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May 7, 2007

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Welcome to the May 7, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Deep Blue Victory Still a Milestone 10 Years Later
Journal News (NY) (05/06/07) Alterio, Julie Moran

The trouncing of world chess champion Garry Kasparov by IBM's Deep Blue a decade ago still resonates today both with the public and with IBM, whose supercomputer business began its meteoric rise to the top spot on the strength of the victory. IBM controlled 47 percent of the world's top 500 supercomputer sites in the most recent ranking, including four of the top 10. The No. 1 supercomputer in the world is IBM's BlueGene/L machine at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is capable of performing 280 trillion calculations per second. "For a computer to defeat the world champion really says something about where computers are going," notes former IBM researcher Murray Campbell, one of Deep Blue's creators. Deep Blue's hardware component was 32 microprocessors and 512 specialized chess chips, while its software was refined to look for and assess potential moves at a frequency of 200 million chess positions per second. Another IBM team member, one-time U.S. chess champion Joel Benjamin, recalls that Kasparov accused the Deep Blue team of cheating because the machine played moves that were unprecedented. Even today, the president of the Kasparov Chess Foundation faults IBM for not providing Kasparov with records of games so he could study Deep Blue's play, as well as for refusing a rematch. Other people are concerned that Deep Blue's victory has made impressionable youth admire computers' abilities too much. "Children need to learn how to use their own minds and make decisions and not have as much respect for computers," argues Northern Westchester Chess Club President Sal Catalfamo.
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The Thinkers: CMU Prof Using Game Theory to Match Kidneys
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (05/07/07) Roth, Mark

Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Tuomas Sandholm has developed a set of algorithms to help match living kidney donors with potential recipients. There are more than 71,000 Americans waiting for a kidney transplant, but only about 17,000 transplants are performed each year. One of the major problems is that frequently those willing to donate a kidney to a loved one or a friend are not viable donors. This dilemma has lead to the creation of four kidney exchange networks where two donor-patient pairs are matched. Fewer than 200 paired kidney exchange transplants have been performed so far, but experts say there is the potential to create a national database of almost 10,000 patient-donor pairs and perform 2,000 transplants per year. Sandholm said that with that many people, current versions of software designed to match the pairs run into problems. One such program can handle all 10,000 pairs, but is incapable of arranging three-way and four-way exchanges. Another such program can make multiple group matches, but runs out of memory after calculating 600 to 900 pairs. The algorithm Sandholm created approaches the matching problem incrementally, so it is capable of making the optimal number of matches using all 10,000 pairs, a significant accomplishment because each donor could match multiple recipients, and a set of 10,000 pairs could generate as many as 1 trillion possible three-way exchanges. The Carnegie Mellon algorithm, developed by Sandholm along with fellow professor Avrim Blum and graduate student David Abraham, is being tested by the Alliance for Paired Donation, a voluntary kidney exchange network based in Toledo, Ohio. To date, the algorithm has been used for one two-transplant match in New Jersey, and has identified one potential four-patient chain and several smaller chains, but final tests on the patients and donors are still underway. Sandholm has high hopes for the kidney exchange programs, particularly if the current voluntary networks can be combined to create a national database, which would increase the chances of good matches.
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Florida Ditches Problematic Touch-Screen Voting, and Now What?
CNet (05/04/07) McCullagh, Declan

Computer scientists attending ACM's Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference in Montreal on Friday were critical of electronic voting machines. Former ACM President Barbara Simons participated on a panel with experts who said Florida made a wise decision to eliminate touch-screen voting machines. The computer scientists took particular issue with the fact that many e-voting machines do not have audit trails, which leaves the voting results open to the possibility of manipulation through a software bug or by a malicious attacker. They favored an analog solution in the form of a paper trail. "We are called Luddites," said Simons. "Which I thought was funny coming from people who don't understand technology." Florida lawmakers voted to employ optical-scan balloting instead. For more information regarding ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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AI Will Surpass Human Intelligence After 2020
ITWorld.com (05/03/07) Moon, Peter

