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Volume 8, Issue 889: Friday, January 13, 2006 Learn more about Texis, the text-oriented database providing high-performance search engine features combined with SQL operations and a development toolkit, that powers many diverse applications, including Webinator and the Thunderstone Search Appliance.   Learn more about Texis, the text-oriented database providing high-performance search engine features combined with SQL operations and a development toolkit, that powers many diverse applications, including Webinator and the Thunderstone Search Appliance.

  • "PCAST Meets Without New Members"
    Federal Computer Week (01/10/06); Sternstein, Aliya

    The reconstituted President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) met for the first time in the three months since it absorbed the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) under an executive order, though it contained no new members. PCAST co-Chairman E. Floyd Kvamme has said that the first priority of the new council will be to produce a report detailing the concerns long expressed by industry leaders about the detrimental effect the Bush administration's waning interest in non-defense-related research will have on U.S. competitiveness. Kvamme had previously said the group will probably establish an external advisory committee of government and industry experts to address IT issues, similar to a group of nanotechnologists whom PCAST selected to advise on the national nanotechnology research program. PCAST counts many industry luminaries as members, including Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, Dell founder Michael Dell, and MIT President Emeritus Charles Vest. Reaction to the merger of the two advisory committees was mixed, as some thought that subsuming PITAC under PCAST would improve the stature of IT by linking it directly with science and education, while others felt that the expanded PCAST would be spread too thin. PITAC's last study called for long-term investment in research and an accelerated study on how government spending could boost innovation across academia and industry.
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  • "EU 'Is 50 Years Behind the US for Innovation'"
    Financial Times (01/13/06) P. 2; Buck, Tobias

    A recent study has found that the European Union ranks so poorly on measures of innovation such as research and development spending, patents, and science and engineering graduates that it will be at least 50 years before it will catch up to the United States. Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Germany were the only countries found to be able to rival the United States in its innovation ability. "The innovation gap between the EU25 and Japan is increasing and the one between the EU and U.S. is close to stable," according to the Innovation Scoreboard. Innovation is a critical measure of a nation's technology industry because it determines the ability of a country to convert core research into marketable technology, fueling economic growth and creating new jobs. The report highlighted the diffuse nature of the European Union, finding that countries such as Finland and Germany led the pack, countries such as the Czech Republic and Greece are gaining ground, while Spain and Poland are declining. Though not in the European Union, Switzerland ranked second in overall innovation, behind Sweden but still ahead of the United States and Japan. Despite their recent economic success, the United Kingdom and Ireland had a worse showing in this scoreboard than in previous studies. Germany has long been credited as an economic leader and boasted a superior innovation score though it was cited as having a lack of science and engineering students and a weak youth education system.

  • "The Patent Office's Fix"
    Technology Review (01/13/06); Hellweg, Eric

    Facing a backlog of 600,000 applications and a four-year lag time between application and resolution, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has sought a partnership with Google, IBM, and Red Hat to develop three new evaluation systems to streamline the patent process and improve the overall quality. One program will create a searchable database of related open-source code; another would establish a ranking system to gauge the legitimacy of patents; the third would mine the intelligence of the broader community when considering a patent application. The three initiatives will all leverage the hot Web trends of social networking and metatagging, where users augment content with descriptive terms to make them easier to find. Metatagging may be involved in the creation of the patent office's searchable database, as developers are considering creating a taxonomy for open-source developers to label their code to make it easily identifiable for patent officers and interested third parties, which an industry partner could then integrate into the repository so that patent officers could search by such criteria as prior examples. Opening the system up to the public raises some concerns, however, as it would be difficult to standardize, which is the same difficulty that examiners currently have in trying to assess what constitutes prior art. Some analysts have called for a wiki-style system of peer review, so that new code could be vetted by developers throughout the entire community. Beth Noveck, an intellectual property lawyer and professor at New York Law School, developed a system for IBM where recognized experts sign up for RSS feeds which contact them any time a new patent application is filed in their area of expertise. Tapping into collective intelligence promises to greatly reduce the amount of time examiners spend reviewing software patents, though there currently exists a statute prohibiting the patent office from disclosing patents to anyone other than inspectors.
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  • "Nanoscale Magnets Promise More-Shrinkable Chips"
    New Scientist (01/12/06); Marks, Paul

