Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
December 27, 2006

MemberNet
The ACM Professional Development Centre
Unsubscribe

Welcome to the December 27, 2006 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Sponsored by Information, Inc.

http://www.infoinc.com/sponsorthenews/contactus.html


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Justice Dept. Database Stirs Privacy Fears
Washington Post (12/26/06) P. A7; Eggen, Dan

A huge database being constructed by the Justice Department intended to allow local investigators around the country to access information held by federal law enforcement agencies is receiving widespread disapproval from privacy groups. There are currently one million records, from both open and closed cases, in the database known as "OneDOJ," which can only be accessed by 150 police departments at this time, but in three years the number of case records is expected to triple, and the number of regional authorities with access is expected to jump to 750. Privacy and civil rights advocates see the database as a dangerous source of unfounded details, particularly concerning people who have not been arrested or charged with a crime. The ACLU's Technology and Liberty Project director Barry Steinhardt says that, " Raw police files or FBI reports can never be verified and can never be corrected. That is a problem with even more formal and controlled systems. The idea that they're creating another whole system that is going to be full of inaccurate information is just chilling." He cites the 2003 statement by the FBI that it would no longer recognize the Privacy Act's requirements for accuracy in the National Crime Information Center, the main criminal-background-check database that is utilized by 80,000 law enforcement agencies in the country. Others express fear that the information disseminated by this system could make its way into realms outside of law enforcement. Despite calls for a halt to the project, the DOJ remains confident that One-DOJ will provide invaluable assistance to local authorities by "essentially hooking them up to a pipe that will take them into [the DOJ's] records."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Congress in 2007: Privacy, Patents on Agenda
IDG News Service (12/22/06) Gross, Grant

The newly elected Democratic Congress has raised the hopes, and fears, of many involved in the tech industry, as several issues that had died on the floor are expected to be brought back to life in 2007. In late 2005, Microsoft joined privacy advocates in demanding data protection standards and personal data-privacy legislation, and as the issue becomes more prevalent, cybersecurity vendors and others will renew a focus on this concern. The conflict will continue between large companies that wish to put an end to what they call patent "trolls," whom they accuse of applying for patents then claiming infringement strictly for profit, and the independent inventors and programmers who claim they rely on current patent laws to make a living. In December, the FCC voted to strip down the process by which broadband providers gain permission to offer IP service, which may take some energy out of the telecoms' support for wide-ranging broadband reform. Verizon has announced that it will focus on state legislation and FCC rule making, rather than Congress. Net neutrality will surely be an issue, but Republicans could use the same tactics to stall a Net-neutrality bill that Democrats used to prevent a broadband bill this year. An increase in the number of H-1B visas granted will be strongly pushed by tech companies, as the 2007 cap was reached two months before the fiscal year even began. Debates over illegal immigration caused such bills to stall last year, and now it seems that the hiring of H-1B workers for less than prevailing U.S. wages will cause a push for a complete reform of the system. The H-1B program was not mentioned by Nancy Pelosi in her "first 100 hours" plans, and many predict that the new attitude of controlled spending taken up by Democrats will cause a loss of interest in the program.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Voter Paper Trail Not an Easy Path
Atlanta Journal-Constitution (12/22/06) Campos, Carlos

An examination of the much discussed e-voting paper-trail audit system used in several Georgia districts revealed that the process is far from a silver bullet. The paper-trail solution gained popularity in the wake of many warnings from computer scientists that e-voting machines were vulnerable to tampering. Cobb County, Ga. head of elections Sharon Dunn recently testified in front of state officials, who are considering making paper-trials mandatory in all of the state's voting districts, regarding the effort needed to manually count the 976 printouts generated in the district: Twenty-eight people took part in the five-day task of counting the votes from 42 races, and teams often had to restart their counts as numbers did not match up. Dunn testified, "It looks easy until you have to do it." Other issues raised included how printouts would be stored, whether or not they would be considered official ballots, whether volunteers, often elderly, would be capable of dealing with the technology, and the likelihood of printer malfunctions. MIT political science professor specializing in elections Charles Stewart said, "Audits ask humans to do something that computers are generally better at doing."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


New Research Could Lead to 'Invisible' Electronics
EurekAlert (12/22/06)

