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ACM TechNews
March 19, 2007

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Welcome to the March 19, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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U.S. Developers, Students Face Ever-Increasing Global Competition
eWeek (03/16/07) Taft, Darryl K.

The results of the 2007 ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest highlight the trend of increasing competition in software development, and that the United States is quickly losing its position of global dominance in the field, according to statistics. Of all U.S. entries, only MIT was able to crack the contest's top 10. A study conducted by Evans Data shows that while the global population of software developers is expected to grow by 5 million between 2007 and 2010 to 19.5 million, North America will account for just 18 percent of those developers, down from 23 percent today. Meanwhile, Asia-Pacific's share of the developer market will grow to 45 percent, up from 37 percent today. Europe, the Middle East, and Africa's combined share will fall 5 percent to 30 percent by 2010, predicts Evans Data, while Latin America's share will remain 6 percent. ACM's recently published brochure, "Computing Degrees & Careers," describes job opportunities for students with computing degrees. The brochure is part of an effort to provide high school students, educators, and parents with a better understanding of the types of careers that computer science education can lead to. For more information on the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest, see http://campus.acm.org/public/pressroom/acm_in_the_news/index.cfm?CFID=122806 9&CFTOKEN=28523840
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Researchers Track Down Plague of Fake Web Sites
New York Times (03/19/07) P. C4; Markoff, John

An in-depth report by Microsoft researchers shows that the majority of junk Web sites, which attempt to redirect users to advertisements, can be traced to a small number of sources, most likely taking orders from large advertisers. The research revealed that those creating false doorway pages collaborate with Web-based computer operators who make money by redirecting traffic from search engines in one direction and sending advertisements from syndicators in the opposite direction. "A small number of rogue actors who know what they are doing can create an enormous amount of disruption," says Technorati CEO David L. Sifry. Researchers found that just two Web hosting companies generated most of the search-engine spam, while just three advertising syndicators placed 68 percent of the advertisements. The average spam density, the percentage of Web pages that contain nothing but advertisements, was found to be 11 percent, although for search terms such as "drugs" and "ring tone," the density was as high as 30 percent. "Ultimately, it is advertisers' money that is funding the search-spam industry, which is increasingly cluttering the Web with low-quality content and reducing Web users' productivity," according to the report. "The good guys are part of the problem," says Microsoft researcher Yi-Min Wang, referring to the group's findings that blog-hosting services allow the creation of a great deal of false doorway pages. Microsoft is in the midst of an effort to detect and eliminate such pages, but opinions vary on whether or not search engine spam can be combated effectively.
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Part I: A Smarter Web
Technology Review (03/19/07) Borland, John

An upgrade in the intelligence of online search will be facilitated by new technologies that could also lead to a even smarter Web. The basic technologies of the Semantic Web have been established and are being integrated with the everyday Web, giving once-inaccessible data sources an online presence through applications; many people believe a "Web 3.0"--defined by New York Times columnist John Markoff as a series of technologies that help computers organize and deduce conclusions from online data more efficiently--will be ushered in by the Semantic Web. Zepheira founder Eric Miller, a computer scientist affiliated with MIT, came up with a general-purpose metadata scheme for adding context to online data, which led to the development of the Resource Description Framework. The Semantic Web concept put forward by World Wide Web Consortium researchers was designed to boost the efficiency of computers' interpretation of Web data by providing the means for classifying individual bits of online data as well as defining relationships between classification categories. The next wave of Web technologies might eventually be a combination of streamlined Semantic Web tools and Web 2.0's capacity for dynamic connections generated by users, and could incorporate data mining. An increase in the Web's ease of use will likely be the result. "There is a clear understanding that there have to be better ways to connect the mass of data online and interrogate it," says 3i partner Daniel Waterhouse.
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A Peek Into the Future
CNet (03/19/07) Ogg, Erica

Fujitsu Labs showcased many of its innovative technologies at last week's North American Technology Forum, including e-paper, a waterproof RFID tag, and new ways of embedding numerical data in an image. The color e-paper is basically a thin liquid-crystal display that uses only a minute amount of power to change the image displayed and no power to show an image, meaning that signage would not require batteries to be changed. Images appearing on the screen of a mobile device can be transmitted to the e-paper, which comes in eight- and 12-inch sizes. Fujitsu will work on getting e-paper on the market by next year. The RFID chip on display uses ferroelectrics random access memory (FRAM) to carry additional information and can be ironed onto uniforms and go through the wash, although the price will need to come down before making it to the market. Another Fujitsu project aims to allow mobile phone users to search for information on an item simply by taking a picture using their phone using a technique known as steganography, which hide numerical information in images. This information does not alter the image's appearance and can be read by Fujitsu software. The technology is currently in use in Japan, although it is unavailable in America. Finally, the company displayed a technique for securing private information that reads the unique vein pattern in a person's hand. To ensure protection, the hardware sensor and Fujitsu software can tell if blood in the hand is warm and the person connected to the hand is alive.
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Turing Award Winner Sees New Day for Women Scientists, Engineers
USInfo.state.gov (03/16/07) Thomas, Jeffrey

