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March 17, 2006

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

CFP 2006 Explores Computer Freedom and Privacy Issues
Association for Computing Machinery (03/17/06)

Amid debates over government surveillance of citizens, the amassing of personal information databases, and Internet censorship, ACM's Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2006 conference will explore the technologies at the epicenter of these issues. The CFP 2006 conference, titled "Life, Liberty and Digital Rights," will be held May 2-6, at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. Panels, discussions, workshops, technical demonstrations and keynote speakers will tackle many information technology security and privacy issues culled from todays headlines. Participants include internationally acclaimed experts on electronic voting, government surveillance, Internet governance, digital rights management, adware and spyware, and federal privacy laws, among others. The conference also features tutorials, plenary and concurrent sessions, and provocative Birds-of-a-Feather sessions. Highlights of the conference include the Big Brother Awards and the EFFs Pioneer Awards, which recognize milestones as well as dubious distinctions in the online world. For more information about CFP, or to register for the conference, visit http://www.cfp2006.org
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Association for Computing Machinery Honors International Authority in Logic Programming, Artificial Intelligence
AScribe Newswire (03/16/06)

ACM has honored Jack Minker with the ACM/AAAI Allen Newell Award for his advancements in logic-based computer science methods and his contribution to scientific discourse. Minker has tirelessly advocated freedom and human rights for scientists working in countries with oppressive regimes throughout his career. Viewed as a founding father of deductive database programming, Minker has edited and co-edited numerous books on that subject, as well as logic programming and the potential application of logic in artificial intelligence. Minker also led the fight to liberate scientists Anatoly Shcharansky and Aleksandr Lerner from the Soviet Union, and campaigned to deliver medical aid to Andrei Sakharov and his wife while they were exiled in Gorky. Minker has served as vice chairman of ACM's Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights, published extensively in Communications of the ACM, and received ACM's Outstanding Contribution Award in 1985 for his contribution to human rights. Minker, an ACM Fellow, has chaired the NSF's Computer Science Advisory Board and served as a member of the NASA Study Group for Machine Intelligence and Robotics. Minker will receive the Allen Newell Award at the annual ACM Awards Banquet on May 20 in San Francisco. For more information, visit http://campus.acm.org/public/pressroom/press_releases/3_2006/newell.cfm< br> Click Here to View Full Article
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Tech Industry Asks for Government Help
eWeek (03/15/06) Carlson, Caron

Citing fears that the United States is in danger falling behind emerging countries such as China and India, Intel Chairman Craig Barrett and IBM's John Kelly appealed to lawmakers at a March 15 hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to initiate legislation that will bolster science and math education, improve broadband deployment, and elevate the budgets of the NSF and other research groups. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said that 90 percent of the scientists and engineers in the world will live in Asia by 2010. Ensign and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) are sponsoring legislation to address the industry's concerns, and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is expected to introduce his own legislation this year dealing with education, energy reform, and health reform. Norman Augustine, retired CEO of Lockheed Martin, told the panel that the current condition was a long time in the making, and that it would not be resolved overnight. Augustine highlighted the industry's declining focus on research as companies are motivated increasingly by short-term profits and are funneling more money into product development than basic research. "Industry is abandoning slowly the R part of R&D," Augustine said, calling for government to pick up the slack.
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Internet Panel Mulls Defenses Against New, Potent Attacks
Associated Press (03/16/06) Bridis, Ted

A new form of cyberattack being dubbed by some as "distributed reflector denial of service" that focuses on the computers that help direct Internet traffic worldwide will be a focus of ICANN's security committee at its upcoming meeting in New Zealand. The attacks, though similar in nature to typical denial of service ones, are far more potent, requiring fewer hacked computers to launch and much simpler to amplify. Researchers have detected around 1,500 such attacks first launched late last year that briefly shuttered commercial Web sites, large ISPs, and leading Internet infrastructure firms. VeriSign chief security officer Ken Silva said that attacks earlier this year used just 6 percent of the Internet's more than a million name servers to flood networks but that the attacks in some instances outpaced 8 gigabits per second, a mega-assault by typical standards. ICANN security committee head Steve Crocker says, "It's like they built a better bomb by having it enriched." Columbia University Internet researcher Steven M. Bellovin says, "A lot of this stuff will take a while to clean up.'' Possible fixes to vulnerabilities include filters that block out forged data traffic and new limits on specialized name server computers.
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Google Prevails in Copyright Fight
Wall Street Journal (03/17/06) P. B4; Delaney, Kevin J.

