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ACM TechNews
May 9, 2007

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Welcome to the May 9, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Leahy, Others Speak Out Against New ID Standards
Washington Post (05/09/07) P. D3; Nakashima, Ellen

Citing concerns about American's privacy, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said that he will push to repeal the 2005 Real ID Act, which is aimed at creating new government standards for driver's licenses and requires states to comply by 2008. States can request more time, but after 2013 anyone with IDs that fail to meet the standards will be barred from boarding planes or entering federal buildings. Leahy has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to repeal the provision, and a similar Democrat-backed bill is pending in the House. To date, seven states have passed laws or resolutions opposing implementation of Real ID, 14 states have legislation pending, and the DHS has received more than 12,000 public comments in response to the rules. The Real ID legislation was tacked onto a 2005 emergency spending bill by House Republicans, without any debate in the Senate, and was signed by President Bush. The bill's passage interrupted negotiations between state and federal government organizations. Advocates of a repeal want to restart negotiations, but supporters of the Real AD Act say the effort to strengthen state-issued driver's licenses security standard is a key recommendation from the 9/11 Commission. Critics warn that the proposed rules to implement Real ID's national database creates the possibility of privacy invasions and increases the risk of identity fraud. For more information about the Real ID Act, and to read ACM's detailed comments on it, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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USACM Urges Revisions to National Identification Policy
AScribe Newswire (05/08/07)

ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee (USACM) issued a series of recommendations on May 8, citing serious flaws in the nation's Real ID Act. The Real ID Act is intended to establish a national identification system by requiring states to collect, maintain, and share personal information, as well as issue a standard form of identification to all Americans. USACM said the proposed regulations are inadequate to properly protect privacy, ensure security, and maintain accurate personal information. USACM also said the regulations fail to establish clear standards for states to use in the implementation of standard driver's licenses and identification cards. "The policy behind Real ID has been flawed from the moment Congress proposed it. Without sufficient safeguards, it has the potential to enable identity theft on an unprecedented scale. The proposed rules are at best vague in addressing privacy, security and accuracy risks, and at worst, they increase these risks," USACM Chair and Purdue University computer science professor Eugene Spafford said. "States are likely to be financially strapped when the begin to implement Real ID. Simply punting the implementation details to the states is a recipe for disaster. We could see a multitude of standards with minimal resources dedicated to ensuring that privacy, security and accuracy concerns are addressed." USACM said the proposed regulations fail to specify minimum standards or accountability for states to manage state-to-state data exchanges openly and comprehensively. To read the comments issued by USACM, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Electronic Voting May Be Ready by Fall '08, Official Says
New York Times (05/08/07) Hicks, Jonathan P.

New York State Board of Elections co-chairman Douglas A. Kellner said New York State may be able to replace its aging voting machines by September 2008, despite predictions to the contrary. Earlier this year, Kellner said most members of the Board of Elections agreed it would be better if the state did not have to make changes during the 2008 presidential election, which is expected to have a high voter turnout. Now, however, Kellner said that although there is little to no chance the new machines would be ready for the state's presidential primary in February 2008, they could be installed by the November 2008 presidential election, and possibly in time for the primary elections for Congress and the State Legislature in September 2008. "If we certify the new machines by December, they should be able to get most of the system in place for the November 2008 election," Kellner said. "And I think the September primary, too." Debate over replacing New York's voting machines has been rocky, and New York is the last state to update its voting machines, despite a federal mandate requiring it to do so. A significant portion of the delay comes from questions about the laboratory testing required for the potential machines being offered by five bidders. At a state Congressional hearing, several voting machine experts testified about a number of problems concerning new electronic voting machines, including conflicts of interest in the testing process and questions about the security and reliability of the machines currently in use. "The testing labs are failing to weed out insecure and unreliable voting systems," said one of the experts, University of California at Berkeley computer science professor David Wagner. "The federal certification process has approved systems that have lost thousands of votes and systems with serious security vulnerabilities."
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44th Design Automation Conference Professional Development Fund to Award $165,000
Business Wire (05/08/07)

