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May 2, 2007

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Welcome to the May 2, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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'Innovation Agenda' Is Advancing in Congress
San Jose Mercury News (CA) (05/01/07) Davies, Frank

Momentum for the "innovation agenda" is starting to build as Congress begins to approve key elements of the agenda. The House is expected to nearly double funding for the National Science Foundation, which recently received approval from the Senate for a funding increase, and following votes in the House last week, Congress is set to approve about $1.5 billion in grants to train 10,000 math and science teachers each year and increase in-service training for current instructors. John Denniston, a partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, hopes that current budget increases will mirror what happened about 30 years ago when federal funding for defense research greatly aided emerging information technology companies, and an increase in federal funding for medical research helped developing biotechnology firms. So far, the increased spending has received support from both parties as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made it a priority and the Bush administration has been supportive. Not all elements of the technology agenda are receiving widespread support. The majority of Congress is looking to increase the cap of H-1B visas for foreign engineers and other technology workers, but larger controversies over immigration are tying up the issue, and patent reform, widely supported by software and other IT companies that want to be able to challenge patents, faces strong opposition from drug companies who want to protect their lucrative patents and ensure violators pay damages. Perhaps the most innovative proposal this year would be the creation of a new agency, modeled after the Cold War-era Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would fund "high-risk, high-return" projects aimed at advancing energy technology, with funding that would start at $300 million and grow to $1 billion over five years.
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Can't Humans and Computers Just Get Along? Microsoft Research Is Trying to Make Sure They Do
WebWire (04/30/07)

At the ACM International Computer/Human Interaction (CHI) 2007 Conference numerous innovative technologies and projects, several from Microsoft, were presented, all with the objective of enriching people's lives by making technology more user friendly. Microsoft researcher Patrick Baudisch believes the best technologies are the ones that escape our notice, which is the idea behind one of Baudisch's latest projects, Shift. Shift is a new technology that lets a person accurately operate a stylus-based device, such as a PDA or ultra-mobile PC, without a stylus, allowing the user to control the device with their fingers. Shift corrects the problem many users encounter when operating a device with their fingers that the on-screen target becomes obscured by fingers and thumbs, which are significantly larger than a stylus. When a user touches the screen surface, Shift makes a copy of the obscured area visible, along with a pointer that can be guided with finger motion. Once the pointer is correctly positioned, the user lifts his thumb or finger to make a selection. A paper on Shift submitted to CHI is one of three papers by Microsoft being honored at the conference. A second paper focuses on the use of eye-tracking technology in Web searches, and the other details an experimental study using a SenseCam. Microsoft submitted a total of 19 papers to the conference, on subjects ranging from mobile devices, searches, inking, emerging markets, how to operate a mouse in mid-air, and teaching computer skills to non-literate populations.
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More IT Jobs, Less Filling of Them
Computerworld (05/01/07) Thibodeau, Patrick

Recent reports on employment trends indicate that IT professionals should find it easier to find a job, but that employers may start having an even more difficult time filling job openings. The Conference Board said that about 4.37 million online job postings were placed in April, a 24 percent increase over the same period a year ago. Of that total, about 323,000 ads were "computer and mathematical" positions, a 15 percent increase over the number of job postings for the same type of positions from the previous year. The Conference Board's Gad Levanon said companies typically do more advertising in the spring to attract new college graduates, but the data showing year-over-year increases could be a signal that the job market is improving, and that increases in online advertising may be an indication of a tight labor supply. Cyberstates 2007, the latest annual report of high-tech employment trends by the American Electronics Association, said that high-tech jobs in the U.S. totaled 5.8 million last year, a 3 percent increase, or about 146,600 more jobs. Foote Partners CEO David Foote said many companies are becoming very specific about the workers they want, requiring new employees to have specific skills and experience, such as security administrators with forensics skills, or storage administrators with storage-area networking experience.
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Study: China Leaps Forward in Advanced Tech Education
Investor's Business Daily (05/02/07) P. A5; Riley, Sheila

