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ACM TechNews
March 2, 2007

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Berners-Lee Gets Technical on the Hill
InternetNews.com (03/01/07) Mark, Roy

Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee spoke before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on Thursday to tout the importance of network neutrality and the need to do away with DRM protection. Berners-Lee pointed out that network neutrality is accepted in other countries, and said, "I feel a non-discriminatory Internet is very important for a world based on the World Wide Web ... The special care we extend to the World Wide Web comes from a long tradition that democracies have of protecting their vital communications channels." He said a slight compromise on the issue may be appropriate, but maintained that "we should err on the side of keeping a medium blank sheet." In his argument against DRM protections, Berners-Lee stressed that the growth of the Internet is based upon open standards, scalable architecture, and access to standards on a royalty-free basis. "E-commerce entrepreneurs have been able to develop services with the confidence that they will be available for use with an Internet connection and a Web browser," he said. Berners-Lee also noted that Apple's use of non-standard technology for its copy-protection scheme has led to slow growth, while its open-standard podcast component has grown significantly. Instead of using DRM, he suggested software that "let[s] people do the right thing," although he is not sure "if we will [ever] move to a totally DRM-free world."
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Online Voting Clicks in Estonia
Wired News (03/02/07) Borland, John

The first national election to feature online balloting for all voters is being held in the Baltic state of Estonia. "No one has managed to prove that e-voting actually raises participation, so that remains unanswered," says National Electoral Commission secretariat Arne Koitmae. "But this gives people another possibility." The system requires a national ID card equipped with an electronic chip that identifies the card holder, while card readers are available at low prices or for free; voter authentication is facilitated through two sets of PINs. The ID card is slotted into the reader, and the voter application displays a list of parties and candidates via Internet Explorer. A registered vote is encrypted and routed through a chain of relay servers to an archive until its decoding on Sunday. Many other countries, particularly the United States, are concerned about the security and reliability of e-balloting, and U.S. critics are worried that voting systems that employ conventional Windows PCs and the open Internet could be compromised by outsiders as well as insiders. Estonian government services are already online, while wireless connections have spread to almost all city cafes, parks, bars, and commuter trains, so concerns about e-voting's security are somewhat muted. Political scientists are more optimistic of e-voting systems than computer scientists, as long as voters trust the system.
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Science Competitiveness, Bit by Bit
Inside Higher Ed (03/01/07) Lederman, Doug

The 109th Congress failed to pass legislation intended to enhance research and science education as a result of in-fighting between committees, but a new version of the competitiveness bill, stripped of the contested provisions, has been proposed in the House. The "Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Research Act" would give out awards to outstanding early-career researchers in academic and nonprofit research environments, grant graduate research assistantships in areas of national concern, and create a "national coordination office" to establish priorities for university and national research infrastructure needs. House Science panel Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), who introduced the bill, says the goal of the committee was to "slim the bills down so they are basically just in our jurisdiction. We've tried to accommodate the Senate on some of their quirks over there." Gordon says, "We�re trying to not just talk about things but try to get some competitiveness things forward through the Congress."
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Will the Mouse Go Away?
Technology Review (03/02/07) Greene, Kate

An easy-to-operate user interface that tracks eye movement has been developed as an alternative to the computer mouse by Stanford University doctoral student Manu Kumar. "Eye-tracking technology was developed for disabled users, but the work that we're doing here is trying to get it to a point where it becomes more useful for able-bodied users," Kumar notes. The core component of Kumar's technology is EyePoint software that requires a person to stare at an item and hold a "hot key," which triggers magnification of the area being looked at. Once the user pinpoints her focus in the enlarged area and releases the hot key, the item is opened. Kumar wrote an algorithm to compensate for the natural jitter of the user's pupil, and he says the elimination of cursor control is one the interface's advantages. By combining eye and hand movement, the interaction becomes more natural. Around 90 percent of the project participants who tested the EyePoint interface said it was preferable to the mouse, although a 20 percent error rate could be problematic, according to MIT Media and Arts Technology Laboratory professor Ted Selker. Although Shumin Zhai of the IBM Almaden Research Center says Kumar's work is important, he acknowledges the need for users to undergo a calibration process in which the EyePoint software measures the rapidity of their eye movement.
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Sending U.S. Soldiers to a 'Virtual Iraq'
Computerworld (02/28/07) Havenstein, Heather

