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Volume 5, Issue 502:  Monday, June 2, 2003

  • "In Computing, Weighing Sheer Power Against Vast Pools of Data"
    New York Times (06/02/03) P. C4; Markoff, John

    Microsoft Bay Area Research Center scientists Gordon Bell and Jim Gray argued at a May meeting of the National Research Council's Computer Science and Telecommunications Board that the federal government should fund the construction of massive data-storage systems rather than faster supercomputers, claiming that progress in data-storage technology is overtaking computer processing gains. "The core of our argument is to give money back to the sciences and let them do the planning," Gray explained. California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology director Larry Smarr concurred with their conclusions, saying that U.S. supercomputer centers would become data archives as accelerating network speeds allow computing tasks to be increasingly distributed. Bell and Gray noted that the primary mechanism for computing distribution would be inexpensive "Beowulf" PC clusters running the freely available open-source Linux operating system, clearing the way for "information centric" and "community centric" computing. Some scientists expressed skepticism over the Bell-Gray approach: National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center director Horst D. Simon believes that supercomputer centers will become even more important as the amount of data generated by the scientific community increases. Daniel A. Reed of the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications agreed that Beowulf clusters have potential as an alternative technology, but insisted that "we still need a national-scale capability at the very high end." Bell and Gray's proposal comes at a time when scientific, industrial, and military computing experts are vigorously debating supercomputing national policy. Japan's Earth Simulator, for instance, has spurred government officials to advise more funds for the major U.S. supercomputing centers.
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  • "The Gray Area Around Green PCs"
    SiliconValley.com (06/02/03); Takahashi, Dean

    Although some electronics manufacturers appear to be making a greater effort to design more environmentally-friendly products, environmentalists criticize the industry for merely paying lip service to such issues. "As much as these companies want to promote environmental values, unless they can sell it as good for business, it doesn't go anywhere," explains Ted Smith of the Silicon Valley Toxics Group. Hewlett-Packard engineers have spent about a year designing a prototype printer with a biodegradable plastic case based on corn starch, but James Burgett of the Alameda County Computer Resource Center argues that the company would do better to give the product a longer life span and make it more recyclable, rather than encouraging consumers to throw it away. He says he would also prefer that HP produce non-toxic inks, and company officials report that they have considered soy-based inks as an alternative. Meanwhile, HP says it will continue to support its electronics recycling program even though the initiative does not generate profits. On the other hand, the company thinks that local governments or consumers should bear the cost of shipping old electronics to recycling facilities. Creative Strategies International analyst Tim Bajarin says it is only in "the last year or so" that computer buyers have begun to care about environmental issues, while legislation in the United States and abroad has emphasized the problem. The European Union will enact statutes in 2005 and 2006 that make computer manufacturers fully responsible for recycling products and eliminating dangerous materials, while Sen. Byron Sher's (D-Calif.) proposal that computer makers offer free recycling services will probably be voted on this summer.

  • "North Korea's School for Hackers"
    Wired News (06/02/03); McWilliams, Brian

    South Korean intelligence officials have claimed for nearly a decade that the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea (DPRK) is training people in the arts of hacking, virus-writing, and other forms of cyberwar at the so-called Automated Warfare Institute at Mirim College, while a South Korean general declared at a cybersecurity seminar last month that North Korea is "reinforcing its cyberterror capabilities." However, Pentagon and State Department officials note that such claims remain unverified, and some American defense specialists doubt that North Korea has the means to impede the U.S. military via cyberspace. Nautilus Institute executive director Peter Hayes adds that the DPRK lags behind other nations in terms of IT infrastructure, partly due to trade sanctions and its lack of basic resources; the American Registry for Internet Numbers and Asia Pacific Network note that neither of North Korea's two "class C" Internet address blocks are apparently active, while its .kp top-level domain remains undeployed. Furthermore, the country has a limited number of Web sites that are hosted by Chinese and Japanese servers. Still, GlobalSecurity.org President John Pike has little doubt that North Korea is attempting to make its military infowar-capable, given the nation's soldierly tendencies. The Pentagon's Alexandre Mansourov agrees that this is a likelihood, given that South Korea has made little effort to hide its own cyberwarfare-enablement initiatives. Moreover, Hayes admits that the DPRK possesses "competent, if not world class" software development proficiency, while the country reportedly has connected government offices via a massive intranet. He acknowledges that North Korean hackers could disrupt low-level U.S. military operations, but doubts that mission-critical systems would be affected, given their decentralization and seclusion from the Internet.

