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Volume 7, Issue 817:  Monday, July 18, 2005

  • "How to Make Safer Software"
    Wall Street Journal (07/18/05) P. R4; Guth, Robert A.

    As software has filtered down to virtually every aspect of our lives, developers have begun to realize that the bells and whistles that used to drive sales of their products must take a backseat to fundamental security and quality provisions. In a recent interview, Cigital CTO Gary McGraw highlights the shift toward accountability that is defining today's software industry, as evidenced by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other standards of security-driven compliance. The trend is to knit security measures into the fabric of the software, rather than to address it after implementation through firewalls and antivirus programs whose vulnerabilities have already been exposed. Also, more companies in non-software industries are starting to look at software development in house, such as banks, credit card companies, and automobile manufacturers. McGraw cites Microsoft as having emerged from its earlier practice of relying on features to drive software sales to a more responsible, quality-focused approach that has enhanced the security of their software and further solidified their dominance in the market, even if the company is still not perfect. McGraw recommends that developers incorporate software assurance throughout the design of every package, which entails considering the end requirements of a system as well as the potential threats hackers may pose to it. To fully integrate software with the business community, developers must also overcome the language barrier and speak in terms that have instant relevance to bottom line, instead of burying themselves in impenetrable technical rhetoric. In the face of foreign competition, McGraw believes U.S. software companies can retain their preeminence through forward-looking risk management and needs assessment, even if India and China can offer coders who work for lower wages.

  • "OMB Seeks R&D on Supercomputing, Cybersecurity"
    Federal Computer Week (07/14/05); Sternstein, Aliya

    A July 8 memo from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) calls for greater priority on federal research and development for supercomputing and cybersecurity, but policy analysts lament the memo's implication that R&D budgets will remain flat or be scaled back even further. "Agencies may propose new, high-priority activities, but these requests should identify potential offsets by elimination or reductions in less effective or lower priority programs or programs where federal involvement is no longer needed or appropriate," wrote the memo's authors, who advised agencies to continue their efforts to produce a gap analysis of cybersecurity R&D funding via the National Science and Technology Council. The President's IT Advisory Committee (PITAC) reported in February that the federal civilian cybersecurity budget is insufficient, and recommended that the National Science Foundation's cybersecurity budget receive a yearly increase of $90 million. Former PITAC co-chairman Ed Lazowska says he hopes the OMB/OSTD memo will turn cybersecurity into a bigger area of concentration. Less positive is Peter Harsha with the Computing Research Association, who says that "whether [the Bush administration will] take the PITAC-recommended step to address the gap--increasing the investment in civilian cybersecurity research--is less clear."
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  • "N.J. to Get E-Voting Paper Trail, But Not Until 2008"
    Computerworld (07/15/05); Weiss, Todd R.

    Acting New Jersey Gov. Richard Codey last week passed a new law requiring all electronic touchpad voting systems in the state to provide a voter-verifiable paper record, but critics complain the law does not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2008. "That doesn't protect people for the next two and a half years, and that to me doesn't seem to be an acceptable state of affairs," says Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Matt Zimmerman. He says the delay in the paper trail's implementation was probably introduced to give New Jersey municipalities enough time to procure the new technology, although this carries few benefits for voters. "It's giving into the [municipalities'] position that they don't want to have to spend money on new machines, immediately," Zimmerman argues. New Jersey State assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) challenged the delay by filing a lawsuit against the state in October 2004 with the assistance of Rutgers Law School professor and lawyer Penny Venetis. Venetis says several major elections will take place in New Jersey prior to 2008, but notes that Gusciora's suit hit a roadblock in January when the case was dismissed by a New Jersey judge; the case is now before the New Jersey Court of Appeals.
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    For information on ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm

  • "Getting More Girls to Study Math, Tech"
    San Francisco Chronicle (07/18/05) P. E1; Fost, Dan

    A July 19 panel discussion on "Women and Girls in Science, Math, and Technology" in Alameda, Calif., will address the wide gap between the percentages of men and women in science, engineering, and technology, which panelist Donna Milgram with the National Institute for Women in Trades, Technology, and Science attributes to "a tendency to define certain things as masculine and feminine." Kristin Butler with Girls Inc., the event's host, says her organization is dedicated to providing girls with opportunities to learn at their own rate of speed without being affected by stereotypes; she says the lack of boys at Girls Inc.'s computer lab removes the feeling of competition typical of school settings. Milgram, whose institute develops curriculum to enhance math's appeal to girls, says it is a challenge to overcome habitual views of mathematics that take root in early childhood, and recommends that girls should be allowed to play with chemistry sets and Legos in order to build problem-solving skills and spatial relationships. Milgram says robotics education also suffers from gender bias, in that it typically supports a male-oriented curriculum that emphasizes competition where the robots are frequently monsters. Other panelists will include computer science professor and Google software engineer Ellen Spertus.
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    For information on ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit: http://www.acm.org/women