    A team of Notre Dame researchers has found that by performing the same digital arithmetic, nanoscale magnets may be able to replace transistor-based logic gates, exciting the possibility that nanomagnets could continue the miniaturization process after today's transistors reach their scaling limits. Magnetic logic gates could also produce more versatile devices, as their ability to change functions once the hardware has been constructed allows for reprogramming the hardware. Magnetic RAM has thus far been the only magnetic device to replace electrical components. Five years ago, Imperial College London's Russell Cowburn and his team found that rows of nanomagnets could pass information through a chain, a discovery that formed the basis of the new research. "They have made a major step forward by showing that you can use nanomagnets to produce a universal logic gate, from which you can build any other logic circuit you like," said Cowburn. Notre Dame's Alexandre Imre and his colleagues have created a type of universal logic gate called a majority inverter that serves as the basis for whatever type of logic gate is required for the circuit, including the important NAND and NOR logic gates that form the basis of all logic circuits. Magnets with widths of 110 nm achieve speeds of 100 MHz, while smaller magnets could likely perform much faster. Before this technology is commercially viable, however, researchers will have to figure out how to protect the fragile magnets from heat and stray magnetic fields.
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  • "UU Seeking to Develop Networks That Think for Themselves"
    University of Ulster (01/09/2006)

    The EU has selected its 14 partners for a research project on next-generation networks that have the ability to think for themselves. "What we will be exploring is how to make networks aware of what they are carrying and to make decisions based on that information," says Maurice Mulvenna, a senior lecturer on computer science at the University of Ulster's School of Computing and Mathematics. Mulvenna will be joined as a representative of the university on the CASCADA research project by Dr. Chris Nugent, also a senior lecturer of computer science, and Dr. Kevin Curran, a lecturer for the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems. The team is skilled in research involving next-generation networking and artificial intelligence systems. CASCADA could lead the way to the development of self-managing networks of sensors, which would make it less expensive and easier to monitor seniors and people with disabilities in homes, and also enhance initiatives involving smart homes. Furthermore, CASCADA research may enable the network services of mobile phone companies to configure and optimize themselves for users' devices. "Of course, this is of great interest to business as it offers lower cost services in computing and networks," adds Mulvenna. The EU is funding the three-year, 5 million euro "blue skies" research project.
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  • "Public to Look for Dust Grains in Stardust Detectors"
    UC Berkeley News (01/10/06); Sanders, Robert

    Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are inviting Internet users to help search for dust grains in space emanating from stars millions of light years away in the [email protected] project. NASA's Stardust craft will return to Earth this month carrying the first submicroscopic dust grains brought back from space to be studied. The project is similar to [email protected], where computers users joined in the search for sentient life in the universe. "Like [email protected], which is the world's largest computer, we hope [email protected] will also be a large computer, though more of a neural network, using brains together to find these grains," said Bryan Mendez of the Center for Science Education at Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory. It is estimated that Stardust's collector is carrying roughly 45 grains of submicroscopic dust, though they will be difficult to find amidst the thousands of grains collected from the Wild 2 comet, the primary focus of Stardust's mission. A NASA grant has enabled Andrew Westphal, associate director of Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory, to develop a virtual microscope that enables anyone with an Internet connection to comb through the 1.5 million pictures of the collector in search of trails left by the speeding dust. The researchers will make the microscope available on the Web in mid-March, in advance of completing all the scans of the collector in a clean room. The researchers estimate that 30,000 hours of observation will be required to comb through every image four times. The Berkeley team will carefully test the proficiency of the volunteers, and reward the few who discover a legitimate dust grain by letting them give it a name.
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  • "Robonauts"
    Boston Globe (01/09/06) P. C1; Johnson, Carolyn Y.

    NASA made Rodney Brooks' vision of exploring space with small, inexpensive machines a reality when it dispatched the Sojourner probe to explore Mars in 1997. Since then, Brooks, the director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, has shelved his original concept robot Genghis, and has developed sophisticated machines with a variety of human capabilities with the goal of elevating the status of robots to legitimate human partners. "The last thing we were tasked by NASA is: How can robots support manned missions on the moon and Mars before people get there, while they are up there, and after they've left?" said Brooks. "The danger is sticking with the mind-set that developed in the 1960s of 'what robots do' and 'what humans do.'" Both robots and humans have advantages in exploring space, with risk being one of the key factors, as there is no emotional toll if a craft carrying a robot explodes. Robotic exploration initiatives are also less expensive than manned missions, though robots are still a long way from rivaling human intelligence. The rover program has been an overwhelming success, though it must be noted that the robotic craft had the support of a ground crew of 50 people. Robots will be most effective if scientists work with them collaboratively, treating the robots as a mobile lab. NASA has challenged private industry with two competitions to develop robots capable of assembling structures with minimal human assistance and navigating a flight path to alight and take samples on the surface. The advancement of robots will not be confined to space exploration, of course. As their interaction with humans improves, robots will eventually be deployed in hospitals and as personal assistants.
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  • "Study to Learn Power of Smart Grids, Appliances"
    Reuters (01/12/06); Woodall, Bernie

