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June 6, 2007

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The Pit Crews Behind DARPA's Robot Race
CNet (06/05/07) Olsen, Stefanie

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's (DARPA) Urban Challenge, a $2 million military-sponsored race of autonomous vehicles on city roads, has attracted 53 teams. On Nov. 3, the teams will race their autonomous cars, but first the cars will need to pass prequalification site visits, where the military's research and development department will evaluate each team's ability to compete. To pass the prequalification round, each team's vehicle will have to prove its basic navigation skills by driving on a prescribed course and demonstrate its traffic skills by negotiating a four-way intersection with two human-driven cars and one other robotic car. This is the third DARPA robotic vehicle race, and the first to take place in an urban environment, which attracted more universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the first time. Kevin Jackson is the team leader of the only independent team, supported by only one sponsor. Jackson said that small groups can occasionally do things better than bigger organizations because their small size forces them to do things creatively. Instead of using a $10,000 precise global positioning system like some of the other teams, Jackson is using two $120 GPS units that could be found in common passenger cars. Jackson said he is just as interested on the social psychology of driving as much as the physics of it. "One of the things we're trying to do is to look at other vehicles driving, evaluate if they appear to be following the driving rules," Jackson said. "In the robot world, we can assign a threat level to that driver or object."
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SIGDA to Celebrate Milestones at 44th Design Automation Conference (DAC)
Business Wire (06/05/07)

The 44th Design Automation Conference this year will mark two significant anniversaries for the ACM's Special Interest Group on Design Automation (SIGDA)--the 20th SIGDA/DAC University Booth and the 10th annual ACM SIGDA Ph.D. Forum at DAC. The University Booth is a venue for the university community to demonstrate electronic design automation tools, design projects, and instructional materials. The Ph.D. Forum, a competitive poster session for Ph.D. students, is designed to strengthen ties between academia and industry, and provides students with an opportunity to present and discuss their dissertation research with people in the EDA community. The Ph.D. Forum, which has grown steadily since its establishment 10 years ago, is one of the premier venues for students in EDA to receive feedback on their research and for the industry to observe academic work. The SIGDA/DAC University Booth was first established in 1987 to create better connections between academia and exhibitors at the conference and to provide opportunities to demonstrate university-developed software. Last year, the booth had nearly 50 demonstrations from all over the United States, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Korea, France, Singapore, and Taiwan. Dan Gajski, a professor of electrical and computer science at the University of California Irvine, said, "The University Booth has become the intellectual center of the conference." For more information about DAC, visit http://www.dac.com/44th/wednesday.aspx
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IU Informatics Security Experts Draw New Weapon in War of Cyber Crime
Indiana University (06/04/07)

Indiana University School of Informatics researchers professor Markus Jakobsson and research associate Sukamol Srikwan have launched www.SecurityCartoon.com, the first cartoon-based approach to understanding the Internet and the risks faced by typical users. "The cartoons we have developed obviously are not a textbook approach, not made for professional journals or geared to an audience of professional researchers," says Srikwan, who was the graphic designer for the site. "We wanted this to be accessible to anyone who uses the Internet ... That's why the cartoon format is perfect--everybody can relate to it." The cartoons address security issues such as phishing, pharming, malware, spoofing, and password protection, and go beyond the traditional educational efforts to instruct what to do and what not to by explaining the reasons behind the rules, which makes the advice easier to understand, according to Srikwan. The Security Cartoon Web site was developed using scientific methods by IU's Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research (CACR) and the Anti-Phishing Group. "We study the algorithms behind fraud, develop new techniques for combating it, and we investigate how people react psychologically to various threats," says Jakobsson, a CACR associate director. Jakobsson says that an average of about 5 percent of American adults are victims of identity theft every year, and that the percentage is increasing as phishing techniques become more advanced.
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Robot Scans Ancient Manuscript in 3-D
Wired News (06/05/07) Blackwell, Amy Hackney