The Design Automation Conference (DAC) Professional Development Fund will provide more than $165,000 this year to several EDA-related scholarship and education programs. The A. Richard Newton Graduate Scholarships program will offer $24,000 to support graduate students who are interested in electronic design automation and circuit design, and the P.O. Pistilli Scholarship for Advancement in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering will receive funds so the ACM Special Interest Group on Design Automation (SIGDA) can offer annual awards of $4,000 to students from under-represented groups. Money will go to the SIGDA/DAC University Booth program to help fund university demonstrations at DAC, and the Young Student Support Program will receive $28,000 to send top undergraduate students and first-year graduate students on meetings and tours, and enable them to associate closely with an industry professional. ACM SIGDA co-sponsors and administers the program, and also co-sponsors the NSF/SIGDA/DAC Design Automation Summer School (DASS), which will receive funds to offer a two-day course on EDA research and development to graduate students. The DAC Professional Development Fund has provided more than $3.73 million in awards over the past 13 years. DAC is scheduled for June 4-8, 2007, in San Diego at the San Diego Convention Center. For more information about DAC, and to register, visit http://www.dac.com/44th/index.html
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CU-Boulder Center to Participate in $2 Million Grant to Engage Minority Students in Computing
University of Colorado at Boulder News Center (05/07/07)

The ATLAS Institute's Assessment and Research Center at the University of Colorado Boulder will be a leading institution in the new national Empowering Leadership Alliance, which focuses on engaging underrepresented minority students in computing with the support of a $2 million, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The Empowering Leadership Alliance is composed of dozens of leading universities, professional societies, laboratories, research centers, and corporations and will provide students with research opportunities, mentoring programs, and other activities to keep students interested and motivated in their pursuit of careers in computing. The alliance will focus on students who are scattered across the country and may be the only, or one of very few, minority students in their classes. Rice University professor and director of the Empowering Leadership Alliance Richard A. Tapia said, "Research shows that isolated, unsupported students of all kinds will leave an environment that does not meet their needs." Tapia said that some students who complete their bachelor's degree may have had such a difficult and painful experience that they are unlikely to consider graduate school, resulting in another lost opportunity to add diversity to national leadership in computing and advanced technology. According to the Computing Research Association, during the 2004-2005 academic year, there were only 38 minority, African-American, Native American, or Hispanic, Ph.D. graduates in computer science or computer engineering, out of 1,189 total graduates. The Empowering Leadership Alliance will provide students with summer research opportunities with highly experienced and successful computing researchers, mentoring and personal meetings with national leaders, an online speaker series, and meetings to encourage students, discuss challenges, and engage minority role models. Other participating institutions include Rice University, Boston University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Texas at Austin, and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
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'Guessing' Robots Navigate Faster
New Scientist (05/08/07) Simonite, Tom

Purdue University researchers have developed an algorithm that allows robots to use geographical information they've collected to "guess" what type of terrain lies ahead. Typically, robots use laser scanners and odometers to measure distances for mapping, and researchers have used different algorithms and teams of robots to explore an area to try to speed up the process. Purdue University researchers have created an algorithm that predicts what unknown areas will look like. "We realized that, because you are building up a map as you go along, you can use it like a database to predict the environment in unknown areas," Purdue University team member George Lee said. The algorithm identifies unexplored regions, known as "frontier cells," adjacent to areas that have already been mapped. By comparing patterns found in the corners of the frontier cells to similar patterns already found, the algorithm uses the existing map to predict the contents of the frontier cell. Each prediction comes with a "confidence score," allowing the researches to explore and properly map areas with low confidence scores and bypass areas with high scores. The algorithm was tested using simulated robots in virtual mazes and office environments. The simulated robots were able to navigate successfully while exploring 33 percent less of the environment. Real-life tests were conducted with small robots in an office building. The real robots also saved time and experienced fewer errors. Lee said that there are plans to extend the method to multiple robots that could share the data. Lee said the algorithm works well is static like office buildings, but has a more difficult time with less-repetitive outdoor environments.
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15th ACM International Symposium on Advances in Geographic Information Systems (ACM GIS 2007)
GISuser.com (05/07/2007)

ACM GIS has issued a call for papers for the 15th ACM International Symposium on Advances in Geographic Information Systems, which takes place Nov. 7-9, in Seattle, Wash. Modeling and querying is a focus of ACM GIS 2007, and topics such as constraint approach for spatial databases, spatial data quality, image databases, and integration and management of raster and vector data will be of interest. Suggested topics involving systems and implementation include computational geometry, geospatial data integration, geospatial data versioning, and interoperability and standards. The symposium is also interested in applications such as geosensor networks, mobile and distributed geographic computing and information services, Web applications, and wireless networks. Papers must be limited to eight pages, and the research must be original and unpublished. Authors must submit abstracts by June 11 and full papers by June 18, and they will receive a notification of acceptance by Aug. 11. ACM GIS 2007 will be separate from the long-time host conference this year, which should help raise the profile of the symposium. For more information about the conference, visit http://www.cise.ufl.edu/dept/acmgis2007/
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U.S. Critical Infrastructure in Serious Jeopardy
CSO Online (05/04/07) Turner, Aaron

