Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

ACM TechNews (HTML) Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
May 18, 2007

Learn about ACM's 2,200 online courses and 1,100 online books
MemberNet
CareerNews
Unsubscribe

Welcome to the May 18, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

ACM Group Honors Research Team for Rare Finding in Computer Security
AScribe Newswire (05/16/07)

ACM's Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computing Theory (SIGACT) announced that Alexander A. Razborov and Steven Rudich, two computer scientists who developed a rare finding that addresses the P vs. NP Problem, will receive the 2007 Godel Prize for outstanding papers in theoretical computer science at the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing, which takes place June 11-13, 2007, in San Diego. P vs. NP is a fundamental problem in computer and network security techniques and many security optimization techniques. For years, questions on the limits of proof and computation raised by P vs. NP has hindered computer scientists. These questions affect complex mathematical problems common in creating security solutions for ATM cards, computer passwords, and electronic commerce. In a paper titled "Natural Proofs," originally presented at the ACM Symposium on Theory of Computing in 1994, Razborov and Rudich addressed what is widely considered to be the most important question in computing theory, and is one of seven $1 million reward Prize Problems by the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass. The questions asks if the solution to a question is easily checked, is the problem easy to solve? Razborov and Rudich proved that there is no "Natural Proof" that certain computational problems used in cryptography are hard to solve, and though they are widely thought to be unbreakable, there is no natural proof that they are secure. Such cryptographic methods are critical to electronic commerce. Razborov is the leading researcher at the Russian Academy of Science Steklov Mathematical Institute in Moscow, Russia, and Rudich is an associate professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Cyber-War--the Way of the Future?
Times Online (UK) (05/17/07) Richards, Jonathan

Cybersecurity experts contend that nations need to prepare for the possibility of inter-governmental cyber-war. This declaration came on the heels of a "distributed denial of service" (DDOS) attack on Estonian government Web sites that Estonia alleged came from Russian authorities. This incident demonstrated that a government "definitely" could mount an attack that would cut off a country's essential services by disabling its computer systems, experts say. The attack would be carried out by a "botnet," an enormous army of commandeered "zombie" computers that overwhelm a selected Web site at the command of a master computer. Experts note that this strategy makes it difficult to distinguish the attack's originators from the botnet's unaware victims. Still, there are ways of stymieing the attacks, such as a router that analyzes Web site traffic patterns and can steer suspicious requests into a "cyber black hole." Ihab Sharaim, chief security officer at MarkMonitor, says, "The U.S. Department of Defense is definitely preparing for something like this." Water, gas, and other essential services are vulnerable to such attacks, as they are dependent on IT, says Tier-3 CEO Peter Wollacott. "Whether it's a group of university students setting up a botnet or someone more ideologically motivated, all those possibilities are there," he says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Patent Overhaul Bill Moves Forward in Congress
IDG News Service (05/17/07) Gross, Grant

The House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property approved sending the Patent Reform Act to the full committee, despite concerns over portions of the bill. Two portions of the bill, one that would allow a nearly unlimited amount of time for patents to be challenged after being granted and another that would limit the damages a patent holder can collect when infringing technology is part of a larger product, were scrutinized by several subcommittee members. The second controversial section would base damages on the number of patents within a product, instead of the total value of the infringing product, as is the current practice. Many large technology vendors support patent reform, arguing it is too easy for patent holders to collect disproportionately large damages when an IT product contains a small patent infringement. However, such patent reform has been strongly opposed by small inventors, pharmaceutical companies, and some small technology vendors who say the bill will allow large competitors to infringe patents without fear of significant penalties. The legislation would also change the U.S. patent process from a first-to-invent, which can be difficult to prove, to a first-to-file system. Several Republicans on the subcommittee suggested the bill weakens the value of U.S. patents. "None of us wants a system that rewards legal gamesmanship," said Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.). "But in our zeal to weed out bad lawsuits, let's not proceed on the assumption that every patent holder who wants to license an invention or enforce his or her property is ill-intentioned." Supporters of the bill argue that it is necessary to limit multimillion-dollar patent lawsuit awards as they stifle innovation.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


