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Volume 7, Issue 841:  Wednesday, September 14, 2005

  • "UC Berkeley Taps Former ACM President, Expert on E-Voting, for Life Achievement Award"
    AScribe Newswire (09/13/05)

    Former ACM President Barbara Simons has earned a 2005 Distinguished Engineering Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of California, Berkeley, for her professional, academic, and public service contributions. Simons was chosen by Open Computing as one of 1994's "Top 100 Women in Computing," and was named an Internet "Visionary" by CNET the following year. As a Berkeley graduate student, she helped launch Women in Computer Science and Engineering, and co-founded the Computer Science Reentry Program for women and minorities upon graduation with her Ph.D. Simons served as ACM's president from 1998-2000. She is currently co-chair of ACM's study of voter registration databases, which will release a report outlining best practices for designing state-wide databases for both federal and state decision makers. She founded ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee 12 years ago, serving as co-chair for almost a decade. A Fellow of ACM and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Simons earned ACM's Outstanding Contribution Award of 2001. She was a member of President Clinton's Export Council Subcommittee on Encryption and National Workshop on Internet Voting, and is on the board of directors of the U.C. Berkeley Engineering Fund, the Math/Science Network, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Public Knowledge.
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  • "Legislating Creativity"
    CNet (09/13/05); McCullagh, Declan; Broache, Anne

    Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has proposed revisions to U.S. patent law that supporters say will reduce frivolous lawsuits by instituting a "first come, first served" policy for patent application submission. Others have a less positive view of the proposal: Many people foresee only modest gains in patent quality, at best; open-source advocates doubt the changes will do anything to hold back the flood of software patents; and independent inventors fear the measures will give patent holders who can afford expensive legal expertise an unfair advantage in disputes, and encourage lawbreaking. Big technology companies appreciate provisions that will make it harder to seek court injunctions against alleged infringement, while establishing a strategy to challenge patents after they are awarded and re-evaluating how damages are arrived at, so that large jury awards become tougher to win. Eric Raymond and other champions of free and open-source software argue that the patent review and approval process needs a complete overhaul if obvious, competition-suppressing software patents are to be eliminated. This is a critical issue in light of worries that major companies might sue open-source programmers for patent infringement. "As long as the real question is whether or not software patents really belong in the patent system or should exist at all, I don't think that's a question that Smith's bill entertains," says Open Source Initiative President Michael Tiemann. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is readying a similar proposal, and he has said that he may be amenable to two other legislative reforms. One would allow the submission of "prior art" by third parties in the period between the publication of a patent application and the granting of the patent, while the other would give the Patent and Trademark Office's re-examination process a much-needed fix.
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  • "Researchers Turn Keyboard Clicks Into Text"
    IDG News Service (09/14/05); McMillan, Robert

    A University of California, Berkeley, research team led by computer science professor Doug Tygar has devised software that can translate the sound of someone typing on a keyboard into text that was 96 percent accurate in one test. Tygar says keys produce distinctive tones because the plate underneath the keyboard is being hit in different locations, like a Congo drum. His team first identified the different key tones, and then applied statistical learning techniques to map them into similar categories; this yielded some early guesses at the text generated by those tones, and these guesses were narrowed down into readable text through the use of spelling and grammar correction tools. The Berkeley researchers detailed the software in a paper issued last week, which will be presented at the Association for Computing Machinery Conference on Computer and Communications Security in November. The study only focuses on English text and does not account for commonly used keys such as "backspace" and "shift," yet both Tygar and Counterpane Internet Security CTO Bruce Schneier doubt these omissions will disallow the method from working in uncontrolled settings. They agree that criminal abuse of the techniques is unavoidable. Tygar says his team has not disclosed the source code used in their study, given the techniques' relative ease of use.
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  • "Robotic Vehicles Race, But Innovation Wins"
    New York Times (09/14/05) P. C1; Markoff, John

    A horde of robotically operated vehicles will again compete against each other in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (Darpa) race through 142 miles of desert from California to Las Vegas. The Pentagon agency drew its inspiration for the Grand Challenge from a desire to build unmanned, combat-ready robots, but participating scientists envision the broader application of voice-activated robotics to help care for the elderly and engender more sophisticated computer systems. Intelligent voice recognition systems are already in use in automotive cruise control equipment, and hold a host of potential applications, such as environmental management and watching over a home in the owner's absence. Darpa is expected to make this year's course more difficult, claiming that previous challenges were little more than exercises in gathering "bread crumbs." The new obstacles, while insignificant for human drivers, are presumed to be difficult for robotic operators. Still, many researchers anticipate that this course will be completed, drawing on a year's worth of experience and research in the field of robotics. A team of Stanford developers has effectively sent a Volkswagen Touareg on a 47-mile dirt road course fraught with obstacles, though their success relied heavily on the presence of the scientists in the car; instead, in this competition, the scientists will follow the vehicles in the race to control them from a short distance behind. Regardless of who wins, the general consensus among participants is that more than one team is likely to complete the race without veering off course.
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  • "Cornell Joins Project to Make the Power Grid More Secure"
    Cornell News (09/12/05); Steele, Bill

