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ACM TechNews
February 2, 2007

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Florida Shifting to Voting System With Paper Trail
New York Times (02/02/07) P. A1; Goodnough, Abby; Drew, Christopher

Florida Governor Charlie Crist yesterday announced that the state will do away with touch-screen voting machines in favor optical-scan machines in time for the 2008 election. This decision, coupled with proposed federal voting legislation requiring independent audit abilities, could signal the end of touch-screen machines. "For Florida to be clearly contemplating moving away from touch screens to the greatest extent possible is truly significant," said VoteTrust USA director Warren Stewart, stressing the symbolic importance of Florida in U.S. elections. Many other states have called for paper trails, although no decision has been made as to whether they will scrap touch-screen machines or simply retrofit them with printers. The 15 Florida counties that already have touch-screen machines in place will be allowed to use them in the early voting before the 2008 elections. "The price of freedom is not cheap," said Crist. "The importance of a democratic system of voting that we can trust, that we can have confidence in, is incredibly important." He also announced that the state will work to help the blind and speakers of foreign languages use the optical-scan machines. A recent survey by Election Data Services found that 56 percent of U.S. counties have purchased optical-scan machines, which experts say are cheaper than touch screens. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) will propose a bill that requires a paper trail and authorized $300 million in federal money to implement the necessary changes.
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Carnegie Mellon Professor Jeannette Wing Chosen to Head Computer & Information Science & Engineering Directorate at NSF
National Science Foundation (01/31/07)

National Science Foundation (NSF) funding for computer science will soon be in the hands of Jeannette Wing, who has been hired as assistant director for Computer & Information Science and Engineering (CISE) at the federal agency. Wing, head of the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University, will join the NSF on July 1, 2007. CISE has a budget of more than $527 million, and accounts for 86 percent of computer science research funded by the federal government. NSF director Arden L. Bement, Jr. expressed confidence in Wing's abilities as the Internet impacts science, business, and other aspects of society at an amazing pace. "Jeannette Wing will bring enormous vision and ability to continue the transformation and enable the United States to uphold a position of world leadership in computing, communications, and information science and engineering," says Bement. Wing is an expert in formal methods, and trustworthy computing, especially with regard to software security, has been a recent focus of her work. She is an ACM fellow and an elected member-at-large on the ACM Council.
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Engineering Education Prepares for 2020
EE Times (02/01/07) Goering, Richard

Future engineers will need to be taught new attributes and in new ways, 2007 IEEE President Leah Jamieson said during her keynote address at the DesignCon 2007 conference on Jan. 31. She gave an overview of the new National Academy of Engineering (NAE) report on engineering in 2020, which said engineers will need to be creative, flexible, leaders, and have business skills. "It's not just about how much math and circuit theory you know, it's communication, the ability to work in teams, to understand professional ethics," said Jamieson, dean of engineering at Purdue University. She expressed concern about the impact that technological change, globalization, and offshoring would have on engineering knowledge in the years to come, and wondered if the rapid pace of change would make it obsolete in as little as five years. Jamieson also discussed the current state of engineering in the United States, saying the workforce is stable or declining while interest in studying engineering is falling. She noted that the industry has not had much success attracting women or minorities since the mid 1990s. The NAE report also said biotechnology, nanotechnology, and photonics would be applied within an urban physical infrastructure in the years to come.
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Net Neutrality, Broadband Taxes Top House Tech Agenda
CNet (01/31/07) Broache, Anne

U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), co-chairman of the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, says it is imperative to reach a consensus between Internet firms and network operators over Net neutrality legislation. In 2006, Boucher supported an amendment that would have set strict rules on broadband providers; that amendment failed to pass. On Jan. 31 at the committee's yearly summit, Boucher said he does not want legislation that would impede "innovation inside the network," but also feels that Internet providers need the option of charging fees to finance large infrastructure investment. He also said he expects Congress to swiftly pass legislation calling for all network operators to offer customers the choice of buying Internet access services by itself, without having to bundle it with telephone or other services. Boucher along with Rep. Terry Lee (R-Neb.) supports legislation that would introduce new broadband taxes. Under the proposal, companies that receive such subsidies would be able to use them for launching broadband service. Telecom firms such as those that offer DSL, wireless, pay-phone, and traditional phone services are already taxed on a predetermined portion of their long-distance revenue. Last year the FCC extended a comparable requirement to certain Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers. Meanwhile, proposed additions to a House communications law include a section that would allow local governments to offer their own broadband service.
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Clocks' Early Spring Forward May Bring About a Few Falls
Washington Post (02/01/07) P. A1; Babington, Charles

