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September 11, 2006

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

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How Much Can State Trust Electronic Voting?
Baltimore Sun (09/10/06) P. 1C; Harris, Melissa

In response to the disastrous presidential election of 2000, an increasing number of states have been acquiring electronic voting machines, though their reliability and security have often been questioned by voting-rights advocates and computer scientists. While the machines have been blamed for isolated voting irregularities, analysts warn that even greater damage could be inflicted by a hacker tampering with the machine's code or a corrupt poll worker inserting a malicious memory card into the machine that could systematically alter the results. In Maryland, which adopted Diebold e-voting systems after the 2002 Help America Vote Act, the reliability of the systems has been hotly debated, with some experts claiming that the computer scientists' warnings are overblown. "Computer science guys are able to get away with what I consider to be shameless scare tactics that don't take into account everything else that goes on in an election," said Donald Norris, director of the National Center for the Study of Elections at the University of Maryland, referring to accuracy tests for the machines, tamper tape, and the poll workers who monitor voters on Election Day. Aviel Rubin, an author who wrote one of the early texts on the flaws in Maryland's voting machines and a favorite target of Norris, was able in testing to find the machine's source code, and two vital passwords to protect the system. Six months later, a group of computer experts commissioned by the State of Maryland found that an attack on the state's machines might be difficult, but not impossible. The group found that someone looking to manipulate the results of an election would have to sleuth out the password to a legitimate voter's smart card--an ATM-sized card with a computer chip in the center that displays a voter's pre-programmed ballot on the screen. Reproducing the cards from scratch would cost around $750 each, the group found, noting that the cost could be well worth the value of fixing an election. In response to these concerns, many in Maryland have called for the state's voting machines to include a backup paper auditing mechanism that enables voters to verify their ballots after they are cast. For information about ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Are Fake Videos Next?
CNet (09/11/06) Kanellos, Michael

After already having developed software that can determine whether a digital photograph has been doctored, Dartmouth professor Hany Farid is now looking to create a similar application for video. "I thought, 'This is going to be so much easier,' but it turns out to be much harder," he said. "In a minute (of) video, you are talking about thousands of images. Just the sheer mass of data that you have to contend with is challenging. You have memory and run-time issues that you don't have with (still) images." Farid and his colleagues at the Dartmouth Image Science Group are also releasing a host of new tools that could allow law enforcement officials and others to detect when a photo has been altered more easily. Fake and retouched digital images have become a major problem, thanks to faster processors, improved editing software, and a global audience. While the audio is relatively easy to tamper with, Farid says, video is considerably more difficult. Farid and his graduate student, Weihong Want, have only just published a paper on video forensics, and the software capable of conducting a forensic analysis on video could still be two years' in the offing. The software would likely work in a similar fashion as the kind used to detect photography fraud, scanning for anomalies in the digital feed. By analyzing the continuity of the horizontal lines that pass between frames in video, the software promises to determine whether the video has been doctored. Thus far, however, it has been difficult for the researchers to quantify what determines a significant enough break in continuity that the video can be assumed to have been altered. JPEG quantitization tables enable analysts to determine by brand the rate at which cameras will drop data while compressing an image. "I can't tell you the serial number of the camera, but I can tell you this did not come from a Canon PowerShot. It came from a Nikon," said Farid. "You can also tell if it came through Photoshop. It won't tell you what happened to the image, but it tells you it did not directly come out of the camera."
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Call for Participation: ICDL 2006--International Conference on Digital Libraries, 5-8 December 2006, New Delhi, India
Beyond the Job (09/07/06) Johnson, Sarah L.; Gordon, Rachel Singer

The development, adoption, deployment, and use of digital libraries, e-learning, and knowledge society will be the focus of this year's International Conference on Digital Libraries (ICDL), which TERI is organizing in association with the Indian government, UNESCO, and ACM's SIGCHI. The conference will be held in New Delhi, India, from Dec. 5 to Dec. 8. The ICDL conference previously organized by TERI in 2004 used the knowledge creation, preservation, access, and management of digital libraries as its theme. The goal of this year's ICDL will be to bolster the academic collaboration and strategic alliance in global digital library development. The sharing and maintenance of knowledge would be facilitated by the event, which is also expected to serve as a platform for many experts, academics, researchers, students, and others. Some 50 well-known and veteran speakers from India and elsewhere have pledged to offer their wisdom at the conference.
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MIT Project Maps Wireless Usage in Rome
EE Times (09/07/06) Mokhoff, Nicolas

