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5 Oct. 2006
"VoIP E911: Occupational Safety," by Mike Fratto
The US 911 emergency call system still struggles with errors that can cost valuable time, such as calls accidentally put on hold or sent to the wrong call center. So it's not surprising that a 911 newcomer, voice-over-IP Enhanced 911 (VoIP E911), is also having difficulties. In response, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APSCO) and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) have called for VoIP E911 improvements.
NENA supports a US Senate bill (SB 1063) that would give VoIP providers the same access to 911 facilities as wireless providers and telephone companies. Additionally, IETF working groups are trying IP-based protocols such as Session Initiation Protocol to improve the transmission of location information via VoIP E911.
9 Nov. 2006
"VCs Chasing Consumer Tech," by Andrew Conry-Murray
US venture capital (VC) investments in technology increased by US$1 billion in the first half of 2006 to US$6.89 billion. However, none of the increase came from enterprise technology, which has been flat for years. All the new money went to consumer-focused startup companies.
"There's been a dramatic amount of funding going into social networking Web sites and any type of service provider that can offer entertainment for mobile phone users," says Tom Jowitt, finance specialist at Data-Monitor, the analyst firm that released the figures.
Software Development Times
1 Dec. 2006
"Making Accessibility More Accessible," by Alex Handy
The US Access Board (USAB) has begun open meetings that will update guidelines to make government Web sites more accessible to those with disabilities. The USAB expects to have its initial findings ready for public comment by July 2007 and to have the final standards finished in the first half of 2008.
Current guidelines in the Telecommunications Accessibility Act of 1998 and the Rehabilitation Act of 2001 are out of date. "There's nothing in the standard right now that addresses something like an iPod," says USAB representative Timothy P. Creagan. "Standards talk about controls and keys on a device, but iPods have that circular membrane you press and turn. That could be a concern, supposing someone has arthritis."
The 25-member board formed an advisory committee, which includes both experts in technology and representatives from various government agencies, to discuss proposed revisions over the next two years. Software firms that have, or want, government contracts are encouraged to participate in the process so that their input is included. To track the board's progress, visit www.teitac.org.
26 Oct. 2006
"WLANs Still Insecure," by Sean Ginevan
Enterprises continue to embrace the concept of wireless local area networks (WLANs), but a new survey by In-Stat reveals that most of them don't adequately address WLAN security issues.
Although more than 70 percent of the survey's respondents say they use WLANs, only 61 percent indicate they control access to them. Just 19.5 percent of respondents with more than 1,000 employees say they use the IEEE 802.11i WLAN security standard. And 36 percent of the small business respondents and 16 percent of the large business respondents still use Wired Equivalent Privacy, an easily breached authentication and encryption system.
If businesses don't start addressing security concerns soon, their problems could multiply exponentially. In-Stat forecasts estimate that almost 95 percent of all enterprise devices by 2010 will be mobile PCs with embedded Wi-Fi or dual-mode phones that combine Wi-Fi with cellular.
5 Oct. 2006
"The Perfect Search with Your Cell Phone," by Robert Hertzberg
Two deals announced this year might mean that consumers will soon be able to use their cell phones to search the Internet — and it might not be Google or Yahoo that does it for them.
AllTel Wireless and Verizon Wireless both announced plans to team up with startups JumpTap and Medio Systems, respectively, to develop mobile search services. Both telephone companies recognize the importance of establishing their own services to get a foothold in the mobile search arena and avoid sharing ad revenue with Yahoo and Google.
Current development efforts target consumers, letting them search Wireless Application Protocol and Extensible HTML (XHTML) sites for things such as sports scores or music. Both services are expected to take on enterprise customers next, by offering more business-oriented content.
The Globus Consortium Journal
"Anguish over Standardization," by Carl Claunch
For private-sector grid technology users, standardization was the top issue for 2006. They wondered whether policies should be forced on the grid or if there should be tolerance for the existing variety of ad hoc implementations.
These questions are understandable but perhaps a bit premature, Claunch says. He argues that legitimate reasons exist to put up with the redundancy and conflict that arise from a lack of standards. At this point, he says, the grid is beginning to lose its niche status because it's already a valuable tool many companies use in areas such as financial services, manufacturing, and life sciences. Adopting grid technologies has given some businesses an overwhelming advantage if they need to scale up processes to a level previously thought impossible.
