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April 21, 2006

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Groundwork for Cybersecurity R&D Agenda Begins
Federal Computer Week (04/18/06) Sternstein, Aliya

The National Science and Technology Council has issued an advance release of the "Federal Plan for Cyber Security and Information Assurance Research and Development," a 121-page report advocating a stronger partnership between government and industry and the establishment of R&D priorities. The plan also recommends implementing new technologies, road maps, and metrics, though it stops short of making specific budgets and funding requirements. The report comes in response to calls from industry officials and lawmakers to shore up federal cybersecurity and information assurance research. The report draws on the recommendations of several recent calls for heightened cybersecurity, including a 2005 report by the now-dissolved President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) and the Cyber Security Research and Development Act of 2002. The report also considered the budgetary recommendations of a memo detailing spending priorities for fiscal 2007, including cybersecurity R&D funding for the $3 billion Federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program, as well as supercomputing and sophisticated networking. Bush administration officials emphasized the collaborative, interagency framework for cybersecurity R&D advocated in the report, which itself was developed by more than 20 government bodies under the Interagency Working Group on Cyber Security and Information Assurance. Citing PITAC as a major influence, the report identifies authentication, access control, and attack protection as some of the key areas in need of funding.
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SIGGRAPH Submissions Set Record High
Animation Magazine (04/20/06) Ball, Ryan

ACM SIGGRAPH has reported a record number of submissions for its Computer Animation Festival, which will coincide with the 2006 edition of SIGGRAPH. ACM SIGGRAPH received 726 entries, a 25 percent increase from last year, and chose 97 projects for excellence in computer-generated imagery and animation. "From across the globe, the word is out that the Computer Animation Festival is one of the premier venues for showcasing artistic and technical talent in the film world," said Terrence Masson, chair of this year's festival. "The bar of excellence has risen even higher and this year's crop of accepted pieces is diverse, thought-provoking, and technically superb." Alex Weil's "One Short Rat," which tells the story of a rat who finds love, danger, and destiny throughout an odyssey that takes him from New York City to a futuristic lab, took Best in Show honors. The festival, held in Boston from July 30 to August 3, will host 25,000 computer graphics and interactive technology professionals from around the world. For more information on the ACM SIGGRAPH conference, see http://www.siggraph.org/
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New Video-Conferencing Method Cheaper, More Sophisticated, Developers Say
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (04/19/06) Mitchell, Melissa

Researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a sophisticated videoconferencing system that distributes 3D camera clusters over Internet2, producing large immersive video displays after compressing and decompressing the streams. TEEVE, or Tele-immersive Environments for EVErybody, is currently being tested in the labs of Illinois and Berkeley. Unlike other next-generation videoconferencing systems, TEEVE uses relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf products to deliver an immersive effect where users can see each other from all angles. "TEEVE is a great technology because it allows for more cost-effective cyberspace communication of people in their full body size," said Klara Nahrstedt, computer science professor at Illinois, adding that the technology is ideally suited for conducting activities involving physical movement in cyberspace. The technology could also be used for a host of entertainment purposes, and the researchers have been pleased with the results of testing that relayed and projected the movements of two dancers in the schools' labs, enabling them to stay in sync with each other. "With TEEVE we want to allow distributed artists such as dancers to train, design new choreography, and experiment with different movements in the cyberspace," Nahrstedt said. The technology could soon enable physiotherapists to interact with their patients online, adult children to better monitor their parents' health, and students to learn new sports or movement activities, such as yoga or tai chi, though it will be six to seven years before applications such as TEEVE are institutionalized in the corporate and academic environments. Nahrstedt continues to research techniques to simplify the human-computer interface and develop a real-time processing capability to rival the quality of television and radio broadcasts.
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UCI Students Bring Female Perspective to Male-Dominated Field
Orange County Register (CA) (04/20/06) Hardesty, Greg

The University of California, Irvine, has launched a broad campaign to dispel the myths that computing is a male-dominated industry in decline. A team of female computer science students at UCI has developed a computer role-playing game for girls in middle school and high school that offers an alternative to the violence that pervades the male-dominated gaming culture. Their entry into the national Games 4 Girls contest sponsored by the University of Illinois, "Eterative Tale," has players take a personality test, answer multiple choice-questions, and make key decisions as they attempt to capture the highest rank of scholar for the game's female hero. "We didn't want 'Barbie Goes Shopping' or 'Barbie Goes Scuba Diving,'" said Ray Ray Shen, a 20-year-old student in UCI's School of Information and Computer Sciences. Computer science encompasses a far broader spectrum of activities than just programming, said UCI associate professor of informatics Andre van der Hoek, yet that is what is taught in high school. To achieve a broader relevance by teaching computing in the context of real-life applications, van der Hoek helped establish the informatics department three years ago. While the dot-com days of instant riches have passed, van der Hoek notes that computer science can still be a viable, even lucrative career. Female role models are helpful in attracting women to the field, he notes. As the team of four UCI students prepared their entry for the Games 4 Girls competition, they discovered the broader significance of computer science on their own. Said Shen, "These are lessons that apply throughout life: Keep trying. Be determined. Never give up."
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The Search for Voice Activation
Technology Review (04/21/06) Greene, Kate

