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April 16, 2007

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Welcome to the April 16, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Researchers Explore Scrapping Internet
Associated Press (04/15/07) Jesdanun, Anick; White, Aoife

Some university researchers believe the only way to truly create a secure Internet is to take a "clean slate" approach and build the architecture of the Internet all over again, an idea that has gotten some support from the federal government. Rutgers University professor, and project manager on three clean-slate projects, Dipankar Raychaudhuri said the Internet was designed for different purposes than how it is currently being used, and it is "sort of a miracle that it continues to work well today." The Internet's early architects designed and built the system primarily on trust, as they largely knew each other, and consequently designed a network intended to be kept open and flexible. New threats, like spammers and hackers, are able to exploit that open network, and recently developed security features add complexity and reduce performance. A major challenge to any effort to rebuild the Internet will be determining the role different organizations play in its construction, as the first time researchers in labs were largely responsible for original developments, but now the government and law enforcement will want to play a far more significant role. Meanwhile, the National Science Foundation's Future Internet Network Design program is funding research on the Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI), an experimental research network. Rutgers, Stanford, Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, and MIT are among the universities pursuing individual clean-slate projects, as is the Department of Defense and the European Union, though any results from these projects are not expected to arrive for another 10 to 15 years. "Almost every assumption going into the current design of the Internet is open to reconsideration and challenge," said NSF's Guru Parulkar, who is leaving to become executive director of Stanford's clean-slate initiative. "Researchers may come up with wild ideas and very innovative ideas that may not have a lot to do with the current Internet."
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Meet the Metaverse, Your New Digital Home
CNet (04/13/07) Terdiman, Daniel

A report compiled by the Accelerating Studies Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on changing information gathering and communications, outlines the predictions of academia, video game companies, virtual-world publishers, geospatial engineering departments, and the media for Internet use and technology during the next 10 years. The report suggests that people may wear glasses that record everything around them, and there could be little difference between real-world interaction and interactions in a digital, 3D world by 2016. The report describes the Metaverse, a term previously used to describe everything from 3D virtual worlds to digital geospatial environments, as four main scenarios called augmented reality, lifelogging, virtual worlds, and mirror worlds. Augmented reality is immersive, location-aware, self-tracking technology that allows users to receive instant information about places and other subjects at any time. Lifelogging is recording daily communications, memories, and observations, creating a permanent, daily, 3D blog. Virtual worlds are areas or disciplines where the physical world and the Metaverse are still separate, allowing a great deal of the community's economic and social life to flourish and focus on issues of identity, roles, and human-human interaction. Mirror worlds are "virtual models of reality," that, like Google Earth, create digital renderings of the world, potentially layered with detailed and pertinent information. Member of the Metaverse Roadmap team and futurist Jerry Paffendorf said the report creates the scaffolding to define the space, and the objective of the report is to "connect the four areas together and try to make them make sense as mutually reinforcing."
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Can Open Source Techniques Be Used to Design a Car?
Guardian Unlimited (UK) (04/12/07) Dodson, Sean

The majority of concept cars never make it to production, but that may not be the case for a revolutionary prototype car that is being designed entirely online using open source methods. Tens of thousands have signed up to participate in designing the OScar, though most of the design is done by a core team of a few dozen, under the direction of Markus Merz. For the past six years Merz has directed the development of the OScar allowing all decisions to be made democratically by anyone who wants to participate, which includes car designers, programmers, companies, universities, and individuals. The OScar is designed to be made from a minimum number of mechanical parts and perform somewhere between the original Volkswagen Beetle and a Mark 1 Golf, with a top speed of 90 miles per hour. In the OScar, the drivetrain, body, engine, power, safety, and information systems were designed independently and are fully interchangeable, just like a computer, so a manufacturer could easily swap parts, easily changing a passenger car to a pick-up truck. The fundamental rule of the project is that the design should be freely available to every member of the community, creating the opportunity for small manufactures to produce a car without paying a license to produce a design. Other obstacles, such as legal conflicts and manufacturing and distribution costs, prevent the OScar from being produced and adapted as successfully as open source software programs have been, but creating an open source design for something like a car places the opportunity for innovation and invention, which have recently belonged primarily to corporations, back in the hands of the individual. Merz admits that OScar is only a hobby, but the car itself is the result of hobbyists' life-long enthusiasm.
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Expert: 'Flasher' Technology Digs Deeper for Digital Evidence
Purdue University News (04/12/07) Medaris, Kim