An immersive virtual reality system is being used to help soldiers returning from Iraq deal with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by exposing them to the scenarios they experienced in Iraq. The system utilizes sights, sounds, vibrations, and smells to simulate being shot at, having nearby vehicles explode, and seeing fellow soldiers being shot. Soldiers wear goggles and head phones and sit on a platform that can both vibrate and emit smells such as gun powder and burning rubber. "We're basically trying to use computer systems to create as immersive an environment as we can," says the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies' Albert "Skip" Rizzo. "The sense of smell is directly tied to areas of the brain that are responsible for memory and emotion." Such exposure is thought to lessen the symptoms of PTSD. A system operator uses a tablet PC to increase the frightening effects of the stimuli, so "a person experiences a little bit of anxiety, and they stick with it and talk about it, and eventually the anxiety extinguishes," explains Rizzo. Of the six soldiers that have been treated using the system, four have shown "dramatic improvements" and one has even gone back to Iraq.
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Q&A: Microsoft UK Head of Innovation Jim Lawn
silicon.com (03/01/07) Simpson, Gemma

As head of innovation at Microsoft UK, Jim Lawn is tasked with designing and implementing a strategy in which Microsoft continues to fulfill its role as IT industry innovator while also managing innovation among its clients and partners. Lawn notes that there is an IT skills gap but Microsoft has been attempting to mitigate this gap by offshoring to bolster the economy and compensate for the shortfall. "I think the real issue--and one that we need to get better at measuring--is that while companies like Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM do require the great skills that come out of computer science departments, the Internet has moved much more into mainstream society," he says. Lawn notes that computer science enrollments have fallen as optimism in Britain has plunged as a result of the dot-com meltdown, but the growing spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation in the United Kingdom makes him confident that interest in choosing computer science as a career will once again rise. Lawn says the decline in computer science is not just about the number of people in the computer science field. "It is about how IT-savvy are people in other departments and how IT-savvy do they need to be able to have productive careers and innovate in the U.K." As part of an effort to help Britain's innovation catch up with that of Silicon Valley, Lawn is collaborating with key U.K. entrepreneurs on the organization of a "bi-national trade mission" in which they will spend time in Silicon Valley to get insights on the best innovation strategies. Lawn says the chief goal of Microsoft's UK Innovation program is to help others innovate on Microsoft's platform rather than driving programs, and he envisions collaboration between Microsoft, other industry players, government, and academia to host more contests in order to fuel innovation.
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NASA's Robotic Sub Readies for Dive Into Earth's Deepest Sinkhole
Carnegie Mellon News (02/28/07) Spice, Byron; Watzman, Anne

An underwater robot created by the NASA-funded Deep Phreatic Thermal Explorer (DEPTHX) project, running on software developed by Carnegie Mellon researchers, has performed very well in a test run and is now being prepared for the world's deepest sinkhole. "The fact that it ran untethered in a complicated, unexplored three-dimensional space is very impressive," said project leader Bill Stone. DEPTHX uses autonomous navigation and mapping software to safely maneuver in confined spaces. The AUV's dead reckoning ability is based on depth, velocity, and inertial guidance sensors to calculate its position. It has 56 sonar sensors of two different ranges that allow the robot to detect obstacles and find itself on a map. In unmapped areas, the sonar works with simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) software to create maps of the environment. The AUV will dive to depths that no diver or surface sonar is able to reach. NASA is using the mission to test technologies that could eventually be used to explore Europa, a moon of Jupiter.
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Consortium for Embedded Systems Sets Stage to Make Global Impact
Arizona State University (02/27/07) Kullman, Joe

