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March 20, 2006

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Welcome to the March 20, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Upstarts and Rabble Rousers
San Francisco Chronicle (03/20/06) P. E1; Abate, Tom

Tomorrow, Stanford University will honor its four decades' worth of computer science pioneers and visionaries who have been integral to the Silicon Valley economy, such as artificial intelligence expert John McCarthy. ACM President David Patterson applauded Stanford's celebration of its own, noting that the school deserves special recognition for being the first to define computer science as a discipline and for its longstanding tradition of practical research. "What sets Stanford apart is the startup culture," said Patterson. "I have this sense that it's an almost unwritten rule that you have to start a company to be a successful professor at Stanford." At its "Upstarts and Rabble Rousers" panel, Stanford will recognize alumni Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, and Jerry Yang, who co-founded Yahoo!. The event will also recognize the creation of MIPS, Silicon Graphics, and Evite.com. Looking to an earlier era, Stanford will recognize Pierluigi Zappacosta, who left the university and went on to co-found Logitech in 1981. Stanford's event will also feature presentations gazing into the future of technology, said William Dally, chairman of the computer science department. Dally envisions the unchecked migration of computers into more areas of people's lives, intensifying the demand for computer scientists. He is frustrated at the often reported perception that computer jobs are disappearing and the image of the "Dilbert-like characters chained to their workstations all day."
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Association for Computing Machinery Honors Pioneers of Verification Tools for Safe, Secure Software
AScribe Newswire (03/16/06)

ACM has named Robert S. Boyer, J Strother Moore, and Matt Kaufmann, all of the University of Texas at Austin, the winners of its Software Systems Award. Boyer, Moore, and Kauffman are the developers of the Boyer-Moore Theorem Prover, a formal tool that computer scientists have used to verify the safety and security of critical hardware and software. Such a tool is helpful when dealing with applications such as embedded medical devices, spacecraft and aircraft controls, and autonomous vehicles such as self-driving cars. The award, which carries a $10,000 prize, was created to honor institutions and individuals who have developed software systems that have been influential over the years in their concepts and commercial acceptance. According to the award citation, the latest version of the tool, ACL2, is "the only simulation/verification system that provides a standard modeling language and industrial strength model simulation in a unified framework." Boyer is a professor in the Computer Sciences, Mathematics, and Philosophy Departments; Moore holds the Admiral B.R. Inman Centennial Chair in Computing Theory; and Kaufmann is a senior research scientist. They will be honored at the annual ACM Awards Banquet on May 20, 2006, in San Francisco, Calif. For more information about ACM's Software Systems Award and this year's recipients, visit http://campus.acm.org/public/pressroom/press_releases/3_2006/software.cfm
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East Africa Technology Information Project Receives Association for Computing Machinery Humanitarian Award
AScribe Newswire (03/16/06)

ACM has named the project leaders of the Nakuru Local Urban Observatory (LUO) in Kenya as the winners of the 2005 Lawler Award for Humanitarian Contributions. Albrecht Ehrensperger of the Center for Development and Environment of the University of Berne, Switzerland, and Solomon Mbuguah and Ernest Siva of the Municipal Council of Nakuru will receive the Eugene L. Lawler Award for Humanitarian Contributions Within Computer Science and Informatics during the annual ACM Awards Banquet, May 20, 2006, in San Francisco. Through user-friendly software, the Nakuru LUO project has provided its Kenyan community with a spatial information tool that is able to store, retrieve, map, and analyze geographic data. The community, which has never had data on sanitation, water supply, and other public facilities before, is now able to use a global information system (GIS) for town planning initiatives. The geographical information database, which can be assessed at libraries, schools, and non-governmental agencies, also serves as a tool for obtaining local news and other services. ACM introduced the award, which includes a $5,000 prize, in 2000, and it is given every two years. For more information on the ACM Lawler Award and this year's recipients, visit http://campus.acm.org/public/pressroom/press_releases/3_2006/lawler.cfm< br> Click Here to View Full Article
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FOSS Community, Disabled Users Must Learn to Communicate
NewsForge (03/18/06) Fioretti, Marco

