- The Real High-Tech Immigrant Problem: They're Leaving
- How to Share Without Spilling the Beans
- Microsoft Mapping Course to a Jetsons-Style Future
- U.S. Spy Agency May Get More Cybersecurity Duties
- Software Looks at the Road Ahead to Boost Hybrid-Card Efficiency
- Web Standards on the Edge
- Surprise: America Is No. 1 in Broadband
- Computerized Mobile Health Support System
- Microsoft Hopes to Train 2 Million in IT by 2012
- U.S. Said to Be Losing Competitive Edge
- IT Not So Green
- In Science and Technology, Efforts to Lure Women Back
- Virtual Teach Hospital System (VTHS) Project Aims to Transform Medical Training
- Chips With Everything
- Microsoft Demos Augmented Vision
- New Direction in Teaching Computer Science Emphasizes Activity, Interaction, Critique
- Quantum Dance: Discovery Led by Princeton Researchers Could Revolutionize Computing
- New Bluetooth Standards to Bring Speed, Energy Efficiency
- Duke Software Dramatically Speeds Enzyme Design
- Getting to $787 Billion
- Defense agencies list top 20 security controls
- Three data breaches hit Florida, one hits the feds
The Real High-Tech Immigrant Problem: They're Leaving
New York Times (03/02/09) Lohr, Steve
Language in the U.S. bank bailout legislation that discourages banks from recruiting skilled foreign workers on work visas has re-ignited the controversy over the hiring of foreign high-tech workers. Duke University professor Vivek Wadhwa says the real problem is not smart foreigners coming to take jobs in United States, but rather all the bright, talented, and ambitious immigrants who are leaving. Wadhwa's new report, "America's Loss is the World's Gain," estimates that 50,000 immigrants have left the United States and returned to India and China, and that during the next five years 100,000 more will return to their native countries. The report says that economics, not visa problems, is the main reason so many immigrants are leaving. Growing demand for skills and strong job opportunities in China and India were cited by 87 percent of the Chinese and 79 percent of Indians as reasons for returning. Most of the returnees are young, generally in their early 30s, and nearly 90 percent have master's or doctorate degrees. Two-thirds said that visa considerations were not a reason for returning home. Wadhwa says the United States needs to start wooing foreign skilled workers by creating "fast-track" immigration policies and incentives to stay, steps that countries such as Singapore and Australia already are taking.
How to Share Without Spilling the Beans
Technology Review (03/02/09) Naone, Erica
A new protocol designed to allow organizations to share important information without compromising privacy through the use of smart cards was recently unveiled by Bar-Ilan University professor Andrew Yehuda Lindell. The protocol's usage involves the first party's creation of a key with which both parties could encrypt their data. The key would be stored on a secure smart card to be given to the second party. Both parties would employ the key to encrypt their respective databases, and then the first party would send his or her encrypted database to the second party, who can see what information both parties have in common. In addition, the second party would only have a restricted window of time to use the secret key on the smart card because the first party deletes it remotely using a special messaging protocol. University of Haifa professor Benny Pinkas says that Lindell's system demands far fewer computing resources to shield private information. However, RSA Laboratories chief scientist Ari Juels says that because the smart card serves as a trusted third party, finding a manufacturer that both organizations trust completely could be problematic. "Assuming that a smart card is secure against an individual or modestly funded organization may be reasonable, but not that it's secure against a highly resourced one, like a national-intelligence agency," he notes. Lindell says that in the event the chip is compromised, high-end smart cards can be designed to self destruct.