The U.S. critical infrastructure's heavy reliance on networks has made it extremely vulnerable to exploitation by hackers, but this threat is still not fully comprehended by vendors, asset owners, incident responders, or information security experts, writes Aaron Turner of Idaho National Labs (INL). History has shown that increasing system complexity carries more dramatic social and economic ramifications in the event those systems become unwieldy or critically vulnerable, and it was the absence of coordinated oversight and planning in the deployment of those systems that led to incidents such as the 1929 stock market crash and the global Internet worm epidemic in 2003. Control system security reviews funded by the Departments of Energy and Homeland Security and performed by INL have uncovered weaknesses in all the assessed systems that could be exploited by attackers with a low level of expertise, and who do not need to access the systems physically in order to wreak havoc. The INL experts determined that currently implemented systems cannot support the easy deployment of augmented security controls while also sustaining basic system functionality. Turner remarks that the current strategy for guaranteeing system resiliency is highly fragmented, resulting in a situation in which "information security professionals have had to continue to shift resources as the threats and vulnerabilities constantly change from day to day, with very little time to look at the problem and limited resources to coordinate a long-term strategy." Among the factors contributing to the critical infrastructure's vulnerability is asset owners' increasing willingness to link their control systems to the Internet in order to become more efficient and competitive; vendors' continued production of infrastructure system components that lack sufficient safeguards or an overarching security framework; sparse awareness of control system security issues and little public disclosure of serious incidents; and increasingly skilled hackers. Turner concludes that the only real solution for this state of affairs is to "maximize cooperation among asset owners and technology vendors to understand and improve control system security across the entire lifecycle of this necessary and critical technology."
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It's the 'Wiring' That's Tricky in Quantum Computing
Wired News (05/07/07) Farivar, Cyrus

NEC, the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN), and the Japan Science and Technology Agency have published a paper in the May 4 issue of the journal Science describing their ability to control coupled qubits, which researchers say is a necessary step toward quantum computing. The NEC team is the second group to have controllably coupled qubits, a technique that enables qubits to act like classical logic gates by maintaining an active link, or coherence between qubits. "Once this coherence is destroyed, you cannot do any quantum information processing," says Tsai Jawshen, an NEC fellow and a co-author of the paper. "That's the basic thing--you have to let these guys remain in a quantum state." A team led by University of California, Berkeley's John Clarke published research in December 2006 demonstrating controllably coupled qubits, but Clarke says NEC's technique might offer a better ability hold off decoherence. "The NEC version might have an advantage in that it can be used at the degeneracy point, [which is] a particular point where it's less sensitive to external noise sources, or something called flux noise," Clarke says. "At the degeneracy point, the device is less sensitive to decoherence." Tsai says the NEC team is now working on a more complex, five-step process that could lead to the completion of a basic logic operation by the end of the year.
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Audio Menus for iPods
Technology Review (05/08/07) Greene, Kate

Scrolling through an iPod menu requires a significant amount of visual attention and can be a hindrance during physical activity and even dangerous while driving. To make iPod menu navigation easier and safer, the University of Toronto and Microsoft Research have collaborated to create software that would allow iPod users to navigate the menu using audio clues. The researchers have developed an auditory menu system called earPod that provides audio feedback as a person moves his or her finger over the touch pad. While earPod is not ready to replace the extensive menus on real iPods, Microsoft Research scientist Patrick Baudisch says the results are encouraging. After 30 minutes of using the technology, users can navigate two levels of earPod menus faster than traditional visual menus, and with just as much accuracy. Baudisch says that audio menus could help gadgets save battery life by not lighting up the screen, and could add functions to screen-free devices such as the iPod shuffle. The earPod system assigns selections to different areas of the iPod's circular touch pad, allowing users to jump directly to a selection, rather than scrolling through as with the regular iPod. Eventually, the earPod could even be programmed to read off a limited number of names of artists and songs. Georgia Institute of Technology professor of psychology and computing Bruce Walker says audio interfaces are not widespread in handheld consumer devices because audio hardware and software is resource intensive, requires significant amounts of computation and energy, and is difficult to program, but because computing power is becoming cheaper, and there is greater demand for new ways to interact with handheld devices, he expects the number of researchers investigating ways to make better audio interfaces to grow over the next few years.
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Ideas for Attracting Young People to IT Careers
CIO (05/07/07) Locher, Margaret

