Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
August 11, 2006

MemberNet
The ACM Professional Development Centre
Unsubscribe

Welcome to the August 11, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Sponsored by
Learn more about Texis, the text-oriented database 
providing high-performance search engine features combined with SQL 
operations and a development toolkit, that powers many diverse 
applications, including Webinator and the Thunderstone Search Appliance.
Learn more about Texis, the text-oriented database providing high-performance search engine features combined with SQL operations and a development toolkit, that powers many diverse applications, including Webinator and the Thunderstone Search Appliance.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

PC Users Come to Aid of Scientists
Baltimore Sun (08/10/06) P. 1A; Stroh, Michael

Scientists facing declining research budgets and mounting volumes of data are increasingly leaning on the computing power of interested amateurs to help with their experiments. In one project, computer users are enlisted to search for 50 microscopic clumps of interstellar dust left behind by a comet. "It's like trying to find 50 ants on a football field," said physicist Andrew Westphal. It would take years for NASA scientists to find them all, he said. The scope of the project led Westphal and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, to launch the Stardust@home initiative, whereby anyone with a computer can volunteer to scour the findings of the Stardust satellite in search of the microscopic dust. That idea, what is known as distributed computing, originated with the SETI@home program, which relies on volunteers to download software to help with the search for extraterrestrial life. SETI proved that the scant processing power of the PC can have a significant impact when multiplied by thousands of users, and more than two dozen similar projects have since been launched, developing new drugs for AIDS, forecasting global climate change, and other applications. "I wouldn't go so far as to say distributed computing has completely changed the scientific landscape. But it's on the verge of doing that," said UC Berkeley computer scientist David Anderson, who also directs the SETI@home project. "The groups that have more computing power, they're just able to do research other people can't." Before rolling out the Stardust@home project, Westphal and his colleagues toyed with the idea of writing pattern-recognition software to detect the comet dust, but they soon found that it travels at a rate of speed too fast for any one lab to measure.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Debate Over E-Voting Is Still Plaguing Elections
National Journal's Technology Daily (08/09/06) Casey, Winter

The controversy surrounding e-voting systems, which has been raging since their rapid deployment in the wake of the disputed 2000 presidential election, shows little signs of subsiding. New complaints have emerged in Georgia about a primary election in which Rep. Cynthia McKinney was roundly defeated. "Electronic voting machines are a threat to our democracy," McKinney said after the election. "So let the word go out: We aren't going to tolerate any more stolen elections." Diebold has reiterated its position that its machines are accurate and reliable. Meanwhile, several states have yet to comply with the 2002 Help America Vote Act, according to the Committee on a Framework for Understanding Electronic Voting. This year's primaries mark the first large-scale deployment of electronic voting systems, and the relationships between election officials and equipment vendors have become increasingly strained, the committee has found. The panel also warns that proper training for poll workers will be an important issue for the November elections. For information on ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Warnings Against Thwarting Technological Innovation
Chronicle of Higher Education (08/09/06) Foster, Andrea L.

ACM's public policy committee chairman Eugene H. Spafford called on Congress last month to not pass legislation that would force manufacturers to build computers with technology designed to restrict the use of copyrighted material. Spafford's letter to Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, cautioned that "By mandating a technical approach that may be foiled, consumers and innovation will suffer, while having little impact on infringement." For more information on Spafford's comments, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Reinventing the Transistor
Technology Review (08/10/06) Graham-Rowe, Duncan

The increasing number of functions is taxing the lifespan of batteries in cell phones and other portable devices, but Nokia is developing a new technique that could lead to a tenfold decrease in energy consumption. By operating transistors at lower-than-normal levels, Nokia's technique effectively places idle transistors or those executing low-performance tasks in a sort of standby mode. "In computer design, power consumption is getting to be a major driving force," said Nokia's Jamey Hicks. "The limit on the size of the device gives us a limit on the total energy budget." Nokia enlisted the help of MIT Microsystems Technology Laboratories Director Anantha Chandrakasan to develop energy-efficient devices that use transistors that operate at levels below the threshold typically required to shut on or off. Transistors can hold a position of 1 or 0 below that threshold, but they are less stable, Chandrakasan says. Developing subthreshold transistors requires input voltages to remain consistent. Chandrakasan found that lowering the voltages of transistors leads to a fivefold to tenfold reduction in energy consumption, though the speed of the circuit drops dramatically. Chandrakasan is working with Nokia to develop a video compression chip that employs that technique to conserve power in devices such as digital cameras. The research could also have an impact on RFID tags and medical applications.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


