Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

ACM TechNews (HTML) Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
January 29, 2007

MemberNet
The ACM Professional Development Centre
Unsubscribe

Welcome to the January 29, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Intel Says Chips Will Run Faster, Using Less Power
New York Times (01/27/07) P. A1; Markoff, John

Intel researchers have announced the development of a more efficient microprocessor that could both extend Moore's Law and enhance the performance of consumer devices. Intel researchers say the new technology is the most important development in silicon chips since Intel first introduced the modern integrated-circuit transistor, and is largely due to new metallic alloys being used as insulators that alleviate the problem of switches leaking more and more energy as they are made smaller and smaller. The company plans to release the chips in the second half of 2007, and has already developed a prototype that can run on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. "This is evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary," says University of California, Berkeley associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences Vivek Subramanian. Now that they have the ability to construct smaller chips without losing energy, Intel will produce chips with a minimum feature size of 45 nanometers, which will have an increasing number of cores and can be switched to either higher power or significantly lower power. The project was lead by veteran Intel physicist and director of process architecture and integration Mark T. Bohr, who notes that, "Up until five years ago, leakage was thought to increase with each generation." An alloy known has hafnium, which has been previously used in filaments and electrodes as a neutron absorber in nuclear power plants, will take the place of silicon dioxide as an insulator. Other new alloys that Intel is not identifying are being used to compose transistor gates, replacing polysilicon. IBM, which plans to release chips with similar transistors in early 2008, claims that Intel does not have a technological lead over them, and has only chosen a different, lower-end, focus.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Computer Program Writes Its Own Fiction
Discovery Channel (01/26/07) Viegas, Jennifer

A Mexico City computer scientist has developed MEXICA, a computer program that understands emotion and tension well enough to compose stories. In an Internet survey where the program's stories were pitted against both human- and other computer-generate stories, MEXICA was ranked highest in flow and coherence, structure, content, suspense, and overall quality. Autonomous Metropolitan University computer scientist Rafael Perez y Perez says his program begins with a very simple story, a few sentences outlining a beginning, middle, and end, then treats the characters as variables and assigns numerical values to emotional ties between them. The program can even link certain words such as "wounded" with tension. After establishing clusters of emotional links and tensions, the program conducts an "engagement-reflection cycle," where it searches a database of story actions and occurrences, called "atoms," in order to find the best fit for the context of the character at that moment. This process is repeated until no more matches can be made. Finally, the software conducts an analysis of the story's "interestingness" and coherence; a story is considered interesting when tensions levels fluctuate throughout. The program has received praise from University of Nottingham Learning Science Research Institute director and author Mike Sharples for Perez y Perez's use of "key elements of that model of human creative writing--particularly the movement between engagement and reflection." Perez y Perez says he does not intend for programs like his to replace human writers, rather to help them understand the way they write, and thus allow them to see how they can improve their writing.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


At Yale, Robotics Research Matures
Yale Daily News (01/24/07)

A robot named Nico, which was developed at the Yale Computer Science Department's social robotics lab, has shown the ability to recognize its own reflection and tell the difference between speaker and addressee, providing hope for future interaction between robots and humans. Nico's creator, computer science grad student Kevin Gold, set up three categories and corresponding parameters--self, other, inanimate--into which Nico places the objects it sees. Visual feedback information allows Nico to change parameters so objects can be classified with increasing accuracy. Nico recognizes itself in the mirror by waving its arms and labeling the objects whose motion matches the parameters as "self." Gold is currently teaching Nico the meanings of "I" and "you" by showing the robot two people playing catch and having whichever person has the ball say "I got the ball" and whichever person does not have the ball say "you got the ball." Nico already knows the meaning of "got the ball," so Gold is hoping the robot can use a level of inference to figure out what the other words mean. Gold says two research options he is considering next are teaching the robot to understand itself and thus be able to predict another person's actions in a specific situations, or cultivating language acquisition abilities in Nico that could allow Gold to study robots' ability to learn the meaning of objects and their usage from watching how people manipulate them. Expressing some frustration, Gold says that presenting this kind of work is problematic, since "A lot of people try to overstate the abilities of robot programs. AI has had a bad history with this, with what these systems can and can't do."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Awaiting the Day When Everyone Writes Software
New York Times (01/28/07) P. BU3; Pontin, Jason

