Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
April 6, 2007

MemberNet
The ACM Professional Development Centre
Unsubscribe

Welcome to the April 6, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Software's Benefits on Tests in Doubt
Washington Post (04/05/07)No. 121, P. A1; Paley, Amit R.

A Department of Education report shows that educational software is no more effective in improving students scores on standardized tests than traditional classroom education, although a good deal of blame is being placed on the school's implementation rather than the software itself. The study, which looked at 15 math and reading programs used by 8,224 students in 132 schools during the 2004-2005 school year, is the largest to date comparing the standardized test scores of students whose schools used the software with those whose schools did not. Educational software is increasingly being used by schools systems looking for ways to meet the requirements of 2002's No Child Left Behind Act. However, DoE representative Katherine McLane said, "We are concerned that the technology that we have today isn't being utilized as effectively as it can be to raise student achievement," leaving open the possibility that the software's potential to help is being hindered by human error. "The fact is that technology is only one part of it, and the implementation of the technology is critical to success," said Software and Information Industry Association director Mark Schneiderman. Los Angeles abandoned the use of $50 million of educational software it purchased in 2001 after it was found to have no effect on standardized test scores. Not surprisingly, the district blamed the lack of impact on poor implementation caused by a lack of preparedness by teachers. Some feel that software should not be blamed, because doing so cause mean the least affluent districts would do away with it first, depriving these children of technology. Many schools involved in the study are now critical of it, despite being enthusiastic when invited to take part in 2004.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Data Storage in a Petri Dish
Computerworld (04/05/07) Hoard, Bruce

Researchers are experimenting with different ways of storing data on incredibly small scales. A recent project at Keiko University for Advanced Biosciences showed the ability to encode data in bacteria and have it passed on through generations in an organism's DNA. The idea behind the Department of Energy project is to allow data to survive a nuclear disaster. Reading the data proved more difficult than encoding it and researchers believe it could be decades before an effective data-retrieval technique is developed. Another technique, storage of a single bit on an atom, was achieved in 2002 at the University of Wisconsin, when a small amount of gold on the surface of silicon was made to spur the self-assembly of tracks on the nanometer level. In 1959, Richard Feynman imagined such atomic memory with five atoms separating each bit, and the 2002 results showed that the minimum empty space around each bit is four atoms. Reading data encoded to atoms is relatively easy, requiring only a simple line scan with a scanning tunneling electron microscope. However, writing the data is more difficult and time consuming, since much less energy can be extracted from such small bits during readout. Where the DNA storage technique requires 32 atoms to store a single bit, this silicon atom memory requires 20 atoms per bit. Finally, University of Arizona researchers are working with microelectronic arms to read and write data in clusters of molecules on nanotech organic film. The system uses cantilevers that write data by injecting a current in the film that changes the electric resistance at the point of contact. The team believes 1 million of these cantilevers could be make to run in parallel, as they are simpler devices than the transistors that run parallel by the millions in today's processors.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Desperately Seeking Bulgarian Programmers
Business Week (04/09/07)No. 4029, P. 31; Ewing, Jack

Technology companies are starting to experience a shortage of skilled labor in Central Europe, a region that has had a reputation for having a deep pool of math and science graduates. Companies such as Hewlett-Packard, SAP, and Dell have been attracted to the region with hopes of finding IT talent that would be willing to work for a third of what IT workers in Western Europe are paid. The competition for IT talent has helped push up salaries by double digits annually, and some big companies are now looking to relocate to the hinterlands to search for cheaper labor. "There's too much competition in Sofia," Oleksandr Shcherbina, quality chief for German communications gear maker Hilscher, says of the capital of Bulgaria. The pain has been felt the most by smaller companies. "If you build your economic model only around low-cost labor, you have a three- or four-year window where you have an advantage," adds Sasha Bezuhanova, who heads HP's operations in Bulgaria. At the same time, companies have to contend with a desire that many people have, which is to leave the region for opportunities to work abroad.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Don't Use WEP, Say German Security Researchers
IDG News Service (04/04/07) Sayer, Peter

German security researchers have found a way to crack Wired Equivalency Privacy that is much faster than previously discovered methods. They recommend that those relying on the protocol to protect sensitive information find a stronger means of protection. Earlier efforts showed that WEP could be cracked in a matter of minutes, although this method could be foiled by systems that change their security key every five minutes, but the new research carried out at Darmstadt University of Technology proves that it takes only three seconds to obtain a 104-bit WEP key from intercepted data using a 1.7GHz Pentium M processor. The required data can be accessed in less than a minute, and the attack itself requires less computing power than previously thought, allowing it to be done in real time as a person walks through an office, potentially using a mobile device. Forty thousand packets captured means a 50 percent chance of a successful attack, and 85,000 packets mean a 95 percent chance, according to the researchers. WEP is still widely used for security in Germany, often without encryption. However, this type of attack can be detected by an intrusion detection system or by hiding the security key among numerous dummy keys.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Nancy Lynch Named Recipient of ACM Award for Contributions to Reliability of Distributed Computing
AScribe Newswire (04/05/07)

