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March 28, 2007

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A New Center for 'Computational Thinking'
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (03/26/07) Roth, Mark

Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon University on Monday announced the creation of the Microsoft Carnegie Mellon Center for Computational Thinking, which will focus on promoting the importance of computers for innovation in nearly any field. Annual "mindswaps" will be held at the center, where scientists will gather to share research and develop ideas on how to address emerging issues. The meetings will lead to "probes," which will combine experts in diverse fields to take on specific issues. The center will also focus on showing students and teachers the value of a computer science education, beginning with a summer camp this year called "Computer Science for All." "The future of all sciences and engineering rests on the power of computing," says CMU computer science department head Jeanette Wing. She cites the "shotgun" algorithm, which allowed the sequencing of the human genome, as evidence of scientific achievement that would not be possible without computing. Wing hopes that parents will begin to realize the importance of computing and show their children that "you can go into computing and do anything ... My bias is that you would have an advantage over others," she explains. "Because of my argument that computers are going to become pervasive, if you go into medical school or business school or law school, you will have an edge over your friends if you've been a computer science major."
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Tougher Standards Could End E-Voting
Inside Bay Area (CA) (03/28/07) Hoffman, Ian

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has announced new voting standards that could result in the end of e-voting in the state. The state will now demand the ability to use "red teams" of computer experts to try hacking into every voting machine and scrutinize every line of the machines' software code. Election officials say that with the primary election set for February 2008, it is unlikely the machines could be repaired in time if they fail these reviews. Bowen's decision was praised by several e-voting experts. Johns Hopkins' Avi Rubin says, "Debra Bowen is holding up voting machines to the standards they deserve," and VerifiedVoting.org founder David Dill says, "It's much to be preferred over our current see-no-evil approach. In every other case of red team attacks on voting machines and examination of their software code, experts have found major security problems." For three years California has had, but not enforced, laws requiring paper ballots that the blind can verify using audio playback, and that voting machines be "reasonably secured against untraceable vote tampering" and DoS attacks. "The criteria are clearly designed to eliminate DRE voting in California," said Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Michael Shamos. "An army of computer scientists will come forward to testify that computer programs cannot be verified to be secure against undetectable vote tampering and therefore they all will have to be decertified." Bowen's plans include decertification or withdrawal of state approval if the systems do not meet the standards. Florida and New Mexico have already gone back to paper ballots for elections.
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Controversy Swirls Around Changes in GPLv3
eWeek (03/27/07) Galli, Patrick

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) will release the third discussion draft on the GNU General Public License on March 28, amid questions of whether the license will be doomed by the attempt to prevent loopholes like the one Microsoft and Novell were able to exploit to form an alliance. According to GPLv3, "If any entity that distributes the software arranges to protect a particular group from patents regarding that software, it must protect everyone," says open source expert Bruce Perens. However, Linux-Watch editor Steven Vaughan-Nichols says that "getting clauses into GPLv3 that will block similar deals from happening in the future, while avoiding cutting legitimate software patents uses off at the knees, is going to be almost impossible." However, the FSF does not see "any legitimate use for software patents," and this philosophy is consistent with GPLv2, explains Perens. He expects large patent holders to use GPLv3 so far as they can retain a reasonable number of patents. Novell could continue using GPLv2 patents, but could go no further as the rest of the free software world moves forward. For GPL to "freeze on one version would act to erode its protections over time," says Perens. The Association for Competing Technology says GPLv3 will make it very difficult for Microsoft and Novell to use the license, and that it would not allow them to provide customers with the certainty they are asking for regarding intellectual property. Perens points out that the Linux community should not assume that GPLv3 would prohibit the Linux kernel from running on systems that use DRM, or that the license will require manufacturers to give up intellectual property. Perens expects the Linux kernel to go to GPLv3 in the next couple of years, but even if it does not he expects the license to have a major effect.
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World Scholar to Run New UTSA Cyber-Security Institute
University of Texas at San Antonio (03/27/07) Gabler, David

The University of Texas at San Antonio is creating a cyber security research institute, and information assurance and security expert Ravi S. Sandhu will serve as its founding executive director and chief scientist. Sandhu, chief scientist and co-founder of security solutions provider TriCipher, will leave George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and join UTSA as the Lutcher Brown Chair in Computer Science June 1. The UTSA Institute for Cyber Security Research (ICSR) will look to commercialize its research into solutions that will help protect the key cyber infrastructure of the nation. Sandhu is an ACM fellow, and was the founding editor-in-chief of the ACM Transactions on Information and System Security. An author of more than 160 research papers on information security, Sandhu has contributed tremendously in the area of role-based access control and his work is found in the standards of the National Institute of Standards and Technology-American National Standards Institute and the upcoming International Organization for Standardization model. UTSA is using a $3.5 million grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to help create ICSR and hire Sandhu.
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Q&A: IBM Seeks to Make Streaming Media Accessible to Visually Impaired
Computerworld (03/26/07) Weiss, Todd R.

