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April 12, 2006

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CodeInvader Game Warms up Students for ACM World Finals
ITBusiness.ca (04/11/06) Lysecki, Sarah

To warm up for the World Finals of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest, students have been testing their Java skills on a game called CodeInvaders. Each team has three hours to write a MySpaceShip Java application that resembles a space ship. The teams are allowed to look at each other's space ships during the three hours, but are unable to see the actual lines of code that their competitors are writing. Teams collect points by retrieving energy and bringing it back to their home planet, shooting and hitting other ships, and having a high amount of energy left at the end of the game. The voluntary Java contest is just a prelude to Wednesday's main event, where teams have five hours to solve eight to 10 problems. In the months leading up to the competition, students work together to solve old problems that they can access through a portal, which also enables judges to review their work and provide feedback. Held at Baylor University in San Antonio, the 30th ACM World Finals will see 83 teams compete for four gold prizes, four silver, and four bronze. Last year Shanghai hosted the competition, and the previous year it was in Prague. The bidding process for cities to host the competition is similar to the Olympics site-selection process, said Bill Poucher, the contest's executive director, who said that he is currently looking six to eight years ahead. "We want to show off the culture and do it in the best possible way," Poucher said. "We want to do it in a way that we can say we're part of a world that wants to be problem solvers, that wants to celebrate the diversity of human life." Poucher is considering bids from Rio de Janeiro, Stockholm, Hawaii, and even an ocean liner to host the contest in the future. IBM has extended its commitment to sponsor the contest through 2012.
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New Database Rejects Eligible Calif. Voters
Computerworld (04/07/06) Songini, Marc L.

California's new database of registered voters, once hailed as a model for other states by the federal government, could block thousands of registered voters from casting ballots in this June's statewide election, officials warn. Since the December implementation of the database, California's registration process has invalidated numerous attempts to register, typically due to minor data-entry issues. Between Jan. 1 and March 15, 43 percent of the voter registration forms in Los Angeles County were rejected, causing election officials to wonder if eligible voters will be dropped from the voter rolls. The voter registration database, created to comply with the Help America Vote Act, accepts 74 percent of registrations on the first try, leaving the rest to be manually validated by election workers, according to a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, who runs the database. Voters must provide their county registrar with a driver's license number or other identifying information, which is then keyed into a database and uploaded to the new system, which cross-references the information with records from the Department of Motor Vehicles or other appropriate agency. If so much as a middle initial is missing, the new centralized system could reject the application. Given the lag time sometimes required to validate registrations in the new system, election officials fear that they may not be able to manually validate all the rejected registrations in time for the May 22 deadline to vote in the June 6 election. California State Sen. Debra Brown, an outspoken critic of McPherson, believes the rejection rate should be no higher than 2 percent, and that the voter database has been fraught with problems from the outset. Meanwhile, McPherson has proposed legislation to "provide common-sense flexibility so that no eligible voter should be denied the opportunity to vote because of a technicality," his spokeswoman said. ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee released an in-depth report regarding "Statewide Databases of Registered Voters."
To view this report, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/VRD
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Computing Women Seek to Dispel 'Geek Mythology'
Laboratorytalk (04/10/06)

To promote careers in computer science among female students at regional middle and high schools, members of the Women in Computing at Indiana University developed the Just Be incentive program. Just Be, a student-run, interactive program developed principally by graduate students Katie Siek and Amanda Stephano, drew its inspiration from Roadshow, a program with a similar aim at Carnegie Mellon University. Through the program, Indiana faculty, students, and researchers will speak at area schools about their inspiration for studying IT, and interact with the audience with a quiz aimed at dispelling popular myths about computing that often discourage women from majoring in technical fields. "When we first meet with the kids, we ask them to close their eyes and describe what they see when they imagine a computer professional at work," said Siek. "They usually conjure up images of a male, socially-challenged nerd working in isolation at a computer." The presenters then show them pictures of actual computing professionals both at work and in their free time to demonstrate that they can be normal people, too. Siek, a doctoral student in computer science, traveled to Purdue University to explain the program, and Purdue is now putting together a similar initiative. Stephano, who is working toward master's degrees in computer science and human-computer interaction design, said that Just Be aims to present a positive image of computing to boys and girls alike. To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://women.acm.org/
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How to Lose the Brain Race
New York Times (04/10/06) P. A25; Clemons, Steven; Lind, Michael

