Thursday, April 28, 2005

[Privacy] No Spyware or Adware from

Interesting, I wonder if can make this work in practice. I also wonder what their testing procedures are. But, if they can do it and do it right, it's definitely a good step forward.

Dear Downloaders,

When it comes to fighting unwanted adware and spyware, CNET has always been in your corner. During the past few years, we've brought you the best tools and tips in our Spyware Center, and we've maintained a strict policy toward adware by allowing only software that discloses advertising partnerships during installation.

This week, we've upped the ante: we're launching a new zero-tolerance policy toward all bundled adware. That means every time you download software from, you can trust we've tested it and found it to be adware-free--period. (See how we test.)

Why are we taking this extra step? In your letters, user reviews, and polls, you told us bundled adware was unacceptable--no matter how harmless it might be. We want you to know what you're getting when you download from CNET, and no other download site can promise you will.

Can we guarantee you'll never get adware or spyware on your computer? Unfortunately, no. For that reason, we strongly encourage--no, make that beg--you to take extra steps to keep your computer free of all unwanted adware and spyware. Download and install a reputable antispyware scanner today. For a list of the ones we recommend, please visit our Spyware Center.

I welcome your feedback on this important change.

[Research] New ACM Keywords

Just discovered that there are some new ACM Computing Classification keywords.

Here is a web form that lets you see if a keyword is part of the classification.

It looks like HCI has also been somewhat expanded as well:

Time: How to Get Out Alive,9171,1053663,00.html

Makes me wonder if there are things in HCI we can do to assist this.

Whether they're in shipwrecks, hurricanes, plane crashes or burning buildings, people in peril experience remarkably similar stages. And the first one--even in the face of clear and urgent danger--is almost always a period of intense disbelief.


The people who made it out of the World Trade Center, for example, waited an average of 6 min. before heading downstairs, according to a new National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) study drawn from interviews with nearly 900 survivors. But the range was enormous. Why did certain people leave immediately while others lingered for as long as half an hour? Some were helping co-workers. Others were disabled. And in Tower 2, many were following fatally flawed directions to stay put. But eventually everyone saw smoke, smelled jet fuel or heard someone giving the order to leave. Many called relatives. About 1,000 took the time to shut down their computers, according to NIST.


Large groups of people facing death act in surprising ways. Most of us become incredibly docile. We are kinder to one another than normal. We panic only under certain rare conditions. Usually, we form groups and move slowly, as if sleepwalking in a nightmare.


In a crisis, our instincts can be our undoing. William Morgan, who directs the exercise-psychology lab at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has studied mysterious scuba accidents in which divers drowned with plenty of air in their tanks. It turns out that certain people experience an intense feeling of suffocation when their mouths are covered. They respond to that overwhelming sensation by relying on their instinct, which is to rip out whatever is in their mouths. For scuba divers, unfortunately, it is their oxygen source. On land, that would be a perfect solution.


People caught up in disasters tend to fall into three categories. About 10% to 15% remain calm and act quickly and efficiently. Another 15% or less completely freak out--weeping, screaming or otherwise hindering the evacuation. That kind of hysteria is usually isolated and quickly snuffed out by the crowd. The vast majority of people do very little. They are "stunned and bewildered," as British psychologist John Leach put it in a 2004 article published in Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine.


In the 1970s, psychologist Daniel Johnson was working on safety research for McDonnell Douglas. The more disasters he studied, the more he realized that the classic fight-or-flight behavior paradigm was incomplete. Again and again, in shipwrecks as well as plane accidents, he saw examples of people doing nothing at all. He was even able to re-create the effect in his lab. He found that about 45% of people in his experiment shut down (that is, stopped moving or speaking for 30 sec. or often longer) when asked under pressure to perform unfamiliar but basic tasks. "They quit functioning. They just sat there," Johnson remembers. It seemed horribly maladaptive. How could so many people be hard-wired to do nothing in a crisis?


Monday, April 25, 2005

[Cool] Fake or Foto?

Got 9 / 10, but it's getting tougher to distinguish between real and computer-generated images.

Take a look at the ten images below. Some of them are photographs of real objects or scenes, others are created by computer graphics (CG) artists. Test your ability to tell which among the array of images are real, and which are CG.

[Research] [Tech] Yannis' Law and Proebsting's law

Now here's some food for thought for all developers out there:

Yannis' Law: Programmer Productivity Doubles Every 6 Years

I keep hearing aphorisms about the "software crisis" and the lack of progress in software development. I have been programming for over 15 years, and I find such claims to be completely false: I am convinced that I could reproduce with today's tools the work of a competent programmer of 15 years ago in a small fraction of the time.