Microsoft Mapping Course to a Jetsons-Style Future
New York Times (03/02/09) P. B1; Vance, Ashlee
Microsoft researchers have developed Laura, a virtual personal assistant that can complete many of the tasks filled by a real personal assistant, including scheduling meetings or booking a flight. Laura can make sophisticated decisions about the people using the computer, commenting on their attire, whether they seem impatient, their level of importance, and their preferred times for appointments. "What we're after is common sense about etiquette and what people want," says Microsoft researcher Eric Horvitz. Microsoft also recently demonstrated new software systems designed to power futuristic games, medical devices, and teaching tools. Meanwhile, Intel is expected to elaborate on plans to extend its low-power Atom chip from laptops to cars, robots, and home-security systems. These new systems are in response to a growing desire for simpler, less functional computers. Simple netbooks and inexpensive, compact laptops are currently the fastest-selling products in the PC market. As consumers stop looking for increasingly fast and powerful PCs, Intel and Microsoft are looking to redefine what the hottest computers look like. Analysts say that both companies have a history of lofty research projects that often don't translate well into consumer products, but the time may have finally arrived when available technology matches demand. For example, Laura's artificial intelligence and graphics capabilities require a top-of-the-line chip with eight processor cores, which once would have only been available in a server. However, Intel is now working on integrating similar levels of processing power into tiny chips that could fit inside any device.
U.S. Spy Agency May Get More Cybersecurity Duties
Reuters (02/26/09) Mikkelsen, Randall
During his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Feb. 25, Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair told lawmakers that the National Security Agency (NSA) should be given more responsibility for securing the nation's IT networks. According to Blair, the NSA is best suited to handle the job of securing the nation's cyberinfrastructure because of its technology and its ability to detect attacks. Members of the House Intelligence Committee appear to be receptive to Blair's proposal, since some have said that they believe the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is not capable of continuing to play a leading role in U.S. computer security. However, Blair's proposal to give DHS' cybersecurity responsibilities to the NSA would probably not go over well with many of the lawmakers' constituents, due to the deep distrust many have for the NSA in the wake of its participation in former President George W. Bush's warrantless wiretapping program.
Software Looks at the Road Ahead to Boost Hybrid-Card Efficiency
IEEE Spectrum (02/09) Fairley, Peter
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee mechatronics expert Yaoyu Li speculates that future drivers will be more fuel-efficient as their vehicles tap data in the latest global positioning system-enabled electronic navigators. He has devised plug-in control algorithms that employ route and traffic data to let hybrid vehicles plan how and when to use stored battery power in order to keep fuel consumption to a minimum. The algorithms use data from electronic navigators to calculate the best blend of combustion and electronic propulsion to accommodate a trip, first by parsing the driver's selected route into segments and then projecting how the vehicle should balance its use of gas and electricity in each segment. "As the vehicle approaches the next route segment, I use my current state of charge as a start point to solve a new optimization problem," he says. "I'm trying to force my actual expenditure toward my preplanned budget." En route adjustments are made by a microscale algorithm. Li's dynamic programming methodology can facilitate the incorporation of incoming traffic data or on-the-fly route changes. His simulations suggest that a plug-in sport utility vehicle with a perception of the road ahead could be 20 percent more fuel-efficient. The next step is testing the algorithms on an actual plug-in vehicle.
Web Standards on the Edge
Computerworld (02/24/09) Mitchell, Robert L.
Browser bugs and ambiguities in standards are the chief reasons why the Web fails to render properly in browsers, says Google software engineer Ian Hickson, who also is editor of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) HTML 5 specification. Ambiguities and other real-world issues will be addressed by the emerging W3C CSS 2.1 specification. "Nowadays, we are not only expecting a test suite covering all the required and optional features of the specification but also a certain number of implementations as well," says the W3C's Philippe Le Hegaret. New standards have to define what happens when incorrect content is encountered, and the working group aims to define all edge cases. However, Hickson says a massive amount of effort and a considerable investment in time goes into the finding and definition of all those edge cases. "The W3C process seeks a balance between speed of progress and fairness in listening to all voices," Le Hegaret says. Some working groups are concerned that delays could encourage browser vendors to stray from the standards route. In the meantime, the W3C has made considerable progress toward CSS 3 standards, but Le Hegaret says adding new features and testing and implementing the already specified features in CSS 2.1 have significant dissimilarities.