Claunch hopes that 2007 will bring breakthroughs in applications that push the grid beyond the computation-intensive work that it's largely used for today. And, he says, it would be advantageous if those breakthroughs were executed in increasingly standard methods so more businesses can begin to leverage the power of open standards and open source the way the public sector has.
Dr. Dobb's Journal
"Scaling SOA with Distributed Computing," by Robert W. Anderson and Daniel Ciruli
As enterprise architects continue to choose service-oriented architectures (SOAs) as a way to resolve a plethora of challenges, Anderson and Ciruli say they should consider whether scaling their SOAs with distributed computing could help meet their goals. If it does, the authors think it would save considerable time and expense if issues of scalability were considered at design time, as part of the process.
To illustrate their point, the authors describe a customer whose needs were best met with grid technologies behind its SOA to improve performance and scalability. As part of the project, the customer's Web service and computational code were split, offloading the computational work to a grid. As a result, the machine running the Web service could accommodate more traffic because the grid handled the heavy computational work elsewhere. The customer took care of the scalability problem during the design process, thus the company saved money despite the additional upfront expense.
Dr. Dobb's Journal
"XML, SQL, and C," by Jim Kent
We can trace XML's continued popularity back to many things, including portability across many platforms and the ease with which it handles optional field and hierarchical data structures.
In Kent's area — bioinformatics — XML is usually used for any information exchange between databases. But because most of his databases are C-based, integrating data from XML is fairly labor-intensive. This led Kent to create four tools to make it easier to integrate data from XML sources into his relational C-based databases.
The first tool, autoXml, automates mapping between C and XML data structures. Its input is an XML document type definition (DTD); it outputs the equivalent data structures in C, with the code converting the structures to and from XML.
Kent's second tool, AutoDTD, creates a DTD from an example XML file (not all XML files have DTDs, but autoXml requires one). It also uses the example file to decide many things, such as whether elements are required or optional.
sqlToXml, the third tool, creates readable, descriptive XML with a simple tree definition that outlines the parent-child relationship within the database.
Finally, xmlToSql translates an XML document into a fairly normal relational database with output that is a directory of tab-separated files and SQL table-creation statements. The source code for Kent's tools is available at www.soe.ucsc.edu/~kent.
26 Oct. 2006
"IBM Technology Helps English Speaking Skills"
To improve its operators' English-speaking skills in its India call centers, IBM created a Web-based, interactive language technology that it says can also be leveraged in other business situations and school settings.
The technology uses modified speech-recognition software to score the pronunciation of passages and the way syllables are stressed in individual words. It also has voice-enabled grammar tests that identify areas for improvement and provides examples of correct grammar and pronunciation.
23 Nov. 2006
"FTC Spanks Adware Vendor," by Andrew Conry-Murray
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached a US$3 million settlement with adware distributor Zango for surreptitiously downloading software onto users' PCs and then making it challenging to remove it.
The FTC claims users downloaded Zango's software more than 70 million times, many times though partners who used deceitful methods such as browser exploits without users' consent.
The settlement, in part, stems from an FTC complaint filed in early 2006 against Zango (formerly called 180-Solutions) by the Center for Democracy and Technology. It also prohibits Zango from communicating with any computers that downloaded the adware in question before 1 January 2006.
"Rootkit Detection: Finding the Enemy Within," by Andrew Conry-Murray
Rootkits — malware that captures passwords and message traffic to and from a computer — got their name from the Unix operating system, in which the "root" account provides administrator-level access to the entire machine.
Since 2004, however, the use of such stealth methods has jumped 600 percent, according to McAfee. In response, the security community has created a new generation of stand-alone rootkit-detection tools. These tools detect and block rootkits before they breach a PC, or they try to find rootkits after they've hidden themselves in the system.
Many of these tools use a method called "cross-view differential detection," which leverages the fact that rootkits manipulate APIs, registries, and system calls. Cross-view detection systems scan system components, such as files and registry keys, using the APIs on computers that might be infected. Then, they run a second scan without the APIs to examine the low-level data structures that aren't manipulated by rootkits, such as the registry hive. Finally, they compare the two scans, looking for places in which a rootkit might have changed system information.