Frances Allen is confident that technological advances will help more women enter the computing industry. A recent report from the National Academies of Science & Engineering, entitled "Beyond Bias and Barriers" found that the requirements of the academic world inhibit the ability of women to enter and excel in it. Allen, the first-ever female ACM A.M. Turing Award winner, says the career path for those seeking academic tenure leaves little time for starting a family, and that such "outmoded institutions can't survive." She notes that the business world already allows employees to work from home, thanks to "advances in computing, networks and information infrastructures [that] have led to a globally connected capability whose power is just beginning to be used and understood." Allen says, "These new capabilities will, I believe, lead to new opportunities for women." She cites the ability of scientists around the world to access data and collaborate on projects as evidence of "the fundamental changes that companies are making to leverage advances in technologies." As an outspoken advocate for mentoring, Allen believes the Internet can expand the influence of mentors on young women interested in a career in computing. "Internet-based mentoring programs ... can enable networks of people to share learning experiences and technical resources that greatly increase opportunities for success." She describes her own mentoring technique as mostly listening and helping her proteges arrive at a plan of action. For more information on the ACM A.M. Turing Award, see http://campus.acm.org/public/pressroom/acm_in_the_news/index.cfm?CFID=122806 9&CFTOKEN=28523840
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DIM 2007 Workshop: Usability Issues for Identity Management
Johannes Ernst's Blog (03/15/07) Ernst, Johannes

The ACM CCS2007 Workshop on Digital Identity Management will give researchers, vendors, and users an opportunity to come together to discuss the usability, security, and privacy of identity management technologies, and provide some suggestions for the continued improvement of the solutions in these areas. User interaction design for identity management, expressing trustworthiness of identity management to users, novel user interface technologies for identity management, identity theft prevention, and privacy-enhancing identity management will be among the topics of discussion. The control of identities has become more of a concern with the emergence of more advanced personal services for Internet users, but management and privacy issues continue to pose a threat to an improved user experience. Papers will be accepted until June 15, 2007, and authors will be notified by July 20. The CCS Conference is scheduled for Oct. 29-Nov. 2, at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and the DIM Workshop will take place on the last day of the gathering. Atsuhiro Goto of NTT in Japan will chair the event.
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Vehicle Warning System Trialled
BBC News (03/17/07) Ward, Mark

German researchers have developed a peer-to-peer network that vehicles could use to pass along information concerning road conditions. Cars would be fitted with sensors, and information concerning anything from traffic jams to objects in the road would travel from a car to another behind them and be displayed on a dashboard screen, a mobile device, or played over headphones. If a car knew its tires were slipping, it could alert the vehicles around it to the presence of a slippery substance on a digital map. "When [another vehicle] comes after to the point of danger, information has been spread out by wireless network and the danger will be propagated to the driver in [the other vehicle]," explains the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence's Dr. Anselm Blocher. The system could even take into account the "cognitive load" a driver is experiencing, in order to alert them in an appropriate way. The SmartWeb system could also allow drivers to access information about parking availability, speed traps, or other problems in natural language. A user could conduct a Web search that would request information from nearby vehicles.
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A Quiet Death for Bold Project to Map the Mind
New Jersey Star-Ledger (03/15/07) Coughlin, Kevin

DARPA has decided not to begin phase two of an ambitious project that aimed to "reverse-engineer" the human brain. The project, known as Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures (BICA), brought together scientists from many disciplines to recreate the workings of many parts of the brain using tools ranging from imaging to brain activity pinpointing. "It was all very exciting. ... It's hard to know at the outset if it was too ambitious," said contributing neuroscientist Mark Gluck. "All we know is it's dead." After the conclusion of the $9.5 million planning period, DARPA announced that the $50 million to $100 million stage of designing and testing brain-replicating software would not be launched. The BICA project was part of a larger DARPA plan to develop automated administrative and support capabilities that would allow for the deployment of fewer troops. The agency will cut $300,000 from cognitive programs in fiscal 2008, but will ask Congress for more money in the future. One program that will not be scrapped is the Personalized Assistant that Learns (PAL), which could help personalize information in command centers by helping computers adapt to user's individual behavior. "We really hoped this would be an important project and would lead to some real breakthroughs," said University of Michigan computer scientist John Laird. "What was very ambitious was looking at ... what computations could be done for the whole brain, not just a specific area." Although a complete brain-like system is now out of reach, Gluck plans to continue his work with memory circuits of the brain.
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Politicians Press for Antispyware Law Yet Again
CNet (03/16/07) Broache, Anne