By analogy to Moore's law and (more appropriately, because of its intention to provoke, rather than predict) Proebsting's law, I propose that programmer productivity doubles every 6 years.


The year is 2003 and I would not consider a programmer to be good (this includes familiarity with tools) if they cannot produce the KWIC system within an hour or two, instead of a week or two in 1972. This constitutes an increase in productivity by a factor of 40 over the course of 31 years, or over 12.5% per year, which results in a doubling of productivity every 6 years.


This impressive progress is arguably the cumulative result of reusable software entities, better system tools, better programming languages, better CS education, but also good use of faster machines that allow us to ignore low-level overheads and favor slightly less efficient but convenient solutions.

This reminds me a little of what Chuck Darrah discovered about Silicon Valley dual career families, that it wasn't that technology eased our lives so much as made it possible to take on more responsibilities. Perhaps the software crisis isn't a crisis per se, but more of changing expectations as we gain the capabilities to produce more sophisticated features, as we compete more (thanks to the web and the Internet), and as systems are used in more situations (especially where they were not expected to be used, just see comp.risks for examples).

Proebsting's Law: Compiler Advances Double Computing Power Every 18 Years

I claim the following simple experiment supports this depressing claim. Run your favorite set of benchmarks with your favorite state-of-the-art optimizing compiler. Run the benchmarks both with and without optimizations enabled. The ratio of of those numbers represents the entirety of the contribution of compiler optimizations to speeding up those benchmarks. Let's assume that this ratio is about 4X for typical real-world applications, and let's further assume that compiler optimization work has been going on for about 36 years. These assumptions lead to the conclusion that compiler optimization advances double computing power every 18 years. QED.

This means that while hardware computing horsepower increases at roughly 60%/year, compiler optimizations contribute only 4%. Basically, compiler optimization work makes only marginal contributions.

Perhaps this means Programming Language Research should be concentrating on something other than optimizations. Perhaps programmer productivity is a more fruitful arena.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

[Research] [Tech] Coral Content Distribution Network

Very clever, just add to any URL, and that web page will be distributed to Coral's open content distribution network. The upshot is that server load will be distributed onto PlanetLab's computers.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

[Research] Writing Thesis Statements

I'm going to have to resurrect the Graduate School Advice page I had on Berkeley and move it here to CMU. And when I do, I'll be sure to add this page on writing thesis statements, it's very good.

[Tech] NewScientist: The clock that wakes you when you are ready

Ack, I got scooped. I've been talking about creating an alarm clock just like this for years...

The clock, called SleepSmart, measures your sleep cycle, and waits for you to be in your lightest phase of sleep before rousing you. Its makers say that should ensure you wake up feeling refreshed every morning.

[Tech] Web Scraping Proxy

Interesting idea...

Programmers often need to use information on Web pages as input to other programs. This is done by Web Scraping, writing a program to simulate a person viewing a Web site with a browser. It is often hard to write these programs because it is difficult to determine the Web requests necessary to do the simulation.

The Web Scraping Proxy (WSP) solves this problem by monitoring the flow of information between the browser and the Web site and emitting Perl LWP code fragments that can be used to write the Web Scraping program. A developer would use the WSP by browsing the site once with a browser that accesses the WSP as a proxy server. He then uses the emitted code as a template to build a Perl program that accesses the site.

[Cool] Camera Mail

On the 22nd of December 2004, Kyle Van Horn taped a disposable camera to a piece of black foamcore and inscribed upon it the following message: "ATTENTION POSTAL WORKERS! Please help us with our project. As this camera travels across the country we want photos of all whom it encounters. Please take a photo before you pass it along. Thank you!"

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

[Research] NYTimes: A Philanthropist of Science Seeks to Be Its Next Nobel

In a ringing Norwegian accent, Mr. Kavli, a recently retired engineer and businessman, invoked his boyhood adventures skiing across the mountains.

"At times," he said, "the whole sky was aflame with the northern lights shifting and dancing across the sky down to the white-clad mountaintops. In the stillness and loneliness of the white mountains, I pondered the universe, the planet, nature and the wonders of man.

"I'm still pondering."

The world found out what a sophisticated shopper Mr. Kavli was when scientists affiliated with his institutes won three of the eight Nobel Prizes given for science in 2004: Dr. David Gross, director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara; Dr. Frank Wilczek of the new Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Dr. Richard Axel of the equally new Kavli Institute for Brain Science at Columbia.

