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September 20, 2006

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Study Finds US Bias Against Women in Science
Reuters (09/18/06) Fox, Maggie

A new report from the National Academies suggests that a deep-rooted bias in American culture is preventing women from reaching the highest levels in science, math, and engineering. As a result, the nation is losing some of its most promising leaders and researchers in these fields, which it cannot afford if the country intends to compete globally in the years to come. In addition to cultural changes, more opportunities at research universities need to be available to women, according to the report. The National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council, and the Institute of Medicine all participated in the study, which examined the many arguments for why women are not excelling in science, from biological differences, hormonal factors, and child-rearing demands to ambition and performance. University of Washington-Seattle executive vice provost Ana Mari Cauce says "the committee found no sound evidence to support these myths and often good evidence to the contrary," such as the high performance of females in mathematics at the high school level. Women do not earn as much and do not advance as quickly as men, and the situation is even worse for female minorities, says the report. A focus on recruiting and promoting women needs to come from trustees, university presidents, and provosts. "It is not a lack of talent but an unintended bias...that is locking women out," says University of Miami President Donna Shalala, who headed the committee. For information regarding ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://women.acm.org
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New Search Engine Can Be Used for Creative Discovery
Newswise (09/18/06)

Virginia Tech's System X supercomputer is being used by researchers to test a new search program called "Storytelling" that can find connections between seemingly dissimilar information, unearthing a sequence of relationships or events to build a chain of concepts between specific start and end points. "The stories are pieced together by analyzing large volumes of text or other data," explains Virginia Tech computer science professor Naren Ramakrishnan. "Every day, there are new research results reported in the [scientific] literature and there are discoveries waiting to be made by exploring connections." Large scale search engines such as Google serve as the template for the storytelling algorithm. Each supercomputer "node" is tasked with indexing a piece of the biological literature, and the nodes share data to help concretize links and establish connections. "In future work, we aim to investigate other ways to construct stories that mimic or complement how biologists make connections between concepts," reports Ramakrishnan. "Our eventual goal is a product that is an important tool for reasoning with data and domain theories." Virginia Tech biochemistry professors Richard Helm and Malcolm Potts used Storytelling to explore connections between research papers on yeast and its ability to enter into and exit from a state of reduced metabolic activity. The researchers had Storytelling compare two PubMed articles against the abstracts of 140,000 publications about yeast. Their work led to the article, "Algorithms for Storytelling," by graduate student Deept Kumar, Ramakrishnan, Helm, and Potts, that was published in the Proceedings of the Twelfth ACM SIGKDD International Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (KDD'2006) in August 2006.
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Boosting Software Developers' Productivity
IST Results (09/20/06)

An IST-sponsored research initiative has built a platform to ensure that European software designers stay ahead of the technology curve by helping them bring new applications to market faster. Drawing on the latest techniques of model-driven development (MDD), the MODELWARE project streamlines the process of incorporating cutting-edge basic research into marketable software. "MDD improves developers' productivity by automating production of most software artifacts, such as tests, documentation, and code," said project coordinator Phillippe Millot. Software development has been significantly impeded by the multiple languages, country-specific standards, and hardware systems that designers had to address, requiring the painstaking reengineering of low-level code, Millot said. "MODELWARE takes the low-level code of an environment and draws a model that employs a much higher level of specification and design abstractions. In other words, the developer can work in the domain language he knows best," Millot said. The machine-readable and executable models enable developers to use sophisticated simulation tools early in the design process to test their ideas, simply pushing a button to convert the model into system code. The MODELWARE developers also designed a method for organizations to manage important technological changes as they emerge, assessing the needs of the organization and defining the steps required to implement and optimize the change. The MODELWARE partners are working to ensure that industry adopts the project's methods and tools. Many of the MODELWARE components, which are already being deployed in areas such as telecom and air-traffic management, are open source and freely available on the project's Web site.
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CMU Computer Science Professor Wins $500,000 Genius Award
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (09/19/06) Templeton, David

Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Luis von Ahn is one of this year's 25 recipients of the MacArthur "genius" fellowship, which comes with a $500,000 award "to reflect, explore, and create." The MacArthur Fellows Program describes von Ahn as "a young computer scientist working at the intersection of cryptography, artificial intelligence, and natural intelligence to address problems of profound theoretical and practical importance," adding that he is "tackling ever more challenging questions at the frontiers of computer science." The award comes just one week after the 28-year-old Guatemala native was named by Popular Science magazine as one of its "Brilliant 10." Von Ahn is credited with having invented the area of computer science known as human computation, which tackles large-scale problems still beyond the ability of computers to solve by harnessing the computational abilities of humans. He also helped invent "Captchas," the security technique that prompts a user to enter the numbers and letters displayed in an obscured script when seeking access to a secure Web site. Other areas of von Ahn's research include gaming and computer image-recognition. His "ESP Game," which has been licensed by Google, creates image labels by pairing two random players who type descriptive words about a photograph or other posted image until they hit on the same term, ending the segment. With a couple billion images posted on Google, von Ahn claims that it would take 5,000 participants two months of continuous play to label all the images. Already, the amount of time participants have spent playing ESP has exceeded the 7 million human hours it took to build the Empire State Building, he says. "It took 80,000 people to build the Panama Canal and 50,000 people to send people to the moon," he said. "Now we can have a billion people working together."
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UI Prof's Research Shows Games More Than Just Play
News-Gazette (09/18/06) Kline, Greg

University of Illinois speech communications professor Dmitri Williams thinks massively multiplayer online games may actually cultivate sociability rather than social isolation. Williams argues, "You get people from a pretty wide range of backgrounds. The games drive people together. They are levelers. It doesn't matter what you are outside." Williams and Constance Steinkuehler of the University of Wisconsin co-authored a study presented in August in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication concluding that massively multiplayer games seem to be especially conducive to social "bridging" in which people of differing backgrounds become familiar with each other and broaden their horizons. Williams maintains that live interaction is still far superior to online interaction. But the UI professor believes the games fulfill a need in a country where people are increasingly home-bound by choice, calling the games a virtual equivalent to "third places" where people gather for informal social interaction. Williams admits that the games do not seem to be particularly conducive to social "bonding" that close friends enjoy, at least in the short term. However, UI computer science student Shane Castle, president of the game builders group in the ACM chapter on campus, says the interaction with others is a big part of playing the games. He says, "You group with people to accomplish tasks. You find people you relate to, people you find interesting, people who have the same goals as you in the game."
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UA Awarded $3.3 Million to Increase Participation by Women in Science and Engineering
University of Arizona (09/18/06)

The University of Arizona will seek to boost the participation of women in science and engineering careers under a five-year, $3.3 million grant awarded under the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program that aims to diversity the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce. One of just five universities to receive full funding under the program, UA's "Eradicating Subtle Discrimination in the Academy" initiative will pursue its goal through a software project that promotes more equitable recruiting and negotiating with faculty as well as interdisciplinary diversity grants, mentoring, and workshops for young researchers. "Far too few women pursue careers and succeed in science and engineering," says Leslie Tolbert, UA vice president for research and principal investigator in the effort. "We are going to address a key underlying problem, subtle discrimination, which thwarts many efforts to recruit and retain women in these fields." For information regarding ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://women.acm.org
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Berners-Lee Intelligent Web Requires Co-Operation
ZDNet UK (09/19/06) Bennett, Jonathan

The key to creating the Semantic Web will be to present existing databases in standard formats, Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee told participants at the Ordnance Survey's Terra Future conference yesterday in Southampton, England. His vision of the Semantic Web, which aims to add meaning and intelligence to the mass of largely unstructured data scattered across the Web, will draw its power from the fusion of multiple sources of data. The conference's subject, Terra Future, is particularly relevant to the next-generation of the Web, given the proliferation of location-based data that is being added to sites, he added. "Geospatial information is being seen to be exciting by the Web 2.0 crowd, with things like geotagging, and Google Maps," he said. Combining the data and time stamps from a picture taken with a digital camera with information from his calendar, a computer could infer where the photo was taken and add to the image's metadata, Berners-Lee said. That kind of integration will not be possible, however, if industries and interest groups do not adopt shared standards, such as Resource Description Framework, and develop a common vocabulary.
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IU Informatics-Based Institute Will Benefit Tech Industries, Scientists
Indiana University (09/19/06)