The Consortium for Embedded Systems, which operates within the Arizona State University School of Computing and Informatics, has appointed a new director and set its sights on leading the development of embedded technology that will have a profound effect on the 21st century. ASU engineering professor Sarma Vrudhula, the consortium's new director, expects embedded systems to be a $100 billion worldwide industry in the near future. "One big goal is to see the kind of high-performance functions you have on your personal computer become available on your wireless handheld electronics," Vrudhula says. Founded in 2001 with Intel and Microsoft as corporate partners, the program needs to tap additional private resources if it hopes to achieve its goals. To entice companies to join, the consortium is creating "an industry-friendly intellectual property model to ensure corporate partners get substantial value for their investments," according to Vrudhula, which will partner faculty researchers with individuals from participating companies and make all the results available to members for a single fee. The consortium also wants to bring other U.S. universities into the fold. During the consortium's first five years it has establish a firm foundation and is supporting over 30 faculty-led research projects and 16 graduate and undergraduate courses.
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Digital Fair Use Bill Introduced to US House
Ars Technica (02/27/07) Fisher, Ken

Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and John Doolittle (R-Ca.) have announced a new House bill that would amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to permit greater "fair use" of copyrighted material. However, the bill does not allow consumers to make personal use copies of encrypted material such as DVDs and online music files. Analysts say the Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship Act of 2007 (FAIR USE Act) is basically a weakened version of Boucher's DMCRA, which failed to pass in two sessions of Congress and was vehemently opposed by the content industry. The DMCRA would have legalized any "fair use" of digital goods, regardless of anti-circumvention laws, but the FAIR USE Act does not provide for this. The FAIR USE Act would add several exemptions to anti-circumvention rules, including allowances for some obsolete technologies and cell phone unlocking. Current exemptions provide for the circumvention of anti-copyright technology for the use of software that requires the original disk or hardware in order to operate and dongle-protected programs, so long as the dongle no longer functions and a replacement cannot be found. The bill would also impose limits on statutory damages resulting from infringement and indirect infringement, laws that would appease technology companies concerned by MGM v. Grokster.
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'Robots to Conduct Surgeries by 2018'
Korea Herald (02/28/07) Si-young, Hwang

The Institute for Information Technology Advancement in Korea, working with 3,500 researchers from industry, academia, and research centers, has released a study on future trends in IT, including 365 wide-ranging technology needs. Predictions include mobile phone batteries that will last up to two months off of a single charge, available by 2012, and robots that can perform surgery, available by 2018. An example scenario involves a person being hit by a car and knocked unconscious: They could be identified by examination of their eye and their family members alerted via a nationwide integrated medical system. Once at the hospital, a remote treatment system could then redirect them to surgery if necessary, where a micro robot could conduct the operation under the remote direction of a doctor. Out of the 365 technologies the researchers envisioned, 52 were judged to be core technologies that should be developed and deployed immediately based on criteria including technological relevance, time-to-market period, technological complexity, and who will lead the development. Seventy-six percent of the 52 core technologies are predicted to be completed by 2011, and about 75 percent of the 52 will make it to the consumer market by 2013.
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New Graphene Transistor Promises Life After Death of Silicon Chip
University of Manchester (03/01/07)

Researchers at the University of Manchester have developed one-atom thick graphene-based transistors that could enable the rapid miniaturization of electronics to continue after silicon-based technology can progress no further. Graphene is an individual atomic plane that resembles chicken wire made from a gauze of carbon atoms. Recent improvements in graphene transistors have done away with the "leaks" that kept them from being functional in the past. The Manchester team has shown that graphene remains highly stable and conductive even when cut into strips a few nanometers wide; all other known materials become unstable at such widths. "We have made ribbons only a few nanometers wide and cannot rule out the possibility of confining graphene even further--down to maybe a single ring of carbon atoms," says Manchester Centre for Mesoscience & Nanotechnology director Andre Geim. His team envisions all-graphene electric circuits carved from a single graphene sheet, which could include the central element, or "quantum dot," semi-transparent barriers to control the movement of single electrons, interconnects, and logic gates. "To make transistors at the true-nanometer scale is exactly the same challenge that modern silicon-based technology is facing now," explains lead researcher Leonid Ponomarenko. "The technology has managed to progress steadily from millimeter-sized transistors to current microprocessors with individual elements down to tens nanometers in size." Geim does not expect graphene-based circuits to be deployed until 2025, during which time silicon will be dominant. He points out that graphene-based technology contains many elements of other approaches considered as an alternative to silicon-based technology, such as carbon nanotube, single-electron, and molecular electronics.
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Canadian Researcher Proposes Algorithm to Match Data
ITBusiness.ca (02/28/07) Schick, Shane