In an interview, Vernor Vinge, a retired San Diego University professor of mathematics and computer science and a science fiction writer, outlined some of his predictions for future technological advancements, including the idea that artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence some time after 2020. Commenting on his famous 1993 speech "The Coming Technological Singularity," Vinge said, "It seems plausible that with technology we can, in the fairly near future, create (or become) creatures who surpass humans in every intellectual and creative dimension." Vinge believes that his Singularity is the most likely non-catastrophic outcome to occur in the next few decades, and is being advanced by the widespread use of the Internet. When intelligent machining finally arrives, it will be far less visible than technology today, as most of the machining will operate within the network and in processors built into the ordinary machines of our everyday life. Vinge also agreed with Stephen Hawkins 2001 argument that genetic enhancement of humans is a viable and necessary response to compete with intelligent machines. "In the long run I don't think organic biology can keep up with hardware," Vinge says. "On the other hand, organic biology is robust in different ways than machine hardware. The survival of life is best served by preserving and enhancing both strategies."
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SC07 Cluster Challenge Open for Entries
HPC Wire (05/01/07)

The inaugural Cluster Challenge at SC07 will pit teams of undergraduate students against one another in a real-time competition of designing and running open source simulations to solve real-world computational problems. The event will give the top international conference on high performance computing, networking, and storage an opportunity to showcase the benefits of clusters, the fast growing segment that offers considerable computational power, runs a range of scientific applications, and works for intimate as well as demonstrative environments. Teams must be comprised of no more than six students, have a supervisor from their school, and have a vendor sponsor to provide equipment and funds for travel. The teams will be called on to show off their cluster piloting skills before thousands of conference attendees. The last day to submit entries at the SC07 Web site for the competition is July 31, 2007. ACM and the IEEE Computer Society sponsor SC07, which is scheduled for Nov. 10-17 in Reno, Nev. For more information about SC07, visit http://sc07.supercomputing.org/
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Bots on the Ground
Washington Post (05/06/07) P. D1; Garreau, Joel

Military robots have been deployed on an unprecedented scale in Iraq and Afghanistan as a test of their effectiveness in reducing human casualties and enhancing situational awareness. Ground-based and airborne reconnaissance, explosives detection and removal, and even elimination of enemy targets are some of the applications these robots are being used for, and operators are forming emotional bonds with the machines. Robots are awarded decorations and promotions, honored as heroes upon completion of missions, and ascribed personalities by those who operate and work with them. MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory director Rodney Brooks says humans' ability to instantly recognize when an entity exhibits life-like behavior may be a more significant factor than autonomy when it comes to establishing connections with non-biological objects, and robots at MIT and elsewhere are programmed with emotion-like expressions or body language to create sympathy. Yet humans also have surprisingly close relationships with battle bots, which are not designed with emotional cues. In fact, the test of a crawling robot that blows up land mines and keeps functioning until it is too damaged to perform was terminated by a military officer who, disturbed by the pathetic sight of the increasingly crippled machine soldiering on, considered the exercise to be inhumane. "We're programmed biologically to respond to certain sorts of things," Brooks notes.
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SIGGRAPH Innovations Impact Daily Life
Business Wire (04/30/07)

ACM's SIGGRAPH 2007, to be held from August 5-9 in San Diego, Calif., will draw an estimated 25,000 computer graphics and interactive technology professionals from six continents for a technical and creative convention focusing on research, science, art, animation, gaming, interactivity, education, and the Internet. A major attraction at the convention will be the SIGGRAPH 2007 Emerging Technologies program, which will feature creative, innovative technologies and applications being discovered in fields such as displays, robotics, input devices, interaction techniques, computer vision, wearable computing, bio-technology, collaborative environments, design, and many more. Event organizers received 75 submissions from six countries for the Emerging Technologies program. Of the 23 technologies accepted, more than seven include display technologies, and five feature haptic technologies that attendees can interact with. One of the featured technologies is the String Walker, a locomotion interface that uses eight strings actuated by a motor-pulley on a turntable that allows a user to walk but maintain their positions while exploring a virtual environment. Another is the Gravity Grabber, a haptic interaction device that creates the sensation of weight when holding a virtual object by stimulating finger-pad deformation. For more information about SIGGRAPH 2007, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2007/
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'Energy Harvesting' Can Boost Optoelectronic Efficiency
New Scientist (05/04/07) Adler, Robert

