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Volume 8, Issue 885:  Wednesday, January 4, 2006
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  • "Scientists Worry About Decreases in R&D Funding"
    Associated Press (01/02/06); Bridges, Matt

    Scientists are concerned that many university projects will have to be cut back as a result of the 2006 federal budget for research and development, which pledges most funding increases to defense and space projects, while other areas remain flat or will be cut back. The Bush administration counters that the $135 billion research and development budget, up 1.7 percent from last year and almost 45 percent from when Bush took office, indicates that scientific innovation is a top priority. Of this year's $2.2 billion increase, however, 97 percent will go to weapons development at the Department of Defense and space programs at NASA. The academic community is also lamenting the priority given to development, which fuels the advancement of industry, rather than the experimentation critical to fundamental research, a trend that will lead to immediate layoffs and project cancellations at institutions that count on federal funding. While funding for projects relating to the Departments of Energy, Commerce, and Agriculture will be cut back, NASA can look forward to a 7.3 percent increase, largely devoted to spacecraft to transport people to the moon and other areas in space. Still others believe that the increase in weapons and space funding will lead to a healthy trend of civilian spinoff companies as the need for networking and information-processing capabilities increases.
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  • "H-1B Workers Earn Less Than American Counterparts, Report Says"
    Computerworld (01/03/06); Thibodeau, Patrick

    IT workers in the U.S. on H-1B visas earn $13,000 less than American workers, despite a law requiring that they be paid prevailing wages, concludes a new study from the Center for Immigration Studies that compared data from the Labor Department and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The study found that while the average American programmer earned $65,000 in 2003, an H-1B programmer earned only $49,258. Critics have argued that limiting the number of H-1B visas a company can obtain based on how many Americans it employs would ease the wage disparity, which some are concerned could drag down compensation rates for U.S. workers. Standardizing the method for reporting salaries to the Labor Department would also prevent employers from skewing wage information. The study also recommends limiting the mobility of H-1B workers as they seek higher wages from other employers. The current cap of 65,000 H-1B visas has been met, and a proposal to increase the limit by another 30,000 was defeated last month in the House. Congress did expand the number of H-1B visas for foreign students graduating from schools in the U.S. with advanced degrees by 20,000, though that limit is expected to be reached in the near future.
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  • "Information, Please"
    Baltimore Sun (01/01/06) P. 1F; Williams, Larry

    Last month's revelation that the National Security Agency had been conducting warrantless spying on domestic phone calls re-ignited a long-simmering debate over the amount of privacy to which Americans are entitled. The truth is that the increasing sophistication of computers and software has steadily eroded privacy, as Internet cookies, credit-card records, and email enable companies to compile a wealth of information about our activities and preferences, including our shopping habits, cell phone records, and travel plans. While many are understandably concerned about the amount of information that they are willing to disclose about themselves, withholding personal information can jeopardize one's chances for qualifying for a home loan or financial aid for college. Even if one is willing to share information, clerical errors can often tarnish a credit report or mistakenly create a criminal record. Identity theft is also an emerging symptom of the information age, claiming as many as 10 million victims in the United States each year, with all of the necessary information available for purchase for less than $50. There has also been a spate of recent security breaches of large databases, and many states have yet to enact laws requiring companies to notify customers when their information is compromised. It has also recently been revealed that the NSA elicits information from private businesses about their customers through tens of thousands of national security letters each year, none of which requires judicial review. As technology continues its inexorable march, the definition of privacy, and, by extension, what it means to be an American, could be fundamentally and irreparably altered.

  • "Robot Cameras in the Wild"
    UC Berkeley News (12/05); Pescovitz, David

    University of California, Berkeley, robotics professor Ken Goldberg has developed a technology known as the Collaborative Observatories for Natural Environments (CONE) to help study the habits of animals in the wild. To test the concept, Yosemite National Park will install a telerobotic surveillance system to monitor the black bears that frequently break into park visitors' cars in search of food. The CONE project is designed to provide the latest technology for biologists who normally use traditional video devices when recording and observing nature. The robotic observatories that Goldberg and Texas A&M professor Dezhan Song are developing enable researchers to continue observing a habitat from the lab, simply by logging on to the Internet and remotely directing a telerobotic camera. Solar panels automatically charge the system, which fits inside a small trunk and connects to the Internet through a satellite connection. Small wireless sensors form a network to relay information about temperature, motion, and other variables. The sensors can also direct the camera toward any unusual activity that they detect, and sophisticated control algorithms mediate in the event of competing requests for the camera's attention. Goldberg and Song are also developing a time-based method for the camera to queue up requests and address them with optimal efficiency. "It's a hybrid system though, so it's collaborative not just among people but also among sensors," said Goldberg. "A change in the image can be requested by people or sensors and that request can be weighted depending on who or what is making it." Goldberg and Song are currently developing a test plan for the Yosemite prototype with the National Geographic Society.
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  • "Semantic Descriptors to Help the Hunt for Music"
    IST Results (01/04/06)