Professor Nancy Lynch of MIT will receive the 2007 Knuth Prize from the ACM Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computation Theory (SIGACT) for her work in the theory of distributed computing. Lynch, an ACM Fellow, currently holds the NEC Professorship of Software Science and Engineering at MIT, where she heads the Theory of Distributed Systems Research Group in the school's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Her career includes the creation of distributed algorithms, precise models for analyzing distributed processes, and the discovery of limitations on what distributed algorithms are capable of. In 1982, she received the Principles of Distributed Computing Influential Paper Award (now known as the Dijkstra Prize) for her part in developing the Fischer, Lynch, Patterson (FLP) impossibility result, which addresses the impossibility of distributed agreement in the presence of processes failures. Her career has impacted other areas of computing such as database transaction procession, hybrid systems, security, and hardware synchronization. Lynch is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and was co-winner of the inaugural Wijngaarden Prize in 2006. Lynch will be presented with the Knuth Prize at the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing conference.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Confusing Osama bin Laden With Johnny Rotten
Technology Review (04/04/07) Williams, Mark

Activists' outrage that the U.S. government's passenger screening technologies are highly susceptible to false positives is logically incongruous with their insistence that government databases should only collect individuals' names, while Latanya Sweeney with Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science's Data Privacy Laboratory cites government watch lists' reliance on the Soundex algorithm as a major deficiency. Soundex, designed to index and retrieve soundalike surnames with variant spellings distributed throughout an alphabetical list, creates a situation in which the passenger screening system would confuse the terrorist Osama bin Laden with Sex Pistols member Johnny Lydon. In contrast, ChoicePoint maintains a database on American citizens that indexes them by at least four data points (name, address, birth date, and social-security number). Among the products and services ChoicePoint divisions offer are medical information, tenant screening, drug testing, employment-background screening, credential verification, motor-vehicle records, mortgage-asset research, and database software. ChoicePoint's thorough records were also used to identify Sept. 11 victims via their DNA. Privacy Times editor-publisher Evan Hendricks believes it would be a bad idea for the government to outsource administration of the watch lists to a data aggregator such as ChoicePoint, which has been condemned by privacy proponents for its continuous efforts to build dossiers on individuals and for selling records to election officials, police, and direct marketers.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Study: There Is No Shortage of U.S. Engineers
eWeek (04/04/07) Perelman, Deborah

A new Duke study shows that the motivation behind offshoring of technology jobs has much more to do with low costs than with a shortage of qualified U.S. workers. Outsourcing R&D jobs is causing the United States to lose its global competitive advantage, as China positions itself for future success and India suffers from the politics involved in its educational system, according to the study. Also addressed is the perception that the U.S. graduates approximately 12 times less engineers than either China or India, which was found to be false; the United States actually graduates a very similar number. China's National Reform Commission has reported that the majority of 2006 graduates will not find work, while India is suspected to be experiencing a shortage of engineers. Those responding to the survey said the advantages to hiring U.S. workers were communication skills, business knowledge, and strong education and skills, whereas Chinese and Indian workers were appealing for the lower costs of hiring them. However, a good deal of tech jobs, especially R&D, will continue to be moved to China because the country graduates more engineers with Master's degrees and PhDs than the U.S. In order to rectify this situation, wide ranging effort will be required of the U.S, according to the study's co-author, Vivek Wadhwa. "Even if the nation did everything that is needed, it will probably take 10 to 15 years before major benefits become apparent," Wadhwa says. "Given the pace at which globalization is happening, by that time the United States would have lost its global competitive edge. The nation cannot wait for education to set matters right." The report closes by recommending that the United States makes it easier for foreign workers to immigrate and start companies here.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Does H-1B Surge Mean Cap Should Be Raised?
CNet (04/04/07) Broache, Anne

This year's quota for H-1B visas was reached on the first day the applications were accepted, intensifying the debate over the need for the quota to be raised. Forecasts that the visas would go very quickly caused many technology companies to submit all of their applications on the first day possible, rather than spreading them out over several weeks or months. However, Programmers Guild founder John Miano says the rush was "an organized campaign to exhaust the quota as quickly as possible" in hopes of convincing Congress to increase the cap on the visas. "The fact that industry is now capable of putting through a staggering number of H-1B applications in just one day is the best illustration yet of why we need an H-1B quota," he added. "Industry has proved it will not be self-policing when it comes to H-1B numbers." Industry advocates claim the number of jobs being created is increasing while the unemployment rate decreases. The Department of Labor estimates that 100,000 new IT jobs will be created by 2014. This year's H-1B shortage prevented many companies from securing visas for soon-to-graduate foreign students, meaning after graduating they could work for competitors overseas. However, opponents of a cap increase point out that tech companies are mostly interested in the lower wages they can pay foreigners, rather than any shortage of U.S. workers. A bill recently introduced in the Senate would increase the "prevailing wage" paid to foreigners and would enforce stricter rules for allowing U.S workers a chance at these jobs.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