A group of IT education and training experts offer suggestions for boosting the volume of students enrolling in computer science and engineering programs and shoring up the U.S. technology workforce. Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) executive director Chris Stephenson observes that high school schedules are too constrained to fit in ample computer science study, while the teaching of technology and computer science subjects in grades K-12 does not follow a uniform approach. Partial solutions he presents include a national computer science curriculum, which CSTA is working on. Kate Kaiser of the Marquette University College of Business Administration says aberrant, back-to-back periods of low and high IT job availability created a misconception about IT careers among students and their parents, a situation exacerbated by the media's emphasis on offshore outsourcing; in fact, the market for tech graduates is quite healthy--a message Kaiser says CIOs should circulate throughout school districts. She also recommends telling students, parents, and guidance counselors that IT careers require analytical skills in science, math, engineering, and technology. A perception of IT professionals as nerds who make few societal contributions is a major stumbling block, and Forrester Research analyst Samuel Bright offers a multipronged strategy in which every stakeholder in the IT domain plays a part. CIOs, for example, should use outreach initiatives to communicate the benefits of IT careers to students, while industry groups should establish a motivational speakers' bureau to stoke interest, and current IT students and young workers should speak to high school and middle school students to relate their own experiences and debunk myths about the IT field. LP Enterprises President Geoff Smith says a major stumbling block is CIOs' ignorance or denial of the problem's existence, and he suggests efforts to nurture IT talent at the K-12 level through workshops, events, field trips, camps, and other interest-generating venues. For more information about CSTA, visit http://csta.acm.org/
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Dartmouth Institute Develops Robot that Learns
The Dartmouth (05/08/07)

The Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth University has developed a small, toy-like robot called Brainbot that is capable of learning. Although the Brainbot is a primitive robot, Neukom Institute director Richard Granger says we are only 10 to 15 years away from creating robots with the capacity to think like humans. The Neukom Institute's primary goal is to apply computational science to a variety of subjects, ranging from music to public policy. A chief area of study for the Neukom Institute is computation and neuroscience, which examines how the brain works and applies the same process to computer systems. Granger says the human brain can solve many problems that have eluded computer scientists, and the Institute is trying to implement a human system of pattern recognition into robots. Current robots under development are learning to visually recognize different objects, hear and repeat different sounds, and match objects with their corresponding names. Granger admits that the robots' current capabilities are far lower than those of the human brain, but notes the robots learn more every day. Recently, the Neukom Institute created a new course, Introduction to Computational Neuroscience, and began offering undergraduate internship opportunities through the Women in Science Program.
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Split-Screen Tech Doubles Computer Use
Discovery Channel (05/04/07) Staedter, Tracy

A team at Microsoft Research India in Bangalore is set to begin field trials this month on software that will divide a computer screen in half, allowing two people to work with their own operating system, desktop, applications, cursor, and keyboard. "At the most basic level, we are allowing two users to work completely independently on the same machine, sharing both the processor and monitor," says Udai Singh Pawar, assistant researcher and project leader. The developers envision the technology serving as a cost-effective solution in developing countries and as an attractive feature in homes when more than one member of a family wants to use the computer. All that is required of users is to install the software and plug in a second mouse and keyboard. The software also offers special features for sharing documents and working together. Some observers have expressed concern about permission problems, given the close proximity in which users would work. The researchers plan to address the issue and others during the trial, but the software could be available in a couple of years.
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Fatter Chips, Untapped Potential
BusinessWeek (05/02/07) Ricadela, Aaron

Computer technology is rapidly advancing and soon computers will be capable of performing tasks current technology is incapable of, such as guessing which file a user will open next or organizing notes for an upcoming meeting, but only if programmers learn to utilize the processing power available in new technologies. Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie said that programmers have never failed to fully utilize a computing resource, but unless computer and software makers, high-tech startups, and universities do more to train developers capable of fully utilizing new ultra-powerful chips, that is just what could happen. During a speech at Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus in Mountain View, Calif., Mundie told venture capitalists and academics that they need to do more to educate programmers and to fund startups that can exploit the biggest advancements in computer programming in more than 20 years. Chipmakers continue to put more and more processors into their products, creating the possibility for desktops, cell phones, and other silicon-powered devices such as TVs to act as "personal assistants," and be able to guess users' preferences and actions, Mundie said, but breakthrough research and more training is necessary to create the programming that could harness that processing power. "We haven�t created either the tools or the trained people," Mundie said. "This is really a profound issue now for the industry."
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Gaming Class Aims to Spark Girls' Interest in Computer Careers
Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA) (05/04/07) Jones, Donna