A lawsuit accusing Google of copyright infringement, defamation, and other instances of wrongful conduct was dismissed by federal Judge R. Barclay Surrick on March 10. Internet publisher Gordon Roy Parker filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, alleging that Google's archiving of copyright material Parker posted on the Usenet community of electronic bulletin boards constituted a breach of copyright, and that its inclusion of excerpts from his site in its search results was an act of copyright infringement. Surrick maintained in his ruling that those activities, along with Google's caching of Web pages, was not infringement, and he cited a January decision in Nevada District Court supporting Google's practice of making copies of cached Web pages accessible to users via its search results. Thelen Reid & Priest attorney William Patry noted that the Parker decision dismissed the claims of copyright infringement without raising the issue of "fair use." However, some legal experts said Parker's ruling did not establish binding precedent by definition, and they did not concur on whether his decision demonstrates any trend in judicial analysis, when weighed against other recent court opinions in lawsuits filed against Google. Last month, a Los Angeles federal judge concluded that Google's image-search service probably infringed on the copyrights of the Perfect 10 adult-entertainment company by displaying thumbnails of its images, but he dismissed Google's liability when users clicked on the images and gained access to third-party sites showing pictures purloined from Perfect 10. Google litigation counsel Michael Kwun declared that Surrick's decision establishes the consistency between Google's service and copyright law principles, but Parker, who plans to appeal the ruling, claimed that Google's "entire business model is based on freeloading on other people's content."
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Model-Driven Development, AJAX Shortcomings Aired
InfoWorld (03/15/06) Krill, Paul

While acknowledging the popularity of AJAX and model-driven software development, speakers at the SD West 2006 conference agreed that both technologies are far from mature. Microsoft's Jack Greenfield said that model-drive development needs to integrate more fully with patterns and frameworks. "I don't believe in high-level models where I push a big red button and it generates a lot of stuff that I'm expected to live with," said Greenfield. Modeling can also suffer from a knowledge gap if only one or two people on a development team are familiar with the technology. Greenfield argues for the adoption of best practices to enable modeling to fulfill its promise of creating systems without reinventing existing technologies. Greenfield argued that OMG Model Driven Architecture does not actually have an architecture, relying instead on the Unified Modeling Language. The speakers and attendees noted that metadata management and hiring practices are critical to the successful deployment of model-driven development. When asked about using Eclipse technology in modeling, Compuware's Joe Kern said the MetaObject Facility has more power and enables more functions than Eclipse. In a panel discussion of AJAX, an exchange between an audience member and a presenter focused on the shortcomings of JavaScript. The presenter, author Christian Gross, agreed that the current version of JavaScript suffers from limited extensibility, maintainability, and enforcement, but noted that an unreleased JavaScript 2.0 that resolves many of those problems exists, though he could not explain why it has not yet been released. Gross also noted that the AJAX vendors are out of touch with the community of users.
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H-1B Visa Cap Hike Sought in Immigration Bill
Computerworld (03/15/06) Thibodeau, Patrick

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 includes a provision to increase the H-1B visa cap from 65,000 to 115,000 and make it easier for foreign nationals with advanced degrees to gain permanent residency. Although the bill would eliminate the 20,000 H-1B visas for advanced degree holders, there are provisions that would increase the 115,000 cap once it has been reached. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is debating the bill, which could make its way to the full Senate as early as the end of March. However, the fate of the bill is uncertain because of the wide range of issues it covers, including immigration policy and security, which makes it controversial. Advocates of increasing the number of H-1B visas say they will look to another bill if the legislation fails in the Senate. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers opposes an increase in the cap, but believes the permanent residency process should be eased for foreign workers. The U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services will start accepting H-1B applications for the fiscal year 2007 on April 1, and the cap is expected to be reached at the record-setting pace of a year ago--in five months--or faster.
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Let Me Hear Your Body Talk: UH Scientists Mine Biomedical Data
University of Houston News (03/15/06)

