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October 4, 2006

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Welcome to the October 4, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Software Being Developed to Monitor Opinions of U.S.
New York Times (10/04/06) P. A24; Lipton, Eric

The Department of Homeland Security is funding the development of "sentiment analysis" software by a consortium of major universities that uses natural language processing technology to scan foreign publications for negative views on America and its government. The goal of the three-year, $2.4 million grant is to help DHS locate possible dangers to the U.S. The software would provide Homeland Security personnel with instant access to an entire article that contains subversive statements. While efforts have always been made to stay abreast of global opinions of our country, this new technology will make the process far more efficient. Cornell University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Utah are working on the research, which is led by Joe Kielman, who says it could take several years to get the system in place. He says, "We want to understand the rhetoric that is being published and how intense it is, such as the difference between dislike and excoriate." Kielman noted that they are not monitoring U.S.-based news sources. Currently, the system is being fed hundreds of articles published between 2001 and 2002 from a variety of publications and tested on its ability to discern between similar statements. The task of classifying and ranking opinions expressed about America without error has proven quite challenging, says Cornell computer science professor Claire T. Cardie and University of Pittsburgh computer science professor Janyce M. Wiebe. Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Marc Rotenberg calls the research "really chilling," and compares it to the Defense Department's aborted Total Information Awareness project. He says the research "seems far afield from the mission of homeland security."
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Association for Computing Machinery's Vice President Receives Technology Leadership Award; Wendy Hall Honored at Conference Celebrating Women in Tech
AScribe Newswire (10/02/06)

ACM vice president Wendy Hall will receive the 2006 Anita Borg Award at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference on October 5. The award is given to outstanding leaders who embrace the vision of making the world a better place for women and technology. Hall, a computer science professor at the University of Southampton in the UK, is an advocate of enhancing ACM's international policies, as well as enhancing diversity in the field. She currently heads the new Women's Forum of the British Computer Society, an organization that she was president of from 2003-2004. Her accomplishments have distinguished her as a prominent name in intelligent information systems, including her research team's development of the Microcosm hypermedia system. Hall's other involvements include membership in ACM's Special Interest Group on Hypertext, Hypermedia, Web, and Multimedia. She also chaired the WWW2006, the World Wide Web conference, an event co-sponsored by ACM.
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Congress Adjourns, Tech Bills Remain Unfinished
IDG News Service (10/02/06) Grant Gross

Congress left several technology-related bills unresolved going into its month-plus break before the elections, including bills on pretexting, broadband regulation, and electronic surveillance. The Prevention of Fraudulent Access to Phone Records Act, which would allow the FTC to take civil action against businesses that use false pretenses to access personal data, was left unfinished. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has been investigating pretexting for nearly a year, and the bill could still pass when Congress returns on Nov. 9. Another bill that was not passed is one that would take the place of local franchise rules and establish a national system for Internet Protocol-based television broadcasts that would compete with cable TV. The legislation is not supported by some who claim that they lack protections for Net neutrality. Two surveillance bills were also left on the table, both would make government spying possible without a warrant. A separate bill was passed by the House but got stuck in the Senate. It would have allowed spying by the government without a warrant for up to 90 days after a terrorist attack. One bill that did pass concerns seaport security, but includes a provision that prohibits U.S. bank and credit card companies from processing payments for online gambling companies.
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SIGGRAPH 2007 Face Tomorrow: Call for Papers & Volunteers
VFX World (10/03/06)

ACM is inviting contributors or volunteers for SIGGRAPH 2007, the 34th International Conference and Exhibition on Computer graphics and Interactive Techniques, which will be held August 5-9, at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, Calif. Conference Chair Joe Marks says the conference will "explore the products, systems, techniques, ideas and inspiration that are creating the next generation of computer graphics and interactive techniques." Artists, researchers, engineers, animators, and technology professional are encouraged to help make a difference in the future by taking part in the conference. Presentations and contributors will include: art gallery, awards, computer animation festival, courses, educator program, emerging technologies, guerilla studio, panels, papers, research posters, sketches, special sessions, and new for 2007, IP marketplace. Volunteer opportunities include: GraphicsNet, international resources, student opportunities, and apprentice programs. Benefits will be included for those whose work or volunteer service is accepted, and include: direct collaboration with industry leaders, network opportunities, and insight into a world where science, art, and technology converge. For more information on SIGGRAPH 2007, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2007/
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E-Poll Results Undecided
Baltimore Sun (10/04/06) P. 1B; Harris, Melissa