Now Mr. Kavli is planning his own version of the Nobel Prizes.

Starting in 2008, and every other year afterward, the Kavli Foundation will be sponsoring three prizes worth $1 million each in the fields of astrophysics, neuroscience and nanoscience.


"I'm looking for highly leveraged situations," Mr. Kavli agrees, his face lighting up, "where institutions are putting in a large share."

The deal is basically the same for each of the new institutes. The foundation agrees to pay $7.5 million, typically over four years, to the university, which adds the money to its endowment.

The interest from that money, about $400,000 per year once all the money is in place, goes to the institute.

That might seem like small change compared with the millions a university department or research institute spends in a year or the billions the government disburses, barely enough to keep a tenured professor in cappuccino and chalk. But because it is discretionary, with no strings or government agencies involved, the Kavli money is especially useful in an era of declining research budgets.

Besides promoting science, Mr. Kavli said, "The main thing is to create networks of support for the institutes," he added. "We intend to be international, worldwide."

"Anyway," he said, stretching out his arms against the sunset, "money is not everything."

Friday, April 15, 2005

[Tech] [Ubicomp] Business 2.0: Finding Profits in the GPS Economy,17863,1039514,00.html

Tractors that steer themselves. Property that "knows" it's been stolen. Airplanes that land without a pilot. The opportunities surrounding the global positioning system are already mind-boggling, but now the industry is set to skyrocket. This spring the U.S. government will launch its first next-generation GPS satellite -- to complement the 30 older models already in service -- creating stronger signals, increased bandwidth, and lots of potential for smart entrepreneurs.


The most visible GPS applications tend to radiate from huge companies. UPS, for one, plans to outfit 75,000 drivers with GPS-enabled handhelds this year to help them reach destinations more efficiently. But startups offering similar navigation and tracking services could also make out nicely. Consider AtRoad, a Fremont, Calif., firm that went public in 2000. It offers "geo-fencing" software that triggers e-mail alerts if a company vehicle speeds or ventures into unauthorized areas.


Meanwhile, Zingo in the United Kingdom uses GPS-enabled cars and text messaging to help subscribers hail cabs.

[Tech] NYTimes: It's a Flat World, After All

Thomas Friedman had an article last week on globalization. Maybe Neal Stephenson wasn't quite right when he wrote in Snow Crash that Americans would only be good at Hollywood, software, and pizza delivery. If trends continue, in the future it might be just Hollywood and pizza delivery.

Only 30 years ago, if you had a choice of being born a B student in Boston or a genius in Bangalore or Beijing, you probably would have chosen Boston, because a genius in Beijing or Bangalore could not really take advantage of his or her talent. They could not plug and play globally. Not anymore. Not when the world is flat, and anyone with smarts, access to Google and a cheap wireless laptop can join the innovation fray.


No country accidentally benefited more from the Netscape moment than India. ''India had no resources and no infrastructure,'' said Dinakar Singh, one of the most respected hedge-fund managers on Wall Street, whose parents earned doctoral degrees in biochemistry from the University of Delhi before emigrating to America. ''It produced people with quality and by quantity. But many of them rotted on the docks of India like vegetables. Only a relative few could get on ships and get out. Not anymore, because we built this ocean crosser, called fiber-optic cable. For decades you had to leave India to be a professional. Now you can plug into the world from India. You don't have to go to Yale and go to work for Goldman Sachs.''


Indeed, this breakthrough in people-to-people and application-to-application connectivity produced, in short order, six more flatteners -- six new ways in which individuals and companies could collaborate on work and share knowledge. One was ''outsourcing.'' When my software applications could connect seamlessly with all of your applications, it meant that all kinds of work -- from accounting to software-writing -- could be digitized, disaggregated and shifted to any place in the world where it could be done better and cheaper. The second was ''offshoring.'' I send my whole factory from Canton, Ohio, to Canton, China. The third was ''open-sourcing.'' I write the next operating system, Linux, using engineers collaborating together online and working for free. The fourth was ''insourcing.'' I let a company like UPS come inside my company and take over my whole logistics operation -- everything from filling my orders online to delivering my goods to repairing them for customers when they break. (People have no idea what UPS really does today. You'd be amazed!). The fifth was ''supply-chaining.'' This is Wal-Mart's specialty. I create a global supply chain down to the last atom of efficiency so that if I sell an item in Arkansas, another is immediately made in China. (If Wal-Mart were a country, it would be China's eighth-largest trading partner.) The last new form of collaboration I call ''informing'' -- this is Google, Yahoo and MSN Search, which now allow anyone to collaborate with, and mine, unlimited data all by themselves.