Rick Mislan, Purdue assistant professor of computer and information technology and former U.S. Army electronic warfare officer, said a technology currently in use in Europe could potentially be used to help solve thousands of cybercrimes in the United States. The "flasher box" can be used to download and analyze every bit of information from a wide variety of cell phones, a huge advantage over current forensic techniques that requires investigators to issue specific commands and receive only information relating to the command. With the flasher box, investigators can download the entire contents of a cell phone for examination, including call history, text messages, contacts, and deleted images and videos. "Using a flasher box is like taking a snapshot of the cell phone," Mislan said. "This method shows a lot of promise." The content of the phone is downloaded and appears as a stream of letters and numbers that only requires a mathematical translation to turn the code into useable information. Mislan said the key to success with flasher boxes is finding the correct software and cables to match the wide variety of phones available on the market.
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Building Robots Builds Scientists
BusinessWeek (04/13/07) Ante, Spencer E.

The For Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology (FIRST) program is designed to stoke middle and high school students' interest in science and technology as a career choice through exciting and challenging activities, such as the FIRST Robotics Competition. In the contest, teams of students build robots out of a common set of components to perform specific tasks, and these robots are pitted against each other in tournaments. Programs such as FIRST are seen by education and business community leaders as critical to reversing low U.S. graduation rates and a decline in students' pursuit of careers in math and science, which is essential to sustaining America's global technological leadership. FIRST initiatives stand out from other science programs with their concentration on inner-city environments and minority students. "We can take all of the kids who never thought of science and technology and say you ought to be part of the future," notes FIRST founder and inventor Dean Kamen. Through FIRST, Kamen not only hopes to show kids that science and technology can be fun and competitive, but also expose them to professional scientists and engineers who can serve as role models and mentors. Kamen has an ambitious goal for FIRST to penetrate the approximately 25,000 high schools in the United States. A 2005 Brandeis University study sponsored by the Ford Foundation found that FIRST participants are 100 percent more likely to major in science and engineering and over 300 percent more likely to pursue an engineering career.
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Inside the New Multicore Processors
Electronic News (04/13/07) Sperling, Ed

In an interview, AMD CTO Phil Hester, Rambus President and CEO Harold Hughes, and Peakstream CEO Neil Knox discussed multicore chips and multiple chips, with Hester observing that multicore applications did not start to emerge until two or three years ago, fueled somewhat by the gaming domain. He notes that there are increasing numbers of diverse, media-rich applications for the client space, which is leading to heterogeneous multicores. Knox points out that CPU companies are pushing multicore architectures, while Hester says in order to determine the optimal number of cores, "You have to look at the memory hierarchies and how you feed the cores as well as how many cores you have." Hester believes the transition to 65- and 45-nm processors for client machines will be accompanied by several types of applications. One type will exploit multiple cores, while another type will be multiple applications that run on individual cores. Knox says a balanced hardware architecture is critical to multicore, arguing that "The hardware companies have to embrace the software environment, whether it's power management or an easy way to develop applications for these multicore environments." Hester believes the exploitation of hardware capability will happen incrementally.
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Retinal Implants May Be Significantly Enhanced With New Software
Science Daily (04/12/07)