'Data Miners' at UCI Moving Beyond Google
Orange County Register (CA) (08/08/06) Stewart, Colin

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have developed a text-mining technique that can search volumes of data without being told what to look for. This type of text mining, known as statistical topic modeling, could have broad implications beyond the Internet, such as marketing, historical research, and medicine. Topic modeling arranges data into categories by monitoring and recording words that are frequently paired together. "To put it simply, text mining has made an evolutionary jump," said David Newman, a computer scientist at UC Irvine. "In just a few short years, it could become a common and useful tool for everyone from medical doctors to advertisers, from publishers to politicians." Topic modeling has yet to emerge from the university environment, though Newman predicts that it will see commercial deployment in the next few years. Newman has used topic modeling to create categories from related words and names of people, places, and groups to analyze 330,000 newspaper stories, taken mostly from the New York Times. Based on the number of words the Times devoted to a particular topic from 2000 to 2002, Newman was able to draw sweeping conclusions that could be of great interest to marketers. He found that over that period, for instance, the popularity of football increased, while interest in the Tour de France fell off slightly. Similarly, an analysis of articles an ads published in the Pennsylvania Gazette from 1728 to 1800 revealed an inverse correlation between interest in fashion and trade and interest in religion. Researchers also used topic modeling to make connections between the 250,000 emails that Enron turned over to the Justice Department.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


AI & Poker: A Smart Bet
Dr. Dobb's Journal (08/09/06) Erickson, Jon

The American Association of Artificial Intelligence held a computer poker challenge for the first time this year during the organization's conference in Boston. Researchers from the University of Alberta won the AAAI Computer Poker Competition, as their computer program "Hyperborean" bested four other bots in the two tournaments set up for one-on-one Texas Hold 'Em. The performance of Hyperborean was notable in that the bot made all of its betting decisions instantaneously in both the normal and slower pace tournaments. Computer programs developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Monash University in Australia, and by Teppo Salonen from Irvine, Calif., and Morten Lynge from Ikast, Denmark, also competed in the event. The demanding competition had the bots play more than a quarter of a million games, play every series of deals twice, and run on identical computer systems. Artificial intelligence researchers can learn much from the game of poker, in which skill, chance, and uncertainty have to be taken into consideration. "Poker is a nice well-defined problem for studying some truly fundamental issues, like how to handle deliberate misinformation, and how to make intelligent guesses based on partial knowledge," says Darse Billings, lead designer for the Alberta team. "Good solutions in this domain could have an impact in many other computer applications."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Engineers: DC Power Saves Data Center Dough
eWeek (08/08/06) Burt, Jeffrey

Later this month, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and roughly 20 technology suppliers will conclude a demonstration that they claim shows how DC power distribution can save at least 15 percent on energy consumption and cost in a data center. The program, set up at Sun Microsystems' campus in Newark, Calif., gauges efficiency at the levels of the rack and the facility at large. The facility has been available through several open houses designed to evangelize the benefits of DC power. The researchers will next begin looking for a major company willing to become an early adopter. A combination of rising energy costs, smaller and more powerful processors, and greater server densities has elevated energy efficiency to a top priority, and many companies will soon be spending more money powering and cooling their data centers than they will on the actual products that go inside them, according to Bernie Meyerson, CTO of IBM's Systems and Technology Group. With chip and system makers developing software and management tools that give administrators a greater degree of control over thermal issues, critics say that the DC conversion might not be necessary or worth the expense of retrofitting an entire data center. But the Berkeley Lab team showed that DC power can be used in existing data centers simply by hardwiring the backs of the servers. In testing, the system showed a 15 percent improvement in energy efficiency at the facility level, though the improvement could be even more dramatic in an actual data center with factors such as redundancy in play.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Green Pigment Spins Chip Promise
BBC News (08/09/06)

