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ACM TechNews
July 9, 2007

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


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Call for KDD07 Participation
ACM (07/09/07)

The Thirteenth ACM SIGKDD International Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining will take place in San Jose from August 12 through 15, 2007. The conference provides a forum for academic researchers, industry, and government innovators to share their results and experiences. The 2007 program includes the research track and industrial paper and panel presentations, implemented software demos, posters, workshops, and tutorials followed by the KDD Cup competition. New to the conference this year are Birds of Feather (BOF) sessions organized by topics as suggested by conference attendees in which researchers working on similar projects can meet face to face at BOF roundtables during lunches. KDD07 will also feature presentations on such topics as social network analysis, visual data mining, security and privacy issues, semantic web mining, temporal and spatial mining, novel algorithms, high performance and grid computing, text and semi-structured data mining. Meanwhile, workshops offered at the conference include Data Mining and Audience Intelligence for Advertising (ADKDD'07), Data Mining in Bioinformatics (BIOKDD'07), KDD Cup and Workshop 2007, and Multimedia Data Mining.
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Lawmakers to DHS: Spend More on Cybersecurity
Federal Computer Week (07/03/07) Miller, Jason

The House Homeland Security Committee wants the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate to allocate more funding toward cybersecurity research and development efforts. The directorate currently has $37 million allocated toward cybersecurity R&D through the year 2011. During a June 27 hearing, committee members peppered the directorate's undersecretary, Jay Cohen, with pointed questions about the funding efforts, stating that current funding levels are insufficient. Cohen explained that the DHS assistant secretary of cybersecurity, Greg Garcia, has mandated that just 1 percent of the directorate's funds be allocated toward cybersecurity research. During the hearing, Cohen acknowledged that 1 percent is too low of a figure, explaining that he would welcome more input from Garcia and DHS CIO Scott Charbo on the types of solutions they need. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) says he intends to create a bill forcing the DHS to assess the nation's cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Cohen replied that he supports such a mandate, so long as it also applies to all other federal agencies. Cohen urged entrepreneurs and inventors to approach the DHS "with opportunities to solve problems."
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Murat Arcak Receives 2007 SIAG/CST Prize
EurekAlert (07/05/07)

The SIAM Activity Group on Control and Systems Theory (SIAG/CST) honored Murat Arcak for his research contributions involving large networked systems during an awards ceremony on Sunday, July 1, 2007, in San Francisco at the SIAM Conference on Control and Its Applications. Arcak, the winner of the 2007 SIAG/CST Prize, has had a positive impact on the performance and robustness of wireless and biological networks, as well as the way resources are allocated for the Internet. Arcak is an associate professor in the Electronic, Computer & Systems Engineering Department in the School of Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., but is currently a visiting scholar at MIT through August 2007. He delivered an address, entitled "Structure and Passivity in Networks of Dynamic Systems," after the awards ceremony.
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A Smarter Car
Technology Review (07/06/07) Boyd, Clark

IBM's collaborative driving research effort is an initiative spearheaded by its Haifa, Israel, lab to cut traffic congestion and prevent accidents by tapping sensors and communications technologies that should be embedded in roads and vehicles within a relatively short timeframe. IBM researcher Oleg Goldschmidt says the company can integrate computer modeling and driving simulations to better ascertain how all the data produced by present-day high-tech cars and roadways can be collected and structured, and then processed and prioritized in a way that best helps the motorist. Jim Misener with Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways explains that the field of information arbitration covers this kind of research, but the prioritization of the road data is no simple feat, according to Motorola Intelligent Systems Research director Mike Gardner. "A smart vehicle has to collect all this raw sensor data, fuse it, and then analyze it with something like pattern recognition," he notes. "Then it has to decide, 'Is that a person in front of the car, or is that just fog?'" Tim Brown of the University of Iowa's National Advanced Driving Simulator stresses the importance of integrating different warning systems. "Trying to figure out communication between warning systems such that certain warnings get suppressed under certain circumstances is critical to providing the driver with the information he needs to respond appropriately in a collision event," he says.
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US Government Prepares for Cyber War Games
Ars Technica (07/05/07) Reimer, Jeremy