Researchers at Northwestern University have produced inexpensive high-performance transparent transistors that can be configured on both glass and plastic. Northwestern University professor Tobin J. Marks, who led the research team, says, "You can imagine a variety of applications for new electronics that haven't been possible previously--imagine displays of text or images that would seem to be floating in space." The goal of displays using electronics that do not have visible wires has long been sought after, and this development could bring the dream one step closer to realization. The new thin-film transistors mark the first time "invisibility" has been achieved without severely sacrificing quality, and could be combined with current light display technology such as LCDs. Marks' team combined films composed of indium oxide, an inorganic semiconductor, with several layers of self-assembling organic molecules that allow superior insulating abilities. Since the indium oxide can be fabricated at low temperatures, its production would be rather inexpensive, while outperforming current silicon transistors, and coming close to the performance of high-end polysilicon transistors. Marks says prototype displays could be available in 12 to 18 months.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Where Real Money Meets Virtual Reality, the Jury Is Still Out
Washington Post (12/26/06) P. A1; Sipress, Alan

Some vendors have been able to make a living selling virtual goods in Internet worlds such as Second Life, so the recent debate over the copyright protection for such products has become a very important to their livelihood. Software that clones and sells these products under a different name has even caused a strike of virtual vendors. Courts have yet to establish uniform standards concerning the protection of such property. In November, over $20 million in total sales had been counted on Second Life; receiving a large boost from a ruling by Linden Labs, a Web site, stating that users own intellectual property rights for what they create with the site's free tools. The executive director of Congress' Joint Economic Committee, which is looking into whether transactions in virtual worlds should be taxed, Christopher Frenze, says, "There seems to be a lack of ground rules in an area that would have explosive growth in the next decade or two." A ruling by a California court stated that the owner of a Web site owns all content, even if it is completely virtual, and this right trumps another user's ability to sell products acquired in the virtual environment. However, a Chinese court ruled that users have property rights over the items they purchase with real money in a virtual world. A big concern is that those who design and market virtual goods need explicit ownership over what they create in order to protect the incentives that fuel economic activity. According to Linden Labs, copying an item in a virtual world is not considered theft, only infringement, as creators have ownership of the intellectual property, not the creations themselves. U.S. Circuit Court Judge Richard A. Posner predicts that an "international law of virtual worlds" will emerge, not unlike international maritime law. Many other considerations are sure to be brought up in the ongoing debate, including whether the owners of physical property have rights over it when it is displayed in a virtual environment.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Project to Tag Tokyo Neighborhood With RFID
IDG News Service (12/26/06) Williams, Martyn

Tokyo's most prominent shipping district will be blanketed with approximately 10,000 RFID tags and other beacons for a trial of location-based services. The project is the work of the Ubiquitous Computing Technology Center, led by University of Tokyo professor Ken Sakamura, and is being instituted in several other locations in Japan. Prototype readers will recognize the unique signature of each tag and request its information from a server, using a LAN connection. Users will be able to access navigation data and information for any business or location they choose, in English, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara says, "With this, you can just push a button and find the where you want to go." The terminal being used has a 3.5-inch OLED touch panel and several networking interfaces. The trials, supported by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, are to begin on January 21, and will continue into March. One trial aims to help the blind by placing sensors in the ground that will alert them, when contacted by the tip of a cane, to an upcoming flight of stairs, ramp, or other impediment.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Andrew Tanenbaum: Operating Systems' Mr Reliable
Computerworld Australia (12/27/06) Dahdah, Howard

The inspiration for Linus Torvalds' Linux operating system was the MINIX OS authored by Vrije Universiteit computer science professor and ACM Fellow Dr. Andrew Tanenbaum, who is visiting Linux Australia's linux.conf.au to discuss designing reliable OSes and to introduce the new LF (Lifetime Failures) metric, which represents how many times the software has crashed in the user's lifetime. Tanenbaum points to the wide employment of microkernels "in mission critical industrial and military systems where failures are intolerable," and he still feels passionately for monolithic OSes because the need for reliability is prevalent. He contends that most users desire, more than anything else, reliable, failure-proof operation. Tanenbaum has not changed his opinion that he would give Torvalds a failing grade were he a student of his, arguing that what Torvalds should have done was improve an existing OS instead of "retrogressing to a much earlier design." Tanenbaum also cites code bloat that makes Windows or Linux systems slow to boot as another disadvantage. Tanenbaum notes that in the nearly two decades since MINIX was introduced, it has inspired scores of students in OS design. "I think that it will yet show that the only way to make a system truly reliable is to make it small and modular," he says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