China is producing more graduate degree-level engineers with advanced research and development skills than the United States and India, according to a Duke University study published in the March edition of the National Academy of Science Issues Magazine. "The outsourcing of engineering jobs will continue and gain momentum, and what will go next is research and design," declared lead author of the study Vivek Wadhwa. China churned out 9,427 engineering Ph.D.s in 2005, compared to 7,333 by the United States and around 1,000 by India. Although the report disputed the popular notion that the United States is facing a shortage of engineers, concerns that America is lagging behind other nations are once again rising. China experienced a monumental jump in the number of engineering Ph.D.s it produced between 1995 and 2005, while the engineering doctorate rates for the United States and India hardly increased. Wadhwa argued that the United States needs to move away from its concerns over offshoring of lower-level tech jobs and concentrate on the overseas migration of critical R&D. Among the factors deemed to be contributing to the problem are misconceptions about the engineering field and student views about what constitutes a good career, and more media coverage of engineering breakthroughs would help rectify this situation, says Engineering Trends founder Richard Heckel. Robert Litan with the Kauffman Foundation says the offshoring of R&D could be prevented by allowing highly-skilled immigrants to stay in the United States on a permanent rather than temporary basis.
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SIGGRAPH Animation Contest Deadline Approaching
Business Wire (04/27/07)

Computer graphics experts have until May 15, 2007, to sign up for the SIGGRAPH 2007 international computer graphics animation competition. Sponsored by DreamWorks Animation, FJORG! (pronounced FORGE) will pit 16 teams of three members in a 32-hour challenge before a live audience to develop a character-driven animated sequence (of at least 15 seconds in length) based on a theme chosen by an elite panel of judges from the entertainment industry. "Everyone from the international computer graphics community is encouraged to enter this competition," says Patricia Beckmann-Wells, SIGGRAPH FJORG! chair. "We expect it to be an extremely challenging, engaging, and memorable animation contest." There will be a special ceremony for the winners, who will receive prizes, during the 34th International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, which is scheduled for Aug. 5-9, at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, Calif. ACM SIGGRAPH is the sponsor of SIGGRAPH 2007, which is expected to draw some 25,000 computer graphics and interactive technology professionals from around the world for several days of technical and creative programs, and an exhibition of products and services. For more information about SIGGRAPH 2007, or to register, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2007/
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Respectful Cameras
Technology Review (05/02/07) Borrell, Brendan

University of California, Berkeley computer scientists have developed "respectful cameras," a new type of video surveillance technology that covers a person's face with an oval for privacy but removes the oval in the event of an investigation. Respectful cameras are still in the research phase, as they are only capable of covering someone's face if that person is wearing a marker such as a green vest or yellow hat, but the cameras could be a compromise between privacy advocates and those concerned about security, according to UC Berkeley computer scientist Ken Goldberg. The researchers used a statistical classification approach called adaptive boosting to teach the system to identify the marker in a visually complicated environment, and added a tracker to compensate for the subject's velocity and other interframe information. When the system was tested using a vest at a construction site, the marker was correctly identified 93 percent of the time, and under more uniform lighting conditions while testing a hat in a lab, the system was 96 percent successful, even when two marked individuals crossed paths. Goldberg said the marker is necessary as face-detection algorithms are not advanced enough yet, but that a less conspicuous marker, like a button, could be used, particularly with systems of multiple cameras. Still, even if privacy protection camera systems were widely deployed, there likely would be debate on how difficult it should be for governments and law enforcement to see fully unobscured video footage.
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Tech Students Are in the Chips; Computer, Engineering Employers Comb Campuses
Sacramento Bee (CA) (04/30/07) P. D1; Swett, Clint

Demand for graduates with computer and engineering degrees is so high that college career centers are constantly receiving requests for graduates and businesses are waiting in line to participate in college job fairs. Cici Mattiuzzi is the director of the career center for the College of Engineering and Computer Science at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS). "I've done this job for 30 years and across the board it's the best hiring market I've ever seen," Mattiuzzi said. "These companies want students so badly I feel like I'm being harassed." Demand for computer science and engineering students has increased recently as the economy recovers from the dot-com bust and baby boomer computer scientists and engineers retire, opening up numerous positions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 34.2 percent increase in computer and math specialist jobs in California between 2004 and 2014. The problem is that not enough students are graduating with computer and engineering degrees. Enrollment in computer programs at American River College is down 35 percent since 2000, and enrollment in the engineering and computer science department at CSUS fell nearly 25 percent between 2000 and 2007. Enrollment in tech-related fields is expected to increase as students recognize the lucrative job market, but the non-profit group LEED (Linking Education and Economic Development) is hoping to help the problem resolve a little faster. LEED has partnered with 12 California middle and high schools to encourage students to study engineering and computer science, including programs helping high school students land summer internships at Intel and special math and science curriculums in the schools.
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Washington University's Yixin Chen Receives Prestigious Microsoft Award
EurekAlert (04/30/07)