  • "Do PDAs Pose a Security Risk?"
    IDG News Service (06/02/03); Law, Gillian

    Experts concur that computer viruses written for personal digital assistants (PDAs) hardly constitute a threat for the moment, but Symantec's Laura Garcia-Manrique has no doubt that such malware will emerge within a few years as handheld deployments reach critical mass. She and Microsoft's Steve Crayson agree that current handheld software lacks the sophistication to execute complex code such as script viruses or macro viruses, but Garcia-Manrique predicts that will change once PDAs are enabled for 802.11 local area networks (LANs) and direct Internet links. Symantec and McAfee both offer security products for PDAs, because hackers have demonstrated that such devices could conceivably be used to launch viruses, according to Jack Clark of Network Associates, who recommends that companies probe their networks and identify PDA access points. Garcia-Manrique advises that companies "need integrated security across all devices" and should carefully monitor how wireless laptops are being used. Alyn Hockey of Clearswift's Future Products Group says there is an immediate need to study the security of mobile phones, while the technology's installed base is small. Several developers have demonstrated that such devices can be compromised to accept unauthorized code, and desire the deployment of proprietary software. Symbian's Craig Heath explains that smartphones can be used to deliver malware, as long as they can connect to a corporate network. He advises that users practice caution, "and not go installing any old rubbish that people send them."

  • "Mimicry Makes Computers the User's Friend"
    New Scientist (05/28/03); Ananthaswamy, Anil

    Noriko Suzuki, a researcher at ATR Media Information Science Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, believes computers and robots can become more user friendly if they imitate how people speak. He tested this theory by asking volunteers to help a computerized character build toys from blocks and to help it name the toys. The volunteers were told that the character had the speech capabilities of a toddler just beginning to speak. When the character increased its imitation of the volunteers' speech patterns, including rhythm, intonation, and volume, the volunteers gave the character its highest marks in such areas as cooperation, ability to learn, and friendliness. The character received the highest marks when imitating 80 percent of the volunteer's voice, while the 20 percent not imitated indicated the character had some level of independence. Suzuki believes that incorporating imitation into verbal exchanges between people and computers and robots would enhance such experiences. Human-computer interaction expert Timothy Bickmore at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology agrees, saying the approach could be used effectively in entertainment, computer games, and toys.

  • "A Little Less Conversation"
    BBC News (05/30/03); Thompson, Bill

    Technology analyst Bill Thompson does not think social software will induce any radical societal changes over the next year and a half, and thinks that people should arm themselves against its overhyped promises. However, he argues that the issue of social software has value, because it is encouraging people to discuss the Internet as a tool for relating to each other rather than focusing on its purely technological aspects. Thompson writes, "it is now possible to have a serious debate about the social impact of the Internet without mentioning protocols, packets or programming, and that in itself is significant progress." Unfortunately, he criticizes the way that people consider the myriad products and services that facilitate network interaction as a single instrument, which he calls a Western trend that favors simplicity over the comprehension of complexity. Thompson makes the even more lamentable observation that the people talking about social software have a complete disregard for the last two decades' worth of research into human-machine interaction, not to mention the research into psychology and human-to-human communications that has gone on over the last century. "This lack of awareness of what has been done before means that, by and large, the ongoing debate about social software is generally uninteresting, intellectually shallow and largely irrelevant," Thompson charges. He blames this on the wide availability of online publishing programs, the push to cross-link all comments and debates, and an absence of a historical or research-based viewpoint.

