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ACM TechNews
March 9, 2007

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Users Are Putting Band-Aids on Software, Says New Federal Research Chief
Computerworld (03/08/07) Thibodeau, Patrick

Increased funding for basic technology research efforts must be established in order to maintain the strength of U.S. private industry, says Jeannette Wing, the new head of the NSF's computer and information science and engineering directorate. Wing blames the shortage of research funding on an image problem in computing: Attention is focused on Web 2.0 technologies and faster processors, while algorithm development is being ignored. Bill Gates spoke before the U.S. Senate this week, explaining this need. Wing applauds Gates and aims to make basic research issues more relevant to users. "Today in security, we are patching systems and fighting viruses and worms and doing source code analysis using techniques that the basic research community invented 20 years ago, or even longer than that," she says, citing Google as the type of advancement that can come about as the result of a single algorithm. Other issues demanding attention include software code with weaknesses that make it vulnerable to crashes or attacks. "We need this [research effort] because we need to retain society's trust in the computing system that touches us on a daily life," says Wing. The NSF currently funds 18 percent of the proposed projects, turning away many computer scientists, while China has sufficient funding to "do whatever they want," she says.
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Abandoning Net Neutrality Discourages Improvements in Service
University of Florida News (03/07/07) Keen, Cathy

A University of Florida study has found that Net neutrality is in the best interest of Internet users because it encourages expanded bandwidth. "The conventional wisdom is that Internet service providers would have greater incentive to expand their service capabilities if they were allowed to charge," says UF department of decision and information sciences professor Kenneth Cheng. "That was completely the opposite of what we found." The researchers, who claim to have no opinion on the issue, used game theory to evaluate who the "winners" and "losers" would be if cable and telecom companies were able to charge content providers. Their results showed that Internet providers would "win" and cable companies would "lose," and that users would only win if their preferred content provider agreed to pay for faster service. The study also revealed that an end to Net neutrality would do away with the incentive for Internet providers to expand their infrastructure, since because "The whole purpose of charging for preferential treatment to content providers is that one content provider gains some edge over the other," says Cheng. "But [if] the capacity [were] expanded, this advantage becomes negligible." Japan and Korea have both found that increased competition results in better service, according to Cheng. "Abandoning Net neutrality has far-reaching and rippling effects when you consider how the Internet has become part of our daily life experience," says Cheng's co-researcher Subhajyoti Bandyopadhyay.
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Guide to Computing Careers Helps Students Develop Right Skills
AScribe Newswire (03/07/07)

ACM will unveil its new computing careers brochure at this week's ACM SIGCSE (Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education) conference. "Computing Degrees & Careers" discusses what computer scientists and engineers do, career opportunities in computing, the computer-based skills necessary for the wide range of computing jobs, the major areas of study within computing, and what educators can do to get students interested in careers in computing and information technology. The career guide has already drawn heavy interest from educators at the high school and university level. "Almost every major challenge facing our world is turning to computing for a solution, from conquering disease to eliminating hunger, from improving education to protecting the environment," says Eric Roberts, co-chair of ACM's Education Board and a Stanford University computer science professor. "We hope students grappling with decisions about their career paths will use the information provided by this publication and the accompanying Web site to broaden their awareness of the opportunities open to them in this dynamic field." ACM also hopes the career guide will help the greater public understand that the computing industry is thriving, and that there are more jobs today than there were years ago when dotcoms were the hot story. The IEEE Computer Society and the Association for Information Systems (AIS) assisted ACM on the career guide.
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Drop in CS Bachelor's Degrees Granted
CRA Bulletin (03/08/07) Vegso, Jay

The number of new computer science majors may be stabilizing after six years of declines, according to the CRA Taulbee Survey of computer science departments that grant PhDs. In the fall of 2006, computer science departments had 7,798 new computer science majors, down only slightly from 7,952 new majors in the fall of 2005. The schools had 15,958 new computer science majors during the fall of 2000. Meanwhile, enrollment fell 14 percent to 34,898 from 2004-2005 to 2005-2006, and is down 39 percent from the high point in 2001-2002. Computer science departments granted 10,206 bachelor's degrees in 2005-2006, but the number is down 28 percent from 2003-2004.
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Gates Testifies About Declining Enrollments, Research Funding
Computerworld (03/07/07) Thibodeau, Patrick