We'll All Be Cyborgs Someday, Scientist Says
Austin American-Statesman (TX) (12/23/06) P. A5; Melvin, Don

University of Reading cybernetics professor Kevin Warwick has already had two computer chips implanted under his skin, and is excited about future possibilities for this technology. In 1998, Warwick had an inch-long glass capsule containing silicon microchips inserted in his arm, which alerted his computer to his presence, told doors to open for him, and caused lights to turn on; weeks later it was removed. In 2002, he had another chip implanted in his wrist and connected to his median nerves that powered a remote robotic hand. The robotic hand contained sensors that relayed information to his brain. "It was tremendously exciting," Warwick says. "I experienced it as signals in my brain, which my brain was quite happy to recognize as feedback from the robot hand fingertips." Warwick, who is in charge of the Mobile Autonomous Devices lab at the University of Reading, has the ultimate goal of implanting a chip in his brain. "I want to be a cyborg," he notes. "I can see the advantages." Such an advancement could help people who have been paralyzed regain movement, but Warwick points out the possibility of "literally the first brain-to-brain communication." Skeptics worry that such technology could be used by a government to keep track of its citizens, but Warwick says his goal is to simply show that the technology exists and demonstrate its possibilities, including enhanced memory and increased analysis and comparison abilities.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


GAO: Federal IT Worker Exchange Draws Little Interest
Computerworld (12/20/06) Thibodeau, Patrick

The Information Technology Exchange Program has been slow to catch on with federal agencies and the private sector. So far, there has been no exchange of IT workers between the federal government and private companies, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is the only federal agency that has approved an exchange, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. Congress implemented the exchange program in 2002 with hopes of bringing the IT skillset of the federal government up to date. The GAO says the exchange program suffers because private companies do not want to lose access to high-demand skills for three months to a year. "Employees with desired skills are in short supply in both the federal government and the private sector, particularly in enterprise architecture, project management, and information security," says the report. Though private employers also express concern about federal ethics rules on financial disclosure, the GAO adds that better marketing would help the exchange program. The program will end next December unless Congress extends it.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


New Chicago-Indiana Computer Network Prepared to Handle Massive Data Flow From World's Largest Scientific Experiment
University of Chicago (12/21/06)

The MidWest Tier 2 Center, a computer center operated jointly by the University of Chicago and the University of Indiana, is currently performing test calculations to prepare it to receive data from the world's largest scientific experiment. The Large Hadron Collider at the CERN European particle physics lab in Geneva, Switzerland, will collide beams of protons, producing interactions that will be studied by the global computing grid of which the Tier 2 Center is a part, in hopes of finding the Higgs boson, the theoretical particle that gives mass to all objects in the universe, and asymmetric particles, which may lead to the discovery of additional dimensions. "Understanding what's interesting and useful to record from those interactions is quite a challenge, because there is far more information than one is able to record for leisurely analysis," said James Pilcher, a Professor in Physics at the University of Chicago. Frederick Luehring, a Senior Research Scientist at Indiana University, adds, "Even once the data is recorded, it will take years of careful sifting and sorting, which will require massive amounts of computing power to extract the final scientific results." Centers such as MidWest Tier 2 prove that the systems upon which the data from experiments is analyzed have become just as important to scientific discovery as the experimental devices themselves. Luehring added, "We have deliberately designed a tiered structure of computing resources spread throughout much of the world. All of these sites interconnect with each other using grid-computing techniques. In addition, grid computing allows us to use other computing resources that are not fully dedicated to ATLAS or high-energy physics."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Tech's Finest Minds Bet on Genetic ID Cards, Rule Out Space Elevators
Extreme Tech (12/21/06) Gardiner, Bryan

IEEE Spectrum Magazine and the Institute for the Future (IFTF) conducted a survey focusing on how the next five decades may pan out in terms of major technology and science trends. Innovations "highly unlikely" to emerge in the next 50 years include space elevators, commercial quantum computers, and robot nurses. More probable milestones, according to a summary of the survey by IFTF research affiliate David Pescovitz and co-author Marina Gorbis, were an explosion in computing power and network connectivity; the incorporation of smart sensors into everyday objects, forming a new sensory infrastructure; the integration of bio-systems and micro-electromechanical systems via nanotechnology; the replacement of centralized infrastructures by lightweight, modular, and scalable grids; and the augmentation of existing life forms and the generation of new ones through the application of genetic engineering and bioinformatics. IEEE fellows forecast the continued use of distributed computing for advanced mathematics such as deep data mining and "combinatorics." One fellow said interactive computer graphics will advance to the point where real and virtual images will be hard to tell apart within 10 years, and Pescovitz and Gorbis projected that this advance will facilitate complex simulations that will "let [people] see, hear, and even feel inputs and outputs." Near-flawless handwriting recognition, automatic language processing in real time, and unstructured speech recognition were expected to be within the capabilities of sophisticated algorithms. Personal genetic profiles that people can carry around and insect-sized swarming microbots that can perform search and rescue missions were also foreseen by the IEEE fellows.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