    The recently commissioned GridWise study will test the efficiency of smart grids linking home appliances such as hot water heaters, air conditioners, and dryers to local utilities through home computers over wireless connections and broadband to monitor and regulate their power consumption, reducing or shutting off power during times of the highest demand. The hope is that curbing unneeded power consumption during peak usage times will save utilities the expense of building extra substations and transmission lines. Among the participants in the year-long Department of Energy study are IBM, Whirlpool, and the Bonneville Power Administration. IBM estimates that a smarter power grid that enables consumers to manage power consumption could cut the expense of utility infrastructure by $80 billion over 20 years. "If we can squeeze more power through our existing assets, we can help homeowners, and giving price incentives to use power at night and other low-use times," said Rob Pratt, GridWise program manager for the Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. While the necessary technology to build a smart grid is readily available, the projected savings will not likely be realized for 10 years. Customers will receive a refund for limiting their power use during peak times, and they can automatically program their appliances to go into power-saving mode at a set time. It costs about $1,000 to outfit a house for a smart grid, though that also shoulders the cost of research for this project, and within a few years it will be approaching $200, the point at which Pratt believes smart grids will become commercially viable.
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  • "'Play' Model of Information System Design Makes Teammates of Users and Designers"
    Penn State Live (01/11/06)

    System designers are focusing too much on the "killer application," and neglecting the different needs of users, according to researchers at Penn State. At the 26th International Conference on Information Systems in Las Vegas, Frederico Fonseca, assistant professor in the School of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), and James Martin, a professor emeritus of the Penn State psychology department, presented their argument for having designers and users act as teammates during the development process. In their paper, "Play as the Way Out of the Newspeak-Tower of Babel Dilemma in Data Modeling," they suggest that a back-and-forth dialogue between designers and users will ultimately allow for the development of IT systems that meet the various needs of its users. "For example, departments in banks interpret the term 'loan date' differently," says Fonseca. "One department views it as the date when the loan was applied for, another when the loan was approved and yet another when the money was released." They refer to communication of designers and users as 'play,' enterprise-wide solutions as 'newspeak,' and multiple systems as the 'Tower of Babel problem.' Fonseca and Martin say the failure to design systems that address the perspective of every user is the problem, and not the user.
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  • "Entrepreneur Frances Queen Spreads the Word About Women in IT" (01/13/06); Quirk, Ben

    Frances Queen grew up in an era when women were discouraged from pursuing math and engineering, and she opted instead for married life upon graduating from college, despite her natural aptitude for those subjects. Later, as a single parent in her 30s, Queen went back to school, earning her associate degree and then a B.S. in computer-based business. She reinvented herself in the IT industry, started her own company in 2000, and her company was recently recognized by the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce for excellence in IT. Queen has worked actively to debunk the mentality that delayed her entry into IT, having helped found the Charlotte chapter of Women in Science and Engineering, for which she now serves as vice chair. "There are not enough women in IT, science, or technology, and I never had a female mentor," said Queen. "I want to change all that for younger women." Queen is also concerned about the declining interest in IT among young American men. The shortage of U.S. workers has led Queen to court Indian talent to fill the positions in her own company. Queen laments that despite all the wonderful things about IT, there is simply a lack of interest in math and science among U.S. students that begins in primary school. Queen says diversifying her company's business model enabled her to survive the lean years of 2001 and 2002, when large companies were cutting IT staff, but her revenues have been doubling annually since, indicating that there is no shortage of demand for IT positions.
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    For information about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit

  • "Computer Security Graphical Passwords"
    Technology News Daily (01/10/06)

    Rutgers University-Camden computer science professor Jean-Camille Birget and colleagues have developed a new computer security program that makes use of graphical passwords and an icon system. The new program works by having a user select areas of a complex picture (such as a landscape or cityscape), or "click points" that are easier to remember than a password consisting of letters and numbers because of their selection in a relatively random manner. During the researcher's study, users chose 10 icons, which were then scrambled with nearly 200 others. Users gained entry into the system by locating the shapes, such as triangles, that have their icons in the corners, clicking inside the shape, and repeating the process 10 times. The program does not require users to click on their icons, which makes it difficult for someone to steal their password by shoulder surfing. "The main idea behind our model is to allow a user to prove knowledge of a secret, without revealing the secret itself to either the authenticating party or a potential observer," says researcher Leonardo Sobrado.
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  • "Problem Solving Made Simpler"
    IST Results (01/11/06)