A research team organized by the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies used a laser scanner mounted on a robot arm to create a digital copy of the Venetus A, the oldest existing copy of Homer's Iliad. University of Kentucky researcher Matt Field, who scanned the pages, says the goal was to create a "virtual book" that shows the Venetus in its natural form, adding, "It's not often that you see this kind of collaboration between the humanities and the technical fields." A high-resolution, 3D copy of the entire 645-page parchment book and a searchable transcription will be made available online under a Creative Commons license. The last time a photographic copy of the book was made was in 1901. To scan the book the researchers used large lights, a motorized cradle, 17 computers, and wireless Internet access. The scanner's laser was situated about an inch above the book, rapidly moving back and forth across the book's pages. The robotic arm knew the exact position of the scanner, and created a precise map of each page. The data was fed into a CAD program that created an image of the manuscript page. The next phase of the project is to make the images readable. The Venetus A is handwritten and contains ligatures and abbreviations that are beyond the capabilities of most text-recognition software. To create XML transcriptions of the text, a group of graduate and undergraduate students studying Greek will work at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C. Eventually, the images and the transcription will be posted online, available to anyone, as part of the Homer Multitext Project.
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See Behind the Scenes of 'Spider-Man 3' at SIGGRAPH 2007
Business Wire (06/04/07)

SIGGRAPH 2007 has lined up the top artists involved with "Spider-Man 3" for the 34th International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques. Academy Award-winning senior visual effects supervisor Scott Stokdyk, digital effects supervisors Ken Hahn and Peter Nofz, and animation director Spencer Cook will discuss their work for the movie. "Spider-Man 3" featured fully-articulated, performing CG characters composed only of dynamically-generated particles and fluids for the first time. An embodiment of key-framed performance animation, the digital characters interacted with each other and live-action characters in real and synthetic environments. "This is just one of many rare opportunities to experience the behind-the-scenes perspective from Hollywood's industry experts," says special sessions co-chair Jerome Solomon. "In fact, we have an amazing line up of talent presenting work in 'Shrek,' 'Spider-Man 3,' and the Oscar winner, 'Happy Feet.'" Sponsored by ACM, SIGGRAPH 2007 is scheduled for Aug. 5-9, 2007, at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, Calif. Some 25,000 computer graphics and interactive technology professionals from around the world are expected to attend SIGGRAPH 2007's technical and creative programs and exhibition. For more information about SIGGRAPH, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2007/
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Sharing Stories Across the Digital Divide
Swansea University (06/04/07)

Swansea University computer scientists are participating in a collaborative effort called StoryBank that aims to use new mobile phone technologies to help villagers in India record and share their stories and experiences. The StoryBank project is providing people in Budikote, India, with mobile devices that can be used to make, store, and edit video, sound, and pictures. Budikote has access to PCs, the Internet, and mobile phones, but access is limited. Matt Jones, StoryBank project manager at Swansea University, says, "The people of Budikote have a strong tradition of visual and oral history, so we were interested in how we could develop digital technology to enable them to communicate their stories in new ways." A touch screen was placed in a covered public area in the village and serves as the digital library for the stories created by the villagers. Stories can be sent by the villagers to StoryBank using wireless connections in their mobile devices. "The mobile phone digital story authoring application we have developed is giving members of this isolated Indian community a new, lasting record of individual stories, shared experiences, and history," Jones says. "The digital library will have a wide reach and should be a useful resource for the whole community." Other partners in the project include Surrey University, Loughborough University, Queen Mary University London, and Nottingham Trent University.
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DHS Sets its Cyber R&D Goals
Federal Computer Week (06/04/07) Vol. 21, No. 16, P. 56; Robinson, Brian

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says that it will fund and develop potentially groundbreaking cybersecurity software rather than waiting for the industry to develop the required tools. An announcement from the DHS' Cyber Security Research and Development Center asks for industry proposals that, within three years, could create commercial technologies that will protect against computer security threats. The DHS published a list of research and development challenges that are considered to be priorities for neutralizing near-term and long-term threats. Douglas Maughan, program manager for cybersecurity research at DHS' Science and Technology Directorate, said that anyone interested in making a proposal is strongly considered to approach the DHS with their own technology and transition partners already secured. Purdue University professor Eugene Spafford, a computer security expert and member of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee, said that there are several worthy areas on the DHS' research agenda, but that the list of research priorities focuses too much on near-term problems instead of larger challenges. "This announcement is not trying to grow the enterprise by looking to what is coming next, at System X problems," Spafford said. "It's really looking more at fixing what problems exist now." Spafford said that all of the areas on the list need additional research, but there are many other research challenges of equal or even greater importance. Spafford, who also chairs ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee, added that agencies such as the National Science Foundation also support important cybersecurity research, but that they are under-funded, which makes the DHS programs more important.
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SIUE Earns Robotics Grant
Edwardsville Intelligencer (IL) (06/05/07) Malone, Zhanda