IBM researcher Chieko Asakawa, who is blind herself, recently discussed IBM's work in making multimedia content accessible for the blind. She explains that if accessibility is not maintained as the Internet grows and changes, a "digital gap" will form between the sighted and the blind. The tool her team has developed recognizes multimedia buttons that would normally require a mouse click, and imposes them onto a unified shortcut key used to run video and animation. External metadata is adapted "on the fly" to make pages accessible, explains Asakawa. "Once a user opens a Web page, the browser automatically analyzes multimedia objects inside the page, then the browser [establishes] a connection to each multimedia object." The tool, which currently has adaptors for Flash and Windows Media Player, also creates a text-based interface from manually created XML, which can be read aloud to a blind user. Content owners or authors would have to create these audio descriptions, although they could be added after the content is posted. Users can control the volume and speed of the description of what is happening in a video and the video's soundtrack. Asakawa says the tool allows her to use multimedia content that was previously inaccessible to her. The team eventually plans to make the tool compatible with other media players, and it will soon undergo usability tests before being open sourced.
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NJIT Team to Study Creativity in Studio-Based Learning
New Jersey Institute of Technology (03/26/07) Weinstein, Sheryl

A New Jersey Institute of Technology study will test the ability of the traditional studio design model of learning to enhance computer science education. NJIT has successfully implemented this studio method in design programs for architecture and biomedicine. "This project allows us to study the effect of casual interactions and ubiquitous computing on creativity and innovation in interdisciplinary design studios," explains research leader Wassim Jabi. "We will also test the hypothesis that creativity and innovation can be enhanced through interdisciplinary work and that a ubiquitous computing environment can aid human-computer interactions." Jabi believes that combining digital, physical, and social environments into a unified "socio-computing learning space" will enhance student's creativity. The research will focus on the ability of students to solve real-world problems using a design-thinking approach. "Our goal is to define a novel educational model that can be replicated nationally," says Jabi. "This model will ensure that our students � are able to leverage collaborative technologies that work face-to-face and remotely." The research team will create guidelines to provide evidence of the studio-based method's effectiveness, or lack thereof. The architecture program currently uses an interactive computer system for real-time sharing and annotation of presentations, the ability to manipulate shared 3D virtual models, real-time videoconferencing, and evaluations by remote "jurors."
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Researchers Talk Cyber Security at Conference
Dartmouth News (03/27/07) Coburn, Michael

Dartmouth hosted a conference last week of more than 60 researchers from 12 different countries, who discussed the necessity of protecting the world's computer systems from cyber-terrorism. Given the growing interconnectivity of the computers that support transportation, banking, and other systems, cyber-terrorism could have a tremendous impact on security and the global economy. Oil and gas infrastructure was a major topic of discussion at the conference. "The way it works is the oil and gas are controlled through process control systems," said I3P research director Eric Goetz. "They would reduce temperature and flow of the pipeline and could open and close valves. What's happened in the last five to 10 years is that these systems are run off of Windows system and are connected to the Internet. The connectivity creates real vulnerability." Potentially exploitable gaps in infrastructure security must be identified, according to keynote speaker and I3P research director Charles Palmer, but researchers must also develop solutions that can be realistically executed. "We can provide technology but the failure of the industry and research is that what we offer people is so complicated to get secure it's impossible to use," Palmer said. "People are the critical infrastructure we need to protect. We need to build systems that are secure and usable for what my sister calls 'normal people' or we're just doomed."
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3-D Vision Stretches From Medicine to Space
Boston Globe (03/26/07) Berger, J.M.