Do you recall ''the IT revolution'' that the business press has been pushing for the last 20 years? Sorry to tell you this, but that was just the prologue. The last 20 years were about forging, sharpening and distributing all the new tools to collaborate and connect. Now the real information revolution is about to begin as all the complementarities among these collaborative tools start to converge.


And be advised: the Indians and Chinese are not racing us to the bottom. They are racing us to the top. What China's leaders really want is that the next generation of underwear and airplane wings not just be ''made in China'' but also be ''designed in China.'' And that is where things are heading. So in 30 years we will have gone from ''sold in China'' to ''made in China'' to ''designed in China'' to ''dreamed up in China'' -- or from China as collaborator with the worldwide manufacturers on nothing to China as a low-cost, high-quality, hyperefficient collaborator with worldwide manufacturers on everything.

That is why there is nothing that guarantees that Americans or Western Europeans will continue leading the way. These new players are stepping onto the playing field legacy free, meaning that many of them were so far behind that they can leap right into the new technologies without having to worry about all the sunken costs of old systems. It means that they can move very fast to adopt new, state-of-the-art technologies, which is why there are already more cellphones in use in China today than there are people in America.


Meeting the challenges of flatism requires as comprehensive, energetic and focused a response as did meeting the challenge of Communism. It requires a president who can summon the nation to work harder, get smarter, attract more young women and men to science and engineering and build the broadband infrastructure, portable pensions and health care that will help every American become more employable in an age in which no one can guarantee you lifetime employment.


We in America have all the basic economic and educational tools to do that. But we have not been improving those tools as much as we should. That is why we are in what Shirley Ann Jackson, the 2004 president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, calls a ''quiet crisis'' -- one that is slowly eating away at America's scientific and engineering base.

This quiet crisis is a product of three gaps now plaguing American society. The first is an ''ambition gap.'' Compared with the young, energetic Indians and Chinese, too many Americans have gotten too lazy. As David Rothkopf, a former official in the Clinton Commerce Department, puts it, ''The real entitlement we need to get rid of is our sense of entitlement.'' Second, we have a serious numbers gap building. We are not producing enough engineers and scientists. We used to make up for that by importing them from India and China, but in a flat world, where people can now stay home and compete with us, and in a post-9/11 world, where we are insanely keeping out many of the first-round intellectual draft choices in the world for exaggerated security reasons, we can no longer cover the gap. That's a key reason companies are looking abroad. The numbers are not here. And finally we are developing an education gap. Here is the dirty little secret that no C.E.O. wants to tell you: they are not just outsourcing to save on salary. They are doing it because they can often get better-skilled and more productive people than their American workers.

These are some of the reasons that Bill Gates, the Microsoft chairman, warned the governors' conference in a Feb. 26 speech that American high-school education is ''obsolete.'' As Gates put it: ''When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow. In math and science, our fourth graders are among the top students in the world. By eighth grade, they're in the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations... The percentage of a population with a college degree is important, but so are sheer numbers. In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor's degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind.''

[HCI-Sec] Mossberg: A Digital Crime Wave

THE WINDOWS COMPUTING PLATFORM is in a genuine crisis. Windows computers are being attacked, every day, by an international army of digital criminals who seek to spy on users, turn their own computers against them and deface, corrupt or destroy their data.

There have long been computer viruses, but until the past couple of years, they were mainly a nuisance. Now they have grown into a serious problem-by one account there were 5,000 new Windows viruses discovered in the first six months of 2004. And the virus plague has been trumped by a new type of malicious software, spyware, which can track your activities, bombard you with unwanted ads, even steal your identity.

Spam has also grown exponentially, clogging e-mail boxes and carrying with it malicious software. For some people, e-mail has become a curse.


What users need is a simple, all-encompassing security service that would deal with all these threats with minimal user involvement. For now, though, you'll have to do it yourself.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

[HCI] Families and Work: An Ethnography of Dual Career Families

Reading Darrah et al's work on Dual Career families in Silicon Valley is the most fun I've had in a while. Their observations and insights are amazing and are also things that all of us can relate to.

On Chunking Activities...

[A] father explained that he had been unable to locate his daughter at a friend's house since he was not the "relevant parent" for that relationship. Parental obligations for those relationships had been decomposed and sassigned to each parent, which worked until he found himself thrust into an unfamiliar situation.

