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Volume 7, Issue 877:  December 12, 2005

  • "Browsers to Get Sturdier Padlocks"
    CNet (12/12/05); Evers, Joris

    A group known as the CA Forum, comprised of a group of Web browser makers and companies responsible for the Secure Socket Layer (SSL), is working to create a "high assurance" certificate that would improve on the current padlocks whose security assurances have lost their meaning amid eroding verification standards and lax supervision. Coupled with changes in Web browsers, the new certificates would especially target phishing, which has undermined trust in the Web and threatens to disrupt online commerce, a market projected to grow to $329 billion by 2010. Many phishers have given their bogus sites an air of legitimacy from a padlock icon with valid certificates, highlighting the need for a new security system to restore consumer confidence. The current SSL certificates have an encryption key that assures the identity and credentials of the organization, a process that initially entailed an exhaustive background check of the applicant, though recently many providers have relaxed their requirements to save money, sometimes demanding little more than a legitimate email address. Inconsistency among certificate providers further confounds the issue, as any SSL certificate will provide the same padlock icon. Thus far, the industry has not been able to develop a way of clearly differentiating between sites with high security and low security, though the forthcoming versions of Internet Explorer and other browsers will change that. GeoTrust CTO Chris Bailey says the new certificates will "strongly bind the domain name of a Web site to an organization. They also strongly confirm the authority of a requestor to act on behalf of an organization, and they confirm that the business is real." Opera, Thunderbird, and Konquerer are joining Internet Explorer in developing new versions to support the future certification guidelines.
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  • "The Future of Custom HPC Application Development"
    HPC Wire (12/09/05); Mirman, Ilya

    As the amount of data scientists are analyzing continues its exponential growth, simulation is steadily replacing physical testing and high-performance computing (HPC) is becoming an indispensable agent of cutting edge research. While high-performance computers grow steadily more powerful and affordable, software has not kept pace, and there is a shortage of programs suited for sophisticated parallel applications. Sophisticated desktop software generally falls either into the category of the very high level language (VHLL) such as MATLAB and Maple, or the independently developed vertical language, such as SolidWorks or Ansys. The HPC arena, by contrast, has a relatively scarce menu of commercially-available applications capable of running on a parallel architecture. As a result, end users custom-develop many applications, cobbling together high-level desktop applications with language attempting to adapt specifically to a given machine, system, or algorithm. The application is then written in C, Fortan, and MPI to conform to the HPC environment, at which point it can finally be tested. This process is slow and expensive, and particularly prone to errors, which severely limits the interactivity and customization of applications to specific problems and often requires extensive rewrites. An ideal solution would permit scientists to use a VHLL of their choice on a desktop, which would then be automatically parallelized to run on a high-performance computer in an interactive fashion. In the coming years, C, Fortran, and MPI will likely play less of a role in parallel coding, while VHLL environments will become more suited to partitioning. Linkages will be created between the HPC platform and the desktop, and simplified programming will lead to a new class of petascale computers likely to emerge around 2010.
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  • "Odd Coalition Opposes Criminalizing Patent Violations"
    New York Times (12/10/05) P. B4; Meller, Paul

    An unlikely coalition of large corporations including Microsoft and Nokia and the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure has formed to lobby European lawmakers to abandon legislation that would punish patent violators with prison time, claiming that such a measure discourages the very innovation it is designed to protect. The European Commission proposal would expand on an existing World Trade Organization treaty by criminalizing patent infringement--current law protects copyrights and trademarks with the threat of jail, but only imposes fines for patent violations. Nokia's Tim Frain described the proposal as "ludicrous," claiming that while patents must be protected, they are often so ambiguous that the threat of imprisonment should not be a part of the equation. In the last six months, the grassroots Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure and large technology companies were bitterly opposed in a debate over free software, though the recent patent proposal and the attendant fear of stifling innovation have brought them together. The proposal comes as the latest in a series of measures designed to stem the growing trend of imitators copying a technology and flooding the market with knock-off products across a host of industries for a fraction of the price, a trend the commission feels hinders innovation. Industry groups counter that far from encouraging innovation, the constant fear of criminal prosecution would engender a climate of fear that would end up smothering new technologies. The move would hit the pharmaceutical industry especially hard, as generic drug makers are constantly scrambling to avoid infringement suits. While they generally support intellectual property protection, the music and film industries expect to see little impact from the proposed legislation.
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  • "ButterflyNet Software to Help Bring Scientists' Written Notes Into Digital Domain"
    Stanford Report (12/07/05); Strehlow, Anne

