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Volume 6, Issue 678: Friday, August 6, 2004

  • "Brain Drain in Tech's Future?"
    CNet (08/06/04); Frauenheim, Ed

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) reports an alarming drop in the number of technology-related doctoral degrees awarded by U.S. universities, but there is wide-ranging debate about what this means for the U.S. technology sector and what can be done about it. Although 27,300 students received doctorates in science and engineering in 1998, only 24,550 students earned doctorates in 2002; reasons for the drop are numerous, ranging from the late 1990s technology boom to post-Sept. 11 visa restrictions for foreigners to the paucity of qualified American doctoral candidates. The National Science Board warns that the drop in doctoral graduates is a bad sign for U.S. technology competitiveness, especially as the demand for science and engineering workers grows. Computing Research Association Chairman James Foley says the main reason for so few doctoral graduates is the lack of federal funding: "Pay scientists the six-figure salaries the market is demanding, and you will watch people come out of the woodwork in droves," he says. Specifically, Foley says money should go to the NSF and the National Institutes of Health, which run projects that are insulated from the IT outsourcing trend. Rand analyst Donna Fossum says the recent drop in science and engineering doctorates is the result of people leaving research for the private sector, but notes NSF numbers that show a 6 percent increase in engineering graduate students in between 2001 and 2002, suggesting some students chose continued study over joining the workforce. Rochester Institute of Technology public policy professor Ron Hira says more Ph.D.s may not even be necessary, and points to the steady rise in science and engineering bachelor's degrees. Meanwhile, Programmers Guild founder John Miano, who enrolled in law school after being rejected from computer science doctoral programs, says U.S. universities should limit foreign students to no higher than 5 percent of their doctorate student body.
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  • "Passport ID Technology Has High Error Rate"
    Washington Post (08/06/04) P. A1; Krim, Jonathan

    The State Department plans to start issuing passports with embedded digital photos next spring, even though federal researchers, industry experts, and privacy proponents advise that fingerprints should be used instead. The digital photo could be compared with an image of the traveler taken at the passport control station as well as with images of people on government watch lists. The State Department opted for face recognition in order to comply with the U.N.-affiliated International Civil Aviation Organization, which determined that face recognition was least likely to spur fears of privacy infringement and was the least difficult standard for most countries to deploy; however, the agency also approved fingerprints and iris scans as additional biometric identifiers that could be embedded in the passport. Federal researchers say tests have shown that face recognition has an error rate as high as 50 percent if photos are taken under inadequate illumination, while deputy assistant secretary of state for passport services Frank Moss reports that passport-photo vendors have received new specs for taking pictures in order to ensure that lighting and other conditions are optimal. Nevertheless, tests conducted by the National Institute for Standards and Technology indicate that a pair of fingerprints provide a 99.6 percent accuracy rate, while face recognition using pictures taken under optimal conditions provides a 90 percent accuracy rate. Ari Schwartz with the Center for Democracy and Technology argues that fingerprints are the most sensible biometric to use. "The simple answer is that they don't want to put in a fingerprint biometric because they don't want to deal with the political recriminations," says Robert D. Atkinson, director of the Democratic Leadership Council's Progressive Policy Institute.
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  • "FCC Takes on Spam, Copying"
    Wired News (08/05/04); Grebb, Michael