    The IST is working to improve the workflow of distributed computing by using the Grid environment to solve difficult problems. In funding the K-Wf Grid project, the IST is seeking to enhance the infrastructure for Grid services, and also bring such complex computing to users outside of the computer-science community. The project focuses on a workflow component, a rule-based expert system, and a Grid monitoring system, and their standalone capabilities will enable them to be used separately. Project coordinator Steffen Unger, from Fraunhofer First in Berlin, says the K-Wf Grid System will be able to provide users with simple advice and answers as they pursue problems, such as the impact of closing a street in a city. "The K-Wf Grid system will search within Grid database resources and find any related data, then produce a small workflow that will help the user find the answers to that particular question," says Unger. "For example it could provide some models, so that once the input data needed for those models is entered, this will be sufficient to produce a result from the data." With pilots underway at six Grid sites, the project expects to have fully working prototypes and demonstrations by August 2006, and to come to an end in February 2007.
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  • "Student Creates Program to Manage Notes, Study"
    Northeastern University News (01/11/06); Jicha, Megan

    "Student Manager" has attracted approximately 280 users since its launch for the public on Nov. 25, 2005. Developed by Bryan Healey, a junior computer science major at Northeastern University, the computer program is designed to assist students in taking notes, studying, and managing their time. Healey says his problem of rushing to take notes in class, which often left them nearly illegible, prompted him to create the program, which makes it easier to organize information, and the ability to store notes on a server allows users to gain access from other computers without a disk. Improved over a span of 11 months, Student Manager is available for free with limited features, while a full version, which includes alerts, publication tools, and study tools, is available for a fee. The full version allows users to take notes and sketches, automatically creates quizzes based on the notes, and also makes use of interactive flash cards, printable term lists and flash cards, and a scientific calendar as study tools. Users can receive email or text messaging alerts for important information, keep an online journal, organize events on a calendar, upload existing files, and send or receive notes from another user. Healey wants to update the program by creating a mobile version and improving security.
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  • "FBI Says Attacks Succeeding Despite Security Investments" (01/11/06); Brenner, Bill

    The FBI has reported that the substantial investment companies have made in cybersecurity has been unable to stem the tide of attacks, and that many security breaches are not reported. The 2005 FBI Computer Crime Survey found that more than 5,000 security incidents occurred in the 2,066 organizations polled, despite the nearly universal existence of security software and hardware. China, the United States, Nigeria, Russia, Germany, and Romania were among the most commonly identified countries of origin for attacks that originated outside of the organization. "I continue to be surprised, not at the variety of incidents, but at the magnitude of flaws in deployed systems and the subsequent attacks and losses, all of which are accepted as business as usual," said Purdue University computer science professor Eugene Spafford, who was quoted in the report. "So long as we continue to apply patches and spot defenses to existing problems, the overall situation will continue to deteriorate. Without a significant increase in focus and funding for both long-term cybersecurity research and more effective law enforcement, we can only expect more incidents and greater losses year after year." The most commonly used security tools were antivirus software and firewalls, while more sophisticated techniques such as biometrics and smart cards were only infrequently deployed. Only 13 percent reported that they did not experience a security incident in the last year, while the typical organization saw several different types of attacks, with almost 20 percent reporting 20 or more incidents. Almost half (44 percent) reported that they had experienced an attack originating from within their organization, highlighting the need for background checks for every employee. Most commonly, organizations added and updated security systems after learning of a breach, though a large number admitted to not reporting the incident.,289142,sid14_gci1157706,00.html Click Here to View Full Article
    Eugene Spafford is chair of ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee (USACM);

  • "EE's Blueprint for Industry Diversity"
    EE Times (01/09/06) No. 1405, P. 18; Wallace, Richard

    Addressing the underrepresentation of African Americans in the tech sector is of central importance to electrical engineer turned entrepreneur Wilbert Murdock, who believes more diversity is essential for the United States to sustain its technological leadership and security. Murdock, who founded a nonprofit organization to fund and construct a $20 million Technology Center for Innovation in New York City, says this lack of presence is reinforced by little to no media coverage on African American technologists, which means their important contributions go unrecognized. Murdock notes a tendency among white, male investors to be more at ease doing business with other people of their race, while another obstacle to African Americans is their exclusion from the investor community. He also points to an intense desire among African American youth to study computers, which ought to encourage high-tech leaders to encourage such youngsters to participate in the industry at an early age. A large percentage of African American kids are eager to learn new skills, grow, and thrive if the opportunity is provided, and Murdock believes they could give birth to new tech industries if their ambitions are nurtured by visible role models, mentors, and investment capital. Creative thinking is a survival mechanism in the inner city, and people with such skills have the potential to transform the U.S. high-tech industry if they are accepted by CEOs and higher-ranking executives, says Murdock. Innovative skills developed to cope with inner-city life feed directly into African American youth's interest in sports and music--pursuits that require extreme creativity--and Murdock thinks cultivating a similar excitement for computers and technology is vital. He reasons that there must be a universal, nonexclusive effort to maintain our current standard of living and economic prosperity, as well as bolster national security, through high-tech innovation; this effort will be undermined if African Americans--or any other minority--are excluded.
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  • "High-Performance Computing: Supercharging the Enterprise"
    InfoWorld (01/09/06) Vol. 28, No. 2, P. 16; Erlanger, Leon