    Laboratory scientists have remained stubbornly loyal to paper notebooks as their instrument for recording information, but Stanford researchers have developed a new software program, called ButterflyNet, to ease them into the digital age. ButterflyNet reproduces handwritten notes verbatim in a digital format, and augments them with data culled from other media, such as a digital camera, GPS devices, and wireless sensor networks. It also knows where to place them, so that scientists have an amalgamated digital notebook with all relevant data organized together. The technology works like a normal pen, only a small camera captures each stroke as it passes across smart paper dotted with faint marks that guide navigation and help the software reproduce the written page later. "This means that you have a notebook in the physical domain, and you also have a copy of that notebook in the electronic domain," said assistant computer science professor Scott Klemmer. An internal clock sequences each stroke of the pen, which uploads the data simply by plugging into the computer. Other data are paired with the penstrokes through their own timestamps, which can then be searched, shared with colleagues, or exported to a spreadsheet once they are in the ButterflyNet browser. Preliminary reviews of the technology have been favorable, though the researchers envision future capabilities, such as the ability to incorporate audio and video recordings or other new media streams, or a handwriting recognition tool.
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  • "French Open-Source Plan Draws Ire"
    International Herald Tribune (12/09/05); O'Brien, Kevin J.

    The French government is set to cast its first vote on new protections for intellectual property rights that have drawn fire from many developers who see the measures as tantamount to a ban on open source software. Prompted by a European Union order to impose greater regulation on digital commerce, one measure would mandate the enforcement of digital rights management (DRM) in every piece of software to guard against unlawful copying, a move the Free Software Foundation France has charged is in direct violation of open source principles. A proposal to hold software companies responsible should their products be used for illegal copying, and another that would require them to disclose the source code of any DRM elements in their software to competitors, have drawn criticism from the Business Software Alliance. Lawmakers have assured both sides that they will find a balance between open source and proprietary interests. Of the 15 pre-expansion EU members, France and Spain are the last to adopt the 2001 Copyright Directive, a comprehensive body of changes seeking to define the rights of all players in the digital market. French lawmakers have received more than 100 proposed changes to the EU directive, and will cast their first vote Dec. 21-23.
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  • "Innovations Battle Natural Calamities"
    CNet (12/09/05); Olsen, Stefanie

    The scientific community is exploring several technology endeavors that could help to predict and moderate the effects of natural disasters, such as the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS), which incorporates weather data taken by 60 nations from sensors and satellites in an effort to gain a better understanding of the Earth. Bioinformatics, the study of biology through computers, was a hot topic at the recent meeting of the American Geophysical Union, where scientists discussed enhancing Google Earth and the researcher-owned National LambdaRail Architecture optical network. Scientists from 18 universities are contributing to LambdaRail, which will easily be able to transfer data at speeds of 10 Gbps across the globe. In response to demand from the film industry, a commercial version of the architecture is likely to appear in the next five years to reduce the cost of transferring a movie from the studio to the theaters. Google is seeking to expand its Earth application to include climate data and satellite imagery culled from NASA, National Geographic, and other sources. Preparedness for natural disasters has become a top priority for many scientists in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, as have new methods for presenting their warnings to ensure that they are not ignored. Visualization is central to this notion of preemptive awareness and decision making. "We need to be able to take an image of a hurricane or an earthquake and be able to translate that to decision makers or the public immediately," said Margaret Leinen of the NSF. Informatics will be central to making the jump from observation to prediction, Leinen added, which has spurred scientists to develop improved sensors and imagery to better simulate the effects of a disaster such as an earthquake or hurricane.
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  • "Live Tracking of Mobile Phones Prompts Court Fights on Privacy"
    New York Times (12/10/05) P. A1; Richtel, Matt