Bonn University computer scientists have developed a computer program designed to improve the function of retinal implants. Initially, participants who received visual prosthesis implants were unable to distinguish even simple shapes, as the signals sent by camera through the implants were almost useless for the brain. To improve communication between the implants and the brain, Bonn University computer and neural scientists developed the "Retina Encoder," software that converts the camera signals and sends them to the retinal implant. The Retina Encoder uses a continuous process to learn how to change the camera output signal, through randomly selected "dialects" and variations of the picture, so that the patient can perceive the image more clearly. The encoder technology is currently being tested on volunteers with no site problems, but could be used on patients with implanted visual prostheses within a few months. Bonn University computer science professor Rolf Eckmiller said the artificial retina needs to learn to generate signals that the brain can use, and it is the ability to learn and adapt that makes the Retina Encoder unique.
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Dynamic Languages: More Than Just a Quick Fix
InfoWorld (04/16/07) Binstock, Andrew

Enterprises are using dynamic languages such as Ruby, Python, and PHP to effect the rapid reduction of development backlogs, but developers must practice caution to ensure that the right language matches the right project, enabling IT to harness the languages' novel expressiveness to generate clean, dependable, and reusable code. Domain-specific languages (DSLs), which see broad enterprise use, are deemed to be less a part of the dynamic-language revolution than a historical basis for it, and extended logical functions such as complex program flow or decision-making features are uncommon in such products. Little languages (many of which are descended from Unix) boast highly expressive syntax and can relate sophisticated logic within a particular domain, and frequently employ a restricted vocabulary; these languages are flourishing in the commercial market arena as proprietary techniques that ISVs use to provide programmers with a means to employ, tweak, or extend their products. Enterprise usage of high-level scripting languages often takes one of two forms: As a medium to bind together the components of an application (Perl, for instance), or as a tool that provides a high level of abstraction to low-level languages (Groovy being an example). Scripting languages are most useful to the enterprise for tasks such as standard business data processing, small to midsize projects, and Web applications with low to medium traffic loads. They are not as well suited to projects requiring a high degree of scalability. General-purpose dynamic languages such as Ruby and Python are easy-to-use, open-source, domain-neutral languages offering coding mechanisms that eliminate the sluggishness or gruntwork of standard application coding. The use of dynamic languages carries the most benefits in the Web application space.
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Analysis: Owning the Keys to the Internet
United Press International (04/12/07) Waterman, Shaun

The U.S. government is moving ahead with its plans to create a new security system for the Domain Name System (DNS), despite concerns from international Internet management companies. The DNS directs Internet users to the sites they want to visit by translating URLs into numerical Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, but because the DNS was built with a relatively open structure, criminals can use techniques known as DNS "spoofing" or "poisoning" to create duplicate Web sites to steal information from users who think they are logging on to their bank or email accounts. The DNS Security Extensions Protocol (DNSSec) is intended to create instantaneous authentication of DNS information, eliminating the opportunity for DNS abuse and essentially creating a series of digital keys for the system. The question that many groups are asking is who should control the key for the DNS Root Zone, the part of the system that is above top-level domains such as .com and .org. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is funding the development of a technical plan for implementing DNSSec, issued an initial draft in October that essentially narrowed potential Root Zone Key operators down to a government agency or a private contractor, though no specific organizations were listed. A new version of the draft specification for the DNSSec plan that incorporates input from experts could be ready by the end of this summer, says Douglas Maughan of the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate. Canadian Internet Registration Authority President Bernard Turcotte and others are concerned the U.S. would unilaterally implement DNSSec. "We want to ensure that whatever measures are implemented are well coordinated," Turcotte says. Maughan says the U.S. government is committed to using DNSSec within the .gov domain, but he says "it will take a lot more people to get involved" to globally deploy DNSSec.
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Tuning in to Your Moods
Business Line (04/16/07) Chellaiah, S.

