Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

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

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

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


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Researchers Call For More Funds, Easier Immigration
EE Times (07/16/07) Merritt, Rick

A panel of experts at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Wash., on Monday concluded that the U.S. government needs to spend more money on long-term research and multi-disciplinary education as well as provide more opportunities for international researchers. The conclusions will be expanded upon in the report of a government task force that will be published this summer. "The big take away is we need to think more audaciously and stimulate the government to support that thinking," said panelist Dan Reed, one of the report's authors. The report, from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), is the first independent update on government technology spending since 1999. The report examines the global competitiveness of the U.S. technology industry and education system. One of the report's major conclusions is that too little time and resources are spent on long-term research. Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie agreed, and singled out the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in particular for focusing too much on short-term projects instead of big technological breakthroughs. "If DARPA doesn't go back to where it once was we will have to look elsewhere because we are not hitting the right balance," Mundie said. "We don't have enough people doing the core computer science work." Reed said the PCAST report calls for the government to simplify visa procedures and an increase in fellowship money for international graduate students who want to work in the United States. Reed and other panelists also suggested a greater focus on multi-disciplinary research. "I really do believe computational thinking will be fundamental like reading, writing and arithmetic," said the National Science Foundation's Jeannette Wing. "We have to spread this to K-12 education because if we wait until students are undergrads it's too late."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Tech's Green Problems
USA Today (07/17/07) P. 1B; Kessler, Michelle

Nearly every major PC and electronics manufacturer is rolling out "green" programs that aim to recycle used machines and design more environmentally friendly, power-efficient products. The annual U.S. electricity costs of leaving PCs on unattended is $1.7 billion, while just 11 percent of electronics is currently recycled and 44 percent is discarded. The green initiatives are being driven by customer demand, among other things, according to Motorola's Scott Martin. It is a struggle to make products greener; reducing a product's power consumption can inhibit performance, while recyclers frequently spend more on labor than they earn through reselling materials. "If everything else is equal, a consumer will choose to purchase a product that's more socially responsible," says Sharp Electronics' Stewart Mitchell. "But I'm not going to say they'll pay more for it." Computer TakeBack Campaign national coordinator Barbara Kyle says the lack of a strong recycling system is why many recycling programs suffer from low levels of reclamation; she wants manufacturers to follow Motorola's example and take back old products, which would motivate them to design easily recyclable goods. Others cite the sponsorship of recycling drives as a more affordable strategy, while still others endorse a combination of recycling drive sponsorship and direct recycling, which is generally supported by U.S. officials.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Science, Tech Advocates Eye Increased Federal Resources
National Journal's Technology Daily (07/13/07) Sternstein, Aliya

Washington is starting to focus more on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Education advocates say efforts such as the president's budget request are needed, considering students and teachers involved in STEM programs continue to struggle. "The budget request contained the first meaningful increase for the National Science Foundation's education programs in many years, something the STEM ed community has really made a high priority," says James Brown, co-chairman of the STEM Education Coalition. While the House and Senate are working to significantly boost funding for NSF STEM education programs, Brown says the two chambers could also hammer out their differences this summer on legislation to improve the competitiveness of the country. Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.), a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, also says a comprehensive higher education bill could be passed this year, adding that it would help improve technological competitiveness. The Education Department recently awarded $22 million in grants to help prepare qualified individuals to teach math, science, and other core subjects in high schools. Education also awarded $3.5 million to improve the prospects of employment in science and technology for ethnic minorities.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Microsoft Supports Higher Education With More than $6 Million in Grant Money
Associated Content (07/16/07) Aller, Tiffany

Microsoft Research announced on Monday that Microsoft will award almost $6.5 million in grants to colleges and universities across the United States to supplement research, research faculty, and research facilities. Microsoft Research's Rich Rashid said computer science impacts all types of work and industries, and investing in academia will lead to better technologies and better lives. Microsoft said research aimed at the use of cellular phone technology, particularly the enhancement of health care services in both rural and urban settings, will receive $1 million. Genome-wide association studies, which will lay the groundwork for patients to receive more personalized treatment based on genetic mapping, will receive $700,000. Three projects dealing with enhanced computing capabilities will each receive $500,000. One project focuses on Intelligent Web 3.0 and a human-centric, context-aware model of information access. The second will attempt to enable safe and scalable concurrent programs. The third will try to make computer systems more energy efficient. Microsoft is also funding a research project focused on enhancing the level of interaction between humans and robots, which will try to bring gadgets to the market within five to 10 years. An additional $2.75 million will be donated to other recipients, including $1 million to the A. Richard Newton Breakthrough Research Award. Five chosen faculty members will also split $1 million through the Microsoft Research New Faculty Fellowship. The final portion of the grants will be used to establish the Center for Collaborative Technologies at the University of Washington, which will receive $750,000 over the next three years.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Looking for Signs of Life
Technology Review (07/17/07) Graham-Rowe, Duncan