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) amendments to the recently scuttled immigration reform package send a troubling message to the world, write Steven Clemons and Michael Lind. Feinstein had sought to double the fees assessed to foreign students seeking to gain entry to U.S. universities while assuring that agribusiness would be the beneficiary of 1.5 million unskilled guest workers over the next five years. Although the legislation died on the Senate floor, the notion that the U.S. economy has more to gain from admitting low-paid, low-skilled foreign laborers than from highly specialized knowledge workers and researchers is widely held in Congress, and represents a grievous misunderstanding of the nation's priorities. As the United States contemplates immigration policies that open the doors to uneducated workers while blocking entry to their highly skilled counterparts, other industrial countries are doing the opposite, welcoming the foreign talent that the United States is rejecting into their universities and research centers. The fear that foreigners crowd U.S. universities and take spots from deserving American students, which is at the core of Feinstein's proposal, turns a blind eye to the fact that foreign students, researchers, and professors make U.S. universities stronger. Though the H-1B visa program is the principal instrument of immigration for skilled workers, Clemons and Lind argue that the employer-sponsorship feature of the program forces workers to stay in jobs where they are mistreated, often being forced to work long hours for unreasonable pay. A points system that awards immigrants a score based on their skills and knowledge of the national language, similar to that adopted by Canada, Australia, and Britain, would remove much of the inequity from the system and enable workers to quit their jobs without fear of deportation.
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Inspiring the Next Generation of Engineers
Electronic News (04/06/06) Davis, Jessica

Despite the contention of a Duke University study that the oft-cited and alarming statistics comparing the number of engineering degrees graduated from U.S. universities with the numbers from China and India are overstated, the United States must do more to promote engineering to children in grade school, according to executives in the semiconductor industry. A panel at last week's Embedded Systems Conference took up the issue, with some participants calling for better role modeling from parents. "Instead of being soccer dads and moms let's be science dads and moms," said Altera's Misha Burich, who believes mobilizing youth must occur on an individual and voluntary basis, rather than at the corporate level. Sampling the engineers at Altera, Burich said that he most often heard that his colleagues were drawn to engineering because of their parents. National Instruments' John Pasquarette took the education system to task, claiming that high schools do not adequately prepare students for college. In addition to sending its own engineers out into the classroom, National Instruments has partnered with Lego and Tufts University to create RoboLab, an application that enables students to design and program their own robots. Getting students excited is critical, said Pasquarette, who noted that more CEOs of Fortune 500 companies took their degrees in engineering than business. President Bush's State of the Union address was encouraging to Semiconductor Industry Association President George Scalise, who believes the announcement of the new policy to address the potential worker shortage has at least put the country on the right track.
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Researcher: Security Risks in Web Services Largely Ignored
IDG News Service (04/07/06) McMillan, Robert

Security professionals should look more closely at Web services, which are being increasingly targeted by attackers, warned Alex Stamos, a founding partner of Information Security Partners in San Francisco, during a presentation at the CanSecWest/core06 conference. "Web application security is the red-headed stepchild of the security industry," he said, adding that hackers could use Web services such as AJAX and the XQuery query language to uncover secret information and attack systems. He explained how a hacker could enter malicious code into a Web form, then have the code dial a customer service number of a company and trick the customer service representative into executing it unintentionally. Stamos also said an attacker could create malicious XML queries that use an enormous amount of memory or overwhelm database applications with requests, in order to carry out denial-of-service attacks. Including filtering capabilities in products, which would help them to detect requests that should not be performed, would be a way for Web applications vendors to help improve security, said Stamos. Web applications were linked to nearly 70 percent of vulnerabilities disclosed during the second half of 2005, according to security vendor Symantec.
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Speedy Robot Legs It to Break Record
New Scientist Tech (04/05/06) Simonite, Tom

