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WEB SPRAWLING

Just how worldwide is the Web? Internet World Stats answers that by featuring up-to-date population and Internet usage statistics for more than 230 countries and world regions.

  1. Of the 6,412,067,185 estimated people in the world, approximately 13.9 percent, or 888,681,131, use the Internet.
  2. China is the country with the most Internet users—94 million. That is 7.3 percent of their total population.
  3. With only 5.1 percent of the world’s population, North America has 24.9 percent of the world’s Internet users.
  4. Despite a usage growth rate of 198 percent from 2000 to 2005, only 1.5 percent of Africa’s 900,465,411 people are Internet users.
  5. English is the most common language spoken on the Web; it is spoken by 32.8 percent of all Internet users. Chinese is second, spoken by 12.8 percent, and Japanese is third, spoken by 7.6 percent.
  6. 60.5 percent of Dutch- and 55.4 percent of German-speaking people are Internet users.
  7. Of all countries, Sweden has the highest penetration rate, with 73.6 percent of citizens browsing the Web.
  8. Papau New Guinea is the only country where the Internet usage rate has fallen. There are 44.4 percent fewer users now than there were in 2000.
  9. In Somalia, Internet user growth jumped 44,400 percent from 2000 to 2005, the highest percentage growth rate in the world.
  10. Of all countries reporting, Vatican City State had the least number of Internet users with 93.

Source: Internet World Stats, www.internetworldstats.com

FO SHIZZLE

Nerdcore, a hip-hop genre, also dubbed geeksta-rap, lyrically chronicles not the struggles of urban living, but app dev and script compiling. Led by MC Plus+, the self-proclaimed “#1 greatest computer science gangsta rapper ever” and a Purdue University Ph.D. candidate, the geekstas bust rhymes that boast their coding prowess and digital skillz.

To flex street cred, MC Plus+ warns, “like a progress bar that’s gone too far, I’ll crack your skull with a crowbar and compress you to tar.” For the 411 on MC Plus+ and geeksta-rap, go to www.mcplusplus.com.

OBVIOUS
At last month’s JavaOne conference in San Francisco, John Andrews, who heads Evans Data, said Java users are more likely to use opensource software than non-Java users. Eighty percent of heavy Java users (using Java more than 50 percent of the time) and 73 percent of light Java users (less than 50 percent of the time) use open-source software for development, compared to less than 45 percent of non-Java developers, according to Andrews. Also, Java users have more confidence in Linux for mission-critical applications, with 80 percent having enough confidence to use it in such important deployments, compared to less than 50 percent of non-Java users. Andrews presented the research firm’s findings at a Birds of a Feather session.

WINNERS AND LOSERS
The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig, Germany, has cleared a German military software developer for refusing to obey an order when he objected to developing software that potentially could be used in the war in Iraq. The court ruled that the solider’s status as a conscientious objector outweighed the command of his superiors. The soldier, who had been demoted, successfully argued his superiors could not guarantee the software he was developing would not be used in a war that he views as a violation of international law.

MILITARY COMPLEXITY
Forty teams—representing 14 states and Canada—will participate in the semifinal round of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s autonomous ground vehicle competition.

The DARPA Grand Challenge 2005 is a field test of robotic ground vehicles to advance autonomous vehicle technology. The vehicles must travel approximately 150 miles over rugged desert roads using only onboard sensors and navigation equipment to find and follow the route, avoiding obstacles and be the fastest finisher in less than 10 hours.

The Defense Department’s research arm held the event last year, with 15 competitors vying for a $1-million grand prize. The teams raced from Barstow, Calif., to Primm, Nev., but no vehicle finished the route.

This year’s head-to-head action will take place at the California Speedway in Fontana, from Sept. 5 to Oct. 5, where 20 of the 40 teams will compete for the $2-million prize in the Grand Challenge event, set for Oct. 8.

DARPA selected the semifinalists—ranging from individuals, universities, corporations and a high school—from a field of 118 entrants, using results from recent on-site visits conducted by its technical staff. During the site visits, DARPA evaluated each team’s vehicle’s ability to autonomously navigate a narrow 200-meter course with turns and random obstacles.

Semifinalists include: A.I. Motorvators, CyberRider, The Golem Group/UCLA, Indy Robot Racing Team, The MITRE Meteorites, Mojavaton, MonsterMoto, Stanford Racing Team, Team Banzai, Team Overbot and Virginia Tech Team Rocky.

PROBLEM SOLVING

Virtual computer characters, more accustomed to battling deranged alien monsters, are about to take part in a unique social experiment, according to a recent report from New Scientist, a science and technology news service.

