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ACM TechNews
April 4, 2007

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Association for Computing Machinery President's Award Honors Leading Proponent of Computer Security, Ethics, Safety
AScribe Newswire (04/03/07)

ACM Fellow Eugene H. Spafford will be given the rarely bestowed ACM President's Award at the ACM Annual Awards Banquet on June 9, in San Diego, for his enduring and impressive leadership in computer security, policy, professional responsibility, and the Internet. In a career that has included writing, research, teaching, and addressing Congress, Spafford has worked in software debugging, intrusion detection, digital crime forensics, firewalls, security management, and secure architectures. Among his accomplishments is the development of TripWire, the first free intrusion detection system distributed on the Internet. Spafford currently enjoys a joint professorship in Computer Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University, where he founded and currently serves as the executive director of the Purdue Center for Education Research and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS). Spafford also chairs the ACM U.S. Public Policy Committee and has received honors including the 2006 Outstanding Contribution Award from ACM SIGSAC, the 2004 Making a Difference Award from the ACM SIGCAS, and the 2006 IEEE Computer Society Technical Achievement Award. In addition, Spafford has served as a member of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) from 2003 through 2005 and senior advisor to the NSF's Assistant Director of the Computer Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE) Directorate, the Government Accountability Office, the U.S. Air Force, the National Security Agency, the FBI, and the Department of Energy. For more information on the ACM Annual Awards Banquet, see http://awards.acm.org/2006.
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Gore Challenges Embedded Designers
EE Times (04/03/07) Mokhoof, Nicolas

Al Gore's keynote address at the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose stressed the role of his audience in dealing with the climate crisis, which he referred to as "the moral imperative of our day" and compared it to the launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union. "For the most part, the effect of population on our climate is balancing itself out over many years, while technology has dramatically accelerated the rate of which the climate has been affected over the past 50 years," he said. "We need to have a much finer-grain mix of money and intelligence in generating our public policies that affect this crisis." Designers must rethink systems to eliminate the "grossly inefficient systems running or energy economy," and create architectures that are built around the idea of energy efficiency, he said. Among his recommendations was to incorporate parallel processing in our day-to-day lives to "alleviate inefficient computing paradigms." Gore also noted the loss of interest in science and engineering among U.S. students, and that designers can impact this trend by displaying the way engineers can change the world and avoid crisis. If the threat level posed by climate change could equal that of Sputnik, the concept could achieve a "moral authority" for change, he said. "Once the possible threat was understood, President Kennedy's goal of landing a man on the moon was achieved fairly quickly."
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Opposition to Electronic Voting System Grows in France
New York Times (04/03/07) P. A3

France's presidential election is less than three weeks away, but many are concerned about the reliability of e-voting machines, which will be used for the first time in a French presidential election. More than 80 municipalities plan to use the machines. Some fears have been spurred because a small portion of the machines to be used are manufactured by the company whose machines were at the center of the recent Florida congressional election controversy, where 18,000 votes allegedly went unrecorded. "The fear shown by numerous voters faced with a system they don't know runs the risk of keeping them away from the polls," said a Socialist party release, adding that the threats of fraud and "massive and undetectable errors" are quite realistic. The party also noted that machines made by Nedap, a Dutch company, had been "sharply disputed in countries in which they've been used." Nedap machines are scheduled for use in 80 percent of French municipalities. Ireland abandoned Nedap machines in 2004 and 2006, after their reliability came into question. The manufacturer has denied any factual basis for these claims, stating the machines meet French regulations. The Union for French Democracy candidate for president, Francois Bayrou, has said the nation must "stop this evolution and suspend all use" of electronic voting, since its reliability cannot be ensured. However, the Constitutional Council, the country's highest constitutional body, said the machines "have been declared in conformity with the Constitution." France has used e-voting in regional and European elections since 2004 and has not experienced problems.
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Senate H-1B Bill Seeks to Give U.S. Workers a Better Shot at Tech Job Openings
Computerworld (04/03/07) Thibodeau, Patrick