How to Narrow IT's Gender Gap
Computerworld (05/15/07) Lanzalotto, Jim

Women account for only three out of every 10 computer scientists, system analysts, computer support specialists, and operations research analysts, according to the 2005 Current Population Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which estimates that the percentage of women in such fields has dropped 7 percent at a time when the technology workforce is at an all-time high. Meanwhile, a University of California, Los Angeles study concluded that female undergraduate enrollment in computer science is at its lowest point since the 1970s. Several reasons exist for why women do not hold a more prominent role in computer technology, writes Jim Lanzalotto of technology personnel placement firm Yoh. He cites women who start careers in technology but choose a different career path later, or those that leave the workforce for various reasons such as maternity leave, but find a steep learning curve and few opportunities for advancement upon returning. Windy Warner, an executive coach specializing in working with IT executives and professionals, says women also have a difficult time landing tenured positions, and directorships or CIO positions. "Women create part of the problem themselves because we tend not to be as confident in our abilities as men are," Warner says. "We don't let management know what we have contributed, we don't ask for promotions and raises as easily as men do, and we don't assert ourselves into leadership positions on teams as much as we could." Lanzalotto says that a work/family balance is the primary desire of women in IT, as with women in many industries, and managers who create flexible schedules can ensure they retain experienced, knowledgeable workers of both sexes. Training can help workers who temporarily leave the workforce catch up faster, and flexible hours can help employees meet conflicting demands without decreasing the number of hours they work. For information on ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, see http://women.acm.org
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Your Phone as a Virtual Tour Guide
Technology Review (05/17/07) Greene, Kate

Researchers at Hewlett-Packard's lab in Bristol, U.K., are developing software that will let people use their portable devices as platforms for GPS-enabled games and tours. HP Labs recently launched a site that provides location-based games and city walking tours. The site also offers the opportunity to modify some of the existing games and tours, or even create a new application from scratch. The HP project uses a concept known as augmented reality, or combining physical data with virtual information. As location and guidance technology improves and PDAs become more powerful, numerous augmented reality programs are being developed. Nokia is working on a project that will help people navigate new areas. The user simply has to take a picture of a landmark, and the program uses GPS coordinates to create a hyperlink with the image. Research manager for HP's project Phil Stenton says this type of technology will be useful for such things as entertaining out-of-town guests during work hours. University of Bristol computer science professor Cliff Randal says HP is making an important contribution to this type of research. However, not everyone is completely impressed with HP's initial offering. Georgia Institute of Technology computing professor Blair McIntyre, who has developed similar software for local tours, says HP is not creating a truly immersive augmented-reality experience. Stenton admits that the program has some limitations, but notes that future versions could include software for working with Bluetooth wireless devices, infrared sensor data, in-phone accelerometers, and possibly even heart-rate monitors. Stenton believes that future generations of this technology will allow people to create programs such as exercise routines that can be shared with friends.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


DOE Invites Research Proposals for INCITE Program
HPC Wire (05/16/07)

Universities, other research institutions, and industry will have three times as much time to use U.S. Department of Energy supercomputers for projects next year than this year. The DOE's Office of Science is likely to award as many as 250 million processor hours in supercomputing and data storage resources for 2008, up from 95 million processor hours of computing time used for 45 projects in 2007. DOE is offering outside researchers an opportunity to take advantage of its powerful supercomputing resources under its Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program. The Leadership Class Cray supercomputers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the IBM Blue Gene supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory, the Cray XT4 supercomputer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Hewlett-Packard massively parallel system at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory will be available to researchers. "The demand for access to INCITE supercomputing resources has far exceeded what is available even though total allocations have soared from just 3 million hours in 2004 to 250 million hours next year," says Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, DOE Under Secretary for Science. "The breadth of proposals--from industry, academia, and national labs--illustrates both the demand for such resources and the contributions computational science are making to our economic and scientific competitiveness."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Visualizing Computer Code Is Crucial to Game Design
Gainesville Sun (FL) (05/17/07) Taylor, Laurie

