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ACM TechNews
March 26, 2007

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Welcome to the March 26, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Language Theorist Lauded for Information Efforts
IEEE Spectrum (03/24/07)

Karen Sparck Jones will be awarded both the ACM/AAAI Allen Newell Award and the ACM-W Athena Lecturer Award at ceremonies in June and July. Sparck Jones has been involved in language and information retrieval since the 1950s, where she developed ways for people to interact with computers using ordinary language, a breakthrough that has been crucial for modern search engines. Her career began with a doctoral thesis on lexical co-occurrence, the concept that word classes can be derived by clustering words based on their frequency and patterns. She pioneered the use of document collections to automatically evaluate information retrieval systems and discovered the value of term weighting, the ability to measure how important a word is in a document. Since 1990, she has focused on speech applications, database querying, user and agent modeling, summarizing, and information and language system evaluation. The Newell Award is given to researchers whose career displayed a "breadth within computer science," and the Athena Award is given to women who have made "fundamental contributions to computer science." Sparck Jones was also awarded the BCS Ada Lovelace Medal a few weeks ago for her work "in the advancement of information systems." In the past, she has won the Association of Computing Linguistics Lifetime Achievement Award, the Grace Hopper Lecture from the University of Pennsylvania, and the ACM-SIGR Gerald Salton Award. For more information, see http://campus.acm.org/public/pressroom/press_releases/3_2007/athena2007.cfm< /A>
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IBM to Unveil Fast Chip With Optical Connections
Wall Street Journal (03/26/07) P. B6; Bulkeley, William M.

IBM has announced the development of a prototype chip that combines traditional semiconductor technology with optical transmissions of photons and is able to move data approximately eight times faster than previous technologies. The chip is capable of running at 160 billion bits of data per second, which means it could transmit a high-definition movie over a short distance in a fraction of a second. Future applications of this technology could include instantly beaming a digital X-ray to a handheld screen, but it will probably be first used to increase the speed of supercomputers and reducing the power and cooling they require. The project is "an amazing use of" conventional semiconductor technology, says Envisioneering Group's Richard Doherty. The research, which was funded by DARPA, signals the ability to overcome the high costs that have hindered widespread adoption of optical chips in the past. Work on the chip was done at IBM's T.J. Watson Research center and the prototype will be presented at the Optical Fiber Conference in Anaheim.
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Numbers Show Big Decline of Women in IT
CIO Insight (03/22/07) Chabrow, Eric

Information technology does not appear to be as attractive to women today. Last year, when overall IT employment reached a record of nearly 3.47 million positions, women held 26.2 percent of the jobs, according to the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 908,000 women in 2006 who were managers, computer scientists/systems analysts, programmers, software engineers, support specialists, database administrators, network/computer systems administrators, and network systems/data communications analysts. The number is down 7.7 percent from 2000, when 984,000 women filled these eight IT occupation categories. Seven years ago women accounted for 28.9 percent of the 3.41 million IT positions. Employment figures for women have not fallen in a straight line since 2000. For example, the number of women in the industry rose by 35,000 in 2003 after the economy stabilized following the dot-com fallout, but the next year there was a 43,000 decline.
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IC Routing Contest Boosts CAD Research
EE Times (03/22/07) Goering, Richard

The ACM Special Interest Group on Design Automation (SIGDA)-sponsored IC global routing contest held at the International Symposium on Physical Design (ISPD) showcased new directions for routing algorithms. "The purpose of the contest is to guide researchers toward the most urgent challenges in the EDA industry, and also to map out state-of-the-art solutions," said ISPD 2007 chair Patrick Madden. By requiring more realistic requirements for IC placement algorithms, organizers hoped the contest would "lead to better placers in fairly short order," according to ISPD 2006 chair Lou Scheffer. "Also, existing global routers should make it easier to build an academic detailed router--perhaps our contest for next year." IBM engineers and researchers defined performance metrics for the contest, which compared routers based on the number of routing violations and total routing wire length. However, a router that completed the most connections finished second place in the 3D category. "The ISPD community is still trying to define a good metric," explained ISPD 2007 program chair David Pan. The winning 2D entry was Fairly Good Router (FGR), which also took third place in the 3D category. FGR's creator plans to open-source the technology. The winning entry in the 3D category, which took second place in the 2D category, was MaizeRouter, which contained only 1,500 lines of code.
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A Cheaper Route to Speeding Up the Web
Technology Review (03/26/07) Greene, Kate