    The FCC adopted a number of proposals on Aug. 4 concerning wireless spam and digital copying controls, as well as how wiretapping rules should be applied to voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) services. The commission motioned that certain wireless spam messages be banned as part of its deployment of the Can-Spam Act: Unsolicited "mobile service commercial messages" were banned, but short message service messages that go directly to phone numbers were permitted, and spammers could exploit this exemption. "Transactional" and "relationship" messages such as billing statements were also exempt, and the job of defining what messages fit into those categories was left to the FTC. Wireless providers were also mandated by the FCC to submit wireless domain names to the commission so that a public database of not-to-be-spammed domains can be compiled. The FCC also proposed that certain VoIP telephony services fall under the jurisdiction of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act's (CALEA) wiretapping rules, which currently exclude ISPs, although law enforcement authorities support the application of those rules to the Net. However, the FCC's proposal specified that CALEA could only cover "connected" VoIP providers that permit Internet-to-traditional phone calls, while peer-to-peer VoIP services would be exempt. The commission also approved 13 technologies that digital TV equipment manufacturers can incorporate into devices that work with "broadcast flag" copy controls, although some technologies such as TiVoGuard permit limited cross-platform distribution of copied content. The Motion Picture Association of America expressed its disappointment that the agency approved TiVoGuard without conducting "further analysis," while Fred von Lohmann with the Electronic Frontier Foundation said that users are still left vulnerable to crippling copy protections.
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  • "IETF Prepares to Forward Sender ID"
    InternetNews.com (08/04/04); Wagner, Jim

    The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) plans to nominate a consolidated technology standard that would prevent email address spoofing: The Sender ID technology combines the Sender Policy Framework (SPF), already used by some 50,000 domain owners worldwide, with Microsoft's Caller ID framework, which basically adds the XML format to the SPF list information. Email that comes from addresses other than a designated IP address would be rejected under the plan, forcing spammers to obtain their own domains. Sender ID is not a cure-all solution, but will make it more difficult for spammers and easier for email providers to track down senders. Most likely, spammers will simply use automated systems to buy and register new domains that they can abandon after sending out millions of spam messages, says Asia-Pacific Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail coordinator Suresh Ramasubramanian: "In the long run, if SPF catches on, throwaway domains will become much more popular," he says. Sender ID has been picked over numerous other options because of the need for a quick solution, says IETF MTA Authorization Records in DNS co-chair Andrew Newton, whose group's job is to clear Sender ID of technical and legal issues before a self-imposed August deadline. He says the Client SMTP Validation scheme, which would grade incoming email according to a IP address database, might be incorporated later, but was left out of the current solution for expediency. Although talk about Sender ID is generally positive, some groups have held reservations about including Microsoft patent claims; Microsoft itself may actually hold up adoption of Sender ID because of internal disputes within the company, according to a source close to the IETF discussions.
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  • "'Super Computers Will Soon Become a Commodity'"
    Hindu (08/02/04); Mathew, Roy

    Anand Babu, who led the effort that developed the second fastest supercomputer in the world at the Lawrence Livermore National Labs in the United States, anticipates the commoditization of supercomputing thanks to technologies such as Intelligent Platform Management Interface, Explicit Parallelism Instruction Computing, multi-core CPU, Infiniband on PCI-Express, and Machine Check Architecture. Babu predicts a computing revolution in the next 25 years as all devices are enhanced with integrated inter-networked computing and storage capabilities through the extension of Moore's Law by nanotechnology. Babu is firmly against the idea of patenting software, which threatens to stifle innovation: "If software patents are allowed, one day it would become extremely difficult or even impossible for a developer to come up with totally new ideas [or licensing each one of them] to build a software package," he warns. Babu prefers that official documents be published in an open format, as the adoption of a proprietary format will give vendors a license to monopolize; hinder support for all operating systems and complicate format interoperability; and force the community to pay often unfair prices for associated proprietary software, among other things. He is confident that governments worldwide will opt for open document formats in the near future. Babu cites projects such as Mark Zugsmith's Net4Rural effort, which aimed to install touchscreen-based kiosks running free software in order to network all rural regions with the rest of the world, but the project was suspended when Zugsmith had to leave India. Babu comments that copyright law has been thrown out of whack by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and endangered consumers' fair-use rights, but he thinks Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and John Doolittle's (R-Calif.) Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act is a good solution.
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  • "Classic System Solutions to Present at San Francisco BayCHI on Designing User Interfaces for Rich Internet Applications"
    PRWeb (08/01/04)

