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July 28, 2006

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U.S. Computer Programmers Losing Ground
Voice of America News (07/27/06) Hoke, Zlatica

From 1977 to 1989, U.S. collegiate teams dominated the annual ACM programming competition, and U.S. students were among the top finishers through the late 1990s. Since then, however, they have been over taken by Asian and East European students. Only one U.S. team finished in the top 12 in this year's competition; last year there were none. To some, this trend is emblematic of a broader and more serious shortage of computer scientists looming in the future. "If you look at the rate of production of individuals either with bachelors' degrees or advanced degrees in those disciplines in the United States, it's about half the rate of production of those of let's say India and China, which are the two major producers," said Mel Schiavelli, president of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. "Said another way," he continues, "in the United States, less than a third of students who go to college decide to study a science or technology or engineering discipline. Whereas when you get to China, it's closer to 70 percent." Schiavelli also believes that science education in general has declined in the United States, noting the significant number of math teachers who are not certified in the field. As a result, students are often unprepared for the difficulty of university-level computer science courses, and many professors have made their courses easier to keep students from switching majors. "University programs are faced with a challenge of: 'If we want to keep our jobs, we have to keep our students.' So then they start dumbing down their programs to keep more of their students when their is a sign they are going to leave," said Doug White, a computer science professor at Roger Williams University. Meanwhile, the flourishing technology industries in China and India have lead millions of students to pursue computer science programs. Concerns about outsourcing threaten to further erode the computing workforce in the United States, as many students have turned away from computer science out of the fear that there will be no jobs waiting for them when they graduate.
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East Coast Researchers Showcase Breakthrough Technologies at SIGGRAPH in Boston
Business Wire (07/27/06)

Participants at the SIGGRAPH 2006 Emerging Technologies exhibition will present a host of cutting-edge research in human-computer interaction. SIGGRAPH accepted 36 installations of the 110 submissions that it received. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will present three items at the exhibition. Walter Dan Stiehl will give a presentation entitled "The Huggable: A Therapeutic Robotic Companion for Relational, Affective Touch," a robotic companion developed around research in pet therapy that features a complete sense of touch, voice-coil actuators, and a built-in PC that enables the robot to communicate with the staff of a hospital or nursing home. MIT's Angela Chang will present "Tangibles at Play," which blends art, design, and education to explore the way that humans understand information with their hands and peripheral senses. The third MIT exhibition comes from Takehiko Nagakura, who will present an interactive browser built for architectural designs. Another installation will feature a haptic sensing digitizer that mounts to a user's fingertip to capture the phenomena that occur through tactile movements. Ramesh Reskar of Mitsubishi Electronic Research Labs (MERL) will present "Instant Reply," a space-labeling technology that can track and visualize the movements of a puck on an air hockey table. MERL's Paul Dietz will present "Submerging Technologies," which exploits the electro-optical properties in water to make it function as a sensor. SIGGRAPH takes place from July 30 to August 3 in Boston. For more information on SIGGRAPH, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2006/
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Second GPLv3 Draft Tones Down DRM Language
IDG News Service (07/27/06) Martens, China

In the second draft of the general public license volume three (GPLv3), the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has backed down from the rigid and polarizing language concerning digital rights management that characterized the first draft. Whereas the first draft was solely authored by the FSF, "The second draft is reflective of broader opinion, of the FSF and thousands of other people around the world," said the foundation's Eben Moglen. The first draft described DRM as "digital restrictions management," and prohibited software licensed under the GPL from being used in DRM software. The DRM portion of the second draft has been overhauled with considerably milder and more general language. Instead of dealing with the technology specifically, the section has been retitled "no denying users' rights through technical measures." The second draft also clarifies the language addressing large software distributors that own and cross-license patents to protect end users from claims of patent infringement. The draft suggests that a company could continue to ensure free access to source code by directing users to a Web site that hosts the software. The section on licensing compatibility, which many felt was difficult to understand, has also been substantially rewritten. The issue of legally binding translations of the license remains unclear, Moglen says.
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UCI Researchers 'Text Mine' the New York Times, Demonstrating Ease and Evolution of Potent New Technology
University of California, Irvine (07/26/06)