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates testified that the United States is in danger of losing the ability to "remain a technology powerhouse" when he addressed Congress on Wednesday as a witness for the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The number of students pursuing undergraduate computing courses as well as the percentage of submitted proposals that the NSF is able to fund are both down significantly from 2000. The projects that are being funded by the NSF are increasingly those that focus on short-term fixes, explains Purdue University Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security executive director Eugene Spafford. "The result is that really innovative basic research that could lead to lead to major shifts in the way we do things ... isn�t really being done now," says Spafford, and "it has the additional effect that students being trained now are not being trained to look at long-term solutions." The America Competes Act was introduced in the Senate this week and would double research budgets for the Department of Energy and Science and the NSF and bolster technical education, including a program to entice elementary schools to observe a "Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Day" twice during each school year. Gates suggested that research grants of $500,000 be given annually to the 200 most exceptional early-career researchers. He also called for the creation of a "National Coordination Office for Research and Infrastructure" to oversee a centralized infrastructure research fund of $500 million every year and that the research and development tax credit be made permanent.
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Microsoft Links Technology, Common Tools
Associated Press (03/06/07) Mintz, Jessica

At Microsoft's Techfest, the company displayed its idea that average users will have the easiest time using platforms that bring new technologies into familiar tools. Prototypes on display included a system that prints out text messages as sticky notes and one that lets people write notes on a pad and have the note converted to a text message and sent to a phone. Such technologies may never be available to consumers, rather Techfest gives researchers a chance to share their work with Microsoft employees in hopes of having it incorporated into future versions of Microsoft software. A game on display allowed children to control a robot appearing on the screen by selecting tiles with individual actions or objects on them. The game is centered on the idea that it is a short leap from children having fun playing video games to becoming interested in designing them, says Microsoft Research's Matt MacLaurin. Techfest also featured a videoconferencing system that uses cameras and projectors to allow real-time, long-distance whiteboard brainstorming, Wi-Fi advertising for mobile devices that does not rely on a network connection, and speakers that can only be heard by someone standing directly in front of them.
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W3C to Develop New HTML Specs
eWeek (03/07/07) Taft, Darryl K.

The World Wide Web Consortium has announced its intentions to establish a new HTML standard and to enhance the XHTML specification. A call has been issued to browser vendors, application developers, and content designers to participate in the working groups that will oversee the new standards. "HTML started simply, with structured markup, no licensing requirements, and the ability to link to anything," says W3C director Tim Berners-Lee. "More than anything, this simplicity and openness has led to its tremendous and continued success. It's time to revisit the standard and see what we can do to meet the current community needs, and to do so effectively with commitments from browser manufacturers in a visible and open way." The transition of HTML into an XML based format (XHTML) was originally planned in 1998, but XHTML was slow to be adopted and received little support from developers. W3C says XHTML has proven effective in mobile devices, enterprise applications, a growing number of Web applications, and on the server-side. XHTML 2.0, which will delineate an XML syntax for the new HTML in addition to the traditional HTML syntax, is intended to be as generic as possible, reusing appropriate XML standards rather than HTML features that have similar functions. In addition to the new HTML and XHTML 2.0 Working Groups, W3C plans to re-charter the HTML Coordination Group and charter the Forms Working Group, which will continue working on the Xforms architecture.
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These Robots Are Inspired by Ants
Newark Star-Ledger (NJ) (03/08/07) Washington, George C.