Congress's decision to extend daylight savings time by two weeks did not receive a great deal of attention when it was announced last year, but as the new March 11 "spring forward" date approaches, many are scrambling to make adjustments and spread awareness. The decision was made as a way to conserve energy, but could result in a wide range of technical problems, from airlines to banks. Thousands of technicians are currently adjusting automated systems to switch on the new date, reminding some of the Y2K scare, although the fact that we were able to avoid catastrophe on that date is comforting to many. However, Rutgers University information technology specialist Matthew Kozak says, "After building bunkers in the desert for Y2K, we're not even talking about this, and it's happening in less than two months." On its Web site, IBM notes, "Any time sensitive function could be impacted by this change ... It is important for users to asses their environments and develop appropriate plans for applying the necessary changes." Microsoft has listed its operating systems that need manual updates in a similar message, and Cisco has offered documentation explaining how to update their products. However, analysts report that much of the private sector remains oblivious to the change in date. "I haven't heard about it," said Barry Koling of SunTrust Banks. "It seems to me, we managed to get through Y2K. If we can accomplish the change of the millennium, we can handle a change in daylight saving time."
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Making Animated Fluids Look More Realistic
Technology Review (01/31/07) Greene, Kate

One of the biggest challenges facing special effects animators has been fluid motion; some even choose to draw it by hand. California Institute of Technology computer science professor Mathieu Desbrun is developing a new way to animate liquids using new equations based on physical properties that traditional equations do not express. The method utilizes novel mathematics called differential geometry, which designs equations specifically to be solved by computers For the past few decades, computer scientists have been breaking equations explaining physical properties into smaller chunks, which a computer can compute, but the animated liquid they produced still flowed unnaturally. Desbrun's approach is different because "instead of just approximating [swirling motions], we can capture the dynamics faithfully," he says. "And we show it pays off visually." His work focused on whirlpools. While past approaches approximate a liquid's velocity at various points and use this information to approximate motion along a circular path, Desbrun's method models the actual circulation of a liquid. By breaking a whirlpool into small pieces and determining the flow at each location, the system can determine flux, the fundamental property of the circulation of liquid. University of Southern California aerospace and mechanical engineering professor Eva Kanso says, "It's a big step for the computer-graphics community to look at physical laws and try to simulate them." While this new technique is just as time consuming as the old one, its results look considerably better. Desbrun admits that his system could not be applied to the movies right away, but if it could be implemented into software, animators could create far more accurate representations of liquid than they can today.
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EU to Offer Euros 1.2 B for IT, Telecom Research in 2007
IDG News Service (02/01/07) Blau, John

The European Union's 7th Framework Program for research and development has a budget of 9.1 billion euros (about $11.8 billion) for 2007, and 1.2 billion euros (about $1.6 billion) will go toward research on new information and communications technologies. ICT will receive the bulk of the framework budget. The EU is interested in research in communications, software systems, networked media, and embedded systems, and wants the region to become a leader in next-generation Internet technology and other areas. In late December, the EU announced it would be accepting proposals from research organizations, which will have until early May to submit their research ideas. Through 2013, the program will have a budget of 50 billion euros (about $65 billion) for research and development. Meanwhile, the EU has devised a new strategy for funding technology research that combines the R&D funding of companies and research institutes with money from member states and the EU. The EU announced the Joint Technology Initiatives program in November, with the first being Artemis for research on embedded systems.
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UIC Team Ready to Get Medieval on Spammers
Chicago Sun-Times (01/31/07) P. 64; Guy, Sandra

