The Rise and Fall of CORBA

June 20th, 2006

CORBA logo An article in ACM Queue magazine, The Rise and Fall of CORBA, analyzes what happened to the distributed computing technology that held so much promise in the 1990s. It’s written by Michi Henning who worked on CORBA between 1995 and 2002 as a member of the OMG’s architecture board and as an ORB implementer, consultant and trainer. His story touches on many lessons that apply today and will probably always apply to the process of developing new technologies and standards via consortia.

CORBA, an acronym for Common Object Request Broker Architecture, was thought to be the practical, industry-backed solution to building distributed systems — systems that could share data models, information and services. We’re still chasing after that goal.

I/O Brush makes the world your palette

June 18th, 2006

The Media Lab’s I/O Brush is quite amazing. “I/O Brush is a new drawing tool to explore colors, textures, and movements found in everyday materials by “picking up” and drawing with them.”

The brush has a small CCD video camera at the tip ringed by LEDs for illumination. The canvas is a back-projection touch sreen. Spotted on Digital digressions.

An SEO dreams of billions and billions of spam pages

June 18th, 2006

A post from an SEO site claims that web spammers are using techniques to quickly get billions of new pages indexed by Google. I find it hard to believe. Google’s estimated number of results is often much higher than the actual number. This was discussed last Fall when search engines were arguing about who was bigger. While Google no longer reports on the size of their index, educated guesses from last Fall were around 25M. So if a spam site was able over the course of 18 days to add 5B pages, all from the same domain, I think Google would have noticed.

I did notice two interesting this from this post. First, this SEO site’s guess about the technique suggests using blog comment spam as the method to get external links to the web spam pages. Second, the site discussed in the post seems to generate content for all of its sub-domains via a simple call to its own specialized search engine at

Wikipedia editing policy in the news

June 17th, 2006

The NYT has an article on Wikipedia’s editing policy that focuses on the relatively new semi-protection policy. The list of some of the current protected articles is interesting — I’ll have to check out what controversies surround the entries for Boston and Play Station 3. Low-level revision wars must be common. The Wikipedia UMBC entry has seen protracted diagreements about trivial thing, like whether we’re in Baltimore or Catonsville and the comma in our name.

Why are sploggers such poor spellers?

June 16th, 2006

DEAR SPLOGGY: Sploggers and other Web spammers sure are poor spellers. They can’t even spell the key words they’re writing about! Are they stupid or do they just have fat fingers? — PERPLEXED IN SPAM ISLAND

DEAR PERPLEXED: While sploggers may not be too bright and could well be typing with gloves on, these misspellings are common and intentional. Try doing a Google search for las vegss. The results are almost entirely web spam of one kind or another. Web spammers salt their content with misspelled variations on their key words to catch Web searchers who are poor spellers or typing too fast. Some Web spam recognition systems use misspelled words as evidence that a blog or Web page is likely to be spam.

Misspellings are common in email spam, too, but for a different reason. That email message you just got about V1agra is trying to fool your spam filter than teats any mention of Viagra as evidence of spam. Note that the ways that words are mangled tend to differ. Web spam mimics common organic spelling errors — character reversals, mis-keying, simplifications, etc. Email spam favors leetspeak misspellings that look like the target word.

Bill Gates to leave Microsoft

June 15th, 2006

Here is the latest from Microsoft — Gates will transition to his charitable foundation work, handing the reins to Ballmer, Ozzie and Mundie by Jul 2008. Here is the latest from CNN Money:

“Microsoft announced Thursday that chairman and co-founder Bill Gates will transition out of a day-to-day role at the company, effective July 2008, to spend more time working on his charitable foundation.

Gates will then work part-time at Microsoft as chairman and technical adviser and will work full time for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the organization he founded with his wife, which focuses on global health and education.

‘I’ve decided that two years from today, I will reorganize my personal priorities,” Gates said during a news conference, adding,”I have one of the best jobs in the world.’ “

RuBee as RFID 2.0?

June 15th, 2006

RFID tag

We have some project where we are using passive RFID tags and have found the technology to be exciting, but also frustrating. One of the big problems is read errors — you can’t always detect tags present in the environment. Tag visibility varies as the tag’s angle and location changes and the high frequency signals used by most RFID systems are blocked by metal and liquids. Since most living organisms are, to first approximation, liquid, this is a problem.

The IEEE is developing a new standard for wireless, long-wavelength radio tags that will address this and other problems inherent in current HF passive RFID systems. The standard is aimed at applications for healthcare, retail and livestock visibility networks.

As announced by the IEEE

The IEEE has begun work on a new standard, IEEE P1902.1, which will improve upon the visibility network protocol known as RuBee. RuBee is a bidirectional, on-demand, peer-to-peer, radiating, transceiver protocol operating at wavelengths below 450 Khz. This protocol works in harsh environments with networks of many thousands of tags and has an area range of 10 to 50 feet.

One of the advantages of long-wavelength technology is that the radio tags can be low in cost, near credit card thin (1.5 mm), and fully programmable using 4 bit processors. Despite their high functionality, RuBee radio tags have a proven battery life of ten years or more using low-cost, coin-size lithium batteries. The RuBee protocol works with both active radio tags and passive tags that have no battery.

IEEE P1902.1, “IEEE Standard for Long Wavelength Wireless Network Protocol”, will provide for asset visibility networking that fills the gap between the non-networked, non-programmable, backscattered, RFID tags widely used for asset tracking and the high-bandwidth radiating protocols for IEEE 802.11â„¢ local area networks and IEEE 802.15â„¢ personnel area and data networks.