    Researchers at Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Washington State University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will participate in a five-year, $7.5 million National Science Foundation project to design, construct, and legitimize a cyberinfrastructure for the next-generation electric power grid that is secure against accidental or deliberate breakdowns. Cornell electrical and computer engineering professor Robert Thomas says the grid features automatic control systems and scores of relays that deactivate equipment should physical or electrical problems crop up. These relays are triggered by sensor data and some computation, since problems occur so fast that people are incapable of responding to them in a timely manner. Thomas also says the computer network could be sensitive to intentional exploitation. Cornell will receive between $500,000 and $1 million from NSF to ascertain what components of the grid are vulnerable to failure as well as study the issue from a technical, marketing, and computing perspective. The Trustworthy Cyber Infrastructure for the Power Grid effort is part of NSF's recently announced Cyber Trust program. The funding and management of the power grid initiative will be a joint venture between NSF and the Energy and Homeland Security departments.
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  • "Open Internet, We Hardly Knew Ye"
    Wired News (09/14/05); Granick, Jennifer

    Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society executive director Jennifer Granick writes that the Internet's public accessibility could be lost if law enforcement officials and corporations are allowed to tightly control access to Internet servers. If that happens, Granick warns, then much of the Internet's usefulness as a tool for public-minded and socially beneficial initiatives will be taken away. Users will lose the right to comparison shop, gather information, and search online, as well as the ability to organize online support services for victims of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. In a number of cases, courts have ruled that people must first obtain explicit permission from an Internet computer's owner to access information on that computer, while many ISPs contend that using unsecured wireless access points without owners' authorization is unlawful. "On the Internet, having to ask permission first can kill the creation of a useful new tool," Granick argues. She suggests the Internet be legally granted a default open status, and it should not be the law's business to ask whether a user secured permission to access Internet-connected computers, but rather whether the computers' owner tried to block public access. "The better world is one in which we don't need to seek permission or risk punishment to do cool stuff that makes the world a better place," Granick reasons.
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  • "Got Tech?"
    Tech Central Station (09/13/05); Basulto, Dominic

    Corante New York blog editor Dominic Basulto cites the lower turnout of U.S.-born science and engineering graduates, the reduction of America's appeal to the world's best brains, and constant worries about job offshoring as reasons underlining the erosion of U.S. global tech leadership. "What the U.S. tech sector needs now more than ever is a renewed sense of mission that will enable it to attract the next generation of Americans to science and technology careers," he argues. Basulto says young people are apparently being discouraged from considering tech careers by both parents and teachers at some point along the educational track, and it is imperative that the country take action to rekindle interest in science and technology among young people. A national promotion akin to the wildly successful "Got milk?" advertising campaign is one possible strategy. Such a campaign would relay a message to young people that tech and science careers are once again highly sought-after, while telling parents that science majors will not face unemployment following graduation. The promotion would encourage students to stick with their coursework and training out of a sense of pride and ambition to trounce international rivals. Basulto notes that America's current marketing effort for science and technology is paltry compared to Russia and other nations, which are known for enshrining scientists and achievers as part of a national priority for scientific and technological excellence.
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  • "Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center Receives $52 Million, Five-Year Grant From NSF"
    Pitt Chronicle (09/12/05); Schneider, Michael

    The National Science Foundation has awarded a five-year, $52 million grant to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) as part of a larger $150 million grant to support eight institutions acting as partners in the development of the TeraGrid, a national distributed cyberinfrastructure for open scientific research and education. PSC supervises the user services and cybersecurity aspects of the TeraGrid, and also concentrates on capability computing. "TeraGrid unites the scientific and engineering community so that larger, more complex scientific questions can be answered," says NSF director Arden Bement. "Solving these larger challenges will, in turn, motivate the development of the next generation of cyberinfrastructure." The $52 million grant follows up last year's $9.7 NSF allocation to support PSC's acquisition of a powerful Cray XT3 known as Big Ben, which boasts a peak operating speed of 10 teraflops. In conjunction with PSC's 6-teraflop LeMieux system, Big Ben will be one of the TeraGrid's most powerful computing resources; the TeraGrid currently possesses upwards of 60 teraflops in total computing capability. PSC is a collaborative venture between the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon, and Westinghouse Electric that is supported by private industry, federal agencies, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
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  • "Creating a Working Vision of the Mobile Workforce"
    IST Results (09/13/05)

