Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

ACM TechNews (HTML) Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
April 20, 2007

MemberNet
The ACM Professional Development Centre
Unsubscribe

Welcome to the April 20, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Audit Finds Many Faults in Cleveland's '06 Voting
New York Times (04/20/07) P. A20; Driehaus, Bob

Following a five month audit, Ohio's newly elected secretary of state Jennifer L. Brunner ousted Cuyahoga Country's entire four-member Board of Elections for numerous problems at polling places during the 2004 election. Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, experienced problems that included lines at polls several hours long, poorly trained and absent poll workers, polling places that opened late, and problems with electronic voting machines. The audit found that some batches of ballots registered in optical scan machines were scanned twice, producing a double count of those ballots, and other ballots were deleted because of flawed data and were never rescanned due to human error. The county used machines from Diebold Election Systems and Microsoft's JET file-sharing database system, which was known to have problems that could result in database corruption. Microsoft's Scott Massey said any database is subject to corruption if a connection is lost while a transfer is in process. Massey confirmed the committee's finding that Microsoft recommended that a operation as large as Cuyahoga County's should use a different system. Former ACM President Barbara Simons said, "There is no excuse for Diebold's having used such an insecure and unreliable database. There were far more reliable databases available over 20 years ago." The audit committee has recommended extensive changes, including eliminating either optical scanners or touch-screen machines, to ensure future elections are less troublesome. For information about ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Women in Science: Good News, Bad News
Harvard University Gazette (04/19/07) Walker, Ruth

Speakers at Harvard's fourth National Symposium on the Advancement of Women in Science noted that the number of women in many scientific fields, particularly computer science, is dwindling, and funding for the advancement of women in science is insufficient. Frances Allen, an IBM Fellow Emerita at the T.J. Watson Research Laboratory and the first woman to win ACM's A.M. Turning Award, said the structure and requirements in the field of computer science are largely responsible for the lack of women professionals in the field. When Allen started in the 1950s, before computer science was truly an area of study, programming was open to people from a wide range of backgrounds and easily accessible to anyone with any interest. As the field matured and became more structured in the 1960s, the industry started requiring engineering degrees, which tended to exclude women. "The workplace changed immensely. And in my view, the field has not recovered since," Allen said, calling the number of women in the field a "tragedy." Lucy Sanders, co-founder and CEO of the National Center for Women and Information Technology, said she was a "reluctant leader" when she was offered an advancement opportunity at Bell Labs, but that although leadership can be frightening, women should not be hesitant to accept the challenge. "It's a great deal of fun. Something that will force you to learn new skills," Sanders said to the crowd of about 110 female college and high school students. "Please, please go after leadership positions." To learn about ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://women.acm.org
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Congress Takes New Stab at Patent System Overhaul
CNet (04/18/07) Broache, Anne

The most recent attempt at Congressional patent reform may stand a better change than previous efforts as the newest bill is being presented in a more unified way, with co-sponsors from both parties and identical bills being introduced simultaneously in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The lead sponsors of the bill, all chairmen of key committees handling intellectual property issues, vowed that this year's effort will be different, and the bill's backers want the measure to pass both chambers and be signed into law within the next few months. One of the Senate bill's chief sponsors, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said it is time for patent reform because current patent law was "crafted for an earlier time, when smokestacks rather than microchips were the emblems of industry." The bill aims to improve the patent system by establishing mechanisms designed to eliminate bad or obvious patents, impose new limits on monetary damages awarded in infringement lawsuits, and set up an alternative to litigation. The bills also attempt to switch the patent system away from granting the patent to the person who claims to have discovered the invention first, which can be difficult to prove, for the more globally practiced system of granting the patent to the first person to file an application. A number of large hardware and software makers and Internet companies were quick to praise the bill's approach. IBM's John Kelly said the bill "will help maintain our country's innovation leadership, reduce excessive litigation and damages awards, and improve patent quality."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Lawmakers Call for E-Voting Paper Trails
IDG News Service (04/18/07) Gross, Grant