Google has been tight-lipped about how it will use its new patent for "voice interface for a search engine," though speculation is mounting that it could soon unveil voice-activated search for mobile devices. Google has recently hired several speech-recognition researchers, indicating that it is beyond at least the early stages of development. "They've put together a very strong group of people who are experts in speech-recognition technology," said Nelson Morgan, director of the International Computer Science Institute. Google's activity comes as the use of mobile devices for applications beyond voice is taking off around the world. Worldwide, 28 percent of mobile-phone users access the Web through their phones, and in the United States, where three-quarters of U.S. households now have a mobile phone, consumers are increasingly using the platform for non-voice applications such as text messaging and email. The development of mobile Internet search has lagged behind, however, stymied by miniature keypads and unfriendly interfaces. Morgan says voice-activated systems' reliance on statistics sometimes causes them to return errant results. The systems often find spoken words unintelligible and sometimes ask the user if he is searching for the system's highest-ranked result. Limited access to a narrowly defined dictionary often yields the best results, Morgan says, though that approach is impractical for searching on the open Web. Instead, Google's system would return results for a few possibilities of what the user might have been saying, relying more on the strength of its algorithms than having the very best speech-recognition technology.
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Faster, More Efficient Searching of Medical Images
IST Results (04/21/06)

The Danish-led DSSV project has made significant strides in the application of mathematics to the searching and indexing of medical images within hospital databases. The project, which concluded in November, was launched with the long-term goal of creating software to enable hospital workers to rapidly search and match magnetic resonance images, 3D tomography scans, and X-rays. "Let's say a doctor has a new patient with a broken bone," said project coordinator Mads Nielson. "He remembers seeing a similar fracture and wants to recall how he treated that patient, but doesn't remember the case number. By inputting the X-ray of the new patient, this computer system would allow finding the relevant, digitally stored image of that kind of fracture." The project brought together mathematicians and computer scientists from four European universities to create new algorithms to compare shapes, which are difficult to express mathematically, Nielson notes. The researchers developed improved processes for applying singularity and scale-space theories to form algorithms capable of describing an object by its deep structure. In developing the algorithms, the researchers sorted through different theories about how singularities in an image arise and disappear. Computer vision is still in its early stages, and researchers have yet to settle on a common direction, though medical companies are pressing for standardization, Nielson says.
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Gonzales Calls for Mandatory Web Labeling Law
CNet (04/20/06) McCullagh, Declan

The Bush administration has proposed a mandatory rating system that would require commercial Web site operators who post sexually explicit content to place FTC-developed "marks and notices" on their sites, or risk a maximum prison sentence of five years. The legislation is intended to "prevent people from inadvertently stumbling across pornographic images on the Internet," said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales during an event at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The proposal also criminalizes the practice of putting deceptive "words or digital images" in source code to mislead site visitors about sex, and bans the posting of sexually explicit material on commercial Web sites' home pages if it can be viewed "absent any further actions by the viewer." ACLU legislative counsel Marv Johnson criticized the legislation as an unreasonable limitation of free expression, and cited a mandatory rating system backed by criminal penalties as being "antithetical to the First Amendment." The Bush administration's endorsement of a penalty-backed rating system closely echoes an initiative suggested during the Clinton administration, but interest flagged because of the difficulty of labeling news sites, among other things. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh said the Bush administration's proposal may have a better shot at judicial approval: He noted that since the definitions of sexually explicit material have been employed elsewhere in federal law, "it has the virtue of relative clarity," which is "probably constitutional." In his address, Gonzales urged ISPs to start retaining customer activity records that may be needed for criminal prosecutions, and hinted that this practice may have to be made mandatory by new laws.
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HPC User Forum Tackles Leadership Computing and Storage
HPC Wire (04/21/06) Vol. 15, No. 16,