  • "File-Sharing Program Slips Out of AOL Offices"
    New York Times (06/02/03) P. C6; Harmon, Amy

    Nullsoft, the renegade software development firm bought by AOL in 1999, has released an encrypted file-sharing application called Waste that allows groups of about 50 people to swap files undetected by outside groups. The application is designed to enable small business groups to collaborate, but it could also provide a safe haven for illegal media file-sharing. AOL removed the software from the Nullsoft site less than 24 hours after it was posted and warned those that had downloaded it to destroy the software. Nullsoft is led by Justin Frankel has continued to develop controversial software even as his company's parent, AOL, is one of the largest media conglomerates. Nullsoft developed the Winamp media player, which popularized the MP3 format, and the Gnutella file-sharing network, which provides the same type of service as Napster but without the culpability of central servers. Gnutella was available strictly for download only a few hours before AOL pulled it from the Nullsoft site. It has since spawned a number of decentralized file-sharing programs that have become the bane of the music and movie industries. The latest release, dubbed Waste, also provides an instant messaging client that could compete with AOL's Instant Messenger. Free Software Foundation lawyer Eben Moglen says the GNU Public License which Waste was originally released under would not protect users as long as AOL did not officially sanction its release. Still, once the source code for a program is released, Moglen admitted that it is very difficult to rein in use of the software.
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  • "Visualizing the Future of Face Recognition"
    Australian IT (05/27/03); Dearne, Karen

    Dr. Christoph von der Malsburg of the University of Southern California says that facial recognition technology has made machines "as good as people" in their ability to identify faces based on photographic comparison; this means that computers are ready to be used for facial verification operations, although von Malsburg cautions that verification and identification are distinct processes. He argues that the technology's ability to identify individuals out of large crowds--a goal of law enforcement--will remain an imprecise and unreliable science until a realistic model of the human face, with all of its expressions and nuances, can be rendered. Interestingly, von der Malsburg notes that the most significant progress in this area is being made by the film industry. He explains that, like people, machines must be trained "to find correspondences between [facial images]...to find the landmarks of the face and align them in [a] personal database." His research involves compressing hundreds and thousands of images into a flexible, "parameterized" model that can take variable lighting, pose, expression, and apparel into account. Von der Malsburg forecasts that this model will serve as a template for systems which in two to three years' time could significantly impact the entertainment industry, perhaps even more so than the biometrics industry. Von der Malsburg believes reliable facial recognition systems will emerge within two years, but notes that their success, particularly in the field of law enforcement, will depend on resolving low image quality and other basic problems endemic to data capture.
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  • "Transparent TVs From Invisible Circuits"
    NewsFactor Network (05/23/03); Choi, Charles

    Oregon State University electrical engineer John Wager says the laptop industry and other flat-panel display markets could receive a serious boost with the advent of transparent circuitry composed of invisible transistors, and reported that Japanese researchers have made a significant breakthrough in this area. Transparent conductors are common to such products as car window defrosters and computer touch screens, but Wager says that circuitry fabricated from such conductors will refine the performance and illumination of active matrix liquid crystal displays (AMLCDs), laying the groundwork for see-through electronic displays that could revolutionize store advertising and information readouts for drivers. Scientists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology announced in the May 23 issue of Science that they had built transparent, oxide-based circuitry that was a minimum of 10 times faster than earlier circuits. The transistors they created possess a mobility of 80, compared to a maximum of about 2.5 typical of previous invisible circuits. Those transistors were poly-crystalline, unlike the Japanese circuits, which are composed of single crystals and thus not prone to slower electron flow. However, mass production of the new transistors is complicated by their reliance on pulsed laser deposition and temperatures in excess of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to approximately 660 degrees Fahrenheit necessary for AMLCD production. Nevertheless, Wager says these transistors could be very useful in high-end projector displays, and believes that such devices could one day be fashioned from poly-crystalline ingredients. Wager's research team reported the development of the first transparent transistor in March.