The Venice Biennale will include an exhibit on a new mapmaking technique that can be used to map a city in real time. The biannual exhibition on contemporary art and design, scheduled for Sept. 10 through Nov. 20, will feature the Real Time Rome exhibit, a project by MIT's SENSEable City Laboratory that displays a map of wireless connectivity in Rome, using data gathered anonymously from cell phones, GPS devices on buses and taxis, and other wireless mobile units that pedestrians throughout the city may have in their possession. Telecom Italia, chief sponsor of the project, developed the sophisticated algorithms used to pull in the data from the wireless technologies. The project also makes use of robust interactive maps and databases that allow for customizable searches and real-time viewing. "Imagine being able to avoid traffic congestion, or knowing where people are congregating on a Saturday afternoon," says project director Carlo Ratti, director of the SENSEable City Lab. "In a worst-case scenario, such real time systems could also make it easier to evacuate a city in case of emergency." Meanwhile, SENSEable City Lab is bringing onboard city and public administrators, network operators, electronic hardware and software producers, and urban hardware manufacturers to participate in the SENSEable City Consortium research initiative.
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Multiplication Power: Linked Computers Tapped by Researchers
Associated Press (09/09/06) Dalesio, Emery P.

Researchers are using the IBM-sponsored World Community Grid network to tap the unused processing power of idle computers to help develop cures for diseases such as cancer and AIDS, as well as other computationally intensive problems that are typically reserved for supercomputers. "I know when I take a shower or go down the hall, I could be using the time that it's (the computer) on and devote it to the project," said Whitney Rains, a sophomore at Meredith College, where IBM is signing up students to participate in the project. Next week, the leading practitioners of grid computing will meet to discuss the latest developments and initiatives in the field. There is substantial interest in the approach, though many find implementing a grid network complicated and confusing, said William Fellows of The 451 Group. Grid computing breaks complex problems into smaller chunks and distributes them out to individual computers, saving months or even years of research time. Since 1999, almost 5.5 million users have registered for the SETI@Home project, which scans radio signals in search of signs of extraterrestrial life. Meanwhile, Grid.org has electronically tested 3.5 billion molecules in search of the ingredients for potential new cancer drugs. As practical applications unfold, an increasing number of companies are looking to harness the power of grid computing for their research activities. Indeed, global spending on grid computing is expected to increase from $1.8 billion this year to roughly $24.5 billion in 2011.
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RIT Training Developers of Video Games
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (NY) (09/11/06) Daneman, Matthew

Four students at Rochester Institute of Technology have signed up to pursue master's degrees in game design and development, a new program the New York school is offering this fall for the first time. The new master's degree program makes RIT one of the few schools to focus on the technological mechanics of designing an electronic game. RIT launched the program because the video game industry continues to grow and a number of its graduates have gone on to work for video game companies; school officials expect to attract about 30 students for the two-year program each fall. Gaming students will take courses covering the history of electronic games, emerging themes in entertainment technology, business and legal aspects for game developers, and the sociology and psychology of online social communities, before focusing on a game engine design or artificial intelligence track and building a game as part of a group project to complete their studies. RIT has offered a concentration in game design in recent years, and students pursuing degrees in software engineering, computer science, or information technology will still be able to explore this route to gain game development training. The school is also considering offering a bachelor's degree program in game design and development. "We've been talking to a lot of companies in the gaming space, and they're really hot for these graduates," says Andrew Phelps, an associate professor and director of the game design and development program.
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New Computer Model Concept Could Solve Big, Real-World Problems on a Small, Porous Scale
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (09/07/06)

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has received a Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) grant to explore a novel computer model capable of multiscale simulations of biogeochemical processes. The system promises to enable researchers to make better predictions of the behavior of contaminants in groundwater. The grant was one of 30 handed out by the Department of Energy for SciDAC projects. The processes of subsurface transportation, which include the development of energy resources and the cleanup of contamination left over from the Cold War era, are a major global concern. Existing computer systems can only communicate with each other to a limited extent, so the researchers are hoping to develop a model that can merge the small-scale simulations to formulate a broader platform for the analysis of real-world problems, such as cleaning up contaminated groundwater at former plutonium manufacturing sites. An advanced computer model could combine various simulations of local-level processes that can together form a composite to help researchers understand and predict what is going on underground, for instance.
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Smart Pages
Technology Review (09/07/06) Mashberg, Tom

