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ACM TechNews
May 11, 2007

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Welcome to the May 11, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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CCC@FCRC
Computing Community Consortium (05/10/07)

The 2007 Federated Computing Research Conference (FCRC) in San Diego in June will feature a quintet of discussions by the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) on areas of long-term computing research. UC Berkeley's Christos Papadimitriou's talk, "The Algorithmic Lens: How the Sciences are Being Transformed by the Computational Perspective," will focus on how computational research is facilitating a metamorphosis in the physical, mathematical, social, and life sciences, an example being how quantum computation has been very helpful in drawing new insights about basic quantum physics principles. "Data-Intensive Super Computing: Taking Google-Style Computing Beyond Web Search," by Carnegie Mellon University's Randal Bryant, will detail how major breakthroughs in science, business, health care, and information access could be facilitated by the "Data-Intensive Super Computer" systems created by Web search engines to mine massive volumes of data from a wide array of sources, and emphasize the importance of getting the academic research community involved. UC Berkeley's Scott Shenker's "We Dream of GENI: Exploring Radical Network Designs" will talk about the Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI) proposal for constructing a facility to support large-scale network implementations designed to address various Internet problems, such as security, manageability, and reliability. "Future of Computer Architecture '07" from independent consultant Bob Colwell will discuss the end of the single-core general-purpose processor era and the multilayered challenge computer architecture faces to find a worthy successor to CMOS that supports the software's direct comprehension of the system architecture. CCC Chairman Ed Lazowska of the University of Washington will wrap up the FCRC with "Computer Science: Past, Present and Future," which will offer examples of opportunities for computer science research that could emerge over the next 10 years. For more on FCRC, and to register, visit http://www.acm.org/fcrc/
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House Panel Approves E-Voting Paper Trails
CNet (05/09/07) Broache, Anne

The House Administration Committee approved an amended version of the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act on May 8, with a six-to-three vote along party lines. The bill, chiefly sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.Y.) and backed by 212 members of Congress, would require all U.S. voting systems to produce or use verifiable paper ballots in time for the next presidential election, as well as require several new security obligations such as a general ban on any wireless technology in the machines and on connecting devices used to record or tabulate ballots to the Internet. All voting precincts nationwide would have to conform to the new requirements in time for the general federal election in November 2008. The bill provides an extra $1 billion, more than triple the original amount proposed, to distribute to states during the 2007 fiscal year to help them update their systems. The Republicans who voted against the bill said they were told that the requirements were unrealistic and impossible to reach by 2008. The bill will also require states to conduct random, hand-counted audits of select percentages of the voter-verified paper ballots cast in a race, except when a candidate is uncontested or receives 80 percent or more of the vote count. "We've never had that in elections, even before voting machines came in," said Barbara Simons, former ACM president and chairwoman of its e-voting study group. "This is a really enormous change, and just from a security perspective, it makes a big difference." For more information, see http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Scholarships to Attend Tapia Conference Being Accepted
HPC Wire (05/11/07)

Faculty and students have until June 11, 2007, to apply for scholarships to attend the 2007 Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference. Named after the Rice University mathematician and professor, the scholarships were established to help boost the conference attendance of people from groups underrepresented in computer science, mathematics, computational sciences, and engineering. The scholarships are awarded on need, and cover travel, hotel accommodations, meals, and conference registration. "In addition to featuring presentations by some of the leading names in fields related to computing, the Tapia conferences are characterized by their collegial and supportive atmosphere," says Pamela Williams of Sandia National Laboratories, who is co-chair of Tapia 2007 Scholarships. "Tapia conferences are often the first professional meetings many of our students attend and these scholarships help ensure that those who could benefit most from such a conference but may not be able to afford it will still have an opportunity to participate." Organized by the Coalition to Diversify Computing, the conference is scheduled for Oct. 14-17 in Orlando. ACM is a co-sponsor of this year's gathering, which has a theme of "Passion in Computing--Diversity in Innovation."
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At USC, Developing Game Coders
CNet (05/11/07) Terdiman, Daniel

