Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
July 31, 2006

MemberNet
The ACM Professional Development Centre
Unsubscribe

Welcome to the July 31, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Sponsored by Information, Inc.

http://www.infoinc.com/sponsorthenews/contactus.html


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Now Starring...Digital People
New York Times (07/31/06) P. C1; Markoff, John

Former Apple engineer Steve Perlman is finalizing a futuristic camera system that could revolutionize Hollywood cinematography with photorealistic three-dimensional effects. Contour, to be unveiled today at the SIGGRAPH conference in Boston, will be able to capture the facial movements of actors in unprecedented detail. "Instead of grabbing points on a face, you will be able to capture the entire skin," said director David Fincher, who plans to use Contour when he begins filming a movie next year whose main character ages in reverse. "You're going to get all of the enormous detail and quirks of human expression that you can't plan for." The technology could lead to what observers in Hollywood are referring to as "navigable entertainment," a new form of digital video where viewers could control the point of view. For the system to work, actors cover themselves in a phosphorescent powder that does not show up under normal light. Two synchronized cameras then record the actors' movements in a light-sealed room. Using florescent lighting that flashes at intervals too rapid for humans to perceive, cameras capture the light and transmit images to a group of computers that reproduce the three-dimensional shapes of the glowing areas. Sophisticated software tools can then manipulate the images and edit them into broader digital scenes. Until now, the creation of realistic digital actors has required significant computing resources and has been prohibitively expensive. "The holy grail of digital effects has been to create a photorealistic human being," said Ed Ulrich of Digital Domain. Contour builds on existing motion-capture technology by increasing the image resolution from a few hundred points on a human face to some 200,000 pixels. Perlman and a small team of engineers developed Contour in his Palo Alto, Calif., garage using a small graphics supercomputer.
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link May Require Free Registration
to the top


Tech Camp Targets Girls
Poughkeepsie Journal (NY) (07/27/06) Wolf, Craig

Now in its eighth year, IBM's EXITE (Exploring Interests in Technology and Engineering) program brings middle-school girls to a week-long camp that seeks to boost female participation in technical fields. "Over the last decade, fewer women have pursued science and engineering at the university level, despite the fact during the next decade, one in 10 jobs will be the technology field," said IBM's Mary Murray. There are 1,700 girls participating in EXITE camps around the world, and more than 5,000 have attended since the program began. The hope is that some will go on to careers in technology. Murray's assertion is disputed by some in the field, including WashTech President Marcus Courtney, who cites a University of Chicago study that found that more technical jobs are being lost than created. "You can't criticize a company for wanting to promote a strong foundation in math and science," Courtney said. "But the company continually overstates the demand for students who have computer science and engineering degrees, and the actual number of jobs being created in the industry."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Security Risk in Web 2.0
CNet (07/28/06) Evers, Joris

The hype surrounding the development of Web 2.0 has been so overwhelming that the issue of security is being forgotten, say experts. Web 2.0 allows Web sites to expand their features by being more interactive. It allows users to write captions under online photos and offers experiences similar to that of desktop applications. Web 2.0 has created a buzz about its features, but no one is thinking about safety. "We're continuing to make the same mistakes by putting security last," says Billy Hoffman at SPI Dynamics. "People are buying into this hype and throwing together ideas for Web applications, but they are not thinking about security, and they are not realizing how badly they are exposing their users." Advanced Web sites use Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX), which helps make Web sites more interactive, but may also be exploited by hackers. AJAX may contain cross-site scripting flaws, which an attacker can use to hack user accounts, download malicious code on PCs, and spread phishing scams. Not everyone agrees that Web developers neglect security. Ryan Asleson, co-author of "Foundations of Ajax," says security was not as big of a problem 10 years ago as it is today, and Google and AOL agree. Yahoo insists it does the best it can to protect its users' information. Asleson says developers can prevent security issues through training and best practices.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Team Combing Internet to Track Terrorism
Arizona Republic (07/28/06) Carroll, Susan

Researchers at the University of Arizona have amassed the largest online repository of intelligence on terrorist and extremist organizations in the world. They hope that the Dark Web project will improve intelligence agents' ability to track terror suspects on the Internet, which has long been acknowledged as a shortcoming of the intelligence community. The Web has become the primary tool for communication and recruiting among many extremist and terrorist groups. Using supercomputers, the Arizona researchers developed a virtual library that contains millions of Web pages and intercepts chatter on terrorist Web sites. "Even the people we talk to in the federal agencies are hampered by the amount of information that's being collected. They don't know how to analyze it," said Hsinchun Chen, the director of UA's Artificial Intelligence Lab, which launched the Dark Web project three years ago. "It's a new virtual battleground." Dark Web uses programs to find connections among different groups using social-networking analysis, and also detects similarities in writing styles and performs Web-matrix analyses to gauge the sophistication of the sites. To avoid detection, terrorist groups often only hold on to Internet addresses for a short period of time. Some of the sites contain detailed instructional information, such as a guide on how to carry out a bombing or a beheading. "The Web is the al-Qaida university. They season you, and they recruit you, and they give you all the materials to train you," Chen said. "It's a very significant international phenomenon."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