Charles Simonyi, the man who designed Microsoft Word and Excel, as well as the first modern application that displayed text as it would appear when printed on a page, is working on a new type of "what you see is what you get" programming method intended to alleviate the problems arising from today's software development process. This new programming method, dubbed "intentional programming," begins with "domain experts," those who know what a program should do, working with programmers to list the necessary concepts for the program being created. These ideas are then translated into domain code, a higher-level representation of the software's functions, using a tool known as the "domain workbench" that lets users view the actual user screen being created. Once programmers and domain experts are satisfied with the user screen, the domain code is fed into a "generator" that constructs the actual target code, which can be compiled and run. Intentional programming has three major advantages over conventional programming: those who design the program are actually the ones who understand what it must be capable of; the design can be easily and directly manipulated without the need to rewrite code; and the final code is not generate by humans, who commonly make mistakes. However, there is doubt as to the likelihood that intentional programming will have the impact that Simonyi expects it to: It is based on the idea that programmers don't understand what users want; the "abstraction" of code that the users is presented with could be flawed, meaning programmers would have to work directly with code anyway; and finally, no one knows if the system even works, since nondisclosure agreements prohibit those working on it to discuss their involvement.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


UMass Scientist's Program Combats Hackers
Massachusetts Daily Collegian (01/29/07) Osorio, Michelle

University of Massachusetts computer scientist Emily Berger developed anti-hacking software, called DieHard, that takes advantage of the surplus memory and power of today's computers. Hackers often can gain access to sensitive information when programs request less memory than they need, causing information to overflow into other parts of the memory, which Berger compares to houses. The result is an override of these other "houses." Hackers often seek out the "house" that contains a user's sensitive information and add their own information to it in order to cause an override. DieHard acts as a wall between a computer and those trying to access it through programming deficiencies by using different keys and hiding sensitive information in a safe location. "Every house is the same, the floor plan is the same, the important information is all in the same place and you have keys to the house," said Berger. "That's the symbol of all computers. If you have one key you can rob anyone blind. What DieHard essentially does is to make the key different for every house and stash the valuables in different places." DieHard does cause a 50 to 75 percent increase in memory consumption, but should not make a system noticeably slower. The program works with Linux, Solaris, and Windows systems, and can protect any application in Linux or Solaris, but for now it can only protect Mozilla Firefox on Windows XP and 2003 systems. Berger has received grants from the National Science Foundation, Intel, and Microsoft for her work..
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


A Wheelchair That Reads Your Mind
Wired News (01/29/07) Cole, Emmet

Researchers in Spain are creating a robotic wheelchair that can be controlled by its user's thoughts alone. While current brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that work with electroencephalogram electrodes (EEGs) have been physically plugged into the brain, powered by large immobile computers, and known for producing crude signals, the "Biomedical Evaluation Of Robots to Assist Human Mobility" project seeks to create a non-invasive BCI powered by mobile computers that can understand simple commands such as "stop," "go," "left," and "right." "You're not going to be using EEGs to control a robotic arm to play the piano or anything," says Case Western Reserve University's Department of Biomedical Engineering professor Dawn Taylor, who is not involved in the project but has knowledge of the technology being used. "But you can certainly turn right and left and stop and go using that sort of signal." The Spanish Ministry of Education and Science says it hopes the technology could one day provide mobility to those with limited motor capabilities as a result of injury, disability, or old age. Two 800 MHz computers mounted on the wheelchair are being used to process the BCI readings and transmit commands to the wheels. About a week of training is needed for the software to adapt to a user's thought patterns for basic commands. "The important issue is to have a good selection of the mental tasks for each user, so that they produce discriminable EEG patterns," says University of Zaragoza researcher Javier Minguez.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Street-Fighting Robot Challenge Announced
New Scientist (01/24/07)

Individuals, companies, universities, and research institutes have until the end of May to submit applications to Singapore's Defense Science and Technology Agency to compete in a contest to build a robot that can operate autonomously like a soldier in urban environments. As part of the TechX Challenge, participants must build a warrior robot that can complete a set of tasks, and the developer of the robot that completes the assignment the fastest will receive a prize of $652,000. DSTA has not revealed the tasks for the competition, which is open to foreigners who collaborate with a local partner. The robot will need to navigate outdoors as well as indoors, and use staircases and elevators to go from floor to floor in a building, even when satellite navigation assistance is not available, according to DSTA CEO Richard Lim. Participants may need to train their entries on knowing which floor they are on and where a button would take them, adds Robert Richardson, an expert at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Testing of robots for the qualifying round is scheduled for May 2008, with the final round following in August.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Personal Digital Assistants in Space
European Space Agency (01/26/07)

