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ACM TechNews
February 14, 2007

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Welcome to the February 14, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Groups Call for E-Voting Paper Trail Legislation
IDG News Service (02/12/07) Gross, Grant

Several voting rights groups came together on Monday to ask Congress to mandate that e-voting machines be equipped with printers. However, attendees at the Elections: Looking Forward conference said that many election problems blamed on e-voting machines were actually caused by a lack of poll worker training, a lack of voting materials in foreign languages, and polling places that were not handicap accessible. Several speakers at the conference voiced support for the recently introduced Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, which requires printouts for touch-screen machines. People for the American Way CEO Ralph Neas says Congress must act on this matter in the next six to eight months in order for the changes to be made in time for the upcoming presidential election. Neas called the Saratoga County situation "a disgrace ... 18,000 votes ... inexplicably disappeared into cyberspace." Opponents of printouts include advocates for the blind, who claim that a paper trail would establish a two-tiered voting system in which some people wouldn't be privy to the same information as others. The American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD) claims that voting-machine manufacturers could not make enough printers in time for the election, and that the country should focus on complying with the standard set in 2002 by the Help America Vote Act. "Either you lower the standards for the election equipment, or you live with the time line that looks like 2010," says AAPD's Jim Dickson. "You cannot have it both ways." For information on ACM's many e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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I.B.M. Reports a Speed Record for a Type of Computer Memory
New York Times (02/14/07) Markoff, John

IBM researchers today will announce a record speed for memory cycle times using embedded dynamic random access memory (eDRAM), which could bring the company into a confrontation with Intel, as both seek the fastest way to move large amounts of data within multi-core processors. Earlier this week, Intel demonstrated its 80-core Teraflop chip. IBM's technique integrates ultrafast memory directly into its processors, while Intel will stack memory chips on top of its processors. The IBM researchers claim to have reduced memory cycle time to less than 2 nanoseconds, 10 times faster than the off-the-shelf DRAM used in PCs. EDRAM works like a temporary storage unit that speeds operations by holding data in a microprocessor for reuse while it is being processed. This process reduces the processor waiting time needed to perform new calculations. Intel is skeptical of this type of embedded memory, which has been more expensive than others in the past. IBM claims that the switch from static RAM (SRAM) to eDRAM will save as much as 30 percent of the space on a microprocessor. The technology will first be used in high-performance microprocessors and later in consumer applications such as video games and mobile computing.
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Start-Up Demos Quantum Computer
CNet (02/14/07) Kanellos, Michael

D-Wave demonstrated its quantum computer technology on Tuesday at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., and announced that businesses could begin renting computing services in 2008. D-Wave's quantum computer, dubbed Orion, is based on a silicon chip with 16 "qubits," the equivalent of storage bits in a traditional computer, each of which consists of dots of niobium surrounded by coils of wire. Electrical current sent down the wire creates a magnetic field, which causes a change in the state of the qubit. "The qubits behave according to a certain set of rules," said D-Wave founder Geordie Rose. "Quantum computing is the translation of those laws into a format that we can take." Orion is actually an analog computer, since answers come in the form of a physical simulation, where digital computers produce answers to problems as mathematical solutions. "We want to build an actual physical embodiment of a hard math problem," Rose said. D-Wave's quantum machines will be able to run complex and time-consuming equations, allowing researchers to extend their efforts beyond the limits set by today's computers, according to D-Wave investor Steve Jurvetson. D-Wave plans to increase the number of qubits in its machines incrementally, with a 1,024-qubit system to be ready by the end of 2008. Niobium is a superconductor, so these machines will be very energy efficient; the most power will be used by the liquid helium refrigeration unit, which cools the computer to 4 millikelvins.
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Research at WPI Could Produce a New Class of Flexible, Power-Efficient Computer Chips
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (02/13/07)