Using bleeding-edge text-mining technology, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have performed an analysis of 330,000 stories mainly published by the New York Times. "We have shown in a very practical way how a new text-mining technique makes understanding huge volumes of text quicker and easier," said UCI computer scientist David Newman. "To put it simply, text mining has made an evolutionary jump. In just a few short years, it could become a common and useful tool for everyone from medical doctors to advertisers, publishers to politicians." The researchers used a text-mining technique known as topic modeling, which searches for patterns of words that typically appear together in documents and categorizes them into topics. While the UCI researchers did not invent topic modeling, they are among the first to demonstrate the technique's utility by analyzing a large archive. Creating topics enabled the researchers to track what items received the most press attention from year to year. Looking at a list of words that includes "rider," "bike," "race," "Jan Ullrich," and "Lance Armstrong," for instance, the researchers could easily identify the topic as the Tour de France. "If I were advertising a product related to the Tour de France, I might want to know whether interest in the Tour de France is increasing or decreasing," Newman said. "This might be very important knowledge."
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Introverted IT Students More Inclined to Cyber-Crime
New Scientist (07/26/06) Marks, Paul

A recent study has found that introverted technology students are more prone to "deviant" computer conduct, contradicting earlier research that suggested that malicious computing activities are most often the product of extroverts. The researchers polled 77 Purdue University computer science students with an anonymous online questionnaire, asking questions about their involvement in deviant computing activities, some of which are unlawful, such as using another person's password, writing and dispatching a virus, and obtaining credit card numbers. "Of 77 students, 68 admitted to engaging in an activity that could be classified as deviant," said Purdue computer scientist Marcus Rogers. In a self-evaluation, the deviant students gave themselves a 10 percent higher ranking on a scale that measured introversion. Acknowledging the limited scope of the study, Marcus cautions against using the results to support sweeping generalizations. Rogers himself was involved in a 2003 survey of arts students at the University of Manitoba, Canada, that found an increased rate of "deviant" activity among extroverts. DataSec's Jon Munsey believes that each personality type has a niche in the realm of computer misuse. Irrespective of the proportion of introverts and extroverts, Marcus says that he is alarmed by the fact that 88 percent of the students polled admitted to engaging in deviant behavior.
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Experts Weigh Prospect of Full DNS Control by ICANN
IDG News Service (07/27/06) Perez, Juan Carlos

Experts on Internet governance weighed in during a meeting convened by the U.S. Department of Commerce on the future of ICANN and its oversight of the domain name system (DNS) once its contract with the U.S. government expires in September, debating whether the U.S. government should maintain some sort of role or bow out completely. Among those attending was John Kneuer, acting administrator of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, who said, "We have an incentive and a long-standing policy to complete this transition. But we will take no actions that will [compromise] the stability and security of the Internet." Some experts said they think ICANN must go it alone, if not now then later, if for no other reason than to get foreign countries off its back for supposedly doing the U.S. government's bidding. "We continue to be concerned about attempts to politicize the Internet and its management," said Internet Society President and CEO Lynn St. Amour. "As long as the U.S. government has a role in ICANN's governance and management, organizations and other governments have an incentive to try to leverage political channels to their favor." GoDaddy vice president of corporate development and policy Tim Ruiz argued that for now the government should retain its role. Those arguing against a complete handover of DNS oversight agreed that security and the future expansion of the Internet are too large a responsibility to take lightly.
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Congress Needs Better Scientific Advice, Witnesses Say
U.S. House of Representatives (07/25/06)

The quality of the science and technology advice that Congress receives was the focus of a House Committee on Science hearing this week. The panel of experts said the problem has more to do with lawmakers' ability to determine the validity of information they receive and pull knowledge from it. "Although we would like to believe that the scientific and technical advice and assessment provided from outside remains politically neutral, this is not necessarily the case," said Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.). The experts noted that there was a gap in the information available to legislators. "There is no consistent source of in-depth assessments that are balanced, complete, impartial, and produced at a time and in a format that is sensitive to the specific needs of Congress," said Dr. Jon Peha, co-editor of Science and Technology Advice for Congress. The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), a Congressional support office, provided lawmakers with updates on science and technology issues starting in 1972, but OTA funding was axed in 1995. Dr. Catherine Hunt, president-elect of the American Chemical Society, suggested that another in-house science and technology unit be created within the Congressional Research Service or as a standalone agency, while Dr. Peter Blair, executive director of the Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences at the National Research Council, said the task could be given to the National Academies.
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Fingertip Device Helps Computers Read Hand Gestures
University at Buffalo News (07/27/06)