    New technologies and trends are changing the face of working life, as more workers are telecommuting, and more employers are striving to make work more mobile. Some of the most influential factors in the mobile workforce are not technological, however, and the Information Society Technologies' MOSAIC project recommends creating an agile infrastructure that allows tasks to be fluidly passed to the most appropriate employees. In a research setting, "living labs" that are open and viewable would give researchers an understanding of the real life implications of their work. Technology should eventually fade behind the scenes in the workplace, so that employees can seamlessly teleconference from around the world. MOSAIC has found that current videoconferencing technologies are unfriendly to users, and often fail to perform high-end functions, such as the sharing of sketches that is so critical for product designers. In its roadmap of the mobilization of the workforce, MOSAIC predicts a marked increase in the use of PDAs and cell phones for email by 2005 and 2006, while location-based personal devices will gain currency in the two years following. The period between 2009 and 2013 will see the incorporation of cell phones into clothing and other discreet personal items. The MOSAIC project concludes in October, though its singular goal of redefining our patterns of work will persist, with the ultimate end of globally dispersed, mobile employees, working and learning collaboratively.
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  • "Free Software Foundation Forms Project to Revise GPL"
    NewsFactor Network (09/09/05); Haskins, Walaika K.

    The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has announced the creation of a development project designed to assist the revision of the General Public License (GPL) by offering a platform for receiving comments from developers of open-source software. This will allow developers to air their views on what pressing issues the GPL revision should address. Forrester Research analyst Michael Goulde says the most critical issue is adapting the license to software currently in use, with emphasis on clearly defining the term "distribution." Another issue experts agree the revision must account for is the advent of professional open-source companies that release their software under an open-source license and a commercial license concurrently, which Goulde says is a strategy to drive people to the commercial license. Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio says the open-source platform's amazing expansion and adoption was unanticipated, a situation that has left companies developing and using software licensed under the GPL vulnerable to lawsuits. "[GPL creator Richard] Stallman is working on amending the issue of GPL to clarify patents and the issue of royalties to try to assuage the fears of business leaders," she notes. FSF members have been invited to participate in advisory committees that will devise guidelines for global participation in the next GPL iteration, but Goulde and other analysts fear that individuals' committee participation will be largely constrained.
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  • "African Software Gains Global Popularity"
    Business in Africa (09/12/05); Wilson, Gary

    Having become the most popular Linux platform in the United States in less than six months after its introduction in October 2004, Ubuntu Linux is mounting an increasing challenge to Windows' dominance of the operating system market. Linux operating systems power only about 3.5 percent of U.S. computers, though that figure is much higher in other countries, including China, Germany, and Brazil, whose governments have all switched to Linux; in the United States, Linux's market share is expected to rise to 6 percent by 2007. Though assimilation into the desktop market has been considerably slower, as most computers come preconfigured with Windows, Ubuntu Linux is making some inroads there. Linux itself represents a departure from MacOS and Windows in that it is open source, based around the belief in the stabilizing effect of a communal approach to development. Ubuntu Linux, based on the Debian collection of free software, is especially appealing to schools and other organizations operating under tight budget constraints. It is the absence of the pressures inherent in the commercial sector that gives Linux users faith in its long-term stability. There is a movement underway to develop a version of Linux specifically geared toward the education community, known as Edubuntu, whose developers met in Australia for a global conference in July. Canonical, the company responsible for Ubuntu, owes its funding to founder Mark Shuttleworth, whose wealth from the sale of Thawte helped create the Ubuntu Foundation, a heavily-endowed non-profit that guarantees the project's stability.
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  • "Computing Competition Winners Expand Technology at University's Siebel Center"
    Daily Illini (09/13/05); Krolicki, Frank

    The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is incorporating technologies produced by the winning projects in the Intel-sponsored Computing Habitat programming contest into the Siebel Center for Computer Science. The products are designed to help people navigate throughout the facility by leveraging the center's numerous sensors and displays. Matthew Loar's Siebel Radar, for instance, collects real-time data on the whereabouts of Siebel Center inhabitants and displays room scheduling information through the use of motion and proximity sensors. Turning the project into a product involved acquiring a map of the building, and then pinpointing coordinates for individual rooms; a live feed from the Siebel Center Web cam was incorporated into Siebel Radar, and displayed in a borderless window. Another competition product the university's computer science department plans to assimilate within the center's infrastructure is Janus's Map, a tool in which users employ a Web interface to access door lock history. Professors and teaching assistants can control their privacy by electing to publicize their door lock status, indicating their availability, with Janus's Map, explains professor Ralph Johnson. He says he would like projects entered in subsequent Computing Habitat competitions to be useful for the general community as well as the Siebel Center.
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  • "Imagining a Better World"
    Star (Malaysia) (09/11/05)