Alcatel-Lucent Bell researchers have developed a filter made completely of silicon that could allow for the expansion of bandwidth thanks to its ability to be mass-produced inexpensively and to be integrated with electronic systems. The high cost of such components, made from materials like gallium arsenide and indium phosphide, has limited the growth of fiber-optic networks in the past. The silicon filter, which outperforms other filters, could also allow photonic data transfer to computer circuit boards and microprocessors, according to Bell Labs manager Sanjay Patel. Chips that contain both photonic devices and electronics could be key components in optical and cellular communication systems as well as in computers. Light enters the filter and is split into two beams, which then go through a series of loops known as ring-resonators, which adjust the light's phase and amplitude. The beams are then recombined and sent out of the filter. To make the device in silicon, the researchers used resonator architecture that works even if the rings are not perfect, meaning it can withstand the natural variations that occur in silicon fabrication. "It's not just a filter," says University of Southern California professor of electrical engineering Alan Willner. "It's a superfilter." He praises the innovation for potentially allowing optical systems to carry more data over longer distances. The research will be presented at the Optical Fiber Conference in Anaheim.
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Developers: Expect New Major Language Within Five Years
eWeek (03/26/07) Taft, Darryl K.

More dynamic languages are likely to emerge in the next few years, according to software experts at TheServerSide Java Symposium in Las Vegas. During the "2010: A Developer's Odyssey" panel discussion, Walmart.com enterprise architect Eugene Ciurana said the Java Virtual Machine would likely feature more scripting languages to improve usage and development, while Formicary chief technology officer Hani Suleiman anticipates more componentization with regard to JVM. Neward & Associates founder Ted Neward and Azul Systems CTO Gil Tene expect to see more language experimentation. Tene added, "I think we're five years from the next big language--to be where Java is today." Suleiman also expressed optimism for domain-specific languages, while Interface21 CTO Adrian Colyer was partial to a move toward a message-based paradigm. XML is unlikely to go away over the next 10 years, Suleiman said in response to a question by Tangosol President Cameron Purdy, and Ciurana added that convergence between Java and other technologies is likely to pick up. The task will not get any easier for developers, who will face "more APIs, more frameworks, more stuff," said Colyer.
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It's All About Software Now
Electronic News (03/23/07) Sperling, Ed

Greenhills Software CTO Dave Kleidermacher, Virtutech VP of marketing Paul McLellan, VaST VP of marketing Jeff Roane, and CoWare marketing director Marc Serughetti recently discussed software development's future, and started off with observations about the problems plaguing software development today. Problems they cited included reliability, time to production, an increase in the number of problems developers must deal with, and hardware availability. McLellan said that "There are a lot of issues, but whatever your issue is, it's getting worse." The panelists concurred that the rising cost of software is concurrent with the ballooning amount of software, with Kleidermacher noting that software is becoming so complex that traditional management methods no longer apply, and that the transition to a multicore architecture is being driven by microprocessors' inability to operate faster without adequate power dissipation. Serughetti argued that software performance must be designed into the hardware much earlier, instead of at the end of the design cycle. According to Roane, there must be a maturation of the tools that enable the partitioning of software, while simulation technology should be used as well. "The issue for us is not whether my system is going to take advantage of multicore, but whether there's a standardized way of doing multithreading," said Kleidermacher. McLellan observed that a more holistic consideration of systems is emerging.
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Security That Nets Malicious Websites
Queensland University of Technology (03/23/07)