    BayCHI has chosen Classic System Solutions President James Hobart to be a key speaker and panelist at the BayCHI Rich Internet Application event on Aug. 10, 2004. Joining other industry leaders on Rich Internet Applications such as Macromedia, Lazlo, and Oddpost, Classic will help identify how the technology can benefit users. Classic will present findings from its usability labs, as well as techniques for maximizing Rich Internet Applications. Interaction behavior, navigation models and adapting UI design to optimize the technology will be part of the discussion. Hobart says, "BayCHI is extremely well-regarded with members who are among the best usability and UI specialists in the country, so we are extremely honored to have been selected to be a panelist for this event." BayCHI in the San Francisco Bay Area is ACM's largest local chapter.
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    For more information on ACM's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction, visit http://www.acm.org/sigchi/.

  • "As Photos Fade, Texts Crumble, U.S. Archives Tries to Save Data"
    Baltimore Sun (08/04/04) P. 1A; Bishop, Tricia

    Digital data as well as printed and recorded information is subject to deterioration and loss, and on Aug. 3 the National Archives awarded $20 million to Harris Corp. and Lockheed Martin to develop a permanent medium for preserving the history of the United States. National Archives and Records Administration archivist L. Reynolds Cahoon held a press conference yesterday in which he proclaimed that current technologies such as CD-ROMs and zip disks will eventually fall into obsolescence, rendering the information stored on them permanently inaccessible. Shannon Perich with the National Museum of American History noted that the Smithsonian has been preserving images digitally for several years, but the possibility that the recording technology may become obsolete and incompatible with later technologies made a case for providing hard-copy backup. Lockheed Martin and Harris were chosen by the National Archives out of a number of companies who bid to supply technologies outlined by the archives over the past six years: Over the next nine months, the companies will vie for a $500 million contract to develop a solution to digital data deterioration. Lockheed Martin's Don Antonucci expressed hope to create a format that is not beholden to a specific program to be accessed, and said the biggest challenge will be predicting integration with "technology that has not yet been created or even imagined." Bob Henry of Harris remarked that the massive amount of data in the National Archives will make the development of a system that can accommodate it all especially challenging. The Library of Congress and the National Science Foundation are collaborating on their own project to develop a standard electronic recording medium, and William LeFurgy with the Library of Congress noted that the variegation and innovation of information technology can inhibit the adoption of a universal standard.
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  • "Programming Wetware"
    InformIT (08/06/04); Wolfson, Wendy

    Various projects in developing biological computers are underway, although the obstacles are formidable. Researchers say the value of DNA-based computers is their ability to perform massively parallel problem-solving, but Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program manager Eric Eisenstadt says the key challenge is creating a biological algorithm to symbolize a real-life optimization problem; his agency is considering organic modeling and simulation for the purpose of detecting biological and chemical agents, while the National Science Foundation's Biological Information Technology and Systems program aims to tackle a wide variety of computational challenges by supporting research at the convergence point of biology and information technology. In April, the Weizmann Institute in Israel issued press releases declaring that Professor Ehud Shapiro's lab had developed a biological computer that uses molecules within living cells to identify certain cancers and to generate cancer-fighting pharmaceuticals. This would be a step toward drug delivery systems that would destroy cancer cells in the human body while leaving healthy cells alone. Meanwhile, the field of synthetic biology is investigating the assembly of simple circuits from biological molecules in the hopes of creating simple, programmable organisms. DNA would serve as a biological computer's "software," while enzymes would function as its "hardware;" circuits composed out of lengths of DNA would facilitate cell-to-cell communication. Standardizing such biological building blocks is the goal of an MIT project focusing on the creation of circuits and other elements fabricated from DNA lengths. Problems that need to be solved in order to perfect biological computing include: Very slow input/output time, the need for a sterile environment to avoid contamination by other microorganisms, and the failure of computers after several generations because of cell division, mutation, and other biological processes.
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  • "Delete: Bathwater. Undelete: Baby."
    New York Times (08/05/04) P. E1; Hafner, Katie

