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ACM TechNews
May 14, 2007

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Welcome to the May 14, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Women Graduates Increase in Science
Arizona Daily Star (05/12/07) Potell, Valarie

At the recent University of Arizona's College of Science's graduation, more than 420 student received their diplomas, but fewer than half of the recipients were women. The long-standing absence of women in science and technology fields may soon be changing, however. According to an analysis by the Arizona Daily Star, the proportion of women earning undergraduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics increased by almost 4 percent nationally from 1995 to 2004, and by almost 10 percent at the University of Arizona from 1996 to 2006. According to the National Science Foundation, in 1995, nearly 193,000 bachelor's degrees were awarded in science-related fields across the country and 34.7 percent of those degrees were received by women. In 2004, more than 233,000 science related degrees were awarded, and 38.4 percent were received by women. University of Arizona chemistry professor and director of academic services for the department said the shift is "huge," particularly because the percentage shift works both ways, as a 10 percent increase for women means a 10 percent decrease for men. One reason the percentage of women entering into the field has remained relatively low is that there is a lack of female professors and female role models. University of Arizona's Office of Institutional Research and Evaluation statistics show that in 2006 women accounted for only 17 percent of tenure-track faculty in the College of Science and 12 percent in the College of Engineering and Mines. "To attract more women into engineering, you need more mentors and role models and that really translates into more faculty," said Jeff Goldberg, associate dean of academic affairs in the University of Arizona's college of engineering. For information on ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://women.acm.org
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International Conference on Software Engineering Coming to Minneapolis
MidwestBusiness.com (05/11/07) Katsantonis, John P.

The International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) will take place in Minneapolis from May 23-25, 2007. The conference, sponsored by ACM and IEEE, is an event for managers, practicing engineers, researchers, and educators who are involved in software engineering, according to John Knight, a computer science professor at the University of Virginia who is the chair of the conference. "They gather to present and discuss the most recent innovations, trends, results, experiences and concerns in the field of software engineering," he says. The event will attract top software technologists from across the country, Canada, and Europe, and management from companies such as Microsoft and Lockheed Martin will serve as corporate committee chairs. The conference will offer sessions on research, education, demonstrations and experience; presentations on the future of the field; panels on the impact of research on industry practices; and three keynote addresses, including a presentation by Salesforce senior vice president of application exchange Steve Fisher. There will also be a number of tutorials and workshops. For more information on ICSE, visit http://web4.cs.ucl.ac.uk/icse07/
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Commencement 2007: Unlocking the Power of Music
Rensselaer News (05/11/07) Cleveland, Amber

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute senior Zane Van Dusen is continuing his work on a project called an adaptive use musical instrument that allows those with extremely limited mobility to produce electronic sounds and compose music on a virtual keyboard. Van Dusen, who is double majoring in electronic media, arts, and communications (EMAC) and computer science, has been working on the musical interface since his freshman year. Working with world-renowned musician and Rensselaer professor of the arts Pauline Oliveros, Van Dusen designed and developed a computer interface that tracks the movement of the user's head to select notes to play. Van Dusen says the device provides an outlet for creative expression for people with extremely limited mobility, particularly people with cerebral palsy (CP), a neurological disorder that permanently affects body movement and muscle control and can render people incapable of speaking or moving. Van Dusen believes the device also has therapeutic benefits. "We recently tested the adaptive use musical instrument in a clinic and noticed that many children were more focused on their movements because they were motivated by the sounds they were creating," Van Dusen says. He says the interface could be adapted to create speech software, allowing people with CP to form full sentences, instead of just answering yes or no. Following his graduation this spring, Van Dusen will continue to work with Oliveros through the summer to perfect the prototype adaptive use musical instrument and create additional interfaces.
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New Domain Names Could Come in Mid-2008
Associated Press (05/11/07) Jesdanun, Anick