On Planning and Improvisation...

Planning often began in the families with face-to-face discussions, accompanied by formal record keeping via Palm Pilots, daily planners, charts, lists and Post-Its.


Roy Scott, for example, stated that his family had consciously rejected planning and instead took life one day at a time. However, this was possible only because he and his wife had created an infrastructure to absorb improvisation: relatively predictable work hours and an accomodating nanny.


The practice of planning also assumes perfect information and an unbounded rationality that is impossible to exercise. Plans seldom unfolded exactly as anticipated and being in contact allowed adaptation to changing realities. Even if plans did unfold as desired, the family members we observed feared that something might go wrong so they maintained contact just to be safe. For their part, families that relied on improvisation did so using predictable building blocks. They implicitly knew who could do what when, and their days were far more predictable than improvisation connotes.


The dream of a completely seamless communication system in which someone could instantaneously reach anyone else was ironically as powerful the desire to limit one’s accessibility to others.

On Infrastructure Building...

For one family, hourly emails or phone calls between parents defined acceptable contact, while in another it was the daily phone call between 1 and 2 p.m. that sufficed: plans were reviewed, changes noted and negotiated, and preparations for the evening were made. The exigencies of contact also had profound implications for “accessibility.” The very proliferation of communications devices made contact so easy that many people devised strategies to restrict their own accessibility to others while simultaneously seeking to maximize their ability to reach people. Thus, maintaining contact was embedded in larger systems of channels and buffers that were generally created for the conflicting goals of being in contact while not being contacted.

On Daily Logistics...

Plans seldom worked out exactly as intended, and fears of retrieving a sick child from school or the fear of forgetting a child somewhere were ubiquitous. Logistics, too, involved considerable analysis and they raised important questions.

On The Crowded Life...

But the result we saw in the lives of the families is less that life speeds up than that it becomes possible to take on more and more responsibilities. Whether it is being “empowered” as a consumer to make more decisions about long distance carriers or as a worker to prepare reports without secretarial help, the people we observed were busy performing activities not contemplated even a decade before. Ironically, even nominally labor saving services could make demands on time.

Mr. Carlsberg, for example, commented that with every purchase came a probability that he would be on a customer service or technical assistance line within a few months. Speed and efficiency might be the popular rhetoric, but crowding and making do all too often describe the reality.

On The Managed Life...
This part is really funny, especially since I could easily imagine doing the same with my family.

This report has already described some imports from the workplace to the home, such as Mrs. Mendoza-Jones’ creation of a family mission statement. Her husband used the protocol he had learned to organize fire-fighting efforts to coordinate his home remodeling projects. In another family, a Gantt Chart was used to coordinate preparation of the Thanksgiving dinner. Other imports from work can be difficult to explicate, as when family members use such techniques as conflict resolution to defuse arguments. Still others can be quite explicit, as when the technical assistant from Mr. Flaherty’s office selected and set up the Palm Pilot he used to keep track of work and family obligations.

On Purchasing Services...

Families made numerous decisions about which activities they would perform and which they would export or “outsource” to various providers. Eating meals at restaurants or “cooking” by picking up a roasted chicken at the supermarket deli on the way home are familiar examples. Hiring gardeners, housekeepers, mechanics, and nannies are nothing new, but somewhat more exotic services are increasingly used. Internet grocery delivery, taxi services that specialize in the timely delivery of children at activities, and even personal assistants who purchase gifts and entertain visiting relatives indicate the range of activities that can be outsourced.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

[HCI-Sec] [Privacy] UC Berkeley to lead $19 million NSF center on cybersecurity research

BERKELEY – The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today (Monday, April 11) that the University of California, Berkeley, will lead an ambitious multi-institution center to protect the nation's computer infrastructure from cyberattacks while improving its reliability.

Collaborators from eight universities around the country will form the new Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology (TRUST), one of two NSF Science and Technology Centers to be funded this year. The TRUST center is expected to receive nearly $19 million over five years, with the possibility of a 5-year, $20 million extension at the end of the initial term.


The academic partners joining UC Berkeley in this effort are Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Mills College, San Jose State University, Smith College, Stanford University and Vanderbilt University. The initiative also brings together industrial and other affiliates, including Bellsouth, Cisco Systems, ESCHER (a research consortium that includes Boeing, General Motors and Raytheon), Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Qualcomm, Sun Microsystems and Symantec.