MIT Ph.D. candidate James McLurkin studies ants to better develop his robots' ability to communicate with one another. In his office at the school's Computer Science ad Artificial Intelligence Lab, McLurkin has an ant farm of about 500 ants, which he says "are on version 8 billion," referring to the evolution the insects have gone through to improve their communication systems, which rely mostly on tactile and olfactory senses. Ants are divided into soldiers and workers, and are divided even more so within these groups. Separate interactions comprising complex group behavior is known as distributed systems, or swarm behavior. McLurkin's biggest challenge is developing robots with the communication abilities necessary for swarm behavior. So far, software has been written that allows the robots to simulate locating an object on another planet, with some robots creating a safety perimeter and others conducting the search. The robots can cluster, spread, form a line in sequential order, and even sense when their battery life is running low and return to a recharging station. Once communication is perfected, "You could send a group of small robots into an earthquake, fire or disaster zone and they would be able to locate survivors or hot zones," McLurkin says. "They then could relay that information to larger robots who would go about clearing the area and save the survivors."
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Hack That Urban Forest
Wired News (03/08/07) Swaby, Rachel

The Urban Forest Mapping Project will make it easier for San Francisco to track and maintain its approximately 140,000 public trees. Previously, the city relied on volunteers to walk through its streets with fill-in-the-blank paper forms and old-fashioned maps to locate groups of trees. Sometimes the volunteers did not find trees where they were supposed to be because they were mapped incorrectly in the historical records, which then would require them to spend several hours reentering data correctly. With the Urban Forest Mapping Project, volunteers can easily upload the type of tree, location, permit records, parasites, and miscellaneous information such as graffiti tags into the open-source database through a Web-based interface using handhelds and laptops. Interest in an online tree-mapping tool from the Friends of the Urban Forest gave software maker Autodesk an opportunity to adapt its open-source Map Guide project, and provide the local nonprofit with a solution that offers color illustrations over aerial photography.
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Evaluating Application Performance on Big Iron
HPC Wire (03/09/07) Vol. 16, No. 10,

The U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory recently completed a performance evaluation of supercomputers that looked for strengths and weakness as well as future bottlenecks for scaling applications. The team, led by Berkeley Lab's Lenny Oliker, ran six scientific codes representing a range of disciplines on each of the machines to evaluate their ability to handle different methods. Oliker discussed the groups' work in a recent interview. "As you move codes from machine to machine, it's not just a process of running the codes and entering different numbers," he explained. "You are looking at problems that can be addressed for each type of the machines and thinking about how to best use those resources." Along with exhibiting the great potential of today's parallel vector systems, the project found that the imbalance in speed between scalar and vector on the Cray X1 impacts some applications negatively. "In terms of superscalar systems, our studies show encouraging data that the slide in the sustained performance of microprocessor cores is not irreversible if architects are willing to invest the effort to address the bottlenecks of scientific applications," said Oliker. The next challenge for the field will be finding ways to use large numbers of simple processors effectively. Oliker's team is also interested in widening their code base to comprise the increasingly intricate numerical approaches being employed. "Although many methods used today rely on regularly structured computations, emerging multi-scale applications will require irregular and dynamically evolving simulations," he said.
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Robots Evolve to Deceive
Technology Review (03/08/07) Duncan, David Ewing

A University of Laussanne researcher has developed simple robots that mimic evolutionary processes, providing a unique perspective on human behavior. Laurent Keller designed his seven-inch "s-bots," with a life span of two minutes, to find "food" and avoid "poison." The s-bots are equipped with wheels, cameras, ground sensors, a light, and a programmed "genome" that determines their response to surroundings. If the robots find food they can "mate," passing along their "genome," but if they do not find food they "die off" along with their genes. The research was intended to compress thousands of years of development, or 500 generations, into one week. Keller found that bots would eventually blink their light to signal to those sharing their genes that they had found food. The bots would also blink their lights far away from food to trick those not sharing their genes. Keller hopes to use the s-bots to gain insight into many questions about human nature, such as reasons for altruism and self-destructive behavior.
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Intel Competition Is Where Science Rules and Research Is the Key
New York Times (03/07/07) P. A21; Berger, Joseph