Microsoft Research has named Yixin Chen of Washington University in St. Louis a 2007 New Faculty Fellow. The prestigious award is designed to support the research efforts of young computer scientists by providing them with $200,000 in cash and other resources such as software and conference travel and the opportunity to work with Microsoft researchers over two years. Chen, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, won the fellowship for his research into nonlinear optimization, which could have a significant impact on automated planning, medical procedures such as radiotherapy, computational biology, and engineering design. He spent five years developing an algorithm that can provide an answer to a nonlinear problem in 100 seconds that in the past would have taken a 100-node parallel computer a week to solve. For example, NASA rovers and satellites would be able to execute decision procedures in 30 seconds rather than two hours, with Chen's algorithm. "The goal is that, by reducing the computational complexity of nonlinear optimization, we will develop fast and robust decision-making tools and significantly extend the ways that computing can be used in medical, scientific, and engineering applications," he says.
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Women in IT: Find Us If You Can
MC Press Online (05/01/07) DeGiglio, Maria

Recent statistics from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics on women in IT are inaccurate because they fail to account for female professionals who have transitioned into business analyst roles and female freelancers, writes analyst Maria A. DeGiglio. According to the Department of Labor, the number of female women in IT fell by 76,000 from 984,000 in 2000 to 908,000 in 2006. DeGiglio argues that these numbers only accounted for eight very specific groups in the IT industry: managers, computer scientists/system analysts, programmers, software engineers, support specialists, database administrators, network/computer systems administrators, and network systems/data communications analysts. DeGiglio believes these categories have extremely rigid definitions and do not account for women who may have more ambiguous IT jobs but no official IT title, such as consulting professionals, technical writers, journalists, and industry analysts. These professionals may not have true IT positions, but a large portion of their jobs is IT related. DeGiglio says that if the number of women in IT is truly decreasing, there are several reasons for the trend. One is that some women may have felt that IT was too thankless and that they hit a glass ceiling, but DeGiglio believes that the main reason women are "leaving" the field is that they have reinvented themselves and have pursued graduate degrees or more lucrative professions. She says the "IT career paradigm is morphing into a new paradigm--one that is non-traditional and dynamic." For information about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://women.acm.org
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Microsoft Invites Collaboration With Grid Computing Research
TechNewsWorld (04/30/07) Germain, Jack M.

Microsoft has released details about its Security Policy Assertion Language, or SecPAL, to encourage collaboration on security and access controls methods from the grid computing community. Microsoft created SecPAL as a research project to develop a more simple and accurate way of expressing decentralized authorization policies, and to investigate computing language design and semantics as well as related algorithms and analysis techniques. Microsoft hopes that making SecPAL's implementation and design information available will encourage the security and grid research communities to test, experiment, and contribute to the project. "We made it flexible enough to work with several grid platforms," says Microsoft lead software architect Blair Dillaway. "We have been experimenting with SecPAL internally for one year. I feel very positive about this progress." By sharing computer resources through a grid, users can run a single resource for solving large-scale and data-intensive computer applications. So far, the University of Virginia and the University of New Castle are actively working with SecPAL. Other universities and organizations have downloaded the information as well, but have not yet responded.
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Mouse Brain Simulated on Computer
BBC News (04/27/07)

Researchers from the IBM Almaden Research Lab and the University of Nevada have used the BlueGene L supercomputer to model half a virtual mouse brain with 8 million neurons that have up to 6,300 synapses, or connections, with other nerve fibers. Interactions in brain tissue are complex and numerous, making them a challenge to simulate. Half the brain of a real mouse can have about 8 million neurons each with up to 8,000 synapses. In the short research note entitled "Towards Real-Time, Mouse-Scale Cortical Simulations," researchers James Frye, Rajagopal Ananthanarayanan, and Dharmendra S Modha write that such a modeling initiative puts "tremendous constraints on computation, communication and memory capacity of any computing platform." The BlueGene L supercomputer was used to run the complex simulation for 10 seconds at a speed that was 10 times slower than real life. The speed was about one second in the brain of a real mouse. The researchers have seen "biologically consistent dynamical properties" of thought patterns in real mouse brains in smaller simulations.
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Virtual Reality Helps MS Patients Walk Better
American Technion Society (04/30/07)