Last week's HPC User Forum saw a record 133 participants from the United States, Japan, and Europe who gathered in Richmond, Va., to hear presentations on data management, leadership computing, and HPC storage systems. For the last three years, HPC has been the fastest-growing sector of IT tracked by IDC, posting aggregate growth of 94 percent since 2002. The increases in the budgets of the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's science program, and NIST in President Bush's 2007 budget indicate strong administration support, noted Simon Szykman, director of the National Coordination Office for Networking and Information Technology Research and Development. Szykman was also encouraged by the meeting's focus on storage performance and cost, citing the steady and disproportionate increases in the cost of advancing Moore's Law, Linpack, and hard drive capacity when measured against the resulting gains in performance. Forum participants reported the application of HPC to numerous industries, including oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, aerospace design and construction, and automotive design. Some vendors are attempting to reach petaflop-levels of computation as early as 2008 in response to the demand for better simulations that incorporate more data. Topping the wish-lists of the attendees were improved scalability, data and metadata access, and security. Multicore processors, I/O interfaces, and storage protocols will also be important considerations for the future of HPC, said presenter Dave Ellis. With latency lagging behind bandwidth, COPAN Systems' Aloke Guha said that the industry will have to rely on tiered solutions such as SSD-Disk-MAID-tape.
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Women's Rights
Computing Business (04/20/06) Smith, Sandra

IT companies in the United Kingdom are experiencing a shortage in skilled workers at a time when the number of female employees in the industry continues to decrease, writes Toshiba UK IS director Sandra Smith. The decline from approximately 50 percent of all IT workers in the 1960s to 27 percent in 1997 and 21 percent in 2004 is not only an equal opportunity issue, but also an economic matter when one considers that innovation, productivity, competitiveness, and the U.K. economy are all at stake. Toshiba hosted a roundtable discussion four months ago, and the participants agreed that the industry needs to focus more on retaining experienced IT professionals who are women, luring back females who left the industry to start a family, and encouraging more young girls to consider tech careers. IT companies will need to become much more flexible to keep women with experience and convince females who left the industry to raise a family to return. Meanwhile, young women account for just 17 percent of all students majoring in computer science, and although 76 percent of U.K. schoolgirls aged 11-17 have a strong interest in technology, the majority are not interested in pursuing an IT career. The IT industry will need to team up with the government on a long-term plan to improve the perception that young girls have of IT, and show them that IT companies are in need of IT skills. The skills shortage is already making it difficult for companies to keep their top talent, while salaries are rising.
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New York Rushes to Comply With E-Voting Rules
Computerworld (04/19/06) Songini, Marc L.

The U.S. District Court in Albany and the U.S. Department of Justice have yet to respond to the New York State Board of Elections regarding the submission of a plan to comply with e-voting rules last week. The federal government has threatened to sue the state for missing the January deadline to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which requires all voting precincts in the county to have at least one handicapped-accessible e-voting machine and every state to have a comprehensive database on voters. The state plans to speed up the certification process so that new voting gear will be in place for this year's primary and general elections, and to have handicapped-accessible voting devices certified and acquired by the Sept. 12 primaries. New York also plans to have guidelines for implementing a temporary voter registration database by July 1. NYSVoter 1 will serve as a central repository for information on voters, with each being assigned a unique identifier. New York intends to have a permanent database system, which will be based on NYSVoter 1, up and running by next spring. HAVA has caused some problems for other states, including California, which is in the process of implementing e-voting systems and a registration database.
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Experts Plan for a High-Tech Globe
Yale Daily News (04/19/06) Aitken, Kate

The growing role of technology in areas such as health, education, law, non-profits, media, and management, and the difficulty in bringing different regions of the world up-to-date on technology, were the main topics of discussion during a symposium at Yale University's School of Management. At the Symposium to Explore Technology's Impact on Society, i-flex solutions Chairman Rajesh Hukku described technology as a tool that the poor could use to empower themselves both socially and economically. World Health Organization program manager Joan Dzenowagis noted that although mobile technology could improve access to technology in certain regions of the world, cost remains a factor. Though technology was expected to have a bigger impact on the world, advances have been positive, said BBC World technology correspondent Clark Boyd. "Blogs in Iran help people trade opinions, podcasts in Peru teach new agriculture techniques, cell phones in India help fisherman check market prices and in Kenya help individuals find out about new job opportunities," he said. And Yale computer science professor David Gelernter added that people in other parts of the world have an opportunity to obtain an education that is similar to what is offered in the United States because university-level classes are available online.
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New Chip Design Delivers Better Performance, Longer Battery Life for Cell Phones, WiFi, and Other Wireless Communications
University of Rochester News (04/19/06)