    Grids and computer clusters made of inexpensive servers are starting to penetrate the mainstream because the bar for entry is being lowered. "The [high-performance computing] market has been turned on its ear," reports IDC's Earl Joseph. Applications and the location of hardware will greatly influence the architecture in which the cluster or grid is configured, which could be uncoupled, loosely coupled, or tightly coupled, according to Forrester Research. Forrester analyst Frank Gillett says the cost of high-performance clustering may be falling, but exploiting it remains as tough as ever: "Clustering will become accessible at the rate at which software is written for the architecture, and it will be quite a while [before] that's all sorted out," he reasons. This means HPC is still the most appropriate choice for highly technical applications that involve heavy processing and have specific characteristics. Because software licensing schemes are usually not aligned to grid and clustering scenarios that carry unaffordable per-server or per-CPU pricing, hardware vendors are moving toward customized, turnkey HPC solutions involving either a combination of proprietary and open-source elements or alliances with grid and clustering software vendors or HPC application independent software vendors (ISVs). HPC could make further gains in the mainstream market through several developments: One is Microsoft's market debut this year through the introduction of Windows Computer Cluster Server 2003, while another is the trend toward service-oriented architecture (SOA), whose application workloads can be spread throughout a clustered environment more easily.
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  • "Can China Top the U.S. in R&D?"
    eWeek (01/09/06) Vol. 23, No. 2, P. 20; Taft, Darryl K.

    As major technology companies such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM are establishing large research facilities in China, continued U.S. supremacy in technological innovation has come into question. IBM has established a massive research park in Beijing largely devoted to Linux development, which is slowly gaining a foothold in China, though most companies still favor commercial software. Microsoft Research (MSR) Asia has devoted the bulk of its research efforts in China to improving search and data mining technologies, which it views as the principal battleground on which the coming tech wars will be fought. "Whoever controls search today drives a lot of Web traffic," said MSR Asia's Harry Shum. In addition to vertical search, mobile search, multimedia search, and unstructured data, MSR Asia is also invested heavily in graphics research. One technique MSR Asia's Wei-Ying Ma and his team are working on is an object-level search-enabled prototype of an academic search engine called Libra, which he hopes to offer commercially by midyear. Ma claims that his lab is unusual in the diversity of the skill sets that his researchers possess, boasting experts in multimedia, data mining, and distributed computing. Another MSR Asia project is a pen computing device known as the Ubiquitous Pen, or UPen, which contains a tiny camera at its tip to capture each stroke with handwriting recognition software.
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  • "Watch This"
    InformationWeek (01/09/06) No. 1071, P. 42; Claburn, Thomas; Hoover, J. Nicholas

    The television industry is struggling to accommodate the convergence of TV and the Internet, fueled primarily by IP-based television (IPTV) technology where digital content is transmitted over broadband links via Internet Protocol. Microsoft TV's Christine Heckart believes IPTV could bring television firmly into the digital era by enabling the novel interconnection of TVs, PCs, and other viewing technologies with each other as well as mainstream TV outlets. "It will let you have much greater control over not only the experience of bringing the world into your living room, but also extending your living room out to the world," she says. Cable networks, wireless providers, and phone companies all want to carve off a slice of the IPTV market, and are forging new alliances and developing new services to do so. Cable companies are bundling telephony, Internet services, and video into "triple-play" packages, and phone companies are setting up infrastructure to deliver IPTV and other services to subscribers' homes; forthcoming digital-entertainment offerings from Apple, Intel, and others promise to provide video on demand, digital video recording, live programming, two-way interactive communications, personalization, and computing platform integration. IPTV is controlled by operators rather than users, but analysts believe the system will need to be opened up in order to be widely embraced by consumers. Alcatel's Jim White says IPTV will provide viewers with better video search capabilities than current offerings. Interest is also growing in Internet video, which could potentially reach perhaps 2 billion users by 2016; companies investing in Internet video include Brightcove, which offers software that allows video producers and publishers to distribute content online.
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