To accelerate the delivery of new data-search and usage techniques to industry, the NSF has awarded the Indiana University School of Informatics a grant to establish the Data and Search Institute (DSI). "Our mission is to partner with industry to increase innovation and competitiveness in the United States," said DSI director Beth Plale. "The future will be dominated by those who can most effectively search for data, use it--and create value from it." Florida International University is partnering with Indiana in the project. The center's facilities are expected to be available to industry executives in the region, as well as students, preparing them for the real-world challenges that await by providing them with access to the latest equipment. The institute's nationally recognized staff includes researchers with expertise in communication protocols, service architectures, databases, artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, bioinformatics, and social informatics.
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NSF Taps CRA to Form Computing Community Consortium
CRA Bulletin (09/18/06) Harsha, Peter

The Computing Research Association has reached a three-year, $6 million agreement with the National Science Foundation to establish a Computing Community Consortium of computing experts that will provide leadership and vision for the NSF's Global Environment for Networking Innovations project. Under the agreement, the council will attempt to galvanize the research community behind large-scale computing research efforts launched by the NSF. "We're pleased that NSF has charged our organization with establishing the CCC," says Dan Reed, chair of the Computing Research Association and director of the Renaissance Computing Institute in North Carolina. "Computing research continues to fuel the innovations that drive economic productivity. We see the CCC as a mechanism that will enable continued innovation by enhancing our community's ability to envision and pursue long-term, audacious computing research goals." The CCC will be lead by a council of between nine and 15 diverse members, all of whom will be leaders of the computing research community.
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AI Invades Go Territory
Wired News (09/19/09) Borrell, Brendan

Efforts to improve computer programs' ability to play the ancient Chinese game of Go are making progress, and a revolutionary new way to approach the challenge was authored by Universite de Lille computer scientist Remi Coulom, who created a program called Crazy Stone that garnered a gold medal at the 2006 Computer Olympiad. Coulom says the difficulty of programming for Go lies in the fact that, unlike chess, the pieces are not captured. Crazy Stone taps Monte Carlo methods, in which potential moves are assessed by simulating thousands of random games, and the computer scientist describes this strategy as very easy to parallelize, which dovetails well with new processors' multi-core architecture. The Monte Carlo algorithm can fail to find optimal moves because it is impossible to sample each possible random game, but Crazy Stone can circumvent this drawback; Coulom notes that the program is smart enough to practice a sequence of moves that looks more promising than others more frequently in the random games. It is Coulom's contention that being a skilled Go player is not a prerequisite for being a skilled programmer. In response to complaints that games played by Monte Carlo strategies are boring, Coulom argues, "Monte Carlo programs maximize the probability of winning, not the margin that they win by. When they're very far ahead of the opponent, then they'll always play a safe move, which might look boring compared to more aggressive alternatives. It may be boring to watch, but it's more efficient in winning games."
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Technology Lobbyist Named Top U.S. Cyber-Security Official
Washington Post (09/19/06) P. A6; Krebs, Brian

Greg Garcia has been named assistant secretary for cyber security and telecommunications by the Department of Homeland Security, which finally filled the vacancy after 14 months. Garcia, who works at the Information Technology Association of America, will monitor DHS' cybersecurity plans for keeping critical information networks secure. DHS chose Garcia after previous candidates for the job were criticized for lack of experience and not having enough power in Washington. President Bush and his administration have been criticized for their slow response to attacks and for not being prepared. Part of Garcia's job includes creating a response plan in the event of a major cyber attack and developing a blueprint for protecting the countries critical information networks, including water and power systems, transportation, and telecommunications.
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VeriSign, Critics Prepare for ICANN Senate Hearing
IDG News Service (09/18/06) Gross, Grant