    After three months of research, four Malaysian students developed a software program that promises to help with the management of daily life. Their project, a handheld Object Identification Network (Odin) using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, qualified for the finals of the Image Cup in Yokohama, Japan, organized by Microsoft. The premise under which the project was developed holds that posters, vending machines, and a host of other commonplace objects will contain RFID tags one day. Through a Wi-Fi connection, a user could potentially view images of a movie trailer, read reviews, and purchase tickets to a show. The winning Russian team developed a program to integrate music fans around the globe, overcoming geographical and cultural boundaries through synchronized, portable devices. With the technology, musicians can perform in different locations but stream through the same channel. "Imagine plugging your electric guitar into your computer and in a few seconds your friends begin to appear in your virtual studio to play with you," said the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology's Stanislav Vonog. A Greek team was awarded second prize for their program that translates between sign language and speech.
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  • "Robot-Man Partners to Take the Stage in Washington DC"
    Ergonomics Today (09/12/05); Anderson, Jennifer

    Robots to be exhibited at a Sept. 16 National Science Foundation event in Washington, D.C., will represent a new generation of machines that boast a functional partnership with human beings rather than a master-slave relationship. Bill Clancey with NASA Ames Research Center's Human-Centered Computing division defines a successful man-robot partnership as "developing a [conscious] robot with its own research goals and competencies, so it could contribute a personal point of view, like a colleague." Such machines would be used for operations on the Moon or other planets. Martin Haegele, who directs IPA Fraunhofer's Robotic Systems division, describes a man-robot partnership as it would apply to household tasks, noting that such a robot must be capable of learning multiple tasks through intuitive instruction that relies on guidance through gesture, voice, tactile sensations, and other cues; he also cites the possible need of a man-machine dialogue to meet difficult challenges. Ergonomic communication between people and robots is viewed by many experts as the biggest challenge, according to robotics literature. Attempts to tackle this challenge include University of Karlsruhe researchers' efforts to develop a robot capable of implicit communication with its human partner via biofeedback sensors that monitor a person's heart activity to measure stress levels. University of Southern California researchers are trying to resolve man-robot communications problems through body language, while Germany's Institut fur Neuroinformatik is working on gesture and mimicry-based communications systems. The NSF event will feature a report on the two-year World Technology Evaluation Center International Study of Robotics, which will provide an international ranking of robots from around the world.
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  • "Panel: New Rules, Tech Needed for Data Privacy"
    CNet (09/09/05); Broache, Anne

    Technology experts addressed the need for new privacy rules regarding the federal government's use of personal data from data brokers during a two-day public workshop hosted by the Department of Homeland Security. Some participants even suggested that the Privacy Act of 1974 may not take government interactions with contractors such as ChoicePoint and Acxiom into consideration, and the law's disclosure requirements may not apply to data used from commercial data brokers. The Transportation Security Administration recently came under criticism for not providing enough information regarding its use of personal information, but Homeland Security representatives maintained that data brokers can serve as helpful resources for the government, such as in aiding in the process of verifying the identities of Hurricane Katrina refugees who want prescription medications. Nuala O'Connor Kelly, chief privacy officer for Homeland Security, said limits on how long the government can access and hold personal information is the best strategy for guarding against privacy intrusions. Center for Democracy and Technology executive director Jim Dempsey said the government must do a better job of clarifying why it is acquiring information. Fred Cate, director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University, added that common privacy rules for all government agencies are needed. Participants also noted that new technology could help secure data, but acknowledged that the new techniques could create more privacy concerns.
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  • "Toward a Methodology for Rigorous Development of Generic Requirements Patterns"
    University of Southampton (ECS) (09/08/05); Snook, Colin; Poppleton, Michael; Johnson, Ian

