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September 22, 2006

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Welcome to the September 22, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Where Are the Women in Tech? At least 1200 Will Be in San Diego
ZDNet (09/22/06) Foremski, Tom

More than 1,200 women will converge on San Diego in a couple weeks for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, organized by ACM and the Anita Borg Institute. In a recent interview, Anita Borg Institute head Telle Whitney discussed her thoughts on the current state of women in computing. "Some days it feels like we haven't moved much, but other days it really does feel that we have made a lot of progress. We just have to remember that culture changes slowly," she said. The Grace Hopper celebration, which in the past had been held every two years, becomes an annual event this year. Sponsors of the meeting, where the competition for top female talent is intense, include major companies such as IBM, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Intel. Reliable numbers about female employment in computing are not available because most corporations will not release that information, but Whitney says the institute is working to produce an aggregate figure that would not identify individual companies. For more on the Grace Hopper Celebration, or to register, visit http://gracehopper.org/
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New Nonprofit Organization Will Fund IT Education, Research Projects
InformationWeek (09/20/06) McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

During its annual SIMposium conference in Dallas on Sept. 19, the Society for Information Management launched a nonprofit organization that will fund research projects and programs that aim to develop leadership skills in IT professionals and attract more young people into the tech field. "Between the significant drop-off in IT enrollment [at U.S. universities and colleges] and the baby boomer [retirement] situation, our whole industry and the business community at large could be in big trouble," said Dave Luce, chairman of the SIM Foundation and the CIO of commercial real-estate development company Rockefeller Group International. Luce added that although it will likely be roughly six to eight weeks before the SIM Foundation announces its first projects, it has already come up with some possibilities, including educational programs aimed at parents and high school guidance counselors to make them more aware of tech career possibilities for students preparing to enter college. In addition, the foundation could also create scholarships or IT training programs for disadvantaged youth. SIM says such efforts could ease IT managers' concerns about attracting, developing and retaining talent.
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Q&A: Go Back to Paper Ballots, Says E-Voting Expert
Computerworld (09/20/06) Songini, Marc

Johns Hopkins University computer science professor and Maryland elections judge Avi Rubin heavily criticizes e-voting in his new book, "Brave New Ballot: The Battle to Safeguard Democracy in the Age of Electronic Voting." He complains in his book that the United States acted without thinking when it instigated the transition to e-voting, which is fraught with transparency and security problems. Rubin calls for a system that is transparent to average voters and that allows recounts to be monitored as they happen, which requires a paper trail. He does not think a voter verifiable paper trail (VVPAT) is a cure-all to e-voting's problems, explaining that the paper trail "keeps track on a roll in the order of how people voted, but it's impossible to recount because it's so unwieldy. It's still vulnerable to software problems, and if you don't check carefully you can get away with stuff not found in random checking requirements." The irony of the poor voting system in the model democracy is not lost on Rubin, who recommends the jettisoning of electronic polling books in favor of voter registration cards that the voter puts in an envelope taped to the voting machine. "If we can put something in place [for voting] in the next seven weeks, we should," he concludes. For information on ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Conference to Improve Information Technology Education Sponsored by Capella University
PRNewswire (09/20/06)

Capella University announced today that it will sponsor and host ACM's 2006 Special Interest Group for Information Technology Education (SIGITE) conference in Minneapolis from October 19-21, 2006. This year's conference is called "IT Education: The Engine of Innovation" and will devote much of its time to the ideals of ACM. Keynote lectures for the conference will be given by Dr. Eli Cohen of the Informing Science Institute, and Michael Vinje, Principal, Trissential, LLC. Dr. Cohen will focus on the need for IT collaboration among special interest groups to create the greatest possible opportunities for those in IT. Vinje will discuss how improving individual employees and processes can help businesses become more competitive. Other topics scheduled to be discussed include addressing the need to integrate older IT learning information with newer content. Previous SIGITE conferences have been held at Brigham Young University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Purdue University. For more on the SIGITE conference, or to register, visit http://www.sigite.org/content/index.maml
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Horst Simon Talks Petascale
HPC Wire (09/22/06) Vol. 15, No. 38,