The University of Southern California is one of the few universities in the country able to offer students an opportunity to exclusively study the field of making video games, partially because of the school's various other programs of study that overlap into game development, such as the School of Cinematic Arts, the Anneberg School for Communication, the Institute for Creative Technologies, and the Roski School of Fine Arts. While the USC Games Institute has yet to be approved, students are already attracted to the school because of the program, and industry professionals are already scouting potential talent. While the program focuses on teaching students programming skills and the game development process, graduates will be able to do more than just make video games. "The idea of the games program is not to create game programmers," said Gerard Medioni, the chairman of the school's computer science department and co-director of the new institute. "It is to create very good programmers who have the ability to specialize. So in five years, if they decide video games is not what they want to do, they have the abilities of a full computer scientist." Medioni said since introducing two new computer science degrees, one in games and one in business, the engineering school has seen its enrollment double. The excitement surrounding the video game program is largely due to USC's top-ranked film and engineering schools, according to Medioni, both of which support a substantial amount of game-related studies and offer students interested in studying video games access to a combination of highly related interactive and computer science programs that no other university in the country can offer.
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Association for Computing Machinery Applauds Committee Vote on E-Voting Reform Legislation
AScribe Newswire (05/09/07)

The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007 addresses much of the concern that the computing industry has for electronic voting, according to Barbara Simons, a member of ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee (USACM). She says passage of H.R. 811 by the Committee on House Administration is needed if the e-voting system is to be reformed. The voting process needs to be protected against security risks, software bugs, and equipment failure, says the computing community. Introduced by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), the bill offers specific rules for paper records, manual audits, improving transparency, and testing and certifying e-voting systems. "The approved legislation acknowledges the standards set by USACM to protect the accuracy and impartiality of the electoral process," says Simons, chair of USACM's voting subcommittee. The bill now goes before the full House for vote. For more information, see http://www.acm.org/usacm
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CSE Department Making Strides to Attract Women
The Daily (University of Washington) (05/07/07) Hunko, Celia

University of Washington Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) faculty and students acknowledge a lack of women in the CSE department. Ed Lazowska, the Bill and Melinda Gates Chair in the CSE department, says women represent about only 20 percent of CSE students. Anna Cavender, a third-year CSE doctoral student believes the unequal population is largely due to misconceptions about the field. "There is a real lack of understanding in the general public as to what computer science is," she says. Lazowska says the problem generally starts at the high school level, and that the lack of women hurts the computer science field terribly. "The most important issue is we are producing systems for everyone to use, and if they are all built by the same people, they will all be directed toward the same people," he says. The key to helping people thrive is to make them feel less isolated and letting them know that they can succeed, Lazowska says. Recruitment efforts at the University of Washington focus on examining a person as a whole and the potential that person has to become a leader. The Computing Research Association praised the university for its efforts at recruiting and keeping women in the department in its report, "Recruitment and Retention of Women Graduate Students in Computer Science and Engineering," but noted that "What is needed is an effort by all departments to increase the total number of women in computing-related graduate programs nationally."
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New Research Centre Where Robots Will Rule
Press Association (UK) (05/09/07) Graham, Ian

The University of Ulster recently opened the new Intelligent Systems Research Centre at its Magee campus in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The center is intended to become a leading force in research in the fields of robotics, artificial intelligence, and intelligent systems. The university has launched an international search to attract the world's leading talent in the fields to Northern Ireland. The center's director, professor Martin McGinnity, said part of the research will focus on developing robotic systems that are more intelligent and have a better understanding of their surroundings and what is happening around them. "Sophisticated robots are currently available but lack the ability to adapt to changing circumstances or interact intelligently with humans," McGinnity said. "We will be focusing not simply on robot-human interaction, but robot-robot co-operation and collaboration as well." Bio-inspired computational systems, designed to create more intelligent machines, will also be a focus of the center, along with brain-computer interfacing for the health care sector to help the disabled. McGinnity said work is already underway examining how EEG signals in the brain can be interpreted by computers and used to manipulate everyday objects, creating new communication channels for the disabled. Finally, the center will work on ambient intelligence, extracting intelligence from wireless sensors, a technology that could be used to aid the increasingly large elderly population in western Europe.
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Hackers, Experts to Probe E-Voting
Inside Bay Area (CA) (05/10/07) Hoffman, Ian