A modified version of the medical imaging tool 3D Slicer is enabling astronomers to explore images from space. Harvard's Initiative in Innovative Computing released the visualization technology last week, which is based on the computer program surgeons use to zoom in, rotate, and move around the terrain as they inspect an image of the body. Alyssa Goodman, director of the computing initiative and professor of astronomy at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, used the software to explore a nebula in the Perseus constellation, and she was able to find nearly two times as many jets of gas coming from young stars and see more features from the region of space. "In our field, we don't know what these things look like," says Goodman. "So it's amazing when you can see something you could never see." The idea to modify 3D Slicer came from medical technology specialist Michael Halle a few years ago after the MIT-trained computer scientist attended a conference on visualization technology and heard Goodman call for the modeling of multidimensional astronomical data.
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Intel Modifies Wi-Fi to Add Mileage
CNet (03/27/07) Kanellos, Michael

Intel Research Berkeley recently demonstrated a Wi-Fi system that can send a wireless signal over 60 miles. Eric Brewer, director of the Intel-owned lab, which cooperates on research projects with UC Berkeley, says "It is regular Wi-Fi hardware but with modified software." The system uses standard, although slightly modified, access points, but the antennas used to deliver the signal use new directional technology. The technology is being developed for use in countries with poor communications infrastructures. One such antennae in a remote village, for example, could receive a signal and send it through various towers to fiber links, which would provide villagers with an Internet connection. The village antenna could also extend the reach of the Wi-Fi signal to neighboring villages. The Wi-Fi antennas would cost about $700, compared with WiMax towers that cost about $15,000 to $20,000, and since Wi-Fi spectrum is not regulated by local telecoms it could be used without government permission. Some emerging nations, such as Pakistan, are experimenting with using both Wi-Fi and WiMax; and Intel will conduct a trial of its technology in Uganda later this year. The long-range Wi-Fi system is programmed to send signals only from one tower to another rather than in a 360-degree circle. The signal is "steered" using an electrical signal, which means it can connect towers, even if they are put in the ground slightly crooked, or a physical object comes between the towers. Some protocols and procedures of conventional Wi-Fi are done away with by this system, such as "handshaking" and collision detection.
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Despite Upgrades, Security Experts Fear $100 Laptops
InfoWorld (03/25/07) Hines, Matt

At this year's SchmooCon show, computer experts discussed the possible impact of the One Laptop Per Child Program, specifically regarding its security capabilities. The XO-1 laptop, the latest model to be created, includes security features such as embedded technology that allows improved encryption and a Linux-based operating system that cannot be changed. Users are able to download any application they want, but the system will not run those that exhibit virus-like behavior. The security architecture, known as BitFrost, runs each program in a semi-virtual environment, so as to keep applications from interacting with each other maliciously. "Security vendors would say don't let the kids run anything you haven't signed, but that says nothing about the corrupting of approved applications or attacking the rest of the system; and since we want kids to have complete control of the computers, that's not an option," explains OLPC security director Ivan Krstic. "Instead of protecting from executing untrusted code, we protect while running unwanted code, and keep it from doing bad things to the system." However, efforts to let users access the laptop's foundational operations, such as a button that shows a program's source code, could allow the machines to be made into a 10-million-node botnet operation, warns Booz Allen Hamilton consultant Sean Coyne. "Through changing it, people can nullify all the security concerns that have been taken, and throw away the good work that's been done," he says. Foreign governments could use the laptops to distribute propaganda or track people's movements. Many are concerned that the project was too quick in assuming the educational effect of handing laptops to children, and has ignored important security concerns.
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The New Face of Emoticons
Technology Review (03/27/07) Graham, Rowe

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have developed Face Alive Icons, software that can manipulate the picture of someone's face to show a range of emotions, allowing Internet users to show pictures of themselves rather than using cartoon "emoticons." Once a person has uploaded a picture of themselves with a neutral expression, they can warp the facial features by typing in common text symbols such as ":)" to display happiness and have the new image appear on a recipient's screen. Sending such images has been thought of before, "But the traditional approach is just to send the image itself," says Face Alive creator Xin Li. "The problem is, the size will be too big, particularly for low-bandwidth applications like PDAs and cell phones." With Face Alive, a recipient device stores a decomposition of the original image, which can be put together as needed. To create the software, Li developed computational models for each type of expression using a learning program that analyzes the expressions stored in a database to identify features unique to each one. After uploading a picture onto a computer, a user would click on several key areas of the face in order to identify them for the computer. These parts of the face make up the profile that is stored on recipients' computers, so all that needs to be sent is the command for a given expression. A limitless number of expressions can be sent without taking up additional space.
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Robots With Rhythm Could Rock Your World
New Scientist (03/22/07) Biever, Celeste