Researchers at the University of Buffalo will demonstrate new haptic technology that will allow computers to respond to hand gestures at the SIGGRAPH 2006 technology conference scheduled for July 30 through Aug. 3 in Boston. Modeled after the biomechanical properties of a finger, the Fingertip Digitizer gives users the opportunity to direct a personal computer by pointing, wagging a finger, tapping in the air, or making another movement. "With this device a computer, cell phone, or computer game could read human intention more naturally," says Young-Seok Kim, who receives his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from UB in May. "Eventually the Fingertip Digitizer may be used as a high-end substitute for a mouse, a keyboard or a joystick." Kim, who developed the Fingertip Digitizer along with Thenkurussi Kesavadas, director of UB's Virtual Reality Lab and an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, says the device could also be used for medical diagnostics in that it would be able to relay the shape and size of a human gland or tumor. As a computer-game accessory, for example, the device would enable players to imitate the squeezing of a trigger or the stroking of a pool cue. The Fingertip Digitizer will be accompanied by Touch Painter and Touch Canvas software, and researchers believe the device could be on the market in three years. For more information on SIGGRAPH, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2006/
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A Processor for the PlayStation Has Supercomputing Promise
Berkeley Lab Research News (07/26/06)

The STI Cell processor, originally designed for Sony's forthcoming PlayStation 3 gaming console, has drawn widespread attention throughout the computational science community for its potential to serve as the foundation for high-performance computers. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, tested the Cell's processing capability and presented their results at the ACM International Conference on Computing Frontiers. "Overall results demonstrate the tremendous potential of the Cell architecture for scientific computations in terms of both raw performance and power efficiency," the researchers wrote. "We also conclude that Cell's heterogeneous multicore implementation is inherently better suited to the HPC environment than homogeneous commodity multicore processors." Designed by Sony, Toshiba, and IBM, Cell has a software-controlled memory hierarchy with substantial floating-point capabilities that enable it to run complex numerical algorithms. Unlike conventional multicore architectures, Cell uses a standard high-performance PowerPC core that directs eight cores known as synergistic processing elements (SPEs), each of which has a local memory, memory-flow controller, and a synergistic processing unit. Since it will be produced in volume for the gaming environment, Cell could be priced to compete with commodity processors. The researchers tested the processor in numerous scientific kernels, including dense matrix multiplication, sparse matrix multiplication, and stencil computations. The researchers noted the high performance of Cell's 32-bit floating point resources, and they sketched out a design with slight hardware changes that could improve 64-bit performance. Cell's three levels of memory architecture decouple access to main memory from computation and offer more predictable performance and higher bandwidth than traditional processors.
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Homeland Security Awards $3 Million to Rutgers-Led Research Consortium
Rutgers University (07/26/06)

Rutgers University will receive a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to coordinate research projects into advanced information analysis and technology that could help indicate a potential terror threat to the nation. The university's Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science (DIMACS) will head a consortium that will focus on finding patterns and relationships in news stories, open-source Web logs, and other accessible information, and rate the consistency and reliability of the sources. "The challenge involved in this endeavor is not only the massive amount of information out there, but also how quickly it flows and how fast the sources of information change," says DIMACS director Fred Roberts. "We will develop real-time streaming algorithms to find patterns and relationships in communications, such as among writers who may be hiding their identities, and to rate information sources for their reliability and trustworthiness." Researchers from AT&T Laboratories, Lucent Technologies Bell Labs, Princeton University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Texas Southern University will participate in the research projects. DHS also awarded grants to the University of Southern California, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Pittsburgh for similar research, and Rutgers will coordinate the overall initiative.
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Computer Camp Draws Students From Coast to Coast
University of Toronto (07/26/06) MacArthur, Michelle