Personal digital assistants (PDAs) are poised to take on a greater role on board the International Space Station (ISS). PDAs were largely limited to personal computing and entertainment functions before last year, but they were viewed as a potential platform for offering applications when ISS laptops proved to be too difficult for astronauts to handle. In March, astronauts will begin using PDAs to monitor the whereabouts of all items stored on the ISS. The PDAs will feature a barcode reader and will use a wireless network to access the Inventory Management System. Meanwhile, NASA is currently reviewing the PDA Pressurization Program (PDP) for notifying crew members of depressurization problems, and there are plans to include the application in the standard package of software that would be available on astronauts' PDAs. Industry is working to shrink the laptop interface for the smaller PDA screen, through its work on the International Procedure Viewer (IPV) application. There is also interest in using PDAs for crew-to-crew and crew-to-systems communications, which would require the use of VOIP applications as well as speech synthesis and speech recognition capabilities.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Researchers Develop New Tool to Measure IT Systems
Computerworld Australia (01/18/07) Rossi, Sandra

Queensland University of Technology researchers under the direction of professor Guy Gable are developing a tool for measuring enterprise IT systems' value, and Gable said his team is collaborating closely with Accenture in Australia and the United States on techniques to gauge such systems' impact as a way to guide improvement decisions. "Broadly, enterprise systems are large, integrated application software packages purchased from companies such as SAP or Oracle, and used by individuals right across the organization for financials, HR, sales and distribution, customer relationship management and more," noted the professor. "We have developed a Web-based, perceptual survey with questions that are robust and answerable by people at all levels of any organization." The survey scores the IT system's impact on individual users and the organization, the system's quality, and the quality of information from the system, Gable said. The survey also presents an aggregate score that could be used to rate the same system across time as well as the entire sector. "The IS-Impact approach can be used as a decision support tool for management as it identifies impacts on the organization to date and also assesses quality, which is the best predictor of future impacts from the system," said Gable. The organizational effort is kept to a minimum because the approach is inexpensive and forthright.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


W3C Publishes New Web Standards for XML
eWeek (01/25/07) Hoffman, Patrick

Eight new XML Web standards devised by the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) XSL Working Group and XML Query Working Group were issued by the W3C on Jan. 23. The standards encompass XML Path Language 2.0, XML Transformations 2.0, XQuery 1.0: An XML Query Language, XML Syntax for XQuery 1.0, the XQuery 1.0 and XPath 2.0 Data Model, the XQuery 1.0 and XPath 2.0 Functions and Operators, the XQuery 1.0 and XPath 2.0 Formal Semantics, and XSLT 2.0 and XQuery 1.0 Serialization. The purpose of the new Web standards is to help users request information from databases and transform and access XML data and documents via the main specifications XQuery 1.0: An XML Query Language, XSL Transformations 2.0, and XML Path Language 2.0. Users can search for concealed patterns in a set of data from memos and Web service messages to multi-terabyte relational databases with XQuery 1.0. "XQuery makes it easier to design and build Web applications, as well as to search through and analyze complex data from multiple sources," says W3C XML Activity Lead Liam Quin. With XSLT 2.0 comes better error detection and a language that can be employed to transform XML documents into other XML documents; XSLT 2.0 can also be utilized with XML Path Language 2.0, which comes with a tree representation of XML documents along with atomic values and sequences. "This brings an enhanced data model with a type system based on sequences of nodes or atomic values, support for all the built-in types defined in XML Schema, and a wide range of new functions and operators," Quin says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


What's the Buzz? Harnessing Static to Improve Wireless Signals
University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) (01/23/07)

The National Science Foundation has given a CAREER Award to University of Illinois at Chicago researcher Daniela Tuninetti to study whether network interference can be exploited by wireless devices as a way for collaborative communication. She will receive $400,000 over five years to present a theoretical framework for pooling communication resources to provide cell phones, computers, and personal digital assistants with an operating signal when they would only receive noise today. But Tuninetti, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, stresses that even during interference, devices still communicate with each other. "I'm proposing that we think of interference as something potentially useful in a wireless channel, if appropriately exploited," she says. Tuninetti also believes that mobile devices may also be able to take advantage of such collaborative communication when their batteries get weak. She plans to develop new coding and signaling strategies to increase system capacity, and design distributed multi-access and routing protocols to enhance collaborative communication. Tuninetti describes her efforts as creating a "virtual antenna array" for such collaborative communication between wireless devices.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