Xerox is developing new software that will be able to restrict certain digital information in a stored document based on the authorization level of the individual attempting to access the data. For example, the technology would allow a doctor to view medical data in someone's file, but prevent an insurance clerk from seeing detailed medical-related information such as blood results. Researchers at the company's Palo Alto Research Center in California and at its research laboratory in Webster, N.Y., are working on software that can determine the context of words, phrases, and numbers in documents, then automatically reveal select information to the intended user. The technology does not create multiple versions of the document, and does not demand as much memory as current encryption programs. "We've scoured the landscape, and there is no technology out there that marries content analysis with encryption so that the whole process becomes automated," says Shriram Revankar, head of the company's smart-document lab in Webster. Kenneth H. Buetow, director of the National Cancer Institute's Center for Bioinformatics, who is developing a cancer research database, says the technology "represents a potential solution to the sharing of information in compliance with human subjects' privacy protections."
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A Ruby Amid Computer Programming Diamonds
Wisconsin Technology Network (09/09/06) Fleissner, Chris

Madison, Wis., Area Technical College is offering its first class on Ruby on Rails, a Web application framework that is beginning to catch on with Web application developers. Ruby on Rails is the best thing that has happened to Web application development in 20 years, says Madison computer information systems instructor Eric Knapp, a veteran of the IT industry for two decades who has helped develop Web applications for companies such as Land's End. "It is dramatically and convincingly and compellingly better than anything else we've tried," says Knapp, whose Ruby on Rails class is filled to capacity. Danish programmer David Heinemeier Hansson developed the Web development framework written in the Ruby general-purpose scripting language, which was released in July 2004 and has only been embraced by a small number of Web application developers until now. The opportunity to write a program about 10 times faster than when using Java and .NET, and enjoy the same functionality of those products, has Web application developers gravitating toward Ruby on Rails. Well-known Java user James Duncan Davidson is said to be exclusively using Ruby on Rails, and Web-based companies such as Blinksale, Odeo, Punchstock, and Jellyfish have been built with the platform. Apple plans to include Ruby on Rails in its next version of Mac OS X, which should hit the market in the spring of 2007.
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CHI Pioneers
Ottawa Citizen (09/07/06) Hutchinson, Alex

Experiments in computer-human interaction (CHI) supported by Canada's National Research Council (NRC) have yielded fruit in the form of revolutionary breakthroughs that serve as the inspiration for many artists and entrepreneurs. Such breakthroughs trace their roots as far back as the late 1960s, with the NRC's computer music and animation program, which was advanced with the help of key contributors such as Peter Tanner, Ken Pulfer, and Bill Buxton. Among the innovations was an experimental computer system equipped with a light pen interface and later a very early form of a mouse. "The spirit of the NRC in the 60s was open to doing things that did not have immediate, practical, bottom-line results," notes Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute electronic arts professor Michael Century. "The phrase they used was 'doing research for the broader public good.'" Pulfer says the real success of the NRC is the dissemination of ideas that were later put to practical use. "All the time that we were doing this research, we had a continual stream of visitors coming from universities, the private sector, everywhere, looking at what was going on, saying, 'Hmmm, fascinating,' and going away," he explains. The NRC is now facing a turning point as pressure for immediate results threatens to replace the council's traditional long-term research investment strategy.
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Voice and Signature for the Identification of Persons
Basque Research (09/07/06)

A number of universities in Spain are collaborating to design a database that would be linked to biometric systems used to identify individuals. Starting with voice, signature, and handwriting analysis, the database will play a key role in the comparison and contrasting of the algorithms of past and present samples, vital for biometrics to be accurate. The database will focus not only on spatial data but on dynamic data as well, that is the movement of a person while performing a certain action, which current systems often fail to differentiate accurately. Such actions could include a person's gait, or how they operate a mouse or keyboard. The Department of Electronics and Telecommunications at the School of Engineering in Bilbao, Spain, has been working in collaboration with University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU) researchers to automatically collect biometric signatures both offline and online. Online biometric verification is harder to forge, but has a higher margin of error, which is something the researchers hope to improve on.
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Out of the Shadows, Onto the Web
Associated Press (09/06/06) Heller, Aron