    Many people are championing spam filters as the saviors of email, but filters can unintentionally block legitimate messages and can also be circumvented by creative spammers; this fact is forcing users to be even more vigilant over what kinds of email is being weeded out, and to continuously tweak their filter software to more accurately distinguish between spam and non-spam. Bayesian scoring, in which each word in the email is assigned a statistical probability of being part of a spam message and then cumulatively measured and given a score between 1 and 100 (100 representing the highest likelihood that email is spam), has emerged as the most popular filtering method. The advent of filtering technology has triggered an arms race between spammers and filter developers, who must train filters to identify new and subtler forms of spam. "It's pretty much a cat-and-mouse game," notes Miles Libbey, Yahoo!'s anti-spam product manager. "We make a change to the filters and as little as five minutes to two hours later, the spammers have adapted to our change." One spamming technique that successfully thwarted Eudora, a filter that employs Bayesian scoring, involved surrounding the ad with poetry, which fooled the filter by overloading it with words that were not obvious spam indicators. Eudora also allows users to retrieve valid emails that are mistaken for spam by shunting the rejected messages into a junk mail folder that users can check; but users whose email is scanned at the server level do not have this option. The threat of losing email that could be critical to a company's business or relationship with potential or existing partners has forced some companies to abandon filters and face the onerous, time-consuming task of painstakingly reviewing every email they receive.
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  • "Playing Along Virtually in Sports"
    IST Results (08/05/04)

    In the near future, viewers of television sports events will be able to personalize and interact with program content just as Web users can do at many online sites today, says PISTE project coordinator Thanos Demiris. The PISTE (Personalized, Immersive Sports TV Experience) program combines digital video, computer vision, 3D graphics, and animation technologies to allow viewers to customize how they view a sports event, adding virtual competitors or moving freely through a virtual-reality-enhanced sports arena. Demiris says PISTE merges what people expect from sports computer games with the TV experience: Broadcasters would use digital video and software programs to capture stadium images and pre-process competitor statistics data so that when the program is broadcast, viewers' set-top boxes would only have to handle a few variables, including the live competitors. Demiris envisions adding a ninth virtual runner to a race of eight competitors so that viewers could see how their favorite contestant would fare, for example. PISTE project partner Dartfish is already commercializing some aspects of the project for use in the Athens Olympics, including StroMotion technology that enables broadcasters to create a stroboscopic effect behind competitors where trace images show a flow of motion. The full PISTE project is expected to be ready in approximately two or three years' time, and would not cost television broadcasters much because a lot of the work can be done before a broadcast begins. The cost of capturing digital stadium images and constructing 3D models would be offset by the competitive advantage PISTE would add. Demiris says the limiting factor is the hardware in the set-top boxes, which includes expensive graphics cards expected to fall in price over the coming years.
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  • "Can You Hack the Vote?"
    PCWorld.com (08/05/04); Spring, Tom

    Vocal electronic voting critic and Harvard University research fellow Rebecca Mercuri aims to demonstrate how unreliable and insecure e-voting machines are through the Mercuri Challenge, an invitation to hackers to try to break undetectably into such systems. "I'm not asking anyone to break any laws, we just want the opportunity to hack e-voting systems to prove that it can or cannot be done," Mercuri says. She argues that the most probable type of e-voting fraud would be the manipulation of election results through unauthorized remote access to e-voting machines, or the exploitation of backdoors installed by authorized workers for their own ends. Mercuri has requested e-voting machine vendors VoteHere and Advanced Voting Solutions to provide any challengers "full specifications" of their voting systems for inspection. VoteHere's Tony Mereckis insists that such specs have already been publicly disclosed, but Mercuri claims that his company forces anybody who wants to test its systems to enter into an agreement that criminalizes the examination of those systems and the public disclosure of such information. Advanced Voting Solutions President Howard Van Pelt adamantly refuses to publish specifications of his company's e-voting systems. Meanwhile, Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist and e-voting supporter Michael Shamos is offering a prize of $10,000 to the first person who can penetrate a Direct-Recording Electronic voting machine and change vote counts without being detected--a task he claims is impossible. To add spice to the proceedings, challengers who fail to successfully hack in undetected will have to pony up $5,000.
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    For information on ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "Onion Routing Averts Prying Eyes"
    Wired News (08/05/04); Harrison, Ann