House members from both parties have expressed their support for antispyware legislation, although some companies question the need for it. The House passed antispyware bills that later died in the Senate in both 2004 and 2005, but new legislation has been proposed that would impose limits on the actions software can execute, make it illegal to "take control" of a user's computer in order to collect personal information or modify a computer's settings, and allow the FTC to impose greater fines on violators. Web cookies and activities and software designed to prevent and punish fraud would be exempt. Industry concerns include the fact that the FTC is already able to bring cases against purveyors of spyware, and that the legislation, which would have consumers opt in if they wanted to have their information collected, could harm Web sites that rely on cookies and other techniques to target ads and provide free content to users. "As all media advertising increasingly migrates to interactive platforms, we are concerned that this bill may unnecessarily limit business interaction with consumers," says online advertising executive Dave Morgan. The Antispyware Coalition has released the final versions of "best practices" documents for makers of antispyware, intended to help identify malware and work with each other more effectively. The Internet Spyware Prevention Act, another piece of antispyware legislation, has also been introduced; it would prohibit the copying of code onto a machine without authorization, if doing so compromises personal information or "impairs" the computer's security. The bill is intended to fight spyware without hurting software development.
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U.K. Researchers Target Atom Chip Devices
EE Times Europe (03/15/07) Walko, John

Thanks to a grant from Britain's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, researchers at the University of Southampton and Imperial College will begin constructing atom chip devices that could be used in quantum computers. The team aims to integrate atom chip building blocks they have created in the past into a single chip that could be developed into a system capable of useful functions. These atom chips could be applied to incredibly accurate and sensitive sensors and atom interferometers, as well as quantum computers. Further research will focus on the use of the chips in atomic clocks, magnetometers, single photon sources, and quantum information processors. "Over the past four years, we have done the fundamental research into atom chips," says the University of Southampton's Dr. Michael Kraft, who is leading the team. "Now it is time to make application-orientated devices." Although other groups have done work with atom chips, no one has developed them into devices. "There is a growing need for unprecedented accuracy in accelerometers and gyroscopes," says Kraft. "Quantum information processors are potentially leading to quantum computers and atom chip devices will facilitate this process."
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New Centre Could Make Independent Living a Reality for the Elderly
Electronics and Computer Science (03/15/07) Lewis, Joyce

Researchers at the University of Southampton hope to ease the graying transition in the United Kingdom by developing a low-cost sensor network for the home that will be able to monitor the health of the elderly. This month the university will launch the Pervasive Systems Center, which plans to make a wireless sensor network (WSN) available in the next 18 months that will provide support for the elderly who want to continue to live independently in their homes. The researchers envision a network comprised of weight sensors to detect movement at night, sensors in the bathroom to monitor toilet facilities for signs of digestive problems, and body imaging and temperature sensors to provide clues for areas of the body that are giving the elderly problems. "If we image the body and then attach temperature sensors, say, to a chair, the parts of the body that are in pain will radiate infra-red and will be picked up by the sensor," explains David De Roure, a professor in the School of Electronics & Computer Science who will co-chair the new center. The university is taking a multidisciplinary approach to the center, which will draw sensor, wireless communications, computer science, and other specialists as researchers.
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After Breaking Off Talks, 2 High-Speed Networking Consortia Now Say They Will Merge
Chronicle of Higher Education (03/19/07) Read, Brock

Internet2 and National LambdaRail have agreed to complete a merger of their operations by April 20, 2007, and form a single corporation by the end of June. The new consortium will be called "Internet2-National LambdaRail." Differences over a number of organizational issues led the groups to break off talks last April. Changes to the governance structure of Internet2, such as creating new advisory councils and diversifying its Board of Directors, helped the two consortia to continue their talks, which ultimately led to the agreement. Internet2 manages the Abilene high-speed network, and National LambdaRail owns a fiber-optic network. The organizations see the tie-up as ideal because they serve many of the same academic research institutions and due to the potential effectiveness of developing next-generation technology over a single research network. "I think this is spectacular for any stakeholders in these two organizations," says Internet2 Chair Jeffrey S. Lehman. "The opportunities that will come from realizing this merger, both as a matter of technology and as a matter of structural collaboration, are very exciting."
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Scientists Show Thought-Controlled Computer at Cebit
IDG News Service (03/15/07) Niccolai, James

