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ACM TechNews
January 17, 2007

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H.P. to Report an Advance in Adaptable Circuitry
New York Times (01/16/07) P. C2; Markoff, John

Hewlett-Packard researchers have created flexible electronic circuits that could be used to upgrade the circuitry of computer-based consumer devices by the end of the decade. Their findings could be the best display to date of the potential commercialization of molecular computing. For more than 10 years the industry has explored nanocomputing to find a way to build wires that are no more than several molecules wide and switches made of single atoms, but the challenge of moving signals between molecular computing devices and today's devices still remains. Using the work of two Stony Brook University researchers who theorized a method for overlaying a mesh of molecular-scale wires over a conventional chip circuit to transfer data between the two, the HP researchers designed a hybrid consisting of transistors made from traditional photolithography along with a mesh of nanowire-connected switches. "We've demonstrated a credible means for shrinking circuit density without shrinking transistors," said Stan Williams, director of quantum science research at HP Labs. The researchers expect to have a functional chip prototype by the end of the year. They are focusing on field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) chips, which are commonly used to build prototypes that can later be manufactured less expensively. These chips use many transistors that can be reconfigured to create countless arrays of circuits. If the work is successful, the FPGA chips produced will be one-eighth to one-tenth the size of today's chips, consume far less power, and could be used in mass-produced consumer products or used to upgrade previously purchased products.
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Torvalds: 'Hot Air' in Debates on GPL, Content Control
CNet (01/16/07) Kotadia, Munir

Linux creator Linus Torvalds does not think that the battle between General Public License (GPL) and Digital rights managements (DRM) will cause any harm to innovation, despite the arguments and hurt feelings. "People have strong opinions," says Torvalds, who discounts any expectations of a messy conflict between DRM and GPLv3 advocates. However, he does have his preferences. He says, "One reason I really dislike DRM is that it is technologically an inferior solution to not doing DRM. It actually makes it harder for people to do what they want to do. It makes it harder to do things that you really should be able to do." Despite his opinion, he claims that "I am a big believer in letting people do what they want," but his own beliefs do " put [him] at odds with other people in the technical area who have an agenda that they want to drive." He calls the release of GPLv3 a "watershed" event, since GPLv2 has been used in the open-source, free-software environment since 1991. Torvalds says he is not concerned with which technology or development methodology is superior, since he is confident that "good technology" will prevail. He claims to use open source because "it is fun. That is the most basic thing. I also happen to believe that it is the best way to, eventually, get the best end result. Part of that is the 'eventually.' At any particular point in time, it may not always be the best thing right then."
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EU Study Says Open Source Could Increase Competitiveness
Computer Business Review (01/15/07)

Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) could be utilized to achieve the European Union's goal of making it the world's leading knowledge economy by 2010, concludes a new study. "Given Europe's historically lower ability to create new software businesses compared to the U.S., due to restricted venture capital and risk tolerance, the high share of European FLOSS developers provides a unique opportunity to create new software businesses," says the report, which was commissioned by the European Commission's Information Society Technologies program. FLOSS could also make up for low information and technology investment: A 20 percent to 40 percent increase in the FLOSS share of software investment could bring about a 0.1 percent rise in annual EU GDP growth, which is about a 10 million euro contribution. A survey by United Nations University and Maastricht University joint research and training center UNU-MERIT found that 63 percent of all FLOSS developers live in the EU, while only 20 percent live in the U.S. and Canada, and 42 percent of Sourceforge users are in Europe, while 39 percent are in the U.S., and 7 percent are in Asia. Europe's biggest challenge will be keeping these FLOSS developers in Europe; of those that do not live in their native country, 5 percent had left the U.S., while 26 percent had gone to the U.S. The ability to cultivate Floss-related companies may be the deciding factor in the competitiveness of the EU's information economy.
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The Legal Tangles of Data Collection
Washington Post (01/16/07) P. A9; Nakashima, Ellen

Data collection efforts are being aided by both loopholes and progressing technology, as federal laws struggle to keep up. The Bush administration's assertion that it could tap phone calls without a warrant has gained much attention and opposition, but little has been done to curb such practices, including those concerning email surveillance. The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Title III of the 1968 Omnibus Crime Control & Safe Streets Act stated that a warrant is need to tap a phone call; this law was later extended to prohibit interception of electronic communication without a warrant. However, in the 1980s and 1990s when this addendum was made, emails would stay on a user's computer only. Today, email stored on a third party's server can be obtained by the government simply by serving a subpoena, which does not require notification of the user, sometimes even prohibiting notification for a certain time. In fact, any information held by a third party is subject to these same rules. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the government has extended its ability to obtain private financial, phone-call, and Internet transaction data, using national security letters that do not require judicial approval; 30,000 such letters were issued by the FBI in 2005. While information can help law enforcement, mistakes have been made and people wrongly accused. Privacy experts say that as more and more personal information is being stored on the Internet and on database over which the individual has little to no control, the law is becoming less capable of protecting citizens.
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A DVD Copy Protection Is Overcome by Hackers
New York Times (01/17/07) P. C4; Stone, Brad