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology scientists have developed a virtual reality device that uses auditory and visual feedback to improve the walking speed and stride length in multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's patients. Lead researcher and computer science professor Yoram Baram said a cell phone-sized device measures body movement, and processes and sends audio feedback to the user through earphones. The visual feedback is provided through a device Baram developed for Parkinson's patients 10 years ago. Through a tiny piece that clips onto the users glasses, the user is presented with a virtual, tiled-floor image in one eye, allowing the user to distinguish between the virtual floor and real world obstacles. "Healthy people have other tools, such as sensory feedback from muscles nerves, which report on muscle control, telling them whether or not they are using their muscles correctly," said Baram. "This feedback is damaged in Parkinson and MS patients and the elderly, but auditory feedback can be used to help them walk at a fixed pace." Results from a small study showed that patients' stride lengths and walking speeds improved not only while wearing the device, but after the device was removed, indicating the device has some residual short-term therapeutic effects. Parkinson's patients showed less improvement than MS patients on the whole, however. The device is the first to respond to the patient's motions rather than providing fixed visual or auditory cues, and is already being used by several medical centers in Israel and the United States.
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Researchers: Health Sensors Open New Doors for Hackers
ASU Insight (04/30/07) Evans, Deanna

A time when our health is constantly being monitored by a network of tiny sensors implanted in our bodies may not be as far off as some might think, according to Sandeep Gupta, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Arizona State University. Not only does Gupta believe such a scenario could occur, but he has already considered the possibility that the "body sensor network" could be an information theft vulnerability. Like all other types of information exchanges, transferring information from tiny body sensors to a larger computer that interprets the data is vulnerable to theft and would need to be protected. Gupta has proposed a possible security solution using an algorithm based on a physiological property to generate a key to prevent unauthorized access. Using a synchronized measurement of some phenomena in the body, a key would be generated simultaneously by two sensors so the key would never need to be sent between the two, keeping the key unknown to potential criminals. "This is a solution to the chicken-and-egg problem of secure data transmission," Gupta said. "Using the physiological parameters of the body, you can secure the information, and because the sensors are using their environment to derive the key, a person outside the body cannot measure the environment." While implant security is not yet a hot-button issue, Gupta says that as medical practices become more pervasive, specifically systems that use networks, security will become a critical issue.
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Program to Help Girls Click With Computers
Catonsville Times (MD) (04/26/07) Weybright, Scott

The fifth annual Computer Mania Day at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is scheduled for May 5, 2007. The event targets middle school girls with a day's worth of technology-related activities, with hopes of attracting them to careers in information technology, engineering, and other technology-related fields. Pamela Ezzat, the director of kindergarten through 12th grade programs at the Center for Women in Technology at UMBC, says the young girls have an opportunity to gain some professional role models. "We require that [the teachers] be women in the classrooms teaching the workshops," says Ezzat. "The girls can see that women are really out there." UMBC officials add that it is unacceptable that girls accounted for only 10.5 percent of students who took the computer science Advanced Placement test last year. The guest speaker for the Computer Mania Day will be "eighth-grader Jennifer Webb," a digital puppet developed by young girls who attended the event in previous years.
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Better Touch Screens for Mobile Phones
Technology Review (05/01/07) Greene, Kate

Haptics researchers at numerous universities and companies are working on touch-based feedback that could make faux touch-screen buttons feel more like real buttons. When using a touch-screen keyboard, people are more accurate typists when they receive some kind of feedback, according to University of Glasgow professor of computing science Stephen Brewster. Brewster and his team found that people make errors, such as mistype, double-press, or slip from one button to another, up to 25 percent less frequently when vibrations are used to let them know the button was correctly pressed. While most phones are capable of producing a vibration as an announcement for a call, Brewster is using specialized actuators to explore how people respond to different types of vibrations. Research by PhD student Eve Hoggan, a member of Brewster's team, found that people can recognize differences in vibrations 94 percent of the time. Different types of vibrations could be used to send error signals. Brewster believes that within a couple of years, vibration feedback will be far more common, and people will be able to select the types of vibrations they feel, much like how they choose wallpaper on their phone's screens.
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Mobile Phone Game Developed to Combat Culture Shock
University of Portsmouth (04/27/07)

