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Volume 7, Issue 832:  August 22, 2005

  • "Live Webcast of Cerf and Kahn's ACM Turing Lecture Tonight"

    Vinton G. Cerf and Robert E. Kahn, recipients of ACM's 2004 A.M. Turing Award, will present their lecture "Assessing the Internet: Lessons Learned, Strategies for Evolution, and Future Possibilities" tonight at the University of Pennsylvania's Irvine Auditorum. ACM SIGCOMM is sponsoring a live webcast of the event--one of the highlights of its 2005 SIGCOMM Data Communications Conference--at 6pm tonight. To view the lecture, please go to http://www.acm.org/sigs/sigcomm/sigcomm2005/webcast.html anytime after 5:45pm EDT. RealPlayer Version 8 or higher is required to view the lecture ( http://www.real.com). If you miss the live webcast, or are unable to connect, the broadcast will be available for archived viewing on demand at the above website beginning August 23.

    For more information, visit:

  • "Professor Tries to Instill Passion for Math, Science"
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (08/21/05); Gannon, Joyce

    Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Lenore Blum recently earned the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring for her work to encourage young girls to pursue math and science careers. She believes girls generally spend less time around computers than boys, noting that parents give boys more opportunities to learn how the technology works. A Bayer survey released in May gives some credibility to Blum's conclusions: The poll found that 64 percent of parents bought science-related toys for their sons in the past year, whereas just 47 percent bought such toys for their daughters. In addition to being a member of the President's Diversity Advisory Council, Blum is faculty adviser to [email protected], a support group for women in computer science that exposes middle and high school students to role models through a traveling outreach program. Blum thinks the dot-com meltdown and the offshoring of computer jobs has had a chilling effect on students' interest in the field of computer science, and notes that women in particular are discouraged, as evidenced by the fact that only about 30 percent of new yearly enrollments in CMU's computer science department are female. Blum helped start the Association for Women in Mathematics and was a member of the Math/Science Network, a San Francisco Bay Area discussion group focused on how to stimulate an interest in math and science among girls. The group launched the Expanding Your Horizons conference for middle-school girls, which Blum says offers participants "hands-on role models" and problem solving opportunities. "Our goal is for girls to do four years of high school math, then do calculus in college and go on to careers in engineering," she says.
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    For information on ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "High-Profile Online Data Thefts Irk Pols"
    Investor's Business Daily (08/22/05) P. A4; Deagon, Brian

    The recent spate of highly publicized data breaches compromising the personal and financial information of millions of Americans has incited the third piece of congressional legislation addressing the issues of data protection and disclosure since April. The Personal Data Privacy and Security Act of 2005 specifically targets data brokers, which often serve as intermediaries to banks when processing credit card transactions. Following two other legislative proposals regarding data security, the new bill also takes a cue from the many states that have already passed similar laws. The statistics paint a grim picture, as identity theft claimed over 9.3 million victims from October 2003 to September 2004, and 50.5 million people had their data stolen between February and August of this year; the real numbers could be much higher, however, as relatively few states have yet to pass legislation requiring disclosure in the event of a security breach, as California did last year. The breach that occurred at the data broker CardSystems compromised the credit card numbers of 40 million people, and drew the attention of the FDIC, which has a tenuous regulatory authority over such intermediaries. The FDIC has approved a measure, now awaiting approval from the Federal Reserve, that would force banks to warn their customers if there is reason to believe they are at risk of identity theft. Identity theft, which now costs nearly $50 billion a year, has many faces, and in its most sophisticated form is often the work of highly organized, profit-driven crime syndicates, a reality that continues to bring new waves of legislative oversight.

  • "When PCs Pollute"
    CNet (08/17/05); Sharma, Dinesh C.; Skillings, Jonathan; Marson, Ingrid

    Greenpeace has issued a report concluding that the recycling of electronic materials is unregulated and environmentally hazardous, as many workshops overseas where electronic equipment is disassembled contain high levels of toxic materials. Greenpeace advocates takeback programs that would hold electronics manufacturers responsible for their products after they are out of commission and outlaw the export of e-waste to foreign countries. A few states have already enacted takeback programs, which Greenpeace believes will offer incentive to manufacturers to use fewer toxic materials in the production process. Greenpeace India's Ramapati Kumar notes that in New Delhi, where about 40 percent of India's electronic waste is handled, nearly half is imported illegally from the United States and Europe, often under the pretense of "reuse and charity." Recycling a PC only costs about two dollars in India, compared with $20 in the United States, and some predict that environmental regulations would increase the price of electronics for consumers. The Greenpeace study collected samples of dust, soil, and groundwater from Guiya, China, and the suburbs of New Delhi, and found elevated levels of lead, tin, copper, and cadmium, all of which figure prominently in the manufacturing of electronics. John Frey, who manages environmental strategy for Hewlett-Packard, advocates a consistent, nationwide program to address electronic recycling, rather than operating under different regulations in different states.
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  • "Daisy Has All the Digital Answers to Life on Earth"
    Guardian Weekly (UK) (08/19/05); Jha, Alok

