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Editorial pointers

Editorial Pointers


As much as the idea of abstraction concerns the simplification of the complex, for some it is often a concept simply too complex to grasp. The cover image, for example, is a simple oval shape with a few shadowy indentations. No specific details are necessary; the owl is clearly apparent without them.

In a field known for rows upon rows of literal instructions and extraneous detail, is abstraction even worth considering when the subject is computing programming and design? Jeff Kramer, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and a professor in the Department of Computing at Imperial College London, wonders why it is that some software engineers and computer scientists can produce clear, elegant code while others cannot. He contends a key to the answer lies in abstraction and the programmer's comfort level with such an approach. Using wonderful examples of art images and well-known informational examples to reveal the beauty (and power) of abstraction, Kramer speculates whether the notion is indeed teachable, suggesting university curricula should reflect the need to instill future computing professionals with adequate abstraction skills.

Jeffrey A. Stone and Elinor Madigan tackle another corner of academic preparedness: the technological acumen of first-year students. At a time when more universities are encouraging the use of information and communication technologies for student learning, it appears a significant number of incoming freshmen lack the skills to survive. Indeed, they report how students' perceptions of their technical skills are woefully out of touch with reality. Their study raises questions about the role of state curricula standards.

Green et al. discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Active Intrusion Prevention in securing computer networks and how it can be applied to a predictive model that may have a significant impact on detecting if and when hostile network attacks might occur. Ceri et al. examine the use of Web marts in creating technologies that enhance the accessibility of Web sites. And Dianne Hall and David Paradice illustrate the ways personal biases steal into system designs and how the use of a "debiasing" component in decision support systems may be one answer to incorporating different considerations and perspectives into the mix.

Two articles this month tell of the challenges e-businesses face in meeting (and anticipating) customer support. Levent Orman explores customer support systems as the next step in business-consumer relationships. It is a step that demands the combined power of several technologies to create new organizational structures. Dorit Nevo and Michael Wade warn it is not enough to build organizational information systems that work; system designers must foresee what stakeholders expect from the system and ensure the design delivers.

And, on page 26, we are pleased to present the inaugural list of ACM's distinguished members.


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