The Israeli security service Shin Bet says information technology is just as key to protecting Israel from suicide bombers as undercover agents and interrogators. In fact, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin says in August the agency's tech unit was largely responsible for heading off 25 suicide attacks and for the arrests of 17 potential bombers. The IT division has few peers when it comes to using cutting-edge technology to track terrorists, and has started using the Web to recruit top engineers and computer programmers who have skills that can help ensure the security of the country. At Shin Bet, "artificial intelligence" allows the agency to produce profiles from vast amounts of data in real time. High-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi, founder of Mirabilis, the company that developed the first major Internet chat service, is leading the recruitment efforts of Shin Bet. The new hires will be in charge of "building sophisticated systems that will be ready to catch the terrorist on his way," adds Ester Levanon, a former top official who made computers integral to Shin Bet operations. Shin Bet says engineers and computer programmers will have an opportunity to develop state-of-the-art technology and earn a competitive salary, while helping to thwart attacks by Palestinian militants.
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Where Are the Women?
Test & Measurement World (09/06) Laskowski, Amy

While the number of women pursuing engineering degrees in college is rising, participation in the field remains heavily skewed toward male students. Women received just 15 percent of the 12,500 bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering that were awarded in the United States in the 2004 academic year. Interest in the sciences among girls often drops off at around sixth grade, and the fact that engineering continues to be dominated by men can intimidate some girls. Strong role models and mentors, particularly family members or friends, can be a powerful lure for women to engineering. Primary schools with solid science curricula also promote female participation in technical fields, because they can see the opportunities that come with the field. Careers that involve a high level of human interaction are typically the most appealing to women, so teachers and mentors should continually try to humanize the sciences, emphasizing the opportunities to help people in those disciplines. "There's a lot of research that suggests very strongly that women choose career paths that they can see leading to meaningful careers," said Richard Vaz, a professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. "Women are far more interested than men in careers where they can make a difference, make the world a better place, and help people. They are statistically more likely to be searching for a helping profession. Engineering is a helping profession, but it does not present itself as such." Workshops and camps led by working industry professionals could also boost female enrollment in the sciences. Additionally, technical fields such as engineering have an image problem to combat, which compels industry leaders to go out of their way to make the sciences seem "cool" and "fun," said Shelley Gretlein of National Instruments. For information about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://women.acm.org
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The Future of Imaging
Advanced Imaging Pro (08/06) Reid, Keith

The Mathworks' Bruce Tannenbaum, Volpi USA's Dr. Scott Kittelberger, Eastman Kodak's Dave Nichols, and Edmund Optics' Wallace Latimer composed a panel that discussed the future of imaging technology at the International Congress for Imaging Science in May. The panelists noted an increased focus on object detection, biometric applications, and forensic work as a result of more funding being committed to defense and homeland security. Kittelberger stressed solid state illumination as one of the most significant areas of technological development on the horizon, while Latimer cited glass manufacture and Nichols mentioned CMOS image sensors. Tannenbaum said machine vision was an exciting area in terms of market potential, since algorithms being developed for the machine vision sector will likely be applicable to other areas, including bioimaging and automotive safety systems. Kittelberger characterized document scanning and industrial inspection as hot markets, and Latimer cited fusion imaging. Potential breakthroughs the panelists discussed included flexible illumination channeling and integrated technologies that radically change how people interact with technology. Latimer expects smart cameras to become truly smart, and capable of learning to make decisions based on user guidance. Among the developments the researchers foresee within the next two decades is the generation of light on the cellular level as imaging systems shrink; self-driving vehicles; and appliances with built-in vision systems that make chores completely automated.
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Military R&D 101
Electronic Design (09/01/06) Vol. 54, No. 19, P. 36; Edwards, John

Academic laboratories are turning into centers of research and development for military systems and devices that frequently become commercial business and consumer products; examples include the Internet, the Hummer, and GPS navigation, notes Forecast International analyst William Ostrove. Corporate R&D military labs are growing scarce, which is why academic labs are becoming the incubators of choice for new military technologies. Academic labs and researchers are also becoming popular for businesses that wish to develop technology for government and later consumer customers. Director of the University of Texas' NanoTech Institute Ray Baughman was commissioned by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Air Force, and other organizations to develop super-strong artificial muscles for deployment in robots designed to protect people in hazardous situations, and his research has yielded two distinctive, dual-purpose muscle/fuel cell systems. Another DARPA funding recipient, University of California, Davis, professor S.J. Ben Yoo, is working on chip technology that can boost optical data transmission speeds up to 100 THz, for potential military applications that include high-resolution surveillance and reconnaissance. Meanwhile, MIT professor and engineer Yet-Ming Chiang is designing aircraft and ships that can shape-shift for faster speed and more efficient performance, based on the ability of batteries to expand and contract under massive stresses. The military commits a lot of funding to nanotechnology projects, such as a nanogenerator from Georgia Institute of Technology professor Zhong Lin Wang that converts mechanical energy generated by everyday sources--body movement, structural vibrations, etc.--into electricity. Ostrove thinks other nations' approach to military R&D, in which government, industry, and academia assess and assign projects to specific institutions via research planning commissions, cannot compare to the U.S. strategy of issuing a wish list, receiving proposals, and awarding grants to the winning bidders.
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IT Security Lags Five Years After Sept. 11
IDG News Service (09/07/06) Gross, Grant; Ames, Ben; McMillan, Robert