    British researchers have announced plans to build a digital library of all life on Earth using pattern-recognition software. The Digital Automated Identification System (Daisy) combines artificial intelligence and computer vision technology so that naturalists can access detailed information about plants or animals simply by sending a digital image of the specimen to the system. Norman MacLeod of the Natural History Museum says the Daisy Internet portal would take a user's image and farm it out to servers in individual institutions, and attempt to find a matching image in its archives. MacLeod expects Daisy to inject more objectivity and direct comparability into taxonomy: The normal taxonomic process involves painstaking comparison of unknown specimens with identified specimens in the museum's collections. MacLeod reasons that scientists could devote more time to researching evolution and biodiversity if they did not have to routinely identify specimens and train others to do so. Daisy's realization was made possible by advances in neural network software, according to MacLeod. "When we see something new, we don't have to re-compute our understanding of everything else we've ever seen, we just add it to the mix," he says.
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  • "VR Goggles Heal Scars of War"
    Wired News (08/22/05); Jardin, Xeni

    An experimental virtual-reality system that vividly replicates combat trauma is being used to treat soldiers suffering from shellshock. The Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California developed the system last year with the U.S. Office of Naval Research. Cmdr. Russell Shilling with the Office of Naval Research says the project is novel in that it attempts to treat post-traumatic stress disorder early, rather than years, sometimes decades, after the trauma. The patient wears headphones and VR goggles, while a clinician uses a control tablet to choose from an array of artificial environments and enhance them with stress-inducing audio and visual effects that can be dialed up or down according to how patients react physiologically. Institute for Creative Technologies virtual therapy developer Dr. Albert Rizzo says odors will be added to the mix with a device that generates smells. Dr. James Spira with the San Diego Medical Center's Health Psychology Program says VR's appeal as a therapeutic tool lies in its ability to reproduce a trauma's full sensory input, and adds that the new system is more effective as a healing aid than any other tool he has used. Backers of VR therapy experiments hope that part of a $1.5 billion increase in veterans' health care funding authorized by Congress in July will be committed to the development of similar technologies.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Tech Beyond Black Boxes? It Just Won't Fly"
    CNet (08/18/05); McCullagh, Declan; Broache, Anne

    The recent Greek airplane crash highlights the problem of relying on "black box" flight recorders that are themselves vulnerable to damage or destruction, yet relaying key data from the aircraft to the ground every few microseconds has been deemed too costly and complex an engineering feat by federal officials. Krishna Kavi, chairman of the computer science department at the University of North Texas, says an air-to-ground connection can be piggybacked atop an existing transmission link without the need for a very expensive communication network; the information could be sent to an airline company through the use of a cell phone. Kavi has proposed a system that only transmits abnormal airplane data to the ground, and suggests in a paper that a permanent recording of all the data currently stored and discarded would enable the correlation and mining of the data gathered from multiple flights to model situations that could produce unsafe accidents. Many airliners already send a small amount of flight data to a ground-station network via the two-way, low-speed Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) link, which enables airlines to remotely request information about fuel consumption and other factors, while pilots can request text-based weather reports from the ground. Overhauling ACARS to accommodate the data stored in a black box is a tough proposition from an engineering point of view, while installing and using satellite links is a high-cost option. Air-to-ground beaming of cockpit audio has privacy implications, and would probably be opposed by airlines and pilots unless secure data encryption is provided. Division chief of the National Transportation Safety Board James Cash says new recorders with solid-state memory are more likely to survive crashes intact.
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  • "Enhanced: More Women in Science"
    Science (08/19/05) Vol. 309, No. 5738, P. 1190; Handelsman, Jo; Cantor, Nancy; Carnes, Molly