A report released last week by Network Solutions criticizes ICANN for its failure to audit security practices of domain operators. The report focused on a six-year contract renewal with VeriSign that gives it the right to increase prices by 7 percent in four of the years and what was termed the right to near-automatic renewals afterwards. "We're facing a contract that provides for...permanent monopoly, for fee increases without justification and now without adequate security protections," said Jonathan Nevett, Network Solutions vice president and chief policy counsel. "It's mind-boggling that the contract has gotten this far." But VeriSign responded that price hikes will be needed to safeguard the domain in light of ever-more sophisticated attacks. As an example CSO Ken Silva noted an attack that utilized upwards of 30,000 bot-net computers in January. "The technology we're talking about to keep up with this kind of load is not something you just buy off the shelf," Silva said. "Let's not lose sight of the fact that security continues to be the biggest threat to the growth of the Internet. Supporting that security and stability is going to involve a lot of technology, a lot of talent and a lot of equipment." Under the terms of the agreement, the contract can be changed through consensus of ICANN's two security committees and can be canceled if it is deemed that VeriSign is not performing adequately. Meanwhile, a Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to discuss ICANN's future once its memorandum of understanding with the Commerce Department expires.
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Eye-Controlled Computer Operation
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (09/06)

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering collaborated with industry partners to develop a system that enables a computer user to control a mouse through eye movements. The Eye-Controlled Interaction (EYCIN) system is designed to provide paraplegics with greater access to PCs, and enable maintenance technicians to click through menus while their hands remain free. A camera captures a user's pupil movements, which a software program then relays to the computer quickly enough so that the movements of the mouse pointer are fluid. The motion is fairly easy to calculate; the principal challenge is clicking the mouse. The researchers created sensitive areas on the display that users can activate by fixing their gaze on them for a certain period of time. A button on the screen changes color twice before it clicks, indicating to the user whether the command has registered. The small jerks of eye motion, or microcascades, presented a major challenge to the researchers, requiring them to develop a filtering system to prevent them from being relayed to the computer so the mouse pointer would not flit erratically around the screen.
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Avoiding the Most Common Software Development Goofs
Dr. Dobb's Journal (09/17/06) Chelf, Ben

Static source code methods are a viable defense against the most common software development mistakes, argues Coverity founder and CTO Ben Chelf. He writes that the organizational cost of software defects is reflective of the distribution of defects across the software development lifecycle. The strategy Chelf recommends is to uncover more defects earlier in the development process. The Coverity founder lists a number of reasons why developers commit errors, such as ignorance of the systems being developed, the stress developers experience when struggling to accommodate deadlines, the tedium of the coding process, and humans beings' difficulty in repeating the precise same operation over and over without variation. Chelf details a variety of common software development goofs, and writes that static source code analysis technology can easily detect such errors. "Compared with testing tools (e.g., purify), static source code analysis has the benefit of analyzing all of the paths through a given code base and is not tied to the particular test suite of the application," he explains. "Compared with manual code audits or developer debugging, static source code analysis technology isn't hindered by...human frailties."
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Learning Through Technology-Enhanced Collaboration
IST Results (09/19/09)

IST is funding two European research projects that are designed to improve the knowledge-sharing capabilities of new technology. The COOPER initiative is focused on developing an Internet-based platform that will enable a group of users to work together on a project, using tools such as chat, Internet telephony, and a document repository, explains Xuan Zhou, who manages the initiative at the L3S Research Center in Hannover, Germany. The two-year project is scheduled to launch the online network at two universities and an industrial partner next year. "What we are aiming to achieve is the creation of a collaborative learning environment that lets people communicate, work together, and share knowledge whenever they want no matter where they are," says Zhou. The TENCompetence initiative also got underway in December 2005, but the focus is more on making e-learning networks more interactive so that users are actively engaged. Researchers involved in this four-year project plan to develop an advanced, open-source and standards-based technical and organizational infrastructure. Collaborative e-learning networks will be able to take advantage of the models, methods, and technologies for creating, storing, and exchanging knowledge resources; tools for developing new content and learning activities; and methods for testing users on how they are picking up the new competencies. TENCompetence trials will begin in Europe next year.
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Antisocial Robots Go to Finishing School
New Scientist (09/19/06) Vol. 191, No. 2569, P. 28; Marks, Paul