G.tec of Austria demonstrated a brain-computer interface (BCI) at the Cebit trade show that allows the user to control a computer--albeit in a limited capacity--by measuring the electrical voltage fluctuations in the user's brain via a cap studded with electrodes. The electrodes rest on the scalp and are linked via cables to a "biosignal amplifier," which sends the signals from the brain to a computer. The BCI uses software that must be painstakingly trained to interpret the brain signals so that they can be translated into the proper actions. Functions the g.tec BCI can perform include writing letters, operating prosthetic limbs, and steering a wheelchair. Such technology could become very useful for people who are movement- or speech-impaired. "Ultimately you could have wireless contacts embedded in the brain, and communicate with others just by thinking," said g.tec CEO Christoph Guger. He explained that BCI research is currently a focus of 300 laboratories.
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IT Industry Is Losing the Feminine Touch
IT Week (03/14/07) Bennett, Madeline

More women need to be attracted to the IT sector in order to counter a shortfall of 300,000 qualified IT professionals across Europe by 2010, says the European Commission. Females made up only 22 percent of European IT graduates in 2006, a 3 percent drop from 1998; the proportion in the United States was 28 percent. "We have concerns that there have been numerous programs and pieces of legislation to encourage more women and people in general into computer science but at the moment they don't seem to be making a difference," says Intellect's Carrie Hartnell. She blames this difficulty on both the "geek" stigma associated with the field and concerns that the field does not have a stable future given rising competition from offshoring. IT requires professionals with many different skills sets. "If you only have one type of employee, you can't innovate as effectively," Hartnell says. The Training Camp, an IT training provider, has found that women are more likely to enroll in management courses, while men gravitate toward technical courses. Telecom giant BT has introduced a program that will use female engineers to attract females to the industry; the goal is to raise the portion of apprenticeships held by women from 8 percent to 25 percent.
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How to Stop the Dilbertization of IT
eWeek (03/16/07) Perelman, Deborah

In order to reinvigorate IT and end the shortage of qualified professionals, the industry must make itself less of a commodity, allow workers to be more creative, and show students the real-world applications of what they are learning. ACM A.M. Turing Award winner Frances Allen says, "I believe that there was great excitement [in 1960] ... We worked through wonderful problems with wonderful people. There was always the sense that there was so much more to do, more than we ever had time for." Now IT professionals are used more to fix problems that arise than to come up with new ideas, and such commoditization has allowed IT jobs to be outsourced. "Outsourcing is a symptom, not the problem," says consultant Bruce Skaistis. "Outsourcing has become such an important factor because when you turn IT into a commodity, it becomes about where you can get it at the lowest cost. It's what we've done to IT that is the problem, which is taking away its chance to influence business." University computer science departments are blamed for focusing on specific kinds of technology and failing to show students the relevant ways in which their work can be used. "When you think of the flow of students into the IT workplace, if they're not excited about the work, they probably weren't excited about it in school," says Georgia Tech College of Computing Dean Rich DeMillo. As with all professions, IT employees work best when they are aware of what is expected of them and how their work will be judged and when they have some flexibility and the chance to leave their footprint on the company's work.
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Northeastern University Junior Shatters the Computer Science Glass Ceiling for Her 'CISters'
Northeastern University News (03/08/07)

Northeastern University computer science prodigy Tanya Cashorali does not want to hear that computers are not for girls. In her three years at the university, she has held three co-op jobs with top cancer scientists, worked on a grant-funded study on tumor development, and has given a number of presentations to world-renowned doctors. "We need to go after young women and show them they can relate computer science to almost any field they are passionate about," says Cashorali, who is also president of CISters, the all-female computer and information science club at the university. In this role, Cashorali seeks to spark an interest in technology majors and careers among young girls through mentorship, education, and interaction with successful women in industry and academia. Similarly, her specialty, bioinformatics, which involves the transformation of raw data of the human genome into useful information for treating diseases, is also about breaking boundaries. "Biology and computer science may seem like two disjointed fields, but in reality they are converging quickly, and for a very important cause," Cashorali explains.
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The Rise and Fall of Corporate R&D: Out of the Dusty Labs
Economist (03/01/07)

The line between research and development in industry is eroding because of a number of changes, including a shift in the nature of innovation, the increasing importance of time to market, the advent of inexpensive computing, and a movement away from vertically integrated technology firms. Microsoft Research researcher Steven Drucker contends that academics face a constant struggle for funding, and as a result are working on projects with a much shorter window for implementation than industry, giving corporate research the opportunity to pursue longer-term research goals. Arranging existing technologies in new ways rather than coming up with new technologies is considered to be the real thrust of innovation today. The fusion of research and development owes a lot more to software being a central driver of innovation, while the very low cost of computing and accelerated development times are also factors. The use of the Internet in the third capacity explains why Web-based companies are experiencing the deepest integration of these once separate activities. The earlier model for research and development was based on the presumption that computing machines were very costly and development cycle times very long. Furthermore, companies have a wider selection of where to shop for ideas, which is also fueling the changes in research and development.
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