    In the 25 years since the inception of the Women in Science and Technology Act, women have made significant advances into the fields of math and science, though their participation remains disproportionately low in academia. Despite the recent debate over innate intelligence and cognitive ability, there is no evidence arguing toward women's inability to succeed in technical fields, as the skills required of a scientist are diverse, and it is generally recognized that the scientific community is enriched by a diversity of perspectives. Cultural factors seem more influential, as the 30-fold increase in the proportion of engineering Ph.D.s awarded to women between 1970 and 2003 points to an adjustment of cultural norms, rather than a shift in innate ability. The absence of female role models, a lack of encouragement in school, and compromised self-confidence impede women's enrollment in scientific courses of study and their inclusion in university faculties. Advisors and female professors can help women overcome the psychological barriers deterring them from pursuing careers in higher education by steering their course of study and acting as positive role models. Women also cite an unwelcoming campus climate, which can range from unintended derision to outright sexual harassment, as a factor contributing to their abandonment of the academy. It has also been shown that women suffer from unconscious bias, as evaluators are more critical of their subject once they learn that she is female, suggesting the need for concealing an applicant's gender. The disproportionate amount of time women spend caring for their families also curtails the pursuit of careers in higher education, though publicizing stories of women who have successfully balanced careers and family, as well as more family-friendly facilities on campus, would help to overcome this obstacle.
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    To learn about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Chinese Developers Should Take Global Open-Source View"
    IDG News Service (08/16/05); Lemon, Sumner

    Speakers at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in Beijing said Chinese companies and developers can and should play a key role in the development of open-source software, both in a technical and non-technical capacity. Novell CEO Jack Messman lauded the Chinese government's support for open-source software and Linux in particular, which together "provide a golden opportunity to develop this country into a global software powerhouse." He explained that Chinese leadership in global open-source projects will require a tighter connection to the international open-source community and greater exploitation of advanced technologies by Chinese desktop Linux development efforts. Messman promised that Novell will serve as a "bridge" between Chinese and international open-source initiatives; this will involve Novell opening a Linux research and development center in Beijing, which will collaborate with Chinese software companies to craft open-source technologies for software internationalization, desktop Linux, and high-performance computing. Messman said open source will eliminate vendor lock-in, which has long been a source of irritation for the Chinese government. Hewlett-Packard's Martin Fink said in his keynote speech that China can contribute to the updating of the GNU General Public License (GPL) so that it may accommodate object-oriented programming and other technological advances. This can be done if the Chinese adopt GPL version 3.0 as a standard for all locally developed open-source software, he asserted.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Can a Simple Password Stop Domain Name Hijacking?"
    Tom's Hardware Guide (08/17/05); Gruener, Wolfgang

    Using a password at the time of a domain transfer between registrars could safeguard against identity fraud targeting Internet domain names, which has emerged as one of the most significant threats to networks today. Securing the domain name transfer process has been slow, due partially to the lackluster implementation of Extensible Provisioning Protocol (EPP), an XML-based transfer program. VeriSign is moving toward adopting EPP for the .com and .net domains at an unspecified time frame, which will ultimately reduce the vulnerability of top-level domains. Since 2000, Registry Registrar Protocol has been steering the exchange of domain name services, but that program, adopted by VeriSign in 2003, contains no built-in security features. EPP potentially offers greater security through database management systems, whereby the acquiring registrar verifies the customer's identity from the losing registrar through an authInfo code. The key to authInfo's success will be its application to create unique codes for each domain name, rather than registrar-wide generic codes that are easy targets for hackers. ICANN SSAC Fellow Dave Piscitello describes EEP authInfo essentially as a password, as no one other than the receiving registrar could view the transmission in an unencrypted form. The .com and .net domains have been slow to implement EPP, though its use is common in other domains, such as .org, .biz, and .info. It is estimated that .com and .net will not be fully converted to EEP for another year. EEP may not be a universal panacea, however, as the transfer process still depends on WHOIS data of questionable reliability. Ultimately, SSAC says registrants themselves must be accountable for securing domain names, ensuring their information is current, and choosing an appropriate registrar, as well as utilizing EEP authInfo to its full extent.
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  • "Computer Characters Mugged in Virtual Crime Spree"
    New Scientist (08/18/05); Knight, Will

    The increasingly porous boundary between the real and virtual worlds is illustrated by the arrest of a Chinese exchange student in Japan on suspicion of controlling software "bots" to assault and rob game characters of virtual possessions, which were then fenced for real money through an auction Web site. Bots can easily best virtual characters controlled by people because they perform tasks in a game very swiftly or repetitively, and such activities can be spotted by countermeasures used by many games companies. Computer games consultant Ren Reynolds comments that bot authors and games firms are locked in an arms race, while the practice of turning virtual worlds into a cash cow is expanding. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier says the line is blurring between real and virtual crime as well, citing recent reports of criminals trying to penetrate games or steal players' account data for money. "I regularly say that every form of theft and fraud in the real world will eventually be duplicated in cyberspace," Schneier writes on his blog. "Perhaps every method of stealing real money will eventually be used to steal imaginary money, too." Reynolds concludes that the rising online game player population will fuel crooks' desire for exploitation even further.
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    (Access to the full article is available to paid subscribers only.)