Researchers at the University of Rochester have designed a wireless chip that uses just 10 percent of the battery power consumed by today's designs, and will use much less still as the next generation of wireless devices appears. Electrical and computer engineering professor Hui Wu, who was an early developer of the injection locked frequency divider (ILFD) circuit design, has solved the last obstacle to implementing the technique by ensuring adequate resolution within a wide range of frequencies. For a phone to ensure that it is relaying transmissions on the appropriate frequency, it maintains a highly reliable and accurate clock, produced by a circuit known as a phase-locked loop that accounts for a considerable amount of the battery usage of wireless devices. In the traditional scheme, digital circuitry gauges the frequencies by counting each of the clock's pulses and sending electricity to the chip that designates its nodes as ones or zeros. Executed billions of times a second, this technique consumes significant amounts of energy, whereas an ILFD device can multiply the clock's pulses to obtain the appropriate frequency. A divider then checks the accuracy of the multiplier by undoing its work and comparing the result to the initial clock. Until Wu's design, frequency dividers were unable to quickly and reliably divide by numbers other than two. He changed the circuitry from a three-transistor model to five transistors which, through a technique he calls differential mixing, now enables the frequency divider to divide by three, as well as two, making the power-saving ILFD technique viable for the first time. Wu's "Divide-by-Odd-Number ILFD" will be of increasing importance as the frequencies of Wi-Fi and other networking devices move up the spectrum into the 60 GHz band.
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Tech Industry Attacks State Anti-RFID Laws
CNet (04/19/06) Broache, Anne

The electronics industry is lobbying against proposals in numerous states that would limit and even outlaw use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips on personal identification documents such as drivers' licenses. Though most of these proposals are stalled, a bill introduced in California last week would ban the issuance of licenses or other ID cards using "radio waves to either transmit personal information remotely or to enable personal information to be read from the license or card remotely." At heart of the issue are fears that as the technology becomes ubiquitous, it could eventually be employed for the secret tracking or unauthorized collection of personal data contained on the chips. The electronics industry says a lot of the fears are ungrounded and that current laws proscribing the theft of personal information could be broadened to incorporate RFID. "Consumers don't know what RFID does, so to them it's voodoo, it's magic," said Marc Anthony Signorino, technology policy director for the American Electronics Association, which represents about 2,700 companies. "Part of our job is to educate them about what it can do and what it cannot do." Experts say concerns are so widespread that new federal Department of Homeland Security regulations expected later in the year setting standards for states to roll out a national ID for all Americans, perhaps by as early as 2008, will not require those cards to employ RFID.
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NSF Begins to Measure Societal Impacts of Research
Science (04/21/06) Vol. 312, No. 5772, P. 347; Mervis, Jeffrey

The National Science Foundation is launching an initiative to gauge the effects of past research and better predict the impact of future endeavors tentatively dubbed "the science of science policy." The initiative comes out of the realization that scientists do not know enough about the development process to satisfy policymakers making investments of public money. The NSF's social, behavioral, and economic sciences division, which is leading the measurement initiative, will hold three workshops to provide researchers with the intellectual underpinning of the program. The NSF hopes to receive $6.8 million from Congress in the form of a down payment on a program it says could eventually lead to the creation of a half-dozen major research centers at U.S. universities. In its 2007 budget request, the NSF stated that the initiative would enable policymakers to "reliably evaluate returns received from R&D investments and to forecast likely returns from future investments." At the first workshop, held on May 17 to 18, scientists will discuss the origins of individual and group creativity and innovation in the scientific process. On June 1 to 2, scientists at the second workshop will analyze the impact of cultural, political, demographic, and economic currents on the creation and implementation of knowledge. Then, in July, an international forum will develop recommendations for improving surveys and other measurements of a country's technological strength.
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For Developers, Communication Takes Center Stage
eWeek (04/17/06) Vol. 23, No. 16, P. D1; Coffee, Peter