University of Illinois computer science department head Pete Nelson has developed Spamalot, an anti-spam system intended to trick spammers into wasting time and money, or even getting themselves caught. "The whole idea is to create a system that starts a dialogue with the spammers or their systems, consuming their resources so the spammers can no longer send their messages inexpensively," said Nelson. Spamalot is set-up in an email account and is able to detect the type of spam it receives and respond in kind. Three different agents can be deployed based on the type of spam. Arthur handle Nigerian spammers, those who tell people that a rich oil baron has died and the sender needs to find someone's account to transfer the oil baron's money into. Patsy takes on requests to enter sensitive information in mortgage application and prescription medicine forms, and Lancelot goes after phishers. Lancelot works by providing phishers with a false password and user name that is coded so a bank can track it and shut down the computer from which it is used, and potentially prosecute the spammer. Another method to foil spammers is to have them call a monitored telephone line, a technique used by Nelson when he first had the idea for Spamalot. The system is currently being tested in the school's AI lab.
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Atomic 'Transistor' May Switch Using Quantum Clouds
New Scientist (01/30/07) Dume, Belle

Using a special type of matter, physicists have developed a way to build atomic transistors, an essential step in creating atomic circuits. The University of Colorado's Alex Zozulya and colleagues at Worcester Polytechnic Institute showed that Bose-Einstein condensate, a super-cold gas cloud of atoms of the same quantum state, can be manipulated using three adjacent chambers that are made by trapping magnetic fields or laser beams. The population of atoms in the center chamber determines the movement, or tunneling, of atoms between the two outside chambers. The left chamber functions as a source electrode, the middle as a gate, and the right as a drain, in a manner very similar to an electronic-field-effect transistor. "Our calculations show that a small number of atoms can be used to control the flow of a large number of atoms," Zozulya says. Quantum interactions between ultra-cold atoms display a coherence that does not exist in room temperature electrons. The resulting properties make the number of atoms moving from the source to the drain extremely sensitive to the number of atoms in the gate, which means that atomic transistors could be used as amplifiers. "Once you have such an amplifying device, it is relatively easy to understand how one could make atom 'circuits' by interconnecting basic atom elements--something that is in complete analogy with electronic circuits," says Zozulya.
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Robot Will Race in City
The Tartan (01/29/07) Vol. 101, No. 14, Leong, Jun Xian

Carnegie Mellon's robotic Chevy Tahoe will compete in the DARPA Urban Challenge in November 2007, where it will need to navigate through city traffic. Whereas the previous DARPA autonomous vehicle contests, held in the desert, were more about navigating wide-open terrain, the Urban Challenge will require the negotiation of traffic signals, moving traffic, intersections, and other urban obstacles. Tartan Racing, as the team has named itself, has equipped a 320-horsepower Chevy Tahoe, named Boss, with 25 sensors, three miles of extra wiring, 10 computers with 208,000 lines of new code, 64 off-the-shelf components, and 350 custom parts. For guidance, Boss has radar, laser sensors, a GPS system, and a motion camera to detect its location as well as other vehicles. Boss was able to make its way around a test course at speeds not exceeding 20 miles per hour, follow traffic signals, and even allow user-operated vehicles to pass if they arrived first at a stop sign. The team is not as concerned with the $2 million, $1 million and $500,000 prizes being awarded to the teams whose vehicles first make it through the course within the six-hour time limit as they are with contributing to the effort to "make driving safer, to create new autonomous navigation and robotic technologies, and to change the world's perception of what is possible," according to team leader William "Red" Whittaker.
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Project Analyzes Internet Security
The State News (01/29/07) Jourdan, Kristi

Michigan State University professors Robert LaRose and Nora Rifon believe that continuing user education offers a way for computer users to be more proactive with computer security. The two conducted a national survey of 557 home Internet users last year and found that only about 10 percent said they felt safe when surfing the Web. "There are a lot of automatic protections available through software companies and Internet service providers, but they aren't totally protective," says LaRose, a telecommunication, information studies and media professor. Today, hackers and computer criminals are hoping that Internet users will open email attachments, click on pop-up advertisements, download files from the Web, and follow the instructions in phishing emails. The school plans to launch a campaign about the potential risks online. Rich Wiggins, senior information technologist for Academic Computing & Network Services, says computer users should turn on a personal firewall, use current antivirus software, and stay alert. "We're trying to push the necessity aside from automatic protection but want user education to continue," says LaRose.
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A Sense of Security
The Engineer Online (01/30/07)

