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February 9, 2007

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Rice Computing Pioneer Ken Kennedy Dead at 61
Rice University Press Release (02/07/07)

Computing pioneer Ken Kennedy, the founder of Rice University's computer science program and an ACM Fellow, died Feb. 7, after a long bout with cancer. In a 36-year career, Kennedy is credited with making Rice one of the country's leading centers for computational research and education. He founded Rice University's Department of Computer Science Department in 1984, its cross-disciplinary Computer and Information Technology Institute (CITI) in 1987, its Center for Research on Parallel Computing in (CRPC) 1989, and its Center for Higher Performance Software Research (HiPerSoft) in 2000. "Ken Kennedy early on realized the power of computers to address real problems that confront people and the Earth," said Rice President David Leebron. In 1997, Kennedy was asked to be co-chair of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), which urged government leaders to boost computing spending by over $1 billion, and provided the spark for increased research support from many government agencies. Kennedy earned "enormous respect [from] his colleagues around the world ... For his abilities, his professional accomplishments, and his humanity," said Rice Physicist Neal Lane, who served as NSF director and then White House science advisor during Kennedy's PITAC tenure. Aside from taking part in countless panels at Rice, he was known for his willingness to work alongside students, specifically in the effort to pull the coaxial cable for the campus's first LAN. Kennedy received the ACM Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, which was "particularly significant to him because it was an award from the community where he got his start," said Keith Cooper, Rice Department of Computer Science chair, and a former Ph.D. student of Kennedy's. In 1999, when the ACM SIGPLAN listed the 50 most influential papers of the last 20 years, Kennedy had five of them and three of his former students had at least two. "It is fair to say that no one in the last 35 years has had as much influence on the field of programming-language implementation as Ken," said CITI Director Moshe Vardi. He is also remembered for his work in making supercomputers more accessible for scientists and engineers.
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Feinstein Will Pursue Paper Record at Polls
San Francisco Chronicle (02/08/07) P. A4; Coile, Zachary

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) later this month will introduce a bill that establishes national standards for e-voting security. "I believe the time has come for Congress to help ensure that we have such a record in all federal elections," said Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), who already introduced a similar bill in the House, calls the recent Florida election problems "exhibit A" as to why national e-voting mandates are needed before the upcoming presidential election. His bill requires a paper trail, random manual audits of paper ballots in a small portion of each precinct, and an assurance that e-voting software will be open to regular inspection. Rice University computer science professor Dan Wallach has criticized e-voting machine manufacturers for not allowing their software to be tested independently, saying they "shouldn't need to hide behind a veil of secrecy." Opponents of e-voting legislation claim that printers will only add to the problems at the polls, as they are known to jam with varying frequency, and that e-voting machines have proved to be more accurate at vote-counting than other systems. However, Feinstein says current e-voting systems lack the safeguards necessary to prevent fraud. She says, I'm not sure that the most technologically modern machines necessarily yield the best results. I'm from the school that likes to see their mark (on the ballot.)"
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Feds Defend Oversight of E-Voting Testing
CNet (02/09/07) Broache, Anne

The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) held a public meeting on Monday to clear up accusations that it was not being open about its review processes for the independent labs that test e-voting machines. A New York Times article that exposed EAC's ban on Ciber, the largest such testing lab, from conducting any more tests concerned many who felt the commission should be more forthcoming with such information. Questions were also raised as to the reliability of voting systems tested by Ciber for use in past elections. EAC Chairwoman Donetta Davidson said it is standard practice for labs to "be given a period of time in which they can correct those non-conformities, and that may go on for some time." The National Institute of Standards and Technology has released a good deal of information on the lab review process, such as the complete reports from onsite assessments of the lab, the lab's response, and the names of labs that have applied for the review, according to NIST's David Alderman. He added that such information is not usually made public because of the tendency for labs to use it to promote themselves or smear other labs. Ciber now has until March 5 to hand in paperwork that EAC will use to decide whether or not to grant the lab "interim" accreditation. Also on this date, the commission plans to stop accepting applications for "interim" status, which has less stringent requirements. A new federal system requires a two-step process for lab accreditation. First, the lab must prove itself in a NIST technical review. If the lab passes this review, the matter is passed along to the EAC, which checks for non-technical concerns such as conflict of interest, organizational structure, and record-keeping protocols. For information regarding ACM e-voting activities visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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U.S. Cyber Counterattack: Bomb 'Em One Way or the Other
Network World (02/08/07) Messmer, Ellen