A mock election, meant to test Maryland's voter check-in computers, was held yesterday at the BWI Airport Marriott. While about 10 glitches did occur, many are confident in the system. State Elections Chief Linda Lamone said that she will announce her decision on Thursday as to whether or not the $18 million system will be used in the November general election. Although the e-poll machines are touch-screen, election officials realized that when a mouse was attached and used instead of a finger or a stylus, previous communication issues between the computers were no longer a problem. Such issues plagued the September 12 primaries, and the problem of the machines losing contact with others when the screen is touched has still not been figured out. Diebold Election Systems, the company who makes the voting hardware, assures the state that it could supply all the necessary computer mice for the general election. They also suggested installing new software, as an alternative solution. Potential communications problems between the machines on election day could enable somebody to vote more than once. Using the mice, the test went relatively smoothly, and election officials said the machines saved them from several days of work updating voter records after the election.
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China Seeks Home-Grown Innovation
Financial Times Digital Business (10/04/06) P. 10; Dickie, Mure

China's growth as an IT powerhouse is sparking concerns that it could threaten Japan, Europe, and the United States' technical dominance, yet this fear is belied by the country's relatively modest technological goals, such as becoming an "innovation-oriented country" by 2020, according to Chinese minister of science and technology Xu Guanhua. This reflects a gap between China and Western nations in the mastery of advanced technologies. According to statistics from the Chinese trade ministry, electronics and IT product exports totaled $268 billion last year, a 29 percent gain versus the year before. Yet 87 percent of those exports were from foreign-owned and invested companies, while domestic companies' share of exports experienced a decline. Beijing is planning to invest considerable funding in domestic scientific and technological research and development. The government is attempting to convince local companies to develop their own intellectual property, a tough sell in a country where duplication is often preferred over invention. Problems inherent in this strategy include weak intellectual property rights protection and the low quality of Chinese companies' patent applications, while scandals over plagiarism and falsified results have bred skepticism about the quality of Chinese scientific research. The Chinese market does have an atypical amount of leverage for a developing market, by virtue of its size.
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Musical Robot Composes, Performs and Teaches
CNN.com (10/03/06) Abshire, Matthew

The robotic drummer that performed at SIGGRAPH 2006 in Boston in front of an audience is set to go on a world tour that includes stops in Israel, Germany, and France. Georgia Tech music technology professor Gil Weinberg built Haile with assistance from Scott Driscoll and other graduate students. The first truly robotic musician, Haile is different from other computers in that it is able to listen to what another musician is playing, and play along and even make adjustments as the rhythm changes. "Knowing that Haile is 'hearing' the music and responding to the tone, pitch and amplitude of the beat when creating its own drum response is quite moving," says Heather Elliott-Famularo, who helped organize SIGGRAPH 2006. What is more, Haile has the human-like quality of a concert drummer in that it will never play a piece of music the same way. Elliott-Famularo also noticed Weinberg's effort to give Haile a humanoid look so that other performers would not feel as if they were merely playing with a device. "One of the things that is beautiful about the piece is that Haile, the robot, is visually beautiful, made from layered, polished hardwood," says Elliott-Famularo.
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Rallies Protest Limits on Digital Copying
Reuters (10/04/06)

