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Communications of the ACM

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Computer science departments at U.S. colleges and universities are facing a depleted teaching staff as more professors test the entrepreneurial waters, reports the New York Times. While the hot economy has created a fair amount of turnover, observers say the current brain drain has not reached a crisis point. Many institutions are feeling the pinch as larger schools tap faculty members from smaller schools and the potential dot-com millions tempt professors to leave campus. Patrick LaMalva, executive director of the Connecticut-based Computing Science Accreditation Board, says a university's location and research facilities play a big role in the competition for computer science professors; a university's close proximity to large technology companies allows those computer science departments to draw on local professionals to serve as adjunct professors. LaMalva predicts that once the high-tech economy cools, many academics will be looking to universities for employment again.

"It is difficult to hold a computer science department together these days. You'd like to keep a lot of that entrepreneurial energy here. Faculty recruiting and retention are difficult. Ten years ago, industrial research labs were the enemy; now it's the lure of startups."
Ed Lazowska, chair of the computer science and engineering department, University of Washington, Seattle.

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Overhaul still lacking

The Environmental Protection Agency's computer systems are "highly vulnerable to tampering, disruption, and misuse," reports the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress. Since February, the E.P.A. has been conducting a security overhaul; previous precautions taken by the E.P.A. to protect its systems were, according to GAO, "riddled with security weaknesses." Investigators, with the intent to test the new security controls, gained access to the E.P.A.'s network, guessed or decoded many passwords, and obtained high-level computer privileges.

"Selling computers to some of these dot-coms is like giving a gun to a five-year-old."
Sun Microsystems manager.

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Spy cooperative

Echelon is the surveillance cooperative that grew out of a cold war agreement between Britain and the U.S. to share intelligence data, and now includes Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The European Union has been sufficiently unnerved by Echelon that it commissioned two reports on its capabilities. And in the U.S., some government officials have been pressing the National Security Agency to demonstrate that Echelon does not spy on ordinary citizens. The concept is simple: linked ground stations collect and share data from orbiting satellites. The exact number of collection sites is unknown, but the following, according to the New York Times, are thought to be the main stations:

  • Yakima, Wa. Located 125 miles southwest of Seattle at the U.S. Army's Yakima Firing Center.
  • Leitrim, Canada. Operated by the Canadian Communications Security Establishment, this site is thought to monitor the skies over Latin America.
  • Sugar Grove, W. Va. Reports of a commercial satellite monitoring operation here first surfaced nearly 20 years ago.
  • Morwenstow, U.K. Operated by Britain Government Communications Headquarters. This site is believed to tap into satellites operating between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
  • Geraldton, Australia. Roughly 200 miles north of Perth. Considered an important site for monitoring North Korea and Pakistan.
  • Wahapai, N. Zealand. This station figured prominently in the latest Echelon report to the European Parliament.

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E-casinos hit jackpot

Any way you roll the dice, cyber gambling is on the upswing. E-gaming revenue will hit $6.3 billion in 2003, up from $1.2 billion in 1999, predicts an analyst at Chistiansen Capital Advisors. Brokerage house Bear Sterns estimates there are some 825 online gaming sites around the world, about 25% more than at the end of 1999.

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Driving out counterfeiters

An image recognition technology has been developed that prevents PCs and color printers from producing bogus bills from templates or high-resolution scans of real ones, reports Business Week. Omron Electronics of Japan has embedded its own anti-counterfeiting technologya fake bill detector used in bill-changing machines that was originally launched in 1963in driver programs for PC printers. If the object to be printed conforms to a checklist of suspicious featuressuch as size, color, pattern, print qualitythe software cancels the print task. This summer, Omron started installing its software in PC printer drivers sold in Japan, where counterfeiting is growing worse every year. The company charges about $1 per modified driver. If counterfeiters try to tinker with the driver, the printer disables itself.

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Polly wants a web link

An Internet browser for parrots? A professor of animal behavior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology is heading up the Interpret Explorer Project, which aims to teach an African gray parrot to surf the Web. Using a four-position joystick and simple console in a Lucite box connected to a modified Web browser, the 20-month-old parrot can choose screen wallpaper and jukebox tunes. The project aims to determine if birds gain the same intrinsic rewards from online interaction as humans. Professor Pepperberg says many of the 8 million parrots living in the U.S. are so smart they are literally bored to self-destruction. "Like children, they need interaction," says Pepperberg.

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