A worldwide group of loosely affiliated hackers has overcome the Advanced Access Control System (AACS) antipiracy software meant to protect HD DVDs and distribute various films online. Less than a month ago, a hacker called Muslix64 released software that allows users to copy HD DVDs onto their computers, but left out the necessary title keys that are generated by AACS software for each movie. Now hackers appear to have found these security keys in DVD-playing programs on their own computers. Michael Ayers, chairman of the business group of the trade organization that administers AACS, says that while the intrusion is a serious matter, the hackers have only cracked the DVD-playing software, not the DVD antipiracy system itself. AACS was designed so that players, such as those that have been attacked, could be shut down remotely, by having their licenses revoked. Consultant Bill Rosenblatt says this latest intrusion is not as serious as the defeat of the encryption system for standard DVDs in 1999, since HD DVD is intended to "fail more gracefully and not be as brittle as the DVD scheme." However, other experts say the intrusion is more serious. Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer of security company BT Counterpane, says that while title codes could be changed on new disks, old ones would still be available for some time, and there is little doubt that hackers will increase their efforts to crack new disks. He says, "Data is inherently copyable, just as water is inherently wet. All the technology companies are doing is putting in tricks to make it harder to copy. But all they are is tricks."
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Foreign Patent Applications Jump in the U.S.
EE Times (01/12/07) Riley, Sheila

The growing percentage of patent applications filed by foreign nationals living in the U.S. shows the value of making it easier for highly skilled foreign-born workers to stay in America. Duke University researchers found that 24.2 percent of patent filings in 2006 were submitted by foreign nationals, up from 7.3 percent in 1998. The largest group of immigrants filing patents was the Chinese and Taiwanese combined, who made up 26.8 percent of patents filed in 2006, and Indians were second with 21 percent. Duke University Pratt School of Engineering executive in residence and leader of the study Vivek Wadhwa says that most of these patents were filed by Ph.D. researchers working at universities under various temporary visas who would return to their native country when a job was offered there. "We've got all these brilliant people contributing to U.S. competitiveness," he says. "We train them and we keep them in a holding pattern while the economies of India and China are improving a lot." Increasing the number of H-1B visas given out each year could only make this problem worse. Green card reform, however, could encourage these researchers to stay in the country permanently and become a citizen. Some view the Duke results as an effect of globalization rather than immigration; as U.S. companies outsource more work to certain countries, immigration from these countries increases, and while the patent world benefits from the contributions of foreign-born workers, job availability for U.S. engineers suffers. IEEE-USA's Ron Hira says, "It surprised me that the share is as large as it is. But the fact that it has grown so rapidly raises lots of questions about why that's happened. We really just don't know."
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Swimming in the Global Talent Pool
Computerworld (01/15/07) Brandel, Mary

As today's programmers compete for jobs with others around the world, a new set of criteria is being used to judge them. While some U.S. companies use offshoring to reduce costs, many are simply looking for the best talent they can find, especially since employees can often work for several companies from their home country. Today's technology recruiters are concerned mostly with the "relevance" of an applicant's knowledge and experience, especially concerning Web 2.0. David Hayes, president of tech recruiter HireMinds, says, "The world has changed, and you can either change with it or get swept up by it. On your resume, if you don't talk about something you do that's connected to one of these new spaces, you won't even be considered." Having an understanding of the open source community is also very important for prospective programmers. Hayes says, "There's a belief system in there, and you have to be able to express that." Applicants who stand out also have a keen understanding not only of technology, but how technology applies to business in a broader context. The U.S. is not the only country scouring the world for the best talent; Infosys' Global Talent Program has already hired 126 U.S citizens for software engineering training in India. Tata Consultancy North America's U.S. based practice director John Dubiel says, "Employers want people who understand different work models, like offshore models, or where your team is in multiple geographic locations outside the U.S." Most Europe and U.K. residents are more accustomed to working for multinationals with overseas headquarters than Americans are. However, in a few years, "the issue of whether I work for a U.S. or Indian company will be irrelevant," says Dubiel. "All these companies that offer services are pretty much the same; only the headquarters will change."
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Officials Warm to Paper Trail to Verify Votes in Maryland
Washington Post (01/17/07) P. B1; Rein, Lisa