The National Science Foundation recently awarded two Southern Illinois University Edwardsville associate professors of computer science, Jerry Weinberg and William Yu, a $150,000 grant to create the "Brain Pack" for walking robots. The grant, "General Robot Controller for Legged Mobile Robots with Integrated Open Source Software," will be used to develop the Brain Pack--a computer backpack for two-, four-, and six-legged robots designed to be used in teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses. "The Brain Pack will provide an easy way to program a computer controller that connects sensors, such as foot-touch sensors, to give a robot the 'sense' of walking and a color camera to give the robot 'eyesight,'" Weinberg said in a press release. "It will be a general controller that can be used on any legged robot, providing it with sensors and computing power that walking robots on the market currently do not have." Weinberg said that because of the multidisciplinary nature of robots, they have become a valuable tool for the hands-on application of concepts learned in STEM courses at K-12 and undergraduate levels, and while there are easy to use wheeled robots, there are no legged robots with simple hardware and software. "The Brain Pack will have 'plug-and-play' sensors with straightforward software modules developed specifically for use in the classroom," Weinberg said.
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Internet2 Security Honcho: PCs Need Universal Healthcare
Ars Technica (06/05/07) Fisher, Ken

Internet2 security programs manager Joe St. Sauver, speaking at the Anti-Phishing Working Group Counter e-Crime Summit, said that government involvement will eventually be necessary to fight the growing threat of botnets. St. Sauver said that although most compromised computers are used for spam and have little threat beyond that of annoyance, those same compromised machines could be used maliciously to host phishing sites, launch malware, pirate software, host child pornography, capture local traffic for passwords and other sensitive information, or even attack businesses and critical infrastructure. St. Sauver's primary concern is the lack of responsibility. He said that although the government should not have to shoulder the responsibility of fixing the problem, if the government does not, no one else will. "Just as the government has a responsibility to defend its citizens from conventional military threats or from terrorism, and to respond in case of natural disasters or widespread disease, so, too, the time has come for us to recognize that the government has a compelling national interest in the protection of its citizens and businesses online, and in the protection of their networks and systems," St. Sauver said. "An attack on U.S. networks and systems, whether blatant or insidious, is an attack on the United States as a whole, and properly deserves national attention and response." St. Sauver's solution is a Cyber Center for Disease Control that would focus on both massive-scale acute emergencies and recurring problems in PC security. St. Sauver said the Cyber Center would have to provide anonymity to encourage users to report infestations. He also said the U.S. government should establish a cabinet-level federal agency for cybersecurity with offices in all major cities.
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Women's Technology Program Graduates First Class
MIT News (06/04/07) Salius, Erin Michael

The first participants in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Women's Technology Program (WTP) will graduate from MIT this month. In the summer of 2002, Alisha Schor, Emily Slutsky, and Kyung Jin Chang, who will receive their B.S. degrees on June 8, participated in the inaugural session of WTP, a four-week academic and residential experience where pre-college female students experience engineering with hands-on classes, labs, and team-based projects. When entering the program, having just finished their junior year of high school, the women had difficulty just imagining themselves as MIT students. Slutsky said the idea of facing the notoriously rigorous freshman curriculum and adjusting to the high intellectual expectations was frightening, but that attending WTP made enrolling at MIT a realistic option by offering an experience similar to what life is like at the school. "WTP was my first experience within a challenging, college setting," Slutsky said. WTP was started by then-senior Doug Ricket to dispel the widespread belief among many young women that they would not succeed as engineers and computer scientists. Ricket hired a group of MIT women, including graduate and undergraduate students, to serve as instructors and residential tutors for the electrical engineering, computer science, and math courses offered that first summer. Slutsky said, "WTP is a woman's opportunity to develop, fine-tune, and cultivate an invaluable confidence in herself."
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File-Sharing Sites Being Subverted for Web Attacks
New Scientist (05/30/07) Inman, Mason

Security experts have observed a new trend in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, in which criminals use peer-to-peer (P2P) networks to mount Web attacks. Experts noticed the first such attacks in January 2007. In traditional DDoS attacks, a gang of hijacked PCs are ordered to overwhelm a target with traffic, but in the case of P2P networks, no computers need to be commandeered. Instead, criminals can corrupt a database by posting fake entries that indicate that a popular file can be found at the address targeted for attack. Thousands of PCs will begin requesting the song or TV episode from the target computer, causing the machine to crash under the flood of traffic. Researchers have demonstrated that anyone with experience in programming could hack into the code of BitTorrent, a popular file-sharing network. Though some contend that there are easier methods for instigating similar attacks, others say the issue is important because of the prominence of P2P networks. In addition, P2P attacks are more difficult to track down and defend against than botnet-based DDoS, says Richard Miller of Netcraft.
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NASA Launching to Outer Space Via Cyberspace
Federal Computer Week (05/31/07) Bain, Ben

