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October 6, 2006

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

PyPy - The 'Babelfish' of Programming
IST Results (10/06/06)

Using the popular programming language Python, a group is attempting to create a programming system that translates code between different environments and platforms, allowing implementation of various languages. The International Society of Technologies began with the short term goal of making Python more flexible, faster, and easier. "Python is often used as a 'glue' language--it can work on many platforms from mobiles to mainframes...It's a very useful general purpose programming language and we want to improve its implementation" says Holher Krekel, technical director for the project. What Krekel's team has developed is known as PyPy, which is written in Python itself. "PyPy is flexible and easy to experiment with...It makes it easy to identify areas where the Python implementations can be improved. It also allows a developer to experiment with multiple implementations of specific features and weave different aspects into it," Krekel explains. With language implementation complete, the team has developed a set of tools for testing programs developed using the language. The current challenge is to speed up the compiler, which compiles PyPy source code into a different target code, like a translator. Currently, it is able to translate C language and Microsoft's .Net, and the more experimental platform Low Level Virtual Machine (LLVM.) The programmers have been conducting and showcasing what is known as Sprint Driven Development (SDD), a fast fluid and adaptive environment that caters and facilitates cooperative and distributed development. Sprints are conducted with the participation of those active in the PyPy community, who benefit from tutorials and experience with the system. Krekel says that since it is an EU project, open source contribution could be greater, but he hopes the program will be sustained after the EU phase runs its course.
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6th Grace Hopper Conference OpensWith Record-Setting Participation
Business Wire (10/05/06)

The 2006 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing kicked off on October 5, setting new records for attendance, scholarship awards, sponsorship, and underwriting. Those attending will have the opportunity to explore cutting edge computing technology, discuss strategies for attracting and advancing women in science and technology professions, learn career building skills, and celebrate women's accomplishments in the field. The celebration is presented by the Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology (ABI) and ACM. It is currently the largest event of its kind. The conference was opened by Telle Whitney, president and CEO of ABI and a co-founder of the Grace Hooper Celebration, who spoke on the need for every qualified technologist to have complete access to the field. She also stressed the progress made by women in the sciences and expressed faith in continuing progress. Keynote speaker Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman observed the double standard women have faced in the science, mathematics, and engineering fields. "For every little girl who dreams of becoming a scientist, there is a moral obligation on our part to do everything we can to even the playing field so her chances rest on her abilities and determination," said Tilghman. She also asserted that the future of science and even the nation as a whole is dependent on the most able being allowed to perform their desired functions. Other keynote speakers are Sally Ride, former astronaut, who runs her own foundation, Helen Greiner, chairman and co-founder of iRobot Corporation. Over 1,200 men and women attended the conference, a 33 percent increase over last year, and a 140 percent increase over the 2004 attendance.
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IBM Looks to Simplify Mainframe Management
IDG News Service (10/04/06) Mullins, Robert

IBM has announced a five-year plan to transform the mainframe computer into an easier-to-use and more attractive machine to companies who use network servers. Some $100 million will be dedicated to developing ways that will allow IT administrators to manage them more easily, as well as let software developers construct and utilize programs to function on mainframes. IBM's Bob Hoey says one of the company's goals is to prove that a mainframe is a more economical use of computing power than a server network. He says IBM plans to add new features to its mainframes that will be designed with "the existing IT staff and the new generation of IT workers in mind." IBM is aware that many of today's IT administrators feel overwhelmed by the intricacy of a mainframe, and ignore the advantages it would offer; new features will include automated configuration-checking to help administrators foresee and prevent technical problems, easier to use software asset management, and a simplified user interface for configuration and management of a network. IDC analyst Vernon Turner believes introducing a new generation of mainframe to a new generation of IT professionals is a very plausible idea because "the look and feel is something they are comfortable with."
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Quantum Information Teleported From Light to Matter
Reuters (10/04/06)

Quantum communications and computing moved a little closer to reality when a team of scientists at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen teleported information significantly further than ever before, and were able to teleport light and matter together. As Eugene Polzik, the leader of the team, explains, "It is one step further because...it involved two different objects. One is the carrier of information and the other is the storage medium." What made these results possible was the use of entanglement, a way to interlock two particles without physical contact. "Our method allows teleportation to be taken over longer distances because it involves light as the carrier of entanglement," says Polzik. The teleportation took place over a distance of half a meter, and the scientists believe it can be done at greater lengths. The previous best was only a fraction of a millimeter. Though human teleportation is still impossible for now, "it is really about transporting information from one site to another site," says Polzik. "Quantum information is different than traditional information in the sense that it cannot be measured. It has much high information capacity and cannot be eavesdropped on. The transmission of quantum information can be made unconditionally secure." Other steps still exist before teleportation is possible, but Polzik adds that they are known and being researched.
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In Japan, Robots Are People, Too
CNet (10/05/06) Skillings, Jonathan