A bill has been submitted in the Maryland General Assembly that would require paper records to back up every vote cast in the state, meaning the state may join a nationwide movement to make touchscreen voting a more trustworthy and secure process. If the bill passes, Maryland would have to retrofit its voting machines with printers, or make a complete switch to optical scan machines. Over $100 million was spent on the state's current voting equipment, which was purchased right after the 2000 election. Maryland's touchscreen voting equipment is relatively early technology and retrofitting it will be difficult and costly. Twenty-seven states have already legislated changes in e-voting to increase reliability, and some states have even gotten rid of touchscreen machines completely. Maryland is one of only five states that use electronic voting systems without providing voters any way to verify their vote. Neighboring Virginia and D.C. use touchscreen machines in some districts or let voters choose between paper and electronic systems. Paper trail advocates expect congressional or state action to require a paper trail for all voters by the 2008 presidential election. Last month, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission recommended that all voting districts either switch to optical scan machines or equip touchscreen machines with printers, since the latter voting machines cannot be secured otherwise.
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Silicon 'Lego Bricks' Used to Build 3D Chips
New Scientist (01/12/07) Simonite, Tom

Researchers at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom have taken another approach to improving the speed of three-dimensional electronics. Michael Kraft, Mark Spearing, and Liudi Jiang have developed a method of stacking the electronics using silicon wafers with matching sets of pegs and holes that make them resemble "Lego bricks." Typically, more components are squeezed onto the same surface of a flat silicon wafer to build 3D chips. "Our technique is simpler and uses standard silicon processing equipment," Kraft says of the layering strategy. Researchers at MIT have put together a prototype seven-layer turbine-on-a-chip, and the assembly process makes use of a camera to help line up the different wafers. The U.K. project was able to line up two chips within 200-nanometer accuracy, which is nearly five times better than the result of using a camera. The U.K. researchers hope to try the stackable approach on larger silicon wafers before developing functional electronics with layered 3D chips.
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Why the Number of Women in IT Is Decreasing
IT Jungle (01/15/07) Roberts, Mary Lou

A recently presented Gartner report on the decreasing number of women in the IT profession stresses that the differences between men and women must be utilized by IT departments, rather than downplayed. Not only is the popularity of IT decreasing among women, it is doing so at a faster rate than in other fields, and the trend is global; Gartner numbers show that between 1996 and 2004 the percentage of women in IT dropped from 42 percent to 32.4 percent. Gartner's Mark Raskino, co-author of the report, says that today's IT landscape is becoming more about information and relationships, skills that women are thought to be more adept at, than it is about technology. As a result, he says, "In the next three to five years in terms of delivering what IT departments are expected to deliver, the gender imbalance is going to put these departments in a really weak position unless they do something about it and address it." From 2006 to 2016 Gartner expects the main forces driving IT to include a focus on the consumer, international reach and coordination of efforts, and innovation. Raskino notes that although women excel in all of these areas, recent approaches have shunned treating the sexes as unequal. Although everyone must be judged on their individual merits, Raskino believes IT departments should exploit differences in the genders, rather than trying to get rid of stereotypes. He also suggest increasing the chances for those who have left IT departments to continue working from home. Many after school programs, clubs, and camps have been developed to help show young girls how interesting IT can be, and remove any stigma the industry may have at a time when they are beginning to contemplate a career path.
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Sun's Fortran Replacement Goes Open-Source
CNet (01/12/07) Shankland, Steve

Sun's Fortress "interpreter" was recently released as an open-source software prototype meant to execute the new Sun language, Fortress, line by line. Sun Labs computer scientist and Fortress project leader Eric Allen says, "We're trying to engage academics and other third parties." Fortress, a replacement for the 50-year old Fortran language, was designed through a Defense-Department supercomputing project, but can handle mainstream tasks such as extracting work from multicore processing engines. "We think as multicore becomes more important for ordinary desktop systems that programmers are going to have to turn to a language like Fortress in order to take advantage of the performance their hardware is providing to them," Allen says. Sun hopes that Fortress will be able to solve the problem of programs that do not scale very well, allowing them to utilize parallelism. Fortress programmers must specify when software shouldn't run in parallel, the opposite of previous defaults, and aims to store data intelligently so it will be near the processor that needs it. Allen says the language allows programmers to use ordinary mathematical expressions instead of having to translate formulas into the intricate syntax of computer languages. He says, "It provides more productivity because it allows the scientific programmer to stay closer to his own problem domain instead of learning some computer science language." He also says the language is useful for writing business software for customer-relationship management. The interpreter, which runs on Java, is still in the early stages, and a Fortress compiler is planned to be released eventually.
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Computers Take on Blue-Collar Tasks
Columbus Dispatch (OH) (01/12/07) Curet, Monique