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has formulated standards to guarantee that software is accessible to users with disabilities. The free and open source software (FOSS) community has long been hearing calls for accessibility assurances, particularly after Massachusetts officials' announcement that the state would adopt OASIS OpenDocument format drew criticism from advocates for the disabled. OpenDocument is currently under an accessibility review, and representatives from the Bay State Council for the Blind and the Disability Policy Consortium have met with Massachusetts officials and FOSS representatives. The meeting revealed the disconnect between the FOSS community and disabled users, as FOSS representatives explained that an accessibility infrastructure based around FOSS would create opportunities for disabled workers in Unix system administration and Web site design, but the disability advocates maintained that "without advanced training to develop a qualified pool of talent, new hires for state government agencies with OpenSource, OpenDocument platforms will be everybody but people with disabilities because of perceived or real training requirements." While attempting to install a new driver for a Braille terminal, Italian computer science student Fabrizio Marini found that Linux is still too complicated for novice users. Some disability advocates show no preference between open and proprietary software formats, provided that user accessibility is ensured. While the FOSS community has been bridging the gap with disabled users, FOSS documentation still needs to be improved, and FOSS developers would be well-advised to check in with disability groups when they launch a major project.
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Cray Plans Radical Product Design
Wall Street Journal (03/20/06) P. B4; Clark, Don

Cray today is expected to announce a redesign of its supercomputers that will integrate blades into a conventional chassis, with software serving as a hub, allocating the tasks to the various blades. Cray is best known for its vector processing technology, which has garnered federal funding for its applications in nuclear weapons design and code cracking, though clustered systems have eroded the demand for specialized technologies such as Cray's. With the performance increases of conventional processors tapering off, Intel and AMD are investing heavily in multicore technologies, though they are encountering limitations with passing data over numerous chips. Others in the industry are using FPGAs to perform high-speed calculations. The vertical organization of circuit boards in servers is now catching on with supercomputers; SGI announced a blade design in November for its Altix systems. Cray's adaptive-supercomputing technology will transfer chores among blades powered by AMD Opteron chips, FPGAs, or its Cray's own vector processors. "You get more bang for the buck," said Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. "It's a very innovative idea."
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RFID World Still Reacting Strongly to Virus Research
TechWeb (03/16/06) Sullivan, Laurie

Some radio frequency identification (RFID) technology experts are taking issue with a paper presented at the IEEE conference in Pisa, Italy, that suggested RFID could spread computer viruses. A third-year PhD student from Vrije Universiteti in Amsterdam, Melanie Rieback, created an artificial virus for her paper, "Is Your Cat Infected With a Computer Virus?" that suggested RFID tags have the potential to spread viruses through readers into poorly written middleware applications and into enterprise backend systems and databases. Kevin Ashton, vice president of ThinkMagic and co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Auto-ID Center, says Rieback actually demonstrates a self-replicating piece of SQL code, and not a virus, in the paper. RFID tags store numbers, and are very unlikely to accept executable code via a virus. "The student researchers think a database picks up the information from a tag and puts it in the buffer, and that's not what happens," adds Gartner vice president of research Jeff Woods. However, Woods says in theory the arguments for buffer overflow, and software vulnerabilities could compromise RFID systems. Moreover, some RFID experts say the industry should do a better job of testing applications, while others say companies that deploy the technology should make sure they secure the technology.
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For Gates, a Visa Charge
Washington Post (03/19/06) P. B7; Broder, David S.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates made a rare trip to Washington, D.C., last week to lobby for an increase in H-1B visa caps. H-1B visas have been capped at 65,000 since 2003, and applicants must have specialized knowledge, a job offer from a U.S. company, and a bachelor's degree to qualify. The "high-skills immigration issue is by far the number one thing" among Microsoft's interests in the upcoming legislative agenda, Gates said. "This is gigantic for us." Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) has been preparing a draft bill that would increase the H-1B cap to 115,000 and exclude dependents from the cap, potentially increasing the flux of immigrants to 300,000 a year. While these types of workers could be hired in China or India for less money, Gates says that Microsoft, which conducts 85 percent of its research and development in the United States, prefers to integrate its developers with its program managers and marketing team rather than use overseas labor. President Bush is in favor of H-1B increases, and Gates is pleased that math and science education in secondary schools now enjoys bipartisan support to boost the number of Americans qualified for these specialized jobs. Of greater concern is the movement in the House to close off U.S. borders that seems unable to distinguish between the problem of illegal immigration at large and visas for highly specialized workers.
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Judge Grants Google a Reprieve
Wall Street Journal (03/20/06) P. B4