A team of German and Scottish researchers has built the world's fastest two-legged robot, setting a new speed record of 3.5 leg-lengths per second. At 30 centimeters high, RunBot easily surpassed the mark of 1.4 leg-lengths held by MIT's Spring Flamingo, a robot which is four times taller than RunBot. With only a few sensors, RunBot is only able to detect a foot touching the ground and a leg swinging forward with the help of a program that imitates the neuron's ability to control reflexes in animals. "We wanted to show that a very simple system with a simple neuronal controller could walk in a natural manner--and fast," said Florentin Worgotter of the University of Gottingen, who developed RunBot in collaboration with researchers at the University of Glasgow and the University of Stirling. RunBot's locomotion is sustained by its sensors, which send one leg swinging forward when they detect the other hitting the ground. The knee of the leg in motion bends until a sensor in the hip directs it to straighten up in preparation for touching the ground, and the cycle then repeats. Worgotter said the system's lack of complexity distinguishes it from many other robots, and noted that he and his team set out to mimic the relatively simple neural processes at work in basic human motion. Using software that imitates neuronal control enables the robot to learn more quickly, Worgotter claimed. "If a change doesn't help its speed, RunBot tries something else," he said. That feature enabled the robot to increase its initial speed by three times during testing. Though RunBot currently walks the periphery of a circular room while attached to a boom in the center, Worgotter is developing a freestanding version that he does not expect to require significant modifications.
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Research Reveals Phishing Hooks
BBC News (04/05/06)

A recent study found that while most people could identify a phishing site as bogus, sophisticated scams could fool around 90 percent of users, most of whom tend to ignore the visual clues provided by their browsers. The study, which looked specifically at banking Web sites, was conducted by Rachna Dhamija of the Harvard Center for Research on Computation and Society and University of California, Berkeley, computer science professors Doug Tygar and Marti Hearst. The researchers concluded that Web designers must develop new ways of signaling to users that a site is unsecured. Approximately 5 percent of phishing recipients open the email, visit the bogus site, and furnish sensitive information, which provides ample incentive for phishers to keep up their efforts. The researchers recommend that users look at the address bar to check for fake sites that incorporate a well-known name into the URL to lend it an air of legitimacy. They also caution users to retype links instead of clicking on them, check the sites for spelling and grammatical errors, look for "https" on bank sites rather than "http," and to use an anti-phishing toolbar. On average, 40 percent of the 22 test subjects failed to recognize a fake Web site, and the most authentic-looking spoofed site fooled 90 percent. Most participants simply did not know what features typically distinguish fake sites from real ones. Most did not look at the address bar, status bar, or other identifying features, and many ignored explicit security warnings in pop-up windows. "The indicators of trust presented by the browser are trivial to spoof," the researchers concluded. "These results illustrate that standard security indicators are not effective for a substantial fraction of users, and suggest that alternative approaches are needed."
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E-Learning Tool Creates Virtual University
Computerworld New Zealand (04/06/06) Hedquist, Ulrika

Researchers at the Auckland University of Technology and the University of Auckland have teamed up to develop eXe, an open-source e-learning tool that will enable professors to develop e-learning content without having to write code. "The aim of the eXe project is to make the writing of e-learning materials as easy as possible for teachers and academic staff, and then [to] link the material into their learning management systems so all students can access it," said Andrew Higgins, director of e-learning at AUT. Using eXe, faculty will be able to build Web pages with documents, videos, PowerPoint presentations, and assignments. Open source was a logical choice with a limited development budget, so the team built the core of the application in-house, and invited the international development community to contribute ideas or code. Beyond the university professors in New Zealand, eXe could support the creation of virtual universities in developing countries that lack the resources to build traditional schools. Higgins has placed interactive e-learning guidelines online, enabling users to add new research and updates. He has also secured a contract to develop a trusted, open-source e-portfolio system for users to keep research, notes, school work, and presentations online. "You can allow different sorts of access for different people," Higgins said. "For example, your university tutor, a potential employer, or your brother or sister. You can build on it for life-long learning and, when you grow old, share it with your grandchildren."
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Computer Will Soup up IU's Research
Indianapolis Star (04/06/06) O'Neal, Kevin

Indiana University will soon be the owner of a $9 million IBM supercomputer--one of the 20 fastest in the world--that will be able to perform more than 20 trillion calculations a second. The new machine is 20 times faster than Indiana's last supercomputer purchase, providing enough processing power to support research in the formation of planets, weather patterns, and molecular-level biology. A high-speed fiber-optic network will enable researchers at other Indiana campuses to utilize the computing power of the new system. Supercomputers are now critical to universities seeking to conduct high-level research, said Jack Dongarra, professor at the Innovative Computing Laboratory at the University of Tennessee. The ability to conduct research of that caliber puts schools in line for research grants, of which Indiana expects to receive $477 million worth this year. With the new supercomputer, Indiana has set an annual goal of $800 million in research grants. Nearby Purdue University also welcomes Indiana's new computer. "This is like a rising tide that lifts our boat," said Steve Talley, Purdue's media relations manager for IT. "It shows that they are one of the leading research institutions in the nation." The computers at Indiana and Purdue are connected, so Purdue researchers will also be able to tap into the new computer. Purdue recently has been concentrating its efforts on distributed computing, and already maintains a supercomputer of its own. Indiana's new computer is expected to rival the performance of a 2,200-processor machine at Virginia Tech that ranked No. 20 on the most recent list of the world's top 500 supercomputers.
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Get Ready for the Real Bionic Man
ABC News (04/04/06) Mundell, E.J.