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth are putting the final touches on a game for mobile phones that is designed to help prepare international students for life in Britain. Gaming technology expert Nipan Maniar and research assistant Dr. Emily Bennett are behind C-Shock, which helps foreigners deal with "culture shock" by presenting incidents and images that are likely to be unfamiliar to them, such as drinking alcohol in a pub or displaying affection in public. "I thought it would be great to have a learning vehicle or device to help people overcome the culture shock because if you have not experienced such things before, it's hard to know how to react or behave appropriately," says Maniar, who left India to pursue studies in the United Kingdom five years ago. The game starts users with a "culture shock" rating of 100 and reduces it to zero by presenting events users are likely to encounter at specific locations on campus. "You could incorporate a whole city guide into the game so, in effect the new student has this interactive learning tool to quickly settle into a new city very quickly," says Maniar, who expects other U.K. universities to use mobile phone games in a similar fashion. C-Shock should be available to students later this year.
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Peta Computing's Parallel Universe
CITRIS Newsletter (04/07) Slack, Gordy

The maturation of petascale computing will give CITRIS applications in a wide array of fields amazing new modeling opportunities. Among the areas of CITRIS research that would benefit from petascale supercomputers--one of which will be available to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory--are earthquake modeling, climate analysis, environmental monitoring, genomics, nanoscience, and protein analysis. Integrating CITRIS-type applications with the petascale hardware and systems software is a challenge being tackled by UC Berkeley computer science professor Katherine Yelick and colleagues in the Parallelism Lab. "We are trying to expose the best features of the underlying hardware to the software," explains Yelick. "The hardware designers are trying to innovate and put in fast networks or networks with very interesting connectivity patterns, and we want to take full advantage of that." Yelick's team has devised new compilers and languages--one C-based and one Java-based--for the new systems, and one of the major challenges they face involves the measurement and management of the information stream through massive numbers of processors. The unequal distribution of tasks among all these processors complicates the development of new algorithms and new approaches to applications programming to coordinate the flow and sharing of so much activity. At least 50 percent of the world's 500 fastest computers will be petascale, if speed increases keep up at present levels.
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Pervasive Personal Computing in an Internet Suspend/Resume System
Internet Computing (04/07) Vol. 11, No. 2, P. 16; Satyanarayanan, Mahadev; Gilbert, Benjamin; Toups, Matt

The authors describe a new mobile computing methodology that uses the Internet Suspend/Resume (ISR) system, which mimics the suspend/resume capability of laptops, to remove the necessity of carrying hardware along. The goal of the technique is to locate and use existing hardware at any location so that personal computing can be liberated from the design constraints of portable equipment. With such an approach, any Internet-linked machine could function as a PC on demand, but realizing this concept involves finding ways to supply efficient on-demand access to the whole of a user's personal computing environment, guaranteeing resilience to the Internet's unpredictability, and setting up trust in unmanaged hardware for temporary use. ISR enables virtual machines to encapsulate user and customization states or parcels by layering the VMs on distributed storage, which then transports the parcels across time and space. The authors have commenced deployment of the OpenISR version of ISR, based on the lessons learned from three previous ISR implementations. OpenISR is designed to be virtual machine monitor-agnostic, use content addressable storage extensively, and exploit techniques to transparently morph between thin- and thick-client modes of execution. To shield users from the vagaries of the Internet, the authors promote an asynchronous network dependence scheme in which ISR provides network connectivity to support data hoarding and reintegration, while complete disconnection is acceptable and has no bearing on performance in the interval between these two events. The authors are addressing the challenge of establishing trust through the development of the Trust-Sniffer tool, which helps a user gain confidence in an initially untrusted machine in increments; the tool features a trust initiation device that boots the untrusted machine in order that the Trust-Sniffer can run an integrity check of all software that would be employed in a normal boot process.
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