A new book by journalist Timothy Hornyak delves into the Japanese fascination with robots and their attitude toward them as personable beings. "Loving the machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robotics," explains how the Japanese are dedicated to creating robots that serve as human companions and helpers, not simply faceless workers. The problem facing Japan is that one-third of its population is predicted to be over 60 years old by 2050, and the country has very little immigration, so robots are seen as a possible salvation for the country. The government is making a concerted effort to develop a corps of safe and friendly robots to help out with office duties, housework, and taking care of the elderly. One lady whom Hornyak spoke with, after being told he was a roboticist, said "I'm really looking forward to the day when robots are going to take care of me." Her attitude is very common in a nation which has adopted a pacifistic mentality since the atomic bomb fell, embracing technology as something intended to nurture. Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry has designated $17 million to aid the creation of artificial intelligent robots that are able to think for themselves in the work place. It plans on advancing artificial intelligence technologies in order for these robots to be introduced into the marketplace by 2015, according to Hornyak. He says the Japanese leadership is basically legislating Asimov's three laws of robotics. Robots will be able to tell if anyone is around so they do not run into them. All robots will have a soft exterior to prevent harming people, and finally they will have large off switches that will be easily depressed should it be necessary. The main obstacle to advancement of robots is artificial intelligence, which is being researched heavily in the U.S. as well, but for military purposes, which the Japanese see as "horrific," says Hornyak. The cost of actuators, the most expensive element of a robot, is also holding back development. Hornyak admits that robot psychologists will one day be a reality in Japan; not for anxiety-ridden robots, but for people who have grown incredibly attached.
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Lots of Processors Inside Everything
Electronic News (10/05/06) Davis, Jessica

Inventor and author Ray Kurzweil suggests that the exponential progression of technology signals the next natural step in biological evolution's progression. Kurzweil delivered a keynote address at the ARM Developers Conference in Santa Clara on Wednesday, October 5, 2006, in which he claimed that "we are moving towards an era where computers are not going to be discrete products. They will make their way into our bodies and brains and replace biological neurons." The latest generation of FDA-approved embedded neurons, which allow for the download of new software, is pointed to as evidence. His views are founded on the thought that technological and biological innovation progresses exponentially rather than linearly, doubling every year. Evidence of this biological progress is a study in which scientists were able to shut off the fat gene in animals, allowing them to eat tremendous amounts and not create fat stores. The fact that it took 50 years for the telephone to make its way into the hands of 25 percent of Americans, but search engines caught on in only five or six years, is also cited as proof of rate change in innovation. "Applications like cell phones are make the world a better place," says Kurzweil. The World Bank has recently noted that current technologies are helping to cut poverty rates in Asia over the past 10 years, and predicted that poverty would be cut by another 90 percent in the region over the next 10 years. Moore's law can be continued by Intel until 2022 says Kurzweil, but then it will be time for a paradigm shift. The next paradigm? He says it will be 3D. "When I postulated the idea in my last book on the subject it was a radical notion. It's a mainstream idea now." The combination of biological and technological innovation, Kurzweil explains, will lead to an attitude of "treat[ing] biology as information technology and use information technology to reprogram it." A simulated human brain will be possible by 2013 and cost only $1,000, says Kurzweil.
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Pennsylvania Voters on E-Voting: Trust, But Verify
AScribe Newswire (10/04/06)

A late September survey done by two different Pennsylvania colleges reveals an overwhelming majority in support of paper verification in e-voting. Over 80 percent of those surveyed at Lehigh University and the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion agreed that verification was necessary, a statistic that covered all demographics. Those surveyed were found to have far less trust in e-voting machines than ATMs but more faith in e-voting machines than making secure purchases online or being properly screened at the airport. Although the majority feels that voting machines have been tested correctly and would be free from fraudulent activity, over a third believe that it would not be difficult to tamper with results, and nearly two thirds do not have faith that their vote would be properly counted. These results reveal a great awareness of election fraud, and a basic caution toward technological innovation. "It is reassuring to see that the warning flags raised by the computer security community have not been missed, at least by voters," says Dan Lopretsi, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at Lehigh and an e-voting expert. Another contributor, Ziad Munson, professor of sociology at Lehigh, said "the results indicate that the adoption of voter verified paper audit trail systems will be important to the public's trust of the country's democratic process in the coming years," and adds that concern over voter fraud is present in both parties. For information about ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Robot Cars Will Race in Real Traffic
New Scientist (10/03/06) Knight, Will