The latest innovations in the integration of machines with human life were the subject of a special press conference last week during the annual Experimental Biology 2006 meeting in San Francisco. Though TV's Col. Steve Austin remains one of the more common images of a human-machine hybrid for many Americans, researchers say bionics have been with us for some time, especially when one considers that many people use eyeglasses to see and a cell phone for communication. "But now, it's becoming more organic, more integrated--we already have artificial hips, remember," says Homayoon Kazerooni, a professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. Kazerooni introduced BLEEX, a wearable robotics system with its own set of legs, in 2004, and says a final version of the exoskeleton, which can help humans lift heavy loads over long distances, should be available soon. William Craelius, a Rutgers University researcher who created Dextra, the first multi-finger artificial hand, also participated on the panel. Dextra can perform simple movements such as opening doors and turning keys, but the kind of dexterity associated with the human hand is still a decade away, says Craelius. The panel also discussed developments involving a bionic eye, an artificial wrist, and computer simulations of real-life human movement.
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Collaboration Will Investigate Vulnerabilities of Rapidly Growing Internet Phone and Multimedia Systems
EurekAlert (04/04/06)

The NSF has awarded four grants totaling $600,000 to the University of North Texas to lead a consortium of universities in the development of a secure, geographically diffuse test bed for VoIP over three years. The project will focus on preventing voice spam and DoS attacks, improving the quality of service and 911 reliability, and exploring vulnerabilities that arise when using VoIP with traditional phone networks. "Proactively securing the next-generation infrastructure for voice communications is critical for us all," said Ram Dantu, the project's leader. "Our research will identify vulnerabilities in the technology and establish solutions--before damage is done." With Vonage, AT&T, and other companies aggressively rolling out VoIP services, one study has projected that about 24 million U.S. households will use VoIP by 2008, while government agencies have already begun implementing VoIP strategies. In 1880, four years after inventing the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter patented the photophone, which transmitted sound via a beam of light in a similar fashion as today's optical-signal networks. Today, security is a much greater concern, and NSF program director Rita Virginia Rodriguez hopes that the project will make significant strides toward providing both immediate and long-term solutions for securing VoIP calls.
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Developers Ramp Open Source
EE Times (04/03/06)No. 1417, P. 63; Varhol, Peter

The Eclipse Foundation continues to develop the Eclipse open-source integrated development environment, and more embedded developers are turning to the platform to build systems and software. This summer, a bundled system, code-named Callisto, that combines Eclipse with several advanced plug-ins will be unveiled and will address some of the platform's complexity issues. With Callisto, vendors that use Eclipse will have a better chance to ensure that their plug-ins and enhancements run on compatible configurations. EclipseCon drew about 1,000 participants last year, but the conference for Eclipse members and users saw the number rise to more than 1,400 this year for the Santa Clara, Calif., gathering. Embedded developers are embracing Eclipse because it is free, is updated by downloading its latest version, and because it is accessible on a number of platforms, due to it running on Java. "I assembled my own set of development tools on Eclipse," says Don Weldon, a lead developer for a small design shop in Mountain View, Calif., who attended EclipseCon. "It meets my needs, and I know exactly how to use it." QNX will ship its Momentics tools on Eclipse 3.2 about three months after the introduction of Callisto.
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How Linking PCs Spreads Load and Saves Money
New Zealand Herald (04/04/06) Hendery, Simon

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project shows that grid computing offers researchers a viable alternative to using supercomputers. Taking advantage of the idle PC time of hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected home computers across the globe, the project has created a virtual supercomputer for analyzing telescope data for possible intelligent broadcasts from deep space. Meanwhile, Oracle has become a believer in running a cluster of low-cost servers, rather than a larger single server, because the approach makes it easier for users to increase resources as they are needed. The traditional approach involves the somewhat costly task of replacing the server whenever larger and more expensive hardware platforms are needed. "It's about taking the smallest, most affordable computing elements available and using collections of these to deliver a higher quality of service, better performance and better reliability at a dramatically lower cost," says Roland Slee, vice president of Oracle Asia-Pacific. Google makes use of cluster computing to power its search engine, which is backed by several thousand PCs that are connected over a number of locations. However, Jeff Wacker, a futurist with global computing giant EDS, does not believe such linking of PCs will deflate interest in supercomputers. And he expects business to combine grid, cluster, and utility computing in the years to come.
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Seeing Is Believing
Scientist (04/01/06) Vol. 20, No. 4, P. 46; Harding, Anne