U.S. lawmakers are pushing to have paper printouts incorporated into electronic voting systems to ensure there is a paper record of voting results. In a highly contested congressional election in Florida, more than 18,000 voters failed to cast ballots on e-voting machines, and the Republican candidate won by fewer than 400 votes. Gracia Hillman, a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, warned Congress not to rush paper-trail requirements, as at least 180,000 direct recording electronic machines across the country would have to be upgraded or replaced. Hillman said introducing new equipment while trying to recruit and train poll workers for a presidential election, which is only a year and a half away, creates the possibility of colossal confusion. Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan called on Congress to create flexible time frames for any changes in e-voting requirements, telling Congress not to create expectations that are unobtainable for local election officials. Randolph Hite, director of information technology architecture and systems for the U.S. Government Accountability Office, said several groups have voiced concerns about the security and reliability of electronic voting systems, and called on federal, state, and local authorities to focus their attention on correcting the very legitimate problems. An extensive GAO review found that many jurisdictions did not use the most current voting system standards, and many do not consistently monitor election performance.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Birdwatching Goes Hi-Tech With Online Video Camera Game
UC Berkeley News (04/19/07) Yang, Sarah

University of California, Berkeley and Texas A&M University researchers have developed Collaborative Observatories for Natural Environments-Sutro Forest (CONE Sutro Forest), an online game that allows players to earn points by taking live photos of birds, using a remotely controllable robotic video camera and classifying the wilds birds they see. CONE Sutro Forest uses a collaborative control interface that allows dozens of people to simultaneously share control of the video camera, using highly responsive algorithms to compute the optimal camera viewpoint to satisfy players, according to UC Berkeley professor of engineering Ken Goldberg. Goldberg, who developed the technology behind the game with Texas A&M Dezhen Song, says the game now features a new relay server for faster and more responsive video streaming, a database of images and biological information about the wild birds likely to be spotted in the Sutro Forest, and a scoring system that rewards players based on the rarity of the photographed birds as other features of the game. Song said, "We hope that this project increases public awareness about how technology can help with natural observation."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


15 European Countries Sign Pact to Develop High-Performance Computing
Innovations Report (04/18/07) Lau, Thomas

Fifteen countries in Europe recently agreed upon a Memorandum of Understanding for a new initiative, "Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe," which is designed to strengthen science, engineering, and supercomputing technologies in Europe. Thibaut Lery, Science Officer to the European Science Foundation, said, "High-performance computing and network-related services have become essential, not optional, to the aspirations of research communities." The central project will build a new supercomputer center with multiple, interconnected supercomputers, estimated to cost about 400 million euros. The 15 countries with computer centers involved in the project will cover most of the costs, with the European Union aiding through the 7th Research Framework Programme. The goal of the project is to provide scientists in Europe access to supercomputers. The countries involved in the agreement include Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Developments Needed in Software Design
Daily Reveille (04/18/07) Ette, Freke

Integrated input from other fields will be needed if software design is to improve, independent IT consultant Alfred Spector said during a lecture at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. He said the computer science community currently focuses on programming code, adding that there needs to be a research field just for software processing. "It is not a holistic discipline studied in the same way as the classical humanities or engineering," Spector said during a lecture entitled, "Towards a Software Science of Design." According to Spector, software production has become so complex, making a change in the approach to software design a necessity. "A software science of design would facilitate software production by helping to understand, codify, and integrate currently understood approaches to design but also by creating better approaches and tools," he added. Spector noted that not only does software production tend to be late and over budget, but applications are often loaded with errors as well.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


NASA to Test Portable Robot Surgeon
Associated Press (04/18/07) Blankinship, Donna Gordon