Surprise: America Is No. 1 in Broadband
New York Times (02/23/09) Hansell, Saul
Although some countries have far more broadband-connected homes and higher broadband speeds than the United States, the U.S. leads the world in putting broadband to productive use, according to the "Connectivity Scorecard" developed by Leonard Waverman, dean of the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business. The scorecard rated 25 developed countries in terms of the extent that consumers, businesses, and government put communication technology to economically productive use, and the United States received the highest rating for broadband. The chief reason was that the U.S. has made extensive use of the Internet and computers and boasts a technically proficient workforce. Waverman's scorecard also found that government use of communications technology in the United States is on a par with its use anywhere in the world. Use of wired and wireless broadband networks by U.S. consumers lagged behind other countries, but the U.S. led for technology use and skills by consumers. A separate paper based on a poll by the Pew Internet and American Life project determined that 57 percent of U.S. residents currently have access to broadband, versus just 9 percent who have dial-up Internet access. Reasons uncovered by Pew as to why people do not use broadband include online's irrelevance to their lives, a lack of affordability, and usability issues. Unavailability of broadband was cited as a reason by only 14 percent of the people who do not currently have broadband.
Computerized Mobile Health Support System
Researchers at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS) have developed intelligent medical sensor devices designed to monitor the health of patients in their homes. The SomnoSENS system is a small box that is attached to the body during sleep to observe vital functions. Four adhesive electrodes record an electrocardiogram (ECG), while a finger clip measures the patient's blood oxygen level and pulse rate. Breathing is monitored using a nasal clip and expandable belts fitted around the upper torso, while a movement sensor in the device monitors the patient's body position and records how much the patient moves. Fraunhofer's Herbert Siegert says the small size of the device, and attaching the device to the body, enables it to be worn without hindering sleep comfort. The device records and stores data and transmits the data to a base station using a Bluetooth wireless interface. Physicians can then evaluate the data to make a diagnosis. Another device, the SYSvital telemonitoring system, is a small, lightweight device worn on a patient's body that records their heart rate using a three-channel ECG to identify minimum and maximum heart rates and arterial fibrillation, and also records movement. SYSvital enables physicians to evaluate a patient's heart rate in connection with physical activity. Meanwhile, the ActiSENS device is used to determine how active patients are. Siegert says ActiSENS measures a person's activity level throughout the day, helping the user reach the daily activity level that will keep them in shape.
Microsoft Hopes to Train 2 Million in IT by 2012
InformationWeek (02/23/09) Hoover, J. Nicholas
Microsoft plans to provide technology training to as many as 2 million people over the next three years, and 1 million will receive vouchers for free online coursework. With Elevate America, Microsoft is executing a broader strategy based on previous pilots, such as Elevate Miami in Florida. Microsoft says more people have shown an interest in its technical training over the past year, and believes the cost of training is a key obstacle for many people. In an attempt to find individuals who are interested in obtaining Microsoft certification, the company will work closely with state and local agencies, partners, nonprofits, and community organizations. Microsoft will offer a Web site for people who want to take the training courses online. "The economy made it important to get out there and not to wait," says Microsoft's Akhtar Badshah. "There's an incentive for state and local agencies to start offering services with the stimulus package, so it's the right time to do it."
U.S. Said to Be Losing Competitive Edge
New York Times (02/25/09) P. B9; Lohr, Steve
The U.S. economy has lost much of its competitive edge during the past decade, concludes a new Information Technology and Innovation Foundation report. The United States ranked sixth among 40 countries and regions, based on 16 indicators of innovation and competitiveness, and placed last in terms of progress made over the last decade. The indicators included venture capital investment, scientific researchers, spending on research, and educational achievement. The report mirrors a 2005 report by the National Academies, which warned that the U.S.'s lead in science and technology was eroding while many other nations were strengthening their science and technology sectors. The report says that countries such as Singapore, Taiwan, Finland, and China are pursuing policies that nurture a broader "ecology of innovation," which generally includes education, training, intellectual property protection, and immigration. Overall, the most innovatively competitive nation was Singapore, largely due to a national innovation strategy that features heavy investments and recruiting lead scientists and technologists from around the world. Information Technology and Innovation Foundation president Robert D. Atkinson says the U.S. should create government programs to attract investment and talent and to improve the workforce skills of local workers. The report recommends federal incentives for U.S. companies to innovate at home, ranging from research tax incentives to workforce development tax credits.