  • "Open Source Rules Campus Programs"
    Business Journal of Portland (07/17/05); Earnshaw, Aliza

    Web developers in Portland, Ore., are finding it difficult to hire computer science graduates with experience in Microsoft's .Net Web site development environment, because most college graduates are trained on open-source systems, according to Mark Brody of Opus Creative. Portland State University computer science department director Cindy Brown says, "We teach our students the principles that we think will hold for the long term, that will help them learn over the long term," while businesses desire people who can dive head-first into the rapid-pace world of commercial work. She believes university programs can train people to be adaptable, which would better prepare them for the rigors of the business sector. Pop Art President Steve Rosenbaum notes that .Net training is offered by two-year colleges, but companies such as his generally prefer people with four-year degrees because their hiring policies require programmers proficient in communication and customer relations. Brown says her school teaches on open-source operating systems because it enables students to understand the software's inner mechanisms and because it costs nothing. Rosenbaum says large, traditional companies with complicated Web sites prefer Microsoft's proprietary technology, while Brody says there is no accountability for open-source software since it is generated and tweaked by a community of enthusiasts.
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  • "Could Cars That Read Minds Save Drivers From Themselves?"
    New York Times (07/18/05) P. D9; Diem, William

    The use of driving simulators by the automotive industry has yielded important information about drivers that is being applied to vehicular systems. For example, to handle drivers' tendency not to apply their car's maximum braking power in a panic stop, engineers have developed electronic systems that recognize panic situations by detecting how sharply the driver first pushes the brake pedal, and then maintain the exertion of pressure even if the motorist does not. The French car manufacturer Renault and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique are using a new laboratory to study motorist behavior in order to adapt vehicles to drivers' anticipated actions. Renault's Pierre Beuzit says 70 percent of accidents results from driver error, and states that "We want to create a sort of mathematical model of the psychology of drivers, to use directly in our development programs." Renault employs various technologies to develop the physical details of production vehicles, including a virtual reality facility to test the location of controls, switches, and structural components by modifying the perspective within special eyewear. Beuzit says driving simulators, which use video screens, speakers, and hydraulic platforms to accurately re-create the driving experience, can reduce research time by half, while Dr. Andras Kemeny of the Centre National reports that simulators can be used for basic research on drivers' multisensory perceptions. Other money- and time-saving applications for computer simulation include digital crash tests, virtual models of auto components, and tests to confirm that newly developed features function as intended. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa is running numerous experiments, including one to determine why car accidents are so frequent among teenage drivers.
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  • "Linux Lays Groundwork for World's Top Supercomputers"
    NewsForge (07/14/05); Lyman, Jay

    Increasing numbers of the highest-ranking machines on the Top500 Supercomputer List are using open-source Linux operating systems, reports list editor Erich Strohmaier. This reflects the larger part Linux is playing in high-performance computing (HPC), and Strohmaier projects that Linux's HPC presence will continue to expand, although other operating systems will have roles to fill in specialized and niche applications. According to the latest Top500 list released in June, four of the five leading supercomputers are primarily dependent on Linux clusters. Strohmaier attributes Linux's deepening penetration of HPC to the cost effectiveness the OS offers, noting that corporate IT clients find it easier to use Linux as an HPC platform when the OS matches what corporate servers may already be running; "That gives you more guaranteed programming interoperability across platforms," he says. Yankee Group analyst Dana Gardner says companies can insert intellectual property and value between nodes and systems for HPC through the use of a low-cost platform such as Linux, and he expects HPC systems to grow in terms of efficiency and usage as increased adoption lowers cost and applications proliferate. SGI's Jeff Greenwald credits open standards with Linux's prominence in HPC, noting that "Everyone is collaborating, testing code and interfaces, and being able to run systems across multiple platforms." IBM Research's Tilak Agerwala says Linux is employed in the compute nodes of the Blue Gene supercomputer, and adds that Linux also serves as the foundation for a substantial portion of the clustered system's remaining functionality. He says the Linux superclusters' programming environment is also enhancing computer power, which can now scale up over time.
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  • "Father of Java Talks Futures"
    eWeek (07/15/05); Taft, Darryl K.