ETR Associates in Scotts Valley, Calif., is giving young girls an opportunity to learn how to design their own computer games. As part of the health education, training, and research nonprofit's new after-school program, 52 girls from local schools over the next 18 months will also create a computer game business in Whyville, an online community for pre-teens and teens. The girls will be paired with a mentor, and will have an opportunity to visit game-maker Electronic Arts in Redwood City, Google in Mountain View, and UC Santa Cruz. The program is funded by a three-year, $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, and another group of girls will be able to participate in the second half of the program. Gaming is a way for ETR to show the young girls that technology can be fun. ETR hopes to inspire more young girls to think seriously about a career in technology. More than twice as many men as women are obtaining bachelor's degrees in computer science, and more than three times as many men as women are getting engineering degrees, according to a 2003 NSF report.
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Growing Data Stores Posing Increasing IT Headaches
Computerworld Canada (04/27/07) McLean, Dan

The volume of digital data being produced and stored is already gargantuan and is rapidly increasing. A recent IDC white paper sponsored by the storage company EMC said that if every byte of digital data was a page in a small novel, there was enough digital data in 2006 to theoretically fill 12 stacks of small novels that would extend the 93 million miles from the Earth to the sun, and by 2010 the stack would reach from the sun to Pluto and back. The report estimates that electronic business accounts for only 25 percent of the world's digital data, with the rest composed of mostly music, videos, digital television signals, and pictures. Companies face a monumental challenge trying to control the flow of and access to business data, as well as finding a way to organize digital information so it remains useful. IDC says the amount of data created and replicated in 2007 will exceed the available storage capacity to store it, and predicts that while storage media will grow 35 percent annually between 2006 and 2010, the amount of digital data created and replicated during that same time will grow 57 percent annually. Many businesses have more digital data than they can handle and are unable to extract the information they need, according to the report, which found that a business with 1,000 knowledge workers loses $5.3 million a year because it can't find information it already has, and loses another $5.7 million a year reformatting data for use with different programs. Consultant Charles King believes that without effective storage tools and strategies, businesses will reach a point where the financial and logistical burden of managing data outweighs the information's value to the business, a problem that will be even greater for smaller businesses.
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The Disruptive Power of Networks
Forbes (05/07/07) Cerf, Vinton G.

Google chief Internet evangelist Vinton G. Cerf points out that the Internet has yielded many benefits (users generating information, massive group interaction, widespread and nearly instant access to information, communities formed through social networking) and dangers (invasions of privacy, identity theft, security vulnerabilities). "Overall, though, the disruptive aspects [of networks] will, I believe, have positive effects, giving ample impetus to the creative energy of our global community," Cerf reasons. He anticipates a vast proliferation of Internet-connected devices, including office gadgets and household appliances, while neural interfaces to computer-based systems will also emerge. Computerized and real worlds will be integrated, with interactions that take place in a virtual environment having real-world impact, predicts Cerf. Whole populations could be tracked to spot key health trends or epidemiological threats early via the aggregation of personal health monitoring, while cars and buildings could be equipped for self-awareness and self-guidance. Cerf projects that mobile-knowledge robots will sift through the Internet's data for correspondences and unforeseen patterns, flagging items of interest to users. "As computing power, memory and transmission speeds continue to increase, opportunities to develop new products and services will multiply," he concludes.
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ACM Established to Develop Communication About Computing
Communications of the ACM (05/07) Vol. 50, No. 5, P. 27; Longo, Bernadette

To mark ACM's 60th anniversary, the May issue of Communications of the ACM offers a special section that traces the founding days of ACM. In the section's introductory article, ACM History Committee co-chair David S. Wise writes that ACM was formed six decades ago as a vehicle for the computer science community to share knowledge in order to advance the field and avoid excessive research overlap. It began with a 1947 symposium organized by the Harvard Computational Laboratory's Howard Aiken, where participants observed that the security of the United States and the American way of life could be threatened by the lack of a system for communicating computing knowledge. MIT electrical engineering professor Samuel Caldwell made a presentation at the symposium in which he called for the creation of a professional group that supports a communication system comprised of "an organization to make us more immediately and more continuously aware of a common purpose and thus furnish the incentive for communication; and a medium for such communication." Shortly thereafter, the Eastern Association for Computing Machinery (EACM) was established. It was not long before the group dropped "Eastern" from its name to reflect the national, and later international, scope of its membership. Thirteen papers were presented at the inaugural ACM conference in September 1947, and the event proved that the communication problems faced by computer developers at the end of the Second World War were solvable.
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