A DARPA funded project at Worcester Polytechnic Institute aims to create a computer chip that integrates application-specific integrated circuit chip (ASIC) technology and field-programmable gate array (FPGA) technology. ASICs are hard-wired for a specific function and are therefore more power thrifty, while FPGAs are cheaper since they are programmed by software. The military prefers ASICs since they run on battery power, but they would also like to be able to reprogram chips in the field, says DARPA grant recipient Xinming Huang. The reconfigurable computing device he has developed is called the smart cell, and will make use of over a thousand individual processors wired to a silicon substrate in order to capture the advantages of both ASICs and FPGAs. Each processor will be assigned a single operation while data flows through the chip. A parallel computing method known as stream processing will execute hundreds of calculations simultaneously, making it 300 times faster that microprocessors and 15 times faster than FPGAs. Smart cells will use software that can be updated, like FPGAs, but each processor will be individually designed for its specific function, like ASICs. The biggest challenge for Huang is to integrate hundreds of processors in a single chip and to connect them to each other. "If the chip is to be truly reconfigurable, every processor must be able to communicate with every other processor at any time," Huang says. "These interconnections will be very difficult to develop, but are the key to the chip's success."
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Today's Homework: Make Good Games
Wired News (02/13/07) Kohler, Chris

Educators are beginning to realize the value of video game design and the potential role of "serious" video games in society. Michigan State University will soon begin the nation's first master's program in video games, called "serious games." MIT's Henry Jenkins, who heads up the Comparative Media Studies Department, thinks that while video games produced in studios ensure high production quality, they sacrifice innovation and expression. MIT's Media Development Authority will be working with Singapore, which hopes to add 10,000 jobs to its digital media sector by 2015, through the Singapore-MIT International Game Lab. About 30 of Singapore's best game-design students will come to MIT each year, where they will work on producing five to 10 games a year. "We see the lab as a space where we can move swiftly from pure research into compelling applications, and then partner with the games industry to bring the best ideas to market," says Jenkins. Asian video games have had trouble in the past with communicating in an international context, so future generations of video game designers must gain a better understanding of different cultures and the way they interact. The MSU program will strive to bring together many disciplines to create games that have an impact on the world, but reaching an agreement between scientists and game designers has proved very challenging in the past. So far, games have been used by the UN to explain its food-aid programs, and by a student leader to teach nonviolent protest strategies. MSU professor Carrie Heeter imagines a doctor being just as likely to prescribe a patient a relaxation game to help them sleep, as they would insomnia pills; "I like that kind of a world," she says.
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Finding Survivors, Protecting Drivers
EurekAlert (02/12/07)

Two radar chips developed at the USC Ming Hsieh department of electrical engineering have the ability to send out and detect radio signals. Unlike most high performance chips, these use ordinary CMOS silicon bases, meaning they can be built very inexpensively. They can scan, by focusing precise beams in a particular direction, and detect, by determining the direction of incoming signals. One of the chips operates in the 24 GHz range using an architecture that brings together the usefulness of multiple coherent transmitters-receivers ("transceivers") so it can be more economically sized than previous arrays. GM has expressed interest in the chip, since 10 of them could be installed in a car for around $100--less than a tenth of the cost of a single chip currently used for self-parking. The other radar chip can detect "ultrawideband" probes, low-intensity signals extended across a wide spectrum and given off in a timed-array system. By processing the echo collected by the chip's receiver function, the chip can analyze spatial, temporal, and frequency data through solid barriers to form detailed data. This chip could be used as "biometric radar," which rescue crews could use to locate living victims trapped in the rubble of a building, or as a way to monitor patients whose wounds do not allow them to be touched.
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Speech Recognition Technology Will Change the Way You Drive
Network World (02/13/07) Brodkin, Jon