IT Not So Green
University of Calgary (02/24/09)
University of Calgary professor Richard Hawkins says there is no evidence that information technology (IT) reduces the world's environmental footprint. "It was once assumed that there was little or no material dimension to information technology, thus, it should be clean with minimal environmental impact," says Hawkins, the Canada Research Chair in Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy. "However, we are finding that reality is much more complicated." Hawkins says that digital technologies require a lot of energy to manufacture, and they create a massive amount of electronic waste. Electronics also use a lot of electricity, with some estimates claiming that technology uses about the same amount of energy as the world's air transport system. Hawkins notes that many IT manufacturers are developing more environmentally friendly technology. "But probably most of the negative environmental impacts occur in the form of completely unintended, second, and third-order effects," he says. "These 'rebound' effects may not be mitigated by inventing 'greener' IT products and, indeed, may be intensified by such changes." Hawkins says the problem is that IT has been applied so extensively that its environmental implications, both positive and negative, are often overlooked. Hawkins is developing a more reliable basis for identifying and analyzing IT's contribution to the environmental footprint.
In Science and Technology, Efforts to Lure Women Back
Wall Street Journal (02/25/09) P. D1; Shellenbarger, Sue
Numerous return-to-work programs are emerging in the science, engineering, and technology sectors, as many employers expect a talent shortage due to the high quit-rates among experienced women. Honeywell, General Electric, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the British government have all launched re-entry programs to help women scientists, engineers, and technology professionals obtain the skills they need to restart their careers. Some of the programs provide training, coaching, networking, and referrals, while others provide jobs with low return-to-work barriers through special training and mentoring. More than 40 percent of highly qualified scientists, engineers, and technicians in lower-level jobs are female, but more than half quit in the middle of their careers, the Center for Work-Life Policy reports. Women in science, engineering, and technology often face isolation, extreme job pressures, long hours, and become discouraged after about 10 years, which is when family pressures also increase. However, after several years at home, many women want to return to work. In a partnership with the Society for Women Engineers, Honeywell recently launched a hiring program that includes extensive training and mentoring for engineers who have been out of the workforce. BBN Technologies has increased efforts to attract at-home professionals, including luncheons for ex-employees, and IBM offers an extended-leave program to enable women to return to work. General Electric has launched an international program called Restart that offers flexible hours and other incentives to attract female technology professionals back to work.
Virtual Teach Hospital System (VTHS) Project Aims to Transform Medical Training
University of Leicester (02/24/09)
The Virtual Teaching Hospital System is an interdepartmental collaborative project between the University of Leicester's medical and computer science departments that has developed software for enabling medical students to practice diagnosing patients using real patient data. The simulation program will improve the supervision of medical students during their clinical placements and provide feedback on their diagnoses and treatment choices using a Web-based medical decision support system. In the simulation, medical students can talk to patients and record clinical symptoms and laboratory or radiological data into the program, which will provide suggestions on possible diagnoses. The students then interpret those suggestions and provide reasons for their conclusions. "The teaching system will assist medical students in rehearsing the problem-solving process and help decide what patient information is needed to determine a possible diagnosis and management, while combing the knowledge of the patient’s history," says postgraduate student Adwoa Donyina. "This expert system will provide guidance and direction with the evolving notion of what might support or refute the diagnosis."
Chips With Everything
University of Bristol News (02/24/09)
University of Bristol professor David May's research has led to the design of electronic systems that combine hardware and software in one environment. May's research idea was to find a way of designing electronic systems as collections of small programmable computers at a cost low enough to embed them in toys and clothes. An initial design of the new computer architecture used a large array of low-cost processors on a chip that would be configured using software instead of hardware. Four years after May's initial design, undergraduate student Ali Dixon used it to create a model of the processor that could be simulated on a PC. May and Dixon started working on a compiler for the processor, with the goal of enabling each processor to work independently while running concurrently. A significant effort was made on the ability of the array of processors to handle the input and output of data. "This has been a neglected area over the past 30 years of computer technology, but providing a flexible way for the concurrent software to control data passing in and out of the chip is fundamental to the new architecture," May says. The research resulted in 17 patent applications on new ways of handling input and output, memory access, and instruction scheduling, and a new company, XMOS, to commercially develop the new architecture, dubbed Xcore.