    Law enforcement officials can track the physical movements and location of suspects who use cell phones easily because cell phone technology communicates with signal towers and is easy to track. However, this practice is coming under increasing scrutiny as cell phones are viewed by courts more and more within the framework of personal privacy and privacy rights. In recent judicial decisions in Maryland, New York, and Texas, judges have denied prosecutorial requests to obtain tracking information from wireless providers because of a lack of proof of probable cause. According to legal experts, law enforcement most often use live tracking of cell phone data in drug cases. A 1994 amendment to the 1986 Stored Communications Act allows the government to obtain such tracking data if they can show "specific and articulatable facts" that prove they need the information for "an ongoing investigation." The probable cause standard is higher than this, and judges and magistrates have begun to demand probable cause be met in these cases, unlike recent past practices. Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Kevin Bankston says live tracking of cell phone users is not covered by the Stored Communications Act, which applies to stored data from an electronic historical record, and judges in both New York and Maryland recently concurred. In terms of privacy issues, writing on the outside of an envelope is considered to be legally public, for instance, while a letter within is private. Cell phone and other types of electronic communication blur this distinction by transmitting location, address, and message all in one stream; as a result many legal experts agree current law is fuzzy on how to govern it. Today there are 195 million cell phone subscribers in the U.S. today.
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  • "BBN Technologies to Develop Open-Source Radio Software"
    InformationWeek (12/08/05); Claburn, Thomas

    The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has awarded a three-year, approximately $11 million contract to BBN Technologies to develop open-source software for radio as a way to achieve greater flexibility and reception. The open-source software will be used in software-defined radios (SDR), which will move many functions from hardware to software. Moving the logic to the software will make it easier to reconfigure for specific results, such as changing signal processing methods to pick up weak transmission. SDR, described as bringing together the flexibility of computers and variable, long-range wireless networking options, is viewed as a strategy for providing military teams with better communication and coordination as team members are spread out over urban environments. However, potential civilians uses, such as providing a TiVo equivalent for radio or enabling cell phones to work without the support of a mobile carrier, could make it a disruptive technology.
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  • "Microsoft: Research, Intellectual Property Rights Are Compatible"
    IDG News Service (12/06/05); Kirk, Jeremy

    Microsoft recently announced that it plans to increase its investment in research partnerships in Europe, where the company's work at their research center in Cambridge, England, resulted in at least 65 patents, says managing director Andrew Herbert. The center in Cambridge focuses on operating systems and network distributed computers, programming tools and principles, machine learning and perception, and the interactions of devices within home environments, or computer-mediated living. "We are very proud of our ability to generate intellectual property for the company," said Herbert at Microsoft's European Research and Innovation Day in Brussels. Microsoft officials told conference attendees that investing in research centers in Europe helps maintain a technology pipeline and increases development. "The intellectual property is jointly owned," said Herbert. "What we have agreed is that we will protect the intellectual property as a joint entity and then consider what is the right path to exploit it." Herbert says his group presented about 70 academic papers at top-level conferences, and several of the research prototypes that are generated are shared with its partners. Microsoft says it will increase the number of researchers in its program, which currently number roughly 700 in six laboratories on three different continents.
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  • "Brave New World: Can We Engineer a Better Start for Freshers?"
    University of Southampton (ECS) (12/08/05); White, Su; Carr, Les

    The introduction of non-technical pursuits can help give beginning computer science students of diverse backgrounds and prior experience a better start in the university environment, which can augment student excellence as well as retention. Su White and Les Carr of the University of Southampton School of Electronics and Computer Science's (ECS) Learning Technologies Research Group focus on how such activities can cover wider curriculum goals as well as promote non-technical skills and teamwork. The researchers determined that the university's existing student induction methodology had drawbacks, such as long lectures and printed material handouts that promoted boredom and disengagement, while social interaction with fellow students was inhibited. The JumpStart Student Induction pre-teaching program went through several iterations: The most recent iteration had the program run the "Freshers Week" before the start of formal instruction, with the goals of building a community within discipline groups, incorporating group activities as a "course work" in one of the first year study modules, and making ECS a main point of reference for students. Group activities were designed to promote a sense of duty for the team, which CS students could follow up by organizing shared programming tasks once formal teaching began. Initial activities were designed as a scavenger hunt related to knowledge students needed to do courses and inhabit the student role. Second-year students were recruited to help the first-year students, while more explicit team training activities were scheduled for later in the academic year. Although JumpStart was not without its critics, the researchers note that students felt more welcome and were more inclined to socialize, while less formal student activities among undergraduates are thriving on the ECS campus.
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  • "America's High-Tech Quandary"
    Design News (12/05/05); Murray, Charles J.