The University of Washington on Wednesday showed off Raven, a mobile surgical robot that could be used to tend to wounded soldiers in war zones, to perform complicated medical procedures in remote areas of developing countries, and to nurse sick astronauts in space back to health. And next month, Raven will be tested in the NASA-designed Aquarius Undersea Laboratory off the coast of Florida to provide a simulation of operation in zero gravity. The UW BioRobotics Lab enlisted the services of all kinds of doctors, engineers, and computer scientists to develop Raven. "We've all had to learn how to go into the different realms," says Jacob Rosen, an associate professor who also serves as the co-director of the BioRobotics Lab. Raven differs from robots that are currently used in hospitals in terms of portability and communications. Breaking down and reconstructing Raven will be easy enough for non-engineers to do, and the robot's portable parts only weigh about 50 pounds. Raven can be controlled from miles away, and doctors sitting in front of a computer and manipulating moveable metal arms in Seattle will be providing the digital instructions during the May 7-18 underwater experiment.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Internet2, NLR Update Their Merger Soap Opera
Network World (04/18/07) Duffy, Jim

Internet2 and National LambdaRail (NLR) have reopened negotiations for a merger between the two organizations, an idea that for the past few years has gone through a turbulent negotiation process. In July 2005, the two organizations started thinking about a merger to reduce redundancies, relieve the financial burden of universities funding multiple initiatives, and help Internet2 develop its next-generation "Abilene" network, which is leased from Qwest and expires in October 2007. In late 2006, negotiations were called off because of governance issues and an "adversarial approach" by both parties, according to NLR director Polley Ann McClure. Internet2 and NLR issued an update this week on their merger talks in which they state that they have been working together again to "develop a plan for leveraging the community's assets to create a national backbone architecture that best serves the research and education community's needs," wrote NLR and Internet2 chairs Tracy Futhey and Jeffery Lehman. A Network Planning team will develop plans for the technical aspects of the merger while a six-member Merger Planning Team, led by the two chairs, will focus on the business aspects of the merger. The letter asks interested parties to be patient during the merger, and to expect another update on April 24 at the Internet2 Member Meeting.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Hard-Thought Race for Intelligent Gaming
Guardian Unlimited (UK) (04/19/07) P. 5; Gambotto-Burke, Alexander

Artificial intelligence (AI) in video games is widely considered to be drastically different and far more rudimentary than AI in the academic and technology research world, but video game developers are trying to incorporate more sophisticated AI in video games to create more unique and interactive experiences. Steve Grand is the creator of the Creatures AI experiment, arguably one of the few games that actually used true AI to teach characters in the game to eat, talk, and defend themselves. Grand says AI in most games are actually "IF/THEN" statements, but developers are realizing that what could pass as advanced AI in older games with cartoon-like graphics is no longer acceptable now that graphics have improved so dramatically. Peter Molyneux, developer of the upcoming game Fable 2, believes that a hybrid approach toward game AI is necessary to create both the dramatic, emotional experience players are expecting and the interactive, learning video game characters needed to match the rest of video game technology. Grand believes that video games can benefit AI research. "I think it's probably the best environment for AI that exists, at least until we've cracked some of the huge problems that are holding back robotics," Grand says. "When you write a game, your only responsibility is to be entertaining. It's not a mission-critical environment, so this gives you plenty of scope for new ideas."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Modified Ink Printer Churns Out Electric Circuits
New Scientist (04/18/07) Simonite, Tom

Leeds University researchers printed electronic circuits using a standard Hewlett Packard ink-jet printer loaded with a solution of metal salts and water. After printing a pattern with the metal salts solution, an ascorbic acid (vitamin C) reducing agent was printed over the pattern to make solid silver form. The technique was used to print a variety of circuits and radio antennas on different surfaces, including paper, cotton, and acetate. Desktop printers make tiny dots that bleed slightly into each other instead of overlapping, so multiple printings on the same circuit were needed to ensure conductivity. Graham Martin from the University of Cambridge said that ink-jet technology could make new kinds of devices possible, but it will be difficult to compete with existing technology, as it may be difficult to lower the resistance on printed circuits to current standards. Martin believes that ink-jet printing has a future, because circuit boards are currently made by cutting a design out of a layer of metal, which is a more intensive process requiring more energy.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Wireless Wises Up
Computerworld (04/16/07) Anthes, Gary

