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April 30, 2007

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Virtual Becomes Reality At Stanford
San Francisco Chronicle (04/29/07) P. A1; Sturrock, Carrie

Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab researchers are investigating how new digital technology can alter human beings and their interactions. Using advanced virtual reality technology researchers can transport student subjects into incredibly real environments, technology the researchers say could be used in a variety of human interactions from police lineups to America's obesity epidemic. Director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab and assistant professor at Stanford Jeremy Bailenson has been researching a "virtual police lineup" that eliminates the possibility of a witness identifying the wrong person based on a characteristic that could have changed, such as weight or hair. By virtually making the lineup suspects the same weight, dressed in the same clothing, and sporting the same hair cuts, the witness is forced to identify the suspect based on their face rather than a changeable trait, resulting in a more accurate and positive identification. This technology can also be used to transport the witness back to the scene of the crime to view the suspect in the proper surroundings. "In virtual reality, you get unlimited information--you can see someone's face from any distance and any angle," Bailenson said. "When you give them unlimited information they can use, they're more likely to be accurate." The system works using a high tech helmet that captures the users movements using an accelerometer. Four cameras monitor the user's position in the room by tracing a light-emitting diode on the helmet. A computer records the movement information, while a second computer continually redraws the world and sends the information back to the helmet. Additional studies with the technology include monitoring a subject's physical activity levels after watching themselves exercise in the virtual world and tracking a subject's confidence levels after watching an attractive or unattractive simulation of themselves. Bailenson's research was funded by a 2002 National Science Foundation grant.
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As the Software World Turns, Part 1: Engineers in, Programmers Out
TechNewsWorld (04/28/07) Maxcer, Chris

Today, software programmers, developers, analysts, engineers, and architects rarely fill the traditional positions they were limited to only a decade ago, and instead handle a wide variety of tasks as organizations worldwide ask more from application development teams. Software developers need to have specific and multilingual knowledge. Forrester Research application development analyst Jeffrey Hammond said, "One of the things I've seen over the last three years is a decline in the number of folks who describe themselves as computer programmers and a rise in the number of people who identify themselves as software engineers for application development or software engineers for systems development." Developers need to be able to use a variety of technologies, not just the raw programming language, so they are becoming less like software engineers and more like technicians. This change is being driven by a more in-depth business process that requires project leaders to interact with business leaders to quickly create a new solution. Software engineer Jason Brooks said, "A software engineer needs to be able to interpret and implement business requirements, maybe rewrite them and send them back." In an effort to quantify skills, dozens of application development certifications have popped up, but for the most part, certifications are used to push a resume through the human resources department and into the hiring manager's office. Hammond said that landing a job is based on languages known, programming experience, and applications built, not certification. President of Upside Research David A. Kelly said, "In the future, the real 'developers' will be offshore in India, China, Russia or some other far-off place, while development managers, architects, and business enablers will be here in America, helping to define, manage and deploy technology solutions that solve business problems."
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44th Design Automation Conference to Feature Two Workshops Addressing Low Power
Business Wire (04/24/07)

Two low power design workshops are scheduled for Sunday, June 3, 2007, at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, Calif., the day before the start of the 44th Design Automation Conference (DAC). The Low Power Coalition (LPC) Workshop--Standards for Low Power Design Intent will address the advantages of the Common Power Format (CPF) specification for capturing and communicating low power constraints in IC design flow, as well as the latest developments and planned roadmap of the LPC. The agenda of the workshop includes presentations on Convergence Activities With Other Power-Aware Formats and EDA Tool Developers for Low Power, and a panel discussion featuring all speakers. During the Design and Verification of Low Power ICs workshop, engineers and tool developers will learn about the purpose, technical constructs, and usage of the Unified Power Format (UPF), and top EDA suppliers will demonstrate UPF interoperability in a multi-vendor flow. "The fact that there are two workshops on low power design at DAC this year underscores the importance of the topic and the value of attending DAC to get details on all of the latest developments in design," says Steve Levitan, general chair of the 44th DAC, scheduled for June 4-8 in San Diego. [[For more information about DAC, or to register, visit http://www.dac.com/44th/index.html]]
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Comp. Sci. Recruits Women
Stanford Daily (04/27/07) Allen, Jenny; Jenn