A soft-rubber robot named Keepon is demonstrating that robots with the ability to pick up and move along with a rhythm are better suited for human interaction. Keepon has neither arms nor legs, but contains motors, wires, and a mechanical device known as a gimbal that allows the robot to nod, twist, bob, or shake along with a beat picked out from a piece of music. Carnegie Mellon University's Marek Michalowski says the usefulness of such technology extends beyond dancing and music. "Rhythm and synchrony are the foundations of social interactions," Michalowski says. "So I think that for us to comfortably interact with a robot, it needs to be capable of that." Psychological evidence shows that people are more receptive of robots that can synchronize their movements to a human's voice. "In the future, you are going to be talking to some robot and just the ability of the robot to nod to what you are saying will make it easier to interact," Michalowski adds. Keepon uses Max/MSP software, often used to synchronize screen savers to music, that allows him to react to voices. Whereas Sony's Qrio robot is preprogrammed to perform a dance routine, Keepon can actively recognize rhythm and respond to visual cues, thanks to two cameras in his "eyes." At the annual NICT open house in Japan, children were noticed to be more willing to dance along with a robot that is moving in time with music, rather than moving randomly. "This tells us there is something happening here," says Michalowski. "The robot's rhythmic ability is having some effect on the interaction." The researchers plan to eventually add arms and legs and to develop Keepon's ability to detect rhythms in human speech.
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U.S.-Based Servers Host Majority of Malicious Code, Study Finds
Computerworld (03/26/07) Vijayan, Jaikumar

The majority of malicious code is hosted on U.S.-based servers, according to an analysis of more than 10 million URLs collected from live end-user traffic in Britain, using security vendor Finjan's content inspection engines. Finjan CTO Yuval Ben-Itzhak said about 80 percent of malicious code comes from servers hosted in the United States. The other countries hosting the most significant amount of malicious code are the United Kingdom, with 10 percent, followed by Canada, Germany, and Italy. Ben-Itzhak said the findings dispel the myth that the majority of malicious code is hosted in countries with underdeveloped e-crime laws. The reason for this malware hosting trend may be that free Web hosting servers are more readily available in North America and Europe, making it more cost-effective for cybercriminals to host malicious code on servers in those countries. In many cases, malicious code appears to have been hosted on servers with legitimate content that was compromised by hackers. Malicious code is also more commonly found on sites visited by business users and consumers, such as travel and financial sites, whereas previously malicious code was most commonly found on sites with questionable content, such as pornographic sites. Botnets and Trojans are the most widely distributed programs, according to the Finjan report.
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Hackers, Designers Talk Tech's Future at ETech
CNet (03/26/07) Olsen, Stephanie

The O'Reilly ETech Conference will bring together more than 1,000 technologists to discuss emerging technology, and will focus on how new applications and gadgets change the world. "We're featuring individuals who are innovating in slight changes in the use of technology," said program chair Rael Dornfest. "A lot of what we will see in the next year or two are these ongoing plate tectonics, rather than massive sea change in technology. Therein lies the magic." One such example was AttenTV, an application that provides Internet users with a streaming record of another users' clicks, which is currently available for Mac users only. "As you spend more time online, your clickstream increasingly represents who you are and what you are interested in," says the AttenTV Web site. "AttenTV turns one person's clickstream data into another person's entertainment." ETech is also focusing on the perspective shifts resulting from the new use of old technology. "Little innovations that make a big difference are more interesting than some of the big product announcements," said Dornfest. Topics of discussion at this year's conference will include how to develop Web 2.0 applications that ensure individuals' privacy, how collaborative, reality-based games take on social issues, and how high-end computer graphics will increasingly play into our lives.
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Q&A: Stanford Applies a Clean Slate to the Internet
Network World (03/26/07) Vol. 24, No. 12, P. 14; Greene, Tim

Stanford University's Clean Slate Design for the Internet is examining the ways the Internet would be built from scratch if it were to be completely erased, in order to gain insight into how it can be improved in the future. In an interview, project leader and Stanford associate professor Nick McKeown says a key starting point is a network that is economically sustainable. He says network operators are not making a profit from public Internet service, because cost is being driven down due to the fact that the marginal cost of adding a customer is zero. Eventually, all those who have not paid for the infrastructure could go out of business, leaving a monopoly, a possibility that he says may need to be accepted and worked with. To ensure trust in the network, McKeown suggests replacing Ethernet switches with those that contain only a flow table, to link users with data sent and inhibit the ability of viruses to spread. If a packet is received and is not in the flow table, it could be sent to a centralized controller, which makes the routing decision based on a predetermined policy. Concerning mobile devices, the group is still trying to decide on a starting point. To boost performance, McKeown suggests that packets processed by routers be processed in a more aggregate way, so optical switches could be used. Since boundary routers know where packets should go, the big routers that boundary routers sit near could be replaced with a small optical switch, so "edge routers could set up an [optical] circuit across the Internet to another edge router to which they have a lot of traffic to send," he says. Switching to optical routers would alleviate the power problem currently facing router companies. Although the core of the Internet could be scaled up to meet future demands, McKeown does not believe that such an idea is very realistic. McKeown says the group is still trying to decide on a starting point for mobile devices.
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FCC Begins Net Neutrality Inquiry
InternetNews.com (03/23/07) Mark, Roy