A team of researchers has found that a dye developed in the 18th century could now be used in spintronic devices because it can holds its magnetism at room temperature, unlike other materials that must be cooled. "The big challenge is to develop materials that can perform these kinds of functions not just at cryogenic temperatures but at practical temperatures," said Daniel Gamelin, a University of Washington professor who worked on the project. Cobalt green is a combination of zinc oxide and cobalt that was always eschewed by the art community because it was expensive and produced weak colors. Spintronic technology manipulates the magnetic properties in electrons to boost computational power, potentially leading to faster, more energy-efficient computers. Some hard disks already rely on spintronic technology, and, theoretically, spintronics could be applied to sensors and memory. As conventional fabrication techniques approach the limitations of scaling, spintronic devices could offer a solution, though until now, the only materials that produced useful spintronic properties only did so at a very low temperature. To test the viability of the pigment, the researchers doped the zinc oxide so that magnetic cobalt replaced some of the zinc ions. They then aligned the cobalt ions by subjecting the semiconductor material to a zinc metal vapor, causing the material to become magnetic. The magnetism continued as the material was heated to room temperature, but disappeared as it was heated further. While the research shows promise, it is a long way from commercialization, and the researchers will next try to integrate the materials with silicon semiconductors.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Seeing Is Believing
The Engineer Online (08/07/06)

Researchers at Salford University are heading a consortium that is working to make visual communications systems more natural by integrating eye-tracking technologies with Immersive Projection Technology (IPT). The idea is to give users of videoconferencing technology the ability to gaze into the eyes of other people and see the direction in which they are looking, which would allow them to pick up and interpret non-verbal communication. Existing video technology only offers limited eye-tracking capability. Reading, UCL, and Roehampton universities are participating in the consortium, along with industry partners. The consortium has developed a prototype eye-gaze system, and will install the technology in the CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) display system, a setup for projecting stereo images on floors and walls to offer an illusion of reality. "Videoconferencing allows you to look into another person's space, but this will allow you to walk around in it," says the director of Salford's Center for Virtual Environments, David Roberts, who likens the system to the Star Trek holodeck. Users in different locations will be able to meet in the virtual environment and walk around objects, such as an aircraft engine, and discuss its features. The consortium will spend a year building the system, and a second year studying and analyzing the performance and potential of the technology.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Developing Data Solutions
Access Online (08/08/06) Baker, Trish

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) is partnering with scientists at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) to process, analyze, and share data collected from large-scale scientific experiments, particularly the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) that will launch in 2013. Though the vast quantities of data collected from such projects are critical to advancing scientific understanding, managing and storing all that information is a distinct challenge. Upon its launch, the LSST is expected to produce some 15 TB of raw data and 100 TB of processed data every night. A close partnership with the scientific community has been a key feature of the NCSA's approach to developing cyber environments for distributed computing. The LSST project consists of three major parts: the telescope, the camera, and the data management system. The camera will be the largest ever built, and the telescope itself will be large enough to provide a wide area of view--the camera and telescope will produce images of the entire viewable sky every three days. In order to optimize the imaging of the incoming data and promptly alert astronomers to interesting phenomena, the system will need to be able to process information in almost real time. NCSA developed an archive replication center built around middleware developed at the San Diego Supercomputing Center. By storing data at multiple sites, the system provides security through redundancy. "The NCSA/NOAO collaborative effort provides a backbone for secure data access, which is a vital component for astronomical portals and multi-location image archives," said Chris Miller, an assistant astronomer at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. "These security measures are currently missing from...most astronomical archive tools and services." Access to the LSST will be offered through a Web-based community.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Carnegie Mellon Researchers Develop New Type of Mobile Robot That Balances and Moves on a Ball Instead of Legs or Wheels
Carnegie Mellon News (08/09/06)

Mobile robotics researcher Ralph Hollis believes dynamically stable robots have more potential for integration into human environments than current legged robots. Hollis, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, is the driving force behind a new kind of robot that is about the height and width of a person, weighs about 95 pounds, and balances and moves on a single urethane-coated metal sphere. "Ballbot" can maneuver in small spaces because of its long and thin shape and because it does not have to face the direction it intends to move before it does so. Traditional robots that use legs or wheels tend to have a wide base, which makes it difficult to employ them among people and furniture, and operating them too fast or on a slope can cause such robots to fall over. Hollis' self-contained, battery-operated, omnidirectional robot makes use of internal sensors to provide balancing data to an onboard computer, which uses the information to activate rollers that mobilize the ball on which it moves. Adding a head and arms could aid Ballbot further in rotation and balance, "but there are many hurdles to overcome, like responding to unplanned contact with its surroundings, planning motion in cluttered spaces, and safety issues," says Hollis. A dynamically stable robot could one day operate in close contact with the elderly, disabled, or in an office environment, he believes. Hollis has received grants over the past two years from the National Science Foundation for his research on the Ballbot, which stands in place on three retractable legs when not in operation.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Computer Visualization Puts Cars Back on Buffalo's Main Street
University at Buffalo News (08/08/06)