For a robot to operate so that its activities are not insensitive to its human owners, it must be imbued with the ability to understand people's moods, explained director of Waseda University's humanoid robotics center Shuji Hashimoto at a conference on socially intelligent robots at England's University of Hertfordshire. "Emotion is one of the most crucial factors influencing the success or failure of communication between humans," he notes. "Robots are going to need similar emotional capabilities if they are to cooperate smoothly and flexibly with humans in our residential environments." Hashimoto envisions owners wearing sensors that the robots can use to identify stress signals, while the best form of response would be formulated by neural networks. Still, he acknowledges that such robots will only have the appearance of emotional sensitivity, and this approach has disadvantages: The more responsive to people's emotions a robot becomes, the more its software complexity increases, which ultimately makes programming a major headache. Hashimoto thinks this shortcoming could be avoided if robots are allowed to learn from their environment and build their own sets of rules. "We have to design environments where human and robot learn together," he argues.
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Scholarship for Service
IEEE Distributed Systems Online (09/06) Vol. 7, No. 9, Liebrock, Lorie M.

Lorie Liebrock, an assistant professor of computer science and information technology at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, is the principal investigator for the school's Scholarship For Service Program. SFS is one of five Federal Cyber Service Training and Education Initiatives outlined by the National Plan for Information Systems Protection, and its purpose is to address the dwindling number of information assurance professionals employed by the U.S. government. Liebrock writes that students who wish to participate in the institute's SFS program must demonstrate "desire and ability to work in information assurance in federal civil service." Qualifications for enrollment include a 3.0 GPA for undergraduates and a 3.5 GPA for graduates. The SFS program pays students to complete their degrees, providing yearly stipends of $8,000 for undergraduates and $12,000 for graduates, as well as tuition, board, lab fees, and an Internet connection. Once they finish their degrees the students work for the government, one year for every academic year that was covered. Liebrock serves as advisor for all SFS program participants, and teaches a professional development course each semester where students are taught how to present technical material in a professional manner, as well as proper government standards and regulations. Students are taken from many disciplines and their research spans a wide assortment of subjects. Liebrock says she collaborates with recruiters in agencies to place students in federal civil service jobs that match their skills.
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Personalization in Privacy-Aware Highly Dynamic Systems
Communications of the ACM (09/06) Vol. 49, No. 9, P. 32; Sackmann, Stefan; Strucker, Jens; Accorsi, Rafael

Retailers can personalize their relationship with customers via highly dynamic information systems (HDS), but this can come at the cost of customers' anonymity, write Stefan Sackmann, Jens Strucker, and Rafael Accorsi of the University of Freiburg's Department of Telematics. Users' desire to control personal data is undercut by the exploitation of technologies such as sensor networks, radio frequency identification (RFID), localization technology, and automatic video surveillance in HDS. More and more in HDS, data is being accumulated without any indication, and such collection occurs without any predefined purpose. In addition, the falling cost of data storage means that data remains persistent and undeleted once collected, while customers can be recognized and identified by integrating simultaneous recordings of an event by different devices from multiple perspectives. Furthermore, multiple events are registered concurrently by recording devices. Modern privacy-enhancing technologies are thwarted by the inherent data collection in HDS because of their reliance on obscurity, or the concealment of data, the authors maintain. Sackmann, Strucker, and Accorsi present a proposal for a system in which the transparency of privacy is supported by the creation of evidence, which relies on policies as reference for a compliant utilization of data and log views that cover all data concerning an individual contained in an information system. The proposal ensures the genuineness of log data via secure logging through the employment of standard cryptographic methods, while views on logged data are also a necessity, albeit one that has not yet been provided but perhaps could be through the intercession of regulatory institutions.
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