A team of five researchers from the University of Houston is attempting to train computers to obtain health information from their users in an NSF-funded study. Through computer-powered non-invasive imaging applications, the researchers are studying brain activity, human learning, and cognitive impairment, as well as facial-expression analysis and biometric security. "The project will involve a hybrid software system designed to acquire, analyze, integrate, securely store, and visualize large volumes of data obtained from a human subject in real time," said George Zouridakis, associate professor of computer science and project leader. Zouridakis and his team are building on existing information technology practices to develop software tools for practical application in biomedicine. Each of the five researchers has a different area of specialization and works in a different lab. The grant is designed to bring their diverse perspectives together, such as Zouridakis' work with dense-array scanners to analyze the electrical, magnetic, and infrared features of brain activity and computer science professor Marc Garbey's work in high-performance computing and computational life sciences. Associate professor Ioannis Kakadiaris is the founder and director of the Computational Biomedicine Lab, home to pioneering research in cardiovascular informatics and multispectral biometrics. Associate professor Ioannis Pavlidis directs the Computational Physiology Lab, and has developed a computer system to conduct touchless physiological monitoring. Assistant professor Ricardo Vilalta's research has focused on massive data analysis in the hopes of extracting meaningful patterns. The researchers will collect data from test subjects with sophisticated sensing systems such as thermal cameras, multimodality brain activity scanners, and 3D geometry video cameras.
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High-Def's Got Nothing on This Machine
Collegiate Times (03/15/06) Berger, Michael

Researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute's Center for Human Computer Interaction are trying to create a monitor system containing as many pixels as possible in an attempt to optimize the amount of information displayed on a set amount of space. Assistant professor Christopher North leads the Gigapixel Lab, which has already developed a display that contains more than 30 million pixels and spans across 24 reconfigurable monitors, as well as a rear-projection system that includes 18 monitors. North says the lab already has the equipment to build a 50-touch screen display. North and his team have developed new hardware and programs to interact with the displays, such as mice that can quickly navigate across screens and a 3D tracking system that uses overhead cameras and gloves to direct the cursor across the screen in accordance with the user's movements. Andrew Sabri, a senior computer science major, is adapting open-source code to run on the displays. So far, he has modified a version of Warcraft and made Quake run on the 24-monitor display.
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Coding Tool Is a Text Adventure
Wired News (03/15/06) Norton, Quinn

During the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego last week, developer Matt Webb introduced a new software tool that enables programmers to contribute to the development of code in a collaborative environment. Webb says the difficulty of solving programming problems when he often does not work in the same physical location as his partner Jack Schulze prompted the development of the collaborative programming environment. The tool, called playsh, is based on the popular multi-user domains (MUDs) of the early 1990s, and is similar to old text games like "Zork" in that descriptions such as "north" need to be typed to move north, and "look" would need to be typed to examine an object. Users do not interact with graphics, but rather the program code, data, and hardware devices. "It treats the Web and APIs as just more objects and places, and is a platform for writing and sharing your own code to manipulate those objects and places," says Webb. The tool resembles the customizable form of a MUD known as a MOO (MUD object-oriented), which allows participants to program objects into a virtual world to create them and develop a game as they go along. Written in Python, playsh provides a basic description of rooms and a Python interpreter that users in rooms can access, as they contribute to the code and interact with objects and each other.
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In Search of a True Multimedia Experience
IST Results (03/14/06)

In an effort to manage the competing demands of power consumption and picture quality when streaming data, the IST-funded BETSY project is developing a methodology and implementation framework to optimize the trade-offs. Set to conclude in February 2007, the project intends to stream multimedia content to wireless mobile devices built to conform to network conditions and the availability of terminal power, reducing energy consumption by as much as 20 percent. "Today, the quality of audio-video and gaming in prototypes of wireless networked embedded devices is not comparable to the high quality that people are used to from their traditional TV and audio sets," said Harmke de Groot of Philips Research, who also serves as project coordinator. "The project's results will enable users to enjoy multimedia experiences with freedom of movement in a networked home or hotspot." Multimedia streaming technology is in increasing demand as homes are becoming networked environments and a mobile consumer base is increasingly dependent on wireless hotspots. BETSY evaluated scenarios that mirror typical networking occurrences, analyzing such factors as energy restrictions, shared bandwidth, and wireless network links. De Groot says the project seeks to improve the overall quality of the streaming framework through the use of the video model. The researchers are exploring how to control breezes, the groups of units that control data streams, potentially spanning different formats and devices, that do not need to be synchronized with streaming. BETSY has the potential to modify the configuration of the functional components of access points and base stations, alter breezes to react to external distortions, and oversee the load distribution and prioritization in the networked home. Project participants are also designing a software control framework to facilitate run-time trade-offs.
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Researchers: Impact of Censorship Significant on Google, Other Search Engine Results
Network World (03/15/06)