U.S. District Judge James Ware ordered Google on Friday to provide 50,000 randomly selected address for Web sites from its databases. However, the judge also ruled that Google does not have to hand over information regarding consumer Web-search queries to the Justice Department. Judge Ware felt that if Google handed over the queries to the Justice Department that they would lose the trust of some of their users. "This is a clear victory for our users," said Google in a statement. The Justice Department wanted to use the information from Google to defend the Child Online Protection Act. "The next time the government comes calling, it will pile so much more on its side of the scale, a better explanation of its need and a more compelling set of facts that the court will have no choice but to compel Google to turn over search queries," says Paul Ohm, an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Law. Some experts agree that government requests may actually be granted in the future.
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Student Entrepreneurs: New Sensor Will Help Guarantee Freshness
University of Florida News (03/15/06) Hoover, Aaron

Six engineering students at the University of Florida have developed a prototype of a smart sensor that will allow retailers to determine at what point in shipping products spoil, when they will spoil, and who is responsible when spoilage occurs. The new sensor, which is the size of a half-dollar, was designed by a team led by Bill Eisenstadt, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, to track and interpret temperature, humidity, and the shock of a product being dropped, among a host of other variables. For example, the device monitors the temperature of a product by combining its readings with an algorithm that is electronically tuned to the rate at which fish, milk, flowers, or any other product spoils. The sensor records and wirelessly transmits the information to retailers, which are able to check from a laptop computer if the product is fresh, how long it has until it spoils, and at what point temperatures rose above normal during shipping. "We think this sensor will make the supply chain both safer and more efficient," says Bruce Welt, an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering who serves as a faculty advisor for the project. "Hopefully, that will translate into lower cost, better quality products for consumers." Drug makers are among the industries that could benefit from the sensor. The engineering team has filed a patent for the sensor, and is receiving assistance from the university in marketing the device.
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DOD Seeks Army of Cyborg Bugs
Computerworld (03/15/06) Songini, Marc L.

DARPA's Hybrid Insect Micro-Electrical-Mechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) program is calling for proposals to develop insect cyborg-scouts that can be controlled remotely. The insects would carry sensors and a wireless transmitter enabling them to relay information about conditions in locations inaccessible to human soldiers. DARPA wants to develop an insect capable of being directed to within five meters of a target at a 100-meter range with an electric remote control or a GPS application. DARPA has yet to determine the technical specifications of the insect scouts, though it has suggested that they could serve as "micro unmanned air vehicles" to access areas too remote or dangerous for humans, such as enemy buildings or caves. Previous attempts to use insects to gather intelligence have been limited by unreliable performance, which the HI-MEMS project seeks to correct with a dependable control interface. DARPA says the body of an insect, as it passes through its metamorphic stages, would renew itself around foreign objects, such as a gas sensor, a video camera, and a microphone. "Inserting MEMS devices during such stages could enable assembly-line like fabrication of hybrid insect-MEMS interfaces, providing a considerable cost advantage," according to a DARPA report. DARPA is also interested in swimming devices, provided that the insect can stay still until it is directed to move by its handler. Powering the device and controlling the locomotion are among the project's central challenges.
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Optical-Wireless Convergence: New Network Architecture Delivers Super-Broadband Wired and Wireless Service Simultaneously
Georgia Institute of Technology (03/16/06)