How Can I Tell If I'll Be Any Good as a Programmer?
Guardian Unlimited (UK) (07/27/06) Arthur, Charles

Saeed Dehnadi and Richard Bornat from Middlesex University's school of computing have created a test that can help determine whether a student is likely to become a good programmer. The test, which consists of a three-line code example and multiple-choice questions, "predicts ability to program with very high accuracy before the subjects have ever seen a program or a programming language," according to a draft paper written by Dehnadi and Bornat. Programming teachers often find out through exams that they are teaching two groups of students with different abilities. "It is as if there are two populations: Those who can, and those who can not, each with its own independent bell curve," they say. Reports indicate that 30 percent to 60 percent of a group of incoming computer science students will fail the first programming course. The draft paper challenges the notion of simply recruiting more computer programming students, when the focus should be on identifying people who are likely to succeed as students and as professionals. The British Computer Society reports that applications for computer-related degrees are down 50 percent, but the dropouts could very well be people who are unlikely to be good programmers.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


CERT Seeks Secure Coding Input
Dark Reading (07/25/06) Higgins, Kelly Jackson

Next month, the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) will give developers their first chance to look at the work behind its Secure Coding Initiative (SCI). When completed, SCI will produce a set of rules for developers to create safer and more reliable software, according to CERT's Robert Seacord. "We're focusing on common programming errors that developers can make. These are the sort of errors you put into code and can lead to exploitable vulnerabilities," Seacord said. Buffer overflow is one of the most common results of programmer error, he added. Though there have been many attempts to improve the security of software code, none has been articulated as a universal set of standards, Seacord said. By CERT's latest figures, there were 3,997 vulnerabilities reported in the second quarter of this year alone, while there were 5,990 for the entirety of 2005. In an effort to ensure that its standards will be adopted by the community, CERT is partnering with developers and actively soliciting input.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Navigation Guides Robotic Future
Research Australia (07/26/06)

Working under a $3.3 million grant, researchers at the University of Queensland will launch a program to develop a new breed of robots that will be able to acquire knowledge about their environment based on research about animal navigation skills. They will study the way that bees, rodents, and humans navigate in an attempt to learn how the hippocampus functions. "One thing that makes us special as humans is that we might be using this part of the brain not just to map physical space, which we do very effectively, but also to map the space of ideas," said Janet Wiles, a cognitive scientist at Queensland and the project leader. The researchers could then use computer models to convert the results into maps of ideas. Those same models could be used to give robots the ability to navigate. "The study will look at how information is transmitted, received, processed, and understood in biological and artificial systems," she said.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Reducing the Dimensionality of Data With Neural Networks
Science (07/28/06) Vol. 313, No. 5786, P. 504; Hinton, G.E.; Salakhutdinov, R.R.

Teaching a multilayer neural network with a small central layer to rebuild high-dimensional input vectors can facilitate the conversion of high-dimensional data to low-dimensional codes, and the reciprocal decoding of code into data. The weights in such "autoencoder networks" can be refined via gradient descent, provided the initial weights are close to a good solution. G.E. Hinton and R.R. Salakhutdinov detail how to initialize the weights in such as way as to enable deep autoencoder networks to learn low-dimensional codes that are a much more effective tool for data dimensionality reduction than principal components analysis. They outline a neural network comprised of a stack of restricted Boltzmann machines (RBM), each of which boasts a single layer of feature detectors. The learned feature activations of one RBM are employed as the "data" for training the next machine in the stack. Following pretraining, the RBMs are "unrolled" and create a deep autoencoder. The autoencoder is then refined via backpropagation of error derivatives. "Unlike nonparametric methods, autoencoders give mappings in both directions between the data and code spaces, and they can be applied to very large data sets because both the pretraining and the fine-tuning scale linearly in time and space with the number of training cases," the authors conclude.
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link to Publication Homepage
to the top