"Queen Bots Pose Security Threat," by Linda Dailey Paulson
Like queen ants that exercise centralized control over a network of rapidly growing minions, queen bots are increasingly popular with hackers, who use them to launch spam, phishing, or denial-of-service attacks. Queen bots avoid detection by packing — a technique that hides the executable's original code signature from antivirus programs by adding a code string, making it harder for antivirus programs to detect. Sometimes hackers repack and redeploy queen bots, or they use multiple packers and encryption to further hide the code.
David Dagon, a doctoral student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Internet researcher Paul Vixie have created a beta malware repository to help address queen bots and other automated malware ( http://malfease.oarci.net).
"New Mobile Phones Will Work with Cellular and Wi-Fi," by Linda Dailey Paulson
Several mobile phone carriers are working to introduce dual-mode phones that, in theory, will automatically and seamlessly switch cellular calls to Wi-Fi networks and back when users come within range.
The Wi-Fi portion of the system uses voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephony to transmit data packets over IEEE 802.11b and 802.11g networks. The maximum data rate for 802.11b is 11 Mbits per second (Mbps), whereas 802.11g provides 54 Mpbs.
A network controller passes the calls between a cellular base station and an Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) base station, which packages the cellular signals into an IP format and sends them over the Internet.
The concept could be particularly attractive in Europe, where cellular rates are relatively high. In the US, it could let users buy cheaper plans with fewer minutes because some portion of their minutes would be on the Wi-Fi network. If the service becomes widely adopted, it might also spur users to give up their landlines and adopt Wi-Fi home networks.
IEEE Intelligent Systems
"Adaptive Web Search: Evolving a Program that Finds Information," by Michael Gordon, Weiguo (Patrick) Fan, and Praveen Pathak
All too often, Internet searches generate one of two outcomes: reviewing more sites than users would prefer or failing to find truly useful information.
To bring information retrieval (IR) on the Internet to a new level, Gordon, Fan, and Pathak developed a technique that leverages an algorithm based on genetics. This algorithm employs user judgments about the relevance of the retrieved information, to "breed" increasingly effective retrieval algorithms.
The developers shied away from using common keyword-matching functions because two keywords might each describe the same document accurately, but one might be more appropriate given what's inside the document.
Instead, they opted for genetic algorithms as a way to weigh terms and phrases. Although genetic algorithms have had few applications in IR to date, they work well because they have inherently parallel search mechanisms and "powerful global exploration capabilities in a high-dimensional space."
"Uncertainty and the Semantic Web," by Giorgos Stoilos, Nikos Simou, Giorgos Stamou, and Stefanos Kollias
By definition, the Semantic Web must be able to effectively distinguish information that's vague, or "fuzzy," from multimedia processing or geospatial applications.
In multimedia processing applications, for example, object recognition could come with "degrees of truth" — a fuzzy concept, unlike sensor readings, which offer solid degrees of evidence. To deal with this, some researchers have proposed extending the Web Ontology Language (OWL) and the Description Logic (DL) formalisms with specialized mathematical frameworks. Building on that work, Stoilos and his coauthors created an OWL extension, which they call Fuzzy Owl, and an accompanying Fuzzy Reasoning Engine (FiRE) that together can capture imprecise information and reason about it. Like OWL, Fuzzy OWL's basic building blocks are classes, properties, and individuals. Information about FiRE is available at www.image.ece.ntua.gr/~nsimou.
IEEE Distributed Systems Online
"This Little Standard Went to Market; This Little Standard Blew Up," by Greg Goth
Economics and politics have always played a role in protocol development. In 2006, they actually forced two IEEE 802 groups to stop work entirely.
Although one of the two groups, the 802.20 working group, has been reassembled with new members and a directive to root out future efforts to achieve a standard through domination, the experiences have put a spotlight on some possible flaws in the standardization process.
Stephen Wood is president of the WiMedia Alliance, whose standard emerged victorious after the other 802 group, 802.15.3a, disbanded in January after three years of arguing over approaches for creating wireless connections between PCs, home entertainment equipment, and peripherals.
Wood says the 802.15.3a experience should have forced the IEEE to reconsider some of its protocol processes that let large companies with deep pockets push the process where they want it to go, including the "one man, one vote" principle and the 75 percent supermajority for technical changes, which Wood argues should be lowered to 60 or 66 percent.