Stanford, like universities nationwide, has seen its ranks of female computer science students shrink, as only 13 percent of computer science undergraduates were female this year, compared to 24 percent during the 1999-2000 school year. Mills College computer science associate professor Ellen Spertus believes that women generally enter college with less computer science than men, and are more easily discouraged by 'weeder' courses. "Even when they earn good grades in these classes, the fear that they don't belong in computer science and leave," Spertus says. In an attempt to reverse this trend, Stanford faculty, staff, and students are making an active effort to recruit and retain more women in computer science. In 2002, Stanford students organized Women In Computer Science (WICS), a student group that provides speaker series, workshops, mentoring programs, and social events for female computer science students, as well as sponsors attendees to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computer Conference, the largest conference for women in computer science. Additionally, Stanford offers an introductory course designed to expose more students to the field, works with programs that supports young students, and provides additional research opportunities through the Computer Science Undergraduate Research Internship. To develop additional strategies, Stanford participates in the Academic Alliance of the National Center for Women in Information Technology. Stanford also works to recruit more women by including women on search committees to identify qualified candidates from underrepresented groups. Stanford computer science professor Eric Roberts says the school needs to increase the number, not the percentage, of women in the CS department. [[For information about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://women.acm.org]]
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Sun Opens Doors to Next-Generation Technology
InfoWorld (04/26/07) Krill, Paul

Sun Labs Open House at Sun facilities in Menlo Park, Calif., featured several presentations and demonstrations on new technologies still in development such as wire-free chip-to-chip communications, Web 2.0 security, and even a slot car track embedded with real-time Java sensor technology. One project that drew a significant amount of attention was Proximity Communication, which seeks to overcome the limitations of Moore's law. Proximity Communication places silicon parts close to each other, sending signals between them without wires, which can increase bandwidth, make chips replaceable, and enable smaller chips, according to Sun. Sun Labs director and distinguished engineer Robert Drost said there are challenges, such as heat dissipation, but that the high risk project has great potential for a very high reward. Proximity Communication could save power and allow for much larger cashes to be build, a significant development if Sun is successful, said analyst Nathan Brookwood. "Today, trying to build a system out of multiple chips really imposes tremendous performance constraints," Brookwood said. "If they can achieve this, if they can take several chips and make them behave like on large chip from an electrical and signal timing perspective, then that's a huge step forward." Sun fellow at Sun Microsystems Laboratories Robert Sproull said they still have to get the first prototype working and that it would be years before Proximity Communications would be available.
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Quantum Computing Offers Big Hopes
Kansas City Star (04/29/07) P. A11; Canon, Scott

Quantum computing could revolutionize every industry from factory production, to entertainment, to military applications, that is if quantum computing is even possible. Quantum computing differs from regular computing, which makes calculations using bits valued as either 1 or 0, by being able to value bits, or in quantum computing 'qubits,' as both 1 and 0 at the same time. Quantum computing would be capable of this seemingly impossible task by exploiting the odd properties of quantum mechanics, which governs the behavior of the super small. At the University of Pittsburgh, Jeremy Levy directs a quantum computing center and is exploring the use of spinning electrons to assign simultaneous different values. For example, an electron spinning clockwise could represent a 0 while a counterclockwise spinning electron would represent a 1, creating a quantum computer that uses both electrons at the same time to assign two different values. Several obstacles need to be resolved in order for this theoretical quantum computer to become reality. One problem is that qubits would need to be isolated at a temperature colder than minus 450 degrees Fahrenheit to control matter that specifically, and all outside world interference, such as certain types of noise, would need to be shut out to prevent the delicate process from being disturbed. University of Missouri computer science professor Jeffrey Uhlmann, who studied the possibilities of quantum computing at the Naval Research Laboratory for 12 years and still writes algorithms to help engineers, said quantum computers will likely be based on the same model as traditional computers, but it is possible that they could become as powerful as some people predict, recalling that decades ago computer experts thought it would be impossible to shrink a computer with less power than a cell phone down to the size of a refrigerator.
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Xerox Technology Responds to 'Colorful' Language
Network World (04/27/07) Brodkin, Jon

Xerox is working to improve the usability of color control systems by creating a natural language interface for making color adjustments to computer documents. The company has developed prototype natural language color editing technology. Geoff Woolfe, research scientist at Xerox Innovation Group, says changing colors effectively tends to require specialized training, and the hiring of a graphics professional or printer. With the new technology, consumers will be able to make changes with voice commands or typing words and phrases such as "slightly less yellow," "much darker," or "greener," although the adjustments will not be as precise as numerical color encodings used in color image-processing and device-control applications. "First, there is no uniquely defined natural color language," according to Woolfe in a statement. "Second, the boundaries between named colors are not precisely defined--indeed; they are somewhat fuzzy and can vary, to some extent, between individuals." Xerox has created a dictionary of 267 color names, including simple names such as red, names with hue-modifiers such as yellowish-green, and color names that use modifiers to distinguish lightness and colorfulness such as pale and vivid.
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CMU High Tech Aims Higher for Blind, Deaf
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (04/30/07) Heinrichs, Allison M.

