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April 13, 2007

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Welcome to the April 13, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Colleges Fight Job 'Offshoring'
Tampa Tribune (04/11/07) Sasso, Michelle

Computer science and engineering departments around the country are doing their best to fight the perception that, because of offshoring, no IT jobs will be available to students upon graduation. A Princeton economist conducted a study that claimed as much as 29 percent of the U.S. workforce is potentially "offshoreable" in the next two decades. However, a recent ACM report from ACM's Job Migration Task Force showed that only 3 percent of U.S. IT jobs are offshored each year. "Employers come in and complain to me that no one's applying for these jobs," said University of Southern Florida IT department head Kaushal Chari. Schools such as USF are trying to "outsource-proof" their students by teaching them skills that cannot be offshored, such as management, and leaving out those skills that could easily be offshored. Falling enrollment rates have "to do with the perception that there will be no jobs for these students when they get out of school," explains University of Florida Computer Information Science and Engineering department chair Sartaj Sahni, who has witnessed enrollment decrease by 1,000 students since 2000. There are more IT jobs available than ever before, according the Bureau of Labor, which cites statistics that show computing jobs make up three of the 10 fastest-growing occupations between 2004 and 2014. "Globalization and Offshoring of Software," is available at http://www.acm.org/globalizationreport
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Don't Trust Voting on the 'Net, Speaker Says
Network World (04/12/07) Greene, Tim

While giving the keynote address at the Usenix symposium on networked system design and implementation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer science professor Ronald Rivest said Internet voting is so vulnerable to manipulation that it should be avoided unconditionally, calling Internet voting "voting by mail made worse." Like voting by mail, Internet voting creates the possibility of voter fraud, as well as possible voter intimidation and coercion, as privacy cannot be guaranteed with Internet voting as it can in a voting booth, according to Rivest. Electronic voting without the use of the Internet has enough problems, including voting machine security, millions of lines of private code, and voting machine networks that could be vulnerable to machine tampering through the network or denial-of-service attacks. Rivest said the source code for voting machines, and their underlying operating systems, should be given security checks by testing labs. Rivest said there is a significant gap between voting-system theories and a real-world voting system that the public will trust, saying it can take 15 to 20 years for the public to understand how systems work. To learn more about ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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IBM Connects Chips for Better Bandwidth
CNet (04/11/07) Kanellos, Michael

IBM could be the first company to bring through-silicon vias (TSV) chip-linking technology to market, allowing enhanced performance and better energy efficiency. By connecting components of different cores inside two chips with thousands of wires that carry data back and forth, far more data can be transferred. "Wire bonds have pretty high levels of noise, which can limit the capability of some of the transistors," says IBM's Lisa Su. TSV could eventually connect memory directly to its power processors, which could improve performance by 10 percent and decrease energy consumption by 20 percent. Since chips would be stacked vertically, additional motherboard space would be made available. Some manufacturers stack chips vertically, but since they use buses to wire them together, there is no benefit to bandwidth. Where bus ports are normally on the side of chips, TSV takes advantage of the abundant space on a chip's top or bottom. Chip interconnects and packaging have been a topic of interest recently, because many believe that it is an area where considerable gains can be made. IBM could be commercially producing chips with TSV by 2008, while Intel is also working on the technology.
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Earthshaking Images
UCSD News (04/11/07) Froelich, Warren; Tooby, Paul

Visualization experts at the San Diego Supercomputer Center have been able to make movies from earthquake simulations that provide engineers with many unique abilities to examine the ways buildings withstand or fail during earthquakes. A recent shake table test of a 275-ton building was "recorded" by 600 sensors attached to the building. "By recreating the shake table experiment in movies in a virtual environment based on the observed data, this lets engineers explore all the way from viewing the 'big picture' of the entire building from a 360-degree viewpoint to zooming in close to see what happened to a specific support," says SDSC scientist Amit Chourasia. The model allows researchers to test for specific values. "We found that the recorded motion aligns very well with the movie we created," said SDCSC Visualization Services director Steve Cutchin. "This is important because knowing the model is accurate means it can be used to take simulated earthquake data and predict the sensor values--you can ask, 'What if a larger seven-point earthquake hits?' and simulate how the building will shake in response." Problems arose when the cameras and sensor signals used to record tests were not synchronized, but by listening to sounds made by the building and analyzing audio and sensor signals, the researchers were able to achieve synchronization. One goal of the team is to create visual models that closely resemble the environment they depict. Chourasia's paper describing the project was published in a special graphics issue of ACM Crossroads; http://www.acm.org/crossroads/.
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Anita Borg Institute Honors Three 'Women of Vision'
Business Wire (04/09/07)