The Blue Collar Computing program will give Ohio companies an opportunity to save even more time and money via the high-powered computers and software from the Ohio Supercomputer Center. Remote access to high-performance machines will take computer benefits to the next level for companies, enabling them to shuttle employees away from time-consuming and labor-intensive assignments to tasks that require them to use more sophisticated equipment. For example, engineers would be able to simulate a weld with a supercomputer, instead of building physical prototypes, and companies may be able to reduce the number of physical experiments from a dozen to one or two before wrapping up a project. The supercomputer center has reached deals with the Edison Welding Institute, which represents 250 companies, as well as the Ohio Manufacturers' Association and PolymerOhio that will allow many small companies to take advantage of its technology. Ohio Supercomputer Center executive director Stan Ahalt says computing tends to be limited to the desktop or the very high end, but the marketplace still has blue-collar needs. Supercomputers can help industry develop better products, but Ahalt says they will not replace workers. "Our focus is to enrich the economy of Ohio," he says.
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Scholars Move to New Area of Artificial Intelligence
Vanguard (01/11/07) Edukugho, Emmanuel

University of Lagos deputy vice chancellor and professor Adetokunbo Babatunde Sofoluwe delivered an inaugural lecture in which he mentioned some of his contributions to the discipline of artificial intelligence (AI). Among his contributions is work on pattern recognition via single layer perception; the determination of salient input features for feedforward nets; a study of biologically inspired computing paradigms, including those for tackling NP hard problems such as the "traveling salesman" challenge; a critical examination of fuzzy logic and neural networks; and a more effective Monte Carlo algorithm for addressing the traveling salesman problem. Sofoluwe noted that AI is drawing a lot of interest from scholars representing a wide swath of fields, including linguistics, psychology, and philosophy. "The motivation is to explore and adopt new paradigms in order to overcome the limitations that have been identified in the manner that computations are carried out," he explained. "The branch of computer science dealing with artificial intelligence is focusing on intelligent behavior, learning and adaptation." Sofoluwe also said there is an interest in creating intelligent machines.
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Sensor Nets Branch Out in Real World
EE Times (01/15/07) P. 1; Wirbel, Loring

Speakers at last week's IEEE Radio and Wireless Symposium reported that advanced modulation and radio-frequency (RF) transmission schemes are making the jump from laboratory to field research in an effort to address actual problems. "The heterogeneity and spatial variability common to many environmental problems are almost tailor-made for embedded wireless sensor networks," noted Deborah Estrin of UCLA's Center for Embedded Networked Sensing. "If you don't have that fine-grained variability, you don't really need to sense at multiple points." Estrin spotlighted the combination of sensor networks with robotics and actuators in agricultural work and species monitoring, pointing out that node mobility can help eliminate undersampling. The center's networks are usually divided into three levels: Dumb "motes" at the endpoints, microservers to control numerous motes, and autonomous mobile nodes equipped with cameras and other sensing machinery. Estrin says this permits citizen-researchers to participate in projects such as disaster tracking in a decentralized manner. She cited projects the center's networks have recently participated in, including the measurement of arsenic contaminant transport in Bangladeshi drinking wells, observation of continental microclimates via terrestrial-imaging nets, seismic monitoring in the wake of a 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, and analysis of the mixing of California's San Joaquin and Merced rivers. Also highlighted at the symposium was cognitive radio, which Hiroshi Harada of Japan's National Institute of Information and Communications Technology said could go beyond frequency band selection and support mobile communications, wireless LAN and ultrawideband, and digital terrestrial television with one appliance.
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'Dave, It's HAL, It's My Birthday and I'm...Lonely'
Athens Banner-Herald (GA) (01/12/07) Thompson, Jim