    The IST-funded SIMAC project is developing a system for the retrieval of music based on the semantics of its content, such as rhythm, harmony, and instrumentation, so that users can find music with similar properties to a favorite song or album. The SIMAC project aims to help users find music by little-known artists who do not enjoy the benefit of mainstream commercial promotion. To bridge what is known as the semantic gap in music retrieval, the researchers expanded on existing description techniques that are limited to basic information such as the name of the artist, album, or song. To describe music by its properties, the SIMAC project uses machines learning, signal processing, and text retrieval to analyze content and tag its properties with an annotator before compiling it in a music surfer program. The system also includes a music recommender that generates suggestions based on musical properties, users' purchasing history, and reviews. Trial users have responded favorably to a prototype of the SIMAC project, which is due to conclude in March. "The system offers evident advantages to users in the way they can find and interact with music, and big benefits to artists, producers, and the music content industry as a whole," said SIMAC project manager Xavier Serra. Annotation and surfing techniques could also yield tremendous benefit for the software and consumer electronics industries as they seek to improve music Web sites, portable devices, and PC software.
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  • "RSA CEO Sees Lack of Leadership in U.S. Cybersecurity Efforts"
    Computerworld (01/03/06); Vijayan, Jaikumar

    In a recent interview, RSA Security CEO Art Coviello took the government to task for its failure to implement its own cyber security strategy. Dick Clarke, the former White House counter terrorism chief, developed a cyber security blueprint immediately before he left office in early 2003, though Coviello, who also serves as co-chair of the Standards Committee of the Cyber Security Industry Alliance (CSIA), says the government has done nothing to enact the plan. He praises Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for announcing his intention to appoint an assistant secretary for cyber security, though that announcement came almost six months ago, and the position has yet to be filled. The CSIA has also been critical of the lack of communication among government agencies, a problem compounded by questions about what level of access a member of one agency should have to another agency's information. While he typically opposes government regulation, Coviello advocates a federal data-breach notification law, rather than a multitude of state bills with different statutes. In general, Coviello believes the government's role should be one of leadership, rather than regulating specific technologies, with the newly-created assistant secretary for cyber security strongly encouraging companies to set and follow best practices. While data-breach notification laws doubtlessly forced many security incidents into the public eye, Coviello believes that the increasingly malicious nature of hackers motivated by profit, rather than fame, some of whom operate within organized crime syndicates, led to the proliferation of attacks in 2005.
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  • "The Top 10 Tech Trends"
    Financial Post (CAN) (12/31/05); Evans, Mark; Restivo, Kevin

    While technology trends are notoriously difficult to predict, a recent panel of experts identified 10 directions in which the technology industry is likely to move. Small computer chips are appearing that can customize a product to an individual's preferences, heralding an end to the one-size-fits-all era. Personalization is evident in cutting-edge products such as smart shoes that adjust their cushioning based on the surface and jogger's running style, and clothing embedded with sensors to relay body temperature information to the thermostat. Online payments for amounts less than $5 will also take hold, as more consumers turn to the Internet for low-cost items such as newspaper articles or songs. Biometric payments will eventually come to supplant cash, credit cards, and debit cards, as consumers' fingerprints will automatically link to their accounts. The long anticipated concept of electronic paper could soon become a reality, as Fujitsu has developed a flexible form of electronic paper capable of displaying vibrant color images. Advances in intelligent software could soon lead to practical consumer robots. Meanwhile, cell phones powered by voice commands could soon scale down to the size of today's earpieces, with the potential to be permanently implanted in a user's ear, making them essentially invisible. Browser technology is expected to evolve to the point of offering 3D images on the Web, with television soon to follow, exciting the possibility of broadcasters projecting content into the middle of a room. Digital eyeglasses will enable people to remain connected to the Internet and have their motions recorded, which could help the elderly or others prone to memory failure. Digital tattoos could implant all of a user's passwords under his skin, and a removable tattoo could actually play movies. Consumers can also look forward to toys capable of emotional responses.
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  • "IBM Laboratory Glimpses the Future"
    Swissinfo (01/03/06); Capper, Scott