In what was dubbed a global "Day Against DRM (digital rights management)," groups of concerned consumers and technologists handed out leaflets during rush hours and lunch breaks yesterday in cities such as Boston, Zurich, Paris, and London, in an effort to raise awareness about the technology that places certain limits on copying music and films. One of the leaflets the protesters handed out featured a silhouette similar to those from Apple Computer's advertising campaign with hands tied together with iPod earpiece cords, symbolizing the limitations of iTunes customers who can play their songs only on iPod music players. "This is not aimed against Apple. We're focusing on iPod because it popularizes that DRM is acceptable," said Peter Brown, executive director the Free Software Foundation. In fact, Apple's DRM software is relatively benign, Brown noted. He added that Amazon Unbox's user license and Windows Media Player 11's user agreement are both incredibly restrictive. "The restrictions demanded by the media companies can get tougher, because the technology companies are now competing to get access to the media," Brown said. Meanwhile, Apple and media companies defended their use of DRM software. They said that a lack of a DRM mechanism would open the door to widespread piracy and would threaten the future of legal online sales of digital content.
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Computer Science Professor Argues for a Paper Trail With E-Voting
Washington Post (10/04/06) P. A23; Goldfarb, Zachary A.

Johns Hopkins computer scientist Aviel Rubin argues in his book, "Brave New Ballot," that America's elections are in danger due to their dependency on electronic voting technology. He writes that "democracy has never been more vulnerable," and criticizes election officials because, "despite their total lack of familiarity with cryptology, program verification, and formal risk analysis...election officials don't hesitate to give their opinions on security and reliability of their voting systems." Also under fire is Diebold Election Systems, whose popular voting machines are criticized in a report Rubin wrote three years ago for being poorly designed and not resistant to tampering. In the book, Rubin writes, "Machines must be completely trusted not to fail, not to have been programmed maliciously, and not to have been tampered with." He advocates a paper print out that would allow each voter to be sure that the machine recorded their vote correctly, and serve as a record should a recount be necessary. Such paper records are currently required in 27 states. For information on ACM's e-voting activiites, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Sketch-Recognition Turns Doodles Into Websites
New Scientist (10/02/06) Simonite, Tom

Designers will be able to convert a sketch of a Web page into a functional Web page using a new software tool that is being developed by researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. The software tool, InkKit, which works with a tablet computer that has a stylus, also makes use of some sophisticated rules that will allow it to transform code drawn by hand into a real program. InkKit is able to determine whether the scribbling is writing or a drawing, and a tablet's built-in handwriting recognition software handles handwriting while software written by the Auckland researchers takes care of drawings. Users would have to follow some basic rules, such as drawing a rectangle with a triangle pointing down at one side to produce a drop-down menu. "This kind of tool can really be used in any design situation where people use freehand drawing," says Beryl Plimmer at Auckland. Bart Naaijkens, a researcher at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands who focuses on improving the design process, says InkKit would work well in the early stages of Web design when people are still using paper to write down their ideas.
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Airships, Balloons Set to Deliver Broadband
EE Times (10/02/06) Walko, John

The results of the 6 million euro Capanina project primarily funded by the E.U. under the Broadband-For-All Sixth Framework Program will be unveiled at the High Altitude Platforms (HAP) international conference in York, England, scheduled for Oct. 23 to 27. The three-year effort by research institutes and communications companies aimed to link balloon-like airships into a network that could delivery broadband to remote areas as well as moving transport through utilization of free-space optics technology to link millimeter-wave-band communications. The conference will focus on wireless and optical HAP communications as well as HAP vehicle development. Principal Capanina researcher Dr. David Grace says, "York HAP week will not only mark the culmination of Capanina, but also act as a catalyst for the next phase of development."
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Attack of the Killer Prototype Robots
CNet (09/29/06) Kanellos, Michael