The University of Toronto is hosting 30 high school students during the three-week Computing Insights summer program featuring lectures, lab work, and an opportunity to meet leading experts in the field. "Computing Insights really is about giving kids who are really already interested in computer science a chance to do stuff that they would probably never have a chance to do in high school, or on their own," said Diane Horton, a senior computer science lecturer. The camp is also designed to debunk common misperceptions about computer science. "A lot of students come out of high school with the idea that computer science is about sitting in front of a computer and typing and they don't often see the impact that the programming can have on the things around them and they don't often see the more social side," said Tobi Kral, coordinator of the camp. Daily morning lectures cover topics ranging from artificial intelligence to animation, and afternoons are devoted to lab work where students sharpen their programming skills under the guidance of graduate students.
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New Internet Is the Stuff of Dreams
Chicago Tribune (07/27/06) Van, Jon

Researchers at Japan's National Institute of Information and Communications Technologies have $140 million at their disposal to upgrade the Internet and have chosen to partner with Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, operators of the advanced computer network Starlight, to connect to researchers around the globe through the network's Chicago gateway. Starlight, used for advanced research, runs at speeds more than 10,000 times faster than regular broadband. Development of the next-generation Internet is largely driven by the proliferation of data-rich files, particularly video and its use for both research purposes and by the general public as well. "The Internet needs to be refreshed," says Joel Mambretti, director of Northwestern's center for advanced Internet research. "The text- and picture-based Internet people see today isn't the Internet we'll soon have. It's undergoing a revolution." Already, scientists are using digital video with resolution four times higher than HDTV, including 3D holographs incorporating haptic technology. The Internet2, or national lambda rail, runs at 10 billion bits per second, linking universities around the world. Also driving the development of a new Internet is the need for more IP address space, fueled by the booming technology sectors of countries such as China and India.
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Young Coders Summer on Google
Wired News (07/28/06) Glasner, Joanna

Now in its second year, Google's "Summer of Code" program pairs 630 student programmers with mentors and pays them $4,500 to spend their summer writing code. The program was developed to address the fundamental issue hindering recruitment in the open-source world, namely that skilled volunteer programmers also need to earn an income. Among the projects the programmers are addressing are creating an open instant message program compatible with the leading messaging application in China, and improving the integration of Mozilla with the Linux desk. "A lot of times in computer science school you're exposed to important problems, but you're not exposed to what's on the other side of the keyboard," said Google's Chris DiBona. More than 6,000 students applied for the program, and many of those accepted are not on pace to complete their projects, the mentors say. Too often they are leaving everything for the last minute, the mentors say. The programmers represent some 90 countries, though most are from North America and Western Europe.
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Blind to Lead Way in E-Voting
Australian IT (07/25/06) Jenkins, Chris

The Australian government is considering a trial of electronic voting systems that could lead to the use of e-voting for next year's federal election. The government will decide on the e-voting system recommendations of an electoral committee within six weeks, and the proposal also suggests that the trial involve people who are blind and visually impaired. Last week, the Australian state of Victoria announced that visually impaired people will be able to use e-voting systems to vote in its November elections. The e-voting systems used in Victoria will not tally votes, according to Michael Simpson, public policy manager of Vision Australia. Voters will receive smart cards in order to use the e-voting system, which will read the ballot options to voters via headphones, print their votes, and then return them to the ballot box. E-voting will allow voters to cast their ballots privately and independently, but there are concerns that the technology or results could be used to classify voters. "We are prepared to live with that downside because it is a huge step forward," says Simpson.
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AT&T Labs vs. Google Labs: Not Your Grandfather's R&D
Ars Technica (07/24/06) Stokes, Jon Hannibal

Though AT&T and Verizon are frequently derided as lumbering relics of a bygone era, innovation is still very much a part of the climate at the nation's two largest telecommunications companies. AT&T researchers are actively working on projects in the areas of data mining, voice recognition, data security, and wireless networking, among others. Modern corporate research labs are very different from their predecessors, however. Fabled institutions such as Xerox PARC and Bell Labs relied heavily on government funding and researchers were encouraged to develop visionary technologies irrespective of their immediate commercial potential. It was in these labs that the major infrastructure of the modern information society was developed, and funding such efforts was a major source of corporate pride. Today's model--the famed "two guys in a garage"--is squarely focused on using basic science to bring products to market, while the major public and private research labs have all been downsizing. Whereas "blue sky" labs were created to allow scientists to pursue their own research 100 percent of the time, Google, widely heralded as a leader in innovation, allows its researchers to work on pet projects 20 percent of the time. As a result, today's companies are using but not replacing the scientific capital created by the previous generation of researchers. The tendency to neglect basic scientific research could become a threat to the United States' ability to compete with countries such as China and South Korea that heavily invest public funds in innovation.
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Bluetooth to Proliferate in Vehicles
TechNewsWorld (07/22/06) Koprowski, Gene J.