An EU-funded project will develop a mobile device that monitors the vital signs of elderly users and can even predict falls before they happen. The Complete Ambient Assisted Living Experiment will implement wireless technology, GPS, and various sensors to keep track of physical parameters such as ECG monitoring, oxygen saturation, and heart rate. The fall detection system would use accelerometers that could tell the mobile device that a fall was about to occur. Rather than being in constant communication, the mobile device, a modified wireless phone, would collect data when a fall is predicted or vital signs show dangerous changes, in order to conserve bandwidth and power. GPS would be used to alert emergency response services to the user's location if the device's algorithm detected that they are in trouble. The project aims to use as many standard and commercially-available technologies as possible, including a Web cam set up with a simple PC to allow care takers to check in on the user at any time. "The key is we are planning an open system with plug-and-play architecture so the mobile sensor networks can accept any new sensors being plugged in," says Plymouth University School of Health Informatics' Maged Boulos. He expects future projects to focus on niche markets such as blood-glucose sensors for diabetics. A prototype of the system should be ready for testing next year.
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IBM Tunes Up for Jazz Open-Source Project
CNet (01/30/07) LaMonica, Martin

In June, IBM will launch Jazz.net, a projected intended to create standards for distributed software development. "A significant portion, if not all developers, are operating in a geographically distributed fashion. Jazz adds a layer onto the development process to be aware of what each other is working on," analyst Stephen O'Grady said. Until now, development tools have concentrated on helping individual programmers work more efficiently, but Jazz sets its sights on the entire development process, including geographically disparate teams and business partners. An example of Jazz's use would be an instant message sent between development team members that shows how source code fits into an application, rather than simply presenting it as static text. The Jazz project is an extension of IBM's Eclipse project, an open-source development framework popular among software vendors and programmers. Jazz open-sources a "framework," which lets third parties create extensions, and works with software other than Eclipse-based applications. A company can either run a hosted mode of the Jazz software over the Internet or install the software on its network. O'Grady explains that IBM's decisions of what to release will determine Jazz's market impact: "In a perfect world what they do, which would be great for the Eclipse community, is to really have an open-source foundation that makes the developer experience for folks working remotely that much more seamless. The question is where they draw the line between what is open-source and what they keep as their special sauce."
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Davulcu's Research Corrals NSF Career Award
Arizona State University (02/01/07) Kullman, Joe

Arizona State computer science and engineering professor Hasan Davulcu's work in creating a way for people to automate the scheduling of tasks has earned a $400,000 NSF Career Award. Davulcu aims to create a formal policy specification language and methodology for software that allows the capabilities of a wide range of services providers to be aligned to the requirements of consumers. Davulcu's goal is to allow "users [to] write or edit policy rules conveniently so that software agents can find and talk to each other to make recommendations for organizing and scheduling ordinary tasks, such as car repairs or travel plans." The system would allow service providers to collaborate on scheduling. For example, a user's calendar and bank could talk to a mechanic to find a good time for an appointment. The initial step in creating these abilities would be for organizations in specialized fields to adopt a standard language an terminology to create descriptions of themselves that could be edited locally, "then the algorithms will do the services composition to satisfy their users' goals," Davulcu says. He expects to have a prototype ready in three years that could incorporate RFID devices. The test would be carried out in a campus building and would allow the user to access location- and profile-aware information and services; a student could be alerted to a presentation occurring when he is out of class, for example.
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Back to School: Getting Girls Into IT
InfoWorld (01/29/07) Nobel, Carmen

Girls will have to be targeted as far back as the elementary school level if information technology is to see a greater representation of women in the years to come, according to many industry leaders and experts. "They do very well in math and science for a while, and then seem to lose interest," says Sandy Carter, vice president of SOA and WebSphere strategy at IBM. To keep young girls from giving up on math and science early, women in the industry will need to go back to their schools and mentor them. Mentorship is seen more as a long-term strategy for solving the problem. IBM offers access to female mentors throughout the school year to young girls who participate in its EXITE (EXploring Interests in Technology and Engineering) camps. "It's going to take decades, but once you have that pipeline going, things will change for the better," says Cisco's Jayshree Ullal. Through its Girls/Women in Technology Initiative, Cisco offers a number of programs for girls, including those in kindergarten.
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Demo '07 Conference Showcases Encrypted Messaging, Inkless Printing
InformationWeek (02/01/07) Claburn, Thomas

