systems both in Europe and the U.S.," said program coordinator Witold Staniszkis.
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  • "Indo-U.S. Cooperation to Tackle Cyber Crime"
    Cyber India Online (01/18/06)

    The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and its U.S. counterpart recently announced their decision to set up an India Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) and an India-Bot Alliance in an effort to increase awareness of new cyberspace threats at the third Plenary of the Indo-U.S. Cyber Security Forum, which was attended by representatives from both sides. CERT-In and the U.S. National Cyber security division will both provide information on artifact analysis, network traffic analysis, and exchange information. The R&D Working Group will focus its attention on issues relating to cybersecurity, cyber forensics, and anti-spam research. Vijay K. Nambiar, the deputy national security advisor, says the Indo-U.S. relationship is now a strategic partnership and that more attention needs to be brought to developing better information security practices due to the increase of IT Enabled Services (ITES) trade between both countries. The Indo-U.S. Cyber Security Forum is currently working on these issues via its Joint Working Groups, according to Nambiar. Several Indo-U.S. seminars, workshops, and expert level discussions are being planned in the near future. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Michael Coulter led the U.S. delegation, while National Security Council Secretariat joint secretary Arvind Gupta led the Indian delegation. Coulter says during the past three years the Indo-U.S. Cyber Security Forum has grown from philosophy to a more action-themed agenda on ways to protect network information systems.
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  • "Project for Collaborative Research on Marine Genomics Could Be Model for Online Teamwork in Other Fields"
    Chronicle of Higher Education (01/18/06); Kiernan, Vincent

    The National LambdaRail academic fiber-optic network and other fiber-optic lines will be used to allow researchers in Maryland and California to collaborate on a study of microbes in the ocean over a high-speed Internet connection, as if they were in the same laboratory. A five-year, $24.5 million award from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation will be used to build the Community Cyberinfrastructure for Advanced Marine Microbial Ecology Research and Analysis (Camera). The network's fiber-optic circuits and supercomputing techniques will connect researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md., with researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. The system will offer a connection that will be nearly 100 times faster than the conventional Internet, and provide high-quality video for online conferencing, as the researchers compare the genetic codes of marine microbes. The network could serve as a model for developing other systems to offer long-distance, Internet-based collaboration for scientists studying other subject matter. "The key challenge in science is good communication," says J. Craig Venter, president of the Venter Institute.
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  • "Students Design Future Phone Concepts"
    PC Magazine (01/18/06); Johnson, Bary Alyssa

    Around 500 students from 225 colleges and universities heeded Motorola's call to creatively communicate their ideas for "blend[ing] content and communications" through technology that will enable consumers "to live life wherever, whenever and however." On Tuesday the top four picks in the MOTOFWRD scholarship competition were honored, with their creators receiving scholarships and other prizes. The grand prize went to Duke University biomedical engineering Ph.D. candidate John Finan for his conceptual Mood Phone that can detect changes in conversational tones and use mood-interpreting algorithms to translate those tones into color-coded messages; the concept was advanced as a way to improve social interactions among people, especially those suffering from Asperger's Syndrome who often have difficulty with social interactions and understanding unspoken social cues. Finan based his invention on his study of brain injuries: "The more I learned, the more I realized that the human brain is the greatest data processing computer available to us," Finan said in an interview with PCMag.com. "A great technology is one that uses the human brain as a core component." Runner-up Brian Ho, a computer engineering major at Virginia Tech, proposed the Motorola PICS-0001 (Personal Information and Computing System) that would incorporate a PC, PDA, GPS navigation, cell phone, MP3 player, and credit card into a single product consisting of a pair of glasses and a watch wirelessly linked to each other, with the watch acting as the computer and the glasses as a monitor. Runner-up Ryan Panchadsaram of the University of Southern California at Berkeley suggested Outspoken Architecture that would enable people from around the globe to share data and ideas through technologies such as video Web logs via mobile devices. The third runner-up, second-year MBA student at Northwestern University James Goodrich, offered his vision of seamless mobility in economic development at both the consumer and business level.
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  • "Image Processing for Applications in Artificial Vision"
    EurekAlert (01/17/06)