University of Florida computer science professor Paul Fishwick is trying to dispel the stereotype that computer science is not a fun, hands-on type of major by having his students build physical, visual artifacts to explain computational concepts. The building process is used to visualize code, which is an essential part of video game design and could soon be a significant portion of all computer software design. Video game designers need to visualize what their code will ultimately look like so they can create a blend of code and art. Fishwick believes that game design, computer software, and even mathematics often have similar problems due to an inability to visualize concepts, and he has created "aesthetic computing" to help students overcome these problems. Student's in Fishwick's class started with an understanding of computing concepts, but had to develop a technique to visually represent the concepts so that viewers, with varying backgrounds of computer knowledge, could understand them. Such aesthetic computing practices continue to expand beyond the world of video games, as more educators start to use such methods to illustrate abstract mathematical and computational concepts, and as software designers expand beyond traditional programming and create news ways of exploring the virtual world. An example of this expansion is Second Life, an online social networking program that allows users to interact with virtual representations of each other.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


UC San Diego Selected to Design, Build Cyberinfrastructure for Ocean Observatories
UCSD News (05/16/07) Ramsey, Douglas

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego is working with UCSD's division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology and the San Diego Supercomputer Center to develop and create a digital infrastructure that will allow ocean observatories to collect, process, and transmit data nonstop. UC San Diego was selected by Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI) to design and build an information technology and networking system for the Ocean Observatories Initiative. The primary cyberinfrastructure award is for $29 million over six years, but total funding may reach more than $42 million during the course of the planned 11-year project. The cyberinfrastructure will send real-time data streams as fast a one gigabit-per-second from a variety of ocean sensors and instruments. The data will be available to every researcher, teacher, or citizen in real time through dedicated, high-speed Internet links. Scientists will also be able to operate robots on the ocean floor from their campus laboratories, and many functions will be automatic and require no human intervention. Steve Bohlen, president of JOI, a coalition of 31 premier oceanographic research institutions that serves the U.S. scientific community by managing large-scale, global research programs in marine geology, geophysics and oceanography, said, "As a whole, this undertaking will allow scientists, students, and citizens to observe and compare ocean phenomena on a scale that has not been possible until now."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Computing Research Challenges in Biomedicine
Computing Research Association (05/15/07) Harsha, Peter

Last June, the Computer Research Association and the National Institutes of Health hosted a joint workshop that focused on synergies between the two fields that could accelerate research in both. To overcome the challenges associated with the proposed collaborative effort, the workshop attendees, primarily leaders in computing, biomedicine, and NIH program directors, worked to address these challenges by creating a list of recommendations and actions that would guide the computing and NIH communities. The workshop participants were able to agree on six recommendations, now available in a 14-page report. The first recommendation is that the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy's Office of Science should support the collaborative effort by creating small grants that require conceptual proof-of-principle but no preliminary results, create or expand programs to fund computing and biomedical research, and establish a cross-disciplinary, multi-agency work group to identify, explore, and recommend individual agency opportunities and define and coordinate joint agency programs. The second recommendation suggests that federal agencies enhance support for "training at the interface," including summer schools for students, post-doctorates, and professors, as well as increased emphasis on undergraduate and graduate training programs. Third, the NIH should create a cross-institute software program that creates and maintains high-quality, well-engineered biomedical computing software. Fourth, the NIH should fund several large, distributed transformational centers to act as "expeditions" to the future. Fifth, the NIH should invest in a range of computing research technologies that would benefit current and future biomedical research and healthcare needs. The final recommendation suggests that the NIH, NSF, DOE, and CRA create a joint "Interface Task Force," possibly utilizing the Computing Community Consortium, to involve the community, and recommend specific ways to support computing and biomedicine interface advancements.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Holographics Set to Feed a Market Hungry for Data Backup
Guardian Unlimited (UK) (05/17/07) Cole, George