MS Student Survey Identifies Lack of IT Education, Soft Skills
ITBusiness.ca (04/04/07) Smith, Briony

A study and roundtable discussion by Microsoft Canada has found that IT education is lacking in communication and design training, or "soft skills," and that many 11th grade through second-year college students believe their technical skills are not being sufficiently developed. Courses that focus on soft skills would be more appealing to students, especially females, says CISP consultant Margaret Evered, as evidenced by the growth of social networking sites that focus on creativity and teamwork. Most IT professionals do not measure success by their soft-skill level, but the next generation of IT professional will have to be more involved in business processes. Training, especially in business practices, have become very scarce in IT departments. "They fail to recognize that this could help them," says University of Waterloo student Neville Samuell. IT education is also harmed by the teaching of outmoded languages that only cause students to need additional training later. The student survey showed that although 92 percent see technological experience as somewhat to very important for success in a career, only 42 percent believe their school cultivates these skills in them. Samuell says most students get such experience more from creating blogs and updating their MySpace page than from the classroom. "There's no way schools can keep up technologically," says University of Toronto computer science professor Eugene Fiume. Unless this trend is reversed, a vast divide will emerge, leaving those without computer skills to be "the illiterates of tomorrow," Evered says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


ICANN May Be Looking for Immunity From U.S. Law
CNet (04/03/07)

A new report created for ICANN's board suggests that the group "explore the private international organization model" and "operationalize whatever outcomes result," meaning that ICANN could become an independent international organization with immunity from national laws. Many such groups, including the United Nations and WIPO, are located in Geneva, Switzerland, and there is speculation that ICANN could seek to move there. Fueling the speculation is the following sentence from the report: "ICANN's headquarters may remain in the U.S." This statement is obviously more ambivalent than saying that ICANN will remain in the United States. A 1945 U.S. law gives international organizations "immunity from suit" and prevents their property and assets from being searched. This law also gives employees immunity from income taxes and from customs duties. Analysis produced by ICANN in August 2006 shows that the group finds the Swiss-based model for international groups appealing. Whatever ICANN's intentions, the Bush administration is unlikely to allow the Internet oversight group to stray too far from U.S. control, opening the door for more debates about Internet governance.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


That Face! Those Eyes! How Recognizable?
Government Computer News (04/03/07) Dizard III, Wilson P.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently announced that facial recognition technology has improved by a factor of 10 in the past four years. The institute recently held tests called the Face Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT) 2006 and the Iris Challenge Evaluation (ICE) 2006, which compared the ability of vendor systems to recognize high-resolution still images, 3D facial images, and single iris images, in both controlled and uncontrolled lighting. Recognition performance was found to be the same for the still 3D facial images and single iris images. "In an experiment comparing human and algorithm [system] performance, the best-performing face recognition algorithms were more accurate than humans," according to the institute. Error rates for facial recognition in a partially automated 1993 evaluation were found to be around 0.73 percent evaluation and were found to be around 0.01 in the fully automated FRVT 2006 evaluation. The time required for algorithms to process iris images ranged from six hours to 300 hours. The study tested performance under a variety of lighting conditions and took into account the resolution of different images used.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Women in I.T.: Where the Girls Aren't
CIO Insight (04/07) Cone, Edward

IT industry observers are still trying to figure out why the number of women in the industry has declined substantially in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of women in eight IT categories has declined from 984,000 in 2000 to 908,000 last year, or by 7.7 percent. Six years ago, women represented 28.9 percent of all IT workers, compared with 26.2 percent of the industry in 2006. Lynne Ellyn and Christine Davis have authored a report for IT advisory firm Cutter Consortium, and they suggest that women have issues with an intolerant working environment, a field that does not appreciate a balanced lifestyle, declining opportunities in the industry, and the social stigma or perception of IT. "I think this trend is an indication of the often abrasive experience women have in the IT arena," says Ellyn. "As I reflect on this disturbing trend, I recall countless incidences where women have been discounted and marginalized while struggling to balance family and work."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Power of Babble
Wired (04/07) Vol. 15, No. 4, P. 162; Keats, Jonathon