    Engineering has lost much of its value as a career choice in the United States, and the nation must devise a way to keep pace with or overtake increasingly competitive and innovative Asian countries. China's emphasis on churning out record numbers of engineering graduates is a matter of national duty, reinforced by some schools' policy of guaranteeing enrollment to engineering majors; the overall goal of this drive is to gain the expertise to develop intellectual property and capture bigger market share. In contrast, the United States has not pushed engineering prowess as a national responsibility since the space race of the late 1950s. Engineering's crushing undergraduate curriculum, along with outsourcing of jobs overseas, lower salaries, and an image of the field as "uncool," has discouraged American-born students from pursuing careers as engineers. People such as Analog Devices board Chairman Ray Stata say parents, teachers, and guidance counselors are chiefly to blame for students' dwindling interest due to their ignorance of the field. Most experts agree that America needs a major project administered through a national program to swell the engineering pipeline--but such an effort could be impeded by the small presence of engineers in Congress as well as the nation's current involvement with both a war and domestic disaster recovery. Experts have developed an overall strategy for boosting the U.S. engineer population that involves making policymakers aware of the problem by citing the widening gap between the number of Asian engineering graduates and U.S. graduates; investing in corporate research and development of innovative products; concentrating on a national technological mission; and keeping sight of that mission. Members of the technical community think engineering degrees would be more attractive to students if viewed as a springboard to other jobs and careers.
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  • "Felten to Lead New Center For IT Policy"
    Daily Princetonian (12/08/05); Huang, Viola

    Princeton University's new Center for Information and Technology Policy, designed to bridge the gap between faculty and students from the engineering school and Wilson School of Public and International Affairs will open in 2008. Discussions during the engineering school's 2004 strategic planning process led to the birth of the center as a way to create more interdisciplinary interactions, says computer science professor Ed Felten, who will direct the new center. "At [other schools], people from the law side will be very interested in technology, and while they're knowledgeable, there's no real deep interaction with the people actually creating the software and hardware," says Maria Klawe, dean of the engineering school and former ACM President. "Felten talks to both sides and he's computer science by training, so he's this bridge." The center will focus on cybersecurity, spyware, electronic voting, medial privacy, and Internet governance. Klawe says teams of faculty will work together to offer classes that bring students together with an interest in law, policy, electrical engineering, and computer science. Undergraduates will also have the opportunity to participate in the new interdisciplinary field.
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  • "Internet Scout Project Develops Better Tools for Online Research"
    Wisconsin Technology Network (12/05/05); Beets, Robert

    Mounting concerns over the ability to manage information as the Internet developed led to the formation of groups such as the Internet Scout Project, which was founded in 1994 to optimize techniques for searching and presenting online content, blending computer and library science techniques to develop solutions for researchers, librarians, and teachers. The project uses existing standards and develops new standards to categorize and chunk up Web content. The Scout archives has 10 years of newsletters in a database that can be navigated far more easily than Google, as an informed staff reviews each item for credibility and places it among related resources. Though the Scout archives contain only a microcosm of the material available on the Web, the organization maintains that a few well-organized, credible resources are eminently more useful than the litany of uncertified blogs and opinion-driven sites that turn up in keyword searches. "Getting information is not the problem any longer," said Ken Frazier, director of libraries at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The challenge is to efficiently extract just the relevant information. Electronic materials can be organized by hierarchy, though other resources, such as books, journals, letters, and pamphlets lose their circulation if they are not digitized, as the digital format allows a full-text content search. In this spirit, Wisconsin's libraries are converting select collections to digital format, particularly those that are especially popular, rare, or too delicate for physical use. The digitization program is designed to be complementary to similar initiatives undertaken by other universities and Google. As traditional scholarly publishing becomes less and less profitable, the Internet is likely to be the future of the industry, said Frazier, who sees the possibility of preliminary work appearing online before the authoritative version is published in a journal.
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  • "ICANN Told to Clamp Down on Dodgy Domain Names"
    CNet (12/07/05); Sandoval, Greg

    A new study by the federal General Accountability Office (GAO) found that 2.31 million domain names, or 5.14 percent of all registrations, have been registered with contact information that was "obviously and intentionally false" and that another 1.6 million included incomplete information in one or more fields made publicly available through the Whois Internet service. Congress was eager for the news given its focus on phishing scams, which about a quarter of all Web browsers have been targeted by, according to a study by Time Warner. Incomplete or erroneous information on registrations can impede investigations into the source of the counterfeit Web sites used in phishing attacks. The report prompted House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property Chairman Lamar Smith to accuse ICANN of failing to "weed out such fraudulent identifications." The GAO says ICANN now requires registrars to look into and correct uncovered inaccuracies. ICANN was assailed by a study three years ago that found policies that encouraged but did not mandate such investigations.
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  • "Quoted Often, Followed Rarely"
    Fortune (12/12/05) Vol. 152, No. 12, P. 151; Roth, Daniel