The National Cyber Response Coordination Group (NCRCG) has been formed to draw up a national response should a cyber attack occur that impairs the United States' critical information infrastructure. In such an event, a cyber counterattack or actual bombing of the source of the attack could be carried out, according to the three NCRCG co-chairs from the US-CERT computer readiness team, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Defense (DoD), although the preferred method would be to warn the source to shut down before being attacked. Given this week's attempted massive denial-of-service attack on the Internet's root DNS servers, "We have to be able to respond," says DoD co-chair to the NCRCG Mark Hall. "We need to be in a coordinated response." Bringing together elements of the private and public sectors for information-gathering efforts is quite a challenge even without considerable disruption to Internet or voice communications. "We're working with key vendors to bring the right talent together for a mitigation strategy," says US-CERT co-chair to the NCRCG Jerry Dixon. The group plans to speak with 50 other countries that are also monitoring for large-scale cyber attacks. The Air Force has already established a new Cyber Command that would be ready for "network warfare," says Air Force Information Operations Center R&D engineer Jim Collins. "Where we had pilots before, we'll have fighters in cyberspace." Any NCRCG recommendations would be subject to approval by the President.
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Wizardry at Harvard: Physicists Move Light
New York Times (02/08/07) P. A11; Craig, Kenneth

A Harvard study has demonstrated a technique for capturing, moving, and releasing a light pulse, which one day could allow computers to process information stored in light pulses. Study leader Lene Vestergaard Hau has had previous success with slowing down light, and even stopping it in what is known as Bose-Einstein condensate, a substance generated by bringing a cloud of sodium atoms down to an extremely low temperature. After a laser is shined on this cloud, it becomes molasses-like when hit by a second pulse. Hau's latest work went a step further: After being trapped in a Bose-Einstein condensate "cloud," the light pulse was transferred to another cloud and regenerated there. When the initial pulse hit the cloud, tens of thousands of sodium atoms were sent spinning in a clump that slowly moved forward; this clump had identical characteristics to the light pulse, even though it consisted only of sodium atoms. After this clump had imbedded itself within another Bose-Einstein condensate cloud, a laser was shined on this cloud, and a new pulse of light was produced, identical to the original one. This work shows the ability to "put [information] on the shelf," according to Hau, by making a light pulse into a clump of atoms. Atomic clumps would be far easier for a computer to work with compared to fast-moving light pulses. While these results are far from being used in any practical application, it does provide a "missing link," Hau says. Today, optical signals must be changed into electrical ones to be processed and then transformed back into light, but all-optical devices could lower costs and power usage.
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Researchers Invent System to Control and Quarantine Worms Attacking Computer Networks
Penn State Live (02/08/07)

Penn State researchers have developed anti-worm technology that detects and stops worms much faster than conventional systems, and is also able to release any information stopped as the result of a false positive. Rather than using signature or pattern identification, Proactive Worm Containment (PWC) "looks for anomalies in the rate and diversity of connection requests going out of hosts ... [since] a lot of worms need to spread quickly in order to do the most damage," says lead PWC researcher Peng Liu. Signature-based systems can take a few minutes to recognize a worm and create a new signature to stop it from spreading, and when these systems decrease the time needed to generate a signature, they can miss worms that are able to automatically mutate. Liu estimates that a worm could only send out a few dozen packets before being quarantined by PWC, compared with the 4,000 packets sent out every second by a worm that recently attacked a Microsoft SQL server. To verify if a suspected host is infected or not, PWC uses vulnerability-window and relaxation analyses that can undo a potential denial-of-service resulting from a false positive. PWC can be seamlessly added to existing signature-based worm filtering systems. Liu admits that his system would not be able to spot slow-spreading worms, but notes that those can already be stopped by current technologies.
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Low Interest in CS and CE Among Incoming Freshmen
CRA Bulletin (02/06/07) Vegso, Jay

A new survey from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles (HERI/UCLA) reveals that incoming freshmen at all undergraduate institutions continue to show little interest in majoring in computer science and computer engineering. Only 1.1 percent of incoming freshmen said computer science was likely to be their major in the fall of 2006. The percentage did not improve from 2005, and has fallen 70 percent from 2000 to 2005. Meanwhile, only 1 percent of incoming freshmen said computer engineering would probably be their major. HERI/UCLA started tracking computer engineering interest in 2002, and the percentage of students saying they were likely to pursue the subject as a major has fallen every year. Meanwhile, the Taulbee Survey of PhD-granting computer science departments will be released March 1, 2007, and double-digit declines in undergraduate enrollment and granting of bachelor's degrees are expected again.
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New Energy Star Rating for PCs on the Way
CNet (02/08/07) Krazit, Tom