    Tor is a second-generation communications system being developed by the U.S. Naval Research Lab that employs onion routing to anonymize Web surfers and protect their activities from corporate or government eavesdropping. In an onion-routing scheme, messages are sent through a distributed network of nodes selected at random; each node is aware of its preceding and succeeding nodes only, and each server has a symmetric encryption key that removes one layer of a message and reveals instructions for the next node along the route. Onion routing cannot support flawless anonymity, but it helps shield users from snoopers who are not monitoring both the sender and recipient of the message at the time the transaction transpires. Tor is designed to be easier to use and less problematic than its first-generation predecessor, and developers say the system can thwart the tracking of users by Web sites, inhibit the compilation of Web site visitor lists by governments, keep whistleblowers safe, and subvert local censorship by employers, ISPs, or schools. "The point of the Tor system is to spread the traffic over multiple points of control so that no one person or company has the ability to link people," explains programmer Roger Dingledine, who adds that companies could employ the system to carry out prudent competitive research or route their staff's Web browsing to prevent employment sites from ascertaining which employees are job-hunting. The Navy's motivation in funding Tor's development is to protect the identity of government workers who gather intelligence and conduct politically volatile negotiations through anonymous communication. Dingledine and Nick Mathewson are developing Tor as a research platform with a global pool of open-source software developers; users are allowed to operate as many Tor nodes as they want.
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  • "Stealth Wallpaper Keeps Company Secrets Safe"
    New Scientist (08/04/04); Fox, Barry

    BAE Systems, under contract with British telecoms regulator Ofcom, has developed a technique to thwart the interception of Wi-Fi signals from office base stations while ignoring mobile phone signals, through a system based on a secret "stealth" technology originally created to hide military radars. The technology is a wallpaper composed of Frequency Selective Surface sheeting, which can mask radar antennas by being electrically programmed to permit only the exact frequency the antennas wish to transmit and receive, while soaking up all other frequencies. The sheeting consists of a kapton substrate coated with a thin layer of copper on both sides: One side is covered by a grid of copper crosses, while on the other side matching crosses set at a 45-degree angle are etched off, leaving a copper film with a grid of cross-shaped holes. Careful adjustments to the size and spacing of the crosses allows the wallpaper to pass specified frequencies while inhibiting all others, according to BAE. Ofcom engineers say the wallpaper can stop Wi-Fi signals at 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz, while permitting the passage of 3G and GSM cell phone signals, as well as emergency calls. Linking diodes between the copper crosses allows frequency filtering to be switched on and off, and the wallpaper can be produced in volume relatively cheaply. Up to now, the only effective measure to prevent interception of office communications was to line walls with aluminum foil and cover the windows with radio-absorbent glass, but such a "Faraday cage" scheme precludes the use of mobile phones in the office. An even thinner, transparent version of the wallpaper is being developed as a window covering.
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  • "A Sweet Spot for Every Listener"
    New York Times (08/05/04) P. E8; Taub, Eric A.

    Iosono, the brainchild of Karlheinz Brandenburg of Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology, is a sound system that employs computers, sound-processing algorithms, and speakers to dramatically enhance a listener's perception of recorded sounds. Standard surround-sound systems give sounds a panning effect as long as they are rapidly traversing the listening space, and their full effect can only be felt at a specific distance, or "sweet spot," near the speakers. Iosono can facilitate the panning effect for slow-moving as well as fast-moving sounds, so that actors' voices could appear to originate from their exact position on the screen; the sweet spot, meanwhile, is enlarged through Iosono's creation of a uniform listening field. Brandenburg's system can also support the illusion that sounds are emanating from outside the auditorium. The Iosono technology follows wave field synthesis theory, which argues that a sound source's acoustic wave field can be imitated by secondary sources; consequently, a series of speakers can be programmed to produce specific frequencies at different moments and decibels so that they emulate sound coming from a certain location. The Iosono scheme involves the installation of speakers at eight-inch intervals across a room's four walls, while an Iosono engineer uses a touchscreen display to drag and drop pictograms representing sounds to a point in the room. The software algorithms assign specific frequencies to specific speakers to generate the desired effect. Iosono could potentially be incorporated into movie theaters, theme park attractions, and live concerts.
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  • "Interview With United Nations Head Secretariat of WGIG"
    CircleID (07/30/04)