Computers capable of reading, interpreting, and acting on people's emotions and moods, called affective computers, could one day become a part of everyday life. The Media Laboratory at MIT is conducting several projects on machine learning, vocal and visible recognition, and developing sensors capable of detecting signals indicating emotion. UK non-commercial project Convo is a software application that recognizes people's vocal patterns and classifies them as nice, nasty, or neutral, and responds with a fitting emotional simulation. Affective computer systems work using video and auditory sensors and recognition software combined with neurofuzzy techniques, a combination of neural networks and fuzzy logic. By observing and associating features and actions with an emotion, and through multiple observations, the user's emotional state can be identified and responded to accordingly. This technology could be used to lift a person's spirit with their favorite music if the affective computer determines they are depressed, for example, or turn a car off if the system determines the driver is intoxicated or driving irrationally.
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Your Whole Life Is Going to Bits
The Age (04/14/07)

Kareem Tawansi, a Sydney information technology specialist who manages his own software company, has two home computers capable of recording up to five shows at once, and can turn on his air-conditioning and open and close the blinds, even when he is not home. Tawansi keeps all of his appointments, thoughts, ideas, and even his feelings in a digital device that acts a portable computer, organizer, camera, and phone. Gordon Bell is the head of a Microsoft project called MyLifeBits, which aims to record not only significant moments, but the mundane and trivial as well. Every phone call, television and radio program, Web site, and amount of mouse and keyboard activity is recorded. Bell wears a Microsoft SenseCam around his neck, which detects any nearby people and automatically photographs them. The SenseCam also takes pictures anytime Bell enters a new room based on changes in light levels. Bell also carries a portable global positioning system device that works with the camera to log an exact record of every photograph. Microsoft researchers say the ultimate goal is not only to collect all that information, but to continually analyze it as well. This analysis could lead to time management programs that make suggestions on how to be more productive, educational programs that inform parents how their child is doing at school and how they could improve, and health programs that monitor a person health, send notifications if they are eating too much, need more sleep, or if they should see a doctor. Much of the technology for these kinds of programs already exists, but evangelists at Microsoft note potential problems, such as privacy concerns. In Scientific American, Bell and his colleague Jim Gemmell wrote, "Digital memories will yield benefits in a wide spectrum of areas, providing treasure troves of information about how people think and feel."
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Scots Scientists Unveil 'Spray-On' Computer
Scotland on Sunday (04/08/07) Oliver, Laura

The "speckled" computing technology developed at several Scottish universities shows the ability to improve medical exams and imbed technology in everyday objects. Speckled computing is based upon computers the size of the head of a matchstick, thousands of which can be sprayed onto a surface to create a network that can be programmed like a traditional computer. Doctors could spray them on a patient to monitor multiple functions, providing them with a comprehensive picture of the patient's health. "This is the new class of computing: devices which can sense and process the data they receive," said leading speckled computing professor Damal Arvind. "They also have a radio so they can network and there's a battery in there as well, so they are entirely self-powered." Arvind will present larger prototypes of the computers, and their ability to work through a video link-up, at the upcoming Edinburgh International Science Festival. The focus of his talk will be to show that ordinary objects could be "speckled." "This talk will stop people from thinking about computers simply in terms of laptops and desktops in the home," he said.
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ORNL Gears Up for New Leadership Computing Systems
HPC Wire (04/13/07) Vol. 16, No. 15, Feldman, Michael

At the High Performance Computing and Communication Conference, Doug Kothe, the Director of Science in the National Center for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), gave a summary of the leadership computing facility at ORNL, including the preparations around the upcoming Cray supercomputer deployments. Being one of the Department of Energy's leading computing facilities, ORNL will be outfitted with some of the most powerful systems in the world. By late 2007, ORNL will have upgraded its 119-teraflop Cray XT4 'Jaguar' system to its peak performance of 250 teraflops, and by late 2008 ONRL will install a new one petaflop Cray 'Baker' system, which is expected to contain over 22,000 quad-core processors. The 250 teraflop system will be used by scientists, selected by the DOE's Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research, who are unable to advance their research without such a powerful system, including research into combustion science, astrophysics, fusion energy, chemistry, material science/nanoscience, and climate.
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Braille Converter Eases Web Use
BBC News (04/12/07) Adams-Spink, Geoff