New domain name suffixes could be introduced between June and August of 2008, according to a May 10 announcement from ICANN. The new domain names, which would most likely be in English, would represent the first general-use expansion of domain names since the creation of .info, .biz, and five other domains in 2000. Since then, ICANN has approved industry-restricted domains such as .travel and .asia. At present, there are about 250 domain name suffixes in existence, most of which are ccTLDs. The new 2008 domains represent choice, said ICANN CEO Paul Twomey, and ICANN is asking for public comment on procedures to choose the new domains. "We want the diversity of the world's people, geography, and business to be able to be represented in the domain name system," Twomey said. The procedures for creating new domains will be improved to allow "a much wider variety of them to be added in a timely, predictable, and efficient manner." In related news, ICANN may complete its technical work on non-Latin scripts by the end of 2007, though policy issues pertaining to the scripts will need to be resolved.
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Lonely Joggers Find Company At Last
Discovery News (05/11/07) Staedter, Tracy

The Jogging Over a Distance system, developed by researchers at Australia's University of Melbourne, combines GPS technology and a customer computer program to transform a phone conversation into a 3D audio experience to help find a jogging partner and motivate joggers, even if they live in different countries. When using the system, the jogger will hear their partner's voice coming from the front, to the side, or behind, depending on how fast he or she is running. "It's a way to support social joggers to motivate one another to jog and push each other even with being in two different cities or countries," says Florian Mueller, one of the developers of the system. The system consists of a Bluetooth GPS receiver, a 3G mobile phone connection, a miniature computer, a wireless modem, and a headset. As the person runs, the GPS data is collected and wirelessly sent to the miniature computer, which is worn in a close-fitting backpack. The computer uses an algorithm to determine how fast the person is running in relation to his or her partner, and calculates a sound position. As one jogger speaks, the partner hears the voice from the front if the partner is jogging faster, from the side if they're running at the same pace, or from behind if the partner is slower. University of Glasgow human computer interaction professor Stephen Brewster says that while hearing other people is good motivation during exercise, not seeing them could lead to some confusing moments, such as when a runner may stop talking during a difficult uphill section their partner is unaware of.
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'Racetrack' Memory Could Gallop Past the Hard Disk
New Scientist (05/11/07) Swarup, Amarendra

An international team of physicists at the University of Hamburg in Germany used nanosecond pulses of electric current to push magnetic regions along a wire at 110 meters per second, a hundred times faster than was previously possible. This breakthrough could dramatically increase the capacity, speed, and reliability of computer hard drives. The device used was a u-shaped magnetic nanowire embedded into a silicon chip. Magnetic domains were sent along the wire by pulses of polarized current, which were read by fixed sensors arranged in the silicon itself. IBM says that this type of magnetic memory could drastically simplify computers, and eventually replace traditional disk hard drives. Previous tests of this technology proved disappointing, producing speeds up to a thousand times slower than predicted. Project researcher Guido Meier said the success on this attempt was partially due to shorter electric bursts. "Our results showed the movement of domains cannot be predicted with certainty as they get stuck on imperfections in the crystal," Meier said. Future hard drives could store data by designating a domain wall as a binary "one," while the absence of a domain could be interpreted as a binary zero. "The question is can we fabricate media that are perfect or control the imperfections," asked Peter Fischer, a team member at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Meier said the use of different materials and changing the shape of the wire could help avoid such problems.
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Google Searches Web's Dark Side
BBC News (05/11/07)

Google researchers are studying billions of Web sites in an effort to identify all possible malicious pages on the Internet. Google researcher Niels Provos and his colleagues subjected 4.5 million Web pages to "in-depth analysis" for their paper, "Ghost in the Browser," and found about 450,000 Web pages able to launch "drive-by downloads" and an additional 700,000 potentially compromised Web pages. Drive-by downloads are malicious programs that install automatically when a user enters a "booby-trapped" site, often those with adult video thumbnails or other "interesting" content. Drive-bys frequently install themselves by taking advantage of vulnerable elements in Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. Virulent code often resides in widgets and banner advertisements, and forums and blog postings containing links are new channels through which criminals can attack. Hackers can hijack entire Web servers, or individual computers; they also can use drive-bys to capture sensitive information. To keep computers safe, Google alerts users with a message if they are about to visit a potentially dangerous Web site. In addition, the company is striving to detect and map all Web-based infection vectors. "Finding all the Web-based infection vectors is a significant challenge and requires almost complete knowledge of the Web as a whole," wrote the Google researchers.
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A Decade After Kasparov's Defeat, Deep Blue Coder Relives Victory
Wired News (05/11/07) Andrews, Robert