    The increasing interest that a number of governments have in managing and coordinating the Internet, especially on the issues of convergence and telephone networks, has erupted into the debate over Internet governance, says Markus Kummer, executive coordinator, secretariat of the United Nations Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) in an interview with CircleID. Kummer helped the governments, the Internet community, and the business sector reach a compromise on the issue of Internet governance during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva last December. What is meant by Internet governance still has not been determined because participants in the first phase of WSIS in Geneva were not ready to settle on a technical definition or broader definition that would include issues such as interconnection, intellectual property rights, consumer and data protection, and multilingualism of the Internet, says Kummer. The WGIG now will determine the scope of Internet governance. Kummer says governments view the present Internet governance model as lacking a forum for discussion with the various stakeholders at an international level, while the other side says the current system is not broken and does not need fixing. The conceptual groundwork that emerged from the Geneva Declaration includes principles that are based on traditional principles of international cooperation, and no one has challenged their validity so far, he says. The WGIG will be set up by October 2004 to develop a working definition of Internet governance, identify relevant public policy issues, and develop an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of governments, international groups and other forums, the private sector, and civil societies in developed and developing countries.
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  • "Ultrawideband: A Better Bluetooth"
    Computerworld (08/02/04) Vol. 32, No. 31, P. 22; Hamblen, Matt

    Ultrawideband (UWB) technology is here, but faces significant standards and regulatory hurdles before it can be safely deployed for business applications. UWB demonstrations from Freescale Semiconductor show data transfer speeds of up to 110 Mbps, enough for three concurrent video streams, and other vendors promise speeds of up to 1 Gbps; UWB also has a range between 10 meters and 30 meters, and can be used for equipment tracking since it relays relative distance and position of objects. The United States is the only country to have allocated radio spectrum to UWB applications, while recent tests done for European Union regulators have shown UWB to not significantly interfere with other applications in the same spectrum, which include cellular phones. Although governmental approval is progressing, technical standards for UWB remain deadlocked in the IEEE, where Intel and the 140-member Multiband Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) Alliance is squaring off against Freescale (Motorola's chip-making subsidiary) and its 30-member UWB Forum group. Freescale UWB operations director Martin Rofheart says the UWB Forum's Direct Sequence UWB technology can be deployed two years faster than the competing OFDM technology. Freescale's XtremeSpectrum chip set is expected to bring UWB to wireless home applications this fall, and will support speeds of 1 Gbps over two meters by next year. Intel says UWB Forum's claims of faster time-to-market are not true, and notes that the Multiband OFDM Alliance has five times more vendors supporting it. Eventually, UWB is expected to cost just $5 per chip in volume, making it roughly equivalent to Bluetooth in cost. Meanwhile, next-generation Wi-Fi technology, 802.11n, is expected to emerge on the market about the same time as UWB; 802.11n will Provide speeds of up to 200 Mbps, but will require more power than UWB.
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  • "Tech-Job Upheaval"
    InformationWeek (08/02/04); McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk; Chabrow, Eric; Greenmeier, Larry