    With a stable of more than 250 scientists from around the world, IBM's European research center in Ruschlikon, Switzerland, is home to some of the world's most advanced computing research, such as a recent partnership with Lausanne's Federal Institute of Technology, where IBM scientists will apply Blue Gene technology to materials science and brain-mapping projects. Blue Gene emerged from the Deep Computing project, which capitalizes on the synergy of hardware, software, and algorithms. IBM scientists in Switzerland began exploring computer simulations of biological and chemical processes in 1994, and the establishment of the Blue Gene project in 1999 solidified biology as a company priority, while at the same time highlighting the need for external collaboration with pharmaceutical companies. IBM is also working on alternative methods to continue the scaling and performance improvements of semiconductor materials, with the Swiss center focusing on nanowires, which, while still difficult to manipulate, can be viewed easily with the scanning tunnel microscope. Researchers at the Swiss center are also developing the Intelligent Trade Lane, a project that aims to improve the security of shipping containers by enabling officials to track their contents and record any events, such as a change in environment or a door opening. In March the researchers will undertake a pilot program.
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  • "Voting 2.0"
    Chronogram (01/06); Gerber, Cheryl

    Analysts have determined that the insecurity and unreliability of electronic voting systems presents opportunities for election rigging, and efforts to incorporate safeguards into e-voting via federal legislation have ground to a halt. A lack of support on Capitol Hill for proposed laws mandating a verified voting paper audit trail has spurred the Verified Voting Foundation to advise states on legislation requiring the inclusion of such trails in e-voting systems. Addressing the threat of election fraud via "Trojan Horse" computer programs is an even tougher challenge, since such malware could be easily inserted by "Anyone who has access to the software--an insider," says former ACM President Barbara Simons. Attempts to pass legislation requiring election systems vendors to put their software source code in escrow so voters can examine it for malware or signs of tampering have been met with resistance--not just from vendors, but from state election commissioners, hinting at an ethically dubious relationship between commissioners and vendors. Nor is malware the only tool that can be used to steal an election: Software bugs and patches can also be exploited for election rigging, and a recent report from the General Accounting Office ascertained that voting-machine vendors' security practices leave much to be desired, while e-voting standards adopted by the Federal Election Commission contain opaque and unfinished security provisions for commercial products and insufficient documentation requirements. In addition, national voting system improvement efforts lack plans for deployment and are not likely to be completed before the 2006 election. This state of affairs has made it possible for miscreants to steal a national election, and Johns Hopkins University researcher Dr. Avi Rubin believes it is just a matter of time before vendors are forced to disclose their software source code by lawmakers.
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  • "Dr. Todd A. Kuiken: Bionic Sensation"
    BusinessWeek (01/09/06); Arndt, Michael

    Bionic humans such as Colonel Steve Austin on the TV show "The Six Million Dollar Man" might become a reality one day, says Dr. Todd A. Kuiken, a department director at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and an associate professor at Northwestern University. Kuiken has developed the first brain-powered arm, which is being used by Jesse Sullivan, a former utility worker who lost his limbs in 2001 when he accidentally touched a high-voltage line. Collaborating with Allen Taflove, a Northwestern professor of electrical and computer engineering, Kuiken has found a way to make the stop-and-go signals of the body's muscle system stronger so that computers can interpret them. The computerized arm is wired to nerve stumps in Sullivan's chest, and it is controlled by electrochemical impulses. Today, Sullivan can dress and feed himself, shave, vacuum, work in a garden, toss a ball, and even determine whether the object picked up is hard or soft, hot or cold. Despite such advances, Kuiken says bionic humans are likely decades away. Robotic limbs will make life easier for people, including soldiers, who lose arms and legs, considering the mechanical device, with straps and cable, that most at-the-shoulder amputees receive has been used since the Civil War. Still, Kuiken says advanced robotic limbs would not compare to the human body.
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  • "A Sight for Sore Thumbs?"
    Economist Technology Quarterly (12/05) Vol. 377, No. 8456, P. 8

