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December 15, 2006

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

I.B.M. and Universities Plan Collaboration
New York Times (12/14/06) P. C11; Lohr, Steve

IBM and seven universities have agreed to work together on software research projects that will produce innovations that will be made widely available, stepping away from the negative impact intellectual property rights have had on corporate funded research at universities. The projects, under the Open Collaborative Research program started last year by Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Cisco, and IBM, will work to develop privacy, security, and medical decision-making software. ACM President Stuart Feldman, IBM's research laboratories VP for computer science, says "Universities have made life increasingly difficult to do research with them because of all the contractual issues around intellectual property." These conditions started with the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, which gave universities the power to hold patents for federally funded research and license the intellectual property. Universities have since acted more like corporations, expecting profit for research. Elisa Bertino, a computer scientist at Purdue University, says, "Universities in the United States want to protect their intellectual property but more and more see the importance of collaboration," in large part because they appreciate working on real-world issues rather than academic theory. These IBM projects are intended to last several years, and produce basic technological components that can be used in future products. Emory University economist Jerry Thursby says that "This ability to strike reasonable deals for both the corporate and university sides is a big issue" for economic growth and global competitiveness.
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Report Blames Denver Election Woes on Flawed Software
Computerworld (12/13/06) Weiss, Todd

Ineffective software design, poor IT management, and the release of a critical application without being tested were the cause of Denver's election-day debacle, concludes a new report. Voters were met with as much as three-hour long waits at polls, causing an estimated 20,000 to go home without voting. The "ePollBook" electronic poll software, supplied by Sequoia Voting Systems, was designed to let people vote at any polling location in the area, but "decidedly subprofessional architecture and construction" led to the difficulties, according to the Fujitsu Consulting report. The report stated that "The ePollBook system is a poorly designed and fundamentally flawed application that demonstrates little familiarity with basic tenets of Web development. Due to unnecessary and progressive consumption of system resources" the system grew slower the more heavily it was used. Another problem experienced on election day was that Web sessions didn't expire without an "exit" button being clicked by the user, which tied up a great deal of the system's resources. According to activity logs, 90 percent of the user sessions were not closed using this button, but by a user simply shutting down the browser. Fujitsu also pointed out the fact that the system was not stress-tested, calling such an oversight "naive ... at best," especially given the importance of the event it was deployed for. Fujitsu recommended that Denver get the Sequoia application fixed or use another platform. The report concluded, "Given the increasing criticality of technology in conducting elections and the sensitivity of personal data in the DEC's possession, this casual approach to technology cannot be permitted to continue."
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With Boomers Retiring, U.S. Tech Industry Faces 'Quiet Crisis'
Investor's Business Daily (12/14/06) P. A5; Riley, Sheila

The shortages in the science and technology workforce that many are predicting is a 'quiet crisis,' according to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson, because once it is fully realized it will be too late to do anything about it. As the scientists and engineers that came of age in the post-WWII era retire, there will not be enough replacements for them, due to "the apparent lack of interest of our young people and their relative underperformance in science and math," says Jackson. She places the burden on businesses to provide mentors, opportunities outside the classroom, and more internships, including those that provide international experience. IBM and FedEx have been effective in establishing internship and education programs to encourage and recruit the "next generation of technologically literate and scientifically grounded employees," says Jackson. Women and underrepresented minorities make up what she calls the "underrepresented majority," which is an "untapped talent pool." She says, "The basic message is that innovation is rooted in people. We don't know where the next breakthrough will come from." The U.S. is still the strongest economy in the world, and our model of investing in research and infrastructure has been followed by many other countries, but in order to maintain this position, Jackson says, "as a culture we need to value science and engineering and those who do it, and maintain the infrastructure to make sure that happens."
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Beyond the Book: Software Automates Access to Brain Atlases
USC Viterbi School of Engineering (12/11/06)

University of Southern California computer scientists have developed software that transforms existing printed brain atlases into multimedia resources, while respecting copyrights. The beta software, dubbed NeuARt II, allows neuroscientists to store, organize, and utilize data from ongoing research. NeuARt II, the continuation of a project begun by computer scientist 10 years ago that failed due to funding, picks up on past methods of displaying and organizing visual information, addressing the need to facilitate consultation and comparison of data concerning a three-dimensional organ that is comprised of thousands of cross-sectional images. USC research scientist and neuromatics specialist Gully A.P.C. Burns explains, "Researchers need to be able to find a given segment immediately, and compare the segment with any other. To do this using a printed volume like [the standard print rat brain atlas] involved continual back and forth page turning and index consulting. Page turning means that researchers can't look at two or three or five images side by side or on top of each other." NeuArt II presents data using various means, including spatial maps and alphanumerics on a single interface. The JavaScript program that the software uses converts the image files to standard vector graphics (SVG) that are stored on the user's system and organized by the software. Burns calls the technology "a kind of Google Earth for the brain." It is available a free download.
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New System Solves the 'Who Is J. Smith' Puzzle
Penn State Live (12/14/06)