    In a recent interview, Sun Microsystems fellow and Java creator James Gosling outlines his thoughts on the future of the language. Central to Sun's work on Java has been integration with other languages, including one complex, ongoing project that has numerical computing and multithreading capabilities as its focus. Gosling notes that numeric computing has been researched for decades, and although Java is far along in terms of multithreading, working with complex numerical applications is much harder. He says there are a lot of "hard problems in building something that scales to hundreds of thousands of threads, and really does the kind of concurrency that people need in numeric computing." Gosling expresses his desire to include small object support, an innovative method for cross-package references, and enhanced rendering capabilities in the next version of Java. In addressing the issue of open source, Gosling cites Sun's testing clauses as the major impediment toward a universal embrace of Java from the open source community, though he does not feel that open source initiatives from other companies will hurt Sun's market share. He credits Ajax with helping to mitigate the interoperability problem of multiple programmers writing in JavaScript. Gosling is also optimistic about Java's ability to interoperate with dynamic languages through Sun's Coyote project, which he sees as executing his vision of creating language that is at once dynamic and highly functional.
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  • "Picking Apart the PITAC Report"
    HPC Wire (07/15/05) Vol. 14, No. 28; Reed, Daniel; Dongarra, Jack; Johnson, Chris

    The point of the recent U.S. President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) report is that the scientific community has not been able to take full advantage of computational science because of inadequate and outdated software systems and models, write the authors. The authors say Dr. Robert Panoff missed the mark in his July 1, 2005, commentary entitled "Let's Remember: The Noun is Science," by suggesting the primary recommendation of PITAC is "to sustain software centers, not science." At the PITAC computational science subcommittee, the science community stressed that high-end systems need to be available. Computers are faster today, but they are not easier to use for computational science, considering the shift from a sequential and vector model to a parallel model now requires significant code modifications and some low-level MPI programming to get the most out of hardware. Complex processors and deep memory hierarchies are even found in desktop systems. A government planning activity, continued investment in scientific applications, government support of computational science technologies, and international collaborations on computational science would help transform the participation level of educational systems and research enterprises in this area.

  • "Augmented Maps"
    The Engineer (07/13/05)

    Researchers at England's University of Cambridge have devised a system that facilitates the enhancement of printed maps with digital graphical information. The dynamic paper map system developed by Dr. Tom Drummond, Dr. Gerhard Reitmayr, and Ethan Eade is designed so that the printed map is laid out on a flat surface and viewed by an overhead camera linked to a PC, which interactively tracks the map via the live video stream. Also positioned above the map and connected to the PC is a projector, which beams graphical information directly onto the map once the system establishes the map's location. User interface devices placed on the map can provide access to data linked to map locations, and the system can track these devices as well. Personal digital assistants (PDAs) or similar devices can be used to support interaction between the user and the real and virtual map assets. For instance, positioning the PDA next to places where Web site information is available about those locations raises the appropriate site. Users can employ a simple prop--a white card, for example--as both a selection tool and a surface onto which images referenced by the site pointed at can be projected. The research team is planning modifications to the system that add mobility as well as easy deployment.
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  • "Algorithms Take a Back Seat as the Machine Learns to Thrive in the Age of Uncertainty"
    Computer Weekly (07/13/05); Kavanagh, John

    The issue of uncertainty has prompted some machine learning researchers to focus less on programming solutions and pursue new approaches to their work, said Microsoft Research Cambridge's Christopher Bishop while presenting the 2005 BCS Lovelace Lecture. Though researchers have had a difficult time writing an algorithm for recognizing handwriting, getting computers to handle the variable situations they would encounter has taken Microsoft in another direction with machine learning. "With handwriting recognition, for example, we do not try to program a solution; we give the computer lots of examples of handwriting, along with the text, and the machine learns to match the electronic image to the text," Bishop said. New strategies for making more accurate approximations have helped researchers address the issue of uncertainty. Bishop cited the new Microsoft XBox Forza car racing game as an example of how the company has used machine learning to move beyond the time-consuming approach of testing a game, tweaking the script, then repeating the process. "With Forza, instead of handscripting the cars, we get people to use the game and drive them--and capture the data and try to mimic their style," said Bishop.
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  • "Google Raises the Profile of Geospatial Information"
    GeoWorld (07/11/05); Ball, Matt