Speech recognition technology is being prepared for expansive use in the car, which will allow drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. "Speech can be revolutionary," said IBM program director Brian Garr. "We can actually change the paradigm of the way people think about completing transactions, the way people think about interacting with computers or not even caring that they're interacting with computers." New technology by Pioneer allows a driver to simply name a store or restaurant they want to go to and have the car find the nearest location and provide spoken directions. A big step for speech recognition could be the ability to understand that several different words could mean the same thing, or that artists can be called by several different nicknames. Johnson Controls plans to market a "mobile gateway device" that allows speech control of the telephone, music, navigation system, and temperature control by the end of the year. "We're trying not to go real overboard on this because sometimes it's a little bit easier to just tap the button rather than do everything by voice," says Johnson's Mark Zeinstra. A big challenge remains how to have speech recognition software know the difference between commands and conversation. David Nahamoo, chief technology officer for speech technology at IBM, says proposed solutions include pushing a button to activate the voice recognition, or having a camera on the driver to know when they are talking. "If a lot of other things are going on [in the car] it's an automatic way of filtering everything out. If the mouth of the driver is not moving that means ... no action should take place," Nahamoo says.
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Moving Pictures
The Engineer Online (02/13/07)

An EU project called Interact is developing two methods that enable users to work with a 3D image in real time. "We think there's a real need to develop a completely new form of human-computer interaction," says project leader Tomas Rodriguez. The first method uses gesture recognition technology that requires no additional hardware and enables users to manipulate 3D images with hand movements. The biggest challenge to this method is developing a system that can understand gestures in ordinary office lighting conditions. "There are already technologies available which use spots or markers for gesture recognition," Rodriquez says. "However, the real problem is developing extremely precise hand-tracking without any other hardware which can also operate under common office lighting conditions. Developing a sensor within these constraints is a completely different story." The second method enables users to use voice commands to manipulate a 3D object and access product information. Three-dimensional image systems currently in use require eyewear or are only viewable from certain angles, but 3D specialist Holografika plans to develop "quasi-holographic" technology, which is a near perfect 3D image that can be viewed by many people at multiple angles. "By combining these technologies, it should be possible to use it just like children shaping something from modeling clay--it will be very intuitive," says Holografika chief technology officer Tamas Forgacs.
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US Government Readying Massive Cybersecurity Test
IDG News Service (02/12/07) McMillan, Robert

The next major online simulation of a cyberattack conducted by the U.S. government will involve more international participants and a wider range of companies from outside the information technology industry. Cyber Storm 2 is scheduled for March 2008. The exercise will give the Department of Homeland Security a better idea of how well the public and private sector would be able to respond to a large-scale attack, DHS assistant secretary for cybersecurity and telecommunications Gregory Garcia said last week during the RSA Conference in San Francisco. Cyber Storm 2 follows the February 2006 Cyber Storm simulation, which involved about 30 corporations, including Symantec, Microsoft, and VeriSign, and 115 organizations from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, including the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. National Security Agency. Specific weaknesses in computer systems were not found during the first test, according to security experts. "What they're trying to do is highlight the inefficiencies in the process," says Marcus Sachs with research group SRI International's Computer Science Laboratory.
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Software Patch Could Improve Car Engine Efficiency
New Scientist (02/08/07)

A University of Eindhoven researcher has teamed up with Ford to develop software that improves the fuel efficiency of automobiles. "Just by adding a piece of software and a simple cable, cars can save 2.6 percent of fuel consumption," says Dutch scientist John Kessel. The software is designed to dynamically switch the battery-charging dynamo off when it is inefficient for the engine to power it, and back on when it is more efficient for the engine to do so. Many hybrid vehicles use the strategy. Switching the car engine on and off in a similar manner would save 5 percent to 6 percent of fuel consumption. Although the savings are only a few percentage points, car manufacturers could embrace the results, considering governments are focusing more on global warming, which is impacted by greenhouse gas emissions. Any motor vehicle that has an engine computer would be able to take advantage of the new software. Kessel still has concerns about the extent to which car batteries would be degraded by the software, which is not ready to be made available.
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Women Invent the Future
Waikato Times (NZ) (02/14/07) Schweer, Andrea