Penn State researchers have created a system that is able to disambiguate authors with similar names, a problem encountered frequently in academic publications. By examining co-authors, publication dates, citations, and keywords, the system correctly identified authors 90.6 percent of the time, when tested on 3,355 academic papers written by 490 different researchers. C. Lee Giles, Penn State's David Reese Professor of Information Sciences and Technology and principal researcher on the project, says that "It works very similarly to how humans would figure out authors' identity ... by using machine-learning methods to cluster together names that the system believes to be similar. If you think there's another parameter that's relevant, you can change the algorithm and include it." The algorithm utilized by the system makes use of a clustering method that trains computers to glean information based on similar characteristics: Every time information is gleaned, a smaller grouping is produced. Part of the next generation CiteSeer, the largest academic search engine for computer and information science literature, the application was presented in a paper called "Efficient Name Disambiguation for Large-Scale Databases" at the 17th European Conference on Machine Learning and the 10th European Conference on Principles and Practice of Knowledge Discovery in Databases in Berlin.
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Google Launches Patent Search Beta
TechNewsWorld (12/15/06) LeClaire, Jennifer

Google has unveiled a Web site that it hopes will revolutionize the process of patent inquiry the same way Google has become a "front door" to the Internet. The Web site enablers users to search for U.S. patents by keyword, patent number, inventor, and filing data. Although still in the beta stage, the service uses technology similar to Google Book Search, allowing users to scroll through pages, as well as zoom in on text and images, making a process that had previously been time-consuming and complicated more convenient, even for those not familiar with the realm of patents. The "Advanced Patent Search" option enables searches for more specific criteria. Google software engineer Doug Banks says, "It's a natural extension of our mission to make this public domain government information more easily accessible using Google's search technology." More than 7 million patents are already available. Banks says the tool should be a valuable resource for entrepreneurs, but acknowledges that it is not completely comprehensive.
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Tackling Energy Efficiency in Computing
CNet (12/14/06) Shankland, Stephen

Andy Karsner, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Energy Department, met with top-level representatives of Cisco, HP, Silicon Graphics, Sun, Advanced MicroDevices, Intel, Microsoft, and IBM to discuss the energy consumption challenge facing the industry and look for ways the government can best help industry increase efficiency. Karsner says the issue is "a national challenge in terms of our security and a global challenge in terms of our environmental well-being." He says such a "public-private partnership" will allow companies to "use tools of the federal government that make them stronger in the aggregate than they may be acting individually." Rather than enforce regulation, Karsner hopes that by bringing together these parties who would not normally meet, best practices can be agreed upon. While there were disagreements among those who met, they were outweighed by commonalities. The Energy Department is involved in "technological R&D for hardware," "energy saving audits," "distribut[ing] software" and training people on software so they can audit themselves and the data could be collected by the department and used to find more effective tools and techniques, Karsner says. He believes that "markets provide the best delivery system for transformation," because it is in the best interest of everyone involved to innovate. He also stressed the role of "Silicon Valley and the IT leadership that has been the tip of the spear of transformation in this economy," especially "in something as important as leading green-energy procurement and best practices for efficiency."
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Computer Model Takes in Earthquake Data and Runs a Simulation in Real Time
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (12/13/06) Templeton, David

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Computational Seismology Laboratory are utilizing the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) to simulate earthquakes occurring in Southern California, with the goal of preventing loss of life and property. The work focuses on how ground motion caused by an earthquake propagates outward and impacts some areas more than others. The Hercules supercomputer computation code and analysis method allow researchers to perform intricate simulations, with 2,048 processors running simultaneously, to produce greater levels of resolution. Lead researcher Dr. Jacobo Bielak says, "Because of the work we do, we have a much better understanding of the entire earthquake phenomenon from the source through the propagation path of waves and local side effects." The research validated theories that focused seismic energy occurs in the San Fernando Valley and L.A. as a result of geological characteristics by creating a model of the region, shaking it, and observing what happens, according to Dr. Bielak. In the future, the researchers plan to simulate earthquakes that have not occurred, but are imminent based on patterns, in order to help prepare the area by providing information that can be applied to new building codes. The team was awarded the SC06 Analytics Challenge Award for its simulation of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake that killed 51 people and did $44 billion of damage, despite only registering 6.7 on the Richter scale.
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Plastic Sheet of Power
Technology Review (12/14/06) Greene, Kate