In July, the Energy Star program will release new specifications meant to define the top 25 percent of PCs according to energy efficiency. Over 90 percent of computers on the market fit the current Energy Star requirements established in 1992. To fit the new requirements, a PC's power supply must convert 80 percent of incoming electricity for the use by the machine; the average power supply is currently about 70 percent efficient. The new specification will include a requirement for idle mode: Basic desktop PCs must use less than 50 watts of power in idle mode, while multicore PCs and those with advanced graphics processors will be allowed to use more; notebooks must use less than 14 watts in idle mode and those with a graphics chip must use less than 22 watts. The lack of an accepted metric for power consumption has delayed the release of new Energy Star specifications, says National Resources Defense Council scientist Noah Horowitz. He says that computer manufacturers' have not been able to agree about what is normal power consumption when a computer is "on." Computer makers tend to set up machines for maximum performance when testing them against competitors, and Horowitz says, "What are you going to make the computer do during that test, and how do you make sure it's not gamed?" Efforts to issue specifications for servers have met similar problems, and Congress has recently passed a resolution asking for greater energy efficiency for servers. Energy Star is also planning a new specification for TVs; the last one was issued for black-and-white models.
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Miklau Awarded CAREER Grant to Study Privacy, Accountability
University of Massachusetts Amherst (02/05/07)

University of Massachusetts computer science researcher Gerome A. Miklau plans to build a computer database system that improves the management of digital devices' history of past operations and data. The development of the database system will be made possible by a five-year, $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career (CAREER) grant program. Computer systems preserve the history of their activity as a way to offer some accountability, and this is helpful for detecting breaches, maintaining data quality, and auditing security compliance. "In some settings, however, retaining a history of past data or operations poses a serious threat to privacy," says Miklau. "The fact is, privacy and accountability are both important goals, and system designers need to carefully manage the balance between them." Miklau plans to give the computer database system "memory-less" and accountability-support functions. A prototype database system will be made publicly available.
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High Security for $100 Laptop
Wired News (02/07/07) Singel, Ryan

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has impressed computer experts with the unique design of its machine, the XO, and is now receiving attention for its approach to security. The XO's security lies in the limited permission of each program to access others due to the virtual machines that every program runs in. Although the idea of limiting programs' permission is nearly half a century old, it has placed too much of a security burden on programmers to be instituted, says Ivan Krstic, head of security for the XO. XO's security system, known as the BitFrost platform, has no security prompt, firewalls, or antivirus software. "Applications can no longer run rampant," says Krstic, as opposed to Windows XP where even Solitaire can access the Web. Only software verified by OLPC or by a participating country can request permissions. The idea is to undermine malware by eliminating hackers' economic incentive. Krstic does acknowledge that interaction between applications will be severely limited, but he says that "99 percent don't need" to. The XO will also have a system by which it checks in with a country-specific server every day to see if it has been reported stolen; if it has been it completely shuts down, and if not its cryptography-secured "lease" is extended a few more weeks. Krstic sees flaws in every traditional security architecture used in today's computers, including the new Microsoft Internet Explorer's virtual sandbox, which he says, "is trying to impale sandboxing on something that doesn't exist."
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For Computer Scientists Exploring Face Recognition, the Question Is 'Who?'
PhysOrg.com (02/07/07) Zyga, Lisa

The human brain is able to recognize a face in 50 milliseconds, and while scientists hope to learn from the way the brain works in order to create computer programs that can do the same, they are eager to find out if computers could perhaps surpass humans in this ability. "It would be a waste not to learn from [the brain], especially since there are no other computer strategies so far that come close to the kind of face recognition performance the human brain exhibits," says Harvard scientist Richard Russell. Humans have the ability to recognize faces in very low-resolution images. Even when given an ideal perfect view of a face, the human visual system "doesn't seem to bother storing perfect models of the objects we see," says MIT's Benjamin Balas, who worked along side Russell on the paper, "Face Recognition by Humans." People seem to use only certain features, such as eyebrows, to identify each other. Faces are processed by adults as holistic images, unlike many other objects. In designing face recognition computers that could be used to find people in a crowd or for the creation of "smart" environments, scientists pay attention to the human visual system's techniques, but remain open to the possibility that a computer could do better. "Too much generalization can be a short-coming," especially when people are in disguise, says MIT's Pawan Sinha, another contributor to the "Face Recognition" paper. "A detail-oriented scheme, say examining the precise pattern of irises or the exact distances between facial features, might be more appropriate, despite being implausible as human strategies."
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Flow of Tiny Bubbles Mimics Computer Circuitry
MIT News (02/08/07) Trafton, Anne