The colossal distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) on Estonia's Web sites in May 2007 prompted the United States to both assist Estonia in the aftermath and to review America's own level of readiness for such an attack. Currently, to help scrutinize attack-generated data, the United States is sending an investigative team to Estonia. The team will also train Estonian IT professions in safeguarding their network infrastructure. Meanwhile, the U.S. government established the "Cyber Command," a group that will plan the country's response to similar cyberattacks. In addition, a federal exercise developed to test pandemic preparedness has been revised to incorporate a cyberterrorism response simulation. Because critical services--such as routing infrastructure and DNS--in Estonia were unscathed by the attacks, the significance of the assault seems to lie in the response roused in other nations. Whether or not the Russian government was involved in the DDoS attack, the Estonia incident may be deemed the first international "cyberwar," and as such may raise awareness of modern society's vulnerabilities. The attacks did, however, illustrate the usefulness of international teamwork, for NATO member nations offered assistance and security professionals responded in real time from all over the world. President George W. Bush recently thanked Estonia's president for disclosing data about the attacks that could help other countries protect their infrastructures from comparable assaults.
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Want to Be a Computer Scientist? Forget Maths
iTWire (07/05/07) Corner, Stuart

A new book aims to dispel the belief that mathematics is a necessary foundation for computer science and programming, specifically for the algorithms used in computer science. Theseus Research CEO Karl M. Fant says the notion of the algorithm "has been largely ineffective as a paradigm for computer science." Fant says because mathematicians, notably John Von Neumann and Alan Turing, were involved in the early development of digital electronic computers in the 1940s, a mathematical model of computation was installed, including the algorithm, in the early days of computer science. Fant argues that the mathematical perspective is creating and approaching questions from the wrong point of view. "Mathematicians and computer scientists are pursuing fundamentally different aims, and the mathematician's tolls are not as appropriate as was once supposed to the questions of the computer scientists," Fant says. "The primary questions of computer science are not of computational possibilities, but of expressional possibilities. Computer science does not need a theory of computation; it needs a comprehensive theory of process expression." The idea of "process expression," according to Fant, is a common thread that runs through various disciplines of computer science. "The notion of the algorithm," Fant concludes, "simply does not provide conceptual enlightenment for the questions that most computer scientists are concerned with."
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Technology's Untanglers: They Make It Really Work
New York Times (07/08/07) Whitaker, Barbara

The usability industry continues to play a more significant role in a variety of industries, helping to examine end user's habits and fix any potential problems, such as Web site creators who assume the users know more than they do or software designers who are unable to predict user behavior that could unintentionally destroy an entire database. When the federal government was developing its informational Web site usa.gov, it hired usability experts to look for flaws. By observing users, the site's developers discovered that users were having trouble finding individual agencies' Web sites because they did not know which department to look under. Usability expert Janice Redish, who specializes in Web sites and software interfaces, says the usability industry has significantly expanded over the past three to five years. "I think the Web has really made companies and agencies understand they are in a conversation with their customers," Redish says. Usability research can deploy very sophisticated techniques, using equipment such as eye-tracking software to precisely analyze what users are looking at on screen, but the work generally relies on solid observation and interview skills. In response to a growing demand for usability job candidates, schools are offering degrees in areas such as human computer interaction, new media, and accessible Web design. However, much of the training for usability jobs is happening in the workplace. "People come into it from many different areas," Redish says.
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Happy, Sad, Angry or Astonished?
PhysOrg.com (07/05/07)

New facial recognition technology, developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS, can quickly recognize a person's sex and their present mood. When using the image analysis system, for example, a small video camera implanted behind an advertisement can quickly capture the faces of passersby, apply complex algorithms, and determine their facial expressions and corresponding emotions. IIS project manager Dr. Christian Kublbeck notes, "The special feature of our facial analysis software is that it operates in real time." The system examines the eyes, face, eyebrows, and nose--the contours of which are compared to over 30,000 characteristics already known--and with the help of a standard PC, mood changes can be tracked in real time. Advertising psychologists and others can use the software to determine whether advertisements are pleasing, computer software is user-friendly, or whether learning programs are challenging users.
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EU Project Develops Human-Computer Dialogue System
Cordis News Service (07/05/07)

A consortium led by Manfred Pinkal of the Saarland University has created a dialogue system enabling humans to simply tell computers what to do. The TALK project stemmed from the developers' belief that new technology should simplify life, a concept that is often undermined by the difficult user manuals that accompany technology. The dialogue system is grounded in speech recognition and interaction, elements that the developers merged with a graphical interface and standard keys. Users can choose their own, everyday words, and can speak to the computer in brief commands or full sentences. Moreover, the system adapts to its user's conversational behavior as well as to the situation. The interactive process is therefore well suited to a range of applications, from smart homes to intelligent cars.
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Smart Suit Doesn't Miss a Beat
University of South Australia (07/03/07)