University of Tokyo researchers have developed a prototype for a flexible plastic sheet that acts as a power source for devices simply by touching them. The sheet uses electromagnetic induction, but where past induction systems could only transmit a small amount of power over a large area or a large amount of power to precise a location, these power sheets can be large and supply a large amount of power, approximately 30 watts. Two types of sheets make up the system: One that figures out the positioning of a given object, and another that supplies power to the point of contact of the device. A technique similar to silk screening is used to print various copper coils, 10 millimeters in diameter, on the position-sensing sheet, and a modified inkjet printer is used to print organic transmitters on another sheet. These transistors can recognize the decreased resistance that occurs when an object is placed near the sheets, and direct power to it. The sheet that supplies power has various switches made of silver and plastic that turn the flow of power, transmitted by copper coils, on and off. In order to be compatible with these sheets, a device would need to have a coil and special power harvesting circuitry. A magnetic field generated by the power source induces an electric flow in the device's coil, transmitting power. University of Tokyo engineering professor Takao Someya, who led the development of the prototype, says, "There's a lot of space to improve," but he is optimistic because similar materials in commercial displays that use organic electroluminescence have recently been improved due to market demand. Someya says the technology will be complete in five years, and be reliable for household use. His ultimate goal is for these sheets to be embedded in walls and tables.
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Engineering Professors Work to Secure Software-Defined Radio Technology
Virginia Tech News (12/14/06) Crumbley, Liz

Software-defined radio (SDR) technology will be the focus of a three-year project by engineering researchers at Virginia Tech. Although SDR technology is found in the two-way communications devices of tactical military forces and emergency responders, there are concerns about the reliability and security of the software, which is used to handle the signal processing for transmission and reception. Lead researcher Jung-Min Park says the team will try to answer some important questions about the security of SDR technology. "What are the security threats if an adversary were able to install malicious software on an SDR, and what counter measures would be effective against such attacks? These problems are unique to SDR networks and have not been studied in a systematic way by the network security community," says Park. The research could result in the development of SDR technology that is better able to withstand attacks, and the emergence of improved security standards. SDR technology has also become a key component for wireless mesh networks, and some observers believe it could help relieve traffic on the radio spectrum through its ability to locate vacant areas.
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E-Voting Requires Long-Term Strategy: IDC
Washington Technology (12/12/06) Butterfield, Ethan

IDC Research has released a study showing that, despite spending almost $3.8 billion since 2002 on e-voting systems, state and local governments are far from achieving an accurate, secure, and timely voting process. The study, "Improving Voting System Investment, Credibility and Transparency," found that minimal strategy was used to deploy the new systems acquired after the 2000 election. The result of this lack of planning was intricate new systems that are just as unproven and controversial as the systems they replaced, according to the study. While easier to use, the new equipment has security problems, as they were bought with initial costs in mind, ignoring upkeep. Improvements in standards, funding, auditing capabilities, and transparency is recommended. The study also recommended that governments keep records on lifecycle expenses to aid future purchases. To read ACM's Statewide Databases of Registered Voters: A Study of Accuracy, Privacy, Usability, Security, and Reliability Issues, visit ttp:// www.acm.org/usacm/VRD
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Robotic Hand has a Built-in 'Slip Sense'
New Scientist (12/13/06) Simonite, Tim