A bill introduced in the Senate last week seeks to strengthen enforcement of the H-1B visa program and allow U.S. workers to have the first chance at job openings. The H-1B and L-1 Visa Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act of 2007, proposed by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), would allow the Department of Labor to hire 200 additional employees "to administer, oversee, investigate and enforce the H-1B program," and perform random audits of employers using H-1B visas. Applications for the visas would be investigated for "clear indications of fraud or misrepresentation of material fact," said the senators, as opposed to current regulations that only allow applications to be checked for "completeness and obvious inaccuracies." Companies would be required to post job openings for 30 days on Labor's Web site before applying to hire H-1B workers, and Labor would have to post summaries of all H-1B applications received on its Web site. The bill would outlaw the hiring of H-1B workers and outsourcing them to other companies, and would require that H-1B and L-1 visa holders, foreign nationals with an advanced degree from a U.S. university, receive prevailing wages. Other provisions addressing the L-1 visa program include a ban on practice of employers submitting blanket petitions for L-1 visa holders. Opponents of the current H-1B program claim that it results in decreased wages and offshoring of jobs. Both senators responsible for the bill are members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is expected to hold a hearing for the bill.
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Despite Its Aging Design, the x86 Is Still in Charge
CNet (04/03/07) Krazit, Tom

Originally developed in 1978, the x86 instruction set architecture (ISA) is still used in 90 percent of PCs and servers worldwide, due to its sufficient performance and the fact that most software in the past three decades has been written for it. Engineers have found a way to adapt x86 to any major shifts that have occurred in the field, but some feel that its continued use has slowed advances in energy efficiency and software innovation. As extensions are added to the ISA, its complexity increases, and the old features must be supported. "There's no reason whatsoever why the Intel architecture remains so complex," says XenSource CTO Simon Crosby. "There's no reason why they couldn't ditch 60 percent of the transistors on the chip, most of which are for legacy modes." If chips would be made to only run software developed after a certain point in the 1990s, power consumption and cost could be decreased, but even Windows has DOS code from the early 1980s buried within it. While the potential for increased performance could convince the industry to move away from x86, it is doubtful that more than a 10 percent increase in performance over the current x86 could be achieved, says AMD CTO Phil Hester. Multicore architectures could eventually move away from chips that all have the same instruction set and incorporate smaller, more cost-effective cores created on an x86 using other ISAs that would be made to handle certain tasks, such as video processing. IBM's Cell processor design currently uses a PowerPC core to supervise eight individual processing units, and in the future x86 could be used for backward compatibility and dedicated hardware, that may or may not run x86, could execute next-generation processing duties.
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Robotic Fleas Spring Into Action
Technology Review (04/03/07) Graham-Rowe, Duncan

University of California, Berkeley electrical engineer Sara Bergbreiter is developing flea-sized robots with tremendous leaping ability that could act as a swarm of mobile sensors. The ability to jump 30 times the robot's height comes from stretching a silicon rubber band that is only nine microns thick; early tests have shown that a seven-millimeter robot could jump 200 millimeters high. Hopping is an ideal way to move about an uneven terrain, aside from flying, which is far more difficult to achieve in a robot, but in order to have the energy to hop, the robots must be able to collect and store solar energy. "At that size, the critical issue is power, so it is a good choice to store energy," says Carnegie Mellon roboticist Metin Sitti. The project is the result of Bergbreiter's idea to create distributed-sensor networks that incorporate functional mobility to create mesh networks over long distances. She developed a tiny solar-cell array to give the device power, a microcontroller to dictate behavior, and a series of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) motors on a silicon substrate. These motors are part of a ratcheting mechanism known as inchworm motors, which pull two hooks apart to stretch a rubber band. The current prototype is much larger than an actual flea, but Bergbreiter hopes to construct another that measures one millimeter, or flea size. She also needs to add a tiny photovoltaic cell that has been developed, before presenting her results at next week's International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Rome, Italy. With robots so small, drag can be a problem, so acceleration must account for this. Creating such acceleration requires more energy than the robot can acquire from its solar panels, thus the importance of storing energy.
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Center to Use PROBE
The Tartan (04/02/07) Vol. 101, No. 21, deBriffault, Christine