COBOL Today and Tomorrow, Part 2
Linux Insider (01/25/07) Abraham, Irving

Micro Focus Unix and Linux product director Irving Abraham credits COBOL's longevity and its continued use in the foreseeable future to its transparency, ease of maintenance, and ability to manage a massive volume of transactions. COBOL is ubiquitous, and there is no reason for working developers not to become proficient in the language, given the ease of learning it, writes the author. Abraham notes that the current generation of COBOL experts is approaching retirement, which means people who can maintain and create new COBOL code are very much in demand. Universities, local colleges, and trade schools offer COBOL courses, and academic programs to support COBOL training are sponsored by the likes of Micro Focus and IBM. Abraham's company underwrites an Academic Grant Program to supply annual licensing for any eligible educational organization. COBOL courses are more abundant than they were five years ago, and Abraham writes that "COBOL is an excellent way to teach the art of programming, so credits should not be hard to gain once your computer science department knows there's an interest, especially if you have a professor willing to teach it." In the absence of a formal course structure, aspirant COBOL programmers can educate themselves using a wealth of books, publications, Web sites, and online news groups. Abraham recommends COBOL User Groups as an excellent starting point.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Fragile Network
CircleID (01/19/07) Thompson, Bill

Bill Thompson writes that the myth that the Internet can prevail in the face of extensive damage continues to linger, when in fact the network is highly fragile and vulnerable to major disruption if key high-speed connections are lost. This point was hammered home last year by a major earthquake off the coast of Taiwan that wrecked seven undersea fiber-optic cables and constricted Internet access in the region while substantially reducing connectivity between Asia and the rest of the worldwide Internet. A less publicized but just as troubling event cited by Thompson is the cessation of DeviceForge's RSS feeds because a single file hosted on a specific server was deleted. "The major service providers run networks which have few interconnections with each other, and as a result there are more points at which a single failure can seriously affect network services," notes Thompson, who argues that skilled engineers and solid engineering practice are the solution to these sorts of problems. He says political turbulence over such issues as network neutrality, Internet governance, content regulation, technical standards, and content regulation are complicating the situation. Thompson believes the UN's International Telecommunications Union is the only agency "that could reasonably exert some influence," but laments that new UN Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure does not desire direct governance of the Internet by the organization. In response to Thompson's posting, Thomas Kuehne remarks that the Internet's fragility is not attributable to bad engineers but to "decisions of the management and insufficient communication between different network providers."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


IBM Crowd-Sources With Many Eyes
InternetNews.com (01/24/07) Hickin, Michael

IBM's newly launched beta version of its social computing site Many Eyes is a part of an ongoing attempt by the company to bring social networking to business. Many Eyes allows users to upload large data sets, choose how they are represented visually, and discuss them in an online forum. IBM Research director of collaborative user experiences Irene Greif describes Many Eyes as a way to see if crowd-sourcing principles can be used to analyze visualized data, with the goal of creating data analysis that is both broader and deeper. The inspiration behind the site is to "start a conversation about things like data quality ... The visualization lets you grok at a lot more [data] at once." One possible use for Many Eyes could be for government agencies to improve its ability to indicate potential recipients of aid money, based on such data as income range or living in areas that frequently experience natural disasters that could be uploaded and made into charts. However, Grief realizes that visualization can be misleading, and that the site may best serve to form hypotheses that would then be subjected to examination of raw data. User behavior will be studied to see whether or not incorrect data is uploaded and what the effect of this would be. "One of the things we'd like to answer is how you establish what's credible ... Maybe that's the most important societal question," said Grief. "It's a fairly adventurous research project."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Be Yourself and Prove Yourself, Carly Tells Women in IT
ITworldcanada.com (01/22/07) Nobel, Carmen

Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was the first women to run a Fortune 20 company and has since written a book titled "Tough Choices" that discusses what it takes for a woman to succeed in a male-dominated environment. In an interview, Fiorina stressed the importance of role models, and while females can provide inspiration for young women, it is also the responsibility of men to recognize potential. She encourages women to be themselves, since "people are most effective when they bring all of themselves to a challenge." Describing all good companies as meritocracies, Fiorina explains that they will hire quality female employees because it's the smart business thing to do ... "not because it' the right thing to do." While she thinks it is "wonderful" when women try to promote diversity, true diversity will come when both men and women focus on increasing the talent pool. Fiorina blames the current small percentage of women in IT on the fact that men are simply more comfortable working with men, since all "people are more comfortable working with people who are like them," but argues that hiring must be a "business imperative," not a social consideration. While she does feel that women need to be more comfortable speaking up in group settings, Fiorina remains confident: "All my experience tells me that if we focus on talent, women are going to rise to the top."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Not Now Cell Phone -- I'm in a Meeting
Herald-Times (IND) (01/25/07) Morin, Sarah