An IT researcher at Queensland University of Technology wants search engines to use reputation systems to warn users against visiting dangerous sites. "Just because a Web site ranks highly on a search engine doesn't mean it's a good Web site, in fact highly ranked Web sites can be malicious Web sites," says QUT professor Audun Josang, referring to various practices that can elevate a Web site's rank. Most people can identify a dangerous site, but those who cannot need to be informed about such sites. Josang envisions browsers equipped with an Internet security system that allows users to rate Web sites as dangerous. A page that received low rankings would be made "invisible to unsuspecting users," he says. "Social control methods, also known as soft security, adhere to common ethical norms by parties in a community," explains Josang. "They make it possible to identify and sanction those participants who breach the norms and to recognize and reward members who adhere to them." Security systems such as the one Josang envisions could become crucial for maintaining the legitimacy of the Internet. "There is a deception waiting for you around every corner on the Internet and the technology we develop will protect people from that," Josang says.
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UCF Researchers Work on Spy Drones
Orlando Sentinel (FL) (03/22/07) Cobbs, Chris

Two University of Central Florida researchers are developing drones of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can provide the military with more comprehensive views of enemy locations than the single UAVs currently in use. The researchers will use a Defense University Research Instrumentation Program grant to buy three unmanned planes with six-foot wingspans and three helicopters in 48-inch bodies, plus cameras, communications equipment, and computers to control the UAVs. The single UAV systems currently in use in Iraq and Afghanistan make it difficult for operators to piece together separate images, but the UCF work aims to allow flocks of 10 or more UAVs to efficiently combine and analyze the images their cameras capture. What the UCF researchers are doing is the next step to make spy planes more proficient," says aircraft manufacturer Steve Morris. "The idea is to have a bunch of them working together like an ant colony. A single ant is not a threat, but a swarm can strip a cow to the bone." Months could pass before the new aircraft is purchased, but the researchers hope to see results within the year. UAV swarm technology could be also used in law enforcement or search-and-rescue operations.
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Taking a Stroll Through Virtual Dublin
Irish Times (03/23/07) Lillington, Karlin

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin are constructing an immersive 3D replica of the city, complete with pedestrians, stonework, and the ability to pan upwards for a vertical view. The people who walk the streets of Virtual Dublin wear various clothes that move separately from their bodies, and the carvings on the side of buildings can be appreciated for their detail. "This is much more realistic than [online virtual world] Second Life," says TCD computer science professor Carol O'Sullivan. "It's a good framework for doing studies into human perception." While the most obvious use for the technology developed by the effort, known as Project Metropolis, would be video games, the work could also contribute to health care and urban planning, as EU regulations will require planners to provide citizens with simulations that take into account road noise, pedestrian traffic, and the aesthetic effects of new buildings. "This will improve our understanding of the human brain," explains TCD cognitive neuroscientist Fiona Newell. "A world like this could be used to rehabilitate people who are socially disabled--who are agoraphobic, perhaps, or autistic--because all the variables can be controlled. You could also safely put people into otherwise dangerous situations." So far, 2 square km of the planned 5 square km have been completed in high detail, and there are currently 50,000 virtual people walking the streets. Project Metropolis is part of a 2.5 million euro Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) initiative.
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AI Software to Tighten up Production Lines
New Scientist (03/20/07) Simonite, Tom

U.K. researchers have developed artificial intelligence software that can provide advice on how complex production lines can be improved for efficiency. To do so, the software studies the relationship between the end product and the numerous variables involved in the production process, a task that other programs have tried but failed due to complexity issues. Rolls Royce has already started using the program, known as X1 Recall, to reduce waste in the casting of metal parts. Simple software rules would require enormous computing power to consider the impact of altering any of the variables of a production process, but X1 Recall can handle over a hundred variables with little direction thanks to its technique of creating a global store of data about causes and effects. "It looks at the nature of individual relationships between variables and combines them into a 'hypersurface' that represents all the knowledge about the causes and effects," explains Swansea University's Rajesh Ransing. "A hypersurface only exists in mathematical terms since it has more than three dimensions. But its purely mathematical nature also provides novel ways of handling complex information." By analyzing the properties of this "surface," recommendations can be made to prevent defects in the finished product. "The system can very quickly give advice like a human expert, and will keep learning," says Ransing. Another version of X1 Recall is being considered for helping doctors decide on treatment options for specific patients.
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Supercomputer Aims to Cut Energy Costs
IT Week (03/19/07) Young, Tom