Carnegie Mellon's Center for Computational Thinking will bring researchers together to tackle real-world problems and cultivate computational thinking across disciplinary boundaries. The center will use Problem-Oriented Explorations (PROBEs), which bring together scientists from various fields, to establish an intellectual foundation on which new findings can be made and results can be quickly moved from one application area to another. The center's effort to spread computational thinking to all levels of education has already manifested itself in "CS4All" summer programs that show teachers and students the possibilities that computing can lead to. In the March 2006 issue of Communications of the ACM, CMU computer science department head Jeanette Wing explained that computational thinking concerns the use of abstracts and automation to solve problems, engineer systems, and gain insight into human behavior. In a speech to an elementary school, Wing provided an example of computational thinking: "When you learn long division, you are learning a specific algorithm to divide one number into another; when you learn about sets, you are learning about a specific data type that enjoys certain algebraic properties that other data types do not. Sets are unordered and have no duplicate elements; sequences are ordered and might have duplicate elements." She also explained that abstraction and automation through computational thinking "give us the ability to scale beyond what one human can do in time or reach in space." A class called "Ways to Think Like a Computer Scientist" is planned for first-year CMU students. "As time goes by, computer science and computational thinking will have a more important role in business as well as other fields, and a class like this will be beneficial to prepare students for successful careers," said CMU business major Josh Mann.
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Expert Says the Future Is Bright
Houston Chronicle (04/03/07) Berger, Eric

Technology advocate and innovator Ray Kurzweil discussed the law of accelerating returns with Houston Chronicle science writer Eric Berger before his speech at the University of Houston on Wednesday. During the interview, Kurzweil said the future, or the overall impact of information technology, can be predicted because we know it doubles in power every year. "We multiply the price performance, the capacity, and the bandwidth of all these different technologies by a factor of a billion in the next 25 years--if you look at how influential these are already--you can imagine what it's going to be like when they're a billion times stronger, and how profoundly it's going to impact our lives," he said. Kurzweil expects human intelligence to be mastered, as several hundred more brain regions will be modeled and simulated in the next 20 years. He does not view the emergence of artificial intelligence in our world as machines taking over, but as an extension of human civilization. "This is already a human-machine civilization. Our machines are part of our world, and they already extend our intelligence," Kurzweil said. "Every time you use a search engine you're expanding human intelligence, and very little science can be done today without computers. And as computers become more intelligent and more powerful, we're expanding our horizons. In my mind, that's really what it means to be human." Kurzweil also elaborated on his vision for health and longevity, which he discusses in his book, "The Singularity Is Near."
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Researchers Win $3.5 Million to Improve Wireless
Georgia Institute of Technology (04/02/07) Robinson, Rick

Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have received a $3.5 million grant to develop analog spectral processors (ASPs), analog chips that can scan radio-frequency bands for optimal reception. "The project's goal is basically to create a small, low-power handheld device that combines a spectrum analyzer and a truly powerful communication device," says team lead investigator Farrokh Ayazi. "The spectrum analyzer would scan the frequency spectrum all the way from 20 MHz to 6 GHz to find empty spots--channels that are receiving less use." Such ASPs could allow cell phones to find less-busy frequencies and enhance military communications during combat. Analog micro- and nano-mechanical circuits, rather than digital circuits, will be integral to the effort, as they move between signal levels continuously, whereas digital chips move separately and discontinuously and are unable to recognize transitions between levels. Micromechanical circuits use less power, run at lower temperatures, and are smaller and cheaper than digital circuits. To detect and hold frequencies, the researchers will build arrays of micromechanical resonators, also known as bulk acoustic-wave (BAW) resonators, out of nano-crystalline diamond made to reach frequencies as high as 10 GHz, using micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS). "These ultra-small micro-mechanical components must be free to move, so the packaging is totally different than the traditional integrated circuit," says Ayazi. "The combination of all these elements will eventually produce an array of highly improved tunable filters. The ultimate goal is to integrate ASPs with high-speed electronics on a single chip and bring unprecedented capabilities to the wireless world."
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Congress Finally Considers Aggressive E-Voting Overhaul
Ars Technica (04/01/07) Lee, Timothy B.

The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act is gaining support for its proposed reform of America's e-voting systems. Included in the bill is a ban of e-voting machines that do not have a paper trail; a requirement that prominently displayed notices remind voters to check the print-outs; a requirement for at least 3 percent of all votes to be audited to check for discrepancies between the paper and electronic records; a ban on voting machines that use wireless networking or connect to the Internet; and a requirement that machine source code be made publicly available. In hearings held by the House Administration Committee's Subcommittee, public interest groups and security experts expressed their approval of the bill. Some state officials complained that implementing the bill would be costly and difficult and would cause election results to be delayed. University of Maryland public policy professor Donald F. Norris made the claim that paper-based voting systems are inherently flawed and that computerized machines are more secure. He cited a Las Vegas survey showing that only 40 percent of respondents checked the print-out of their votes. Troubles stemming from the use of paper trails in Georgia and North Carolina were also brought up. Some pointed out the toll the bill would take on states that had already implemented a rigorous e-voting measures. However, the bill states that auditing procedures other than those specifically mentioned would be allowed, so long as they are approved by the NIST. States would also have the option of abandoning e-voting altogether.
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Q&A: Raj Reddy
Financial Express (Bangladesh) (04/02/07) Mahalakshmi, BV