The development of innovative enterprise applications has come under increasing regulatory scrutiny, though IBM Rational's Lee Nackman sees in the heightened levels of governance the opportunity for communication between developers and business-unit managers, enabling them to work past their linguistic and environmental barriers. Nackman argues that business executives do not need to be directly involved in the details of the development process, or even be able to read the code that developers produce, but that they should instead be engaged in a dialogue with the developers to ensure that they are working toward a common goal. "When you look at various approaches to software development that involve iteration, one of the key ideas is that you can actually produce something concrete in a relatively short period of time that you can then interact with the business stakeholder [about] and get feedback," Nackman said, evoking the principles of agile development, which correlate frequent delivery of working code to customer satisfaction. Nackman believes that an honest discussion of the decision-making process is integral to developing a cohesive enterprise architecture. That decision-making process, the essence of governance, must be tailored to the desired end, argues Nackman, noting that sometimes the specific technology used to achieve a goal is superfluous to its business value. Object-oriented languages and service-oriented architectures can facilitate a flexible model of governance that hinges on interface, rather than implementation, Nackman believes. He also argues that open-source initiatives demonstrate the viability of a decentralized governance model requiring no formal organization. Most importantly, developers must know the business value of their project, Nackman says, arguing that a common characteristic of companies that successfully deploy IT is a concrete understanding of how it aligns with the goals of the business.
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Students Compete to Build Firefighting Robots
Chronicle of Higher Education (04/21/06) Vol. 52, No. 33, P. A44; Carnevale, Dan

Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., drew more than 120 teams from around the world for its 13th annual robot-firefighter competition last week. For the contest, the teams were required to build small and completely autonomous robots that have the ability to make their way through a maze, which was designed to represent the floor plan of a house, find a burning candle, and blow it out. The robots often found the fire within 20 seconds. Though speed is extremely important, considering what can happen to a house after 30 seconds, the contest places even more value on efficiency because a commercial firefighting robot would have to be reliable 100 percent of the time. David J. Ahlgren, a professor of engineering at Trinity and director of the competition, says the contest can help facilitate the development of a larger, commercial robot within the next 10 years. For the first time, the participants were able to use multiple robots that work as a team, and a group of students from Trinity made use of six robots that used infrared and other sensors to distinguish a wall from a flame. A team from Shanghai won the expert division of the competition, which required the robot to search two floors, put out two candles, find an "infant," and emit a signal that would lead a human rescuer to the baby.
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Quantum Computing: When Photons Go AWOL
New Scientist (04/15/06) Vol. 190, No. 2547, P. 47; Anderson, Mark

Quantum information researcher James Franson has made an amazing discovery while attempting to improve the way in which particles of light, or photons, carry information. While working to prevent a "swap gate" from failing as photons travel through optical fiber, he has learned that bits of empty space can become entangled. One photon would cross over and result in two photons traveling through the same fiber, which prompted Franson to make use of a "watcher" to prevent the quantum state of a photon from changing or evolving. "In the quantum Zeno effect, a randomly occurring event can be suppressed by frequent observation to determine whether or not it has occurred," says Franson. Rather than use a single photon, Franson fired a laser beam into each of the fibers, and he discovered that the "holes," or regions of empty space, in the two different beams of photons became entangled. With quantum entanglement, information on the transmitted quantum bits does not have to be encoded, which makes Franson believe a new way of processing information could come from his discovery. "These kinds of correlations can be used to implement secure communications--quantum cryptography--or to transmit an unknown state via quantum teleportation," he says. Experiments on photon holes still must be conducted, and he believes the holes should be far apart and that laser beams should travel through fibers in opposite directions.
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Embedded Experts: Fix Code Bugs or Cost Lives
EE Times (04/10/06)No. 1418, P. 1; Merritt, Rick; Goering, Richard; Lammers, David

Good programming discipline and management support in software engineering can mean the difference between life and death because many embedded systems--particularly those whose function can prolong or protect human life--rely heavily on software, said speakers at the recent Embedded Systems Conference. Instances where software glitches had severe, often deadly consequences include a radiation system in Panama that gave 28 patients lethal overdoses in May 2001, and the crash of a U.S. Army helicopter whose software contained 500 errors in just the first 17 percent of tested code. "We aren't afraid of software, but we need to be, because one wrong bit out of 100 million can cause people to die," warned consultant Jack Ganssle. He urged software engineers to incorporate rigorous up-front testing into the design process, while Embedded Research Solutions CTO Dave Stewart said engineers must always return to the start of the testing suite to ensure that the changes they make because of failures do not introduce new bugs. He also advised engineers to create error-handling modes in their programs that must exist as just another system state and regard errors as one of many potential inputs. Ericsson Labs' Lorenzo Fasanelli said programmers must routinely classify all inputs and system states as well as note any unauthorized inputs or edge states, while programs should regularly monitor and document their own performance, down time, and memory integrity. Programmers must realize that the most popular programming languages, C and C++, are highly susceptible to bugs, according to Saks & Associates President Dan Saks. Systems architect Kim Fowler said engineers need to caution management by providing examples of past failures or the kinds of problems that long feature lists, tight budgets, and abbreviated schedules could lead to.
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