Intel researchers looking to develop a shape-shifting fabric are confident that such an intelligent fabric can be created, but add that the software needed to control millions of tiny robots would be more of a challenge. This week at the Intel Developer Forum, researchers in the company's Pittsburgh lab demonstrated the early stages of their Dynamic Physical Rendering technology, including prototypes of the components that would make up the flat piece of fabric. The intelligent fabric would include millions of independent silicon spheres covered in electronic actuators--half-capacitors or electromagnets--that would repel or attract similar points on other spheres in a coordinated manner to form a shape. When the right voltage is applied, the intelligent fabric would be able to shift into a three-dimensional model of a car, and then a cube when new parameters are selected. "Rather than look at a 3D model on a CAD program, a physical model would manifest on your desk top," explains Babu Pillai, co-head of the project. The researchers also showed how the actuators could move objects. As for the software program, Pillai wonders "how do you program 10 million nodes to work together?" The researchers may have to develop programs that do not require every step to be planned.
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Ohio University Researchers Create Improved Magnetic-Semiconductor Sandwich
Ohio University (10/02/2006) Forster, Lisa

Researchers at Ohio University have found that a two-layer "sandwich" of gallium nitride (GaN) and manganese gallium (MnGa) can serve as an effective interface between a semiconductor and ferromagnetic metal. The discovery, detailed in a paper published online in Physical Review Letters, is a breakthrough in spintronics, which makes use of the spin of electrons to carry and store information. The improved magnetic semiconductor allows very little intermixing of the two layers and enables spin-based electrons to be tuned. "We found a way to grow the metal on the semiconductor," explains Arthur Smith, associate professor of physics and astronomy and director of Ohio University's Nanoscale & Quantum Phenomena Institute. "The advantage of this finding is in the growth process." Controlling and manipulating electrons remains a problem for scientists, but spintronics has the potential to improve the speed and storage capacity of devices, as well as lower power demands. What is more, the bilayer appears to have some commercial potential because it operates at room temperature.
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Programming for All
IT World Canada (09/29/06) Jedras, Jeff

IBM says programmers need to take accessibility technology into consideration when they are developing software and Web sites. IBM sees college as a good place to start teaching accessible design principles, and hopes computer science programs will incorporate accessible design into their curricula. IBM is even helping colleges and universities make the transition by offering accessible design course exercises and materials online, and by sponsoring a contest that requires students to use the Open Document Format to design open-source software for people with disabilities. "We think the programmers of the future, as they start learning about computer science in university, need to understand some of the important basic principles," says Frances West, director of the IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center. IBM's focus on accessibility design comes at a time when up to one in every six people in the world has a speech, vision, mobility, or cognitive disability, and the number is expected to increase as baby boomers age. West adds that schools are not keeping up, and that people with disabilities often rely more on computers to obtain information.
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Putting Open Source Development Under the Scope
Linux Insider (10/02/06) Lyman, Jay

Computer science researchers at the University of California Davis will use a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to examine the development of open source systems such as the Apache Web server, PosterSQL, and the Python scripting language. The suspicion is that open source systems succeed where commercial proprietary programs fail because they avoid the developmental process where the speed of production is determined by the slowest contributor. The case of Mozilla suggests that the modularity implemented by open source systems increase volunteerism, because anyone can contribute at any time. UC Davis lead researcher and computer science professor Premkuma Devanbu says, "The belief in the open source software community is that open source turns on all the available brain power, full blast, on every problem, challenge, or opportunity." The purpose of the study is to put such ideas to the test, in order to get empirical evidence. Many stress that open source development benefits from the fact that contributors are not motivated by getting paid, and can choose what they work on. As no meetings and the lowest level of synchronization are necessary when using open source software, development can occur at parallel levels simultaneously, rather than requiring each step in the process to occur sequentially. The researchers will monitor emails, message boards, and bug reports for insights into what makes open source development projects successful. Devanbu says the case of Linux shows that modularity improves the quality of the software developed, and that "good design allows implementation to proceed with maximum parallelism and minimum synchronization and coordination."
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Uncovering the Hazards in Our Electronic Gadgets
New Scientist (09/23/06) Vol. 191, No. 2570, P. 26; Graham-Rowe, Duncan