Researchers from Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University will compete in the Urban Grand Challenge, a race featuring autonomous vehicles that is a follow-up to last year's event that took place on a desert course. The schools finished first and second a year ago, and this year the Stanford team plans to enter a modified Volkswagen, while Carnegie Mellon is working with General Motors to roll out a Chevrolet. In addition to Stanford and Carnegie Mellon, teams from MIT, Caltech, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Cornell University, Raytheon, Honeywell Aerospace, Autonomous Solutions, Golem Group, and Oshkosh Truck will compete in the robotics race, and the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to announce another 11 participants later in the month. At last year's Grand Challenge, the cars had all kinds of on-board sensors, such as laser-range finders, radar units, stereo cameras, and GPS receivers; several networked computers to handle the data and control the response of the vehicles; and the Stanford team also used machine learning algorithms to get its vehicle to maneuver as if it were being driven by a human. In the 2006 challenge, which is scheduled for November, the autonomous vehicles will race along "simulated" city streets, and must account for real moving vehicles, buildings, and trees, as well as obey traffic signs and park in a parking lot. "The Urban Challenge will develop a leap of capability beyond what is possible in today's human-driven cars," says William Whittaker, team leader for Carnegie Mellon.
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ICANN Oversight Remains Tense Topic Internationally
Computerworld (10/04/06) Perez, Juan Carlos

The U.S. government's decision to extend for another three years its oversight of ICANN has been getting mixed reviews, with supporters saying ICANN is not ready to go it alone and detractors claiming the government's role will continue to be a source of friction with foreign governments. Over the years, the U.S. Commerce Department has been ceding responsibilities to ICANN with an eye toward spinning it off eventually. The trend continued with the latest memorandum of understanding between the two. "Extending the MOU was the only reasonable course of action at this point," says David McGuire, director of communications at the Center for Democracy and Technology. "ICANN has to improve its accountability and transparency and openness. ICANN needs to address that before we can have a meaningful conversation about it standing alone." Others believe oversight of Internet governance should rest with a multinational organization. "The oversight role for ICANN should be global and multistakeholder--not a single government," says Ian Peter, founder of the Internet Mark 2 Project in Australia, which analyzes issues related to Internet governance. "The U.S. government is a big part of the problem with ICANN's accountability and process," says Milton Mueller, professor of information studies at Syracuse University. "U.S. government involvement sets up a privileged 'back channel' for influencing ICANN decisions so that powerful interests...can get their way while bypassing the procedures everyone else has to use."
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Google Crawls Into Source-Code Search
CNet (10/04/06) LaMonica, Martin

Google Search Code, a service that allows programmers to search billions of lines of code, is expected to launch Oct. 5. Most of the code that will be crawled is made public through open source projects. "Most of the code is open source so you can reuse it," said Google's Tom Stocky. "But I don't think that's the primary use--it's more about how to learn about things and, when you're building open source packages, to make sure you're doing it the right way." Google will not seek to make money off of ads on searches, since the service is a Google Labs project and has been previously available to the company's engineers. Features of the service include both keyword searches and "regular expressions" searches, the latter of which is meant for finding an exact pattern, Stocky explained. All searches can also be narrowed to a single type of code. Google, though not a vendor of programming tools, uses an active developer outreach program and utilizes third parties to improve its services. "More and more [the developer community] is the way Google products are getting to scale," notes Stocky. "We think developers can really improve Google products and use Google technology to improve their own products."
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Giving New Meaning to 'Mobile Communication'
Austin American-Statesman (TX) (10/05/06) Zehr, Dan

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will spend $6.5 million on basic, theoretical research into how a wireless network of interconnected mobile devices works, with hopes of learning how to create a network that moves with users. Over the next five years, four professors from the University of Texas will head the project, which will also involve eight researchers from seven other universities. Creating such an ad-hoc network that can form across devices is a complex task because it would involve interconnected devices that are able to move and act independently, anywhere at any time, or shut off. A wireless network needs to know the location of the user or the devices. The military believes such a network would be helpful in war zones, where there is little infrastructure, and has been interested in the idea for years, and at a time when many U.S. cell phone users are unable to use their mobile devices in Europe. "That's why it's more of a science project than just transitioning the technology," says David Smith of consulting firm Technology Futures. Linking devices together to form ad-hoc networks would also be helpful in developing regions and disaster areas with minimal infrastructure.
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UTSA Awarded $3.1 Million for Cyber-Security Program Development
EurekAlert (10/04/06)