At the 2006 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing last October, Waikato University computer science Ph.D. student Andrea Schweer witnessed the drive to make women an equal part of the technology industry. She noticed a strong pattern focusing on passing knowledge and experiences along to others, as mentoring, computer science education, and career building were all stressed. Many of the well-known speakers discussed their own efforts in getting young girls interested in math and science. Some of the biggest companies in the field seemed very eager to get to know potential future employees at a big party held one evening. Schweer writes that beyond the statistical inequality of women in technology lies the danger that new technology is not being created with women in mind. She writes that "as long as women are not equally involved in creating new technology, it's very likely that a lot of this new technology will be based on men's requirements and won't meet women's needs." Meeting so many women who are involved in her field, Schweer noticed herself overcoming stereotypes she had and beginning to appreciate the diversity of women in IT.
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Wireless: GPS Software Promises Hope for the Disabled
International Herald Tribune (02/12/07) O'Brien, Kevin J.

An application created by researchers are the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg, Germany, aims to provide the handicapped with detailed maps that show them barrier-free ways to get from one place to another. Barrier-free guides have been previously developed, but this project, known as Trailblazer, allows users to map their own local routes and place them in a central server at the university, or download those that others have placed on the server. The success of the project therefore relies heavily on user contribution. Past barrier-free guides use brochures or CD-ROMs, but Trailblazer uses a mobile device equipped with a GPS receiver, motion detector, mobile operating system, and Java Mobile software. Along with using the motion detector to track their path and record obstacles, users can take pictures of obstacles or hard-to-find pathways and upload them onto the server. This data exchange can be done over cellular airwaves, without the need for a GSM connection. The Trailblazer technology has been proven, but the database still has very few routes in it. The team is working on voice recognition capabilities for users that cannot operate the mobile device.
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A Clean Slate for the Internet
Computerworld (02/12/07) Anthes, Gary

There is a growing sentiment in the IT community that incremental improvements to the Internet are no longer sufficient as abuse and complexity threaten its functionality. A school of thought known as clean-slate research is emerging to promote the idea that the Internet is failing and must be rebuilt from the ground up. The Internet was built for users that were all connected by wires, "But if the user is moving around, you end up with a whole lot of hooks and kludges to keep track of the user," says Stanford computer scientist Nick McKeown. "There have been various proposals for a mobile IP, and they are all awful. They barely hold together now, but all the routing mechanisms will just break when there are many more mobile devices." The National Science Foundation is preparing a $300 million to $400 million clean slate, known as the Global Environment for Networking Innovation (GENI), on which researchers could test new ideas. GENI would be a huge test laboratory spanning the country, including wired and wireless computers, routers, switches, management software, and subnets various devices. After it is finished around 2010, researchers could contract virtual "slices" of the GENI infrastructure. This network will supposedly be built without any assumptions, so any idea could be tried out. Along with GENI, NSF is funding a program called Future Internet Network Design that will undertake many projects, such as how to have manageability built into routing systems; other projects address the social and economic aspects of security and service. Despite the opportunities of a clean slate, researchers say the same problems could still arise in different forms. "A lack of security, viruses, [and] spam ... are not issues that a brand-new structure is likely to solve all by itself," says TCP/IP co-inventor Robert Kahn. However, Kahn says the clean sate approach makes sense "if there really are good ideas--that's the heart of it."
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Designing Low-Power Multiprocessor Chips
EE Times (02/12/07) P. 37; Fujimoto, Shinya