A mechanical hand that can hold objects without crushing or dropping them has been developed at the U.K.'s Southampton University. Improving on previous technology, the researchers "added new arrays of sensors that allow [the hand] to sense temperature, grip force, and whether an object is slipping," explains Southampton electrical engineer Neil White, who was part of the development team. Slip-detecting sensors in the hand pick up vibrations caused when an object is slipping through the hand, and works with the pressure sensors to close the fingers enough to secure the object. Previously, microphones were used to detect the sound caused by slippage, but White says that "using vibration is more robust because there can be no interference in noisy environments." The sensors are made up of patches of piezoelectric crystals surrounded by circuitry that are printed on each finger tip using a novel, which is a relatively inexpensive technique known as "thick-film fabrication." When their shape changes due to temperature, vibration, or strain, the crystals create a voltage that tells the fingers what changes to make. Such a hand could be connected to nerves in the arm, chest, or shoulder to give amputees greater control over prosthetics, but the user's brain would have to be in control of the feedback loop between the prosthetic's sensors and motors, which could be done by attaching the sensor output directly to the brain or nerves. For now, a simpler system, where tiny microphones in a glove send different outputs to earphones based on the object being grasped, has been tested with some success.
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Conference to Focus on Spatial Thinking
News-Gazette (12/14/06) Kline, Greg

The University of Illinois plans to show educators that the benefits of computerized geographic information systems are not limited to geographers and urban planners. Next Monday and Tuesday, the UI Center for Computing in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences will host the "Spatial Thinking in the Social Sciences and the Humanities" conference to show researchers and grade school teachers what is possible with geospatial information science and spatial analysis, says UI history professor Vernon Burton. Attendees will receive free software tools so that they can experience visualizing information in space and time, and a book documenting the results of spatial analysis methods. Michael Goodchild, a pioneer in computer-based geographic information systems at the University of California, Santa Barbara, will serve as the keynote speaker of the conference. UI's National Center for Supercomputing Applications is looking to address the needs of humanities and social science researchers as it pursues the development of specialized "cyberenvironments" for analyzing data in a more comprehensive manner. "It allows you to integrate different sources of information," says UI geography professor Luc Anselin. "It also allows you to ask different questions, which is very powerful."
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Project Aims to Bolster Java Open Source Security, Quality
Linux Insider (12/12/06) Lyman, Jay

Fortify Software and FindBugs Java plan to provide additional reviews of open source code written in Java through a collaborative initiative called the Java Open Review (JOR) Project. Most open source programmers have embraced the effort to help improve the security of software and eliminate errors in applications, says Fortify chief scientist Brian Chess. JOR will examine open source projects for bugs and security holes, and make its findings available to the open source software community. In addition to identifying security and quality errors, it will provide an analysis of errors per 1,000 lines of code. JOR will even offer more specific information on coding errors to aid programmers in their efforts to address any problems. "As software becomes increasingly intricate, FindBugs and Fortify Software want to provide open source developers automated tools to help find defects in complex code bases, as well as defend against an ever-growing pool of sophisticated hackers," says Chess. "No one is helping the Java open source community, and we want to fix that."
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Proof That the Search for the 'Great Search' Isn't Over Just Yet
ZDNet (12/13/06) Berlind, David

David Berlind writes that after visiting Sun's Labs, he believes that quantum leap enhancements are still possible in search technology. Sun researchers have found that 85 percent of the information businesses produce is unstructured, while the average information worker spends 25 percent of his time looking for information. Thus, any improvements in searching can directly boost the productivity of workers and the bottom line of businesses. Berlind recently viewed a demonstration of Sun's "Blurbalyzer" search technology, which uses linguistics analysis technology and clustering techniques to bring the most relevant items in a search to the surface. However, Blurbalyzer's surface is not a list of text items, but a three-dimensional sphere displaying bubbles (individual search results) and colored clusters of bubbles (related search results). Users mouse over the bubbles and clusters to see the types of information available in each, enabling them to quickly determine which cluster to focus on. Double-clicking on a bubble brings up that search result, while circling a cluster and doubling-clicking on it might bring up a search results list. Blurbalyzer can also analyze the audio properties of items it searches, thus clusters can be formed based on their musical similarity. Blurbalyzer can then create playlists from its audio results by connecting the bubbles.
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Tech Lessons Learned From the Wisdom of Crowds
CNet (12/14/06) McCullagh, Declan