IT systems could operate faster if they employed a process that involved pairing pieces of data, according to Brendan Frey, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto. Frey calls the approach "affinity propagation." He has developed a customized version of the algorithm to assist biology researchers in analyzing some 75,000 DNA segments. Software using the algorithm will be able to exchange messages between many pieces of data simultaneously to find similarities within a set of data points. Business intelligence, customer relationship management, and enterprise resource planning are among the potential applications for affinity propagation. For example, affinity propagation could be used in machine learning software to improve an application that recommends movie titles based on a consumer's interests. Rather than pare down a random sample of titles, messages are sent back and forth about all selections and matches are set aside in a process that is similar to the way brokers strike deals on the trading floor, according to Frey.
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New Research Could Lower Language Barriers Across Europe
Electronics and Computer Science (02/28/07) Lewis, Joyce

Xerox's European Research Center in France is heading a project that plans to use machine learning techniques to make English, French, Spanish, and other European languages less of a burden for other people on the continent who do not speak them. The Statistical Multilingual Analysis for Retrieval and Translation (SMART) project will study how new technology affects professional translators, consider how technicians using technical documentation in one language are able to assist a caller who speaks another language, and allow users to access portions of the multilingual Wikipedia in languages in which they are not fluent. "The project aims to extend the more traditional methods based on log linear models, and also apply recent developments in machine learning for structured prediction which have led to many new powerful techniques that show great potential in this area," says Dr. Craig Saunders, project partner at the University of Southampton's School of Electronics & Computer Science. The European Union is providing financial support for SMART over the next three years. "Xerox works across lots of different languages and cross-language information access could be very useful in this context; the possibility of posing a query in one language and getting documents back in another is useful in a wide variety of applications," says Saunders.
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Virtual Reality Helps With Real Research
Arizona Daily Wildcat (02/28/07) Conrad, Claire

The University of Arizona's virtual reality technology is proving very useful for faculty who wish to immerse themselves or others in environments that would require traveling great distances, or that they have created themselves. The Arizona Laboratory for Immersive Visualization Environments (AZ-LIVE) consists of three mobile projection walls and a floor projection that can accommodate large or small groups. AZ-LIVE is considered to be one of the 15 most advanced immersive labs in the country. Users can experience a "fly-by" of a virtual world and navigate through the space using a wand. Classics professor David Soren has used the technology to recreate an ancient Roman spa, which he not only uses for his own research but to lead prospective donors through in hopes of convincing them to contribute to his excavation efforts. College of Fine Arts research fellow Lucy Petrovich has used the technology to create a virtual work of art, a memorial to those who have died of heat exhaustion and dehydration crossing the desert near the U.S.-Mexico border. "I created the 'Desert Views, Desert Deaths' not as a virtual reality but more as a virtual un-reality in the sense that I manipulate images and create a new virtual reality for people to interact with," Petrovich said. She also teaches a class where students use the immersive lab to create virtual works of art while they learn basic programming of the technology. AZ-LIVE hopes to see computer science students team up with different departments in order to broaden the reach of the facility.
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IBM's Innovation Boss Gets Ready to Bow Out
Guardian Unlimited (UK) (03/01/07) Moody, Glyn

As his retirement approaches, IBM VP for technical strategy and innovation Irving Wladawsky-Berger reflects on his 37-year career and the development of the Internet. He says IBM was very excited about the Internet's potential, but had no idea of how powerful and popular the Web would eventually become, or of its eventual role as a major component for all businesses. Wladawsky-Berger points out that IBM's Internet strategy smoothed the way for its early adoption of open source, but he does not think IBM will follow Sun's example and release all of its source code as open source because "the key to open source is not the ability to see the open software, it's the forming of a community around it that will participate in its development and its maintenance." IBM sees great possibilities in virtual worlds beyond their current concentration in gaming, including better simulation and visual interfaces to enhance learning and training, according to Wladawsky-Berger. He says IBM intends to build intraworlds that run on their own intranets, noting that many of IBM's clients will desire intraworlds in the same manner that they have intranets. Seamless navigation between the intraworlds and public worlds will be critical, he says. Because IBM follows a different business model than Google, Wladawsky-Berger sees no point in IBM setting up a rival Web search engine; he explains that IBM's influence and solid research and development track record does not translate into proficiency in the search engine sector. Wladawsky-Berger concludes that the most enriching aspect of his career has been being "very, very involved with advanced technologies, but figuring out how to make them successful in the marketplace."
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Man's Best Friend Just Might Be a Machine
Contra Costa Times (CA) (02/18/06) Mason, Betsy