    Researchers are not convinced that the "predictive" function and "multi-tap" method are the best ways to enter text into a mobile device. While the predictive function often makes a wrong guess and multi-tap requires a lot of clicking, researchers are seeking to address these issues as well as attempting to make the speed of text entry more comparable to the use of a conventional keyboard. Microsoft is licensing the Quikwriting system of Ken Perlin of New York University's Center for Advanced Technology and is developing it without a stylus, and will have users write text messages or emails by running a thumb over a flower-shaped array of buttons containing eight letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. At IBM, Shumin Zhai has developed the ShapeWriter for use on Tablet PCs that makes use of a special on-screen keyboard with letters laid out in a hexagonal grid, a stylus for selecting letters, and pattern-recognition software for identifying squiggles in writing. Zhai is at work on a version for handheld devices. Eatoni Ergonomics, which believes the traditional "Qwerty" keyboard has more mass market potential, has developed EQ3 (Eatoni Qwerty 3-column), a keypad for mobile phones that assigns letters to number keys similar to the way they look on a Qwerty keyboard, and rearranges a few so that an attempt to write "pint" does not become "riot."

  • "Unselfish Technologists"
    Red Herring (12/26/05) Vol. 2, No. 48, P. 20

    Altruism is fueling the innovation efforts of entrepreneurs focusing on major social challenges such as poverty and disease. Kenyan-born Robert Maranga, whose family was kept from falling below the poverty line by micro-credit institutions, is working to return the favor by developing software that enables such institutions to manage their back offices more efficiently; he says his current challenge is to help create a flexible open-source software platform that can "adapt to running on a single PC or a server." Former naval officer Lee Thorn's Jhai Foundation has created the Jhai PC, a low-cost PC designed to help bring economic viability to low-income communities. Laotian villagers can use the Jhai PC to look up the price of basic staples, contact relatives and friends through IP telephony, conduct business transactions, and learn computing and English-speaking skills. Effectively treating chronic illness in poor countries is a goal the nonprofit Partners In Health is working toward through innovations such as a Web-based record-keeping system created by Harvard Medical School professor Hamish Fraser; the system keeps patient information secure and accessible, and is used to support Partners In Health's HIV and tuberculosis clinics in several developing nations. Fraser built his system at relatively low cost by using open-source software, and he is currently creating an open-source database to permit free distribution of the whole setup to other medical programs throughout the world. Helping young Colombian entrepreneurs generate their own wealth is the goal of Orlando Rincon Bonilla, who founded Parquesoft, a network of urban technology centers that recruits fledgling entrepreneurs with software skills from poor communities. Bonilla, who describes Parquesoft as "a big social project about social inclusion, a kind of Trojan Horse," expects his efforts will inspire wealth-generating startups.

  • "In Search of Swarm Creativity"
    Information Today (12/05) Vol. 22, No. 11, P. 24; Brynko, Barbara

    Peter Gloor's fifth book, "Swarm Creativity: Competitive Advantage Through Collaborative Innovation," discusses the role swarm creativity plays as the driving mechanism behind Collaborative Innovation Networks (COINs). Gloor refers to himself as a "swarm instigator," and defines a COIN as a "cyber-team of self-motivated people with a collective vision, enabled by technology to collaborate in achieving an innovation by sharing ideas, information, and work." He compares swarm creativity to the social insect colonies, in which precise tasks are coordinated among a group of individuals so seamlessly that the collective behavior seems chaotic. A swarm is propelled by people with a unified vision and a common desire to "change the world" without reaping any immediate financial rewards. As a research fellow at MIT's Sloan School of Management and at the Dartmouth Tuck Center for Digital Strategies, Gloor focuses on aiding organizations in the use of COINs to increase productivity and innovation for knowledge workers. Gloor is president and founder of iQuest Analytics, a company that develops and markets software and services to examine structured and unstructured data. He gave a presentation at the ACM Hypertext conference in December 1991.
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  • "Will E-Votes Be Counted?"
    CIO (01/01/06) Vol. 19, No. 6, P. 24; Gross, Grant

    The Government Accountability Office does not expect the electronic voting guidelines, which the United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC) is working on, to have much of an impact in 2006. The EAC is considering initiatives such as establishing security and reliability standards, and programs for testing and certifying e-voting systems. E-voting guidelines were not in place for the 2004 national elections, and problems with the e-voting machines were widespread. For example, a data storage misunderstanding led to the loss of approximately 4,400 votes in a county in North Carolina. The problems have led to concerns about the security and accuracy of e-voting systems, and critics still note that the machines do not verify whether an individual's vote has been recorded correctly. Without completed guidelines, state and local governments might have to move forward with e-voting systems that lack substantial security and reliability requirements, which could ultimately compromise the elections and deflate confidence in a fair tally of votes, the GAO says.