Just over a decade ago, on May 11, 1997, IBM's Deep Blue computer defeated the best chess player in the world, Garry Kasparov. Computer scientist Murray Campbell was one of the programmers of Deep Blue and moved the chess pieces for the computer during the iconic match. In an interview with Wired, Campbell relived the match and commented on modern supercomputing. Campbell said that chess matches between humans and computers have basically reached the end of the line, as computers are being given handicaps, such as playing with fewer pieces or less time, and a basic Cell processor today has as much processing power as Deep Blue did in 1997. Campbell recalled that no one expected the now famous match to attract so much attention, even after Kasparov beat Deep Blue's predecessor Deep Thought in 1989. Deep Blue was able to analyze 200,000,000 moves per second, and was redesigned with chess-specific hardware so it would run more chess patterns--upgrades that were helped by a team of grand masters. When asked about Kasparov's refusal for a rematch, Campbell said the IBM team accomplished what they were trying to and it was time for them to move onto another project. Kasparov has since retired from chess and Deep Blue sits in a museum, but other chess matches between humans and computers still continue. The current world chess champion, Vladimir Kramnik from Russia, lost a match to a PC program in November by four games to two.
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Hybrid MP3 at Heart of Research Project
Western Mail (Wales) (05/10/07) Williams, Tryst

A three-year research project at the University of Wales, Swansea, has developed a hybrid MP3 player and satellite navigation system that prompts pedestrians to travel in a certain direction by lowering music in one ear. Users can program a destination into the handheld device and listen to their music as they travel. As long as the user is headed in the right direction, the music is clear and strong in both ears. When the user needs to change direction, instead of a voice, the music balance changes, with clarity and volume shifting in one ear or the other, indicating the intended change of direction. A prototype of the system was developed several years ago by Matt Jones, a senior lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, who is now developing the technology so users can make better use of the system. "We are particularly interested in redefining how people interact with computers, and how we can make computers more actively responsive to their needs," Jones says. Jones says they are developing a system that will allow the device to suggest attractions that may be of interest to the user, giving hints in the form of a physical vibration from the device or by altering the music volume. "Normally, when we listen to music through headphones, we do so to shut the world out," Jones says. "This system allows the world to seep in when users let it. It enhances our interaction with computers in the real world, allowing them to talk back and actively provide information to us."
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Java Security Traps Getting Worse
eWeek (05/09/07) Vaas, Lisa

In a recent interview with eWeek, Fortify Software founder and chief scientist Brian Chess said that Java security traps have only become more of a problem in the year since he gave a presentation titled "12 Java Technology Security Traps and How to Avoid Them" at JavaOne. Chess arrived at this conclusion after Fortify ran the Java Open Review project, which uses FindBugs--a static analysis tool that looks for bugs in Java code--to look over code in a number of open-source projects. After more than a year of running the project, Fortify found that the defect density of open-source code is "astronomical." Java expert William Pugh agreed with Chess' conclusion that Java security traps--particularly XSS (cross-site scripting)--are getting worse. "Tools like Fortify's tool set will look for problems with XSS, but it's not easy to cleanse your code of any XSS [vulnerabilities]," said Pugh, a computer science professor at the University of Maryland. "The statistics we've seen is that this is on its way to becoming the biggest vulnerability" in Java applications, if not all Web attacks. Despite the growing number of vulnerabilities in Java applications, Chess said he has not seen developers working on secure Java coding practices. He noted that a more effective way to address the rising number of vulnerabilities in Java applications could be to talk to framework owners and software makers to see what can be done to make the Web a safer place to program, though that tactic is not likely to be a quick fix, either.
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Girls Get Glimpse of Computer Science Careers
news@UofT (05/09/07) Franca, Sara