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers have developed a way to make optoelectronic devices that use both light and electricity to process information and communicate using a more efficient technique called "energy harvesting." The researchers say their silicon-based optoelectronic devices could revolutionize computing and telecommunications by increasing the speed at which information can be fed into a system and increasing the amount of data that can be processed. Current methods create a problem known as two-photon absorption, which occurs when the silicon's crystal lattice absorbs two photons simultaneously. The dual absorption creates more loose electrons, resulting in more photons being absorbed and causing a chain reaction. Previous efforts to correct the problem tried to filter out light-absorbing electrons, but created 125 times more waste heat than usable light. Instead, UCLA researchers harnessed two-photon absorption as a way of generating electricity. By adding a diode to a silicon-based laser, an electric field was created, allowing the electrons to be harvested to generate electric power. The research team has since implemented the photovoltaic effect in other simple silicon-based devices, an optical modulator and a wavelength converter, and they believe the approach will work in a full range of optoelectronic applications, including teraflop computer chips and transcontinental communication lines.
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Time for App Development to Get Real
E-Commerce Times (05/04/07) Gardner, Dana

Software development is frequently seen as a mysterious process where the requirements are submitted and the product emerges with little management during the development, but new trends in application lifecycle management (ALM), called ALM 2.0, involve implementing a more structured and manageable development cycle. Dynamic applications and services-oriented architecture are creating more componentized software, requiring stricter management during design time and runtime. Borland's Marc Brown says his company is trying to demystify the design process to create a sense of predictability in software design that mimics other aspects of IT organization. Forrester Research senior analyst Carey Schwaber says every year IT teams become more specialized, which improves productivity as individuals are more skilled at their jobs but also creates isolated groups of people working on the same project. ALM is intended to coordinate the work of the designer, the tester, the business analyst, and all other roles in the process to ensure the software meets business needs. Retail Systems Alert Group CEO and former Longs Drug Stores CIO Brain Kilcourse says software development is easily the most unreliable part of the whole value delivery equation, but that even discussions about ALM 2.0 is a big step in the right direction. Kilcourse believes that developers need to be able to come up with one coherent answer to any kind of business question, and no matter what the toolsets are, they need to be seen from a business perspective.
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Ethernet Papa Makes Invent Now Hall of Fame
CNet (05/07/07) Reardon, Marguerite

The man who helped invent the Ethernet, Robert "Bob" Metcalfe, was inducted to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, on the weekend of May 5, but Metcalfe says that his greatest achievement is yet to come. Metcalfe, who has spent time as an engineer, an entrepreneur, a columnist and publisher, and a venture capitalist, says he never expected the Ethernet to become such a huge success, as he was focused on building the tools his colleagues needed to network the world's first personal computers. Metcalfe is also quick to acknowledge the predecessors that helped in creating the Ethernet, including the ARPAnet packet-switching network, which gave the Ethernet packet switching, and the Aloha packet radio network, which gave the Ethernet randomized retransmissions. However, Metcalfe says that today's Internet is broken. "It lacks three things," Metcalfe says. "It lacks security, it lacks economics, and it lacks dedicated bandwidth." Metcalfe notes that the Internet was originally designed to carry teletype packets but is now being flooded with full-length feature films. Metcalfe also believes that the best efforts nature of the Internet misses the true security threats on the Internet, that no one is inspecting source addresses on packets and packets can pretend to be from legitimate sources or from nowhere at all.
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Q&A: Bill Moggridge: What Makes for Good Design?
Technology Review (05/07/07) Nickerson, Nate