The failure of any students from the Bronx High School of Science or Stuyvesant High School in New York, two once-perennial finalists, to reach the Intel Science Talent Search for the third straight year is convincing many of the widespread effect the competition is having on science and technology education in the United States. The 40 finalists of this year's competition were chosen from 1,075 students from 487 schools in 44 states. "Am I happy that our kids aren't winning first prizes? No," says Bronx Science Principal Valerie J. Reidy. "But that it's traveling far and wide and other kids are getting hooked, I'm thrilled about that." More schools are beginning to expose students to cutting-edge research, rather than simply teaching through textbooks. "Not only do we have to have equity and close the famous achievement gap," says Commission on 21st Century Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics co-chair Leon M. Lederman. "We also have to have innovation if we're going to survive, so you have to nurture the gifted kids." New York city schools long had an advantage because the city's subway system allowed students to travel to top-notch research facilities, but recent advances in the Internet and email have allowed students across the country to interact with researchers. Some rural and southern schools have even built dormitories in attempt to establish themselves as breeding grounds for technological innovation. Byram Hills High School senior John Granata entered this year's competition with software that lets the disabled communicate using brain waves to signal letters on an electronic board.
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U Researchers Prepare to Build Autonomous Car
Daily Utah Chronicle (03/06/07) Fieldsted, Paige

A University of Utah team is preparing its specially modified Chrysler minivan for the first round of qualifying for the DARPA Urban Challenge. The automated vehicle's intelligence system consists of three parts: Control, which actually makes the vehicle move and turn; perception, which observes what is going on around the vehicle; and cognition, which figures out how to make it from one point to the next. "The cognition system is responsible for the overall behavior of the vehicle," says computer science graduate student Jacob Quist. "You can think of it as the brain of the vehicle, where it receives inputs from the perception system, and issues commands to the control system." The team must make it through a qualifying run at a site of their choosing, subject to DARPA approval, and then through one of two national qualifying events in October before being admitted into the final event. "The real problem for us is none of us have spent a lot of time working with cars; we usually do other stuff, like robots," admits team leader Thomas Henderson. The competition is part of military's goal to have one third of its vehicles automated by 2015.
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A Mobile Gizmo With Ginza Info
BusinessWeek (03/06/07) Hall, Kenji

Ubiquitous computing aims to provide location-aware information to users on a mobile device without relying on an Internet connection. Downtown Tokyo's Ginza Shopping District is serving as the testing grounds for University of Tokyo professor Ken Sakamura's Tokyo Ubiquitous Network Project. More than 1,200 RFID chips, 270 infrared sensors, and 16 Wi-Fi stations have been placed around the area to provide information pertaining to sites that users come across, such as menus, schedules, or whether an item is in stock. Currently, the system can only transmit the information to a specially made media player, but Sakamura expects to have it working on cell phones eventually. The signals sent out by sensors and chips to be processed by a mobile device would alleviate Internet download times, inconvenient search processes, and connection charges. Sakamura's network is open source and has the backing of Microsoft, IBM, and others. At this point, several improvements must be made to the system: Current network costs prohibit expansion; cell phones have been found to create interference; and slow information retrieval can cause information to be presented to a user only as they are leaving the corresponding area. HP is considering a ubiquitous computing network of its own, to be used for gaming that combines real sites with the virtual world.
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Novel Search Engine Matches Molecules in a Flash
New Scientist (03/01/07) Knight, Will

Oxford University researchers have developed a way to match molecules of the same shape using the relative position of the atoms in a given molecule, an innovation that could be used to identify potential drugs very quickly. Similar shaped molecules are likely to have similar bioactive effects, causing a smaller medicinal effect in the human body. The 3D shape of a molecule is currently found by superimposing it over another molecule and measuring how much it overlaps, but this new technique, known as Ultrafast Shape Recognition (USR), maps and stores the relative position of atoms in the molecule, creating an accurate mathematical picture of its shape. The system allows molecules to be compared quickly and without concern for orientation in the database, which could prove extremely valuable given the billions of molecules currently contained in many databases. The technology could also be applied elsewhere. "Being able to match 3D objects is an important problem that might become even more important as we get more and more 3D models of our world--such as Google earth," says Carnegie Mellon image analysis expert Luis von Ahn. However, Imperial College molecular analysis expert Henry Rzepa says "part of the problem is that too little 3D shape information in a usable form actually exists. Even for molecules, proper 3D coordinates which define these shapes are all too rare."
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Carnegie Mellon Hosts National Linguistics Olympiad
The Tartan (03/05/07) Leong, Jun Xian