ACM A.M. Turing Award recipient Raj Reddy recently spoke with the Financial Express about his ideas for using ICT to enhance rural entrepreneurship. He envisions a micro-equity model, which is to micro-finance what venture capital is to banks, he explained. "Fiber to the village and wireless for the last [kilometer] offer a hybrid low-cost communications solution that is essential for providing the high-bandwidth, low-cost communications link between the village entrepreneur and the teachers, mentors, managers," and others, explained Reddy, and the cost of developing such infrastructure would decrease even further with widespread use. He said that simply delivering content is not enough, since "digital divide" problems arise when users cannot read or write English, forcing them to use voice mail or video mail instead of email and video manuals and tutorials instead of user manuals. "For technology transfer to be successful, the recipient must have the capacity to absorb and internalize the technology," said Reddy, who believes that artificial intelligence could allow access to entertainment, telemedicine, and educational opportunities independent of language or distance. To truly be effective, a global knowledge network must connect villagers to experts, not just "raw information," Reddy explained. The answers provided by experts to various questions could be assembled into "'encyclopedia-on-demand" video documentary that could be dubbed into different languages. Global education lacks effective teachers and systems to cultivate talent that arises in adverse situations, but Reddy is confident that "AI can create a new affirmative action plan through data mining, intelligent tutoring systems, and online reading tutors with intelligent monitoring systems"
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Flexible Electronics Could Find Applications as Sensors, Artificial Muscles
Argonne National Laboratories (04/02/07)

Researchers from the Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratories and the University of Illinois are developing flexible electronic structures that could be used as sensors and electronic devices in artificial muscles or biological tissues, or as hydrogen sensors. The research aims to create single-crystalline semiconductor nanoribbons in stretchable geometrical configurations, with an emphasis on the materials' response to strain. Most flexible electronics use conducting plastic-based liquids printed onto thin surfaces that can be bent without deforming, explains Argonne scientist Yugang Sun. "The objective of our work was to generate a concept along with subsequent technology that would allow for electronic wires and circuits to stretch like rubber bands and accordions leading to sensor-embedded covers for aircraft and robots, and even prosthetic skin for humans," he says. Sun and his co-researcher are currently focusing on stretchable electronics and sensors to be used in a smart surgical glove and hemispheric electronic eye imagers. So far, they have successfully created thin silicon ribbons designed to bend, stretch, and compress without losing their functionality.
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Why the Rich Get Richer
UC Davis News and Information (04/02/07)

A new study published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows how some nodes in a network can end up with more connections than others. Like other kinds of real-world data, the number of connections on a computer network tend to follow power laws, which can be caused by "preferential attachment," also known as the "rich get richer" effect. "'The rich get richer' makes sense for wealth, but why would it happen for Internet routers?" asks Raissa D'Souza, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering and the Center for Computational Science and Engineering. Previously believed to be a part of the nature of networks, preferential attachment can become stronger or weaker when tradeoffs between the network distance between nodes and the number of connections are made. Such adjustments could be applied to networks in biology, engineering, computer science, or social sciences. Christian Borgs and Jennifer T. Chayes at Microsoft Research, Noam Berger at UCLA, and Robert D. Keinberg at Cornell University assisted D'Souza on the research project.
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Some Parting Words From PSC'S Beverly Clayton
HPC Wire (03/29/07) Vol. 16, No. 13,

Beverly Clayton, Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center's executive director since its founding in 1986, is retiring on March 31. After overseeing the initial hiring and organizational procedures, Clayton has focused on outreach projects and securing funding for the center. Upon its opening, PSC housed many systems that were the first of their kind available to the public. The center has not changed, only "grown," says Clayton. "The focus is still the same: Make available the most capable systems to the scientific community, and support researchers as much as possible to enable them to make breakthrough achievements." PSC, and other NSF-funded supercomputing centers, have "invited and attracted those applications whose need is for large-scale computational problems whose solution cannot be done with any other systems, and which may not have even be considered solvable until now," she adds. Clayton says PSC has established itself as the favorite center for the most demanding users, due to a staff that works with vendors and researchers on each new system. She believes the success of the center should be judged by the science that has been done. The biggest challenge is for the center to "continually ... justify [its] existence to a changing audience," says Clayton. "Funding agency personnel, at all levels, change every few years, and the institutional memory is short. Political forces also come into play." She believes that longer-term funding would be incredibly beneficial to such centers.
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ESC 07 Preview: Hardware or Software, It's All About the Code
EE Times (03/26/07) Cole, Bernard

