Thursday, April 28, 2005

Wired News: Feds Rethinking RFID Passport

It looks like enough bad publicity and folks in the know asking, "what the hell were you thinking?", was enough to get the State Department to reconsider their RFID plan for passports. They still want RFID chips, but they are now open to encrypting the data and placing the decryption key information on the passport. Decrypting the data would require scanning the passport (i.e., physical contact, like swiping a credit card). This allows the holder to know when his or her data is being read. It of course doesn't explain the need for the RFID chip in the first place.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

CIO Today: Network Security - Apple Mythology and Desktop Security

A very well-written article at CIO Today, linked from the title above. The author makes one of the first mentions I've heard in a trade journal of the security risks of Intel hardware, regardless of OS, and the benefits of switching to non-Intel (e.g., PowerPC) hardware, again regardless of OS. He also attempts to drive a stake through the heart of the "Macs are expensive" myth. The closing quote from the article:

In other words, if security concerns are your most important driver for desktop change, and Microsoft Office compatibility is your most significant barrier, then switching to Macs actually offers you the best of all possible worlds. Microsoft Office on Unix/Risc with a better GUI, longer product life, some cash savings and a performance bonus thrown in.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Computerworld: What IT Women Want

Computerworld had a discussion with a group of "highly successful businesswomen" after their participation in a forum sponsored by the New Jersey chapter of the Society for Information Management. They discussed the (declining) participation of women in information technology careers. Some interesting points, with editorial comments from yours truly:

  • The very familiar forecast of massive looming shortage of professionals. You know, folks are always saying that there will be a shortage of computer professionals X years from now, where X>0 and never seems to decrease. Yes, developers were getting some pretty outrageous benefits during the dot com bubble, but that was merely a symptom of a mania, not a structural shortage of workers. Not to say that a career in CS or IT isn't a good choice, but a "35 million-person labor shortage" by 2031 is just a crazy forecast (like the dot com forecasts of Dow 20K).
  • "If I get a call from a client and there's a crisis, but the next call is the nurse at my child's school, am I going to hop on a plane and fly to Chicago or get in the car and drive to the school? Many women would choose to go to the child. If society wants women to make that choice, how do we handle that in terms of our need to excel in our careers?" And why would we expect a man to ditch his kid and get to work? Society's mouth may say "choose to go to the child," but its lips say, "get your priorities straight" (the job should come first).
  • Much of the discussion focused on hiring and career development, rather than the front end of the pipeline: why fewer and fewer women are choosing CS and IT careers.

Improving SCI submissions: A mathematical theory of citing

What with all the recent talk about fake CS papers, the linked physics paper caught my attention. I don't mean that I think the paper is fake, merely that it raises some interesting possibilities for improving the quality of fake papers (in terms of the statistics of their citations).

Monday, April 18, 2005

A CS gotcha

As Suresh at The Geomblog alerts, those unethical grad students who wrote SCIgen have been found out and their paper post hoc rejected. At least they got their money back. They are still looking to present at the conference, so if you've got a paper accepted and weren't planning to attend, please contact them. In his reply to the students, Prof. Nagib Callaos says:

I am not sure how unethical are these bogus submissions, and if there is some way to detect all of them in a large conference.
He's probably right that there is no way to ensure that no paper built upon falsified results gets ever accepted, but I know how patently bogus papers can be detected: by actually reviewing them. A reviewer who reads the submissions will be able to detect, for example two papers, combined sentence by sentence, so that the text alternates line by line between two topics.

The life of an academic

A bit of a common thread in today's reading:

I'm doing something wrong. In the past few months, my weekly schedule has filled up with back-to-back appointments. I'm wedging meetings in everywhere. I don't even have time to eat. Aren't professors supposed to spend all their time outside of class at the corner cafe discussing Chomsky over espressos and cigarettes? With summers off, so that the discussion can be continued at a cafe in Provence?
    -- A Gentleman's C, "What's wrong with this picture?"
I’m stressed out. I’ve been stressed out for a long time now. I can’t even recall last time I was laid back.
    -- Daniel Lemire’s blog, "Managing stress: I want to live past 50"
Competition can be a good thing: thinking about our colleagues' work can goad us to achievements that we otherwise wouldn't have reached or would have reached months or years later. But at what price? We see competitive athletes risking their health with steroids as a relatively new phenomenon, but sacrificing one's health has been de rigeur in academia for a long time. And we can't even say, like a businessperson might, that there are financial rewards for this. And yet, the extraordinary has now become the expected, as it becomes not uncommon to hear things such as (from a colleague at an anonymous science department), "We wouldn't hire a woman unless she's already won a Nobel Prize. Women just don't work hard enough." There it is: the expectation that university faculty will sacrifice their personal lives, their family lives, their health, to get out another paper, another grant proposal, be on another committee, (and at some schools) teach another course.

Intelligent Design Humor

I just about fell out of my chair laughing when I saw the photo of the "office suite" of the International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design in Princeton, NJ, linked to from this post's title.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Automatic CS Paper Generation and Bogus Conferences

The title above links to a web page about SCIgen - An Automatic CS Paper Generator: a program that generates fake computer science research papers. This came to my attention via an email about a boing boing article about it. The reason I'm blogging about this is that reminded me about my own first encounter with the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics, back in 2002. This conference poses as a serious interdisciplinary conference, but actually only seems to serve to make money for the organizers. At the time, I found information about the conference at this web page and this web page (courtesy of the internet wayback machine), the latter which presents a company with the same name as the conference's seemingly permanent General Chair, Nagib Callaos, that has a seminar speaker (follow the "management seminars" link) who seems to be the conference's permanent Program Committee Chair, William Lesso.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

As Big Brother goes digital

Amplifying on a previous post of mine, the title links to an article from EE Times about RFID chips in passports. Briefly, the Administration saw that they couldn't get this past Congress, so instead they got the International Civil Aviation Organization to agree to it and used that agreement to get Congress to approve making US passports adhere to the new "international standard". The problem with these chips is twofold:

  1. The data is stored unencrypted, so anyone (not just governments) can read it.
  2. Because RFID is used (rather than a method requiring physical contact), the data can be retrieved remotely, without knowledge of the passport carrier.
This raises the possibility of such passports being a "dream" for identity thieves and terrorists: the ability to read large amounts of identity information (including nationality) remotely and discreetly. If such technology gets incorporated into daily-use IDs (such as driver's licenses, implicit in the "Real ID Act"), then it becomes feasible for governments and corporations to track the movements of individuals as they pass by RFID readers embedded in doorways, elevators, buses, light poles, whatever.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The story of a plagiarist

Well, it seems I'm late to a party that everyone else has already blogged about and left, but what the hell. The title above links to the start of a story by Nate Kushner about his being contacted by a stranger to write a paper for her to hand in for an assignment in a college course. To make a long story short, idle hands are the Devil's workshop, and Nate writes her a bogus paper, gets her name and college information, and then rats her out.

I, unfortunately, have experience with plagiarism from the receiving end. The method used by this student may have been unusual -- it's an unfortunate fact that there exist web sites that cater to matching plagiarists with people to do their work for hire. (Note to my students: I know about these sites, and troll them for solicitations for my own class assignments.) While I sympathize with the stress that a student may feel (though, in the case here, it seems more likely that this was S.O.P. for the student in question), there is no getting around the fact that plagiarism is as much theft as robbing a convenience store.