    Keyhole general manager John Hanke discusses how the public has received the Google Earth product line, as well as its effects on geographical information system (GIS) vendors and other geospatial technology industry players. Keyhole, which was acquired by Google last October, is chiefly concerned with incorporating imagery within the Google Earth products, and Hanke says the popularity of the imagery has been enormous; he cites the overlay of search results and driving directions on top of images as vital to the applications' positive reception. Hanke thinks providers of aerial and satellite imagery are enjoying substantial benefits from their increased exposure through the Google Earth offerings, and notes that the Google Earth applications are complementary to traditional GIS software. "I think to a large extent we are whetting people's appetites for using geospatial tools more," he says, predicting that geospatial tools will be more broadly embraced by mainstream users in the workplace. He describes the Google Local search application as a combination of a Web index and a structured data feed that supplements traditional query results (the address, phone number, and name of the business or establishment) with links to important information such as restaurant reviews. Hanke says Google Local facilitates the construction of general indirect queries, and he attributes its uniqueness to "the quality of our ability to incorporate large amounts of information from the Web." As an illustration of how customers have combined Keyhole's interface with their GIS data, Hanke points to San Bernadino County's award-winning incorporation of aerial photos, Lidar-generated terrain models, and GIS data into a tool to disseminate geospatial information to city workers via one of his company's enterprise systems.
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  • "Missing Link: Augmented Reality Technology May Bridge Communication Gap in Poultry Processing Plants"
    Georgia Tech Research News (07/14/05)

    A research team at Georgia Tech has developed augmented reality technology that aims to improve efficiencies in poultry plants. The researchers designed two different methods of projecting graphical images onto a bird that show trimmers which parts are to be removed and which products are altogether defective. The more expensive option uses a head mount worn by the trimmer to display the images, while the other entails a remotely mounted laser. Currently, inspectors relay information to trimmers through hand signals. The researchers have designed the technologies mindful of conditions in a poultry plant that are often wet and demand trimmers' unencumbered use of their hands. Georgia Tech College of Computing assistant professor Blair Macintyre will present his team's research on July 17 at a meeting of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers in Tampa. He believes that one of the greatest advantages of the system will be the advanced notice it will provide to trimmers of the amount of work coming down the line, allowing them to more efficiently allocate downtime to other tasks, such as cleaning and sharpening their knives. The team will initially test their designs in a lab this fall, simulating trimmers' working conditions, and will then try them out in a real plant.

  • "New Search Engine to Help Thwart Terrorists"
    Contractor UK (07/14/05); Knight, William

    An anti-terrorism search engine based on Unintended Information Revelation (UIR) is being developed by researchers at the University of Buffalo's Center of Excellence in Document Analysis and Recognition with funding from the National Science Foundation and the FAA. The principle behind UIR is that pieces of information that seem innocuous by themselves may yield highly sensitive data when combined. Current search engines process individual documents according to how often a key word crops up in a single document, but a UIR search engine builds a concept chain graph to find the optimal associative route that links a pair of concepts within many documents. "A concept chain graph will show you what's common between two seemingly unconnected things," explains University of Buffalo computer science and engineering professor Rohini Srihari. She says the UIR system's analysis of the 9/11 Commission Report determined that terrorists Mohamed Atta and Binal Shibh shared apartments in Hamburg, Germany; that Atta and Nawaf al Hazmi were 9/11 hijackers; and that an imam at a San Diego mosque helped Hazmi locate an apartment in that city. Likewise, UIR search could perhaps help outline a trail of evidence that points to those believed responsible for the recent London bombings, even though they did not fit the stereotypical terrorist patterns. The University of Buffalo researchers are working to create the core algorithms that reveal hidden paths through documents produced by different organizations or individuals.
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  • "For Linux, the End-to-End Is Near"
    SD Times (07/15/05) No. 130, P. 30; Binstock, Andrew

    The mainstreaming of the Linux operating system has substantially changed the makeup of the Linux market, leading to more commercial tools for Linux developers as well as improvements to open-source tools, writes Pacific Data Works analyst Andrew Binstock. With Linux included in new development products and upgrades to existing commercial products, Binstock is confident "that within a few years' time, the Linux development market will have many more tools with richer collections of features from which to choose." The author notes that the gcc compiler is still the default compiler for Linux, but its portability carries the tradeoff of slow code generation; however, recompiling gcc code with Intel's C/C++ compiler yields 40 percent more performance, while the GNU compiler for Java can enable distribution of applications that have no need for the Java runtime environment. Linux build tools such as Ant and its possible successor Maven boost the accuracy, predictability, and scalability of software product construction, and they interoperate with source-code management products. Most of today's critical Linux products are governed by libraries designed for portability from the bottom-up, such as Netscape's Portable Runtime Library and the ACE Toolkit; Binstock expects Trolltech's Qt, which offers superior portability, to emerge as the de facto library for many Linux-based products because it is being developed as free and open source. He cites BZ Research surveys indicating that visually-oriented IDEs such as Eclipse are starting to supplant text-oriented development environments, and his expectation is that Eclipse's C plug-in and others will become the default IDEs on Linux and Unix once they equal the sophistication of the C/C++ plug-in.
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  • "Take It to the Limit"
    New Scientist (07/09/05) Vol. 187, No. 2507, P. 38; Mackenzie, Dana