Bill Moggridge has been an industrial designer for 40 years, and his accomplishments include what many consider to be the first laptop computer, the GRiD Compass, which he designed in 1979. In an interview, Moggridge outlines the steps and processes necessary to creating a good design. At the beginning of a design, Moggridge says that people and prototypes are the key because people will dictate the form the design will take, and the sooner a design team can create a prototype for testing, the better, as it is likely that they will have missed the mark. Tech companies can better understand the needs of customers by always examining what people are doing and why they want certain products. David Liddle, a Xerox PARC alumnus and user-interface pioneer, says technology goes through three phases of adoption. The first phase is the enthusiast, who uses the technology because of a personal interest, despite the fact that it is often difficult to use. Next the professional adopts the technology, as people are often willing to learn to use difficult and complex technology if it will improve productivity. Finally, the technology works its way into the general consumer world, but it is absolutely essential for the technology to be enjoyable and easy to learn for it to be successful with consumers. Moggridge recommends putting together a team that includes a great engineer, a crazy designer, a good business person, and a good human-factors scientist or psychologist and try to get them to work together. There will be significant challenges, but the team will quickly realize that they can accomplish more and create a far superior product together than they could as individuals.
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IT Goes Soft for Career Oriented Women
Computerworld Australia (05/04/07) Tay, Liz

Speaking at a Females in Information Technology and Telecommunications (FITT) careers seminar, Penny Coulter, president of the IT Recruitment Industry Association, outlined a trend in employer requirements that is causing a shift away from technical skills to more general soft skills, and suggested that perhaps women should think more like men and consider promotions when planning their careers. According to a survey by FITT, 38 percent of survey respondents considered career development as a toping of interest in 2006, a slight increase from 25 percent in 2005. Coulter said the lack of women in IT was the result of an inability to attract women to what Coulter called an outdated reputation of a high technical, antisocial industry, challenging industry leaders to create and promote a more attractive work culture and dispel IT's negative stereotypes. "It is essential that we break away from the traditional nerdy stereotype in IT," Coulter said. "Diversity is essential; an organization gets a very narrow focus if all its employees come from the same background." Coulter said she believes hiring today is more based on the person and less on the technical skills as it was in the 1980s and 1990s, and that there are more positions for people with experience in less technical areas, such as subject matter experts, business managers, and accountants.
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Putting Coders' Security Chops to the Test
Application Development Trends (05/02/07) Waters, John K.

The SANS Institute will launch a series of assessment and certification exams this summer that are designed to test programmers' security coding skills. The program will consist of four examinations, each covering a different programming language suite: C/C++, Java/J2EE, Perl/PHP, and .NET/ASP. The tests will measure technical proficiency and expertise at identifying and fixing common programming errors that create security vulnerabilities. Anyone interested will be able to test their skills unofficially by taking the tests online, but those who want to receive the GIAC Secure Software Programmer certification must take the exams in a proctored setting. SANS director of research Alan Paller says the original plan was to provide an assessment tool but a request from the U.S. Department of Defense convinced the organization to add the certification option to the program. Cigital CTO and security expert Gary McGraw says he doubts a multiple-choice test is an effective measure of a programmer's knowledge of software security, but Paller says the SANS Institute's underlying objective is to influence computer science educators. "We hope that, if they see that the security skills of their graduates are going to be measured by their bosses, they will begin to embed this in all of their programming courses," Paller says. "We want to make sure that when you learn to code, you learn it with security baked in."
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European Institute of Technology Moves Another Step Closer to Reality
Ars Technica (05/03/07) Hruska, Joel

The proposed European Institute of Technology (EIT) may open this fall, but first European Union governments will have to agree on several key issues as well as provide the 300 million euros needed to fund the first year of the EIT. EU education commissioner Jan Figel hopes that a formative bill will be voted on in July. The new EIT model, however, is a compromise from its original version. Originally, the EIT was modeled after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was supposed to be a center of learning based in a single location capable of competing as a world-class, industry-funded research university. Now, instead of being a single facility, the EIT is being discussed as a collaborative effort between current universities and corporations across various EU member states. Operating budgets have also been drastically cut, as the original plans called for a 2.4 billion euros budget over the next five years. Discussions are underway with various European businesses to provide additional funding, and if successful, up to half of EIT's budget could come from private sources, giving the organizations 600 million euros to start with. While the EIT will be a joint effort, the project will have a base of operations that has yet to be determined. Reportedly, over 60 towns in Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia have applied.
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Web Browsers Are New Frontline in Internet War
New Scientist (05/05/07) Vol. 194, No. 2602, P. 28; Hecht, Jeff