Technology companies have begun utilizing what is known as prediction markets to harness the fragmented insight of their employees to analyze various concerns, such as when a particular product will be ready for the market. Yahoo recently held a microconference in which representatives from Google, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Yahoo discussed how prediction markets had been used. The conference moderator, author James Surowiecki, says, "The really valuable knowledge is in the organization as a whole." HP Labs has created a prediction market program known as BRAIN that allows companies to reward employees in cash for their predictions. The program assigns each person a profile based on the level of risk they take. Yahoo Research's David Pennock says his company has created the Yootle, which it calls a "scorekeeping system for favors owed." Employees can use their Yootles to purchase help at work or to influence the choice of restaurant. Yahoo Research is also experimenting with the use of Tech Buzz Game, which awards Yootles to employees that make accurate predictions as to popular search terms. Microsoft's Todd Proebsting, director of Microsoft's Center for Software Excellence, says the company used a prediction market system to predict when a particular product would ship. Google project manager Bo Cowgill wants to take prediction markets further by creating reputation systems. He wants the accuracy of each employee's predictions to be publicly displayed, thus providing incentive to participate. George Mason associate professor of economics Robin Hanson says that prediction markets have proved their worth by letting companies observe the likelihood of possible consequences of proposed actions.
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Speaking in Tongues
SD Times (12/01/06)No. 163, P. 37; DeJong, Jennifer

Developers' employment of Java or C# within an enterprise database instead of relying on older languages is now possible thanks to embedded runtime engines. Burton Group research director Peter O'Kelly says database support for modern languages enables the deployment of increasingly sophisticated application logic in the database; permits exploitation by development teams of a unified programming model across all application levels; and establishes a platform for databases to play an important part in service-oriented architectures. The coding process becomes less stressful when the same language is used across all application tiers, according to Sybase director of database products Tom Traubitz. Furthermore, there is database-level support for increasingly complicated tasks. Forrester Research analyst Larry Fulton notes that a database server can host Web services through the use of Java-enabled databases. "With no intermediate layer to look up services, that eliminates a few extra components," he says. O'Kelly points out that Web service hosting via the database yields the key advantage of reuse.
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Rooted in Controversy
Telephony (11/20/06) Vol. 247, No. 19, P. 28; Engebretson, Joan

The U.S. Department of Commerce's control of ICANN has been a source of contention, because ICANN administrates the root server system; this arrangement has caused many countries to feel uneasy about their dependence on America when it comes to the assignment of top-level domains and Internet communications. Running the root server system are a couple hundred servers overseen by a dozen organizations based primarily in the United States, and Internet Systems Consortium President Paul Vixie stated that the root server administrators were "selected by people who are dead now, through processes that are not transparent." Critics charge that ICANN has been turned into a tool of U.S. foreign policy because of the role the Commerce Department plays, and could be used as leverage in international trade agreements. "The USA is theoretically and practically able to control 'our' access to contents to the Internet and also to limit them," notes the Open Root Server Network (ORSN) Web site. ORSN proposes to create an alternative root server system to reduce U.S. control, and VeriSign's Ken Silva is concerned that such efforts will lead to a "balkanization" of the Internet. In September, the Commerce Department replaced the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between it and ICANN with a joint project agreement under which ICANN will furnish reports on the organization's activities to the entire community rather than just the Commerce Department, according to ICANN CTO John Crain. Critics are hoping that the Department will back away from its involvement with ICANN by the time the new agreement expires, and some believe ICANN should maintain its status as a nonprofit, with some board members chosen by the general public. Some critics think a body for overseeing the root server operators should be set up, while others oppose such an idea, claiming that it could inhibit the exceptional reliability of the root server system; Silva favors the assignment of an MOU for each root server.
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Can Microsoft Save the World?
Redmond (12/06) Vol. 12, No. 12, P. 46; Barney, Doug

Major problems and research challenges such as disease, global warming, and the creation of life are the focus of Microsoft's Science division, which is teaming its researchers with about 40 scientists around the world. The leader of this effort is Microsoft Research European Science Program director Stephen Emmott, who is seeking the transformation of computer science and traditional science through the combination of the two. "The real benefits come from bringing together people from Microsoft Research--whether they're computer scientists or computational biologists or computational climatologists or oceanographers--with people in the wider science community, to do the kinds of things that neither of us could do on our own," Emmott notes. One goal is to model basic biological processes so the incidence of disease can also be modeled as a step toward a treatment revolution, and an effort in this vein is the construction of a global pandemic modeling system for forecasting epidemics. Miniaturization is considered to be the future of both science and disease treatment: Envisioned innovations include molecular computers that function as smart drug systems within the human body, and sensor networks that can measure an ecosystem's health through the collection of data. The new model of scientific research Emmott's group is aiming for could also yield new energy sources through the study of plants' process for converting energy, for example. Such research could also be an important step toward controlling global warming by reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Microsoft is also collaborating with The Sloan Digital Sky Survey by providing the data-acquisition and analysis resources necessary for achieving a greater understanding of the universe.
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