    The U.S. IT job outlook is improving now, but recent Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show the extent of the damage caused over the last three years: The government says the IT job market peaked three years ago when 3.47 million out of 3.57 million U.S. IT workers held jobs; this year, just 3.23 million out of 3.41 million IT workers are employed, though 10 percent of them hold management positions compared to just 6 percent having management jobs four years ago. In general, software engineers remain the largest section of the IT workforce with nearly a quarter of all IT jobs, while the number of software engineering positions has grown almost 7 percent in the last three years, and network, database, and systems administrators have increased in numbers as well. Meta Group vice president Howard Rubin says offshore outsourcing has pulled hundreds of thousands of programming and IT support jobs from the United States; although salary costs are the main factor behind this migration, he says remote management and infrastructure costs mean U.S. firms might be better off moving such operations to non-urban locations in the United States. Core product development is also occurring overseas; still, a recent Meta Group study shows the top-tier IT jobs remain in the United States and that the overall IT market will ramp up later this year or early next year. Major U.S. IT firms such as IBM and Microsoft say they will hire thousands of U.S. IT workers even as they expand overseas operations. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer boasts his company is among the most competitive in IT hiring, winning more prospects with offers from IBM and claiming more than half of job candidates with competing offers from Google.
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  • "Makers of Ground Robots Ask for Better Sensors and Communication Links"
    Military & Aerospace Electronics (07/04) Vol. 15, No. 7, P. S8; Ames, Ben

    Robotic ground vehicles are being developed and deployed for military operations such as ordinance detection and disposal, reconnaissance, and security patrols, but their usability will remain limited until sensor technology is improved and technical obstacles such as communications range and latency are overcome. One unmanned ground system currently employed for explosive-ordinance disposal in Iraq is Foster-Miller's Talon, which uses a bevy of sensors to find and defuse mines, but does not boast more sensors because it lacks a common interface. In keeping with the Pentagon's push to create such an interface, next-generation Talons will replace their 16-bit processors with Intel Pentiums. Communications between the upgraded robots will be enabled by equipping the units with software that complies with the Joint Architecture for Unmanned Systems protocol, while another demand from the Pentagon is a common operator-control unit that would enable a single soldier to direct the movements of entire fleets with a laptop-size interface. Communications is the biggest barrier to robot performance: Wireless communications has a maximum range of 800 feet, while latency can affect video feedback to such a degree that the operator may be unable to target or move objects. Talon's developers are testing several solutions--the range problem, for instance, could be solved through the use of a fiber-optic tether, while latency problems could be mitigated with the use of both digital and analog cameras. Cliff Hudson with the Defense Department's Joint Robotics Program says that robots will be assigned more complex battlefield duties and missions as their level of autonomy increases, and making this vision a reality will involve the creation of new robotic-technology standards such as common driver controls, a unified software architecture, and a universal sensor interface.
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  • "We Like to Watch"
    IEEE Spectrum (07/04) Vol. 41, No. 7, P. 30; Goldstein, Harry

    Political, cultural, and economic forces are converging to usher in an age of virtually anytime-anywhere surveillance of people, transactions, and things, bringing society closer to a point in which advanced sensor technology, search tools, and public databases can be leveraged to set up either a benevolent state where citizens keep tabs on one another or an Orwellian scenario in which every person is monitored by government and corporate entities with more nefarious agendas. RFID tags, biometric sensors, and ubiquitous GPS are only the tip of the iceberg: Expected within the next five years are wireless networks of mass-produced sensors that can be incorporated into practically anything, super-small cameras, and wearable multimedia devices that document and access data. Those who support the vision of a so-called transparent society argue that we must accept surveillance technologies in order that we may use them to watchdog the people and institutions that monitor us. Privacy proponents frequently cast the proliferation of public surveillance cameras in a sinister light, claiming that privacy is being eroded; but the loss of privacy may be countered by the ways in which surveillance technologies can uphold values, an example being the filmed documentation of abuses in an Iraqi prison, whose disclosure led to quick action and reparation. Banning surveillance technologies may only exacerbate the situation, as illustrated by the Defense Department's Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, which was designed to mine databases for signs of possible terrorist activity: Heavy public criticism goaded Congress to cut the program's funding, but many TIA projects have merely been transferred to other departments where oversight is paltry, while projects that would have enhanced privacy have been eliminated. "Those who think we can protect our anonymity by banning technological development should first try to explain how they hope to succeed at banning anything at all," says sci-fi author David Brin.
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