NASA is using the virtual world Second Life to test its plans for collaboration that extends to people who do not work in the space industry. NASA has been holding weekly meetings on Second Life, and this past week Peter Worden, director of the agency's Ames Research Center, used the virtual world to give a speech to the International Space Development Conference in Dallas. "The new technology of virtual life and cyberspace means we can all participate in the Vision for Space Exploration," said Worden. NASA is already working in the real world with business leaders, software programmers, and other non-members of the space community through its CoLab initiative, and it has plans to build a real-world site for collaboration in San Francisco. Individuals can use their virtual construction skills to build models of projects on NASA's island in the virtual world, but the space agency is also building open-source software for use on its projects. Regular people also may be able to use the virtual programs to ride with a rover on Mars in real time via streaming images and software programs that are able to simulate space travel and the geography of the destination. "I really do think this is a prototype--if we do a good job--for the way that other branches of government, other agencies can adopt the best models from the private sector and from the nonprofit sector and integrate them," says CoLab co-founder Andrew Hoppin.
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Rick Rashid: Innovation Pipeline
Government Computer News (06/04/07) Vol. 26, No. 13, Jackson, Joab

In an interview, Microsoft Research senior vice president Rick Rashid discussed the difficulties of technology transfer, new operating system developments, and why Microsoft deserves a more cutting-edge reputation for computer science research. When asked how Microsoft manages to avoid problems when sending advanced research to the marketplace, a problem that has plagued the Defense Department, Rashid said that one of his first objectives at Microsoft Research was to create a team focused on technology transfer, ensuring effective communication between the product side and research. Rashid emphasized the importance of basic research, because while applied research can create a solution for an immediate problem, basic research creates longevity and ensures that when technology changes, Microsoft will have already been working in the area. Rashid said that some of Microsoft's research into operating systems involves the ability to prove properties of programs, which can be used to see if a program is properly using application programming interfaces. Part of the reason Microsoft does not have the reputation for cutting-edge research is because of allegations that Microsoft simply popularizes innovations others created. Rashid responds to such allegations by pointing out the significant number of papers from Microsoft Research published at top computer science conferences, and notes the innovative work Microsoft is doing in text and typography, document management, and information sharing and manipulation.
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Tapia Conference to Focus on Passion, Diversity, and Innovation
Computing Research News (05/07) Vol. 19, No. 3, P. 2; Martinez-Canales, Monica

More than 400 students, professors, and researchers will congregate this fall at the fourth Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference, to be held Oct. 14-17. The Tapia Conference, held every two years, was established to create a welcoming and supportive environment for all participants, but particularly for students from under-represented groups. This year's theme is "Passion in Computing--Diversity in Innovation," and the conference will include several features from past events, including featured talks from experts on their successes and missteps, a student-focused poster session intended to provide students with an opportunity for supportive, professional discussion, a full day dedicated to encouraging students to earn their PhDs, and several opportunities to network and learn from role models and peers. One new feature this year will be a robotics competition where teams of students will have to send programmed robots on "search and rescue" missions in simulated and physical disaster environments. The Tapia Conference will be co-located with the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference, which will take place Oct. 17-20. The 2007 Hopper Celebration is the seventh in a series of conferences focused on the research and career interests of women in computing. Leading researchers from industrial, academic, and government communities will present their current work, and special sessions focusing on the role of women in technology will be held. This year's Hopper Celebration theme, "I Invent the Future," will emphasize the impact women have on computing and technology and celebrate the potential each attendee possesses.
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New Translation Technology to Aid U.S. Forces
Defense News (05/28/07) McMichael, William H.

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are testing various devices that could eventually provide 100 percent accurate, real-time translations for troops in Arabic speaking countries. Currently, basic one-way translators are common in Iraq, with over 3,000 such devices currently deployed, but these devices are only capable of simple mission-dependent English phrases, have limited vocabularies, and are unable to translate the Arabic response. The devices the two agencies are testing are capable of understanding context and translating from Arabic to English. There are some limitations to each of the devices, including performance degradation during high-stress situations that would include shouting and background noise, but the ability to operate in those situations is not far off. DARPA and NIST would not comment on the performance of any individual system, but DARPA said each one performs in the 70 percent to 80 percent accuracy range. DARPA's Jan Walker said the long-term goal is to create two-way translations across all subjects with 100 percent accuracy, compensating for background noise, dialects, and accents. Walker said that in the next three to five years, DARPA wants 80 percent to 90 percent accuracy for specific task-related phrases. DARPA also wants to move away from laptop-based devices in favor of smaller, hands-free devices, which is a requirement for NIST's next round of testing, scheduled to begin in July. NIST robotics researcher and project manager Craig Schlenoff said that developers have free rein in creating the form of the device, but their use cannot require looking at a laptop or employing a keyboard.
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Virtual Reality and Higher Education: Another Perspective
Terra Nova (05/24/07) Lamont, Ian