In a recent interview, Horst Simon of the Berkeley Lab's Computational Research Division shared his thoughts on the challenges facing high-performance computing in the coming years. Simon believes that scientists will reach the goal of the sustained petaflop in a real application within the next five years. Simon also says the cost of petaflop systems is in line with other large-scale scientific projects, but that new systems must have an immediate impact in order to be worth the investment. Petaflop systems will also become increasingly specialized, he argues. The industry is nearing the point where the maintenance of high-performance computers is more expensive than the initial acquisition, though more energy-efficient components could help bring the costs down. Scaling to hundreds of thousands of processors will also be a significant challenge for the industry, requiring a substantial investment in system software. Meanwhile, heterogeneous processing will lead to cheaper, more efficient systems. From a policy standpoint, Simon believes that the HPC community should be careful to ensure that the first system to reach a peak speed of a petaflop is not construed by politicians and other outsiders as the complete solution to the petaflop problem.
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Research Looks at How Open Source Software Gets Written
UC Davis News and Information (09/20/06) Fell, Andy

The NSF has awarded a team of researchers from the University of California, Davis, a three-year, $750,000 grant to study the development of open-source projects such as the Apache Web server. Unlike other engineering projects, there is no comprehensive roadmap for how an open-source project should develop. Unlike most collaborative projects, where the pace is set by the slowest member of the team, progress in open-source development moves at the pace of the team's fastest member, and adding more workers actually makes things go faster, not slower, says Premkumar Devanbu, a professor of computer science at UC Davis. The project will concentrate on the Apache Web server, the PostgreSQL database, and the Python scripting language, collecting information from message boards, email exchanges, and bug reports to find out how the teams organize themselves. The researchers suspect that open-source software reflects the way that the developers are organized, and that the nature of the project itself will have an effect on how the programming teams are structured. Projects that are broken into large chunks of code might have a different structure than one with a group of small chunks, for instance.
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UC Business Migration Drivers vs. IT Implementation Obstacles
TMCnet.com (09/20/06) Rosenberg, Art

The question arises as to which enterprise perspective--the IT perspective (with a primary focus on implementation costs and ease of support and maintenance) or the operational, end user perspective (seeking value and ease of use in functionality adoption)--should be prioritized in unified communications (UC) migration planning, writes Art Rosenberg. "In the case of IP telephony and UC, one would expect that future enterprise user needs would be identified and perhaps even quantified before implementation decisions can be made," the author notes. Rosenberg mentions a recent UC migration-related article in BCR magazine in which he cited business communications research that was instigated by the effects of the Sept. 11 attacks on business travel and face-to-face business meetings. The research, which was published in the Communications of the ACM, pointed to the importance of face-to-face meetings and videoconferencing, but also ascribed a nearly identical value to asynchronous email and phone calls as tools for maintaining business contacts; from these findings, Rosenberg reasoned in his article that the perceived necessity for traditional phone calls to people will be blurred by frequent messaging interactions such as voice/unified messaging and instant messaging. The author projects that enterprise staff will increasingly become more mobile and/or remote teleworkers, increasing the importance of efficient and effective distributed business contacts and supporting UC return-on-investment (ROI) benefits such as IT administration/support costs, communication equipment and services costs, and micro- and macro-productivity. Rosenberg contends that a solid UC migration plan's first step is to carry out "operational homework" such as "pilot" studies that focus on mobile and multimodal devices in addition to legacy communication devices, and an objective "needs analysis" founded upon the job requirements for all the organization's end users. "The flexibility of contacting people more efficiently will pay off at both the 'micro' and 'macro-productivity' level," insists the author.
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Linux Lab: GPL Clarification Needed ASAP
CNet (09/20/06) Shankland, Stephen