A good deal of the technology necessary to make robots a functional, intelligent part of everyday life has been already been developed and must now be brought together. Robotics experts recently gathered at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco, where they discussed the relatively near future of robotics, which could include autonomous cars and computers that read and respond to their user's posture and mood. Innovations that must precede such robotics, such as voice, face, emotion, and pattern recognition software, the ability to walk on two legs, automatic recharging, intelligent grasping, and the ability to exhibit emotional cues, have received a significant amount of attention. "Most of these technologies already exist now," said California Statue University roboticist David Calkins. "But they need to be brought together." Autonomous cars will probably be used by the military as soon as 2015 and will be on the highway by 2030, according to Sebastian Thrun, leader of the Stanford Racing Team that is working on Junior, an autonomous car that will compete in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. Robots are expected to make an impact on the way the elderly are cared for, as they can both help around the home and provide medical care and companionship. To create robots that can maneuver through varying and problematic terrain, UC Berkeley biologist Robert Full is developing technology inspired by cockroaches, crabs, centipedes, and geckos.
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How IT Makes Johnny More Productive
Computerworld (02/26/07) Melymuka, Kathleen

IT users experience a boost in productivity at the individual level compared to those with less technology at their fingertips, but not as some may expect, says researcher Erik Brynjolfsson. He says that IT users are multitaskers and in fact are slowed down by technology, but because they do multiple things at once, complete long-term goals and long-range projects quicker and better than lesser-IT users. Brynjolfsson recently completed a five-year IT productivity study focusing on individual productivity in 1,300 projects, funded by the National Science Foundation, Cisco Systems, and Intel. His research with Marshall Van Alstyne won the best research paper award at the most recent International Conference of Information Systems. Multitasking has a peak performance level, says Brynjolfsson, after which too much of it becomes a distraction for an individual. He says that email and databases are the best IT tools for multitasking, and investing in IT skills across a workforce pays off in long-term productivity. He adds that people embedded in a social network, including email and face-to-face, have more access to information more quickly, and this is an important definer of productive and highly informed people.
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Fighting Bugs: Remove, Retry, Replicate, and Rejuvenate
Computer (02/07) Vol. 40, No. 2, P. 107; Grottke, Michael; Trivedi, Kishor S.

The software faults or bugs responsible for system failures cannot be determined and isolated if the failure cannot be reproduced, and it is estimated that between 15 percent and 80 percent of all software faults detected after release are of a variety that are not spotted during testing for precisely this reason. These "Mandelbugs," as they are called, behave differently under apparently identical conditions for one of two reasons: Because there is a long delay between the activation of the bug and the final failure occurrence, complicating the identification of the user actions that triggered the bug and induced the failure; or because other software system elements--the operating system, the hardware, or other applications--can affect a bug's behavior in a specific application. One way of dealing with Mandelbugs is to retry a failed action by restarting the application, and this method can be enhanced via checkpointing, in which a snapshot of the application is regularly saved in stable storage. It is also possible to use a replication methodology that employs redundant resources. Performance degradation of software systems in continuous operation for a long duration can cause failures to occur more frequently, and this can be prevented through software rejuvenation techniques. Bugs related to software aging can cause errors to build up over time, while the activation rate of an aging-related bug can be affected by the total time that the system runs continuously. The two primary rejuvenation strategies are model-based approaches, which use analytic models to catch system degradation and rejuvenation, and measurement-based approaches where system properties that might show signs of software aging are periodically watchdogged. The costs of software rejuvenation include unavailability of a hosted Web site during a Web server's reboot, or the division of the workload among running servers in a multiple-server scheme.
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