Researchers at the University at Buffalo have created an interactive, real-time visualization of what the city's Main Street would look like if it were reopened to vehicular traffic. Roughly 11 blocks of Main Street were blocked off to vehicular traffic 20 years ago, having been replaced by a light rail system and a pedestrian mall. The Buffalo researchers created their detailed simulation so that residents could take an immersive look at how a proposal for Main Street to support both cars and light rail might work. "The three-dimensional, real-time traffic visualization allows the public and planners to see how the proposed integration of car and rail traffic would work on Main Street before any of the actual construction begins," said Adam Koniak, an urban visualization expert at Buffalo's Center for Computational Research. Koniak added that the public must have an understanding of the proposal's potential impact before they decide to move forward. The visualizations show, for instance, what the average waiting time would be for cars stopped at an intersection, so that people can get a sense for what types of bottlenecks might arise if the measure passed. The urban-planning application developed from the center's research in complex scientific visualization and simulation in medicine and other data-intensive environments.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Digital World Is the Real World
Computerworld (08/07/06) Anthes, Gary

In a recent interview, SAP Labs' Ike Nassi discussed his vision for the future of wireless networking. Nassi predicts a convergence of the virtual world and the real world, brought on in large part by the increasing deployment of RFID technology and embedded microprocessors. Nassi is working with the city of Palo Alto, Calif., to equip firetrucks with a host of wireless communications devices to link them back to SAP's systems, for example. Among other things, the project is seeking to find out why a firetruck would take what would appear to be a nonoptimal route to a fire. While microprocessors have long been a part of the automobile industry, wireless networking has been slow to catch on, Nassi says. Network-enabled cars could notify owners when they were in need of a software upgrade, for instance. Nassi is also exploring the possibilities of an RFID-enabled assembly line that could track parts and reduce the frequency of shutdowns. Nassi recommends that IT managers adopt existing standards such as OSGI (Open Service Gateway Initiative) as soon as possible. Switching to a service-oriented architecture can reduce costs and increase accuracy in a variety of applications, Nassi says. Nassi envisions future business applications being governed by a software language that can make explicit models that would be understandable by a wider audience than just C++ engineers.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Creating a Science of the Web
Science (08/11/06) Vol. 313, No. 5788, P. 769; Berners-Lee, Tim; Hall, Wendy; Hendler, James

While the Web has fundamentally altered the way that scientists interact with each other, most of its development has been ad hoc, and many researchers are beginning to realize that a comprehensive framework is required to understand and model the Web as it continues to evolve. The science of the Web would be an interdisciplinary system of understanding the architectural principles that have guided the Web's growth and ensuring that the basic tenets of privacy and trustworthiness are upheld. Thus far, computer scientists have been principally concerned with developing better information-retrieval algorithms, while non-computing researchers, though increasingly dependent on the Web, are disconnected from the budding Web research community and have no structured plan as to how to keep apprised of the emerging trends in that sector. At a recent workshop at the British Computer Society, Web researchers discussed the major engineering issues facing Web science, including structure, topology, and scaling. One area where the Web clearly needs improvement is mathematical modeling, as current information-retrieval models are inadequate at such a large scale. Another ongoing trend is the transition from text documents to data resources, a semantic approach that enables computers to understand information based on relational data and logical assertions. Researchers are also exploring the application of logic-based languages to model data, answer questions, and check hypotheses. Though the potential of the Semantic Web has been widely touted, most of the world's data remain locked in large vaults that are not available on the open Web, which has greatly limited the reuse of information. Web scientists will have to address issues such as how to map between different data models and how to search a series of linked repositories. There are also the policy issues that emerge over who should control access to data resources and legal challenges in the areas of privacy and intellectual property.
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link to Publication Homepage
to the top