Kay Connelly, an assistant professor of computer science at Indiana University, does not blame the average cell phone user for the disruptions the ringing devices can cause to classes, performances, and other events, instead she blames technology for not having solved the problem. She is researching ways that phones can use automated responses to make them more aware of their users and their schedules. "The cell phone itself can make the decision, not the human," says Connelly. A possibility she has explored is connecting digital calendars such as Outlook to cell phones, so the phone would know not to ring out loud while its owner is in a meeting with her boss, for example. Existing remedies for this problem include an instant message service that notifies incoming callers that the user is unavailable, and jammers that block all incoming or outgoing calls in a certain location, such as a church. Connelly thinks that jammers are impractical since some calls are actually of vital importance, such as those to a doctor in an emergency, and is working on a more flexible system instead. Connelly is also investigating ways that cell phone technology can improve people's lives, such as a text-messaging support designed encourage girls to increase their physical activity.
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link to Publication Homepage
to the top


GPL 3: An Open-Source Earthquake?
Computer Reseller News (01/24/07) Cowley, Stacy

The first major revision of the GNU General Public License (GPL) in 15 years has implications that could shake up the open-source community because of its provisions for compatibility with other licenses, software patents, and the limitations of digital rights management (DRM). The new GPL 3 license could potentially buttress or fragment the community, which is divided along ideological and pragmatic lines. The pragmatists' camp, represented by people such as Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds, released a position paper that objected to GPL 3, contending that the proposed revision does not address pressing problems and instead serves as a booster for the anti-DRM movement fomented by the Free Software Foundation. "When you make your technical choices on technical grounds, rather than on religious ones, they end up being better," wrote Torvalds in a piece he posted to Groklaw. The schism between these two camps could widen if a substantial population of open-source developers switches to GPL 3 while others continue subscribing to GPL 2. According to Linux kernel maintainers, the result would be a Balkanization that would "inflict massive collateral damage upon our entire ecosystem and jeopardize the very utility and survival of open source." Supporters of the revised license point out significant differences between the first and second drafts of GPL 3: Sun chief open-source officer Simon Phipps notes that the second draft is less an attack on DRM than a more moderate consideration of how to address DRM's consequences. The effects of GPL 3 will not be instantaneous, and some influential industry experts predict the eventual mutual acceptance of the license by the opposing camps in the open-source community.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


High-Density Memory: A Switch in Time
Nature (01/24/07) Ball, Philip

Researchers Jim Heath and Fraser Stoddart of the California NanoSystems Institute have taken a step toward molecular memory with their creation of a prototype device that is the size of a single white blood cell, yet features 160,000 memory elements and stores the zeroes and ones of binary data in the switchable states of organic molecules. Such a device could become an important milestone in the semiconducting industry's quest to store 1 trillion bits of information in a postage stamp-sized area by 2020. Heath and Stoddart's memory device consists of an array of small silicon and titanium wires running parallel. A multi-junction grid is formed by placing a set of titanium wires at right angles to the top of the silicon wires, and the switchable rotaxane molecules are positioned at the junctions. The latest version of the memory array features junctions that contain about 100 rotaxanes each, although testing revealed that just one in four of the memory elements actually performs. The researchers have demonstrated that strong memories can be fashioned from defective arrays through the use of software that can pinpoint viable bits while circumventing nonviable bits. The performance of Heath and Stoddart's device is limited by the fact that the memory cells can only be switched 10 times before they no longer work, and the researchers have a lot of ground to cover before their invention matches other non-volatile memories currently under development as a replacement for dynamic random access memories.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Report Backs NSF Prize to Spur Innovation
Science (01/26/07) Vol. 315, P. 446; Mervis, Jeffrey

The plan to have the National Science Foundation award prizes to stimulate new research and development appears to be in limbo due to a budget freeze and changes on Capitol Hill. In a report last week, the National Academies expressed support for an NSF prize program, but said the agency should start with small awards of $200,000 to $2 million before supporting more costlier projects. Prizes are a good idea "because they bring in new people who don't normally participate in government programs and because it allows you to tackle controversial ideas," says NSF director Erich Bloch. Mark Myers, a retired research executive at Xerox who led the NA's National Research Council panel that reviewed the plan, says Congress should set aside more money for the NSF so it can study how to run the award program and evaluate its implementation. The panel said prizes could be awarded for research into areas such as nano self-assembly, green chemistry, low-carbon energy technologies, and teaching software. The cost of the program is likely to prevent its launch this year, as the report recommended. Meanwhile, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), an early advocate of prizes, no longer heads the spending panel that oversees the NSF's budget, and Democrats do not seem to be as optimistic about the idea.
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 © 2007 Information, Inc.


© 2007 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.