Software-defined radios and cognitive radios could make wireless networks far more powerful and useful. Software-defined radio (SDR) replaces a significant potion of the hardware in radio frequency devices such as cell phones, GPS units, and wireless laptops with software, giving these devices new functions and capabilities, such as switching from a cell phone to a FM radio receiver to a GPS unit at the command of the user or even by remote control. Cognitive radios go a step further and are actively aware of the surrounding environment. Cognitive radios can automatically switch between frequencies to find the best available frequency, and have the ability to remember locations and connections. An example might be a GPS-equipped cell phone remembering an area as being a dead spot and then searching for an alternative communication path when in that area again. Andrew Lippman, the leader of the Viral Communications Group at the MIT Media Lab, says cognitive radios can even work in tandem with one another, rather than communicating only with a central router, server, or cell tower, and can determine the most effective route to send a signal. The radios act like a bucket brigade, carrying messages along from one to the next, with signal strength decreasing when the units are closer to one another to save energy.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


UMass Researchers Spotting Weak Links on Distributed Nets
Network World (04/09/07) Dubie, Denise

A team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has developed a computer-based tool that will allow government agencies and companies to measure how vulnerable their large distributed networks are to a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. With the measurement tool, users will be able to rank their managed nodes and links in terms of usage and vulnerability. "Previous measures ignored how users of networks would readjust subject to a failure and could not rank nodes and links in a reasonable way," says Anna Nagurney, a UMass professor and director of the Virtual Center for Supernetworks at the university's Isenberg School of Management. Users also will be able to determine the level of loss in efficiency of network components and links that have been damaged, and measure user readjustment after a disruption. "We expect that the measure will have a wide practical use also in peacetime since it provides a quantifiable way in which to identify which network components should be best maintained based on actual usage and costs," notes Nagurney.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


UW-Madison Launches New High-Speed Research Network
Wisconsin Technology Network (04/16/07) Plas, Joe Vanden

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has developed a network that is 20,000 times faster than a typical home broadband connection. The Broadband Optical Research, education, and Sciences Network, or BOREAS-Net, runs a loop of fiber-optic cable between UW-Madison, Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Minnesota. BOREAS-Net was created in response to federal granting agencies demanding improved computing power and research collaboration between institutions of higher learning. Ed Meachen, associate vice president of learning and information technology for the University of Wisconsin System, said the new network will improve connectivity for researchers as well as satisfy the demands for an improved network infrastructure from grant agencies. UW-Madison's CIO Ken Frazier said any outage in the BOREAS-Net loop, which features links to Internet2 in Chicago and Kansas City, Mo., would be essentially unnoticed because traffic would be instantly rerouted to the other access point. Frazier added that this redundancy and overall capacity is extremely attractive to organizations issuing research grants that rely on state-of-the-art network service.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Too Soon for Definitive Standards?
SD Times (04/15/07)No. 172, P. 34; Feinman, Jeff

The technologies undergirding mashups need further refinement before definitive standardization can take place, according to the World Wide Web Consortium and others. Dan Gisolfi of IBM argues that mashup technologies are still in a very innovative phase, which suggests that "the need for consolidation isn't necessarily there yet." The bulk of mashups are founded on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, notes chair of the W3C's data access working group Lee Feigenbaum. Gleaning Resource Descriptions from Dialects of Languages (GRDDL) and the SPARQL Protocol and RDF Query Language (SPARQL) can play an important role in the generation of mashups, despite the fact that neither technology has specifically emerged as a mashup standard. Whereas many current mashups are based on screen-scraping, GRDDL can provide a RDF representation based on transformation algorithms, which are usually XSLT-formatted. SPARQL, meanwhile, can be used by a mashup creator to basically define his or her API, explains Feigenbaum. The W3C placed SPARQL a few steps away from final recommendation as a standard, but downgraded the technology to working draft status because of a "few bugs," says Feigenbaum. But SPARQL could soon become fully recommended because Feigenbaum says he and his team are planning to publish the spec's last full draft by the end of April.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Float Like a Robot Butterfly
New Scientist (04/14/07) Vol. 194, No. 2599, P. 26; Marks, Paul