The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI) has selected Deborah Estrin of the University of California Los Angeles, Leah H. Jamieson of Purdue University, and Duy-Loan Le of Texas Instruments as the winners of the 2007 Women of Vision Awards. Estrin, a professor of computer science who has pursued research in network interconnection and simulation, embedded networking, sensornet research, and security, has been selected for the category of Innovation. Jamieson, Dean of Engineering, has been a leading figure in education and social change through her involvement in the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program, and has been chosen in the Social Impact category. And Duy-Loan, the first women elected as a senior fellow at TI, has been honored for the category of Leadership. ABI will honor the women in a gala reception and dinner, which is scheduled for May 3, 2007, at San Jose's Fairmont Hotel. Juniper Networks, Cisco Systems, Google, and Hewlett-Packard are among the sponsors of the event, which is expected to attract more than 700 people.
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Google Backs Character-Recognition Research
CNet (04/11/07) McCarthy, Caroline

An artificial-intelligence research group in Germany will receive funds from Google to pursue an open-source project that could lead to the development of next-generation character recognition technologies. Among the goals of the Image Understanding and Pattern Recognition (IUPR) research group at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) in Kaiserslautern is an advanced handwriting recognition system that can convert handwritten documents to computer text. Such a system would be helpful for creating electronic libraries, analyzing historical documents, and improving access to information for people with impaired vision. DFKI professor Thomas Breuel is the head of the project Ocropus (the first three letters stand for optimal character recognition), which is expected to last three years. The software will be based on the handwriting recognition system used in the mid 1990s by the U.S. Census Bureau, and two new layout analysis techniques for character recognition. IUPR is looking for open-source contributions for a desktop application, third-party tools, and adapting the project for languages other than English.
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Majoring in Web 2.0: Emerging Tech Goes to School
Investor's Business Daily (04/12/07) P. A4; Bonasia, J.

College courses aimed at teaching business skills to computer science students, and vice versa, are responding to the changing business environment brought about by Web 2.0. "All types of new collaboration become possible because the Web is the most incredible platform for collaboration ever invented," explained IBM VP Irving Wladawsky-Berger. Industry and academia have come together in many ways to address the U.S. workforce shortfall of 15 million job candidates in the next decade, mostly in information technology, finance, and sales, as predicted by IDC analyst Cushing Anderson. "We have a growing problem around an internal skills gap," he said. In order to succeed in both software engineering and business, "You need to be well-rounded and learn how to work on a global basis, to understand Web 2.0 and other new things," said venture capitalist Ray Lane. He laments that U.S. institutions could be losing their advantage in producing the world's best software engineers, and how at the same time when schools are losing their emphasis on product development, most companies have no interest in training new hires. The technology seen as state-of-the-art in recent years will eventually become commoditized, forcing U.S. workers to innovate. "New skills will be needed to manage global projects and understand the broad needs of the marketplace," said Wladawsky-Berger. He places the most importance on closing the gap between business, technical, and social skills, and showing children that technology "can be fun and yet do a lot of good."
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U.S. Military Plans to Put Internet Router in Space
IDG News Service (04/12/07) Blau, John

The U.S. military plans to test an Internet router in space for military communications and potentially nonmilitary IP traffic. The three-year Internet Routing in Space (IRIS) project will be managed by satellite operator Intelsat, with Cisco providing IP networking software for the on-board router. Lloyd Wood, space initiatives manager in the Global Defense, Space & Security division of Cisco, said the Internet routing technology being tested will decode information received in the C-band or Ku-band and interconnect the two, reducing delays and increasing capacity by not having to send information back to the ground. Wood says eventually satellites will be treated as a part of IP networks and managed the same way as IP networking assets on the ground, and will be fully integrated with terrestrial networks. The satellite is scheduled for launch in the first quarter of 2009, and will be able to support network services for voice, video, and data, with the system designed to support IP packet Layer 3 routing or multicast distribution, which can be reconfigured as needed.
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U of T Receives $2.5 Million for Interface Design
University of Toronto (04/10/07) L'Abbe, Sonnet

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded $2.5 million to the University of Toronto, which will enable its researchers to continue a collaborative partnership that seeks to improve the accessibility of Web services for all users, including those with disabilities. The FLUID project plans to develop and distribute modular, reusable, swappable interface components for Web applications, and build the supporting software architecture that will enable the implementation. Good graphic design will also be a focus of the project, which the university leads. "The architecture and tools we provide will help ensure that people building various Web applications within a large institution use similar components and make it easier for builders to adapt those components for individual needs of students and educators," says Jutta Treviranus, director of the Adaptive Technology Resource Center at the university. "The end result will be a library of high quality, accessible, usable user-interface components that universities internationally and any number of large organizations around the world can use, and ultimately a better Web experience for users." More than $8 million will be spent during this phase of the project, which includes academic partners from the United States and the United Kingdom.
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Robots Tackle Core of STEM Education
eSchool News (04/11/07) Murray, Corey