Carnegie Mellon robotics and computer science students are given the opportunity to participate in a program called TechBridgeWorld that allows them to earn credit while developing technology to help underserved communities. In the past, projects have taken students as far as West Africa, where they tested a computerized reading aid to improve the literacy rates. This year, two projects were developed to help the blind and the deaf. BlindAid uses a scanner and scan tags, like those used on items in a grocery store, to help blind people orient themselves and navigate in unfamiliar environments. By scanning a tag near a door, the subject can receive information on where he or she is and how to get to his or her destination. BlindAid is not ready for commercial use as the scanner is rather bulky and the directions can become confusing if the person takes a wrong turn, but initial results were very positive as participants found their way to different rooms 25 percent faster than if they relied on the Braille room labels alone. In the future, BlindAid could be extended for use on street signs and buildings. The other project, called DeSIGN, is a computer game to improve the literacy skills of deaf children, which tend to lag behind the reading skills of hearing students by two to three grade levels. The game introduces new vocabulary worlds by using them in sentences and playing a video of the student's teacher signing the word. When students correctly identify the word, an object is added to a jungle, baseball, or outer-space scene as a reward. A test run of the game on eight children showed that their vocabulary retention improved by 17.8 percent when using DeSIGN.
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Engineers from Diverse Backgrounds Discuss Mechatronics
Design News (04/26/07) Dodge, John

A panel of engineers--Jet Propulsion Laboratory chief engineer Brian Muirhead, Colorado State University Department of Mechanical Engineering professor David Alciatore, Galil Motion Control application support engineer Todd Shearer, and Siemens Energy and Automation consulting system engineer Razvan Panaitescu--was organized to discuss mechatronics, whose meaning can vary depending on who you ask, Alciatore says. He cites a textbook definition that describes mechatronics as "a rapidly developing interdisciplinary field of engineering dealing with the design of products whose function relies on the integration of electrical and mechanical components coordinated by a control architecture," while Panaitescu says mechatronics is to Siemens a holistic strategy for determining the meaning of mechanical and electrical systems. Muirhead describes mechatronics as a melding of mechanical engineering and high performance digital electronics that is often found in gears, actuators, motors, and controls, and to Shearer it is "a discipline that is 30 percent software, 30 percent electrical, and 40 percent mechanical or some mix therein." Alciatore explains that software is playing an increasingly essential role in mechatronics, and working in the discipline requires being well-versed in many other areas. The panelists offer examples of how they are applying best practices in their organizations. Panaitescu says Siemens offers mechatronics to clients in the design and production phases, with a focus on clients who use automation equipment for manufacturing machine tools and production machines; Alciatore says the focus of his mechatronics course changes every year, and he recommends implementing modeling, analysis, and simulation as early in the design process as possible for complex mechatronics projects; Muirhead notes that JPL is trying to make gearboxes operable in extreme environments by incorporating electrical components directly into the motor; and Shearer says that application engineers more versed in mechatronics will approach the original equipment manufacturer and attempt to cover all the software, electronics, and mechanics.
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Stanford's Compute Power Gets Boost From PlayStation 3
IDG News Service (04/25/07) Williams, Martyn

About 250,000 PlayStation 3 consoles are contributing some 400 TFLOPS (trillion floating-point operations per second) of computing power to the Folding@home distributed computing project overseen by researchers at Stanford University. PlayStation 3 owners have jumped at the opportunity to offer idle processor cycles for research into how proteins fold. Total computer power for the project has grown to about 700 TFLOPS, and power contributions from PlayStation 3 consoles is more than double what comes from Windows PCs. The publicity surrounding PlayStation 3 participation has helped bring more PC users onboard, boosting active PC involvement in the project by 20 percent in the last month. Sony says it is looking forward to assisting other distributed computing projects in a "wide variety of academic fields such as medical and social sciences."
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As Women Steer Clear of Computers Nationwide, Tufts U. Breaks Trends
Tufts Daily (04/25/07) Battan, Carrie