The University of Toronto's computer science department recently held an event called GR8 Designs for GR8 Girls that introduced 22 female eighth-graders from 12 schools near the St. George campus to the world of computing. "We suspect that many girls are opting out of mathematical careers by making choices based on career stereotypes that aren't necessarily correct," said Michelle Craig, computer science senior lecturer and one of the coordinators of the event. "GR8 Designs for GR8 Girls allows young girls to learn a little about computer science and discover that they might enjoy working in this exciting field." Supported by the Faculty of Arts and Science and Google, Craig created projects to give the girls a first look at basic programming skills and an opportunity to apply what they learned. The girls worked with graduate students and faculty members, writing programs in the Python language, playing a hands-on programming simulation game, and using Alice 2.0, an interactiv graphics program, to create animated stories. The overwhelmingly positive response for the girls has prompted another event next year. "The girls had a blast discovering that computer science can be fun," Craig said. "Every single participant said that she would encourage a friend in Grade 7 to attend next year."
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No Way to Slow Down
Network World (05/08/07) Doyle, Jeff

Network architect Jeff Doyle forecasts the depletion of IPv4 address space sometime in 2010, given the rates at which IPv4 address blocks are being apportioned by IANA; but the depletion could happen much sooner than the numbers indicate when other variables are taken into account. Doyle writes that letting the IPv4 address space run out completely is unacceptable, arguing that "some number of address blocks must to be held in reserve for critical needs." He points to a proposal drawn up in March that called for the IANA to terminate IPv4 allocation once 10/8s are left, and to sound a "two-minute warning" when the IANA pool reaches 30/8s. Despite the proposal's rejection by ARIN, and the likelihood that APNIC will also abandon the plan due to a lack of agreement, it is probable that some percentage of /8s will be held, most likely shaving a year off the time left for IPv4 allocations. Another possibility that could bring the termination deadline even closer is a mad dash by organizations to request immediate allocations as it becomes increasingly apparent to them that new allocations will not be available when they need them. Doyle examines a number of strategies for decelerating IPv4 exhaustion, such as the RIRs or IANA retaking idle IPv4 space either by economic incentive or legal challenge, or the institution of tougher rules or a monetary cost for the remaining allocations; the author dismisses the first two approaches as not cost effective, while developing nations would likely greet the third solution with outrage. Doyle suggests that stepping up the deployment of IPv6 could be the best solution to the depletion of IPv4 addresses.
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Escaping the Data Panopticon: Prof Says Computers Must Learn to 'Forget'
Ars Technica (05/09/07) Anderson, Nate

Improvements in technology are turning us into digital pack rats, which is not good for society, suggests Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, a professor in the JFK School of Government at Harvard. In a faculty research working paper entitled "Useful Void: The Art of Forgetting in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing," Mayer-Schonberger says fast processors and affordable storage has enabled our computers and other gadgets to remember everything for us, but a return to an era of "forgetfulness" is necessary. These days, everything from Google searches, family photos, books, credit bureau information, air travel reservations, government databases, and archived email is stored. Mayer-Schonberger says the information can be easily combined to create a composite picture of individuals, and ultimately discourage people from speaking and acting out of fear that the information could be used against them. Mayer-Schonberger's solution is to use legislation and technology to ensure that all computing technology has a default setting to forget data after a certain amount of time. But he adds that users should also have the option to extend the expiration date for as long as they want.
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Burton Smith on Reinventing Computing
HPC Wire (05/11/07) Vol. 16, No. 19,

The keynote address of the 2007 International Supercomputing Conference (ISC'07) will be delivered by high performance computer architectures and programming languages in parallel computing expert Dr. Burton J. Smith, and will discuss the implications of the ubiquitous deployment of parallel processors on high performance computing (HPC) as well as the computing and IT industries. Smith forecasts that single-processor performance will no longer be able to keep up with Moore's Law, and the choice is to lower the cost of computers without upgrading their speed, or to sustain continued performance enhancement via parallel computing; he maintains that in the second scenario, "consumers will continue to enjoy the benefits of performance improvements, but successful software and hardware providers will have to embrace parallelism to differentiate themselves and compete." The alternative is the commoditization of hardware and software. Smith predicts that the ubiquity of multicore processing will be such that everyone will have multiple parallel computers available to them on a daily basis, and they will be incorporated in mobile devices to boost performance as well as extend battery life. With the proliferation of parallelism will come an increase in HPC's ability to tap and extend mainstream programming languages, development tools, libraries, operating systems, and even smaller-scale system applications, as well as an increase in the population of HPC-competent people, according to Smith. He anticipates that the mainstream will adopt desktops as their own "personal supercomputers," while smart phones will be used as PDAs, MP3 players, and so on. The reinvention of the computing profession is a job not just for universities, but for companies such as Microsoft, which must make the developer community familiar with the new computing philosophy, Smith contends.
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Petascale Chemistry
SuperComputing Online (05/02/07) Bell, William