The Robotic Economy
Futurist (08/06) Vol. 40, No. 4, P. 50; Brown, Arnold

Intelligent machines and systems form the linchpin of our economic prosperity, but they must remain subservient to people in order for this prosperity to be sustained. Technological advances, combined with the trend of abstracting work and, by extension, workers, is driving automation on a potentially vast scale; even creative work is not immune, as archived knowledge can be harnessed without actually employing people to think it up. Gartner's Neil MacDonald expects the rate of job loss that can be credited to automation to be about twice that attributed to outsourcing over the next decade. Our reliance on machines is expected to become even greater as problems become too complex for human minds to cope with. A renewed Luddite movement seems an inevitable consequence of mechanization, and employers will be pressured to help those whose jobs will be lost to automation through retraining programs or other measures. Assessing people's value solely by their economic contributions is an attitude that will likely have to change as robots proliferate. The relationship between humans and machines could change radically as machines assume more humanoid characteristics, both externally and internally. Central to this development is the debate over whether such machines should be endowed with rights similar to the basic freedoms people enjoy.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Intrusion-Tolerant Middleware: The Road to Automatic Security
IEEE Security & Privacy (08/06) Vol. 4, No. 4, P. 54; Verissimo, Paulo E.; Neves, Nuno F.; Cachin, Christian

The concept of intrusion tolerance, a methodology designed to fortify computer systems against attacks and accidental faults by seamlessly addressing both issues via a common security and dependability strategy, is the heart of the Malicious-and Accidental-Fault Tolerance for Internet Applications (MAFTIA) project. Intrusion tolerance is a measure of last resort that acts after an intrusion but prior to a system failure, based on automatic methods dependent on local mechanisms and distributed protocols, and that combine detection, recovery, or masking tactics. Intrusion-tolerance mechanisms are selectively employed by the MAFTIA architecture to construct tiers of progressively more trusted components and middleware subsystems from untrusted elements such as hosts and networks. The architecture can be represented in at least three distinct dimensions: A hardware dimension comprised of the host and networking devices that make up the physical distributed system; the local support services supplied by the operating system and runtime platform in every node; and distributed software, the middleware layers that piggyback on the runtime and support each host's provided mechanisms as well as the native MAFTIA services of authorization, intrusion detection, and trusted third parties. The architecture can support components with different types and severity of attacks, intrusions, and vulnerabilities concurrently via architectural hybridization, which marries high performance at the level of controlled failure systems to high resilience at the level of arbitrary failure systems. This concept allows the realistic deployment of the wormholes model, a hybrid distributed-system model that assumes the existence of augmented distributed-system elements or wormholes that can provide stronger behavior than is postulated for the rest of the system. The MAFTIA middleware's layers, from lowest to highest, are the multipoint network (MN) module, the communication support services (CS) module, and the activity support services (AS) module. Each module feeds into failure detection and membership management.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Lessons for the Future Internet: Learning from the Past
Educause Review (08/06) Vol. 41, No. 4, P. 16; Roberts, Michael M.

First president and CEO of ICANN Michael Roberts outlines four stages of the Internet's growth, noting the role that academic contributions have played. The first stage was characterized by federally funded research and the creation of NSFNet II, while the next stage saw enthusiastic academic usage and further development of the Internet, which led to the foundation of what would eventually be Internet2. The third stage of Internet growth saw the Internet reach and exceed both international and domestic saturation, and the U.S. government subsequently made ICANN responsible for the network's technical administration; however, ICANN has for the most part failed in its mission to function via broad consensus mechanisms, owing to the growing politicization of the Web. The fourth stage of growth involves the maturation of the Internet into a global and universal network that reflects human society, and with it has come renewed national and international concern over Internet policy, specifically the use of the Internet to meet social objectives, the extent of governmental economic Internet regulation, and the degree to which network users' expectations for privacy should be preempted by national security priorities. The existence of legislation dealing with each of these issues makes the challenge to lawmakers twofold: They must determine the proper role for governments to play as the Internet's growth and development continues, and also how societies worldwide switch from antiquated technology and laws to a new balance between society, technology, and politics. Roberts says the academic community, on the strength of its open and collaborative nature, can be a vital player in the Internet's continued evolution. The author cites several areas where academic support and advocacy is critical, including federal funding for university research into networking; the provision of universal affordable broadband and middleware; the use of academic network facilities as testbeds for advanced technologies, such as converged voice, video, and data; and the preservation of the Internet commons.
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.