Scientists at the University of South Australia (UniSA) are developing smart clothes that incorporate integrated electronic technology. When placed on electronic hangers, the smart garments can download stored data such as heart and respiration rates to a computer and be recharged for continued wearing. "For continuous monitoring, you can take off one garment and put on another smart garment so, instead of having just one heart monitor, you can have a wardrobe of them," says professor Bruce Thomas, researcher and director of UniSA's Wearable Computer Laboratory. A special cabinet for the clothes features a touch screen on the outside as well as a hanging rail with conductive metal bands, all linked to a computer at the base of the cabinet. Electronic hangers that are placed on the rail are detected by the computer as well as the smart clothes. For instance, the computer can identify that a particular hanger has a particular coat on it that has heart monitoring data that needs to be downloaded. The smart wardrobe can monitor people's vital statistics and energy levels as well as faulty equipment and cleaning schedules, and can also preload news, schedules, and music into smart garments.
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Games That Fit Into Daily Life Are Serious Business
IT University of Copenhagen (06/28/07)

Casual video games, games designed to be easily played and learned within the first few minutes of playing, are becoming increasingly popular. IT University of Copenhagen researcher and video game theorist Jesper Juul says, "These new games are quick to learn and the focus is on fun rather than on making games difficult or time consuming." Juul says playing a game is largely related to feelings. "Even if you flip a coin with another person, it is difficult to avoid being a little happy if you win or a bit unhappy when you lose," Juul says. "When you play a game, you enter into a contract where you promise to be happy if you win and unhappy if you lose." Juul says casual games place more emphasis on the strategy the player uses, rather than the amount of time played, which forces players to redefine their strategies to stay competitive and creates a continuous and constantly changing challenge. While all types of people are attracted to casual games, Juul says the most surprising aspect of casual games is that they primarily attract women players ages 35 to 50. A part of the explanation is that these women are looking for a different type of game than the young men who traditionally play computer games. "The new players are not interested in using hours or days on getting started. They want to have fun in the first few minutes of play," Juul says.
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Gender-Bending Avatars Inspire Less Trust
New Scientist (07/05/07) Inman, Mason

A new study by Kristine Nowak and Christian Rauh of the University of Connecticut discovered that people view androgynous digital personas as being less trustworthy than avatars with a recognizable gender. After designing an assortment of computer-drawn images to function as avatars, the researchers assigned the personas to a group of volunteers. Each pair of volunteers chatted online for 20 minutes and then evaluated their partners. The individuals represented by more genderless avatars were ranked lower in terms of trustworthiness. The same results came about when a different group of people judged each digital persona simply by looking at it. The researchers contend that genderless avatars are perceived as less human, and therefore as less credible. The experiments imply that the opinions people form about avatars powerfully affect their impression of the individual behind the character. Gender roles are a key element of online interactions, as they provide information that removes some of the uncertainty inherent in online communication, explains Judith Donath of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Avatars must therefore be conscientiously designed to make the appropriate impression, say the researchers, for people are increasingly making friends and developing communities through 3D virtual worlds. The study by Nowak and Rauh will appear in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
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ISU Experts Weigh in on Identity Theft Through New Wireless Technologies
Iowa State University News Service (07/03/07)

Cell phones, BlackBerrys, and other new wireless technologies are being exploited by identity thieves and extortionists, and Iowa State University faculty and staff experts offer commentary on this growing problem. ISU electrical and computer engineering professor Doug Jacobson reports that identity theft is becoming more common as criminals learn how to reap profits from data collected from the Internet, and he comments that these persons "are targeting people directly through social engineering using email messages that lure us into providing information that can be used to steal an identity." In addition, criminals are attempting the direct theft of information from computers through the use of rogue programs, and Jacobson recommends that people should be vigilant of what information they disclose to others online, and what programs they download. Meanwhile, ISU associate CIO Maury Hope believes victims of identity theft should consult the Federal Trade Commission's National Resource on Identity Theft Web site or a site hosted by Visa; he can offer suggestions for preventing identity theft and warns of a new phishing scam that lures victims with a "greeting card emailed by a family member or friend." Accenture Faculty Fellow in Management Information Systems Anthony Townsend, who co-authored the book "Information Technology and the World of Work," notes that the growing use of technology that records communication, such as wireless products, generates the potential for messages getting intercepted. His advice is to "be cautious about all conversations over telephones, be doubly cautious about email and instant messaging, and use encryption for private correspondence."
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Warning of Data Ticking Time Bomb
BBC News (07/03/07)