Some educators are employing robotics to emphasize technology and engineering in an effort to make up for the low STEM concentration in schools. There is a renewed emphasis on teaching STEM disciplines, and this is feeding an interest among educators in robots as tools for helping students learn basic STEM principles. By interacting with technology at a young age, students have a better chance of retaining the knowledge they are being taught and thus competing for technology-related jobs, says physical science teacher Gail Warren of Richmond, Va.'s Mathematics & Science Center. "If you make something exciting for a kid, [he or she] will remember it forever," explains Valiant Technology CEO Dave Catlin. "The robot helps give students that practical experience ... it helps build that intuitiveness, that understanding." One robot that has been widely embraced by schools is Valiant's Roamer, a wheeled device whose educational applications include teaching developmentally challenged learners, illustrating simple math concepts, narrative analysis, and teamwork training. Some experts believe robotics can be used to cultivate abstract thinking in students; Michael Doyle of New York's Cattaraugus Allegany Board of Cooperative Educational Services reports that educators in southwestern New York are using Roamer robots to teach such concepts as geometry, navigational plotting, and fundamental engineering and programming. He says the lessons imparted by Roamer training sessions demonstrate math's unpredictability in the real world and the need to account for numerous variables, such as how the floor's surface affects the devices' movement.
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'European MIT' Dismissed Again
ScienceNOW (04/10/07) Enserink, Martin

Europe may be better served in establishing a number of top-tier technology institutes rather than a virtual institute, according to a new study commissioned by the European Parliament. The European Commission in 2005 proposed the idea of creating a European version of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but European Union member states last year said the European Institute of Technology (EIT) should not be located in one country. A 2.4 billion-euro virtual institute was offered as an alternative in late 2006, but the report says the approach is "not feasible." Moreover, funding remains a concern, considering the lukewarm interest displayed by the corporate world. According to the report, technology transfer is best suited for environments in which researchers work closely with one another. In addition to serving as a venue for turning science into marketable products, EIT would offer high-level research opportunities, as well as training for graduate students across the continent. The report says the EU should pursue a number of smaller EITs that focus on a specific field, and that each should be located in a single place, and could even be based at or connected to a top European university.
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Roundtable Discusses IT and Students in Canada
Eyeopener (04/11/07) Munaretto, Noelle

A survey conducted by Youthography and commissioned by Microsoft Canada examined the influence of technology and the computer skills of Canadian students between Grade 11 and their second year of college, as well as college students around the world ages 17 to 20. The results, presented by Microsoft Canada at an industry roundtable, found that only 42 percent of students surveyed said their school encourages them to develop technological and computer skills. Margaret Evered, a consultant and member of the Canadian Information Processing Society, said she believes the lack of enthusiasm from students interested in IT is because technology courses are not mandatory in most Canadian high schools, and that young students are unaware of the variety of jobs in IT. The Information and Communications Technology Council, a nonprofit group focused on developing the Canadian ICT industry, anticipates a labor shortage of 89,000 IT workers by the year 2011, despite higher student enrollment in post-secondary technology programs in 2006. Evered described the IT industry as a revolving door, with recent graduates being hired only for temporary positions, lowering the incentives for students to continue their studies in IT programs.
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Green Grid Plans First Technical Summit
eWeek (04/10/07) Preimesberger, Chris

The Green Grid, a nonprofit consortium dedicated to advancing energy efficiency in data centers and business computing ecosystems, announced plans to hold a technical summit in Denver on April 18-19, the consortium's first event. The technical summit will be used to define detailed technical objectives and program plans for 2007, according to Bruce Shaw, a member of Green Grid's board of directors. The technical objectives will address the definition and measurement of data center efficiency, guidance for data center owners and mangers deciding data center architecture and planning, and guidance for data center owners and managers striving to improve energy efficiency during day-to-day operations. The Green Grid will also work to promote new ways to measure power consumption. Shaw says, "Participation from the industry's leading data center efficiency experts will ensure our continued progress in helping the industry achieve greater data center energy efficiency." The Environmental Protection Agency recently asked the server industry to investigate data center power and cooling issues and provide a five-year usage projection to Congress by June 16. An EPA official said the Green Grid likely will participate in that effort.
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Towards Semantic Group Formation
University of Southampton (ECS) (04/07/07) Ounnas, Asma; Davis, Hugh C.; Millard, David E.