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen on Wednesday announced that the state will thoroughly review its electronic voting systems with the help of computer scientists, hackers, and technology policy analysts from the University of California and several other universities and private firms. Experts say it will be the toughest and most thorough review of voting systems in the nation. Three teams will be assembled by two computer security experts from UC Berkeley and UC Davis. One team will look for vulnerabilities in the software of the eight primary voting systems used in the state, another will attempt to attack the voting hardware, and the third will explore the systems' documentation. A fourth team, led by Campbell-based electrical engineer and computer scientist Noel Runyon, will analyze the accessibility of every voting machine according to the latest federal standards and test the machines' accessibility for a range of disabled voters. Election officials have complained that they should be more involved in the program, and only one of the eight voting machine companies, Sequoia Voting Systems, has offered their full cooperation. No other vendors have submitted machines for testing yet, and only a few have signed agreements to do so, according to local election officials. Bowen said that she may withdraw approval of any machines that are not provided for testing or that fail the test so badly that their deficiencies are determined to be unfixable. "There has never been as comprehensive a review of voting systems as is contemplated here, and you just could not assemble a better team of people to do it," said Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory computer scientist David Jefferson, a voting-system expert who is not involved in the review.
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Robots Are the New PCs
Daily Aztec (San Diego State University) (05/09/07) Moses, Maureen

Bill Gates has suggested that, similar to how the past three decades led to the rise of the personal computer, the next 30 years may bring the rise of the personal robot. However, until recently, mathematical problems stalled the advancement of robot technology before researchers realized the problems they were encountering could not be solved with standard math tools. "Some of the problems are so complex that if you want to use regular mathematical tools, they might take a million years on a fast computer to get a solution," said San Diego State computer science professor Mahmoud Tarokh, who has spent the last 20 years developing robots and robotic technology. "Therefore, those approaches are not useful." To solve these problems, researchers started looking at other complex systems that use different variables to create possible outcomes, such as biological systems. One solution that has developed is genetic algorithms, which examines how genetics are coded naturally and create programs that behave in a similar fashion. Tarokh, who has been doing research on genetic algorithms, helped NASA develop a genetic algorithm that allowed the Mars rover to navigate rocky terrain by breaking the problem into several pieces. Another project in development for NASA at San Diego State University is the Person Follower, a small box-like robot that is designed to carry tools and a camera while following an astronaut. The Person Follower uses fuzzy logic to track and follow a person, and the small robot is even capable of commenting on changes in the environment or when another person steps between it and its target. These life-like robots are already being developed for use in security situations, and the eventual goal is to have these robots operate in cooperative teams so they can be sent into a building or a location to secure an area.
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Shredded East German Files Reassembled
Associated Press (05/09/07) Rising, David

Germany has invested $8.53 million in a pilot project to reassemble millions of files that the East German Stasi secret police shredded as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. About 16,250 sacks containing 45 million pieces of shredded documents were found and confiscated within a year, but efforts to reassemble the documents have resulted in the reconstruction of the contents of only 323 sacks over the past 12 years. The Frauenhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology believes the use of new computer technology will be much more effective, estimating it would take 600 to 800 years for a team of 30 people to put all the documents back together by hand. Using the Berlin institute's algorithm, German researchers will attempt to reassemble the documents of 400 sacks in two years. A successful pilot could clear the way for a larger initiative of putting together the contents in all of the remaining bags in four to five years. The algorithms were used to decipher the lists of Nazi concentration camp victims 15 years ago. The researchers will scan both sides of each individual strip of shredded file, then feed the data into a computer, which will use color recognition, texture analysis, shape and pattern recognition, machine and handwriting analysis, and recognition of forged official stamps to interpret them.
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Tagging Tokyo's Streets With No Name
Guardian Unlimited (UK) (05/10/07) Fitzpatrick, Michael

An experiment in ubiquitous computing is being undertaken in Tokyo to address the problems inherent in a bustling metropolis that has no street names. "Just as we built up roads, the next step in civilization is to build a total information network that will form part of the fabric of things around us," says Tokyo University professor Ken Sakamura, who is leading the Tokyo Ubiquitous Network Project to provide an interactive landscape that aids people in their everyday dealings. The Japanese government is investing in the project, whose potential advantages include better guidance for the visually impaired, interactive guidance for tourists, and navigation around hostile areas for foreign journalists and salarymen. The system enables total user control through a combination of electronically tagged objects--never people--and handheld communication devices that are read/write only and thus do not expose private information. Given the system's massive infrastructure construction and maintenance costs, the participation of commerce in the enterprise is vital, according to Sakamura. A pilot project revealed technical and security challenges, including cross-interference from outlawed radio transmitters and problems with the prototype reader; Sakamura says the mobile phone will eventually assume the role of reader, via the employment of a remote server. He envisions a world in which microcomputers that provide people with location-specific information are embedded in all physical objects. "They will operate in a concerted manner, processing, exchanging information with each other within the ubiquitous computing architecture," he explains.
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Is that Painting Real? Ask a Mathematician.
Christian Science Monitor (05/10/07) Svoboda, Elizabeth