Miniature robots that fly and hover using architectures patterned after the aerodynamic principles of insect flight are being developed by researchers such as the University of Bristol's Andrew Conn, California Institute of Technology engineer Michael Dickinson, and University of California, Berkeley microsystems engineer Ronald Fearing. The first challenge engineers face is producing enough lift, which insects accomplish by beating their wings down and forward at a rapid clip, and then spinning them back and upward. Conn revealed at a recent conference in Glasgow a hummingbird-sized wing mechanism propelled by two motorized, rocking cranks that mimic the beating/rotating movement of insect wings and facilitate more maneuverability, although the device's weight currently prevents liftoff. Dickinson's team, meanwhile, is focusing on the wing dynamics of flies and honeybees to research the theory that a microsized robotic aircraft would fly more successfully by imitating the flexing of the insect's thorax, a schematic adopted by Fearing for his Micromechanical Flying Insect (MFI). The MFI prototype has a "thorax" and wings stimulated by a pair of piezoelectric actuators driving a jointed carbon fiber mechanism, while the thorax flexes via a hinge that links the thorax to the wings and allows it to impel their beating/rotating motion. Fearing originally modeled the MFI's flight after that of a fly, but switched to a bee configuration to attain more lift. The robots must be engineered to remain stable and land safely by emulating the way bugs monitor the "optical flow" of surrounding surfaces, and Fearing thinks the addition of a fisheye lens and a light-sensitive chip will help address this need. Mechanical bugs could boast more maneuverability than miniature versions of conventional aircraft or helicopters.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


NASA Invites Open-Source Partners
Federal Computer Week (04/16/07) Vol. 21, No. 9, P. 10; Robinson, Brian

NASA is inviting the open-source community to help create Web 2.0 collaboration software for space exploration under the auspices of the upcoming CosmosCode project. NASA launched the project by issuing a request for quotations for Partnership Software that would help facilitate online collaboration between the agency and entrepreneurial partners. Developed applications will serve as a module in a content management system to be used by NASA during a June conference at the Ames Research Center, and the agency will later issue the software to the open-source community for additional refinement. The NASA Open Source Agreement is the only government license listed on the Open Source Initiative's tally of sanctioned licenses. NASA already has several dozen open-source applications; NASA computer scientist Patrick Moran notes that NASA's World Wind, which can display zoomable satellite images of any location, is one such application. He thinks contractural problems and cultural intransigence will hinder a stampede to develop open-source software despite the government's enthusiastic use of it. "I am super enthused to see NASA recognize that open source is the way to go for collaboration tools," said Gallagher. "Open source will be the dominant model for e-government inside of five years."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Memory Hacker
Popular Science (04/07) Vol. 270, No. 4, P. 66; Handelman, Stephen

Memory restoration and a cure for cognitive dysfunction could be the key benefits of an implantable device designed to re-create thought, which University of Southern California neuroscientist Ted Berger has been developing for the past decade. The project is in an early phase, but has reached an important milestone with the creation of a chip that is able to converse with live rat brain cells; Berger believes his concept is viable because cognitive dysfunction is, in his words, "essentially a signal-processing problem." Among the agencies underwriting Berger's project are the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Pentagon's Office of Naval Research, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Making the chip bidirectional--a sender as well as a receiver--is the major challenge Berger's team faces. The effort dovetails with Berger's long-term goal to reduce higher brain functions to a simple set of mathematical equations. The memory chip is designed to redirect sensory input--sound, sight, taste, etc.--around damaged hippocampal tissue by mathematically mimicking the functions of the injured neurons; the input signals would be intercepted, digitized, and processed by the chip, which would then convert them back to analog signals and reroute them back into the hippocampus. Among the technical challenges is devising a technique for reducing the heat output of the implant's transistors to prevent damage to healthy brain cells. Berger's work has courted controversy, with ethicists warning that the memory chip could shatter concepts of identity and alter healthy memories. Director of Dartmouth College's Neukom Institute for Interdisciplinary Computational Scientists Richard H. Granger Jr. is convinced that "replicating memory is going to happen in our lifetimes, and that puts us on the edge of being able to understand how thought arises from tissue--in other words, to understand what consciousness really means."
Click Here to View Full Article
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.