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Quick Study

By Brian Robinson

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White House wants students' brainy broadband ideas

It’s fine to solicit ideas from the crowd, but when you want something that’s really focused on solutions, you need to go directly to the brainy bunch.

At least that’s what I read into the White House’s most recent idea to turn to university graduates for suggestions on killer broadband apps. With the right kind of support, wrote Tom Kalil and Aneesh Chopra on the White House blog, students can once again play the role of innovators.

Kalil, the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s deputy director for policy, and federal chief technology officer Chopra point to a recent Computing Research Association document that details some past student creations: data compression, Ethernet, Unix, spreadsheets, Google and other innovations.

Kalil and Chopra are now suggesting that the time is right for students to once more step into the role of innovators. They say a new initiative could include a number of elements, such as:

  • Campus-based incubators for the development of broadband applications, with access to high-speed networks, cutting-edge peripherals, software development kits and cloud computing services.
  • Relevant courses that encourage multidisciplinary teams of students to design and develop broadband applications.
  • Competitions that recognize compelling applications developed by students. Some existing competitions that could serve as models include Google’s Android Developer Challenge, Microsoft’s Imagine Cup and the Federal Communications Commission/Knight Foundation’s Apps for Inclusion Challenge.

Fair enough. But “once again”? Maybe I’ve gotten the wrong impression in the past few decades. Minus a couple of years during the dot-com fiasco when many university students were looking to sell business plans for gazillions of dollars, I thought universities had consistently been innovating.

Maybe I’m wrong. Put me right if I am.

Posted on Mar 26, 2010 at 7:27 PM1 comments


Cyber war, drug war -- what's the difference?

Some senators introduced a bipartisan bill this week that would require the U.S. government to crack down on countries that harbor cyber criminals by imposing sanctions, if necessary.

The International Cybercrime Reporting and Cooperation Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), is being likened to the beginning of a cyber version of the war on drugs.

Apparently, the president would be required to report annually to Congress on the state of particular countries’ use of information technology in their infrastructure, how much cyber crime is based in that country, what the country is doing to fight cyber crime, etc. The resulting table of cyber crime offenders would then be used to decide what sanctions to apply.

The war on drugs is a good analogy, but the bill is also similar to older efforts to try to stamp out anti-competitive trade practices. In fact, many of the countries that regularly found themselves highlighted in those reports – China, Russia and others – would probably also appear at the top of the cyber crime tables.

One thing that’s different is that the Gillibrand-Hatch bill calls on the United States to focus its carrot-and-stick approach on countries that don’t have much of a cyber infrastructure now, so that any aid the U.S. provides to help them build that infrastructure would be tied to making sure those cyber-poor nations keep the criminals out.

Sounds cool, except that the analogies don’t provide for much optimism. The war on drugs has largely been a failure, and the trade sanctions stuff mainly served to make people mad and resulted in very little real reduction in anti-competitive behavior.

Also, as this Ars Technica story points out, the countries that have reputedly been the most active in hosting domestic hacker/cyber crime efforts – such as China and Russia – don’t get a lot of aid from the U.S. and are only too happy to thumb their noses at us.

A final point: Is this bill, and other legislation like it that will presumably come along, a prelude to a cyber Cold War? I mean, if we are talking about analogies, why not throw that one out there? Once we actually decide on what cyber war is, that seems a natural next step.

Posted on Mar 25, 2010 at 7:27 PM3 comments


NIST to map road to digital record preservation

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is hosting the first part of a really important series of meetings at its Maryland headquarters next week as a first step toward developing a national road map to digital record preservation.

The meetings will bring together government, industry and academic experts on the subject to answer just one question: Can digital preservation repositories be effectively accessible and interoperable across varieties of systems and devices throughout the life cycle of their content?

The answer to that question goes to the core of just about all of the Web 2.0 and subsequent generations of digital technologies. Cloud computing, for example, will not be possible without it.

The second part of the NIST meetings will be held in Dresden, Germany, in April where the same question will be put to the international community, the goal there being to extend this digital preservation road map into the arena of global standards-making.

It looks like March and April will be a grand old time for all of you digital preservation nerds out there. The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access (they really need a sexier title!) will be meeting April 1 in Washington to talk about digital preservation “sustainable practices.”

Have fun, you crazy kids!

Posted on Mar 23, 2010 at 7:27 PM0 comments


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