Microsoft Demos Augmented Vision
Technology Review (02/24/09) Greene, Kate
Microsoft researchers recently demonstrated augmented reality software that can superimpose computer-generated information onto a digitized view of the real world in real time. Microsoft Research's Michael Cohen says an augmented reality-enabled smartphone could be used as a portal to information. "You could be out on the street, hold the device up, and it could recognize a restaurant and deliver ratings and the menu," Cohen says. Microsoft's augmented reality software analyzes scenes from a camera and matches those images to images from a database to overlay supplementary information on the display. Microsoft researchers say that a smartphone with augmented reality would enable engineers to overlay plans for pipes on images of city streets, or allow users to see a bus route and estimate when the next bus is due at a certain stop. Augmented reality has been in development for more than a decade, but only recently has the computing power and hardware of smartphones become sophisticated enough to handle the technology. Nokia and Columbia University are developing an augmented-reality system, and Japan's Tonchidot is developing a commercial product. Instead of orienting itself using the global positioning system or Wi-Fi signals, which many augmented reality systems do, Microsoft's system focuses on recognizing objects within a scene using computer-vision algorithms.
New Direction in Teaching Computer Science Emphasizes Activity, Interaction, Critique
Washington University in St. Louis (02/23/09) Fitzpatrick, Tony
The Washington University in St. Louis computer science department is using a new "active learning" approach to teach undergraduate students in an effort to better prepare them for the work place. Active learning uses a learning-laboratory-based tutorial teaching concept in which students are encouraged to get out of their seats, move around, and interact with classmates. "At the heart of active learning is the hallmark of interactive face time and students taking a more active role and not just repeating what a professor wants to hear," says Washington professor Cindy Grimm. "We think it provides a motivation to learn things that they have to know to do something that they really want to do." Students watch lectures online in the evening before coming to class, enabling them to actively learn while in the classroom instead of using that time for passive lectures. Washington professor Ron Cytron says active learning is based on the Socratic teaching method, which asks students a question and allows them to struggle instead of giving them solutions and a lecture. Grimm and Cytron say the new approach can initially be uncomfortable for both students and professors. Some argue that lectures are being discarded because students have poor attention spans, but Cytron says that is not the reason. "Students today have a different attention span and use more of their sensory inputs when it comes to learning," he says. "Today's freshmen have been doing interactive things with friends for years. We find that we need some kind of stimulus to keep them involved."
A Princeton University-led group of international scientists has observed a unique behavior in the spin of electrons within a new material that could be used to revolutionize computing and electronics. Theorists have predicted that atoms placed in certain configurations would result in odd quantum behaviors from electrons. The researchers, which included scientists from the United States, Switzerland, and Germany, have been looking for a material that would produce those conditions. The team recently reported that it witnessed the exotic behavior in a crystal carefully constructed from an antimony alloy laced with bismuth. "We believe this discovery is not only an advancement in the fundamental physics of quantum systems but also could lead to significant advances in electronics, computing, and information science," says Princeton professor Zahid Hasan. Using new techniques to survey the structure, the researchers recorded groups of electrons spinning in a synchronized quantum movement, which involved a strange form of rotation. Unlike most objects that return to their original "face" after revolving in a full circle, the harmonized electrons need to rotate two full turns to return to the same orientation. "This discovery has the potential to transform electronics, data storage, and computing," says the National Science Foundation's Thomas Rieker. "The spin-sensitive measurement techniques developed here may shed light on other important fundamental questions in condensed matter physics such as the origin of high-temperature superconductivity."