Cybersecurity leadership, airplane scanning, and interoperable communications networks have been neglected by the U.S. government since the Sept. 11 attacks, say industry analysts. Progress has been slow in these particular areas and critics say there is too much emphasis being placed on the National Security Agency's (NSA) electronic-surveillance program, rather than on other forms of technology. NSA's program has been criticized for invading innocent people's privacy, but President Bush defends the program and insists it "helps protect Americans." "If an al Qaeda commander is calling the United States, we need to know why they're calling," Bush says. IT security groups want the U.S. government to focus more on cybersecurity. Meanwhile, unscanned cargo is coming into the United States every year on 11.2 million trucks, 2.2 million rail cars, and 51,000 cargo ships, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Beyond cargo, many say the government is not moving fast enough to help emergency responders get the spectrum they need. Emergency responders working during the Sept. 11 attacks discovered their communication systems were not interoperable. Congress has given TV stations a deadline to use digital broadcasts, and more radio spectrum is expected in February 2009. The Bush administration is adamant that it has made progress in the last five years, but others see differently. "There's no national strategy to coordinate all these efforts," says Steven Jones at the First Response Coalition. "Nationally speaking, I don't know that we're better off than we were five years ago."
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Modeling Terrorists
IEEE Spectrum (09/06) Vol. 43, No. 9, P. 26; Goldstein, Harry

The prediction and prevention of terrorist incidents could be aided by new simulators, such as first-person shooter-type games in which synthetic human agents improvise because they follow individualized sets of complicated rules instead of an inflexible script; such simulators model terrorists and their accomplices through profiling of terrorist backgrounds, value systems, and other variables. The development of such simulations is fueled by a belief that terrorists' mindset, motives, and organizational makeup--and thus their actions and plots--could be determined by computers equipped with the appropriate software. Outside observers are betting that software designed to identify key members of a terrorist organization will be used by intelligence analysts to compile a list of people to terminate or apprehend so as to cripple the organization most effectively; this possibility generates concern about the moral implications of relying on such models to make life-and-death decisions, and also raises questions as to whether analysts will even avail themselves of such technology, should it become widely available. Experts such as Ball State University anthropologist Jim Nyce strongly doubt that these tools will be employed by the intelligence community, "because the cognitive, intellectual, and work requirements have not been taken into account in their design." Among the drawbacks of current intelligence analysis cited by experts is analysts' dependence on informal analytical methods, their tendency to make forecasts based on incorrect rules, and their responsibility after 9/11 to sift through even more data because of the elusive nature of terrorists and the conviction that the Internet is their primary means of communication. University of Pennsylvania professor Barry Silverman thinks analysts' job could be greatly enhanced by having computers model an individual terrorist's desired vision for the world and what actions he is willing to take to realize that vision. Silverman's team has produced simulated terrorists complete with physiological traits, long-term memories, value systems, and reasoning skills extracted from over 100 models and theories drawn from political science, anthropology, and psychology, along with empirical data from medical and social science field research, polls, and experiments.
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ICANN Tackles Domain Name Dilemma at Morocco Summit
EContent (09/06) Vol. 29, No. 7, P. 16; Nizami, Bela

ICANN's upcoming meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, will involve representatives from over 50 countries and the most pressing issue of debate will be the future internationalization of the Internet. ICANN's Sept. 30 expiration of its Memorandum of Understanding with the United States and the possible renewal of it remains controversial; some argue that ICANN and the United States must recognize that the Internet is an international entity and should be under international auspices, while others say that to not renew with the United States this year would court chaos. ICANN likely will tackle the introduction of internationalized domain names (IDNs), a top concern of China and Middle Eastern countries; potential new domain names; and the requirements of the contact information in the WHOIS database. ICANN says WHOIS policy should be set by countries on a country-to-country basis, while some advocate for a universal WHOIS policy. The European Union does not want personal information displayed in the WHOIS because it violates EU's privacy ethos. ICANN is attempting to expand the diversity of its board of directors and advisory bodies, and has begun seeking new candidates, a move welcomed by those seeking more global control of ICANN and the Internet.
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