The inaugural North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad will be held on March 29 in various east coast cities as well as online for those who are unable to attend. The competition, aimed at students in grades nine through 12 but open to all students, aims to locate talent in computational linguistics, help interested students pursue higher education in related fields, and increase awareness of the field. "Computational linguistics aims to make computers 'think' more like human beings, so that interacting with a computer is more like interacting with a real person," says the competition's second chair Thomas Payne. NAMCLO will include machine translation between natural languages, artificial intelligence, handwriting and voice recognition, and text analysis and processing, tasks meant to replicate the challenges faced my today's computational linguists. "The problems are 'self-sufficient' in the sense that no outside information (dictionaries, courses in the languages) is needed to solve them," says Payne. "They are based on pure logic and analytic reasoning, at a level that is totally appropriate for high school students." One such problem would be to decode the meaning of individual words in unidentified languages based on a few scrambled and unmatched sentences. Younger students are thought to have an easier time solving linguistic problems because they "have more flexible minds, and are more willing to 'enter into' the logic of an unknown language than many adults are," Payne says.
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IBM's Many Eyes App After One Month
Read/Write Web (03/05/07) Wattenberg, Martin; Viegas, Fernanda B.

The motivation behind the creation of IBM's Many Eyes project was to create societal-scale software by setting up a participatory Web site that was available to the whole of the Internet to test the hypothesis that visualizations have a strong social aspect, according to Many Eyes developers Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda B. Viegas. Scaling in terms of the audience rather than the data is Wattenberg and Viegas' goal, and in the month since Many Eyes' launch several interesting visualizations have been generated. In one instance, a user of the Many Eyes site employed graph visualization to generate a network schematic of certain New Testament figures who were mentioned together, and other users were in turn inspired by this visualization to establish visualizations of their own. Another notable visualization facilitated by Many Eyes was a bubble chart listing the top 50 books on LibraryThing, with a highlighting feature that indicated what books a person had or had not read. Wattenberg and Viegas comment that their Web site is one of three notable sites that share "a belief that the Web enables a new, social kind of data analysis; a type of statistical thinking that is both playful and serious."
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Is E-Government Ready for Prime Time?
Internet Computing (04/07) Vol. 11, No. 2, P. 80; Ruth, Stephen; Doh, Soogwan

E-government's chief goal is to connect citizens with user-friendly services that offer state-of-the-art information technologies, but there is substantial evidence to support the contention that e-government is not yielding the maximum benefits in even the most technologically sophisticated nations. The poorer countries usually boast modest e-government implementations, while the United Nations believes e-government can be used to positively effect national policy via the three-step inclusion/access/connectivity process. The UN, Japan's Waseda University, and Brown University in the United States offer comprehensive rating schemes that can help researchers assess national and municipal capacities to support e-government, and the rankings gauge such representative properties as ease of navigation, digital signatures, presence of online services, Web site personalization, privacy and security features, availability of online publications and databases, commercial advertising, audio and video clips, non-native languages or foreign language translation, disability access, automatic email updates, credit-card payments, and premium fees. The Freedom House says the world's leaders in e-government proliferation are countries with high ratings for press and government, yet only 68 percent out of 192 nations are ranked as "free" in both domains. It comes as no surprise that the more developed, richer countries with greater access to technological resources feature more extensive e-government deployments, but the World Bank's Robert Schware offers the sobering claim that only about 15 percent of e-government initiatives fulfill their objectives, while over one-third are utter failures. In addition, he observes that e-government measures are stepped up to win over voters at election time in certain developed nations. Despite these failures, there is still a lot of global enthusiasm for e-government because its potential advantages are long-lasting.
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