Scientists from five European research institutes, who hope to gain insights into the way human societies evolve, are building a society of virtual agents—each with a personality and the ability to learn and communicate.

The project, known as New and Emergent World models Through Individual, Evolutionary and Social Learning (NEWTIES, for short), brings together experts in artificial intelligence, linguistics, computer science and sociology. It is backed by a consortium consisting of the University of Surrey and Napier University in the U.K., Tilberg and Vrije Universities in the Netherlands, and Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, New Scientist reports.

About 1,000 agents will live together in a simulated world hosted on a network of 50 computers at the institutions involved in the research. Each agent will be capable of simple tasks like moving around and building simple structures, but will also have the ability to communicate using randomly generated words and to cooperate with its cohabitants. The researchers hope to watch these characters interact and create their own society from scratch, New Scientist says.

Every character in the simulated world will need to eat to survive, and will be able to learn from its environment through trial and error—learning, for example, how to cultivate edible plants with water and sunlight. In addition, characters will be able to reproduce by mating with members of the opposite sex, and their offspring will inherit a random collection of their parents’ traits.

The project scientists have built half the engine needed to power the virtual world and have begun experimenting with individual agents. They have also adapted a graphical engine used by the popular shoot-em-up game Counter Strike, to render their agents visually, according to New Scientist.

The project is scheduled to end in 2007.

INSIDE DOPE
Enigma machines, the portable crypto machines made famous in countless World War II movies, are extremely rare and expensive, which might explain why they’ve become status symbols for people who made their fortunes in IT. If you have about $1 million lying around, and if you’re lucky, you might be able to pick one up for your mansion in San Jose. Or, if you’re like the rest of us, you’ll settle for a free paper version that you can download from mckoss.com/Crypto/Paper%20Enigma.pdf. Print it out, cut it up and have fun.

If paper and scissors aren’t your thing, download EnigmaSim v4.0.2, a free program with simulations of the three-rotor Wehrmacht and the four-rotor Kriegmarine M4 Enigma machines. You can find it at users.telenet.be/d.rijmenants/en/enigmasim.htm. The simulator is fully compatible with the real Enigma machine, and you can decode original messages and make your own encoded text, according to Dirk Reimers, who developed it.

10 YEARS AGO
In the August 1995 issue of ADT, Dan Kara noticed, “the software industry changes paradigms faster than Madonna changes personas” in “The Many Faces of Component Development Muddle a Succinct Definition.” He offered client/server, 4GLs, CASE, GUIs, BPR, object-oriented methods and the year’s buzz phrase, “component-based development,” as examples that have “been embraced by virtually all development tool vendors, analyst groups and trade show program chairs.”

In “Data Mining: Avoid the Cave-Ins to Find Nuggets of Value,” Dennis Byron compared data mining to “the former U.S. Supreme Court justices’ opinion on pornography.” Ultimately “no one can quite define data mining, but suppliers, consultants and users alike know it when they see it.”

Telecomm giant Sprint was profiled as a “Successful World Class Development Organization.” John Desmond noted that “with legislation pending in Congress to allow other entities to enter the long-distance telephone business…Sprint’s challenge is to retain customer bases and grow the organization in such ways as making worldwide alliances with telecommunications companies in Europe.”

COCKPIT ERROR
Rats gnawed a fiber optic cable, causing an outage at The New Zealand Stock Exchange. The interruption didn’t stop there—a power company posthole digger cut a second cable some hours later.

Damages to the cables affected businesses and private services, cutting data services, retail electronic cash systems, broadband Internet access and mobile phone services. The widespread disruption—lasting for nearly 5 hours—overloaded the landline telephone systems across most of the country. In all, the cable breaks affected about 100,000 customers.

The stock market halted trading for most of the day. It was the third time that data link failures stopped trading in less than a year.

Unable to go after the rats for the damage, Telecom New Zealand is seeking compensation from the electric company it says is responsible for knocking out one of the pipelines, according to the New Zealand Herald.

NEW STUFF

Imation’s new Micro Hard Drive is small enough to fit on a keychain, yet is capable of storing 2GB of data. It’s the world’s smallest hard disk drive, measuring less than 1 inch in diameter, Imation says. The 2GB-model is available now, and the 4GB-model will be available later this year.