Collaboration between students in groups forms the core of many learning and teaching methodologies, although organizing such groups can be arduous, especially when the list of participants is not known ahead of time. University of Southampton researchers Asma Ounnas, Hugh C. Davis, and David E. Millard present a learner group formation strategy founded upon complying with the constraints of the person forming the groups by reasoning over potentially fragmentary semantic data about possible participants. The authors choose to concentrate on the model of instructor-based group formation, whose effectiveness requires the provision of a level of self-organization within the groups. Ounnas, et al use the concept of Semantic Web ontologies to model a wide field of parameters that can be considered for diverse group formations, given the ontology's ability to build a dependable learner profile. The instructors choose the parameters upon which the formation will be based, while formation itself involves the enactment of a series of rules representing different formation algorithms; facilitating the assignment of students to effective groups is accomplished by reasoning on the supplied data using the rules to make practical assumptions. The ontology component of the authors' system extends the friend of a friend ontology to provide semantic data about the learner for the generation of all group types, while the interface will allow users to choose the parameters they value for the formation they are launching. The third element of the system is the group generator, which provides the means to produce effective groups via rules-based reasoning on learner-supplied data.
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Carrot or Stick?
Washington Technology (04/09/07) Vol. 22, No. 6, P. 28; Lipowicz, Alice

The Department of Homeland Security's plan to include cybersecurity in all of the 17 infrastructure sectors, each with their own protection plan, is seen as an integrated approach and a step in the right direction, but IT executives say there are still many unanswered questions surrounding how the government will strengthen cybersecurity. Discussion is ongoing regarding the role government should play in sharing information and warnings about vulnerabilities and cyber attacks, as well as ways to protect identities on the Internet and if there should be a federal incentive to the private sector to boost information security. In the Senate, for example, legislation to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission calls for the creation of a voluntary information security certification program that would include the private sector. "Congress has been looking at both carrot-and-stick approaches," says Entrust senior vice president Ed Bello. "I think if you dangle a carrot, you will be more likely to succeed." AT&T's Ed Amoroso suggests that companies such as AT&T could play a stronger role in cybersecurity. Amoroso recently demonstrated how AT&T can detect sharp spikes and flooding of the Internet from various viruses and worms, and by identifying such events quickly prevent the proliferation of the attacks. The idea is still in its early stages, but is gaining support, as organizations such as AT&T, Verizon Communications, and Symantec could all participate in providing greater situational awareness to the DHS, according to Liz Gasster with the Cyber Security Industry Alliance. "The government needs situational awareness," Gasster said. "And the government should be prepared to pay for it." Greg Garcia, assistant secretary for cybersecurity and telecommunications, has been working to develop better relations between the private sector and DHS and recently invited private-sector representatives to work side-by-side with the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team. "It's so basic, but when you put desks side by side, the relationships develop," Gasster says.
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The Agile End Game
Dr. Dobb's Journal (04/05/07) Ambler, Scott

Release-related activities that take place at the conclusion of an agile software development project should be uppermost in the developer's mind, advises Scott Ambler. Reasons why an agile project may enter its end phase include because it makes sense to do so, because stakeholders have ceased funding and are demanding a release, or because the release is scheduled due to contractual or regulatory obligations. Ambler makes a point to remind developers that the release iteration does not constitute a testing phase, although some testing during this iteration is necessary to satisfy stakeholders' expectations that the system is truly deployment-ready. Such testing includes independent verification of the last construction iteration's output, and pilot/beta and acceptance testing involving people outside the team. Complex systems may require more release procedures than simple systems, and among the tasks that may need to be performed are acceptance reviews with stakeholders, finalization of relevant documentation, the creation and shipment of physical collateral for distribution to end users and operations and support (O&S) personnel, the training of end users and O&S staff, the replacement of existing software with new versions, and the replacement and/or installation of physical assets. Some systems will need to go through multiple iterations before their release, owing to their complexity. This often happens because a large number of users must be trained with a limited number of training resources; because it is determined that a "big bang release" of the system entails too much risk; because there are different release dates for different parts of the world on account of the pending system translation; or because there are different groups of stakeholders that each focus on unique business cycles.
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Vanishing Visas
National Journal (04/07/07) Vol. 39, No. 14, P. 46; Maggs, John

The H-1B visa program allows foreign workers into the United States to fill important positions, particularly in high-skill fields such as computer programming and engineering. U.S. high-tech companies claim there is a desperate need for such workers, citing a shortage of home-grown talent; yet unions and other critics contend that H-1B workers depress salaries for domestic workers, fuel unemployment for specialist professions, and have little economic impact. Compounding the problem is America's controversial immigration policy. A Federal Reserve economist carried out an analysis of H-1Bs working in the IT field, and determined that there was "little support for claims that the program has a negative impact on wages," although a slight elevation of unemployment remained in the realm of possibility. Tech companies clamoring for an increase of the H-1B visa cap argue that they are lagging behind foreign rivals, yet their profits do not appear to be taking a serious hit, while the unemployment rate for U.S. electrical and electronic engineers has fallen considerably since the days of the tech bubble implosion. An increase in salary growth rates is also being observed. The House has proposed a bill to double the quota of H-1B visas, while a Senate bill would require American companies to ensure that H-1B workers earn higher wages.
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