The Free Software Foundation did not ease corporate concerns about the fate of General Public License (GPL) version 2 during meetings this week in Chicago. The Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) has called on the FSF to explain how software governed by GPLv3-licensed code will interact with GPLv2-licensed code. After nine months, "it's time for the FSF to write it down and say what the rules are," said Stuart Cohen, chief executive of the OSDL. However, Eben Moglen, attorney for the FSF, said his organization is not ready to address the issue at this time. "It is premature to comment, in my view, on the relation between GPLv2-licensed code and GPLv3-licensed code until the final provisions of GPLv3 are known, but this at any rate does not strike me as an issue," said Moglen. GPLv3 is designed to succeed GPLv2 and address issues such as software patents and digital rights management. A consortium of computing companies is behind the OSDL, and its leadership includes Linus Torvalds, the founder of Linux. Torvalds has not expressed much support for GPLv3 and FSF.
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High-Speed Speech Calls for Hardware
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (09/20/06) Templeton, David

Carnegie Mellon University electrical and computer engineering professor Rob Rutenbar seeks to improve the capabilities of speech recognition technology by inventing better hardware, namely a computer chip that can comprehend speech and process it faster than current software. This is important, because real-time speech recognition software is about to hit a wall. The work of Rutenbar's CMU research team has thus far yielded a prototype chip that can recognize 1,000 words, albeit not in real-time speed. Rutenbar's long-term objective is a chip capable of understanding 50,000 words at a rate that beats real time 1,000-fold, a breakthrough that would aid national security initiatives such as wiretap analysis. The technology's potential commercial applications include improved cell phone voice recognition. Stanford University electrical engineering professor Teresa Meng lauds Rutenbar's effort as the most sophisticated speech recognition research endeavor around, noting that Rutenbar has "put grammar and structure in the chip in a multistep recognition process to cast a fairly wealthy set of thinking into hardware." Rutenbar is developing technology to assist Homeland Security through grants from the Defense Department, the semiconductor industry, and the National Science Foundation.
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Roll-Up Screens 'Moving Closer'
BBC News (09/21/06)

Researchers at Cambridge University believe their new metal material could clear the way for the development of roll-up flat screens for laptop computers. The scientists have used copper alloys to develop a metal structure that does not need hinges, latches, locks, or any other moving parts to shift into shape. Dr. Keith Seffen, the lead researcher who is from the Department of Engineering, says toy "flick" or "snap" bracelets were the inspiration for their approach to providing a structure with flexible movement. "If you think of bending a ruler, when you bend it you are changing its shape and also the stress within the structure," says Seffen. "What we have worked out is ways that you can make the shape and the stress interact with each other in a positive way." The metal sheet is designed to give way when its stretch level reaches its midway point, and assume another shape, rather than break. The metal structure could potentially be used to produce electronic newspapers, keyboards, and compact mobile phones that could be rolled up and placed in a bag or pocket. The researchers also envision reusable packaging and self-erecting temporary shelters.
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Virtual Bees Help Robots See in 3D
New Scientist (09/21/06) Simonite, Tom

Researchers believe that a study of how honeybees forage for food could improve robots' 3D vision. A new kind of stereoscopic computer vision system is inspired by the way that explorer bees dance on a specific area of the honeycomb to report the location of a new source of food after they return to the hive. The system, developed by Gustavo Olague and Cesar Puente at the Center for Scientific Investigation and Higher Education of Ensenada of Mexico, uses virtual honeybees to find specific points of interest in a 2D image and render them in 3D. Olague and Puente claim that their system is simpler than the computationally intensive method of using two cameras and comparing the views taken from different angles to produce 3D information. The simulated bees can be programmed to find features of interest in 2D images based on criteria such as edges and texture, which could enable a robot to focus on a person or object in an otherwise empty space. The software randomly assigns the explorer bees to different areas in the picture. Once they have identified features of interest, the explorer bees then recruit other virtual bees, called harvesters, to explore the area in greater detail. "This algorithm can save time," said Olague. "The harvesters are targeted by the explorers to look only at promising areas." The researchers hope to incorporate the system into a mobile robot by the end of this year.
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New Research Institute to Bridge Science and Arts Divide
IT Week (09/18/06) Brown, James

