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ACM TechNews
January 5, 2007

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Citing Problems, U.S. Bars Lab From Testing Electronic Voting
New York Times (01/04/07) P. A1; Drew, Christopher; Urbina, Ian

Inadequate inspections of voting machines were highlighted by the Election Assistance Commission's (EAC) temporary ban on Ciber's testing of electronic voting systems following the discovery that the Colorado lab was not complying with quality-control procedures and was unable to document that it was performing all the necessary tests, which are considered imperative to bolstering confidence in the results. Criticism was also leveled against Ciber concerning its plan to test new voting machines for New York State by Nystec analysts, who determined that Ciber failed to specify any procedures or testing methods for the bulk of the requirements, and also did not elaborate on how Ciber would seek bugs in the computer code or test defenses against hacking. "What's scary is that we've been using systems in elections that Ciber had certified, and this calls into question those systems that they tested," noted Johns Hopkins University computer science professor Aviel Rubin. Ciber is the leading tester of U.S. voting machine software, and the company insisted that it is correcting its problems and will soon obtain EAC certification. It is only recently that the labs testing voting hardware and software became subject to federal oversight. The EAC has lacked a significant budget and it only completed creating the oversight program in December. There will be three EAC staffers and eight part-time technicians tasked with passing test plans for each system and checking the results, but Rubin feels it would be better if the labs were required to employ teams of hackers to find software vulnerabilities. For information about ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Immigrants Big in Tech Startups
Associated Press (01/04/06) Konrad, Rachel

One in four U.S. technology and engineering companies launched between 1995 and 2005 had at least one senior executive of foreign birth, according to a new Duke University study. These companies generated $52 billion in sales in 2005 and employed 450,000 workers. Such a contribution shows the importance of not only attracting highly-skilled foreign workers to the U.S., but encouraging them to stay. "If these entrepreneurs leave, we're really denting our intellectual-property creation," says Vivek Wadhwa, the Duke project's Delhi-born lead researcher. Duke University School of Information Dean AnnaLee Saxenian estimates that immigrants started about 52 percent of Silicon Valley tech companies in 2005, up from 25 percent in 1999. "The advantage of entrepreneurs is that they're generally creating new opportunities and new wealth that didn't even exist before them," Saxenian says. Foreigners were most likely to start businesses in the semiconductor, communications, and software sectors, and least likely to start defense businesses. Indians led all other nationalities in business creation. Of 7,300 U.S. tech companies founded by immigrants, 26 percent have a CEO, president, or head researcher who is Indian. Non-citizen foreign inventors residing in the U.S. made up 24 percent of the patents filed last year, up from 7.3 percent in 1998. Wadhwa says these inventors should be citizens. He says, "We're giving away the keys to the kingdom. This is a big, big deal once you figure out what this means for [our] competitiveness."
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As Democrats Take Control of Congress, a New H-1B Fight Looms
Computerworld (01/04/07) Thibodeau, Patrick

The current 65,000 limit on H-1B visas given out each year is causing businesses to rush to apply for them while Congress argues over their future. Cozen O'Connor immigration practice leader Elena Park has told her clients to act fast if they hope to hire H-1B holders. Park says, "The fact of the matter is there is an H-1B blackout," since the 65,000-visa cap was reached in a record-breaking time of two months last year, while the 20,000 H-1Bs offered to graduate student were gone in four months. The blackout will come to and end in April, when applications will be accepted for H-1Bs that will be issued October 2007. Many supporters of raising the H-1B cap limit believe the new Congress will pass pro-visa measures. However, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has said, "I do not support guest worker programs. I do not believe the myth of the tech worker shortage." Democrats are opposed to offshoring, especially of call centers, as a proposed bill sought to discourage the practice. Some H-1B opponents, who seek an overhaul of the program, say the visas are a means for exploiting foreign workers. The Department of Labor's only ability to ensure wages for H-1B holders is to search for errors and omissions in the prevailing wage data provided by employers in their labor conditions applications (LCA). A June Government Accountability Office report found that 3,229 applications from companies employing H-1B holders showed they were paying these employees less than the prevailing wage for doing the same work as Americans, notes Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.).
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Watch & Learn
Baltimore Sun (01/05/07) P. 1D; Roylance, Frank D.