  • "Software Broadens the Language of Search"
    EE Times (08/15/05) No. 1384, P. 8; Johnson, R. Colin

    IBM has released Unstructured Information Management Architecture (UIMA), open source software for the annotation, searching, and sharing of metadata that IBM and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) expect will implement a new type of software application capable of extracting relevance that would normally be hidden within documents. IBM Research's Arthur Ciccolo says UIMA "provides interoperability among analytic software for searching, knowledge discovery, business intelligence and text." UIMA automatically annotates all flavors of metadata, associates semantic information about the data's meaning, and enables users to perform natural-language queries. The architecture is founded on software robots called Analysis Engines that scour documents and annotate semantic information about the meaning and relationship among the concepts within those documents. The Analysis Engines are built from Annotators in which resides the analysis logic that deduces the meaning of information within the metadata. Director of DARPA's Information Processing Technology Office Ronald Brachman says UIMA could potentially help facilitate the organization of a large research community as well as amplify its effects. Sixteen software vendors have promised to make their products interoperable with UIMA, which is already in pilot use at Columbia University, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and other institutions.
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  • "Software Development Survey Says People, Not Tools, Matter Most"
    Application Development Trends (08/01/05)

    Management and technology approaches are more significant factors in determining the quality of software development projects than tools, according to a new study from Quantitative Software Management. In its report on "the Best and Worst in Class" projects, QSM found that the best development teams were able to control requirements change, had project leadership and highly skilled people on the job with application domain experience, and made good use of tooling. "An inability to adroitly manage change can be the enemy of productivity and quality," says Doug Putnam, managing partner of QSM. "Effective leadership creates a culture where change is well managed by highly skilled teams with good domain knowledge." Tools were considered the third most important factor, but the report concludes that they still do not make up for training and management. The best-in-class software development projects have a total lifecycle-cost ratio of more than 7.5 months/$300,000, compared with more than two years/$2.2 million for the worst-in-class initiatives.
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  • "How Bots Can Earn More Than You"
    New Scientist (08/20/05) Vol. 187, No. 2513, P. 26; Graham-Rowe, Duncan

    It has been demonstrated, both in simulation and in the real world, that software robots or bots can outperform and even out-earn humans in areas such as the stock market. Such bots vied against each other in an agent trading competition at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, where the task was to purchase computer components from multiple made-up vendors, assemble the machines in response to orders from imaginary customers, and deliver the final products. The University of Michigan's Michael Wellman says bots can keep track of prices and react much faster than humans, while Nick Jennings with the University of Southampton's Intelligence, Agents, and Multimedia group says the only thing keeping the agents demonstrated at the conference from immediate use is software's inability to automatically procure supplies and take customer orders. Dave Cliff with Deutsche Bank's Complex Risk Group notes that bots are now routinely employed in financial markets: Important strategic decisions are still left to flesh-and-blood traders in the equities market, but the bots can decide the exact time to buy and sell shares. Studies show that human traders only examine a handful of variables before making a decision, whereas bots can analyze hundreds of variables and refer back to historical trading trends data. A 2001 trial by IBM not only showed that trading bots bought and sold commodities better than people when trading against each other, but also raised the average profit margin in a simulated commodities market. Jennings expects to see people using bots to make decisions in how they purchase gas and electricity or choose mobile phone companies in a few years.
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  • "Science Intelligence"
    DM Review (08/05) Vol. 15, No. 8, P. 38; Hackathorn, Richard