A three-year, $3.1 million competitive training grant has been awarded to the University of Texas San Antonio Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS) as an extension to a $1 million grant given by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in order to aid state and community efforts to build cyber-security training and development programs. The grant is a reward for the center's efforts to help state and local governments in the prevention of cyber-terror attacks. CIAS is built upon cooperation between academia, the information technology industry, and the local Air Intelligence Agency. Technical and policy issues concerning information assurance and security, as well as the task of security training, are taken on by the center. In 2002, the center led the successful "Dark Screen" exercise in defending against cyber-terror attacks, as part of the DHS' CyberStorm exercise. As a result, the city of San Antonio was recognized as the first in America to carry out a cybersecurity exercise. "As one of only three DHS training partners in the nation working in cybersecurity, we feel this increased funding supports our efforts to lead and develop models that DHS can recommend states and communities to adopt," says CIAS director Fred White. Over the past five years, over $12 million in Defense appropriations bills has been awarded to UTSA's CIAS in order to support community cybersecurity exercises and research. In addition to holding several collegiate cybersecurity competitions, CIAS has worked in several communities outside of Texas, including infrastructure security and assurance for telecommunications, oil and gas communities, and the chemical sectors in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Miami, and Baltimore.
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Debate Looks to Strengthen Learned Society for Computer Scientists
Computer Weekly (10/03/06) Richards, Justin

The computer science community in the United Kingdom is considering ways to improve its learned society at a time when more learned society activities and services are in demand. During a recent BCS Thought Leadership panel discussion, computer scientists including University of Southampton computer science professor Wendy Hall and University of Kent computer science professor Keith Mander, debated the role of a learned society in the community, and discussed its marketing policies and benefits for affiliates. Members of the community saw the focus of a learned society being largely academic, and considered whether more benefits need to be made available to trade. Panelists also said a learned society should work to bring needed change to school curricula, improve the public profile of the discipline, and have some influence with policymakers in government.
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Online Elections Would Attract Younger Voters -- Someday
San Francisco Chronicle (09/30/06) P. A2; Nevius, C.W.

Despite significant increases in youth voting witnessed in primaries featuring online voting in Michigan in 2004 and Arizona in 2000, the country still appears a long way from being able to vote in a general presidential election from home. Charles Smith, former director of online voting service Election.com, which ran the Arizona primary, says "60 percent of the younger generation would vote [if it was possible online]. That is based on our test trials." The number of voters aged 18 to 30 jumped from 1,708 in the 1996 Arizona Democratic primary to 7,760 in the same primary in 2000. This turnout was the largest for a primary since 1984, when the Democrats began holding primaries. Arizona became the first state to institute online voter registration in 2004 with its "EZ Voter" plan, which has been even more successful than predicted. Half of the current voter registrations in Arizona were done online. Michigan saw one-third of all votes cast via the Internet in its 2004 democratic primary. Despite this irrefutable evidence that it would increase voting, the dangers involved in using the Internet cannot be ignored. Computer science professor Avi Rubin says that "we'd have to completely redesign what computers are and what the Internet is" in order to make online voting a reality. Rubin warns that a virus could be created to cast thousands of illegal votes, or simply shut down voting in parts of the country. Smith does not agree that safety is such a concern at this point. His evidence is that experienced hackers were hired to try and disrupt the Arizona primary, and while one was able to, all that occurred was that the system shut down for about one minute, and then the hacker had to "go back for another eight hours to try to get in." Experts convinced the Pentagon to cancel a program in 2004 that would have allowed troops overseas to vote online because of the threat of sabotage. Even those who zealously support the cause of online voting admit that it is no less than 10 years away.
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Academies Suggest Ways to Boost B.Sc. Students' Morale
The Hindu (10/04/06)