MIT researchers have found a way to use tiny bubbles to replicate the operations of a computer. The bubbles can carry on-chip process control information while undergoing chemical reactions. "Bubble logic merges chemistry with computation, allowing a digital bit to carry a chemical payload," said MIT Center for Bits and Atoms director Neil Gershenfeld. "Until now, there was a clear distinction between the materials in a reaction and the mechanisms to control them." This field, known as microfluidics, allows the manipulation of chips using tiny bubbles flowing through microchannels, without the need for any external controls. "Now you can program what's happening inside the lab on a chip, by designing bubble logic circuits that function just like their electronic counterparts," said graduate student Manu Prakash. A future step would be the creation of large-scale microfluidic systems like chemical memories, which can hold thousands of reagents on a chip, a technique similar to data storage. The chips developed by Gershenfeld and Prakash used the presence or absence of a bubble, rather than high or low voltage, to represent a bit of data. In their paper, they demonstrate the components needed for a new logic family, such as gates, memories, amplifiers, and oscillators. Currently, the speed of their chip is about 1,000 times slower than today's electronic microprocessors, but 100 times faster than external valves and control processes used in today's microfluidic chips.
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Two NYU Stern Professors Awarded $1 Million in National Science Foundation Career Grants
NYU Stern (02/07/07)

Two NYU Stern professors have received National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Awards (CAREER) to pursue research for improving understanding of the increase in information on the Internet, including its economic value. The CAREER grants will provide Anindya Ghose and Panagiotis (Panos) Ipeirotis, assistant professors of information, operations, and management sciences (IOMS), with $500,000 each over the next five years. Ghose will focus on the economic impact of new information online, and the research will offer recommendations for making better electronic markets and social networks. Ipeirotis will concentrate on Internet searches, and his efforts could help businesses benefit from efficient processing and understand its economic impact. "Panos' research improves the way we find information by enabling users to convert unstructured information Web pages into structured form and by estimating the economic value of each piece of extracted information," says Vasant Dhar, deputy chair of the Information Systems Group in the IOMS department. "Anindya's research quantifies the economic value of information on the Internet with the objective of improving the design and profitability of electronic markets, online retailers, and social networks." Ghose received the 2005 ACM SIGMIS Doctoral Dissertation Award, and Ipeirotis received the conference best paper award at 2006 ACM SIGMOD.
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The Mind Chip
New Scientist (02/03/07) Vol. 193, No. 2589, P. 28; Fox, Douglas

A notable achievement in computer vision has been made by researcher Kwabena Boahen and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who constructed a device that can see via chips that physically imitate the electrical activity of neurons in the primary visual cortex. "I want to figure out how the brain works in a very nuts-and-bolts way," explains Boahen. "I want to figure it out such that I can build it." Boahen aims to top his accomplishment of building an artificial retina with the creation of an artificial cerebral cortex through the generalization of the chip's function; such a breakthrough may be an important step in helping restore neural function to people impaired by disease or injury. The concept of the artificial neuron as a technology for enabling brain-like computing in real time was first suggested in the late 1980s by California Institute of Technology scientist Carver Mead, who discovered he could build such circuits by having digital processors use transistors in their analog amplifier phase instead of their on/off switching phase. Mounted on the surface of Boahen's artificial retina are photosensitive transistors that translate incoming light into analog voltages with a value determined by the light's intensity and which last for as long as the light is beamed onto the transistors; these transmissions are routed to the artificial retina neurons where motion and regions of contrast are recognized, signaling the edges of objects in the image. Processing information about edges and movement in the visual scene is carried out by the low-power visual cortex chips, which build object outlines out of the signals. A successful cortical implant will have to be able to mimic the plasticity of the brain's neural network, in which connections between neurons are created and adapted on the fly.
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Super Saver
Government Computer News (02/05/07) Vol. 26, No. 3,