The obsolescence of old digital file formats could mean a major loss of knowledge for society, warned U.K. National Archives CEO Natalie Ceeney at an event to mark the launch of an alliance between her organization and Microsoft designed to ensure that legacy formats remain accessible. The National Archives preserves nine centuries' worth of written material and over 580 terabytes of data in older file formats that are no longer commercially available. Ceeney lamented that some digital documents have disappeared for all time because the programs that could read them are no longer extant. "We have worked very hard to embrace open standards, specifically in the area of file formats," stated Microsoft U.K. director Gordon Frazer, who said a "digital dark age" is on the horizon unless an effort is made to maintain the readability of legacy formats. Microsoft devised the Open XML document file format, which is used to preserve files from programs such as Excel, Word, and Powerpoint, with this goal in mind. Frazer described Open XML as an independently controlled open international standard, but some critics wonder at Microsoft's decision to design its own standard instead of embracing the competing Open Document Format system. Open Rights Group director Ben Laurie claimed the move is an attempt at vendor lock-in. The National Archives will be able to access older file formats in the format in which they were originally recorded by running mimicked versions of the older Windows operating system on present-day PCs via virtualization.
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A Feel for the Future
The Engineer Online (07/02/07)

Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) researchers are trying to make robots move more like humans and make robot-human interaction safer. The researchers plan to "soften" the movement of robots that interact with humans. "There's a certain paradox if we manufacture robots for service robotics--if a robot is powerful enough to be useful, it is also powerful enough to be dangerous," says BRL director Chris Melhuish. "There are physical and behavioral safety factors, and underlying it all is control." Dr. Guido Herrmann is researching humanoid-controlled robotics using a hand-arm assembly that sends feedback through haptic sensors. "The best way for a human to move is to minimize the muscle effort, and that's what we want to implement in robots," Herrmann says. "So we must measure that in humans and model it for our robots." While BRL is interested in all aspects of robotics, a human-robotic interface (HRI), particularly creating an interactive upper torso and head, is the most important goal. "If two humans are carrying out a task together, for example making a cup of coffee where one takes the cup and the other pours, it's simple enough to perceive, but the actions and interactions are difficult to implement in a robot--there's a huge amount of effort," Melhuish says. Humanoid HRI service robots could provide companionship, medical therapy, and rehabilitations applications. The torso could even be programmed to use sign language for deaf people. Starting with a single arm, the researchers hope to model the dynamics of the robot and design a controller that does the mechanical work quickly. The goal is to create controllers for both arms with some sensing ability in the hands, and to solve safety problems.
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NCSA: A Look Inside One of the World's Most Capable Supercomputer Facilities
TG Daily (07/02/07) Hodgin, Rick C.

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois in Urbana is the biggest public supercomputing facility in the country, and innovations facilitated through NCSA's close relationship with the academic community have morphed into industry standards. The center's total maximum theoretical computing capacity is 146 teraflops spread out across a quintet of primary machines, while Rick C. Hodgin estimates that its capacity for raw computing is 37,000 times greater than those of high-end PCs. Complementing the computing power of the facility is an immense teamwork effort and on-hand expertise, and a number of machines at the center are part of Teragrid, which employs a 30 Gbps network to communicate between itself. The National Science Foundation and the university are the primary underwriters of the center, and people who wish to use its systems must submit to a peer-review applications process. "Sites like the NCSA literally drive high-speed hardware innovation and seamless software integration initiatives worldwide," notes Hodgin. NCSA's cooling system uses four massive air chillers that feature air filters, heat exchangers, and exhaust vents that flush cold air into a false floor underneath the supercomputers, while its fire safety system is water-based. The single-building supercomputers require 1.7 Megawatts of uninterrupted input to satisfy their power and cooling needs, and 6 percent of the university's 30 Megawatt power budget is devoured by the NCSA's supercomputing building. NCSA is often utilized as a testbed for vendors' machines, and the center preserves all data it has ever computed for its clientele by means of a tape backup.
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Daniel Reed: It's Software at the Core
Government Computer News (07/02/07) Vol. 26, No. 16, Jackson, Joab

Renaissance Computing Institute (RCI) director Daniel Reed explains in an interview that his institute's goal is to push the computer science envelope, and that its first priority is to explore computer technology's impact on wide-ranging social problems and cross disciplinary lines to facilitate collaboration. One area of RCI's current focus is the rapid expansion of populations in environmentally sensitive regions, and this effort requires teamwork by people in multiple fields and of differing backgrounds through the institute's provision of computing, software, and expertise. "Our role is to be a catalyst for innovation," Reed states. "And that spans everything from traditional computer science to supporting the humanities or performing arts." Software and how it will be affected by the phenomenal growth of multicore processors will be a major problem for computer science to contend with, according to Reed. He notes that RCI has initiated various projects attempting to create software capable of automatic parallelism management, only to end up abandoning them after several years. "The hope is [that] emergence of multicore [commodity processors] will force those issues out in the open, and the commercial market will have to deal with them, and that success will trickle up to the high-end computing," Reed says. He also cites a lack of solid mechanisms to design resilient computer systems as another major challenge.
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