There are some areas where current RFID technology has an advantage. The high frequencies used support a higher bandwidth, so hundreds of tags can be read each second. RuBee tags will be much slower to read, so some applications will not be appropriate.

People involved with the new standards effort predict that products based on the protocol will be available within 12 to 18 months. Both technology vendors and large potential retail users are supporting the development of IEEE P1902.1.

There a number of good news articles out on RuBee including this one from Ziff Davis: RuBee Offers an Alternative to RFID.

Jim Hendler leaving Maryland to join RPI

June 14th, 2006

Professor Jim Hendler is leaving the University of Maryland to join Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute beginning in January 2007. An RPI press release describes his new role at RPI

Hendler will focus the work of the new Tetherless World Constellation on increasing access to information at any time and place without the need for a “tether” to a specific computer or device. Researchers envision an increasingly Web-accessible world in which personal digital assistants (PDAs), cameras, music-listening devices, cell phones, laptops, and other technologies converge to offer the user interactive information and communication.

Jim joined the Maryland College Park campus in 1986 after receiving his Ph.D. from Brown. We will miss him and wish him well at RPI.

Sampling of Global Gas Prices

June 11th, 2006

Here is a sampling of gas prices from around the world in April/May 2006, from an article in CNN Money. The gas price today near my local gas station was 3.03 for Unleaded Regular. Interesting to note that gas price is USD 2.40 in Beijing, China, but USD 4.13 in Mumbai, India.

City Effective Date Price in USD (Regular/Gallon)
Caracas Apr-06 $0.12
Kuwait Apr-06 $0.78
Riyadh Apr-06 $0.91
Buenos Aires May-06 $2.21
Mexico City May-06 $2.25
Beijing May-06 $2.40
Johannesburg May-06 $3.70
Sydney May-06 $3.76
Mumbai May-06 $4.13
Brasilia Apr-06 $4.60
Tokyo May-06 $4.93
Frankfurt May-06 $6.10
Rome May-06 $6.15
Brussels May-06 $6.33
London May-06 $6.36
Hong Kong May-06 $6.54
Oslo May-06 $6.99

By At splog marker”>Another By At splog marker

June 9th, 2006

Pranam noticed the “by at Google” marker for splogs. I just saw a “by at Feedster” one, also.

I tried another splog bait post on The Splog Blog. I thought it would be quickly picked up by splogs, but it has not been used by any! My conclusion is that splog generating systems use Google or Feedster relevance searches to find posts to plagiarize. The original splog bait posts were on the ebiquity site which enjoys a high ranking, unlike The Splog Blog.

Risks of Google’s browser sync

June 8th, 2006

Google Labs
Google has released a Firefox extension that will synchronize the basic settings, including bookmarks, browsing history, persistent cookies, and saved passwords. We all live in our browsers these days and it’s annoying to have the environments differ between office, home and laptop computers. This will make it very convenient.

Note: I installed this on my home computer this morning but have not been able to sync yet. The process keeps timing out, no doubt due to the fact that millions of people have just installed it. Will Google be able to keep up? Each browser instance that has this extension will have to phone home to Google when it starts and exits, at least.

I’m a bit worried about the security and privacy risks. These browser setting reveal a lot about us — what sites we’ve visited and when, what we did on those sites, and passwords to all kinds of Web services. One issue that Google warns you about is that if anyone has access to your browser at home, say, they can see your browser information from work.

You can configure the extension to include or exclude any of the browser components in the sync data. That’s good. You can also decide which ones should be encrypted — by default cookies and passwords are encrypted. That’s even better. I’ve not seen any details on the encryption used, however and since I’ve not yet completed a sync operation am not sure which password is required for authentication (Google account? Firefox password?). The configuration dialog gives you the ability to stop syncing, but I don’t see a way you can delete the saved browser information that Google has.

The cautious among us may not want to give Google even more information about our private lives and activities. In the future, they may come under even more pressure from the US Government or courts to turn over data on their users, with or without a warrant.

Most of us, of course, choose convenience over security and privacy in the end.

Aether Systems, once Baltimore’s favorite, leaving city

June 8th, 2006

Aether SystemsToday’s Baltimore Sun has a story about the departure of Aether, Baltimore’s hottest dot com company back in the bubble. The story also outlines what happened to some of the other Baltimore area dot com bubble companies and the Digital Harbor idea.

Aether was once the darling of Baltimore’s “New Economy.” A wireless communications innovator, it employed more than 1,000 and hoped to lead a shift from the city’s old-line, buttoned-down central business district to the new, tech-savvy “Digital Harbor.” Its founder, at least on paper for a brief while, was richer than Oprah.

Now known as Aether Holdings Inc., the company announced yet another incarnation. Aether, whose market cap once hovered near $7 billion, said it has acquired boutique investment banker UCC Capital Corp. for $10.3 million and will move its corporate headquarters to New York. Aether founder David S. Oros will become board chairman but will no longer run the day-to-day operations.

Aether founder Oros was a UMBC alumnus (Math ‘85) and gave UMBC a generous stock gift once valued at over $10M. Aether also funded a number of joint UMBC-Aether research projects on wireless and mobile computing and hired many of our students before the bubble began to collapse.

Aether had a good vision, strong technical people and a lot of money. It was sad to see them abandon technology and put what cash they had left into mortgage investing. The latest vision is

to transform companies by outsourcing manufacturing to ensure the cheapest production and then focusing on managing the intellectual property by plowing profits back into marketing and research and development.