  • "CSI: The Net"
    Australian PC World (12/05) P. 65; Sterling, Bruce

    In a clear sign that cyber attacks are no longer the province of bespectacled geeks trying to make a name for themselves, every type of Internet-based criminal activity has increased in both frequency and severity over the last decade, writes author Bruce Sterling. New types of attacks are forming faster than the business models to support them, though ambitious criminal syndicates are hot on the heels of the latest threats. Even encryption has become a tool for hackers, as some PC users have found that the contents of their computers have been encrypted without their knowledge or permission, and the responsible party informs them that, for a price, they can obtain a password. Cyber criminals are finding no shortage of unsuspecting victims with an estimated 1 billion people using the Internet worldwide. Many analysts have been critical of the Bush administration for its complacency about cyber security, and allege that e-commerce would be much safer if security had been built into the infrastructure, rather than bolted on after the fact. If today's technologists are no more forward-looking than the naive pioneers of the early Internet were 10 years ago, their mistakes are bound to be repeated. "Since a world where everyone is good and understanding is still in a future far, far away, I would vote for giving legislative and judiciary personnel a proper education, or at least introduction into the online world," notes U.S.-CERT's Art Manion. Because of its sprawling, international structure, the Internet is notoriously resistant to policing, and governing bodies such as the IETF and the W3C are too weak and loosely federated to make a dent in cyber crime. The United States is in the best position to pursue online criminals, though turf wars and an irrational phobia of regulations have hobbled its effectiveness. Ideally, the development community would support security through education and incentives, taking care to enhance, rather than compromise, the individual user's experience.

  • "Talk to Your Semantic Web"
    Internet Computing (12/05) Vol. 9, No. 6, P. 75; Thompson, Craig W.; Pazandak, Paul; Tennant, Harry R.

    It is a formidable challenge to communicate with computers via natural language, and the authors present the LingoLogic interface technology as a tool for extending the Semantic Web. LingoLogic is designed to address the habitability problem--the mismatch between user expectations and natural language interface (NLI) system capabilities--through the use of menus to particularize natural language queries and instructions. Queries are specified by either typing in sentences or assembling them from words or phrases selected from cascading menus, while values can be assigned via domain-specific pop-up menu support. The LingoLogic system architecture is composed of a user interface that displays a set of menu selections; a grammar and lexicon that characterizes the language the system recognizes, and also the method of translating to a target system's interface language; and a parser that employs the grammar and lexicon, parses one word or phrase at a time, and calculates the completion of subsequent words and phrases, which it passes on to the user interface. New interfaces for relational databases can be produced by the LingoLogic interface developer through the use of LingoLogic's interface generator. The authors propose an NLI-driven Semantic Web extension scheme that defines a LingoLogic Interface Descriptor as an additional form of metadata. Scaling the LingoLogic architecture to the Semantic Web could involve the separation of the interface from the parser and support for a wide array of grammars and a parser farm, which would enable any user at any machine to launch a query on any grammar, which would then be parsed and executed. The small, domain-constrained, limited word-choice nature of LingoLogic languages points to the likely feasibility of speaker-independent speech recognition and the definite feasibility of speaker-dependent speech recognition.
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  • "Ambient Findability: Libraries at the Crossroads of Ubiquitous Computing and the Internet"
    Online (12/05) Vol. 29, No. 6, P. 16; Morville, Peter

    Semantic Studios President Peter Morville believes a library, or rather a large collection of libraries, will form the center of a world of "ambient findability" where anybody can find any item at anytime from any location, no matter if the sought after item as well as the libraries are physical, digital, or both. For Morville, the idea of findability can help facilitate interdisciplinary and cross-border collaboration as well as out-of-the-box thinking. The author raises three questions Web site designers should ask in their quest to optimize findability: Whether the site can be found by users, whether it is navigable by users, and whether users can find the information they seek despite the site. Design, coding, writing, and information architecture all play vital roles in findability optimization. Morville reasons that libraries have reached an inflection point where the Internet and ubiquitous computing converge, thanks to new and increasingly pervasive information access technologies and the flow of massive amounts of data into global digital networks. Challenges he foresees along the road to ambient findability include addressing privacy issues and the improvement of information literacy, but Morville is generally optimistic, believing that "we will ultimately make good decisions, and...that libraries and librarianship together can play an important role in guiding us through the maze." According to him, libraries and the Internet symbolize the shared values of privacy, free expression, intellectual freedom, equal and unfettered access to ideas and information, and opposition to censorship. "It's my sincere hope that we will carry these shared values into the emerging realm of mobile, wireless, invisible, ubiquitous computing," Morville concludes.
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