In the next five years, nearly one-third of all new automobiles will have wireless Bluetooth technology equipment, versus 3 percent in 2005, according to a Strategy Analytics report. The demand is being driven by an increase in consumer awareness about Bluetooth, quick adoption of the technology on mobile phones, demand for hands-free devices, an increase in the number of Bluetooth solutions available in the original equipment, and legislation. "As we have already seen with portable navigation, poor competitiveness from carmakers and automotive system suppliers will result in aftermarket vendors taking a greater share of the growing consumer demand for Bluetooth," says Strategy Analytics analyst Clare Hughes. Researchers predict stereo headsets, MP3 players, notebook PCs, and game consoles will be areas of growth for Bluetooth. Higher data rates led to the increased shipments of Bluetooth this year. Research Markets says a higher bandwidth version of Bluetooth, which offers data speeds of up to 480 Mbps over short distances, is getting ready to be shipped in products soon. Bluetooth can also be used in motorcycles, as well as cars and SUVs.
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Chaotic Chomp
Science News (07/22/06) Vol. 170, No. 4, P. 58; Peterson, Ivars

Fluctuating geometric patterns resembling crystal growth have been uncovered via a new, physics-based method for analyzing simple games such as Chomp. The two-player game of Chomp involves cookies arranged in a rectangular pattern that are removed in turns, with the loser being the player forced to take the poison cookie in the lower left-hand corner. Only two Chomp scenarios have yielded winning strategies: When cookie arrays are square and the first player starts by choosing the cookie that is diagonally adjacent to the poison cookie, and when the array is in two columns and the first player takes the top right cookie so that one of the columns is always shorter than the other. Mathematicians have established that the first player can always win, and Cornell University computer scientist Eric Friedman and Claremont Mckenna, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges physicist Adam Landsberg teamed up to show what strategies will probably guarantee wins by applying re-normalization techniques to combinatorial games such as Chomp. Re-normalization tools allow physicists to calculate the properties of objects or physical systems that exhibit a geometric similarity across varying scales. It may be possible to efficiently determine areas of combinatorial games most likely to harbor winning moves, given the games' geometric architecture. "Finding good algorithms for solving or approximating [simple combinatorial games] is a first step toward understanding the much more complex games that arise at the intersection of computer science and economics," notes Landsberg. Rutgers University mathematician Doron Zeilberger thought the game of Chomp was a perfect problem for demonstrating how computers can contribute to mathematical research.
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Hack-Proof Design
EDN (07/20/06) P. 47; Webb, Warren

The profusion of networked devices and the refinement of hackers' attack methods are fueling the urgency among embedded-system designers to prioritize security requirements. All security requirements must be addressed during the design phase, prior to the deployment of an embedded system product. The National Institute of Standards and Technology's Computer Security Resource Center offers security-related publications for designers outlining what kinds of challenges need to be met, such as the identification of data or proprietary information in need of protection, and identification of potential attackers and how sophisticated they are. Security measures to be considered include the physical isolation of networked systems, and the containment of sensitive equipment within rugged packaging that cannot be accessed without specialized gear. The Common Criteria for Information Technology Security Evaluation are internationally formulated guidelines for system security standards, which enables consumers, developers, and evaluators to particularize the security functions of a product in standards-protection profiles and evaluation-assurance levels. Users must confirm their identities before they can interact with a secure embedded system via authentication, while data encryption plays an important role when embedded systems link to a network or the Internet. Concurrent with improving security is device manufacturers' experimentation with new business models, such as the pay-as-you-go scheme in which customers agree to pay for a device as they use it and in return receive full functionality. Failure to pay gives the vendor license to withhold network-activation codes and disable the device, while bypassing activation or parts removal is thwarted by a strong security model.
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