    In an interview with Fortune, Frederick Brooks says while technology managers widely quote his book, "The Mythical Man-Month," published in 1975, some have read it, but few actually follow it. Brooks, who chronicled his experience managing IBM's efforts involving System/360 computers and OS/360 software, argued that adding more people to a software project that is behind schedule slows it even further because more bureaucracy and training is needed. A better way to respond to a late project is to officially slip the schedule, limit the scope of the project, or phase some work in for later versions. Brooks says he is not surprised that tech managers continue to make the same mistakes because the same problems occur in other fields such as in building bridges, adding that two centuries of engineering practices exist compared to the much newer software engineering discipline. His advice for tech managers is to embark on projects with a clear vision for where they want to go, realize they can always change direction, but not be indecisive about a course of action. Brooks, currently a computer science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, believes open-source strategies are best when clients are the builders because the level of integration does not need to be as tight. Otherwise, multiple versions will be built and circulated and compatibility issues will arise, he says.
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  • "Security's Shaky State"
    InformationWeek (12/05/05) No. 1067, P. 49; Kemp, Ted

    Undersized staffs and underfunded budgets limit the options for IT security professionals from what products they can purchase to what vendors they can use, concludes a recent survey by Secure Enterprise. Shortage of staff and small budgets have caused problems for many organizations, and many professionals are not hopeful the situation is getting any better. Of those surveyed, 21 percent say they are severely understaffed, compared to 20 percent the previous year, while 44 percent say they moderately understaffed, versus 45 percent who said the same thing the year before. "I've yet to meet anyone who has all the staff and money they need," says Edmonton Police Service information security manager Peter Clissold. Many security professionals are not happy with their budgets: The number of responders who say their security budgets are 16 percent or more of their total budget decreased from 9 percent to just 7 percent this year. Jody Simmonds, IT security architect at Washington state's Department of Health, says, "Security should have its own budget. We're at the mercy of another section, and they may have different priorities." Improved business practices, auditing regulations, industry standards, security breaches from external sources, and legislative regulations are the top five factors for how security managers spend their money. A major change in survey results from last year is the importance of compliance issues for assessing risk before making information security purchases: This year's survey ranked compliance first as the most important thing respondents look for before making security purchases, with over 60 percent saying that is what they look for to assess risk. Integration ranks as the most popular feature respondents want in a product, followed by performance and high availability. More than 1,500 IT security administrators, managers, midlevel executives, and corporate executives were polled for the study.
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  • "Envisioning a Transformed University"
    Issues in Science and Technology (12/05) Vol. 22, No. 1, P. 35; Duderstadt, James J.; Wulf, Wm. A.; Zemsky, Robert

    Universities must evolve in order to sustain the values and roles they embody in a world undergoing rapid and dramatic change as a result of political, social, and technological forces. Digital technology's ability to mimic human interaction at a distance and increasingly tech-savvy generations of students are facilitating disruptive changes in scholarship and learning, and the authors say it is folly to assume that the current incarnation of scholarly communities will inform the future campus landscape, given the increasingly global breadth of such communities thanks to technological advances. The sequential architecture of the university curriculum is becoming less and less applicable to "Net generation" students who take a nonlinear approach to learning, while the essential role creativity plays in problem-solving and other vital activities does not lend itself very well to U.S. campuses' current disciplinary mores. Universities may therefore need to radically restructure themselves and emphasize creativity- and innovation-nurturing activities and forms of teaching, which would probably entail a move away from specialized fields and degree programs and toward knowledge integration. Technology, human behavior, and organizations will have to evolve in tandem in order to reap the rewards of IT investments, and members of the research university community foresee a convergence and standardization of the cyberinfrastructure needed for cutting-edge research and learning over the next few years, which will be based on open source technologies, standards, and protocols. The authors note that university libraries are transforming into "knowledge commons" where patrons make use of digital information on remote servers, and they must assume more critical roles as institutions for digital knowledge preservation.

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