Monday, April 11, 2005

[HCI] Human Decision Making

Scientific American has an interesting article on how we should shape our policies. Rather than aiming for optimal solutions, we should find robust ones that will give us the most flexibility and most likely good outcomes.

I wonder how this simple idea applies to software design, user interfaces, and so on. In research, we tend to go for fully optimal solutions (but for narrow cases), rather than robust ones that get us 80% of the way there.

Making Policies Robust

Traditional tools such as cost-benefit analysis rely on a "predict then act" paradigm. They require a prediction of the future before they can determine the policy that will work best under the expected circumstances. Because these analyses demand that everyone agree on the models and assumptions, they cannot resolve many of the most crucial debates that our society faces. They force people to select one among many plausible, competing views of the future. Whichever choice emerges is vulnerable to blunders and surprises.

Our approach is to look not for optimal strategies but for robust ones. A robust strategy performs well when compared with the alternatives across a wide range of plausible futures. It need not be the optimal strategy in any future; it will, however, yield satisfactory outcomes in both easy-to-envision futures and hard-to-anticipate contingencies.

This approach replicates the way people often reason about complicated and uncertain decisions in everyday life. The late Herbert A. Simon, a cognitive scientist and Nobel laureate who pioneered in the 1950s the study of how people make real-world decisions, observed that they seldom optimize. Rather they seek strategies that will work well enough, that include hedges against various potential outcomes and that are adaptive. Tomorrow will bring information unavailable today; therefore, people plan on revising their plans.

[Tech] Making your own Google Map

Engadget's HOW-TO: Make your own annotated multimedia Google map

One of the great things about Google maps is it has its roots in XML. To translate for the non-web developers out there, it basically means Google maps are user hackable. This how-to will show you how to make your own annotated Google map from your own GPS data. Plus, you’ll be able to tie in images and video to create an interactive multimedia map. We’ll walk you through the steps we took to generate an annotated map of a walk we took recently through our hometown, now that it’s actually starting to get warm enough to want to walk about!


[Cool] Engineering with Pennies

Lots of amazing structures made out of pennies, without any glue.

[Tech] Cool Craigslist Hack

This hack on Craigslist and GoogleMaps is amazing: the service places all the houses/apartments for rent/sale on Craigslist as waypoints on a Google Map, color-coded by price, with links to the Craigslist ads. Wow.

Here's the Craigslist site itself:

Saturday, April 02, 2005

[Research] NYTimes: Pentagon Redirects Its Research Dollars

I've always wondered why we humans are so short-sighted.

I also have the bad feeling that we're slowly sabotaging ourselves, and this is just yet another symptom of the same "death from a thousand blows" that we've been inflicting on ourselves since 9/11. Short term (and rather meager) gains at the cost of long-term sustainable benefits.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency at the Pentagon - which has long underwritten open-ended "blue sky" research by the nation's best computer scientists - is sharply cutting such spending at universities, researchers say, in favor of financing more classified work and narrowly defined projects that promise a more immediate payoff.


University researchers, usually reluctant to speak out, have started quietly challenging the agency's new approach. They assert that Darpa has shifted a lot more work in recent years to military contractors, adopted a focus on short-term projects while cutting support for basic research, classified formerly open projects as secret and placed new restrictions on sharing information.


The agency cited a number of reasons for the decline: increased reliance on corporate research; a need for more classified projects since 9/11; Congress's decision to end controversial projects like Total Information Awareness because of privacy fears; and the shift of some basic research to advanced weapons systems development.


As a result of the new restrictions, a number of computer scientists said they had chosen not to work with Darpa any longer. Last year, the agency offered to support research by Leonard Kleinrock, a computer scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles who was one of the small group of researchers who developed the Arpanet, the 1960's predecessor to today's Internet.

Dr. Kleinrock said that he decided that he was not interested in the project when he learned that the agency was insisting that he employ only graduate assistants with American citizenship.


That has created problems for university researchers. Several scientists have been instructed, for example, to remove previously published results from Web sites. And at U.C.L.A. and Berkeley, Darpa officials tried to classify software research done under a contract that specified that the results would be distributed under so-called open-source licensing terms.

Friday, April 01, 2005

[Tech] Networks and Productivity

An understated but profound statement about networks and productivity. Makes we wonder how well we can intentionally design such things.

The Erie Canal was an engineering triumph, to be sure. But Bernstein notes that it was also an economic triumph. This was one of the first great American examples of network effects—later seen with the telegraph, telephone, and ultimately the Internet. Connecting more and more people through a system makes the individuals more productive and capable and makes the network itself a powerful economic force.