The world's first commercial holographic storage system is set for release this fall, and will be able to store the equivalent of 64 DVD movies on a single disc about the size of a CD. InPhase Technologies has spent 13 years developing the materials, systems, and processes and its first products will be a 600 GB write-once disc and drive. Holographic storage has been an objective since the 1960s, but it has taken more than 40 years for technology to reach the point where it is viable. Despite the increasing capacities of new generations of optical discs--CD-ROMs can store about 700 MB, DVDs about 18 GB, and Blu-ray and HD-DVD can each store about 25 GB--many archival systems still use large storage capacity magnetic tapes, despite being expensive and difficult to handle. Holographic storage could provide an alternative. Although the first holographic products are too expensive for the mass market, potential users could include banks, libraries, government agencies, and large corporations. There is no guarantee that holographic recording will replace magnetic tapes either, as tape technology is still evolving. Last year, IBM and Fuji Photo Film proved that it is possible to pack data onto a magnetic tape at a density of 6.67 billion bits per square inch, 15 times the data density of a standard tape. Magnetic hard drive capacity is also increasing due to perpendicular recording. Holographic storage is also unlikely to become the standard for video, as Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates believes that Blu-ray and HD-DVD are the final generation of physical video storage, with future generations of video being available for on demand download. Holographic storage is able to create such massive space because it uses a 3D process that uses the entire recording layer to store data, not just the surface of the medium.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Rise of the Machines
Belfast Telegraph (05/16/07) Doherty, Gemma

Demands that ethical laws be passed to restrict the potential for robots to harm humans are growing as these machines enter homes and offices and advance to the point where they can make decisions for themselves. In certain Asian countries where birthrates are low and immigration is limited, robots are viewed as essential for taking care of children and the elderly, and relieving labor shortages by replacing people in low-skill jobs. It is anticipated that robots will play a greater and greater role in health care, but roboticist Gerard Lacey of Ireland's School of Computer Science and Statistics maintains that "the social contact a carer gives can never be replaced by a machine." Continued development of robotics technology will probably make machines capable of self-learning, which could make their behavior increasingly difficult to predict. South Korea has drafted a Robot Ethics Charter that incorporates famed science fiction author Isaac Asimov's three laws for governing robots' behavior so that damage to humans can be avoided. Meanwhile, a conference of robo-ethicists in Rome raised a number of issues, such as whether "sexbots" resembling children should be legally permitted, and the possible use of robots that make their own decisions by the military establishment. There are concerns that the reduction of battlefield casualties thanks to robots will encourage more aggressive warring by military planners.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Gates Sees PC and Web Evolving Together
InformationWeek (05/15/07) Gonsalves, Antone

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told attendees at Microsoft's WinHEC hardware engineering conference that the future of the PC industry would revolve around 64-bit computing, creating more humanistic interfaces, unified communications, and Web services. Gates said that PCs with increasing processing power and rich Web applications would work together using the Internet to deliver services on all types of mobile or stationary devices. Multicore processors running 64-bit applications will make home computers faster, expand system memory, and be available on all types of computing devices, Gates said. Gates also said the PC platform will expand beyond computing devices and become embedded in other devices such as refrigerators and toys. Among Microsoft's projects for the future is an ultra-mobile PC that will create a more mobile way of being constantly connected to the Internet. Microsoft also plans to continue developing Web-based services that synchronize with information on personal PCs. Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie said it only makes sense to have Web-based servers sharing computational tasks with devices to take advantage of the additional power in 64-bit processing. Mundie also outlined some of the challenges developers will face as the majority of the world's population starts to use cheaper mobile phones and handheld devices to access the Internet instead of PCs, including challenges in constructing loosely coupled applications that can communicate with software on the Web, or in other devices through peer-to-peer networks.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Silicon-Based 'Spintronics' Device Developed
New Scientist (05/16/07) Kleiner, Kurt