Country-specific search engines that have free-speech restrictions often produce different results for searches, according to researchers from Indiana University. Filippo Menczer, associate professor of informatics and computer science, and Mark Meiss, a computer science doctoral student, are behind the CenSEARCHip project, which comes at a time when Google, Yahoo!, and MSN are developing different versions of their search engines for specific countries. Menczer and Meiss have set up a Web site that details the differences in the query results generated by such search engines, and provides side-by-side query results. Meiss says conducting a search on political topics such as human rights and democracy will lead to different result in queries. Although the U.S. search site would provide text references and images of the Chinese government crackdown on protestors, in response to a query on Tiananmen Square, the Chinese site would deliver results primarily for hotel and tourist information. "We wanted to explore the results returned by major search engines and in doing so to foster an informed debate on the impact of search censorship on information access throughout the world," says Menczer.
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Mobiles May Beam Cheap Broadband to Bush
Australian Broadcasting Corp. News (03/13/06) Salleh, Anna

New-generation personal computers and mobile phones have the potential to bring more affordable wireless broadband services to areas with low population numbers, according to Dr. Mehran Abolhasan of the University of Wollongong. Abolhasan, a telecommunications and computer engineering specialist, is the head of a project that will attempt to use an ad-hoc network to bring cheap broadband access to an indigenous community in Western Australia during the second half of the year. The ad-hoc network will make use of small portable computer devices, such as PCs and mobile phones, to transmit and receive microwave signals, and act as nodes for a communications network. The use of inexpensive technology to communicate wirelessly between units and free open-source software would keep the cost down for broadband in remote communities, according to Abolhasan. He also likes the decentralized approach because the devices would still be able to communicate with each other and re-route messages if a unit breaks down. Abolhasan believes the ad-hoc network would be able to extend existing infrastructure such as a satellite network to individual homes, and facilitate communications locally such as the operation of a broadband television station from a community center. Such networks need little power and can run on solar energy. "If it works in the outback, it should work just about anywhere," Abolhasan says of technology he believes could be available within three to five years.
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Calit2 Researchers Deploy Disaster Communications Network at San Diego Mardi Gras Festivities
UCSD News (03/13/06) Curran, Maureen C.; Ramsey, Doug

Researchers from the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) teamed up with San Diego law enforcement to create a wireless mesh network, stringing together wireless boxes, cameras, laptops, cell phones, and a satellite dish to provide real-time information to first responders during Mardi Gras festivities. The tests of the network during Mardi Gras proved that it could be used to disseminate video feeds and other information during an emergency or disaster. "This was the real world converging with research, prototyping, developing, and improving tools," said Calit2 UCSD director Ramesh Rao, a professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Jacobs School of Engineering. To simulate disaster conditions, the researchers acted as if the communication network in a 24-block area of downtown San Diego was already down when setting up the network. Each camera installed contained a networking box to link back to the police command center, and police can monitor the video feeds on their cell phones. The small screen made it difficult to see in great detail, but the camera feeds to the police command posts were of high quality. Police also tested a wireless system for tracking the locations of fellow officers and equipment. While inclement weather forced the researchers to outfit the equipment with hastily assembled rain gear, the system met their expectations and all the devices functioned satisfactorily.
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Beyond Benchmarking
HPC Wire (03/17/06) Vol. 15, No. 11,Feldman, Michael