In order to curb the low morale stemming from lack of options that have become a common problem among students in India working towards their Bachelor of Sciences degree, two leading science academies have proposed opening 20 new engineering schools that would allow students to get a professional degree in sciences, a Bachelor of Engineering degree, and a Master of Engineering degree. The desired effect is to improve the perception of B.Sc. as a field of undergraduate study, thus attracting a greater number of intelligent students to the field and increasing quality research and sciences. A proposal formulated by the Indian Academy of Sciences (IAS) and the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) titled "Higher Education in Science and Development: The Challenges and the Road Ahead," suggest that students, who feel that the system does not work for them, need to be given the chance to make "informed decisions." According to the report, "the first non-professional degree (B.Sc.) by itself is, unlike professional degrees, of not much value or societal attractiveness, unless it is of educationally good quality, obtained in a lively research environment and is supplemented by a professional edge (additional skill building that adds to employability) or research experience." Successful students will have the opportunity to move without restraint between the streams of science and technology, and industrial research and development. Overall economic growth is also expected, because this removal of limits will produce human resources that are comfortable with both science and engineering. The engineering schools will offer bachelor's degrees in pioneering industrial R&D areas such as robotics, design, microelectronics, materials and nanomaterials, chemistry and chemical engineering, software engineering, nuclear sciences and nuclear technology, biomedical sciences and biotechnology.
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Neither Safe Nor Secure on the Internet
CNet (10/04/06) Archer, Jerry L.

Although some believe the domain name system (DNS) should be allowed to operate without "burdensome" oversight, the Internet will not be very safe or secure without the adoption of some reasonable rules of the road included in the pending proposals to operate top-level domain (TLD) registries, writes Jerry L. Archer, the managing director of Devonshire Enterprises. Archer points out that despite attacks on the DNS, ICANN has failed to provide these "rules of the road" for the operators of the proposed registry agreements for the .com domain with VeriSign and the proposed .biz., .info, and .org TLDs. Archer adds that ICANN has instead opted to allow VeriSign and other registry operators to make up and freely change their own security rules, not to tell the public or ICANN these rules, or to disclose how well their rules are working. In addition, the proposed .com registry agreement now pending before the U.S. Department of Commerce would allow VeriSign to do as it sees fit, Archer writes. Though VeriSign has in the past seen fit to develop robust security, the company could someday decide to sacrifice some security for additional profits, he adds. Archer concludes that ICANN should be given the authority to prevent this from happening.
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We All Love Science--So Why Is There a Shortage of Scientists?
Financial Times Digital Business (10/04/06) P. 2; Cane, Alan

Alan Cane points to a shortfall of good science graduates as an indicator of science's declining value among youth as a career choice, especially when studies of other fields such as arts and media seem much more appealing. Adding to the lack of interest are perceptions of science as boring and scientific researchers as nerdy, socially isolated individuals. On the other hand, Cane cites trends, such as scientific books flying off the shelves, that appear to signify a much greater interest in science than is generally assumed. The observation that people's disenchantment with science appears to take root in adolescence indicates a problem with the quality of science teachers, and governments are making efforts to improve this quality. However, Cane writes that this is only a partial solution, arguing that "We still have too little knowledge of what drives literacy and numeracy in the infant brain, but there seems little reason to doubt that, while individuals may lean in one direction or the other because of their genetic make-up--a gene for algebra? why not?--skilled teaching at the pre-school, infant and junior level would both encourage and nurture dormant mathematical skills." He contends that skillful, enthusiastic teachers are needed at the primary and junior school levels to cultivate a love of science in young minds.
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Cut the Ties That Terrorize
InformationWeek (10/02/06)No. 1108, P. 56; Chabrow, Eric

The Department of Homeland Security, in a move that has provided a temporary answer to its critics who say it is shirking its responsibility to protect against a terrorist attack on the Internet, has appointed Gregory Garcia as its first assistant secretary for cybersecurity, a position that has been vacant for 14 months. Attacks have occurred recently, though not the "big one." A coordinated denial-of-service attack disrupted 13 domain-name root servers and made several Web sites unavailable. In early 2006, a hacker brought down 1,500 Web sites by hijacking PCs and sending traffic to servers with a DNS query and forged source address. George Foresman, undersecretary for preparedness, says the role of Homeland Security "isn't necessarily to do it all, but to make sure we get all the players to the table and make sure it all gets done." No success can be achieved without cooperation from the private sector. Private firms are unwilling to divulge critical network information because of fear it could be leaked to competitors. David Powner, GAO's director of IT management, says, "right now, with the folks we talk to in the private sector, they don't see a lot of return from the Department of Homeland Security. There are real leadership issues there." The GAO complied a list of 13 key cybersecurity responsibilities for the department, yet none have been addressed completely. One item on the list is "develop and enhance national cyberanalysis and warning capabilities." While the threat of a massive attack looms, even slight tampering, perhaps in the realm of medical records, could cause a devastating loss of confidence in electronic intelligence. The Internet Security Alliance says that every day $3 trillion moves across network connections protected by a 30-year-old protocol that has many known security weaknesses, while in 2004, the Congressional Research Service estimated that businesses have lost $226 billion as a result of cyberattacks.
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