Aaron Walsh of Boston College's Woods College of Advancing Studies thinks virtual reality (VR) environments can be useful tools for enhancing education, and he has constructed such environments for employment in his online courses. These courses form part of his overarching "Immersive Education" program to build a standards-based educational platform that combines 3D/VR and digital media. "Immersive Education gives students a sense of 'being there' even when attending class in person isn't possible, practical, or desirable, which in turn provides faculty and remote students with the ability to connect and communicate in a way that greatly enhances the learning experience," Walsh explains in an interview. He notes that the effort to guarantee the support of virtual environments by every student's hardware has been one of the major challenges of the program. Also challenging has been the delivery of learning content within the virtual environment, an approach that Walsh learned is not necessarily the best fit for education, when simply opening a browser window when needed would suffice. "Doing this allowed us to incorporate Web pages, interactive Flash content, Quicktime VR and videos, and a wide assortment of rich learning materials into our online classes that wouldn't have been possible otherwise," he explains. Walsh says VR can be especially helpful for students who have problems expressing themselves in the real world, although he observes that other students favor the traditional live interaction of real-world classrooms. Especially concerning to Walsh is VR's potential for addiction; he warns that "immersive illness" could become a serious social problem over the next 10 years or so, as technology and immersive activities advance and virtual worlds attain even more realism and mainstream acceptance.
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Param Leap
Frontline (India) (05/07) Vol. 24, No. 9, Parthasarathy, Anand

The Center for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) in Pune, India, has made India a supercomputer player with its Param series of supercomputers, which rank on the global "Top 500" list of the world's most powerful computing platforms. In May 2003, the Param Padma fell short of the list with a computing power of 1 trillion mathematical operations per second. To boost the Param system's performance, the C-DAC looked to grid computing to get back on the list. The emerging network, called Garuda, links 15 powerful computers to the 1 teraflop machine housed in the C-DAC's National Param Supercomputing Facility in Bangalore. The newest addition to Param supercomputing is Param Sarita, which is designed to address the booming market for multimedia applications such as video-on-demand and interactive TV. The Computational Atmospheric Sciences (CAS) team at C-DAC is also using the new line of supercomputers for atmospheric and environmental science applications. The CAS team recently designed a "Real Time Weather System," a Web-based, fully automatic system that handles the complete weather forecasting cycle, including data acquisition, initial processing, model simulation, and intelligent post processing. The system can easily be adapted to handle data from a variety of sources and numerical weather prediction models, which could be useful to weather forecasters, atmospheric researchers, policy makers, and the aviation, oil, transport, and sports entertainment industries.
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A New Interview With Peter Denning on the Great Principles of Computing
Ubiquity (06/11/07) Vol. 8, No. 22,

Naval Postgraduate School professor and former ACM President Peter J. Denning's contention that computing is a science is based on his findings that it satisfies every accepted criterion of a science: It possesses an organized body of knowledge, a performance history of non-obvious discoveries, an experimental technique to test theorems, and an openness to any theorem being counterfeited. Denning traces much resistance to this notion to the argument that true science deals with natural as opposed to manmade things as well as the argument that the short, generational lifespan of computing technologies further disqualifies computing's eligibility as a science, but Denning does not accept this. "I know from my own experience that computing technologies exploit many fundamental principles that have been in play for two generations and will still be [in] play in two more," he says. Denning notes that the favored storytelling approaches to explaining computing have backfired: Spotlighting programming as a fundamental intellectual skill has caused many people to view programming and computer science as one and the same; highlighting abstraction as the computing field's quintessential mechanism does nothing to promote computing's uniqueness, since abstraction is common in many other disciplines; and telling narratives about computing innovations reinforces the connection between computing and transient technologies. According to Denning, what is needed is a different kind of communication, given computing's relevance to all kinds of people besides the technologically savvy. "We have to find ways to discuss computing so that our listeners can see their own struggles in the stories and then see how computing can help them," he says. Denning is engaged in the Great Principles of Computing Project to make the discussion of computing more reflective of the field's fundamental principles through a new "principles-oriented language" that reverses the traditional definition of computation as a tool for computers.
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