The FCC has unanimously voted to open a Notice of Inquiry to determine whether or not telecom companies' plans to charge content providers based on bandwidth usage would threaten the open nature of the Internet. "Although we are not aware of any current blocking situations, the Commission remains vigilant in protecting consumers' access to content on the Internet," said FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin. The inquiry will look into how service providers are managing their Internet traffic and whether or not the FCC should distinguish between content providers that charge users for access and those that do not. "Gathering this information will allow us to better monitor this market and determine the extent to which providers are acting consistently with our Internet Policy Statement," Martin said. In 2005, the FCC stated that Internet users had basic rights to access content; run applications and services; connect devices to the network; and to expect competition among network, application, content, and service providers. However, discriminatory practices by broadband providers are not prohibited by this announcement, and the Commission has classified cable modem, DSL, broadband over power lines, and wireless Internet as information systems, meaning they cannot be regulated beyond the 2005 user rights measure. Some are concerned that the NOI will be forgotten and service providers will move forward with their plans to charge for prioritized delivery. A poll by the Consumer's Union and the Consumer Federation showed that two-thirds of Internet users surveyed were concerned about the ability of service providers to block or prioritize access.
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Games Theory
Science News (03/17/07) Vol. 171, No. 11, P. 170; Peterson, Ivars

Researchers are attempting to address big computational challenges such as refining online search, locating objects in images, filtering content, language translation, and the development of common sense, through online gaming. "People around the world spend billions of hours playing computer games," notes Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Luis von Ahn. "We can channel all this time and energy into useful work to solve large-scale computational problems and collect the data necessary to make computers more intelligent." One example is the ESP Game developed by von Ahn, in which two players come up with words to describe an image, and are awarded points when the words match; in this way, images can be creatively labeled to facilitate easier Web searching. Players are encouraged to choose more creative, less obvious descriptive terms by being restricted from using certain words. Training computers to determine the location of an image of an object is the goal behind Phetch, another game of von Ahn's in which players search for images that fit certain descriptions in a scavenger hunt scheme. One player or narrator types out a description of an image chosen from a database at random, and then several other players or seekers find the image by using a built-in browser; points are awarded to the narrator every time a search is carried out successfully, while the first seeker to find the image gets points and assumes the role of narrator for the next image. Von Ahn's latest game, Verbosity, is founded on the concept of building a database of common-sense facts through gameplay. In Verbosity, one player is given a word and presents hints about the word to another player in the form of sentences with blanks where words should go. Von Ahn says all his games have a time limit because he wants participants to play faster and thus generate more data.
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Minds of Their Own
National Journal (03/24/07) Vol. 39, No. 12, P. 38; Munro, Neil

Some technologists are concerned that increasingly intelligent computers will eventually surpass humanity and achieve self-awareness, leading to the sinister possibility that conscious machines could subjugate and perhaps even destroy mankind. "AI systems could pose a more direct threat to human autonomy, freedom, and even survival," stated Google research director Peter Norvig in his book, "Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach." In theory it is possible for humans to give computers the speed to run the software necessary for describing patterns and common sense, but then computers face the barrier of experiential learning. Some technologists are focusing their energies into overcoming this barrier by devising and applying novel software or exotic hardware; the motivation for this pursuit is the tremendous wealth a learning computer could generate as well as the intellectual achievement such a breakthrough would represent. The development of AI systems has become a priority for the federal government, mainly to reduce battlefield casualties and shore up the defenses and efficiency of military computer systems. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency insists that the new computing systems whose creation it is spurring "will not have the self-awareness, desire to survive, and ambition exhibited by humans and other biological organisms." Inventor and author Ray Kurzweil forecasts that people will gradually link their brains to high-tech devices and become increasingly reliant on implants, while nonhuman intelligences will eventually gain legal rights even before they are formally recognized by governments. Technology experts say the best hope for humanity's survival and coexistence with intelligent computers is a "soft takeoff" in which machines evolve at a slow enough pace so that people and their governments have sufficient time to adapt rules and expectations to keep abreast of technological changes and possibly create methods to guarantee intelligent machines' continued benevolence even as they exceed human intelligence through self-augmentation.
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