Ian Appelbaum and Biqin Huang of the University of Delaware in Newark and Douwe Monsma of Cambridge NanoTech in Massachusetts have demonstrated that spin can be injected into silicon and measured using a silicon-based device, which experts say is a key advancement toward developing logic devices based on spintronics. Spin is a quantum property of electrons very similar to magnetism, and individual electrons have a spin that is either "up" or "down." In a typical electric current, electrons have both kinds of spin, but passing the current through a ferromagnet will filter one spin or the other out. Electrons with spin oriented opposite to the axis of the magnet will be slowed down and scattered while electrons with a matching orientation are drawn through. This process creates an electric current made of mostly of electrons with a uniform spin direction, which can be measured by another magnet. The researchers passed highly energetic electrons through thin ferromagnet films 5 nanometers in depth deposited on top of a 10-micron thin piece of silicon. The extremely thin layers coupled with high energy electrons allowed the elections to move through the silicon without losing their spin, making it possible to inject an electric current with a particular spin through the silicon. The researchers also proved it is possible to change the spin in the silicon by subjecting the electrons to a magnetic field. University of Buffalo physicist Igor Zutic said the nest step is to show that the devices can work at high temperatures.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Big Blue Bestows 'Fellow' Title on Top Thinkers
Journal News (NY) (05/16/07) Alterio, Julie Moran

IBM named Mark N. Wegman an IBM Fellow during a ceremony earlier in the week in San Diego. Wegman, 57, who was honored for his inventions involving data compression tools, software algorithms, and compiler optimization, was one of six IBM scientists to receive the title. IBM Fellow is the highest honor that an IBM technologist can receive, and the title has only been bestowed upon 199 employees over the past 44 years. Sixty-seven active employees hold the title. "IBM has been very successful over the years because of a very strong technical program that has allowed the company time after time to reinvent itself," says Paul M. Horn, senior vice president and director of IBM Research. "The Fellows are the people who have demonstrated a level of expertise and competence that allows them to fundamentally engineer the IBM company." Wegman joined IBM in 1975, and his current focus at the Hawthorne, N.Y., lab of the Thomas J. Watson Research Center is to improve computer programming teams. Another researcher at the Westchester County facility, mathematician Brenda L. Dietrich, became the 10th female IBM Fellow.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Roboticist Inspired by More Than Machines
CNet (05/18/07) Lombardi, Candace

Director of Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute Matt Mason says in an interview that the institute pulls in more than $50 million in sponsored research annually, and that its funding doubles every six or seven years. He explains that science fiction is "a great reference" for roboticists because of the visionary perspective the truly great authors have, and points out that the institute's alumni are "very aggressive" in starting spinoffs such as the Center for Innovative Robotics and the Quality of Life Technology Center, which concentrates on assistive robots for such applications as elder care, rehab, and health monitoring. Mason says the emergence of robot caregivers is an inevitability; robot companionship also offers a host of possibilities, although he acknowledges that Americans view such a concept with skepticism out of fear that it could promote social disconnection. Especially exciting to him is the development of machine learning techniques in robots, while the institute is developing robots that can fold paper into origami shapes as a project to refine manual manipulation. Mason calls the origami robots "a great challenge task that can inspire and challenge researchers for the next 50 years." Mason cites a lesson that is constantly reiterated in the field of robotics: Virtually any action or function is tremendously more difficult to mimic mechanically than people think.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