Demo '07 showcased many new products as well as the emerging attitude of placing priority on the customer rather than technology. One example of the user-friendliness trend is the Ceelox program that allows users to embed hidden data in images, hopefully spurring the sharing of coded messages by both customers and advertisers. Shipwire.com, a startup, introduced a shipping service that lets customers outsource the shipping, receiving, and warehousing of products that is not linked to any online store. An online service by 6th Sense Analytics was on display that allows programmers to keep track of development done by dispersed collaborators. The Inkless printing system demonstrated by Zink uses paper that contains ink, opening up the possibility for devices such as digital cameras to print out images. A thin, multi-core system on a chip computing architecture was shown off by Wyse Technologies. The platform allows users to run Windows without a PC and without the performance suffering. Adobe's newest application Apollo received a lot of attention for its ability to let developers work on and offline on a desktop that can easily be synchronized.
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The Death of Computing
British Computer Society (01/22/07) McBride, Neil

Waning numbers of students enrolling in university computer science courses and a decline in the computing unit of funding has led to speculation that computing is dying as a discipline, writes De Montfort University School of Computing lecturer Neil McBride. "We claim, as the President of the BCS has recently, that there is still a massive need for computing students in the U.K. today," he notes. "We look to games programming for our salvation, designing games programming courses and reducing a wide-ranging industrial discipline to a set of geeks programming computers to zap spacecraft and dismember aliens." McBride attributes this lessening of excitement for computing to the advent of easy-to-do computation facilitated by tools that one does not need a heavy computer science background to operate. The result is an erosion of computer science's glamour and the rejection of the conceit that the discipline can only be practiced by an elite group of experts. McBride describes computer science curricula as "old, stale and increasing[ly] irrelevant." The maturation of commercial software products has dampened the need for in-house industrial software development, while globalization has made IT jobs less lucrative in the public's perception. McBride calls for a shift in perspective on the part of universities, away from system construction and toward technological applications; an emphasis on interdisciplinary studies is also a desirable trait of tomorrow's computing department.
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Research Aims to Detect Online Terrorist Activity
CSO Online (01/07) Daniel, Diann

The Department of Homeland Security and researchers at Rutgers University, the University of Southern California, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Pittsburgh are finalizing contracts for a project that will lead to the development of new technologies for monitoring terrorist activity online. The researchers are expected to begin work on improving information analysis and computational methods as soon as the contract details for the three-year, $10.2 million grant have been completed. Announced by DHS last July, the project is expected to encompass mathematics graph theory, dynamic data analysis, optimization, "machine learning," and statistical analysis. The researchers will explore these methods as they create algorithms that are able to delve into public sources such as news stories and blogs to find patterns and relationships that may help lead to the discovery of terrorist plans. The technology will have to handle the enormous amount of information online, changing sources, and its pace of flow. Moreover, the tools must determine the credibility of the information.
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Computing Versus Human Thinking
Communications of the ACM (01/07) Vol. 50, No. 1, P. 85; Naur, Peter

University of Copenhagen Professor Emeritus Peter Naur, recipient of ACM's 2005 A.M. Turing Award, presents an overview of his work and how it relates to clarifying the distinction between computing and human thinking. His research led to the observation that computing, insofar as it pertains to science and scholarship, is a form of description that is very helpful in characterizing many kinds of phenomena. Logical or methodical elements have no relevance to computing, according to Naur. He argues that computing cannot describe human thinking because human thinking, at its core, "is a matter of the plasticity of the elements of the nervous system, while computers--Turing machines--have no plastic elements." A non-digital form is required for the description of human thinking, and the author presents the Synapse-State Theory of mental life as a demonstration. Naur cites works by William James and Charles Sherrington as important sources for his theories: James for his insights about mental life, and Sherrington for his empirical studies of the nervous system's integrated actions. Naur presents the nervous system as a combination of synapses, neurons, and nodes where the neurons converge; excitations comprise the system's activity, while nodes facilitate the critical summation of impulses. The Synapse-State version of the nervous system features five layers--the item-layer, the attention-layer, the specious-present layer, the sense-layer, and the motor-layer--that come with their own synapses boasting distinctive properties. The item-layer's synapses encompass the organism's long-term habits, while experience occurs in the excitation of the nodes in the sense-layer; activation of muscles takes place in the motor-layer.
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