Papers and classes at next week's Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) suggest that hardware and software development are practically one and the same in terms of code generation. The design of integrated circuits via rubyliths has been supplanted by hardware description languages (HDLs), and the embedded systems developer must maintain a concentration on proper system definition and modeling, fast and accurate code generation, and employment of all available code debugging and testing methods prior to the final design phase. "In order to survive in the future, engineers will need to know HDLs," contends Zeidman Technologies President Bob Zeidman in a paper he is presenting at ESC Spring. "ASICs and FPGAs are growing in complexity, which can be better handled by HDLs." Many papers focusing on the use of FPGAs in embedded systems give design implementation via HDL and undergirding hardware details equal attention. Other ESC presenters note that developers whose primary area of expertise is programming languages may not necessarily have to transition to HDLs such as VHDL and Verilog. HDL-optimized C-like variants and extensions such as Mitron-C, Handel-C, and System-C are emerging as rivals. A paper by Altera Santa Cruz's David Lau and Orion Pritchard details a direct to C compilation method that makes even the alterations and extensions of C-variants unnecessary.
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New Breed of Digital Tutor Yielding Learning Gains
Education Week (04/02/07) Vol. 26, No. 31, P. 9; Viadero, Debra

Educators are finding that "intelligent tutors" are an effective supplement to classroom instruction, thanks to their ability to understand a student's shortcomings, customize instruction, and provide instant tracking of behavior. Developed by Carnegie Mellon University researchers, Cognitive Tutor programs are currently in use in 1,500 school districts nationwide, and are either available on the market or in development for instruction in chemistry, foreign language, reading, and computer science, among other subjects. "What distinguishes intelligent tutors from integrated learning systems or skill-building software is that the tutors sort of both scaffold and support more complex cognitive processes," said Center for Children and Technology director Margaret Honey. "Well-designed tutors are smart enough to know there's not a single way to solve a problem, and that's what makes them 'intelligent.'" The NSF, the pentagon, and the Department of Education have supported intelligent-tutoring systems since the 1970s, but in a 2004 What Works Clearinghouse study, Cognitive Tutor Algebra was one of only two middle school math programs to receive a "positive" rating for effectiveness. Studies have shown that Cognitive Tutor can improve a student's performance by a single letter grade, while one-on-one human instruction has been found to increase performance by two letter grades. The "goal is not to replace teaching," explains CMU human-computer interaction professor Kenneth R. Koedinger. "It's to give teachers more time to do what they do best ... The contrast to use might be a textbook. With textbooks, students don't get feedback on solutions." Projects in development include a program that can carry out a dialogue with students, one that allows students to enter their own homework problems, and one that can "listen" to students reading aloud and provide feedback.
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The Universe Machine
New Scientist (03/31/07) Vol. 193, No. 2597, P. 30; Brooks, Michael

Scientists think a quantum gravity computer could reveal the workings of the universe by answering such mysteries as the absence of gravity in quantum theory and the behavior of fundamental particles. University of Oxford physicist David Deutsch proposed that a computer's workings will always adhere to the physical laws that govern the system, and from this came the conception of a quantum computer that can be in a "superposition" of two or more states simultaneously, making it capable of processing many inputs at once. A quantum gravity computer would not be subject to the laws of cause and effect, if certain theories about quantum gravity are accurate. Lucien Hardy of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics speculates that a quantum gravity computer would be superior to any other previously envisioned machine, as indicated by the fact that such a device might be able to see its results without running its algorithms. He further reasons that a quantum computer of ridiculously enormous proportions would be needed to simulate a quantum gravity computer, while the processing elements or gates of a quantum gravity computer would function at a level where causality does not exist. This means that any simulation attempt using a bigger machine governed by causal rules is doomed to failure. MIT researcher Seth Lloyd has his own theory of quantum gravity based on processing of information as quantum systems interact. He claims this demonstrates that a quantum computer can indeed simulate quantum gravity.
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