The University of Edinburgh has unveiled an energy-efficient supercomputer called Maxwell that uses field programmable gate arrays (FPGA) to handle real-world industrial applications. Built by the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Center (EPCC), Maxwell will offer improved computational performance while using 10 times less power. The FPGA High Performance Computing Alliance spent 3.6 million British pounds developing the green supercomputer over the past two years. The Scottish SMEs Nallatech and Alpha Data designed and manufactured Maxwell. Industries that have sizeable processing needs such as military defense, drug design, medical imaging, and financial engineering are likely to benefit from the new supercomputer. "The high performance technology could be used to deliver significant improvements in productivity potential in Scotland's key industries such as financial services, energy and life sciences," says Graham Fairlie, project manager at Scottish Enterprises' Enabling Technology and Engineering Team. Maxwell will be introduced to U.K. industrial sectors in a series of seminars that will begin in May and end in 2008.
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Evaluating Advanced Search Interfaces Using Established Information-Seeking Models
University of Southampton (ECS) (03/23/07) Wilson, Max L.; schraefel, m.c.; White, Ryen

Keyword searching may not fulfill users' needs if their goals are complex or poorly defined, so more advanced systems to support richer search modes are under development. The increasing versatility of environments provided by advanced systems are difficult to compare, but it can be done through the quantification of their pluses and minuses in supporting user strategies and fluctuating user conditions. The authors present a framework for assessing advanced search interfaces that mixes established models of users, user requirements, and user behaviors. Two models of information seeking--Information-Seeking Strategies (ISS) conditions outlined by Belkin in his episodic model and Bates' levels of user search activities (move, tactic, stratagem, and strategy)--are combined to evaluate a trio of faceted browsers (mSpace, Flamenco, and RB++), thus enabling a rating of the interfaces' strengths and weaknesses over the support for tactics, the support supplied by interface features, and the support for 16 unique user conditions. There are six stages to the framework's application: Feature identification, measurement of support for tactics, metrics summarization, feature strength analysis, tactic support analysis, and user conditions analysis. The purpose of the framework is to augment a search system's design phase before costly and complicated user studies are used to evaluate versatile systems that are increasingly harder to compare. The authors say the framework complies with the principles of designing insightful, affordable, repeatable, and explainable experiments, and allows designs to be refined during their formative development through the simulation of core user interactions.
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County, University Team Up on Research
Atlanticville (03/21/07)

Researchers from Monmouth University's Center for Rapid Response Database Systems recently presented their system for detecting and tracking disease outbreaks to the United Nations. The epidemiological modeling system, known as the Markov Chain Model for Epidemics, "can predict and/or detect the spread of diseases occurring naturally or intentionally" and has "worldwide interest and impact," said Monmouth County health coordinator Lester Jargowsky. The Monmouth "County Health Department and Monmouth University have been working very closely to develop computer technology and database systems that would greatly enhance communications and intelligence gathering to detect, respond, and recover from events ranging from an outbreak of illness to a major chemical or biological incident," Jargowsky said. The system could be used for situations ranging from a "small scale or a very large regional event and aid decision makers," added Jargowsky. The UN committee discussed the computer modeling technology for several hours and spoke of some practical uses for it. The research was indirectly linked to a bio-terrorism grant given to the county's health department by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and university programs contracted by the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.
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ICANN Ponders Registrar Crackdown
Computer Business Review (03/23/07) Murphy, Kevin