$100 Laptop Marches on the Developing World
VNUNet (12/21/06) Sanders, Tom

Questions about the educational benefits of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project will begin to grow now that several hundred test units have been distributed around the world. OLPC plans to ship anywhere from 5 million to 10 million of its low-cost computers in 2007, and observers will be closely watching the effort to see whether the units can help provide a spark that ultimately will allow children in developing countries to change their economic conditions. There are concerns that the children will never learn how to adequately use the OLPC devices, that their teachers will not be able to provide much training assistance, and that their parents may attempt to sell the units for needed cash. The OLPC units cost about $140 to $150 each, and could sell for as little as $50 by 2010. A notebook computer, the OLPC unit has a dual-mode screen that enables it to be operated in direct sunlight and in the dark, a yo-yo-like power generator for recharging its battery, and the ability to use a Wi-Fi mesh network for Internet access. The Linux-based machine has a 366 MHz processor, 128 MB of RAM, and 512 MB of Flash memory storage. Other interests in the IT industry have similar ideas, including Microsoft as well as Intel, which is marketing the $400 Eduwise notebook computer for developing areas.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


PHP Security Under Scrutiny
Security Focus (12/18/06) Lemos, Robert

Web applications written using PHP tools have proven to be difficult to protect. Nearly 20 million domains and 1.3 million IP addresses that host Web sites now use PHP, according to Netcraft's October 2006 survey. However, a search of the National Vulnerability Database, which is maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, recently revealed that Web applications written in PHP likely made up 43 percent of this year's security problems, an increase from last year's 29 percent. NIST senior computer scientist Peter Mell, the program manager for the vulnerability database, says that although PHP's security issues are partly due to the language itself, many are due to how developers implement the language. Nevertheless, he says, "In the dynamic programming language (and) scripting realm, we certainly have a problem. Any time a third or more of the vulnerabilities in a given year are attributed to a single language, you know you have a problem." Security researchers say hackers are increasingly focusing on the vulnerabilities in Web applications; researcher Steven Christey says database injection bugs, PHP vulnerabilities, and cross-site scripting flaws, all Web application flaws, were the three most common flaws in the first nine months of 2006. The PHP Group says it has worked to accommodate less-savvy developers by making the language more foolproof. PHP Group Zeev Suraski says, "We have shown in the past that we are willing to change defaults and sometimes to remove features, just to make it more difficult for developers to make security mistakes." Still, Mell says writing secure code is challenging, even for professionals, and needs to be made "dummy proof." He says, "I think it is tough for the general public to write secure dynamic Web applications."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


German Government Approves $1.6 Billion to Spur IT Innovation
IDG News Service (12/19/06) Blau, John

At Germany's inaugural IT summit on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel called on government, business, and universities to increase cooperation in order to help Germany become a world leader in IT, and announced that $1.6 billion would be given out in grants over three years to aid the IT sector. Over half of the innovations made in the automobile sector are in software, so Merkel recommended that communication and telecommunication firms build a better relationship with such industrial giants, with a focus on software engineering. The decrease in German technological innovation in recent years can be partially attributed to high labor costs that have deterred investment in technology and falling standards at universities. Germany is also seeking immigration policies that will attract research talent, and grants that will give those who come to Germany incentive to stay.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Enhancing Quality of Life--and Saving Billions
Carnegie Mellon Today (12/06) Vol. 3, No. 3, Spice, Byron