A European consortium has developed a service that automatically converts documents into Braille. Still in the testing phase, RoboBraille will allow users to send plain text, rich text, HTML, or Word documents by email, and a few seconds later receive the document as an MP3 audio file or as electronic Braille that can be read by a tactile display or sent to a Braille printer. "About two or three years ago we came to the conclusion that it's simply too complicated for the average user to produce Braille," according to consortium leader Lars Balieu Christensen, who also heads a Danish assistive technology company. "We wanted to set up a system that was entirely automated, where the user didn't need to know anything apart from an email address." Christensen hopes to expand the service to include PDF documents. RoboBraille will be free to individual users and nonprofit organizations when it is made fully available next year. The service currently handles about 400 requests a day, but is capable of processing about 14,000 Braille conversions a day.
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Robots for All Tastes
Brazil-Arab News Agency (04/10/07) Rubin, Debora

The International Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Fair, to be held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on April 11, will both show Brazilian businesses that robotics are easier and more beneficial to implement that many believe and drum up interest in science and technology among students. Sixty exhibitors and 50,000 attendees are expected to take part in the second annual fair, with two distinct areas set up: One exclusively for industry members, and the other focusing entertainment and recreation, which is open to the public. "We are living the robotics revolution," said fair director Eduardo Branco. "It is all around, in the industry, in medicine, and in everyday life. We want to awaken Brazilians to this new reality." The industry side of the fair will feature robots utilizing wireless programming and one that can make a small car. The entertainment portion will feature two different robots that can play checkers against each other, a car that transforms into a six-meter-tall robot, and a shirt that can "hug" the wearer using embedded software. Several competitions will be held for students, including a best-creation contest using Lego robot-assembly kits, and Sumo for Robots. One robot developed by students at FEI is able to display anger, sadness, or happiness through changing its eye color between red, orange, and green, respectively. The number of FEI students currently studying robotics has increased to 20 in recent years. "The engineering has advanced, as has the computing," explained FEI computer science coordinator Flavio Tonidandel. "What will change in those two fields from now on is the use of artificial intelligence." Tonidandel believes that businesses will soon have to realize that "robotics is not the future anymore. It is the present."
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Plastic Sheets Perform Auto-Origami
New Scientist (04/12/07) Simonite, Tom

French researchers believe origami techniques can be used to mass-produce the microscopic 3D components that are found inside devices such as printers and medical sensors. Jose Bico and colleagues at the Ecole Superieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles (ESPCI) in Paris have teamed up with researchers at the Paris Institute of Technology to develop a technique in which water can be added to a flat plastic sheet to begin a process in which it self-folds into electronics. The flat plastic shapes, which fold up to create more complex 3D structures, measure a couple millimeters across. After the added water evaporates, the volume changes but the surface tension does not, enabling the sheet to assume a more sophisticated 3D structure. The researchers believe a blast of heat could be used to fix the complex structures into shape. Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) make use of certain microscopic 3D structures.
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Who's Minding the Gender Gap in IT?
CIO Decisions (04/07) Vol. 3, No. 4, P. 18; May, Thornton

A study of 140 companies in 17 vertical markets finds that both large and midmarket firms have reached critical mass in terms of hiring women for IT positions, with large companies and midmarket companies listing 39 percent and 22 percent of their IT employees as female, respectively. Yet all large- and midmarket-company respondents report that the female IT workforce is in decline, and the ITAA reports that between 1996 and 2004 the percentage of women in IT fell from 41 percent to 32 percent. In addition, less than 33 percent of CIOs' direct reports are women. Respondents indicate that there are differences in the way men and women relate and express intimacy as well as network. "In the women's networking group I actively participate in, when the women get together, we talk about things of a more personal nature, [such as] 'How do you balance work and family?'" notes a female CIO at a global conglomerate. "I have never heard of a men's networking group that deals with those types of issues." People observe that men tend to network on not as broad a scale as women, and through direct contact. The institutionalization of outreach, training, and networking programs for women is deemed essential for boosting the number of women with IT leadership roles.
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