    Computer speed may continuously improve, but the codes computers use to transmit data are unlikely to advance much further. The upper limit consists of turbo codes and low-density parity check (LDPC) codes, which facilitate perfect fidelity even over noisy lines because they are designed with data preservation in mind and use forward error correction. Turbo codes allow data transmission to come within 10 percent of the Shannon limit, or the maximum amount of information that can be broadcast with perfect fidelity at a given signal-to-noise ratio. Turbo codes catch errors through multiple separate decoders that are each provided with a shuffled version of the code word to ensure that errors missed by one decoder will be picked up by another. LDPC codes, which were invented over 40 years ago, employ a network of decoders to guarantee faithful data transmission: Variable nodes each contain a single bit of the message, and check nodes search for errors via simple formulae. Both turbo codes and LDPC codes use belief propagation, a method that functions in a way similar to the solving of a crossword puzzle, in which one pencils in a suspected letter and either inks it in or changes it as one encounters further clues that either support or refute its likelihood. Belief propagation could also be applied to speech-recognition software, image processing, and the conversion of old TV programs to high-definition digital formats, among other things. Turbo codes and LDPC codes are vying to become the industry standard, and the former has a four-year lead over the latter; but LDPC codes can be used at higher data rates because they consume less computing power, and they also are simpler and less weighed down with patents than turbo codes.

  • "Can You Hear Me Now?"
    Federal Computer Week (07/11/05) Vol. 19, No. 22, P. 30; Ferrill, Paul

    Two recently introduced voice recognition products, Dragon NaturallySpeaking and IBM's ViaVoice, offer new applications for a technology that is widely used for transcription in law and medicine. Dragon NaturallySpeaking targets a corporate audience with features such as the ability to keep voice profiles on a central server and the transcription of audio files from any Microsoft PocketPC-enabled device. Both models entail similar initial configurations that pair the software to hardware and establish user profiles: Each user must read long blocks of text to create patterns of speech the software can recognize, and the programs also scan the computer for text files and sent emails to ascertain the user's writing style. Both packages include noise-reducing headphones, which function adequately in environments with dull background noise, such as a window air conditioner or a server fan; they also can interpret homonyms correctly from context clues. Corrections can be easily made in each system: In ViaVoice it is simply a matter of speaking the word "correct" and pausing, and a correction menu appears. It is important to speak punctuation, also, as neither program will know to end a sentence without hearing the word "period" spoken. Next to transcription, improving accessibility for the disabled is the most common application for voice recognition technology, and both programs score adequately in this measure. Negotiating basic Windows functions using voice commands is fairly easy, though options for the visually impaired are limited to word processing and scratch pad applications; both programs were found to function more than capably, but voice recognition as a technology has yet to emerge from niche status, as the current mode of PC serves most users' needs.
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  • "Is China the Next R&D Superpower?"
    Electronic Business (07/05) Vol. 31, No. 7, P. 36; Normile, Dennis

    Concurrent with declines in America's science and engineering graduate output and U.S. government spending on research and development in the physical sciences is China's dramatic uptick in both these areas, leading industry observers to predict its rise into a major R&D power. The timetable for this emergence is debatable: Ernest Preeg with the Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI argues that China's nanotech research is already equal to America's, while Asian Technology Information Program analyst Robert Haak says major Chinese breakthroughs are 10 to 20 years away. Analysts also point to China's substantial progress in fields ranging from supercomputing to materials science to biotechnology. Denis Fred Simon with the State University of New York's Levin Graduate Institute says China's ascendancy is not precipitous, but rather the result of reforms and policies that have been put into motion over the last two decades, and which have transformed the country's socialist scientific infrastructure into a merit-driven system that fosters competition. The country's leading universities and the Chinese Academy of Sciences are where basic research takes place, while output such as papers and patents are key to securing and sustaining funding and promotions for researchers. In addition, China is producing a more proficient and populous scientific workforce, and top Chinese universities now offer quality advanced training as an alternative to going abroad for doctorates. The expanding talent and volume of Chinese workers has encouraged multinationals to set up R&D centers in China. Challenges China will need to meet to truly become a scientific superpower include devoting considerably more capital to R&D and facilities; more widely distributing cutting-edge equipment to labs; and producing more senior-level scientists to coordinate major initiatives.
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