De Montfort University will officially unveil its new Institute of Creative Technologies (IOCT) in Leicester on Wednesday. The IOCT will focus on using collaborative research methods in computer science to bring science and the arts together. Microsoft is supporting the IOCT, which initially has plans to create an Internet orchestra, cylindrical projection hologram animation, and pursue research in artificial intelligence. Internet expert Howard Rheingold will deliver a keynote address on the importance of open, common resources online. "It is important to understand the interdisciplinary foundations of cooperative behavior that enable people to act in their self-interest and at the same time create a resource that enriches everyone--such as the World Wide Web, Wikipedia, or open-source software," says Rheingold. Professor Andrew Hugill will serve as the director of the IOCT.
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Imaging Technology Restores 700-Year-Old Sacred Hindu Text
Rochester Institute of Technology (09/19/2006) Gawlowicz, Susan

Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology have used imaging technology to preserve 700-year-old sacred Hindu writings. P.R. Mukund, a professor of electrical engineering, and Roger Easton, who imaged the Dead Sea Scrolls, are scheduled to return to a monastery in Udupi, India, in November to present a printed and electronic version of the Sarvamoola granthas, a collection of 36 works written in Sanskrit by the Dvaita philosopher Shri Madvacharya (1238-1317). Along with Mukund and Easton, the team consisted of Keith Knox, an imaging senior scientist at Boeing LTS, and Ajay Pasupuleti, an RIT doctoral candidate in microsystems. In June, the team used a scientific digital camera and an infrared filter to image the palm-leaf document. "It is literally crumbling to dust," Mukund says of the sacred Hindu text. They processed and digitally stitched 7,900 images using several image-processing algorithms, Adobe Photoshop, and custom software created by Knox. The processed images can now be stored electronically, published in books, and etched on silicon wafers to ensure the Sarvamoola granthas is preserved for a long time. Mukund says the original manuscript will not have to be opened and handled any longer.
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U.S. Agency to Extend Oversight of ICANN
Associated Press (09/21/06) Caterinicchia, Dan; Jesdanum, Anick

The U.S. Commerce Department has signaled that its memorandum of understanding with ICANN will be extended past this month's expiration while the agency finds ways to address concerns over the power of the U.S. government in Internet governance. When the last agreement was extended in 2003, Commerce had suggested that ICANN would be ready for self-oversight by the close of the current contract, but few in the industry believe the organization is ready to handle those responsibilities. The new agreement "is extremely important in that it dictates the extent to which the U.S. government will continue to play a unique role in the oversight of the Internet's Domain Name System," says David McGuire of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "What we ultimately would love to see would be a completely non-governmental, bottoms-up management body. At this point, that's just...not something we think is necessarily even viable." Among the issues Commerce says it will address are greater transparency and accountability in its decision-making processes. However, John Kneuer, Commerce's acting assistant secretary for communications and information, says the current agreement works and did not discuss any changes to the agreement or the length of the extension; ICANN President Paul Twomey also had no comment. Paul Kane, chairman of CENTR, an association of Internet country code top-level domain registries, warns that unless Commerce is able to open up ICANN to greater participation by its constituents, it risks having ICANN's duties taken over by another organization.
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Trends in Cyberinfrastructure for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
CTWatch Quarterly (08/06) Vol. 2, No. 3, Stevens, Rick