    Business and science are experiencing a convergence between technologies, architectures, and procedures for information technology, according to Bolder Technology President Richard Hackathorn, who believes business and science can become more intelligent through a unified information infrastructure. The author defines science intelligence (SI) as "the information infrastructure that enhances the decision making and collaboration for a science community focused on a specific domain," and writes that SI has emerged as a successful and mature technology via creative application of large-scale simulations, remote sensing, and sophisticated visualizations concurrent with business intelligence's (BI) success and maturation over the past few decades. The field of life sciences is a major adopter of SI, especially in the domains of pharmaceuticals, genetics, and health care; leading BI suppliers have committed significant attention to addressing life sciences problems with their technology, which demonstrates that current BI technology and methods can be extended to SI, directed by expertise in the specific science domain. Hackathorn explains that these initiatives are clearing the way for an information infrastructure in which observers, experimenters, and publishers support a consistent view of reality (CVR), which in the case of large-scale science leads to products and services for many types of consumers, including peer scientists, funding agencies, government regulators, the science public, and the general public. Any new domain starts with a large software library of domain-specific applications, and the domain's maturation toward SI involves greater focus on a common processing platform enhanced by a few domain-specific libraries. The data side of SI will experience a similar maturation, and a greater emphasis on common integrated data will emerge, supporting a CVR about the science domain. Challenges that large-scale science entails include scalability, cultural issues, sharing and collaboration, source diversity, consumer diversity, and analysis complexity. Hackathorn concludes that addressing these challenges depends on the definition of data semantics and interrelationships.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Can Google Stay Google?"
    Fast Company (08/05) No. 97, P. 62; Deutschman, Alan

    The meteoric rise of Google belies fears that it could suffer the fate of many companies in Silicon Valley's unforgiving arena: That competitors will catch up and send Google on a downward spiral into obscurity. Co-founder Sergey Brin says part of the secret to Google's success is the intellectual challenge it presents to computer scientists by offering them "great technical problems" to work on in such subjects as complex systems, the user interface, and artificial intelligence. Adding spice to the challenge is the potential social benefits of projects that seek to deliver automated universal translation and the ability to integrate data from multiple Web sources, among other things. Also critical to Google's continued success is a stable system for compensating employees; of note is the Founders Award, which allocates stock bonuses to people who do exceptional work on a project. Pay packages become increasingly dependent on meticulous assessments of personal contributions the higher one ascends, but Google compensation specialist Dave Rolefson says full-time staffers on all levels are still offered equity when they start employment. With Google's workforce now numbering in the thousands, it is likely that individual workers will feel they are making less of a difference. Moreover, defections to start-ups are always expected with every major technological breakthrough, while employees whose stock grants vest may be less motivated to stay on once they are financially secure. A long-term survival strategy for Google is to invent the next revolutionary technology, or barring that, to acquire talent and companies that either have promising technology or are potential rivals.
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  • "The African Hacker"
    IEEE Spectrum (08/05) Vol. 42, No. 8, P. 24; Zachary, G. Pascal; Morris, Daniel

    Ghanaian software entrepreneur Hermann Chinery-Hesse created his company, Soft Tribe, to capitalize on his epiphany that Africans cannot take advantage of IT by merely importing European or American software--they must customize the programs for local conditions. Chinery-Hesse is a symbol for programmers, hackers, engineers, and entrepreneurs throughout Africa in his choice to live and work on his native soil and endure hardships such as poverty and technological ignorance, all on the periphery of global technological transformation. Soft Tribe is a supplier of "tropically tolerant" code that is compact, works offline as much as possible, and writes frequently to disk. The company is also where most of Ghana's full-time programmers receive their training, with Chinery-Hesse preferring to recruit malleable minds that have not been tainted by the country's "exceedingly theoretical" educational system. Building a solid software industry in Ghana and other developing African nations is technically and socially challenging. African IT customers are notoriously risk-averse, so regional programmers must explore outside opportunities. Chinery-Hesse, for instance, has an agreement with Microsoft in which his company will sell Microsoft's Navision applications in return for the rights to the source code so his programmers can build add-ons. The Soft Tribe owner's ultimate goal is to create a sustainable homegrown software infrastructure that is a source of pride as well as business growth.
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  • "Morphware"
    Scientific American (08/05) Vol. 293, No. 2, P. 56; Koch, Reinhold

    Morphware processors occupy a middle tier between general-purpose processors that execute a broad set of commands and application-specific integrated circuits optimized for speed. Morphware rapidly carries out one application and then reconfigures its wiring in accordance with software commands to optimize itself for the next application. Magnetologic morphware is assembled from metallic materials arranged in layers, and each layer is magnetized to represent a digital bit. The result is a "chameleon" processor that can modify its functionality by switching gates many times per second. Magnetologic can serve as both a processor and a memory device through its ability to store the results of each processing operation. Other advantages of a magnetologic device include reduced power consumption, and the performance of different logic functions that usually require multiple transistors by a single element. Furthermore, the programmability of the magnetologic processor's logic gates translates into easier deployment of newer and better software, even on older processors. The commercialization of magnetic chameleon processor technology entails an interdisciplinary research effort spanning materials science and technology, mathematics, hardware design and electronics, and computer sciences.

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