For nearly 20 years, ongoing debate over the authenticity of a supposed Vincent Van Gogh painting has divided art dealers and historians. "Still Life: Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers," bought for $39.9 million in 1987 by Japanese insurance tycoon Yasuo Goto, is believed by some to be an authentic piece, while others say the brushstrokes differ from other Van Gogh paintings. Now, computer scientist Richard Johnson of Cornell University is coordinating an international project to define Van Gogh's unique style using mathematical terms, with the intention of creating an objective system to authenticate Van Gogh's work. Johnson has recruited engineers, art students, and curators to join him at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to discuss what they believe differentiates a real Van Gogh painting from forgeries. By analyze a database of 101 paintings by Van Gogh and his known imitators, a set of key elements that define Van Gogh's "visual signature" can be distilled into numbers, allowing art experts to compare how closely a disputed painting's visual signature matches the baseline "signature" defined by the database. Statistical formulas such as Johnson's, known as "stylometry," are not limited to authenticating paintings, as scientists are also using such formulas to determine the authorship of letters, literary texts, and even musical compositions. In stylometric analysis the work in question is divided into components, which can be words, high and low toned colors, or different visual frequencies. Then, each component is subjected to statistical tests that measure how they compare to components of known authentic work by the same artists. While historian and academics acknowledge stylometry's validity, the sometimes express an aversion to it.
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Big Guns Jump on Open-Source Bandwagon for New Web Apps
Wired News (05/11/07) Calore, Michael

Some of the biggest companies in software development are starting to follow the open-source practice of making their code available to the public. At the JavaOne Conference in San Francisco, Sun Microsystems announced it will open-source its JavaFX Script programming language later this year. Adobe also released open-source programming tools for its Flash technology, and Microsoft released code for Silverlight, Microsoft's answer to Flash. "Microsoft is in a new era," said Nat Torkington, co-chair of the O'Reilly Open Source Convention. "Microsoft exists by making users happy. And sometimes ... you can make Microsoft users happy by giving them a technology that wasn't invented at Microsoft." The three giants are in a race to create rich internet applications that can run on any platform, from PCs to mobile phones. The winner will be whichever company can attract the most developers to write successful applications for its platform. Software's biggest companies recognize that Web developers feel more comfortable in the open-source arena and are now willing to follow an open source model when necessary. Most Web application developers welcome the open-source approach to proprietary software development, but also acknowledge that this practice is actually pulling the open-source community closer to the proprietary software industry.
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The End User: Search for Tomorrow
International Herald Tribune (05/09/07) Shannon, Victoria

European research into state-of-the-art search engine technology is gathering momentum as a consortium of public and private organizations, funded by the European Union, is currently testing a multimedia search engine that searches for audio and video files by using mathematics designed to search for similar digitized "signatures," instead of running a conventional word search. The project, called Chorus, is lead by Nozha Boujemaa, director of research at the French computer science institute Inria. Boujemaa has spent years researching the science of multimedia, but the recent popularity of video-sharing sites like YouTube has given her research, including pattern recognition and image analysis, a new sense of urgency. The problem is that the current method of labeling, or "tagging," each video or audio file with a text description is labor-intensive and subjective. With the massive volume of video files being added to the Internet every day, manual labor will not be able to keep up. To keep track of new content, scientists are trying to create a computerized method to search, compare, and display images by using formulas that measure shape, color, and other qualities. Boujemaa said the purpose of Chorus is not to compete with Google, but rather to coordinate various independent research projects throughout Europe. Companies involved include Siemens of Germany, Philips of the Netherlands, Thomson of France, Fast Search & Transfer of Norway, various Dutch, German, and Swedish research organizations, as well as the U.S.'s Yahoo and Motorola. Boujemaa said Google has not gotten involved, as they are likely developing their own multimedia search technology.
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CIOs Become Teachers, Shape New IT Talent
SearchCIO.com (05/03/07) McGuillicuddy, Shamus