Efforts to improve data visualization techniques are being fueled by both the ballooning volumes of information available to life scientists and the burgeoning amount of computer power at their disposal. Current data visualization challenges stem from the complexity as well as the quantity of information, according to UC-San Diego's Philip Bourne, who co-directs the Research Collaboratory for Structural Bioinformatics Protein Data Bank. "You've got this convergence of different data types and you need new tools and new ways of looking at that, and you really want to see that together," he says. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory scientist Lincoln Stein favors the use of "lightweight and easily configurable" systems, and notes that first-generation data visualization programs were too tightly integrated with the data, making adaptation to individual users' needs an extremely arduous process. Stein, Bourne, and other researchers are looking to increase data visualization programs' flexibility and ease of use with workbenches or toolkits whose configurable elements and compatible interfaces facilitate adaptation. Next-generation visualization software may be designed to enable users to immerse themselves in the data. Such technology would allow scientists to study the data from every perspective in a collaborative manner, according to Stein. He says this dovetails with visualization's biggest overall advantage: Its ability to cultivate interdisciplinary collaboration by helping researchers in diverse fields comprehend problems in order to address them more effectively.
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Translation by Machine: A Bridge Across the Multicultural Gap
Futurist (04/06) Vol. 40, No. 2, P. 56; Belluomini, David

Language translation technology is needed to overcome the language barrier civilian law enforcement faces in increasingly multicultural U.S. cities, writes Fresno Police Department Lt. David Belluomini. He cites findings from the 2000 U.S. Census that nearly 47 million out of 262 million American residents ages 5 and up spoke a language other than English or in addition to English. Experiments funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and other government efforts have thus far yielded one-way text-to-speech and speech-to-speech devices, while automated two-way translation devices are projected as a future development. The most ardent advocates for dynamic two-way translation could be the communities that stand to derive the biggest advantages from it, such as law enforcement, according to Belluomini. The odds are good in almost any U.S. city that an English-only police officer will deal with a non-English speaker or someone for whom English is a second language. Belluomini organized a focus group of bilingual social workers, IT experts, and law enforcement professionals to discuss machine or computer communication's social, technological, and practical implications; from the meeting came the conclusion that machine translation would initially be practiced slowly and cautiously, but become more common with the improvement of the technology and increased social readiness. The group thought younger recipients would be more receptive to the technology, and that non-emergency applications were the best starting point for machine translation. Belluomini says, "As policing and other public-service agencies experiment with new forms of human interaction through the use of technology, the gates will be thrown open for improvement and innovation, making the use of two-way machine language translation communication a distinct possibility for law enforcement within the next five years."
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Forging a National Cyber Security Strategy
SC Magazine (03/01/06) P. 48; Purdy Jr., Andy

Deputy director of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) National Cyber Security Division (NCSD) Andy Purdy details his agency's mission of developing a comprehensive and cohesive plan to ensure the security of America's critical data through intense public-private collaboration and the various tools, resources, and insights this effort involves. He describes the first priority of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace as the development of a national cyberspace security response system, a core element of which is strong situational awareness in conjunction with information sharing among federal departments as well as between the government and the private sector. The NCSD, in partnership with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has released the U.S. Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) Federal Concept of Operations (CONOPS) mandating agencies' reportage of cyberincidents, along with data on their initiatives to lower cyber risk in accordance with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), to the team. DHS also supports the multi-state ISAC to effect information sharing and collaborate on awareness-raising efforts among state and local governments. Pursuant to a national cybersecurity response system's situation awareness component is the construction of an international watch and warning network. Purdy writes that increasing reliance on cyber resources calls for effective disruption recovery planning by federal agencies, enterprises, and private networks. The National Recovery Plan (NRP) offers guidance on such areas as emergency support functions for communications. The DHS' Preparedness Directorate, of which the NCSD is a component, is concentrating on readiness and is working to guarantee proper coordination between the mission areas to expedite general preparedness.
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