    Edurne Barrenechea Tartas from Pamplona has developed an edge detector that can be used to provide a robot with the artificial vision that would allow it to identify doors in a building. Edge detectors are computer programs that mark the limits of objects in an image, and define the limits between objects and the background, as well as the limits between the different objects. Robots normally use edge detectors to determine objects in an image, but what sets Barrenechea's technology apart from others is that it is based on interval-valued fuzzy sets. Barrenechea's technique renders the edge of objects in an image as a set composed of pixels of the image tied to the change in gray scale with regard to neighboring pixels. The change in the intensity of neighboring pixels has no impact or is extremely limited, and does not form part of the edge. The edge detector has been tested on a number of photographs, and Barrenechea says the results indicate that her version improves upon the performance of conventional models. Barrenechea published the results of the tests as part of her Ph.D. thesis, which she recently presented at the Public University of Navarra.
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  • "Inside India"
    InformationWeek (01/16/06) No. 1072, P. 38; Ricadela, Aaron

    Entrepreneurs are molding India into a high-tech economic powerhouse characterized by abundant talent and cheap labor, but fueling growth and prosperity when faced with social turmoil, widespread illiteracy, wage inflation, poor travel conditions, and the investments needed to turn tech graduates into superior professionals represents a major challenge. Tech startups in India must struggle to survive in the shadow of ever-expanding companies such as Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro Technologies, and Infosys, and this problem is compounded by the scarcity of facilities and amenities. Infosys, for example, boasts a well-maintained campus in Bangalore equipped with the latest software, cell phones, and other accessories, while perks such as an on-site gym, swimming pools, library, and game rooms are available to employees. Yet even Infosys chafes against Bangalore's poor infrastructure, which has a negative effect on productivity and business. But the business opportunity in India is undeniable: Infosys CEO Nandan Nilekani notes that Indian consumers bought some 5 million PCs, 70 million cell phones, and 4 million DVD players last year. Although Indian universities turn out around 400,000 tech grads annually by the National Association of Software and Service Companies' estimates, McKinsey & Co. reports that only a quarter of those grads are ready for employment; in the meantime, wages are increasing 10 percent to 15 percent a year in India's IT sector, according to a Nasscom study. Reasons given for grads' lack of readiness include poor faculty at new schools whose training programs range far below those of India's premier universities. Perhaps the biggest challenge for Indian businesses is enabling innovation within the country that also benefits the country.
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  • "A Semantic Datagrid for Combinatorial Chemistry"
    University of Southampton (ECS) (01/18/06); Taylor, Kieron; Gledhill, Rob; Essex, Jonathan W.

    The CombeChem project has combined Semantic Web and Grid technologies to implement an e-Science infrastructure, and the authors detail the project's "Semantic Datagrid" component, which offers a platform for advanced scientific investigation as well as a document of experimental data and its origins. CombeChem is specifically designed to augment the correlation and prediction of chemical structures and characteristics through additional knowledge culled from the creation and analysis of large compound libraries. A grid infrastructure provides the computing resources needed to automate calculation workflows, and complementing the Grid with Semantic Web technologies allows scientists to answer queries involving scientific data integration and automatic computation execution, and supply key functionality at the datagrid and scientific applications tier. A Semantic Datagrid can also enable automation within the grid middleware. CombeChem's Semantic Datagrid element demonstrates that a Resource Description Framework (RDF) triplestore can be employed to flexibly offer enhanced recording, storage, and retrieval of scientific data. Triplestores contain the metadata describing the relationships within the data, which may be held in an array of existing repositories. The machine-processable metadata can help facilitate advanced querying and automation in information processing. With the Semantic Datagrid, new properties can be easily added to the semantic structure, and then blended with the existing data regardless of where the underlying data is actually held.
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