Divided By a Common Language
Guardian Unlimited (UK) (07/27/06) McCarthy, Kieren

The Internet is not exactly global in scope for people in countries outside of Europe and the Americas, countries that do not use Latin-based languages such as Asian and Middle Eastern nations. People in these countries who do not know English or another Latin-based language must at minimum master the unfamiliar letters that make up .com, .net, .org, and other domain endings. In addition, they often have to search through volumes of English-language text to find a translation button, or have to comb through blizzards of English-language Web sites to find an oasis of Web sites in their own native language. ICANN, Internet expert Vint Cerf, and the U.K. Parliament are among those who believe that Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) in non-Latin-based languages is the single most pressing concern for the future of the Internet as a global system. The emergence of other Internets in non-Latin languages with their own DNS roots is the main threat to the continued existence to a single World Wide Web. China already has created Chinese-language equivalents to .com, .net, .org; China announced it this past February, but has not broken off from the Internet. Israel has an internal system in Hebrew; Iran, Syria, Japan, and Korea have similar systems; and Microsoft plans to debut its own IDN system as part of its newest version of Internet Explorer. Right now all these systems are added onto the Internet itself, but how long this status quo may last without a global integration of IDNs remains to be seen.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Interstate Intelligence
Popular Mechanics (07/06) Vol. 183, No. 7, P. 42; Ward, Logan

Experts at the annual World Congress on Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) predict that the highways of the future will more efficiently manage traffic through wireless technology. This is the goal of the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) initiative, which Philip Tarnoff of the University of Maryland's Center for Advanced Transportation Technology characterizes as an effort to "manage vehicular traffic similar to the way telephone companies manage telephone traffic." Intelligent highways, or "smart roads," are expected to have a network of transponders and Global Positioning System (GPS) units to detour specially equipped cars around accidents and other obstructions to unsnarl congestion. The implementation of VII involves collaboration between car manufacturers, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and state DOTs; the state and federal DOTs would install the transponders along the highways while the carmakers would outfit vehicles with compatible telematic units. Privacy protection is a hot-button issue associated with VII, since the initiative would rely on the harvesting of information by both the government and megacorporations. Privacy rules are being crafted by a subcommittee within VII, with concern particularly focused on law-enforcement groups demanding data for criminal investigations. "How do you protect people's privacy and still allow such a ubiquitous network?" asks VII privacy committee Chairman Paul Barrett. The project is currently in the test phase, which will continue until the federal government decides whether to approve it in 2008.
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link to Publication Homepage
to the top


Metcalfe's Law Is Wrong
IEEE Spectrum (07/06) Vol. 43, No. 7, P. 34; Briscoe, Bob; Odlyzko, Andrew; Tilly, Benjamin

Metcalfe's Law states that the value of a communications network--any communications network--is proportional to the square of its user population, but BT Networks Research Center researcher Bob Briscoe, University of Minnesota professor Andrew Odlyzko, and Rent.com programmer Benjamin Tilly contend that the law is wrong and that heeding this warning will help ensure that the new wave of telecommunications growth driven by broadband does not fall prey to the same mistakes that characterized the dot-com bubble. The authors maintain that the increase in value that accompanies the network's growth is a direct reflection of the type of network involved, and that this value falls somewhere between linear and exponential growth. The basic error Metcalfe's Law makes is assuming that all connections or groups in the network have equal value, when in fact most large network connections lie idle. Metcalfe's Law cannot account for isolated communications networks, because by its reckoning all networks depending on the same technology should have the incentive to integrate or at least interconnect. Briscoe et al also point out that while Metcalfe's Law would dictate that two networks of disparate size interconnect, in reality only companies of approximately equal size are encouraged to interconnect. "At a time when telecommunications is the key infrastructure for the global economy, providers need to make fundamental decisions about whether they will be pure providers of connectivity or make their money by selling or reselling content, such as television and movies," state the authors. "It is essential that they value their enterprises correctly--neither overvaluing the business of providing content nor overvaluing, as Metcalfe's Law does, the business of providing connectivity."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Neuron-Microchip Interface
Futurist (08/06) Vol. 40, No. 4, P. 14; Tucker, Patrick

NACHIP project scientists say they have been able to create a "working interface" by fusing mammalian neurons with a silicon chip, which they say puts them closer to getting both groups to communicate. "Computers and brains work electrically," says Peter Fromherz at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry. "However, their charge carriers are different." The science has been able to help researchers create a map of the human brain that shows how thoughts and emotions develop into consciousness, leading to the formation of memory. Scientists are also exploring using genes to communicate with neurons. The research may also help create new, implantable neural prostheses to fight neurological disorders and could possibly lead to the development of a computer with a structure similar to that of a human brain. Those kinds of advancements are still many years away, according to researchers. "Pharmaceutical companies could use the chip to test the effect of drugs neurons, to quickly discover promising avenues of research," says Stefano Vassanelli at Italy's University of Padua. The NACHIP project receives funding through the European Commission's Future and Emerging Technologies Commission.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Evolution of an Internet Standard
IETF Journal (Quarter 3, 2006) Vol. 2, No. 1,Huston, Geoff