Petascale computing is rapidly approaching and numerous fields will benefit from the advancement in computing power, writes NCSA's J. William Bell. The Department of Energy's Office of Science is planning to install a computing system with a peak performance of one petaflop at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2009, and the National Science Foundation plans to install a computing system with a sustained performance of one petaflop by 2011. NSF estimates that there are already 30 science and engineering problems that will benefit from sustained petaflop computing. NCSA director Thom Dunning says that chemistry will particularly benefit from petaflop computing, but that utilizing the power of petascale computers will require developing new scalable, parallel chemistry codes as petascale computers utilize hundreds of thousands of processors, compared to current high-end systems which utilize only thousands. A similar problem occurred in the 1990s when "massively" parallel computers had a few hundred processors. To scale to hundreds of thousands of processors, new algorithms are needed, particularly for chemistry. Whenever possible, chemistry codes use standard mathematical algorithms, but there are chemistry-specific algorithms that will need to be adopted or replaced with entirely new algorithms. Virtualization, representing multiple resources or processes as single entities, could provide a solution by automating the method by which applications are spread out across the hundreds of thousands of processor cores so users do not need to address the problem directly. Already, scientists are working with simulators that allows them to develop, debug, and predict the performance of applications on petascale machines before the machines are available.
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Cracks in the Air
Government Computer News (05/07/07) Vol. 26, No. 10, Jackson, William

In a recent lecture at the CIO Council's quarterly IT forum in Washington, D.C., Justice Department information technology security specialist Mischel Kwon gave a sobering assessment of some of the security risks involved in using wireless communications. For example, Wi-Fi technology used in wireless local area networks has a number of vulnerabilities, including rogue access points that can make control difficult, signals that are easy to detect, and encryption standards that are easy to crack. As part of her lecture, Kwon--along with Rob Del Gaizo, a computer science student at George Washington University--demonstrated how hackers crack the encryption standards used in Wi-Fi networks. Kwon and Del Gaizo were able to crack the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption standard in just a few minutes after capturing relatively few packets, though they had much more difficulty breaking the Advanced Encryption Standard used in Wi-Fi Protected Access/2 (WPA/2). However, Kwon and Del Gaizo were eventually able to subvert the encryption standard by attacking the passphrase exchange during the connection process. Given these vulnerabilities, Kwon advised users who set up wireless networks to separate the wired and wireless segments with a firewall and avoid anything involving sensitive information on the wireless side of the network. Kwon and Del Gaizo also demonstrated how to hack Bluetooth, a wireless technology that is becoming common for hands-free cell phone communications and for the on-board computers in cars. The two showed how hackers can use a man-in-the-middle attack to intercept a cell phone call. Similar attacks can also be used to steal data stored on a Bluetooth-enabled device, Kwon and Del Gaizo said.
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Robots Tackle Core of STEM Education
eSchool News (05/07) Murray, Corey

Many educators are using robotics to fuel more student interest in technology and engineering, considered to be the STEM disciplines with the weakest level of mastery. Courses, fieldwork, special projects, and contests such as the annual For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Competition are being used to fire up students' fascination with robots and the technology and engineering that goes into their design and operation. "[Robotics is] something that's always been very appealing to young people," notes Project Lead the Way's Niel Tebbano. The FIRST event challenges teams of students to build robots that meet specific goals using a common set of components and guidelines, and then pits their machines against each other in tournaments. Robots are also useful in spotlighting abstract concepts that students have long struggled with, such as geometry and fundamental programming and engineering principles. Valiant Technology's Roamer robot, for example, is utilized in classrooms to illustrate the unpredictable nature of real-world mathematics by encouraging students to contend with variables such as how the surface of the floor affects the device's movement. Math and physical science teacher Gail Warren of Virginia's Mathematics & Science Center explains that students are more likely to retain knowledge they are being taught if they pick it up earlier through interaction with technology at a young age, which in turn would give them advantages in the job market later on.
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