Of the 300 million people expected to comprise the U.S. population by 2030, over 20 percent will be 65 or older while 75 million will have some type of disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh have jointly set up the Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center (QoLTERC) for the purpose of addressing such issues, using a five-year, $15 million National Science Foundation grant. QoLTERC's researchers will concentrate on the application of technology, especially information technology, to give seniors and the disabled more freedom and independence. "We envision a future of compassionate, intelligent home systems--individual devices that you can carry, or technologies embedded in the environment that monitor and communicate with people," notes U.A. and Helen Whitaker University professor of computer science and robotics Takeo Kanade, who will co-direct the center with Rory Cooper of Pitt's School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. These systems will be able to track the health and activities of people living alone, serve as memory aids, run household appliances, and enhance wheelchairs and other existing assistive technologies. "If the technology we develop can ensure that people remain in their homes instead of in assisted living or nursing home facilities for just one month longer, we can save our nation $1.2 billion annually," Kanade reckons.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Europe Earmarks $11 Million for Advanced Multimedia Search Platform Research
InformationWeek (12/21/06) Gardner, W. David

Search technologies developer Fast Search & Transfer (FAST) will oversee a European project to develop a new audiovisual search platform that will involve a number of academic research institutions and corporations. Project participants will spend 36 months developing the Platform for Search of Audiovisual Resources Across Online Spaces (PHAROS) for processing and managing audiovisual material. The decision to pursue the advanced audiovisual search platform comes at a time when a surge in the volume of audiovisual material has made searching more problematic. The project plans to give users the ability to prioritize information, and to even "have the option to interact in a data-driven way to identify the right information even when they are not sure what they are seeking," FAST chief technology officer Bjorn Olstad said in an email. Companies will be able to use PHAROS to develop next-generation business-to-consumer and business-to-business audiovisual applications. Also, all kinds of devices would be able to take advantage of PHAROS, including mobile devices. The European Commission is providing $11.2 million to fund the project.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Robotic Baby Seal Wins Top Award
BBC News (12/22/06)

The Japanese government has honored researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science with its top Robot Award 2006. The institute is behind Paro, a furry robotic seal that is used to assist people in care homes with their therapy sessions. Paro, which won the service award, makes use of tactile sensors on its body to enable the robot to respond to touch, and is able to respond when its name is called as well as coo like a real seal. The government also recognized My Spoon, a joystick-controlled feeding robot that carries out preprogrammed movements, which has hit the market in Japan and Europe. A large, autonomous robot that vacuum cleans Tokyo offices at night also received an award. Japan introduced the award program this year as a way to encourage more robotics research and development.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Group Formed to Address Future of Libraries in Internet Age
National Journal's Technology Daily (12/20/06) Sternstein, Aliya

An advisory group on digital bibliographic control has been organized by the Library of Congress, academia, and the Web search industry; the group will concentrate on digital-age information cataloging over the next year, according to dean of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science Jose-Marie Griffiths. Among the working group's members are representatives from Google, Ask.com, Microsoft, the Online Computer Library Center, and other information science groups. Griffiths said people need help negotiating the morass of cyberspace, which is tangled with online content. "We're talking about providing structure so that people can find what they want to find and know that it is valid and authentic," she explained. Griffiths believes bibliographic control concepts can be raised to the digital level, although opinions differ on how to accomplish this. The next convention of the working group will be in March 2007, and the group plans to make recommendations to the Library of Congress in late summer. The continued existence of libraries is critical, according to Library of Congress officials; associate librarian for Library Services Deanna Marcum noted that the public library is becoming "the one neutral place where community members can meet and discuss all kinds of topics and kids can find Internet access readily." Director of the University of Chicago library and Association of Research Libraries member Judith Nadler reported that indexing the Internet will require substantial financial investment, which will be a major challenge. Copyright law could be another stumbling block, especially in view of Google's efforts to scan excerpts from every book in public and university libraries, including copyrighted works.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: technews@hq.acm.org

To unsubscribe from the ACM TechNews Early Alert Service: Please send a separate email to listserv@listserv.acm.org with the line

signoff technews

in the body of your message.

Please note that replying directly to this message does not automatically unsubscribe you from the TechNews list.

ACM may have a different email address on file for you, so if you're unable to "unsubscribe" yourself, please direct your request to: technews-request@ acm.org

We will remove your name from the TechNews list on your behalf.

For help with technical problems, including problems with leaving the list, please write to: technews-request@acm.org

to the top

News Abstracts © 2006 Information, Inc.


© 2006 ACM, Inc. All rights reserved. ACM Privacy Policy.

About ACM | Contact us | Boards & Committees | Press Room | Membership | Privacy Policy | Code of Ethics | System Availability | Copyright © 2014, ACM, Inc.