The Performance and Architecture Lab (PAL) at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is exploring new methods to analyze and predict the performance of supercomputers. Predicting and calibrating performance can help inform budget and procurement decisions at LANL, as well as its government sponsors, such as DARPA and NNSA. PAL team leaser Adolfy Hoisie notes that benchmarking is no longer sufficient to deal with the complexities of performance modeling that must now address application workload, hardware architecture, and the operating system. PAL can model a broad array of clustered systems containing various processors, interconnects, and other pieces of hardware. Hoisie says that his researchers discovered that the LANL's ASCI Q supercomputer was only operating at half its potential capacity and located the specific sources of performance degradation. The model is so thorough because it tracks the performance of complete applications to produce a model of optimal performance. LANL focuses particularly on computational biology, astrophysics, and global climate modeling. LANL researchers have specifically been looking at ways to make hardware accelerators more heterogeneous. With its multicore architecture, IBM's Cell Broadband Engine was an early example of an integrated heterogeneous system. Hoisie predicts that the next crop of petaflop machines will continue to comprise clustered nodes of steadily increasing processor counts and new high-speed interconnect fabric. Working closely with IBM, PAL also assessed the future of the Blue Gene architecture. While the researchers continue to center their attention on Linux, they are considering a future where today's Linux operating model is impractical for systems containing thousands of processors.
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One Language to Bind Them All
Software Development Times (03/01/06)No. 145, P. 27; O'Brien, Larry

A battle for a new form of programming--.NET programming--will be fought, using the C# programming language as the battleground. C# is expected to be the language that is most tightly calibrated to the underlying Common Language Infrastructure (CLI) platform, allowing the language to continue its domination of .NET programming. Language Integrated Query (LINQ) will largely reign over the next iteration of C# and the transition to .NET programming. But even prior to that, Microsoft's WinFX, the next-generation application programming interface (API) for Windows operating systems, will spotlight the CLI and C#. The integration of the CLI and SQL Server 2005 functioned as the testbed of C# and the CLI's ability to be employed in the toughest environments, while sources within Microsoft say the needs of the SQL server team helped the CLI and Base Class Library teams address quality and performance issues and create enhancements. The integration demonstrates that C# and managed code subsystems can be blended into massive codebases with challenging performance requirements. Managed code will be the platform of choice for the bulk of Windows development with the emergence of WinFX.
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Hollywood: The Revenge
New Scientist (03/11/06) Vol. 189, No. 2542, P. 42; Fox, Barry

Accompanying the release of new blue-laser discs that can record and store high-definition movies is renewable copy protection, a means for Hollywood studios to update copy safeguards on consumer disc players with no need for a phone line or Internet link. Playing a disc triggers the duplication of encrypted data onto the player and the upgrade of anti-piracy software, but people warn that unforeseen consequences could provoke a consumer backlash. The possibility that the technology may unintentionally render players incapable of playing new or favorite discs is one fear, but such problems will not become evident until the technology is widely used. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Seth Schoen reports that two issues should be of concern to customers: The risk of accidental equipment breakage, and the risk that the entertainment companies will elect to remove functionality that the product has at the time of purchase. Cryptography Research offers Self-Protecting Digital Content (SPDC) as an alternative to renewable copy protection: SPDC conceals a computer program on every disc that interrogates the player's hardware and software before the disc is played, and temporarily halts playback and displays movie studio contact details on the screen if anything anomalous is detected.
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The Elusive Goal of Machine Translation
Scientific American (03/06) Vol. 294, No. 3, P. 92; Stix, Gary

Software developers contend that machine translation (MT) is starting to approach human-level performance thanks to brute-force computing techniques. Slow progress in this area since the first MT experiments in the 1950s led to a scarcity of funding and enthusiasm, while Systrans, the largest MT company currently in existence, saw only $13 million in annual revenue for 2004 because of the shortcomings of its rules-based system. Such systems require language specialists and linguists in specific dialects to arduously produce large lexicons and rules relating to semantics, grammar, and syntax. Statistical MT uses brute-force calculation to crunch through existing translated documents to ascertain the probability that a word or phrase in one language corresponds to another. Using statistics to gauge how frequently and where words occur in a given phrase in both languages provides a word reordering template for the translation model. A language model uses its own statistical analysis of English-only texts to predict the most likely word and phrase ordering for the already-translated text; thus, the probability that a phrase is correct directly reflects how often it occurs in the text. The differences between statistical MT and rules-based MT are fading slightly as statistical MT researchers have begun to employ methods that account for syntax, and that eliminate the intercession of linguists. Nevertheless, "The use of statistical techniques, coupled with fast processors and large, fast memory, will certainly mean we will see better and better translation systems that work tolerably well in many situations, but fluent translation, as a human expert can do, is...not achievable," says Keith Devlin of Stanford University's Center for the Study of Language and Information.
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