IBM Pitches the Efficiency of Agile Programming
InfoWorld (05/15/07) Krill, Paul

IBM is holding an IBM Academy of Technology conference on agile programming this week at its Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., to discuss what is and what is not working, says IBM's Scott Ambler. He says agile programming methods have been used in some places at IBM for five years, but "we haven't taken the opportunity to actually get together and coalesce [around] what we're doing." Agile's flexibility can make programming more cost-effective and can lead to better code in a shorter amount of time. "One of the things people like about agile methods is that they enable you to do things rapidly, and if you don't get them right this month, they will give you the right thing next month," said University of Southern California software engineering professor Barry Boehm, a keynote speaker at the event. Despite its advantages, agile programming has had to face a number of challenges, Ambler says, including the mistaken belief by some adherents that no requirements planning or architecture should be created before starting a project, and industry perceptions that a database schema cannot be changed. Changing the size of programming teams is also obstructing agile programming. An ideal agile team has seven to 10 developers, but some programming projects can have as many as 4,000 developers. Mike Cohn, co-founder of Mountain Goat Software and a founder of the Agile Alliance, says the transition to agile programming should be treated like an individual project and include the formation of a transition team.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Positions on ICANN, the Internet Addressing Agency, Are Open
International Herald Tribune (05/16/07) Shannon, Victoria

ICANN Chairman Vint Cerf is encouraging interested applicants to apply for one of the nine open positions at ICANN, but Cerf cannot help but wonder whether the novelty of the Internet is subsiding. The application deadline for the open positions--May 18--is fast approaching, and Cerf has tried to generate interest in the positions with a video he posted to YouTube. Former ICANN board member Karl Auerbach and Internet Governance Project partner Milton Mueller are criticizing the "nominating committee" process that ICANN uses to make board selections, with Mueller calling the process "deliberately non-transparent." Auerbach asserts that the committee not only nominates board members, but in fact chooses the candidates. "ICANN has become yet another regulatory body that has been captured by those it is to regulate," says Auerbach. "But while most regulatory bodies are captured over decades, ICANN did it in record time, even by Internet standards." Mueller believes ICANN should go back to holding public elections to select the candidates, as it did in 2000, when Auerbach was elected. The current process is purposely set up to eliminate controversial figures from being nominated, says Mueller. But Cerf counters that public elections have their own pitfalls, claiming that the nominating committee is largely responsible for the large number of non-American members on ICANN's board.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Wary of Everyware
Chronicle of Higher Education (05/18/07) Vol. 53, No. 37, P. A26; Foster, Andrea L.

New York University instructor and consultant Adam Greenfield articulates his concerns that ubiquitous computing--the proliferation of wireless computers everywhere--could have dramatically negative ramifications for privacy and civil liberties in his book, "Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing." "The challenge now is to begin thinking about how we can mold that emergence [of ubiquitous computing] to suit our older prerogatives of personal agency, civil liberty, and simple sanity," Greenfield writes in his book. In an interview, the author notes how he was trained to be skeptical of assertions that the comfort, security, and convenience of new technologies will more than make up for the associated losses in personal autonomy, privacy, or agency. Greenfield calls his book "just one of a broader movement toward user-centered design," and he is hopeful that the text's inclusion in the syllabi of some college engineering programs will encourage more critical perception of ubiquitous computing. He teaches an "urban computing" course that examines how ubiquitous computing will probably affect the city and metropolitan life, and from such studies he has concluded that most personal ubiquitous technologies are causing people to withdraw from public engagement, which could carry serious consequences for big North American cities, and anyone interested in civic life in particular. Greenfield observes that many people interested in engineering are lacking in empathy, perhaps by necessity, but that the increasingly social nature of technology calls for more empathetic engineers.
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link May Require Paid Subscription
to the top


To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: technews@hq.acm.org

To unsubscribe from the ACM TechNews Early Alert Service: Please send a separate email to listserv@listserv.acm.org with the line

signoff technews

in the body of your message.

Please note that replying directly to this message does not automatically unsubscribe you from the TechNews list.

ACM may have a different email address on file for you, so if you're unable to "unsubscribe" yourself, please direct your request to: technews-request@ acm.org

We will remove your name from the TechNews list on your behalf.

For help with technical problems, including problems with leaving the list, please write to: technews-request@acm.org

to the top

News Abstracts © 2007 Information, Inc.


© 2007 ACM, Inc. All rights reserved. ACM Privacy Policy.

About ACM | Contact us | Boards & Committees | Press Room | Membership | Privacy Policy | Code of Ethics | System Availability | Copyright © 2014, ACM, Inc.