The University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering and others are developing behavior recognition software that's being used to apprehend criminals and look for terrorist activity. Rama Chellappa, a University of Maryland professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of UM's Center for Automation Research, developed computer programs using algorithms that transform digital video into mathematical patterns; these patterns can then be analyzed by software that looks for suspicious activity. The software can determine whether or not an individual is carrying anything, for example. Data from dozens of cameras can be analyzed by the software; 18 behaviors can trigger the software's attention, such as people moving very fast or standing around, cars that abruptly stop or speed up, crowds that form or break up, objects left unattended, and people who fall down. When an individual is identified as a threat, a yellow box appears around him on the computer screen. Chellappa has also created systems that can recognize an individual's gait as a means of identifying and remembering them, as well as noting changes in their gait. Gait recognition could also be used to help surgery patients in rehab, or people with disabilities, but recent pressure and funding from DARPA has caused the research to focus on security. The challenge facing behavior recognition software is how to track a person as they move between non-overlapping cameras, but Honeywell's Automation and Control Solutions chief technical officer Dan Sheflin says, "I think we're only a year or two away from having it figured out." Chellappa explains that discerning normal actions from the abnormal could lead to many innocent people being stopped, and that for the system to interest the public, false positives must be cut down on.
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New Directions in Multilingual Information Access
Multilingual Search (01/04/07)

The recent SIGIR FORUM acknowledged that translingual information retrieval (TLIR) systems are not progressing as planned. In his keynote address, Clairvoyance Corporation CEO David A. Evans said, "Despite the remarkable success of cross-language information retrieval (CLIR) and translingual information retrieval (TLIR) systems to perform on a par with monolingual IR systems in research and evaluation contexts, there has been relatively little commercial development (or success) of TLIR systems and applications. This is due, in part, to lack of demand in the marketplace, but also, in perhaps greater measure, to the special requirements that may be associated with TLIR applications--requirements that are not typically addressed (or assessed) in our research evaluations." In his speech, Evans said the market for multilingual globalization support is "not there yet," in part because the quality and scope of machine translation is poor and that CLIR demand is low. He said that patience, or a reshaping of goals, is needed by the field, and that CLIR may need to work with "solutions," meaning it may have to be used in systems that use CLIR capabilities as a means to their own ends. From discussions occurring between participants and workshops held at the forum, the following themes emerged: Real world use cases must be identified, and user behavior must be focused on and evaluated; the relationship between cross-language retrieval, machine translation, and multilingual summarization must be studied; the possibility of moving studies to mixed or "new" media must be explored; and that digital content must be designed with access in mind.
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Humanoid Avatar Plays a Competitive Game of Table Tennis
PhysOrg.com (01/04/07) Zyga, Lisa

Scientists from Germany's Chemnitz University of Technology have developed an immersive ping-pong simulation that can respond to ball speeds up to 15 meters per second using standard hardware components. The atmosphere created was so realistic that some users tried to place their paddle on the virtual table after the game. "All we need is a standard PC with an up-to-date graphics card which allows us to drive two LCD beamers," says Guido Brunnett, one of the scientists who worked on the project. "In front of the beamers, polarization filters are mounted. The beamers project from behind onto a projection wall made of acryl glass." The player stands before the projection wall and the player's polarization glasses and paddle serve as tracking targets; four cameras on the sides of the projection wall record the objects' movement and send the data to the simulation software. While making the avatar move perfectly in synch with the human it represents was difficult, correction algorithms were developed that allowed the program to use previous frames to predict the movement of the paddle and glasses; only the location and orientation of the paddle as it made contact with the ball had to be known precisely. The skill of the opponent avatar can be adjusted by limiting or expanding the area where it can hit the ball, changing the speed or height of its shots, or by introducing random noise or fatigue as factors. Brunnett says that "any applications that involve high speed interaction between a user and virtual objects could use this type of technology." He says ping-pong is an ideal sport for the system, since others would introduce haptic feedback problems, such as how to "give a human the impression of really catching a virtual ball."
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Open-Source Personal Tracking System Gets First Test
IDG News Service (01/02/07) Gohring, Nancy

The developers of OpenBeacon say the open-source wireless tracking system is an attempt to address some of the limitations of existing commercial tracking technology. The OpenBeacon team had a crowd-control solution for millions of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca in mind in developing the technology, which was on display at last week's Chaos Communications Congress in Berlin. Though radio-frequency identification technology requires tags to pass through a specific spot, Wi-Fi systems present cost and power consumption issues. The tracking devices that OpenBeacon relies on are designed to transmit and then sleep, to ease demands on battery life, which is expected to last for several months. Meanwhile, OpenBeacon co-creator Milosch Meriac says mesh protocols will allow the devices to communicate with each other, rather than just a central base station. At the four-day event, attendees who bought 900 tags were able to use touch-screen monitors to see the whereabouts of other participating volunteers, view their profiles, and even update them. "We wanted to make this analysis transparent so that people are more aware of what data they're willing to give away," says Meriac.
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Wikipedia Links Used to Build Smart Reading Lists
New Scientist (01/02/07) Knight, Will