    The authors detail work on a product-line methodology for engineering, validating, and confirming generic requirements for critical systems via object-oriented and formal techniques in domain and product-line engineering (PLE). Their concentration is on failure detection and management (FDM) in engine control systems. The high levels of verification required by avionics and other domains where safety is vital adds complexity to the development of a set of generic requirements for subsequent system instantiation. When the generic model demands variability, instance management becomes more complicated, and this is de rigueur for PLE. The first step in the methodology involves carrying out an informal domain analysis based on prior experience of developing products for FDM in engine control systems, and from this analysis creating a taxonomy of the domain application-specific generic requirements from which a first-cut generic entity-relationship model is extracted. Every new instance of the application is represented as instances of the appropriate generic requirement entities and their relationships; this instance model is consistent, in that the requirements are consistent for the domain. Determining that the requirements will yield the desired system behavior is the next step in the methodology, which the researchers will investigate in subsequent work encompassing entities' dynamic behavior.
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  • "IBM Almaden Research Center's Intelligent Bricks and Kybos Software Supersmart Storage"
    Computerworld (09/12/05) P. 34; Collett, Stacy

    IBM envisions an intelligent storage system architecture that boasts easier data management, reduced maintenance costs, and less environmental impact through the integration of Intelligent Bricks hardware and Kybos software. A team led by Moidin Mohiuddin at IBM's Almaden Research Center has developed a prototype storage system from these technologies that can recover from failures by assigning the functions of dysfunctional bricks to new bricks. Each brick is equipped with a processor, an Ethernet switch chip, and some disks, and the bricks are arranged in a high-speed mesh network whose communications are facilitated by capacitative couplers on each brick face. The prototype allows for fail-over space by using 25 percent more bricks than are actually necessary to store data. Floor space is saved thanks to the bricks' small size, and the use of a water-cooling rather than fan-cooling system makes the prototype less noisy and more power-efficient. Gartner analyst Stanley Zaffos is uncertain that the brick technology will dramatically lower acquisition costs, but says the Kybos software "holds the promise of lowering [total cost of ownership] by creating an infrastructure that's more flexible, extensible, and manageable." Mohiuddin expects the technology developed through his research to be applied to storage systems for medical images, Web sites, and other storage-heavy applications by the end of the decade.
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  • "On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a Bot"
    Wired (09/05) Vol. 13, No. 9, P. 96; Kushner, David

    Controversy is brewing over the emergence of poker-playing software robots, which many people complain give the players who use them an unfair advantage. Poker Web sites publicly downplay the threat of poker bots while discretely scanning for and ejecting suspicious accounts, but Ray Bornert II, creator of the WinHoldEm bot, says attempts to prevent bots from infiltrating such sites are futile: Online poker is already riddled with cheaters and bots, and Bornert claims the only sensible recourse for players in this situation is to acquire a superior poker bot--namely, his. Bornert contends that the odds are stacked against players at poker sites, which falsely claim the game is as safe and protected as one at any Vegas casino, when in reality cheating via bots and bot-assisted collusion is unavoidable; exposing this lie and evening the odds between players and card sharks was his rationale for creating and selling WinHoldEm. The cheaper version of WinHoldEm offers garden variety poker-hand analysis software, while the costlier package buys a one-year subscription to the team edition, complete with the autoplaying bot and a card-sharing module that facilitates collusion between multiple players. Most users feed the software a batch of rules to tailor it to their own specifications. Though poker bots cannot maintain a winning streak against opponents with better hands, their tirelessness and cunning can enable users to amass tidy sums at low-limit tables habituated by less-experienced players. One player says poker bots' inability to converse can give them away, but bot users have started taking precautions of their own, such as restricting their time at any one table, or controlling the bots remotely to avoid detection.
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  • "Why Software Fails"
    IEEE Spectrum (09/05); Charette, Robert N.

    The causes of software failures are well established, yet an end to such failures is not in sight, according to IEEE member and author Robert Charette. Preventing such failures is not a major priority among most organizations, despite the damage such failures can do to their prospects: IT fiascos can destroy a company, hinder economic growth and quality of life, and even undermine security, as evidenced by the FBI's costly Virtual Case File episode. Charette estimates that 15 percent to 20 percent of software projects with budgets of $10 million or higher are doomed to fail, leading to his projection that such failures have cost the U.S. economy possibly $75 billion over the last five years. The most frequent reason for an IT project's failure is a disproportionate amount of rework stemming from errors that were not caught before final system testing or rollout, and thus are harder to track down; worse, the process of repairing those glitches often introduces new errors. Charette describes bad decisions by project managers as "probably the single greatest cause of software failures today," and notes that such decisions are compounded by vague or missing knowledge; these decisions can take the form of underhiring programmers, choosing an inappropriate contract, or not reviewing the project's progress regularly. Business factors underlying IT project failures include competition, the need to cut costs, political expediency, and a shortage of support among upper management. Relying on immature or untested technology to hopefully boost the company's competitive standing is a guaranteed formula for failure, while larger projects introduce more complexity, which in turn makes errors more likely. A company stands a better chance of catching and correcting errors earlier through an open, honest, collaborative, and communicative IT project environment, Charette writes.
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