A new generation of file systems is being developed to handle the data management needs of ultrafast supercomputers such as Roadrunner, a petascale machine with upwards of 32,000 processors being developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory's High Performance Computing Systems Integration Group. A key impetus for the creation of global or parallel file systems comes from Energy Department labs. In addition to specifying what operations can be performed on a file over a network, a global file system must keep tabs on data that extends across multiple storage arrays. "You definitely want all [data] shared across all the nodes in a cluster, so all the nodes see the same data, can read the data and write the data to common places," says Gary Grider with the group developing Roadrunner. Concurrent with that must be the aggregation of all data pointers into a single pool to avoid hindering speed of access. Grider points out that Energy labs generally employ a combination of major global file systems, and Los Alamos elected to use the Panasas ActiveScale File System running on Panasas' ActiveScale Storage Cluster for Roadrunner. Choosing the best parallel file systems for a supercomputer involves designers rating the advantages and disadvantages of currently available products and solutions. "None of [these solutions] has yet distinguished itself as the answer to all I/O issues in supercomputing," notes Paul Buerger with the Ohio Supercomputer Center.
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The Trouble With Software Quality Control
Dr. Dobb's Journal (02/05/07) Armitage, Colin

The Original Software Group founder Colin Armitage points out the disadvantages of relying on manpower to spot software bugs when methodologies to work and measure effectiveness are far more efficient. "Having end users report problems to an overloaded help desk is not the best way to achieve the goal of releasing defect-free code," he maintains. "Unsurprisingly, a reactive development/QA environment can exacerbate damage when application performance plummets, or when programs fail all together." The government is pressuring organizations to implement stronger software quality assurance with the institution of federal compliance legislation such as Sarbanes-Oxley, but top-level IT managers report a disconnection from end users who frequently have trouble with new systems. Armitage recommends the Software Testing Maturity Model (S-TMM) as a useful testing methodology; its advantages include ease of adoption by IT organizations, the provision of a self-evaluation strategy, and guidance for IT departments through a set of phases that gradually evolves the development process. The S-TMM identifies five maturity levels--initial, phase definition, integration, management and measurement, and optimization/defect prevention and quality control--that IT organizations can be scored by as a starting point for improvement. Armitage makes the case for embracing S-TMM with his contention that "The difference between where you believe you are in terms of testing maturity and where you really are can be best clarified with S-TMM." In addition, upon the establishment of a maturity baseline, IT organizations can employ S-TMM as an improvement roadmap.
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She's Got Their Number
Fast Company (02/07)No. 112, P. 100; Salter, Chuck

The math sciences department at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center is run by Brenda Dietrich, and she believes it is crucial for researchers to leave the hermetic environment of the lab and venture outside so that the math problems they solve have real-world applications. Dietrich's marketing skills and political savvy have helped her command respect and resources in IBM's massive organization--no small feat--while head of IBM Research Paul Horn observes that the company's migration from hardware to software and services is partly responsible for the incorporation of mathematicians into virtually all operations. Another phenomenon that the growing stature of Dietrich's department reflects is organizations' increased reliance on mathematicians to measure almost every process, given the importance of the data they produce in improving efficiencies or exploiting opportunities that impact the bottom line. Dietrich helped start a class designed to increase researchers' understanding of consulting's processes and cultural aspects in order to make mathematicians more accommodating of clients' needs and mindsets. Among the projects Dietrich and her department are engaged in is an effort to develop more effective strategies for fighting forest fires through the creation of a model based on seven years' worth of data that quantifies the extent, cost, and consequences of past resource utilization. Identifying promising sales leads and assembling a project team out of far-flung consultants are other challenges the department is taking on, while Dietrich is especially interested in the problem of forecasting future labor shortages through analysis of population trends, employee demographics and skills, and demand for specific technologies. "We want to push the frontiers of what's solvable," notes Dietrich. "Otherwise, what's the point?"
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I, Microsoft
Industry Week (02/07) Vol. 256, No. 2, P. 17; Teresko, John

Expanding the potential of robotics is the goal of Microsoft Robotics Studio, a software development kit designed to provide a common platform for the generation of robotic applications. Georgia Tech College of Computing professor Tucker Balch says the kit will not only increase the presence of robots in industry, but also cultivate the application of robotics technology to consumer products and other economic domains. General manager of the Microsoft Robotics Group Tandy Trower says his unit's objective is to offer an affordable, open platform that reduces robot developers' difficulty in melding hardware and software in their designs. The kit is freely available to students, academics, and robot enthusiasts, while robot developers seeking profits can license the kit at a starting price of $399. Trower says there are three software areas contained in the development kit: A runtime architecture that is universally applicable to all robot types; a toolset that simplifies the programming and debugging of robots; and over 30 tutorials and samples of source code that serve as a jumping-off point for creators of robotics applications. Trower says the kit was created in response to requests from academics, hobbyists, and commercial robotics developers, and he reports that today's robotics industry is fraught with the same type of fragmentation that the computer industry suffered from in the 1970s. "Robots use different operating systems, different hardware and different processors," Trower notes. "So programming these things is very hard, the toolset is limited and reusability of code is very limited."
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