A Ph.D. student in physics at Harvard University has developed software that is designed to help students and other users of Wikipedia quickly find more information about a subject. The software would find additional articles that are relevant to the subject in the free online encyclopedia, and suggest the order in which they should be read. In developing the software, Alexander Wissner-Gross learned much from an algorithm that analyzes the popularity of pages and the number of other pages that are linked to them, and another algorithm that studies the number of links between articles. Wissner-Gross believes researchers will embrace software that would provide them with selected reading material for gaining a quick overview of a subject, and Cornell University information networks specialist Jon Kleinberg is optimistic about the new tool's approach to the surge in information content, adding that Wikipedia's fairly unstructured state is similar to the early Web. "Given this, it's natural to adapt analysis techniques that have worked well for Web content," he says. Kleinberg also sees the potential of delivering reading material based on the identity of Wikipedia editors. "In this way, one can try making 'Amazon-style' recommendations, like 'people who edited this page also edited this,'" explains Kleinberg.
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Report: Specialized Skill Shortages to Swell IT Salaries
eWeek (01/03/07) Rothberg, Deborah

A new report by Yoh sees specialized technology skills being in such a demand in 2007 that IT salaries will climb this year. Yoh says technology service providers and device manufacturers in the hardware space, and clinical researchers and R&D developers of pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotech-related projects will be the most active in looking for highly-skilled professionals with a certain level of domain and industry experience. For example, clinical research associates, biostaticians, firmware, and hardware engineers are likely to benefit the most from demand in the R&D space, while Business Objects, Java, MS developers, SAS programmers, and systems architects will be the focus in software development. Changes by ERP vendors has helped generate a demand for Oracle and SAP consultants and veteran database administrators. Yoh says that Silicon Valley will focus more on firmware engineers, ASIC design engineers, and embedded engineers, while Seattle will concentrate on software developer engineers, hardware/firmware engineers, and clinical data managers. "The technology market continues to grow, which keeps pushing wages up," says Yoh's Jim Lanzalotto. "Hiring managers are continuing to look for specialized talent to help them keep up with maturing technology."
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Gettys, Set, Go, for OPLC in 07
Computerworld Australia (01/03/07) Bingemann, Mitchell

Vice President of Software for the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project Jim Gettys explains in an interview that his focus is on the project's general software, outside of the educational software and content. The goal of the OLPC project is to make information and the Internet accessible to the world's impoverished children by giving them ultracheap portable PCs. Gettys says two of the major obstacles the project faces are sunlight readability and power supply, noting that power may be non-existent or unreliable at home and at school; power availability can be greatly limited if the laptop comes with a generator, while the fact that many children are taught out of doors means the machine must have a display that is readable in direct sunlight. Ruggedness is another key issue Gettys cites, which is why the designers opted for flash memory and membrane keyboards. Among the laptop's innovations mentioned by Gettys is the low-power display, which offers reduced manufacturing costs in addition to sunlight readability, and low power consumption married to the ability to function in multiple usage modes and run most contemporary software. "From the base up, our system is aimed at enabling collaborative applications: Browsing the Web together, chat, playing music together, and applications where kids learn by doing," Gettys says. He notes that the laptop's fundamental technologies are those of free, open-source software systems, and he says the applications will concentrate on both static and interactive education. Gettys identifies the project's most formidable challenge as "Understanding how most of the world actually lives and designing a system to work in that environment, in contrast to how the first world lives."
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IT Grads Top Jobless League Table
silicon.com (01/03/07) McCue, Andy

The Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) says the number of IT graduates from U.K. universities who found jobs in the industry has risen for the third straight year. HECSU views the development as a sign that the sector is recovering and expanding. According to new data in HECSU's annual Destinations of Leavers From Higher Education survey, nearly half of the 12,565 IT students who graduated in the summer of 2005, or 42.4 percent, secured IT jobs. Also, other IT graduates (9.6 percent) took private and public sector general management positions, and some (6.3 percent) became business and financial professionals. The unemployment rate of IT graduates was 10.3 percent, compared with 6.2 percent for all U.K. graduates. The new IT workers had an average salary of about $41,000, compared with the average graduate salary of about $35,000. HECSU believes there will not be enough new workers for the IT industry in the immediate future because the number of students pursuing computer science degrees over the past five years has fallen by 50 percent.
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Ensuring You Find What You Seek
The Hindu (01/04/07) Parthasarathy, Anand