University of Chicago computer science professor Rick Stevens points to three trends in biology research that are impacting cyberinfrastructure for bioinformatics and computational biology: The increasing availability of high-throughput (HT) data, the ramping up of queries that can by addressed by computation and HT experimentation, and the start of simulations and modeling technologies that will eventually serve as a platform for predictive biological theory. "It is possible to imagine that, in the future, laboratories will be directly linked to data archives and to each other, so that experimental results will flow from HT instruments directly to databases which will be coupled to computational tools for automatically integrating the new data and performing quality control checks in real-time," Stevens explains. He points to several notable road-mapping documents authored by the community, including a report from the National Science Foundation committee for constructing a biological sciences cyberinfrastructure; a National Academy of Sciences study on computing and biology; and a program roadmap devised by the Energy Department for its Genomes to Life initiative. Web services will be important to biology as a means for enabling teams worldwide to collaborate on building new tools that take advantage of each other's information and computational services without prior coordination. Stevens expects several commercial search engine companies to consider combining biological searches of open literature and databases with computational services with access to commercial databases and tools, and mentions TeraGrid as a project that is developing grid infrastructure for the purpose of biological research. The author believes petascale computing can tackle biological problems such as large-scale sequence analysis and sequence-based phylogenic analysis; large-scale molecular dynamics; large-scale molecular dynamics and electronic structure, stochastic modeling, and mesoscale structural modeling; graph-theoretic and network analysis techniques and stochastic modeling and analysis methods; numerical solution of PDEs, ODEs, and SODEs; and linear-programming and optimization.
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Progressing With Parallel Processing
eWeek (09/18/06) Vol. 23, No. 37, P. D5

Multithreading skills are becoming essential as parallel processing hardware proliferates, and developers ignore at their own peril indications of this trend such as Intel's investments in college curriculum and resources for multithread development training. The Java programming language supports the expression of concurrency in the same language developers are already employing for application logic, while powerful abstractions for C++ are also offered by concurrency toolkits and frameworks. Being able to count the threads developers are using on the fingers of one hand is folly, according to principal author of "Java Concurrency in Practice" Brian Goetz. He and his five co-authors note that "The need for thread safety is contagious," because "frameworks may create threads on your behalf, and code called from these threads must be thread-safe." It is the authors' contention that developers should never lose sight of the application state and avoid becoming overwhelmed by threading mechanisms. Developers must also keep in mind that careless habits that are acceptable in single-thread environments may be exposed in multithread environments.
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Designing Urban Pervasive Systems
Computer (09/06) Vol. 39, No. 9, P. 52; Kostakos, Vassilis; O'Neill, Eamonn; Penn, Alan

Vassilis Kostakos and Eamonn O'Neill of the University of Bath, together with Alan Penn of University College London, present a conceptual framework for the design and analysis of urban pervasive systems that relates degrees of publicness to a trio of pervasive system aspects--architectural space where artifacts are situated, interaction space that the artifacts generate, and the sphere of information they access or share. Degrees of publicness span one axis of the framework, ranging from public to private, with a social tier in between: The public tier denotes open access in which no single person controls access; the private tier denotes the opposite case; and the social tier denotes access that is neither public nor private, with no single person in charge yet less accessible than public access. These tiers are differentiated with fluid barriers based on the theories of control and restricted access. In pervasive systems, technology-induced barriers enable individuals to grant or deny information access, in keeping with control theory, while privacy zones required by restricted access theory are created by the barriers introduced by the built environment's spatial properties. Space-induced barriers are any barrier that hinders access, be it economic, social, physical, etc. Identifying the degree of publicness hinges on the connection between people, space, and barriers. Architectural spaces, interaction spaces, and information spheres correspond along the spectrum, and their categorization as public, social, or private depends on the manipulability of barriers. Mapping existing systems and situations can uncover recurring patterns in the design and utilization of pervasive systems, such as the insulating-technology pattern (used to characterize technologies that isolate individuals from their physical environment) and the secrets-revealed pattern (used to describe scenarios wherein private or social information is publicly disclosed).
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