Author Geoff Huston outlines the route of an individual document through the IETF's Internet Standards Process, stressing that the purpose of Internet standards is "to address a practical need where a standard specification can assist both vendors and consumers of a product or a service to be assured that a standards conformant implementation will undertake certain functions in a known manner, and that, as appropriate, implementations of the standard specification from different vendors will indeed interoperate in intended ways." The first step is to clearly answer the question of what problem the standard is supposed to solve and why that problem must be addressed via standardization. Incorporating the work item within the agenda of an IETF Working Group (WG) is the next step, and while some items may produce their own WGs, others may simply be added to an existing WG, usually through the acceptance of an individual submitted Internet-Draft as a WG document. Step three is to refine the document to ensure that it is a peer-reviewed, neutral, and unbiased specification that demonstrates a common comprehension of the space; that it feasibly and pragmatically addresses the problem while being of practical use to the Internet; and that it is reflective of a rough agreement of being a high-quality spec. The fourth step is to evaluate the implementability and interoperability of multiple independent spec deployments, which serves to gauge the spec's practicality and usefulness. In the next step, the document is handed over to the IESG for a detailed iterative review process that concludes with its publication as an RFC. The final step is for others to generate implementations of the technology or debate its application within their specific domain as they employ the spec in their area of expertise.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Human Touch
Science & Spirit (07/06) Kuzma, Cindy

Increasingly sophisticated and intelligent robots are throwing the issue of machine cognition into sharp relief. But consciousness in people and animals is only just starting to be defined by neuroscientists, notes Patricia Churchland of the University of California, San Diego. She doubts that conscious machines can be constructed until humans understand the mechanics of consciousness. Currently under development are robots that integrate AI models based on the behavior of humans and animals with neuroanatomy that enables the machines to gather data from the outside world and alter tasks according to their perceptions of their surroundings. Director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory Rodney Brooks has created a number of robots designed to mimic human learning: One such robot is Abrero, a machine whose hand is equipped with tactile sensors that allow it to sense when its grip on an object is slipping and immediately respond to this input by making a grab for it. Another robot from MIT named Mertz has a camera-outfitted humanoid head that can record images of the people it encounters for later identification via face-recognition software. Drawing a distinction between people and objects is essential to creating interactive robots, according to Brooks; "If we want to have robots that interact with people in the future, they should know what things are people and what are not people," he explains. One school of thought believes conscious robots will remove some of humanity's uniqueness, but robotics expert Ray Kurzweil disputes this assumption, especially as humans integrate with robotic technology to augment their bodies and brains.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Wi-Fi's Five-Pronged Attack Alters the Wireless Landscape
Electronic Design (07/20/06) Vol. 54, No. 16, P. 36; Frenzel, Louis E.

There are five reasons why Wi-Fi is proving to be so successful, the first being the continuous development of standards both large and small. The latest standard, 802.11g, delivers up to 54 Mbps in the 2.4 GHz band, and it is the standard through which most wireless connectivity is currently achieved. Ratification of the 802.11n standard, which promises more than 100 Mbps data rates via the use of multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) technology, is pending; in the meantime "draft-n" offerings are available, and though those products will not offer full interoperability, the Wi-Fi Alliance provides a testing and certification process to guarantee interoperability. Also contributing to Wi-Fi's amazing progress is the proliferation of Wi-Fi hot spots (more than 100,000 globally, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance) and the rollout of VoIP over Wi-Fi through converged cellular/Wi-Fi handsets, which has facilitated the development of unlicensed mobile access (UMA) systems. A fourth trend benefiting Wi-Fi is the deployment of self-healing, self-configuring mesh networks, a scheme that enables a few wireless nodes to supply blanket coverage for a very large area. Wi-Fi mesh networks are very popular for municipal deployments designed to enhance city government services, make local broadband markets more competitive, and help cities close the gap between the Internet haves and have-nots. The fifth development adding to the success of Wi-Fi is the incorporation of the technology into many consumer electronics products. Wireless video technology is expected to be the killer residential Wi-Fi application.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: technews@hq.acm.org

To unsubscribe from the ACM TechNews Early Alert Service: Please send a separate email to listserv@listserv.acm.org with the line

signoff technews

in the body of your message.

Please note that replying directly to this message does not automatically unsubscribe you from the TechNews list.

ACM may have a different email address on file for you, so if you're unable to "unsubscribe" yourself, please direct your request to: technews-request@ acm.org

We will remove your name from the TechNews list on your behalf.

For help with technical problems, including problems with leaving the list, please write to: technews-request@acm.org

to the top

News Abstracts © 2006 Information, Inc.


© 2006 ACM, Inc. All rights reserved. ACM Privacy Policy.

About ACM | Contact us | Boards & Committees | Press Room | Membership | Privacy Policy | Code of Ethics | System Availability | Copyright © 2014, ACM, Inc.