ICANN has announced it will take deliberate action to review and reform its registrar accreditation agreement (RAA) rules and enforcement abilities in light of the recent problems at RegisterFly. ICANN President Paul Twomey says the entire registration community needs to work toward reforming the process to better protect registrants in the immediate future. Twomey says, "What has happened to registrants with RegisterFly has made it clear there must be comprehensive review of the registrar accreditation process and the content of the RAA." ICANN wants to rewrite the RAA to ensure ICANN can take enforcement action more quickly and forcefully, a position GoDaddy agrees with. ICANN also is concerned that identity-masking services at RegisterFly have placed people's domain names at risk by shielding identities even from ICANN if RegisterFly collapses. ICANN likely will explore rewriting the RAA to ensure ICANN has access to registrant data for those using WHOIS privacy services. Twomey's comments also indicate that he plans to stop the process of registrar accreditation simply changing hands if a person or company purchases a registrar.
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Be More Than You Can Be
Wired (03/07) Vol. 15, No. 3, P. 114; Shachtman, Noah

Boosting the resilience, performance, and mental capability of American soldiers is a goal of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that is especially relevant in the era of transnational threats, and the agency is funding various projects to augment troops bodily. Stanford University researchers have developed the Glove, a device that can lower the wearer's body temperature and postpone fatigue; DARPA is funding the Glove's development as a training tool for recruits. Increasing endurance to deep cold is the aim of a project to modify the Glove so that it can capture heat and use it to warm the rest of the wearer's body. Life extension for the purpose of making fatal injuries survivable--a critical factor in combat--was the focus of research conducted by biochemist Mark Roth, who was motivated to see if a state of suspended animation could be induced in mammals through sudden oxygen deprivation. DARPA invested in his experiments and Roth is now thinking about asking the Institutional Review Boards for permission to begin human testing. DARPA director Tony Tether says it will be years or even decades before such performance-enhancement technologies are used under actual battlefield conditions, which is a good thing because the agency needs to be extra cautious in light of the many ethical concerns associated with biotechnology and human testing.
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Semantically Annotating a Web Service
Internet Computing (04/07) Vol. 11, No. 2, P. 83; Verma, Kunal; Sheth, Amit

Web services (WS) are currently being employed to link various system components statically into a service-oriented architecture (SOA), but businesses are starting to consider dynamic value-added propositions such as interoperability, reuse, and agility, note Accenture Technology Labs' Kunal Verma and Wright State University's Amit Sheth. Reuse of WS across various applications was the core goal behind the development of the Web Service Description Language (WSDL). The client's understanding of the semantics of each service operation is necessary for the use of a service provider service, and five years ago researchers proposed Semantic Web services that addressed this issue by annotating service elements with terms from domain models, such as industry standards, vocabularies, taxonomies, and ontologies. One approach along these lines takes an evolutionary path that maintains consistency with existing standards and industrial practices, which is the strategy embraced by the managing end-to-end operations for Semantic Web services and processes project (METEOR-S); this led to the Semantic Annotation of Web Services (SAWSDL). So that specifications are relieved of the burden of achieving reuse, interoperability, and agility of SOA-based systems, the METEOR-S project concocted and explored a framework with functional, data, nonfunctional, and execution semantics. The first two types of semantics are directly supported by SAWSDL, while the remaining semantic types can be incorporated by service providers via the WS-Policy framework. Verma and Sheth's near-term prospects for SAWSDL include better support of data mediation when services need to interoperate, and the augmentation of the current SAWSDL version with the ability to model preconditions, postconditions, and effects; their medium-term prospects for SAWSDL include the improvement of SOA through semantics via the enrichment of policy and agreement specifications; and their long-term prospects include "a pervasive impact of semantics through all the states of service and process life cycle, encompassing publication, discovery, orchestration, composition, dynamic configuration, and so on, ultimately leading to adaptive Web services and processes."
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