Making sure users find exactly what they are looking for on the Internet is in every search engine's best interest, but their ability to do still needs improvement. "We have to improve the experience," says Yahoo Research global head Prabhakar Raghavan, a consulting professor of computer science at Stanford University. "People are not interested in the mechanics of search--they just want to get things done ... The Web and Internet are utilities now. Looking at Internet through the lens of Search is too limiting... we need to invent a new science which will tell us how people interact with other people, using the Net." Yahoo is currently hiring social scientists, psychologists, and micro-economists, and using Auction Theory and Game Theory to address these concerns. While Google's search engine is totally based on computers, Yahoo also uses ontologists, specialists in classification and categorization. Another search engine, created by Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales, will be released soon and will utilize the same user-dependent technology as Wikipedia. Yahoo is involving India in its research in the form of a quarterly lecture series called "Big Thinkers India." The lectures will be titled "Community Systems: The World Online," "Web Search and Online Communities," "Price models," and "Web mining."
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Cornell University Awarded NSF Broadening Participation in Computing Grant
Cornell News (12/14/06) Cima, Laura

A project aimed at developing ways to attract women and underrepresented minorities to computing fields will be undertaken by Cornell University researchers, thanks to a $600,000 NSF grant. The project, Worlds for Information Technology and Services (WITS), is part of the NSF Broadening Participation in Computing program (BPC). Associate dean for undergraduate programs in Engineering and computer science Dr. David Gries, who will co-lead the project, says the "grant will help us to not only attract Cornell students into computing but will also serve to build awareness of and excitement for computing in secondary schools." Service learning, which has been found to appeal to women and underrepresented minorities, will be taught in "Computing in Context," a class designed to contextualize learning and perform community enhancement. The WITS project will also develop CYCentr/CYFair, in which Computing in Context students act as mentors for middle school students. CYCentr will build on the earlier CTC SciCentr/SciFair outreach program, which utilized virtual online worlds to educate middle school students. CYFair will concentrate on computing and information science and building fundamental computing skills in the middle school students. The program model developed must be scalable and adaptable to different schools and situations, and it will be tested simultaneously at Penn State, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the San Diego Supercomputing Center.
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Energy Star Launches Server Initiative
Government Computer News (12/29/06) Jackson, Joab

The EPA has six months to study the issue of building more energy-efficient servers and present its findings to Congress. The report is required under legislation President Bush recently signed into law that mandates the promotion of energy-efficient servers in the country. The EPA's Energy Star program will oversee the initiative, and program manager Andrew Fanara recently informed server component and system manufacturers about its efforts in a letter. "In the coming months, EPA will conduct an analysis to determine whether such a specification for servers is viable given current market dynamics, the availability and performance of energy-efficient designs, and the potential energy savings," Fanara wrote. The Energy Star program's focus on servers comes at a time when concerns about data center power consumption and potential power shortages are on the rise, due to the anticipated power demands of new servers in the immediate future. Over the past year, industry officials have discussed a specification for servers with program officials.
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Predicting the Top Security Threats for 2007
TechNewsWorld (12/30/06) LeClaire, Jennifer

McAfee Avert Labs expects identity theft and other efforts by malicious programmers to be on the rise in 2007. McAfee says that of the 217,000 known security threats, the leading security concerns for this year will be password-stealing sites with fake sign-in pages resembling well known services, adware, mobile phone attacks, and the use of video files to infect users with malware. Due to the computer's increasing role in everyday life, "there is a huge potential for monetary gains by malware writers," said Jeff Green of McAfee Avert Labs. He adds that increasingly sophisticated malicious methods make it more difficult for the average user to evaluate threats. IM attacks, in the form of spam over IM (SPIM), are predicted to rise, as are instances of hackers posing as familiar IM identities. Meanwhile, botnets will benefit from peer to peer architecture, encryption, and custom packing, and although botnets will be used to attack more common multimedia programs, the central control points of botnets will be far more difficult to find. "Money mules" are expected to play a large role in the year's botnet scams by physically transporting stolen goods, allowing cyberthieves to get around shipping regulations. The openness being driven by "Web 2.0" puts security at risk, as unfiltered user input and "client/server communication that takes place behind the scenes without end user interaction" can create vulnerabilities, says security expert Michael Sutton. He adds that programmers often ignore threats because no interaction is needed by the end user, but "attackers can ... intercept this communication and use it to attack the server." Phishing attacks have also been on the rise lately, and are expected to exploit Web programs.
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Cyberinfrastructure: the Second Revolution
Chronicle of Higher Education (01/05/07) Vol. 53, No. 18, P. B5; Bement, Arden L.