It is highly unlikely that a thinking machine as sophisticated as HAL 9000--the neurotic and homicidal computer of the classic novel and film "2001: A Space Odyssey"--will ever be realized, says Michael Covington of the University of Georgia's Artificial Intelligence Center. Part of the reason for this is that our expectations of what functions computers should perform have changed in the nearly four decades since HAL was envisioned, while another factor is the realization that the human brain is a much more complicated instrument than previously thought. "A tool that helps people with intellectual work need not look--or behave--like a human," Covington argues. "In fact, our intellectual tools get a lot of their usefulness from not being human-like in their behavior." He says it is folly to design a computer that can trick users into thinking that it has a human mind, and the consequences can be appropriately disastrous, as HAL's deadly actions in the book and film demonstrate. A different opinion is offered by Emory University professor David Cook, who teaches a course on the films of "2001" director Stanley Kubrick. His view is that humanity's absolute dependence on computers portrayed in the film comes close to our current perceptions of technology, in which case the movie turns out to be eerily prescient. Cook contends that the film explores the theme of how a reliance on advanced technology can carry mankind into the future, but leave people with no clue about what they should do once they have reached that future. Modern AI research is focused on creating models of the human mind in order to comprehend its workings.
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Malware Creators Turn Code Protection Technique to Their Advantage
ITBusiness.ca (01/09/07) Khanna, Poonam

The programming method known as dynamic code obfuscation, originally developed to protect code against intellectual property theft, is becoming a popular way for hackers to keep their malicious code from being identified, according to Finjan's Web Security Trends Report Q4 2006. Code obfuscation, which allows code to always appears different, is a useful way for programmers to prevent others from figuring out what their code actually does, but hackers can use the technique to foil anti-virus programs that rely upon a virus having a static signature. The technique also allows spammers to hide their intentions. Security consultant Mary Kirwan suggests that businesses think of security as something that is built from the ground up, rather than simply being slapped on at the end. Finjan also expects Web 2.0 sites such as Wikipedia and MySpace, both of which recently experienced malicious code-related attacks, Microsoft Vista, and Internet Explorer 7 to see an increasing number of hacker attacks.
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Reports of COBOL's Imminent Demise Premature
SD Times (01/01/07)No. 165, P. 16; Koch, Geoff

The reported obsolescence of COBOL is being forestalled by colleges and corporations thanks to its ability to accommodate massive amounts of information in government and corporate data centers. "There is no other language that will match COBOL in this respect," says "The Power of COBOL" author and Luso Computer Institute founder Rui de Oliveira. There are concerns that a shortage of legacy skills is imminent, as mainframe professionals approach retirement age while business-critical applications worldwide still have COBOL installations. However, Forrester analyst Phil Murray does not project the abrupt mass retirement of mainframe pros anytime soon. "Rather, some programmers will start much sooner and others will start later, making it less noticeable because it will be spread out over a much longer time frame: 2005 to 2035, as opposed to 2020 to 2030," he wrote in a Nov. 23 research report. Vendors with a substantial stake in mainframes, such as IBM and Micro Focus, are sponsoring college and university programs to train students in COBOL and other legacy technologies. But Central Michigan University professor Zhenyu Huang notes that interest in COBOL is flagging on campuses, and there appears to be no way to reverse this trend.
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Digital Fingerprints
Science News (01/13/07) Vol. 171, No. 2, P. 26; Rehmeyer, Julie J.

Neither online criminals nor innocents may be safe from new techniques to de-anonymize Internet users by studying their behavioral patterns. Researchers at Italy's University of Torino are building on the typeprint method, in which a person's identity is determined according to keystroke timing, to craft a system that analyzes typing rhythms to keep track of illicit activity around the Internet. There is concern that such a system would allow authorities to identify innocent users by keeping a log of many individuals' typing patterns, while hackers could conceivably employ the typeprint analysis method to deduce passwords and other critical information. University of Arizona researcher Hsinchun Chen led a team that pioneered a program for identifying people by their distinctive writing styles--punctuation, use of the passive voice, indentation, paragraph length, proportions of uppercase and lowercase letters, word choice, content, etc.--so that Internet abusers can be pinpointed through message analysis. The consistency of writers in terms such as word length and punctuation is graphically represented in a writeprint. Chen's team reported in last April's Communications of the ACM that after examining 30 to 40 messages from any known author, the program could identify subsequent messages by that author with 99 percent accuracy in English, 95 percent in Arabic, and 93 percent in Chinese. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Peter Eckersley is worried that whistle blowing and public speech could be stifled by tools such as writeprints. Identifying people on the Internet by their mouse movements is another technique under investigation, and researchers at the Wharton School in Philadelphia and the University of California, Davis, are focusing on fraud prevention and ID authentication via analysis of clickstream data culled from multiple browsing sessions.
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