  • "Grim Outlook for Grads"
    ABCNews.com (05/28/03); Hobson, Mellody

    The job forecast for new college graduates is particularly gloomy for IT majors. The National Association of Colleges and Employers says computer science degree holders will be offered mean salaries almost 8 percent lower than those offered last year--$46,536 compared to $50,352 in 2002. Graduates of management information systems will receive 5 percent lower salaries on average compared to 2002 graduates ($41,573 today compared to $43,732 in 2002). Overall, 42.4 percent of polled employers plan to hire fewer graduates than in 2002, the association says, and 1.2 million new graduates will be vying with 9 million unemployed Americans for 3 million jobs. The outlook for computer science majors, engineers, and others is especially bleak because technology-manufacturing firms have been severely impacted. For example, manufacturing firms are planning to recruit 8.5 percent fewer new graduates. In Atlanta, according to a recent study, new computer science graduates do not view themselves as "free agents," able to move from firm to firm as they please in search of the highest salaries. Only 2 percent say they expect to be in their first job for less than a year, compared to 56 percent in 2000. Most of the grads (58 percent) now expect to be in the first job for at least one to three years.
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  • "Asia Running Out of IP-Address Room"
    CNETAsia (05/28/03); Lui, John

    Asia's pool of available Internet addresses is shrinking to a point where the region may run out of IPv4 room soon, especially because under the region's original allocation, Asian countries were assigned less IPv4 space than most countries elsewhere. China has 22 million available IP addresses and boasted 17 million Internet subscribers last year. China, a nation of 1.3 billion people, is expected to hit 62.7 million subscribers in 2007. Japan and Korea are also near their IPv4 ceiling, says International Data's Renee Gamble. New technologies such as 3G phones and innovative home devices will accelerate the use of Internet addresses. As a result of this pressure, Gamble predicts that Asia may become a leader in adopting IPv6. China and Japan already are investing in IPv6, and in June 2002 both countries invested $32 million in IPv6 system research, according to Gamble. Japan's Hitachi is entering the Chinese market as an ISP later this year, and plans to use only IPv6 addresses in China. Meanwhile, many Japanese equipment makers are already adopting or investing in IPv6 functionality.

  • "Flexible Display Slims Down"
    Technology Research News (05/28/03); Smalley, Eric

    E Ink engineer Yu Chen reports that company researchers have created a prototype 0.3-millimeter-thick electronic display that can be rolled into a 4-millimeter cylinder while maintaining 96 dots per inch resolution. The display consists of a 75-micron-thick steel-foil backing supporting an insulating material, thin-film transistors deposited by standard photolithographic methods, and a laminated layer of electronic ink. The ink is composed of minuscule capsules containing black and white pigment that respond to an electric current. A negative charge induces the capsules' white pigment to move to the surface, while a positive charge brings the black pigment up. Chen says the researchers were able to boost the ink's speed, contrast ratio, and image stability by tweaking the materials and chemical processes they worked with. The display is suitable for smart ID cards and electronic readers, although Chen projects a foldable full-color display that supports video will not emerge for several years. For that to happen, the ink switching speed will have to be raised from 250 milliseconds to 15 milliseconds, while 50 microns will have to be shaved off the substrate's thickness. Chen believes that "electronic paper and wearable computer screens...might have a large impact on environmental protection...and how our society distributes information."
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  • "Domo Arigato, Linux Roboto"
    NewsFactor Network (05/29/03); Ryan, Vincent

    The Linux open-source operating system is penetrating the robotics arena, partly spurred by Intel's effort to develop standardized hardware and software for researchers and manufacturers that marries Linux 2.4.19 and open-source drivers to Centrino mobile technology and the XScale microprocessor. Linux's real-time version, RTLinux, is especially useful for industrial robots and other machines that need "very precise control over positioning," according to FSMLabs President Victor Yodaiken, who adds that Linux enables companies to run standard applications and set up links between robots and networks. He says that robots with RTLinux handle DNA samples, pick fruit, test milk, and perform other chores. Intel's robotics package was selected by Acroname for use in its autonomous mobile mapping and navigation robot, Garcia. Acroname President Steve Richards says Linux is a better alternative to proprietary real-time operating systems in terms of cost. Furthermore, real-time Linux does not carry "unnecessary baggage" typical of PCs, and boasts code portability that Windows CE lacks. Mobot Robotics engineer Vinton Coffman says a cheap Linux distribution that supports the deployment of small embedded boards would carry many benefits, but he notes that organizations that already use Linux-enabled servers will probably not gain further advantage by moving into robotics, because robots will be self-contained systems looked after by specialists. Meanwhile, the Open Robot Control Software (OROCOS) group is working out an open-source robot software architecture that features mutable elements for motion sensing, control and hardware connections, and open libraries.