Faculty and students say Tufts University is one of the most active universities in its efforts to attract more women to the field of computer science. Tufts has specific scholarships for women in computer science, a campus organization called Women in Computer Science, and is one of the few computer science faculties in the world with an equal number of men and women on staff. Stacy Ecott, president and co-founder of Women in Computer Science, believes that stereotypes associated with computer science tends to drive women away, as does the overall difficulty of the major. Senior Lecturer of Computer Science Judy Stafford agrees with Ecott, and has noticed that women entering college have less of a concept of what computer science is really like than male students. "Computer science has a problem with minorities in general," Stafford said. "It tends to be a white male population." Ecott estimates, based on her observations in classes, that women make up about a tenth of undergraduate computer science majors, and Stafford said she has noticed a lack of women at conferences, usually 20 percent or less. Tufts recently rewrote the course descriptions for some of the classes to make them more interesting, and is trying to make computer science more appealing to women by stressing the potential for interdisciplinary work. "We're looking at the introductory curriculum and trying to make sure that it includes materials that appeal to women," Stafford said. "Women tend to go into fields in which they feel that the can make a contribution to society. We're trying to make sure that it's obvious that computer science is an important field for supporting society in general and that it's strongly connected to other fields."
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A World of Connections
Economist (04/26/07)

As short development cycles, lower costs, and increased innovation expand the wireless network, more everyday objects will become connected to networks, devices such as televisions, cars, industrial machinery, and coffee makers. David Clark, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and developer of the Internet believes that in 15 to 20 years the network will need to accommodate a trillion devices, most of them wireless. Currently, the majority of wireless networking progress and research has been focused on mobile phones, with about 2.8 billion already in use and 1.6 million being added every day, but new machines, sensors, and objects are being developed for use on the Web, such as a lighting system capable of receiving wireless controls and detecting smoke and fires. Philips, an electronics firm, plans to introduce wirelessly controlled lighting systems in about five years that would be capable of monitoring objects throughout a building, tracking equipment in hospitals or preventing thefts in offices. Still, it will be a while before machine-to-machine communications and sensor networks become common place because, although the technology exists, each system needs to be custom designed and tailor made, unlike computer software that can be adapted and deployed with a few clicks.
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Saving the Digital Record
Washington Times (04/26/07) Geracimos, Ann

Digital information, much of it considered valuable to historians, is quickly lost in the fast-changing digital world. The average lifespan of a Web site is 44 days, according to Guy Lamolinara, a spokesman for the Library of Congress' Office of Strategic Initiatives, which has started a collaborative project designed to preserve digital information. The National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) is a 10-year project dedicated to identifying the problems involved and outlining possible solutions for saving digital information deemed important to parts of the country's heritage. Lamolinara highlights the fact that Web sites used in the 1994 national election, the first time the Web was used in an election, no longer exist and are forever lost. The project hopes to be able to save Web sites following events such as September 11 or Hurricane Katrina, digitally recorded music or video, and even potentially social networking sites. As Lamolinara points out, so much of what is being created exists only online. Mary Rasenberger, a policy adviser working on issues related to copyright laws, said NDIIPP was assigned five goals, which could be defined as "content," defining what is important to save and why; "management," how the network will operate; "technical infrastructure," developing the tools and techniques need to preserve and create the network; "sustainability," who will fund the system; and "policy," how copyright issues will be handled and creating incentives to preserve material. Copyright is a particularly tricky problem because, while libraries and archives are exempt for the purpose of preservation, digital material is so easily copied and distributed that it could undermine the ability to recoup an investment and consequently undermine the need for preservation altogether, according to Rasenberger.
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Designs to Focus on IT Needs of Disabled
Computing Canada (04/20/07) Vol. 33, No. 6, Buckler, Grant