PHOTO CREDIT: IMATION

MICROSOFT WATCH
Microsoft’s Office Information Worker Board of the Future recently released predictions of the factors that will drive IT in the next decade. The Board Future is group of 12 university students representing 10 countries who meet debate technology trends, interpret research data and share their perspectives on the future of IT. Here are the group’s top five predictions:

  1. Connectivity will be truly ubiquitous. People will be able to work virtually anyplace, at any time. Firms will support this flexibility, while employees increasingly supply their own connected systems, blurring the line between work life and personal life.
  2. The user interface will become more natural, contextually intelligent adaptive—just better.
  3. Technology at home will be integrated and include all forms of entertainment. Technology’s reach will extend to clothing and housewares, and personal finance will tie to the shopping experience. Consumer technology content) will pour into the workplace.
  4. Learning will be driven by the individual. Increasing job movement lead to greater self-initiated learning through on-demand, continually available forms of education, both formal and informal. The highly dynamic workplace will drive the need for lifelong learning.
  5. Access to information will be smarter. Improved tools for discovering and using information will make possible a collective intelligence, and managers will benefit by making better-informed decisions more easily.

INSECURITY BLANKET
The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has released a series of safeguards intended to protect users against a theoretical attack that could potentially guess the security settings on a pair of devices transferring data via Bluetooth.

In June, two Israeli researchers published a paper in New Scientist describing a way to quickly subvert one of the built-in Bluetooth security mechanisms.

To pull off the security breach, an attacking device would need to listen in to the initial one-time pairing process. From this point it could use an algorithm to guess the security key and masquerade as the other Bluetooth device. What is new in this paper, says the Bluetooth SIG, is an approach that forces a new pairing sequence to be conducted between the two devices and an improved method of performing the guessing process, which brings the time down significantly from previous attacks.

At the moment, it’s all academic, Bluetooth SIG says, but suggests users take the following precautions:

  • When you pair devices for the first time, do this in private—at home or in the office. Avoid pairing devices
    in public places.
  • Always use an eight-character alphanumeric PIN code at minimum. The more characters within your
    code, the more difficult it is to crack. You only have to enter this once, so it is not a hardship given the security benefits that accrue from a longer code.
  • If your devices become unpaired while you are in public, wait, if possible, until you are in a private, secure
    location before repairing your devices.

LEFT/RIGHT BRAIN
To raise awareness about wireless network security, LucidLink added a Flash demonstration to its Web site chronicling the steps hackers take to access a wireless network. Viewers are taken through a step-by-step explanation of a hacker’s activities, including how they capture data about a network, crack the WEP key and read the data without the user’s knowledge.

The demo also breaks down the hacker culture, from the free hacker programs available on the Internet (screen shots from the actual programs are incorporated) to the community sharing of vulnerable networks.

To guard against the types of attacks outlined, LucidLink offers its Home Office Edition, an advanced wireless network security solution.

GOING MOBILE
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers its approval for the .mobi suffix for mobile Web sites. Content makers can register .mobi domains in the first half after current domain owners register their domain with the new Ericsson, T-Mobile, Vodafone and Samsung joined Microsoft and requesting the domain suffix.

The .mobi domain will be used for versions of standard Web sites, as well as sites with special features as location-based services. The first Web sites for mobile devices fit small screens with limited memory and bandwidth.

HELP WANTED
The number of women in IT has declined 18.5 percent since 1996, according to a new study by the International Technology Association of America. Women now compose 32.4 percent of the workforce, down from a high of 41 percent in 1996.

The ITAA study attributes the falloff to the fact that one of every three women in IT held administrative positions that underwent significant declines in recent years. Employers also hired men at a higher rate than women in 2003 and 2004—suggesting women are less likely to return to the workforce as quickly as men.

At worst, the study’s authors believe this trend illustrates a situation in which “women are failing to advance in the managerial and professional ranks, and the IT industry is failing to draw on a critical talent base.”

NOTHING BUT NET
The U.S. Department of Commerce says it will retain control over the Internet’s domain name and addressing system, departing from a previously stated U.S. policy to transfer oversight to Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a private organization with international members.

In an address to the Wireless Communications Association, Michael Gallagher, assistant secretary for telecommunications and information administration, announced a number of principles guiding the federal government’s policy over controlling the Internet’s main traffic-controlling computers.

“Given the Internet’s importance to the world’s economy, it is essential that the underlying DNS of the Internet remain stable and secure,” Gallagher said.

“As such, the United States is committed to taking no action that would have the potential to adversely impact the effective and efficient operation of the DNS and will therefore maintain its historic role in authorizing changes or modifications to the authoritative root zone file.” The policy is indefinite, Gallagher said.

U.S. officials previously said the control of computers that direct e-mail and Web traffic would be handed over to ICANN.

“ICANN is the appropriate technical manager of the Internet DNS,” Gallagher said. “The United States continues to support the ongoing work of ICANN as the technical manager of the DNS and related technical operations and recognizes the progress it has made to date. The United States will continue to provide oversight so that ICANN maintains its focus and meets its core technical mission.”

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