  • "The Third Era Starts Here"
    Guardian Unlimited (05/29/03); Schofield, Jack

    The programmable Web is gaining currency as major IT vendors agree on Web services standards. At the same time, a much less structured Web services effort is going on in the developer community, where individual programmers are using free applications programming interfaces (APIs) released by online services such as Google and Amazon.com. Whether from entrenched IT powerhouses or from grass-roots developments, the trend is enabling the programmable Web, where users do not have to actively search for online services or information themselves. The idea is to allow other applications and devices besides a traditional browser and PC to use the Web. In the future, cars with on-board computers could hook up to Microsoft's MapPoint site and find out where the nearest gas station is, based on GPS data; the location of the nearest service station and other relevant information would be automatically beamed to the driver when the gas tank runs low. Working through industry consortiums, Microsoft, IBM, and others are working on the standard identifiers and directories that would make this type of integration possible. At the same time, developers are making use of free APIs issued by Google, eBay, and Amazon.com to create new Web services such as Google Alerts. Forrester Research analyst Paul Sonderegger says the Amazon.com API is especially intriguing because it allows developers to access deeper functions than the simple search engine access allowed by Google. Amazon.com held a crowded workshop session at the recent O'Reilly Emerging Technologies conference to show programmers how to use its free programming tools and software tokens.

  • "Canning Cyber Spam Won't Be Easy"
    National Law Journal (05/19/03) Vol. 25, No. 39, P. 1; Young, Gary

    In an effort to clamp down on Internet spam, or unsolicited emails, the Federal Trade Commission has taken several steps such as its fourth state-assisted Netforce sweep targeting online scams. The FTC currently receives about 130,000 spam messages daily forwarded from consumers as complaints. Moreover, a recent FTC study revealed that 66 percent of all email messages it examined contained some falsehood. The agency has the authority to issue injunctions and fine companies accused of spam, as it did with Cyber Data, a company that sells email address lists. Cyber Data's settlement meant paying $20,000 and halting messages that promise unrealistic profits by using its lists. The FTC and other agencies also want users of open relays, which allow computer users to remotely access PC-based email applications, to stop using them since spammers often hijack those lines and use them to hide their spam's origin. Other, more secure technologies are now available, but the FTC admits it has little legal power to forcibly shut down open relays. The agency is also mulling the creation of a nationwide law aimed at spammers. But others, including Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire, fear such a law would undermine existing state laws that go beyond the extent of a national law. Professor David E. Sorkin says all unsolicited commercial email should be banned, while Washington state lawyer Dietrich Biemiller says any new laws should not prevent individuals from suing spammers for damages. Biemiller has used Washington state's anti-spam law, passed in 1998, to sue spammers for misleading routing information or subject line, although he has yet to collect.

  • "Ethernet's Power Play"
    Computerworld (05/26/03) Vol. 31, No. 27, P. 30; Mitchell, Robert L.

    The IEEE task force on Power Over Ethernet (POE) technology has released a draft standard supporting what analysts say will become the first international power standard ever. Besides the potential to eliminate portable conversion devices for power outlets, POE also promises easier and less costly network setups because a certified electrician is not required for Ethernet deployment. POE, or IEEE 802.3af, adds 20 percent or more to the cost of an Ethernet switch, but support in end devices is cheap. The IEEE's 802.3af task force chairman, Steven Carlson, says a range of devices can be powered with the 12.95 watts delivered via POE, including IP security cameras, IP phones, and wireless LAN access points. "POE is going to be one of those things where people won't even remember when you couldn't get power from an Ethernet jack," he says. Vendors have been offering in-line power via Ethernet for some time, but adoption often meant subscribing to proprietary technology. Even 3Com's Doug Hyde expects the POE standard to have some glitches at first simply because manufacturers read specifications differently. Burton Group analyst David Passmore says the first POE devices should be safe to buy as long as vendors guarantee they are upgradeable, and Gartner's Rachna Ahlawat says that within a year POE will "just become another standard feature."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "The Race for the Messaging Cup"
    InfoWorld (05/26/03) Vol. 25, No. 21, P. 50; Moore, Cathleen