IBM has signed up five universities to participate in its Accessibility Common Courseware Exchange for Software Studies (ACCESS) program, designed to help institutions design and share coursework aimed at teaching students how to design software that people with disabilities can use with ease and comfort. IBM saw a need for the project during a contest that challenged student to write a computer program to see if Web sites were accessible to people with disabilities, when it became apparent that many students were learning little or nothing about designing for people with disabilities. IBM then conducted a survey that confirmed the observations made during the contest and created the ACCESS program. Universities around the world will be able to access and contribute lessons, tools, and courseware related to accessible technologies, stored in an open repository hosted and supported by IBM Academic Initiative. Any academic can access the materials by joining the Academic Initiative, which is free. So far, the University of Toronto, the University of Illinois, California State University at Long Beach, Georgia Tech, and Rochester Institute of Technology have all agreed to participate in the ACCESS program. Designing to accommodate people with disabilities, such as changing colors on the screen to improve contrast or making easy-to-read controllers, leads to better overall design, according to Jutta Treviranus, director of the University of Toronto's Adaptive Technology Resource Center.
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The Average Tech Manager Makes $105,000, Our Salary Survey Finds. Have Tech Jobs Bounced Back?
InformationWeek (04/28/07) Murphy, Chris

InformationWeek's annual IT salary survey finds that the average U.S. business tech manager currently earns $105,000, while median compensation for IT personnel is $78,000. Median base salaries are experiencing an upward movement for the first time in a number of years. Median base pay for IT staff and managers is up 5.7 percent and 6.6 percent this year, respectively, versus around 1 percent in 2004, 2005, and 2006; bonuses are maintaining their level of 8 percent of pay for managers and 5 percent of pay for staffers. There is greater confidence from survey respondents concerning the security and stability of their jobs, while 28 percent of staff list the opportunity to work with leading-edge technology as the "most important" job factor (up from 12 percent in 2006), and significantly more managers also cite IT innovation as being most critical to their job satisfaction. The portion of staffers who consider pay to be far more important than soft benefits increased from 48 percent to 60 percent between 2006 and 2007, while 51 percent of managers felt the same way this year, compared to 43 percent last year. However, median pay for IT staffers and managers age 25 and under, who are highly sought-after by industry, has declined, while U.S. IT job growth has been slow in recent years; more than 50 percent of IT pros attribute lower morale and fewer jobs to outsourcing and offshoring. Last year's survey proposed a job survival strategy in which U.S. business technology pros consider offshore rivals as their main competition, and that philosophy is still relevant today. Seven out of 10 surveyed job seekers say higher pay is the chief reason they are looking for a new job, and managers would be wise to ensure that their A-list team's salaries are aligned with the market.
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Shedding New Light on Old Islamic Patterns
CITRIS Newsletter (04/07) Slack, Gordy

Artist and entrepreneur Steve Beck and UC Berkeley computer science professor Carlo Sequin's brainchild is the NOOR project, a CITRIS initiative designed to investigate the mathematical and geometric principles underlying patterns found in ancient Islamic artwork, such as tiled mosaics, and express them in contemporary art and architecture. Sequin explains that NOOR "employs sophisticated generative algorithms to demonstrate how some of the intricate patterns may have evolved from simple line-and-circle drawings." NOOR participants are using the designs' algorithmic principles to produce immense, light emitting diode sculptures that highlight and enhance their mathematical motifs. "The original tile patterns are pretty much set in time by the nature of the medium," notes Beck. "We are introducing a temporal dimension to the patterns by animating them." The developers believe exposing computer science, math, and engineering students to these patterns will help cultivate within them a perhaps subconscious realization of their disciplines' aesthetic value. The NOOR researchers plan to study the geometric patterns' physiological and psychological effects on viewers. The project is part of an overarching FIAT LUX art and technology research initiative to examine the interconnections between art, science, and culture.
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DNS Complexity
Queue (04/07) Vol. 5, No. 3, P. 24; Vixie, Paul

The domain name system (DNS) has become immensely complex and sophisticated even though it is founded on a few simple rules, notes inventor and Internet Systems Consortium cofounder Paul Vixie. The complexity would suggest that the DNS protocol is poorly specified, but in reality it was the DNS creators' intention to loosely specify the protocol in order to support functional interoperability and ease of deployment. Future DNS complexity could arise because of emergent variables ranging from internationalized domain names to Extended DNS to Incremental Zone Transfer to dynamic update to change notification to transaction security to data authenticity. Vixie maintains that there is an almost living quality to DNS, and points out that "in DNS there are more variables in every axis than in any other distributed system I've studied." He explains that "the combination of things that were left unspecified in the protocol, things that were loosely specified ... and things that were unenforceably specified ... describes a rich and multidimensioned space where it's almost deliberately impossible to know exactly what's happening or exactly what would happen under describable circumstances."
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