Georgia Tech researchers have developed a hybrid communication network scheme that would enable wired and wireless transmissions of voice, data, and video at speeds up to 100 times faster than existing networks. By offering wired and wireless services over the same optical fiber, the system would lower costs and improve service. "The same services would be provided to customers who would either plug into the wired connection in the wall or access the same information through a wireless system," said Gee-Kung Chang, professor of electrical and computer engineering. Telecom providers typically offer services that are either completely wired or wireless, though the demand for greater bandwidth from wireless providers to offer video, music, and Internet access is bringing the two sectors into alignment. Chang's system would use the existing optical-fiber networks, but up-convert their signals before entering a building to the millimeter-wave spectrum while wireless and baseband signals would be simultaneously converted to the millimeter-wave carrier. The passive optical network infrastructure would split the signal into two parts and carry it throughout the building. One of the signal components would be detected and amplified by high-speed receivers while the other would be accessed via a normal wall outlet. Each would provide data transmission rates of 2.5 Gbps, a considerable improvement over existing Wi-Fi or WiMax systems. Due to the high capacity of its optical fiber, the network could support up to 32 distinct channels through wavelength division multiplexing. Chang sees the technology reaching the market in five years to seven years, though he acknowledges the need for new antennas and component prices to drop.
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Enigma Project Cracks Second Code
BBC News (03/15/06)

Thousands of online codebreakers continue to use distributed computing power to decrypt three German codes that Allied forces were unable to crack during World War II. Participants in the M4 Project, named after the M4 Enigma machine Germany used to encode its messages, have one remaining code to crack. The remaining code is actually the first message the online codebreakers attempted to crack, and all combinations available on German army and three-ring Enigma machines have been tried. However, they did not try combinations associated with the sophisticated four-ring Enigma used to encode the messages. The online codebreakers recently cracked a message that provided information about the aftermath of a battle with an Allied vessel, and it followed the first breakthrough on Feb. 20, 2006, involving a code that proved to be a confirmation of a message from the commander of a German U-boat. War experts at Bletchley Park were unable to crack the messages sent in 1942 because Germany used a new code book and a different version of the Enigma machine. Amateur historian Ralph Erskine discovered the codes and passed them on to a cryptography journal in 1995 as an exercise for codebreakers.
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Talking Computers Just Around the Corner
Sci-Tech Today (03/14/06) Millard, Elizabeth

The supplanting of the keyboard with speech-recognition technology as the primary human-computer interface may be very close to realization thanks to recent innovations. "Computers are getting smarter, and that's good for speech recognition, but the better news is that society is getting trained," says Serotek CEO Mike Calvo. The marketability of early speech-recognition products was limited because the technology required users to modify their speech patterns, but since then companies have adopted a model in which they tailor products for specific sectors and develop applications that fulfill particular requirements. Experts predict the increased rollout of speech-recognition-equipped mobile devices, given the business potential of the handset crowd, which already use the devices for cell-phone calls or dictation and desire more features that will lessen their reliance on small keyboards. Speech technology that can identify emotions will attract considerable attention, while much of the industry is pursuing interactive voice response systems that are smart enough to use natural-language processing to handle customer calls and vastly improve their accuracy and sensitivity. Spanlink Communications' Tim Kraskey says such systems would be able to not only comprehend the meaning behind customers' statements, but use that meaning to direct the caller or agent to pertinent information. Mainstream adoption of speech-recognition products faces daunting challenges, including hesitation among consumers, scalability and throughput issues, the effort that goes into customization, and the tendency for accents to trip up the technology.
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Supercomputer Builds a Virus
Nature (03/14/06) Pearson, Helen

Researchers at the University of Illinois have used a supercomputer to simulate an entire biological organism in greater detail than has ever been achieved in the past. Klaus Schulten and his colleagues say their model of the satellite tobacco mosaic virus could be the first step toward larger, more complex simulations that reveal how viruses attack cells and spread disease. Schulten and his team used the most recent version of the NAMD program to harness the power of hundreds of processors working in parallel within a supercomputer system. Housed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Urbana, the machine ran the program to calculate the interactions between the virus' roughly 1 million atoms and a surrounding drop of salt water at each femtosecond--a millionth of a billionth of a second. The team modeled the virus for 50 billionths of a second, which would have taken 35 years on a normal desktop. Previous computer simulations of viruses were often limited to only a portion of the organism, but the holistic model takes the guesswork out of the study. As supercomputing power advances, researchers expect to model more complex biological systems for longer periods of time, enabling them to observe critical processes such as a protein shutting off a gene in a cell.
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PCAST Panel Ready to Roll
Federal Computer Week (03/13/06) Vol. 20, No. 4, P. 55; Sternstein, Aliya