    Session Initiation Protocol for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE) and eXtensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) are competing to emerge as the standard for enterprise messaging. Microsoft, IBM, Novell, and Sun Microsystems are in SIMPLE's corner as current or future supporters of the standard, which is based on Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). This makes SIMPLE capable of melding video, voice, and conferencing, although industry observers note that the specification's core component is a signaling protocol not designed to transport data. SIMPLE also incorporates TCP and User Datagram Protocol, the latter of which lacks congestion control, while International Data's Robert Mahowald observes that SIMPLE may not easily support presence. Open-source, XML-based XMPP is touted by its designers as offering extensibility to enterprise applications, making the protocol more capable of accommodating IM and presence. Furthermore, XMPP enables the server to log and audit messages, which Joe Hildebrand of Jabber says is an important selling point for his company's clients in the financial services industry. XMPP's proponents are mostly grassroots, but the protocol could triumph over SIMPLE thanks to two developments: Having Hewlett-Packard as a backer and the tens of thousands of real-world XMPP deployments that have already taken place, according to Jabber's Peter Saint-Andre. Still, Relevance President Rob Batchelder is convinced that the successful standard will ultimately be a SIMPLE/XMPP hybrid.

  • "A Wider Field of View"
    Control Engineering (05/03); Bartos, Frank J.

    The Sensors Expo 2003 show in early June will showcase offerings from 128 companies and demonstrate the full range of sensor technologies. Products on display will include a line of low-g accelerometers from Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector that can measure linear acceleration, deceleration, tilting, and other small force fluctuations; National Instruments' NI 6120 multifunction data acquisition devices for PXI and PCI, which can interface with multiple programming environments and languages, offer more resolution and accuracy, and boast 54 million samples of onboard memory; and Phoenix Contact's Variosub RJ-45/IP67 industrial Ethernet connector, which can support 100 Mbps transmissions and has a high tolerance to vibration, dirt, moisture, corrosive substances, and tough industrial installations. Sensors Expo 2003 will host sessions covering numerous topics, such as design issues, sensors' ubiquity, nanotechnology and other emerging sensor applications, and industry trends. A notable session in the category of Putting Sensors to Work is "Commercialization of Nanotechnology, MEMS [microelectromechanical systems], MST [microsystem technologies], and Micromachines--A Global Perspective," chaired by Roger Grace Associates President Roger Grace. Topics of papers to be presented at the session will include infrastructure technologies and devices, while Grace himself will deliver an "Overview on Barriers to Commercialization." The session will also include panel discussions with an emphasis on manufacturing issues, particularly the part that standards play in MEMS industries. Featured speakers at the expo will include Dean Kamen, and the "International Robots and Vision Show & Conference" will take place as an adjunct show running concurrently with the expo.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "The Future of Personal Computing"
    TheTechMag.com (05/03); Kirksey, Kirk

    Kirk Kirksey forecasts that the personal computer will eventually evolve into a robust, wireless machine about as thin as a sheet of paper, driven by floating molecular processors linked together by transparent, conductive plasma and powered by kinetic energy. The PC will come in assorted shapes, and sport built-in nanoscale cameras, high-speed satellite connectors, minuscule surround sound systems, and a handwriting recognition engine that digitizes input in any language and orientation. The machine will also be capable of projecting a holographic keyboard and wirelessly sending sound and images to sensory devices via floating transmitters. Kirksey writes that such transforming technology will only emerge through the alignment of the Aesthetics of Technology (unmatched utilities derived from new technology) and the User Illusion, which pioneer programmer Alan Kay described as "the picture the user has of the machine." The author argues that future PCs will closely resemble paper because paper has powerful Technology Aesthetics, making it an essential part of people's User Illusion. This User Illusion, in turn, influences computer design. This assumption is borne out by the fact that computers are shrinking in size and, more critically, thickness, while the inclusion of handwriting recognition further reinforces the application of User Illusion to Technology Aesthetics. "The convergence of paper and technology is inevitable because the final product is embedded deep within our genes and social history," Kirksey contends.

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