A Greenpeace analysis of just a handful of laptop computers revealed harmful chemicals, indicating the enormous scope of the problem facing regulators in enforcing new rules, such as the European Union's Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive, to rein in the use of toxic materials in electronic products. Indeed, the study uncovered the presence of dangerous flame retardants that one manufacturer, Hewlett-Packard, claimed had been eliminated many years ago. Disposing certain chemicals via incineration is problematic, because the act of burning them releases toxic dioxins into the environment. Michael Williams of the UN Environment Program says residual toxic chemicals are one of the most rapidly expanding environmental problems, since up to 50 million tons of electronic waste is being discarded every year. The RoHS directive is having an impact outside Europe: Greenpeace's Zeina Al-Hajj says the materials banned by the law are being phased out in other countries, including the United States. Fulfilling Greenpeace's goal of eliminating all toxic chemicals from electronic products requires assurances that manufacturers will take back goods at the end of their lives, thus creating an incentive to switch to less hazardous materials, according to Peter Guthrie at the Center for Sustainable Development.
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The 5 Percent Solution
Software Test & Performance (09/06) Vol. 3, No. 9, P. 26; Buwalda, Hans

Setting practical goals for test automation is essential to improving a project's development cycles, and LogiGear's Hans Buwalda, co-author of "Integrated Test Design and Automation," offers a pair of "5 percent" goals for test automation: Manually testing no more than 5 percent of structured test cases, and spending no more than 5 percent of testing in the automation process. The first goal guarantees that the automation initiative has a solid outcome, while the second protects testers so they can devote more time to generating more and better test cases. Buwalda concentrates on three main models of test automation: The record and playback model, which enables developers to learn how a tool represents their interaction with the system being tested; the scripted or programmed model, in which the automated tests are software and testers are given room to design improved tests; and the action- or keyword-based model, in which automation no longer automates each test case, but rather focuses on the actions as generic entities that can be reused in any number of cases the test designer wishes. The author believes the third model is the optimal starting point for meeting the 5 Percent Goals, because automation coverage is maximized and it is enough for the automation to encompass the limited series of actions to deliver full automation coverage of virtually every test. Buwalda recognizes three other elements that can lead to successful test automation in conjunction with the action-based model: Test design that yields effective and efficient tests, automation architecture, and organization around testing and automation efforts. The first 5 Percent Goal can be achieved with the action-based model, while the second goal is more challenging. Buwalda writes, "It's possible to get close to the mark after an initial period of setting up an infrastructure and team, and letting them go through a learning curve. After that initial period, the complexity of the UI of the system under test and the frequency and depth of its maintenance cycle are the most significant factors in determining the ongoing degree of automation efforts."
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Public Pervasive Computing: Making the Invisible Visible
Computer (09/06) Vol. 39, No. 9, P. 60; Kjeldskov, Jesper; Paay, Jeni

Human computer interaction (HCI) researchers, sociologists, and city architects, planners, and designers are investigating the employment of pervasive computing technologies in urban environments; one area of exploration is the Just-for-Us project, a multidisciplinary effort to develop a publicly available mobile Web service that can enable new kinds of interaction by adapting content to the physical and social context of the user. Designing public-use computer systems requires system developers and HCI designers to gain a basic understanding of a physical space and its effects on the social interactions that occur there. Just-for-Us uses a pervasive sensor network to produce a digital layer of information about people, sites, and activities to facilitate physical- and social-context adaptability. Content is dynamically delivered to the user via database queries. The Just-for-Us system architecture includes context-dependent HTML pages, maps and graphics presented on a mobile Web browser, PHP scripts and server-side applications, and MySQL database, while Bluetooth beacons and other Bluetooth-enabled devices feed into the client application. The Just-for-Us interface features a home screen that displays a panorama of a public site as well as annotations about landmarks within the user's current physical whereabouts and a meter indicating the current level of social activity. The user can raise a Now screen that shows the level and nature of social activity transpiring within the user's proximity. The Just-for-Us researchers are attempting to update their design concept to accommodate more user content contributions, facilitate socializing between users based on "virtual proximity," and broaden the system's area of coverage, among other things.
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