Following President Bush's dissolution of the President's IT Advisory Committee (PITAC), the panel's functions were rolled into the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), which will welcome 14 new members. PCAST will have a total of 38 members with the addition of such science and technology experts as Dell founder Michael Dell, Microsoft's Robert Herbold, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, and Renaissance Computing Institute director Dan Reed, the only PCAST member who belonged on the now-defunct PITAC. The nearly nine-month delay in the election of new PCAST council members was a point of concern for researchers worried that the federal government's failure to support research beyond homeland security or defense programs would have a detrimental effect on U.S. jobs and national competitiveness. Bush's announcement in January of the American Competitiveness Initiative, which seeks to spur research and development in major scientific areas such as supercomputing, alternative energy sources, and nanotechnology through R&D, education, and workforce and immigration policies, helped assuage those concerns somewhat. Following the expiration of PITAC, former PITAC members released a final report recommending long-term investment in computational science research, and an accelerated study on how federal spending can advance computational science in academia, government, and industry. Reed explained that PCAST needs to assess the general federal IT R&D budget in order for the United States to move forward in the general sciences and to improve its competitiveness.
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Intel Plugs Into System Power
eWeek (03/13/06) Vol. 23, No. 11, P. 9; Spooner, John G.

More efficient power management is a priority for Intel, and company officials think systems' average power consumption could be reduced by as much as 40 percent through a series of efforts, according to their statements at the Intel Developer Forum. Though officials did not foresee any commercial products for several years, they were confident that these initiatives could substantially lower electric bills. Intel is employing a two-pronged strategy: One effort involves the release of a new generation of power-efficient processors, while the other effort is the Energy-Efficient Systems Architecture (EESA) project to modify the computer's inner workings. EESA espouses finer power management methodology in which systems function more efficiently with no noticeable impact on performance to users or technology departments, and a such a breakthrough could be reached through the creation of more powerful manageability engines or purpose-built microcontrollers that perform internal system tasks, according to Intel Systems Technology Lab director Raj Yavatkar. Finer memory management might also be achieved one day by a more sophisticated engine, notes Yavatkar. Furthermore, his lab is exploring techniques to devise more efficient power supplies and re-tune voltage regulation circuits, which could also reduce energy consumption.
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Found in Translation
Military Information Technology (03/14/06) Vol. 10, No. 2,Gerber, Cheryl

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Global Autonomous Language Exploitation (GALE) program seeks to develop, combine, and apply technologies that will examine and translate vast amounts of speech and text in multiple dialects, and implement them through a trio of processing engines tasked with the transcription, translation, and distillation of relevant data. The transcription engine will render audio as English text; the translation engine will convert text from other languages into English, providing annotations concerning the language of origin, topics, speech elements, names, and other factors; and the distillation engine will look for and blend information from numerous sources that relates to specific queries, eliminating repetition. There is a need among many agencies for more foreign language skills and searchable language-translation technology that the GALE program is directly addressing. Of the three prime contractor teams developing GALE technology, IBM Research is concentrating on the construction of statistical machine translation between any pair of a half-dozen parallel texts (English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian) using data from United Nations proceedings. Another GALE contractor, BBN Technologies, is tasked with speech recognition, speech-to-text transcription, machine translation, and transcription/translation integration. In addition, BBN and its subcontractors are contracted to develop a semantic model for languages' data structures, extract and distill pertinent translated language, and combine the various technologies in an operational system. One subcontractor, Language Computer, is using its Power Answer and Power Tools products to provide answers to natural language queries that are more precise and entail less distillation. Another area of concentration for the GALE contractors and subcontractors is finding a solution to the problem of document triage in foreign language, and IBM is exploring the strengths and weaknesses of two strategies: Issuing a query in English and issuing a query in the source language.
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