Hackers have found a new way to turn PCs into "zombies" by infecting them with malware via their browser, a loophole that thwarts firewalls and antivirus software. This development reflects a shift in botnet controllers' infection strategies away from email and toward Web sites. At a recent conference on botnets, Google security specialist Niels Provos sounded an alarm on "drive-by" downloads of bots from unsuspicious Web sites. Provos' team determined that approximately 450,000 analyzed Web pages launched such downloads of malware, while another 700,000 launched downloads of software that aroused suspicion. Provos explained that users would be unaware of the infection unless their browser began to crash or they were inundated by pop-up advertisements, while Web site owners would not be alerted to the corruption of their Web pages because such malware is usually concealed. Also taking place is a change in the nature of botnets that could make their disablement more difficult, as attackers investigate the potential of peer-to-peer botnets instead of reliance on an Internet relay chat server to transmit instructions. Cliff Zou of the University of Central Florida in Orlando says users could reduce the likelihood of bots contaminating their PCs while Web surfing by keeping their browsers up to date with the latest software patches.
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Minding the Machines
Ottawa Citizen (05/04/07) P. A15; Kerr, Ian

Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law, and Technology at the University of Ottawa Ian Kerr looks at South Korea's Robotics Ethics Charter to ponder its relevance. He is skeptical that the charter will ever justify the media hype, given the subtext. South Korea's intense focus on the development of robots, especially domestic service robots, is driven by both economic and social factors. In the first instance, it is to the country's economic advantage to cultivate an as yet nonexistent global market as the market for military and industrial robots approaches critical mass. In the second instance, South Korea wishes to develop domestic service robots and caregivers to compensate for an anticipated workforce shortage stemming from the country's extremely low birthrate. "Before we spend valuable resources commissioning Working Groups to invent ... robotic laws to avoid inappropriate human-machine bonding, isn't there a logically prior line of questioning about whether a declining birthrate is truly a problem and, in any event, whether intelligent service robots are the right response?" Kerr reasons. He is preparing a book project that examines the artificial intelligence research community's dream to imbue machines with the ability to think, and embed ethical and legal protections to ensure that the machines do not function inappropriately. Kerr contends that automation's impact on gender stereotypes and social inequality depends on how robots are designed and employed, noting his concern "about robotic laws, charters and other sleight-of-hand that have the potential to misdirect us from the actual domains of ethics and social justice."
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Document Shell-Code Attacks on the Rise
InfoWorld (05/02/07) Hines, Matt

Targeted attacks that exploit vulnerabilities in popular document file formats--including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Adobe PDF--and execute via hard-to-find shell code are becoming a growing threat, researchers at IBM's Internet Security Systems division have found. Experts working with the ISS X-Force group said they have noticed a rapid rise in the volume and variety of shell-code execution attacks leveled at their customers over the past year. Customers have been falling for these attacks in large numbers, the ISS division said, due to the fact that the threats typically come from spoofed email addresses that appear trustworthy and reside inside documents that do not have the same security concerns as Web-based applications. Compounding the problem is the fact that most anti-virus applications do not look for shell-code attacks, and intrusion protection systems miss many variants because the types of documents being used are harder to scan for potential threats. Microsoft and Adobe have also been finding it difficult to quickly patch the security vulnerabilities in their products, said X-Force's Kris Lamb. In an effort to correct this problem, Microsoft is working on improving its vulnerability testing process by rethinking some of the heuristics tools it uses to search for potential security vulnerabilities, according to Michael Howard, the program manager on the company's security team.
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