A heterogeneous multicore chip architecture is preferred by designers seeking to combine highest power efficiency with optimal cost/performance, but Shinya Fujimoto of LSI Logic notes that the design of low-power multiprocessor chips requires caution and planning. "Designers must architect chips to handle data transactions efficiently and to minimize the stall cycles as multiple masters access the external memory," he writes. Fujimoto says the approach of using architectures with a main processor that integrates multiple identical cores on one chip is appropriate for systems that need flexible computing capabilities such as PCs and new videogame consoles, but not for products and applications that must execute dedicated tasks with a minimum of power consumption and a maximum of cost/performance. A heterogeneous multicore architecture integrates multiple unique cores or processors, each dedicated to a specific task that is performed more efficiently with fewer gates than a garden variety CPU core. "For a system that is required to operate with very low power consumption and at low cost, developing a chip with the smallest die size that can operate at the slowest possible frequency becomes paramount," comments Fujimoto. The challenges of designing an efficient multicore architecture include shrinking the bottleneck when accessing the external memory; addressing the arbitration shortcomings generated by standard bus protocols; and interfacing multiple bus masters with a minimal number of gates. Fujimoto describes the most efficient course of action as utilizing a heterogeneous multiprocessor system with specialized cores optimized to efficiently perform specific chores. He concludes that achieving low power consumption involves a blend of methods that include simplified system design, the use of multiple processors, and an efficient memory controller.
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Swimming on the Shoulders of Giants: Q&A With Horus Shu, Pixel Magician From ITRI
DigiTimes.com (02/09/07) Sobolev, Vyacheslav

The Creativity Lab of Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute is developing Aqua, a functional underwater artificial intelligence (AI) system capable of swimming and collision avoidance, and project leader Horus Shu says the goal of the government-funded project is nothing less than the creation of a new life form. The project began with just two people: Shu, whose previous experience was in arts and design, and a psychologist, neither of whom has a technology background. The robotic fish can avoid collisions via ultrasound scanning technology that enables the system to perceive objects in its path. Shu asserts that Aqua's diving and swimming abilities can be greatly enhanced with additional funding. The robot uses AVR-based 8-bit RISC microcontrollers from Amtel for hardware, and MCS Electronics' BASCOM-AVR Basic compiler for software. The second-generation Aqua robotic fish, christened POPO, is described by Shu as an autonomous system, although he notes that the machine can be augmented with communications capabilities via standard components. Among Taiwan's advantages is the ability for Taiwanese researchers to rapidly adopt new and exciting concepts from overseas researchers. "We can do more, standing on the shoulders of giants," Shu boasts, arguing that Taiwan has easier access to information than, say, China, thanks to its democratic system of government. Shu has also started another project whose objective is to create a machine that can comprehend a person's mood via a new kind of sensor, and base its behavior on that understanding; the device will resemble a dog or a cat, according to Shu.
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Addressing the Future Internet
CircleID (02/09/07) Huston, Geoff

When considering the Internet's progress compared with future communications needs, the dual roles of IP addresses as locations and identities must be examined, writes Geoff Huston, Telstra chief scientist and executive director of the Internet Architecture Board. Huston attended a joint workshop on Jan. 31, 2007, organized by the National Science Foundation and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development to consider the social and economic factors shaping the future of the Internet. In order for networks to maintain their integrity, addresses must be unique, consistent, persistent, trustworthy, and robust, Huston says. Several technologies have tried to reduce the value of IP addresses as identities, and IPv6's use of more bits of address space still runs into the same problems of overloaded semantics. In order to change IP addresses for the better, perhaps the concept of an address should be split into individual sectors with structural separation reflecting the dual role of addresses, argues Huston. This approach could be effective for spaces that are characterized by continued uniqueness and have identity values embedded during creation. A main reason IPv6 has been slow to emerge is the economic and public policy challenges that accompany technology changes. Sufficient network equipment and capabilities of end systems to support IPv6 and the scarcity of IPv4 addresses are not enough to push deployment through without a practical business model, Huston writes. Future technology needs must be considered in terms of the economics of the industry. If technological advancements in the architectural model of the Internet, sometimes referred to as the "new Internet," achieved marginal, incremental progress, it is doubtful that they would have a strong impact on the deployment of IPv6, but if this new Internet could make significant gains, there would be concrete reasons to push for deployment.
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