New Bluetooth Standards to Bring Speed, Energy Efficiency
Network World (02/18/09) Reed, Brad
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) is working on two new standards to improve the wireless technology's speed and energy use. Bluetooth SIG executive director Mike Foley says the specifications will greatly increase the number of applications that can use Bluetooth. The low-energy specification, which should be finished by the end of 2009, will enable Bluetooth technology to be used in devices that require less energy than cell phones or personal computers, such as watches or heart-rate monitors. Syncing a Bluetooth watch with a cell phone would enable a watch to alert the wearer when their phone receives a call. Garner analyst Nick Jones says the new Bluetooth specifications are the most important wireless technologies to watch over the next two years. "The low-energy Bluetooth standard will open up a lot of possibilities," Jones says. "With the new low-energy mode there is the potential to build sensors that can talk to your mobile phone and be controlled remotely, such as the thermostat in your house." The other new Bluetooth specification is a high-speed standard that Foley says will significantly increase Bluetooth users' ability to send data between devices. Foley says the Bluetooth SIG's goal is to have Bluetooth achieve speeds of up to 100Mbps, which will allow for high-definition video streaming.
Duke Software Dramatically Speeds Enzyme Design
Duke University News & Communications (02/16/09) Basgall, Monte
Duke University researchers have developed software that shows experimentalists how to alter the machinery that bacteria uses to make natural antibiotics. The program is a set of computer rules known as algorithm K* that can sort through all possible shapes and changes of a key enzyme that produces a natural antibiotic called gramicidin S, says Duke professor Bruce Donald. The new software could lead to more automated redesigning of old drugs to counter drug-resistant germs. "It is essentially a new pathway to make novel antibiotics," Donald says. "There are many possible changes you can make to a protein, but the algorithm can test out orders of magnitude more variations than laboratory experiments alone." He says the algorithm should enable researchers to quickly discover findings that would otherwise take longer through experimental techniques. "It should, in principle, be possible to redesign any enzyme simply by inputting the protein's shape into the algorithm and telling it what you want it to do," Donald says. The algorithm includes a "dead-end elimination" feature that can analyze all possible chemical interactions and flexible molecular architectures to eliminate scenarios that will not work. The K* algorithm is available as open source code for researchers to evaluate and use in their research.
Getting to $787 Billion
Wall Street Journal
After a month of wrangling, 246 House Democrats, 57 Senate Democrats and three Senate Republicans voted late last week to pass a compromise economic recovery package of spending provisions, tax cuts and aid to laid-off workers and their families. The 1,073-page bill, signed into law Monday by President Obama, contains hundreds of provisions. This is how they add up. Click the columns to sort by amount or type of spending, and see a summary table below.
Defense agencies list top 20 security controls
February 23, 2009 9:47 AM PST
A group of U.S. government security organizations has listed the top 20 security actions that they recommend organizations should take to improve computer security.
Called "Twenty Most Important Controls and Metrics for Effective Cyber Defense and Continuous FISMA Compliance," the list was published Monday by a conglomerate of U.S. government agencies, including the NSA, US-CERT, various U.S. Department of Defense computer security groups, and security training organization Sans Institute.
Alan Paller, director of Sans Institute, told CNET News sister site ZDNet UK in an e-mail Friday that the list, also known as the Consensus Audit Guidelines (CAG), would spark "a complete revolution in federal and business cybersecurity."
Three data breaches hit Florida, one hits the feds
by Elinor Mills
Another day, another data breach.
If you bought something at a Best Buy store in West Palm Beach, Fla., late last year, or stayed at a Wyndham hotel in Florida last summer, or use a U.S. government travel Web site you might want to check your credit card statements closely.
Best Buy warned this week that 4,000 customers of a store in West Palm Beach may have had their credit card information stolen when they made their purchases.
The chain terminated the employment of a worker at the store after learning that a skimming device was used to steal data from the magnetic strips on credit cards last November and December, according to an advisory issued by Best Buy (PDF).
Best Buy said it learned of the data breach on January 5 and that the employee was taken into federal custody on January 7.
Also in Florida, Attorney General Bill McCollum urged people to monitor their credit statements and said up to 21,000 state residents may have been affected by a data breach at Wyndham Hotels last year.
Wyndham said in a frequently asked questions statement that it noticed unusual activity on one of its servers during a routine administrative review in September and discovered that data had been stolen in July and August by an attacker who penetrated the computer systems of one of the Wyndham hotels.