CIOs should stop complaining about the lack of quality job candidates and instead go back to school to teach and create the candidates they want, experts say. "While CIOs like to complain about the quality of candidates they've been getting, they're not actually involved in shaping the candidates," said Forrester Research analyst Samuel Bright. Enrollment in computer science programs is down, as much as 70 percent in recent years according to some reports, and colleges and universities are having a difficult time adapting their curricula to match the industry. Bright said computer science programs have trouble keeping up with the needs of IT organizations because they are too focused on programming, and a significant number of the tools they teach students are obsolete by the time the students graduate. Bright said schools need to teach students how to operate multi-platform environments along with key business skills IT organizations are looking for, such as project management and negotiation. A Forrester research survey of 281 IT decision makers found that most IT leaders do very little to reach out to local universities. Job fairs were the most common type of interaction between schools and IT organizations. The second most common type of interaction between schools and IT organizations was service on an advisory board. Lecturing in the classroom, sponsoring scholarships, serving on curriculum review committees, and donations of technology were all relatively rare. While CIOs may have too many restraints on their time, they can still help colleges and universities by sending employees to talk about IT and dispel IT myths, such as the belief that graduates will be stuck programming for the rest of their lives, for example, Bright says.
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The Age of the Supercomputer
BusinessWeek (05/07/07) Turek, Dave

Supercomputing, which was once primarily reserved for academia and government research, is quickly becoming widespread in the business world as supercomputers begin to handle a growing list of commercial applications, writes IBM's David Turek, a member of the U.S. Council on Competitiveness High Performance Computing Advisory Committee. In 1997, only 161 of the 500 fastest computers were used by businesses, but today nearly half of the 500 fastest computers, 246 systems, are used in commercial enterprises. The expansion of supercomputing in business is being driven by two essential economic forces--the growing expense of building and testing physical prototype designs, a cost that can be cut through supercomputer simulations; and the rapidly decreasing cost of modeling and testing on a supercomputer. In 1997, the price of processing 1 million operations per second was about $50, but now 1 million operations per second costs only 10 cents, and supercomputer power increases and prices fall about 40 percent every year. The fastest supercomputer in the world in 1997, a multimillion dollar capital expenditure, is now a $200,000 starter kit. Supercomputing is now being used for simulations that would have at one time been considered a waste of computing power. For example, Procter & Gamble uses supercomputers to alter the design of Pringles potato chips so they can move through the production line more efficiently, make diapers more eco-friendly and absorbent, and make soap suds more foamy. Supercomputers will become increasingly important to large companies, and as prices continue to fall, even small companies, particularly those that are a part of a big-company supply chain, will be able to utilize the power of supercomputing.
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Open Source Goals Outlined in Report
Application Development Trends (05/07/07) Mackie, Kate

The Open Source Think Tank report is the result of a March gathering of representatives from more than 100 software companies and their discussions on the state of open-source software. The group noted a growing similarity in methods between open-source and proprietary software development and predicted a convergence of the two methods in which the best practices of each field is adopted by the other. Proprietary vendors have already adopted several features from open-source development, including a more collaborative software development process, frequent updates and bug patches, and free trial software. Companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Adobe are contributing technologies and products as open-source and developing open-source communities. Open-source software developers are also adopting proprietary practices, such as seeking profit from the sale of licenses, providing support and professional services, and even offering indemnification to company executives that deploy open-source software. The report says the hybrid approach will incorporate the positive aspects of both development methods while eliminating the weaker aspects, such as open-source's monetization problems and slower proprietary development cycles. The Think Tank participants agreed on a few goals for open source, including eliminating confusing licensing terms and establishing an OSI-approved open source license.
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Leader in Computing
Frontline (India) (05/18/07) Vol. 24, No. 9, Parthasarathy, Anand

In an interview, Center for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) director-general S. Ramakrishnan, who has helmed the institution for the past four years, puts its past accomplishments into perspective and looks ahead. He says the center's progress in its absorption of the Center for Electronic Design and Technology, the National Center for Software Technology, and all the divisions of the Electronics Research and Development Center has been "slow but steady," representing one of the prime challenges of his career. "By defining a common approach or methodology on how we would build the concept of a premier R&D lab [from research to deployment or delivery] and identifying opportunities for linkages across the disciplines, we are working on a medium- to long-term plan," Ramakrishnan states. He comments that C-DAC's perception of its competences is dual: One view focuses on the provision of "enabling technologies" and the implementation of "end-to-end solutions" in fields that include high performance computing, grid computing, professional electronics, and cybersecurity; the other view stresses the use of end-to-end solutions to satisfy the requirements of specific domains (science and engineering, health, e-governance, education, industry, etc.). Ramakrishnan assures that C-DAC is working to become more market-savvy. He says the first 20 years of C-DAC's existence involved the cultivation of significant R&D in India under trying conditions, while the next 20 years will emphasize the adoption of "a new paradigm--to be not a follower, but a leader with a new way of looking at oneself, one's role as an R&D lab ... and reaching out to the market with suitable twin-track business and innovation models."
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