Director of MIT Media Lab's Cognitive Machine Group Deb Roy hopes recording the first three years of his son's life will help his efforts to teach a robot to understand language and speak by mapping the entire path of early language acquisition without interruption, under the auspices of his Speechome Project. Roy's work potentially carries benefits not just for the field of robotics, but for child psychology as well. Cameras and microphones installed in Roy's house capture nearly every aspect of his infant son's daily life, and this data is stored on a disk array. Data from the disks is backed up to an automated tape library, and every 40 days Roy uploads the accumulated recordings onto a dedicated 250 TB array in the Media Lab. Transcripts are generated so that key moments and trends, such as vocabulary acquisition, can be pinpointed by data mining, while data visualization is also used to track important patterns. The hope is that computers will become capable of testing theories about language acquisition by matching researchers' projections to recorded patterns. Roy plans to use stimuli generated by Speechome to educate a sensor-equipped robot named Trisk in order to more deeply explore the balance between hardwired programming (nature) and learned behavior (nurture).
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Is Abstraction the Key to Computing?
Communications of the ACM (04/07) Vol. 50, No. 4, P. 37; Kramer, Jeff

Imperial College London professor Jeff Kramer believes abstraction skills are key to computer scientists and software engineers' ability to create designs and programs that are clear and elegant. He cites Keith Devlin, who states, "Once you realize that computing is all about constructing, manipulating, and reasoning about abstractions, it becomes clear that an important prerequisite for writing (good) computer programs is the ability to handle abstractions in a precise manner." Following Jean Piaget's four developmental stages, Kramer says the fourth stage, in which individuals acquire the ability to think abstractly and scientifically, is only achieved by 30 percent to 35 percent of adolescents, while some adults never attain the ability, possibly because of the absence of training and specific environmental conditions. Necessary for guaranteeing that individuals will become capable of abstract thinking is an effort to ensure effective education and computer skills evaluation, writes the author. Kramer reasons that measuring college students' abstraction skills on an annual basis would "help to gain confidence that abstraction is a key indicator of ability ... provide an alternative means for checking students' abilities ... [and] also help to assess the efficacy of our teaching techniques." Testing students' abstraction skills at the time of application to study computing is problematic, because no appropriate tests exist, according to Kramer. He takes note of a suggestion of Orit Hazzan of the Technion's Department of Science and Technology, proposing the development of specific test questions as well as diverse tasks and descriptions that support the accumulation of qualitative as well as quantitative data for the purpose of studying different kinds of abstractions, different abstraction levels, and different goals for those abstractions.
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link to Publication Homepage
to the top


An Ontology Infrastructure for an E-Learning Scenario
International Journal of Distance Education Technologies (Quarter 1, 2007) Vol. 5, No. 1, P. 70; Guo, Wen-Ying; Chen, De-Ren

Zhejiang University computer science professor De-Ren Chen and PhD student Wen-Ying Guo detail an e-learning implementation strategy using Semantic Web technology to imbue e-learning with more flexibility. The authors write that using ontologies to describe learning materials could allow the lack of a shared comprehension between terms in one vocabulary and between terms in various metadata vocabularies to be avoided. Their approach involves the provision of metadata for describing the content, context, and structure of learning materials, and Chen and Guo note that one of the most commonly used metadata schemes currently on the Web is the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative's Dublin Core Schema. Dublin Core is designed for metadata of all categories of digital resources, and therefore does not abide by the specific requirements the authors cite in describing learning resources. Thus, an extension of Dublin Core called the Learning Objects Metadata Standard (LOM) was created by the IEEE's Learning Technology Standards Committee, and LOM allows each learning object to be represented via a series of 70-plus attributes split up into nine categories. Chen and Guo define two ontology classes: An application ontology that describes the individual who wants to choose the course to study, and one that specifies training domain providers, including courses, location, and time. Two basic operations--semantic querying and semantic mapping--are employed to achieve semantic solution. The approach is designed to address several problems that can crop up in an e-learning environment: The expression of semantically identical concepts by dissimilar terms in the domain vocabulary, and the use by two applications of the same term with different definitions.
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link to Publication Homepage
to the top


To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: technews@hq.acm.org

To unsubscribe from the ACM TechNews Early Alert Service: Please send a separate email to listserv@listserv.acm.org with the line

signoff technews

in the body of your message.

Please note that replying directly to this message does not automatically unsubscribe you from the TechNews list.

ACM may have a different email address on file for you, so if you're unable to "unsubscribe" yourself, please direct your request to: technews-request@ acm.org

We will remove your name from the TechNews list on your behalf.

For help with technical problems, including problems with leaving the list, please write to: technews-request@acm.org

to the top

News Abstracts © 2007 Information, Inc.


© 2007 ACM, Inc. All rights reserved. ACM Privacy Policy.

About ACM | Contact us | Boards & Committees | Press Room | Membership | Privacy Policy | Code of Ethics | System Availability | Copyright © 2014, ACM, Inc.