National Science Foundation director Arden Bement believes we are on the cusp of a second IT revolution "that may well usher in a new technological age that will dwarf, in sheer transformational scope and power, anything we have yet experienced in the current information age." He identifies the phenomenon of cyberinfrastructure, which encompasses the generation, dissemination, conservation, and application of knowledge, as the driver of this revolution. Cyberinfrastructure's core components are virtual distributed-knowledge communities that span institutions and the world, and Bement says the key requirements for the creation and utilization of cyberinfrastructure will be learning and workforce development efforts. Bement says, "The power of cyberinfrastructure to enhance education and provide new learning opportunities is such an expansive and beneficial feature that we must be sure to create the conditions for synergy between research and education from the outset," which means that these strategies must be central to the cyberinfrastructure enterprise. Bement thinks the U.S. higher-education community can take a vanguard position in the second IT revolution by adopting the cyberinfrastructure vision, and says it would serve the community well with a swift movement toward e-learning. He points out that the NSF's cyberinfrastructure initiative only scratches the surface, and expansive collaboration among individuals across all fields and educational institutions is necessary to the evolution of knowledge communities. Bement goes so far as to reason that cyberinfrastructure leadership could become the key factor in gauging the prominence in higher education among countries, which in turns feeds into the ever-increasing value of a nation's "intangible assets" such as patents, skilled employees, and proficiency. He sees a connection between America's continued global economic competitiveness, fueled by innovation, and its assumption of a leadership position in cyberinfrastructure.
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The Hottest Skills for 2007
Computerworld (01/01/07) McAdams, Jennifer

Among the skills that will be most sought after by CIOs in 2007 are programming/application development, project management, IT-business analysis, security, and help desk/technical support, according to Computerworld's latest quarterly Vital Signs survey; together these skills form the epitome of the "Renaissance" IT professional. Establishing priorities and taking action are abilities highly desired in employees by major corporations this year. Dan Twing with DMA suggests that corporate leaders will start seeking midlevel managers and other higher-ups with technical skills in areas that include Cobit, the Six Sigma quality assurance framework, Capability Maturity Model Integration processes, and IT Infrastructure Library best practices. PrintForLess.com CEO Andrew Field believes the best training ground for project managers is the real world rather than the classroom: "Lead a project team and get something like that on your resume," he recommends. Security, risk management, and compliance specialists are all the rage thanks to high-profile security breaches and regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley, and Dice CEO Scott Melland maintains that an active government security clearance will put people in good stead with employers. DHL Express IT VP Jim Niemann cites the need for critical thinking. Sapphire's Wendy Kemp notes that there is regular turnover in help desk/technical support positions as employees advance, though Sapphire's William Howe maintains that there has been a lessening of demand due to companies deciding to outsource certain support jobs; on the other hand, Niemann mentions that some companies are keeping help-desk/support in-house because they involve direct staffer-customer interaction. Eisner & Lubin IT director Scott Dare expects hiring managers will recruit people more selectively in 2007, because "there are still more technically qualified job seekers than there are jobs."
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Increasing MOM Flexibility With Portable Rule Bases
Internet Computing (12/06) Vol. 10, No. 6, P. 26; Curry, Edward

Edward Curry of the National University of Ireland suggests that the flexibility of message-oriented middleware (MOM) deployments can be extended via content-based routing (CBR), and he presents a decentralized CBR approach that keeps deployments' scalability, maintainability, and robustness at maximum through the use of a portable rule base. Curry writes that in a decentralized scenario, the centralized rule base is shared with message participants, allowing programs to deliver their messages directly to applicable destinations and keeping maintenance to a minimum. Deployment requires each company to express its rule base in a portable manner and set up a mechanism for sharing the rule base among participants. The author notes that these parameters are fulfilled by the MOM framework Generic Self-Management for Message-Oriented Middleware (Gismo), which he designed. In a Gismo metalevel architecture, information is exchanged by MOM clients and providers through the Open Metalevel Interaction Protocol (OMIP). The protocol features a destination metamodel, which tracks the existence and configuration of destinations within the MOM by focusing on core data such as the destination's ID, name, type, and routing condition. The underlying MOM provider is told by Gismo to update itself when the metamodel is revised. "By facilitating the coordination of self-managing messaging systems, Gismo allows decentralized CBR systems to regulate themselves, providing another piece in the puzzle of a balanced and flexible MOM solution," Curry writes. "Future opportunities include using Gismo to coordinate MOM self-management techniques, thus increasing the flexibility of messaging solutions."
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