Researchers at Sweden's Halmstad University have developed a "liveness" detection system that will help facial recognition programs tell the difference between a picture and a real person. Professor of signal analysis Josef Bigun, who led the research, says liveness is going to be a major issue for biometrics, particularly with face recognition. He says some facial recognition systems have simple defenses to spot photographs, but they can be easily tricked by bending the picture. One current defense is to measure how similar the face being presented is to a stored image of the person. The biometric system is looking for differences between the two images and will reject a face that too closely matches the original. This defense can easily be bypassed by adding statistical noise to the image using a digital copy and basic photo-editing software. The second approach uses optical flow to measure the movement of key parts of the face in relation to each other. The purpose is to detect slight movements of a photo as it is held in front of the camera. If all areas of the face move in a perfectly linear fashion, it is a photograph. However, this system tends to reject people if they are holding their facial expression very still, and it can also be tricked by bending a photo to move at slightly different trajectories. Bigun's solution takes the optical-flow defense and improves upon it. The researches examined the differences between how real faces and bent photos move to identify differences in the trajectories of key facial points. The trajectories of 3D features are more complex and follow a particular pattern relative to each other. The researchers created a system to test the accuracy of a system that could tell the differences in trajectories. Bigun says the only way to beat the system he worked on would be to make a 3D mask of someone's face.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Sharp Drop in Extended Mass Layoffs in IT Industries Since 2001
CRA Bulletin (07/16/07) Vegso, Jay

Although the information technology industry struggled with layoffs like the rest of the economy at the turn of the century, reaching a low point in 2002, ever since the industry has seen a dramatic drop in the number of layoffs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, the decline has been dramatic, with the number of layoffs lasting more than 30 days and involving more than 50 people in the four subdivisions of the IT industry down as much as 91 percent in 2006. In comparison, layoffs for all other industries are down 36 percent, and the number of workers who have lost jobs is down about 41 percent. In 2001, all four subdivisions of the computer industry had a total of 1,021 layoff events and 203,561 separations. Last year, there were 123 layoff events and a total of 23,787 separations.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Latest Weapon Against Spam Also Enlists Computer Users to Assist the Internet Archive
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (07/18/07) Yao, Laura

As a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University in 2000, Luis von Ahn worked on Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (Captcha), the online tests that ask users to decipher a distorted word to gain access to a site. At first, Captchas were unreadable to computers, but resourceful hackers found ways for computers to solve Captchas. Von Ahn, now an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, then started working on another test. "It's an arms race," von Ahn says. "We come up with something that programs shouldn't be able to read. Then somebody comes up with a way to read it, so we have to come up with a better one." The solution von Ahn released in late may, called reCaptcha, not only provides a secure test, one that von Ahn predicts will take years to break, but also contributes to the Internet Archive, a nonprofit that is working to create digital records of books. The archive project scans books and uses word recognition software, much like hackers do, to create digital records. The problem is that the software is often unable to recognize some of the words in older books. ReCaptcha presents users with two words to decipher, one the archive already knows and one that it was unable to recognize. When enough users have entered the same answer for the unknown word, the archives accepts the stores the word. "We only take words the computer can't read," von Ahn says. "That extra step makes it much more secure, because we just threw away everything a computer could read." Meanwhile, von Ahn is also developing online games that use human intelligence to solve problems computers have problems with. One program, Matchin', asks users to identify attractiveness, allowing an image to be archived and searched for on its degree of "prettiness."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


End of the Line for PHP 4
CNet (07/16/07) Shankland, Stephen

The PHP development team recently announced that support for PHP 4, originally released in 2000, will stop at the end of 2007. Critical security fixes will continue on a case-by-case basis through Aug. 8, 2008, but overall support will no longer be available for the popular open-source program. The announcement that PHP 4 will no longer be supported came on the third anniversary of the launch of PHP 5. Project programmers said they want to focus more on the upcoming release of PHP 6. Despite the more recent PHP 5, and the soon to be released PHP 6, the PHP development team may find it difficult to end support for such a popular and widely used piece of software. "PHP 5 has been, from an adoption point of view, a complete flop. Most estimates place it in the single-digit percentages or at best the low teens," says WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, who uses PHP. Mullenweg says instead of dropping support for PHP 4, the developers should consider why PHP 5 failed to catch on what changes that will be a part of PHP 6 are really necessary. Andi Gutmans, co-founder and co-chief technology officer of Zend, a startup that commercializes PHP, says PHP 4 is not as popular as some make it out to be. He says 80 percent of Zend's customers have already switched to PHP 5, and believes the PHP community was "conservative" in setting their termination of support date. Original PHP author Rasmus Lerdorf says ending PHP 4 support is necessary. "We are an open-source project with limited resources," Lerdorf says. "With PHP 6 on the way, we don't have the resources to support three different versions of PHP at the same time."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The New Theories of Evolution
Telegraph.co.uk (07/17/07) Jones, Steve

The Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference focused on computer scientists' application of Charles Darwin's evolutionary principles to tackle challenges inside as well as outside the discipline of biology, writes University College London genetics professor Steve Jones. "The theoreticians use evolutionary robotics, genetic algorithms and their relatives to mimic the notion of descent with modification," he notes. "The equivalents of mutation, sex and natural selection crack challenges too complex for the fine scalpel of pure mathematics." Scientists have modeled ants and their route-finding behavior in the computer, and this method is being used to plan the design of phone networks that maximize efficiency and the management of wireless messages through a receiver grid, among other things. Another application for computerized evolutionary science with major potential is designing life-saving drugs that block disease bacteria's signal to cohere into a sticky film over a wound or a vital organ. Such breakthroughs could be possible because social insects and microbes' collective behavior follow mathematical rules, according to Jones.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Emotion-Recognition Software Knows What Makes You Smile
Wired News (07/16/07) Martinelli, Nicole

Dutch researchers who trained software to recognize emotions via facial expression were hired by Unilever to use their invention as part of a European consumer test project to enhance taste tests and similar market surveys. The software noted that the incidence of happy expressions was higher the sweeter the food was. Emotion-recognition software works by mapping the face in three dimensions, identifying a dozen trigger areas such as the corners of the eyes and mouth. These key points' movements are then matched to six fundamental expression areas (happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust) by a face-tracking algorithm. "Technology helps when subjects don't have good conscious access to what's going on, or where people might want to conceal things," notes psychologist Marcia Pelchat of the Monell Chemical Senses Center. "But it will never do the job alone."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Last Hurrah for the Lost Remote
The Age (07/18/07) Hutcheon, Stephen

People soon may be able to turn on their TVs, change channels, and turn up the volume with hand gestures, if technology from researchers in Australia continues to gain momentum. Dr. Prashan Premaratne, a lecturer at the University of Wollongong's School of Electrical, Computer, and Telecommunications Engineering, and a former student, Quang Nguyen, are behind the technology, which could also be used to control video recorders, set-top boxes, and even gaming applications. They have developed a working prototype of the technology, and when connected to a TV and VCR it has shown to be 100 percent accurate under normal lighting conditions and responsive to hand gestures up to a distance of 10 meters, according to research published in the Institution of Engineering and Technology's Computer Vision Research Journal. The technology is designed to convert simple hand gestures, such as a closed fist, an open palm, a thumbs up, or the "pistol" gesture into electronic commands, and it makes use of a small camera to capture the image of the gesture. The prototype then matches the image to a pre-defined command, before providing a TV, VCR, or set top box with instructions for what to do. Currently, the prototype can work with 10 gestures and two consumer electronics devices, but its capabilities can be expanded.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Making a Difference in the Developing World
MIT News (07/13/07) Manning, Heather

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is hosting the first International Development Design Summit, which focuses on using technology to create real, workable solutions for problems in developing countries. More than 50 people from 16 countries, including many from developing nations, are participating in the conference, which takes place from July 16 to Aug. 10. The summit follows the vision of Amy Smith, who received a master's in engineering from in MIT in 1995, won a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2004, and teaches a series of courses at MIT focused on international development at MIT's D-Lab. "I believe very strongly that solutions to problems in the developing world are best created in collaboration with the people who will be using them," Smith says. "By bringing this group of people together, we get an incredibly broad range of backgrounds and experiences." Those attending the summit include a farmer from Ghana, a doctor from Pakistan, a carpenter from Haiti, a bicycle mechanic from Guatemala, and students from Brazil, Guatemala, India, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. "With all these people working together to identify problems and create solutions to them, there is an extraordinary richness in the problem-solving teams," Smith says. The primary objective of the summit is to adapt and implement new technologies that can solve problems in developing countries, and that residents will be able to use in their homes. "The output of this conference will be real devices, things that people can use," Smith says. "Participants will be able to take prototypes home with them and start testing them."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


New Public Surveillance Research
Scenta (07/12/07)

The effectiveness of public surveillance tools and strategies for security and marketing purposes is the subject of two separate research projects of students from the University of Southampton's School of Electronics & Computer Science. In "A Comparison of Background Subtraction Techniques," Sarah Deene notes that background information often prevents the display of a clear image of an object in closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage, then combines a number of current methods to develop her own system. "It was apparent that a simple subtraction algorithm was needed to allow the high computational efficiency that is required by CCTV applications," says Deene, in highlighting the complexity of background subtraction. Meanwhile, Matthew Sharifi examined how well face recognition software and Bluetooth recognize faces in "Audience Recognition in Public Spaces." All of the frontal faces seen in a reception area were picked up by a camera but only 8.33 percent by Bluetooth, in which individuals also needed to carry the devices, and the results of the study has Sharifi considering pursuing a larger video dataset so he can continue the research. Sharifi says "it would be interesting to combine the two techniques into a multi-modal identification technology which could couple the ubiquity of face recognition with the recognition accuracy of Bluetooth."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


NRL Researchers Report Spintronics Advance
EE Times (07/17/07) Johnson, R. Colin

Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory have used ferromagnetic film as part of a metal and tunnel barrier contact to inject spin-polarized electrons into silicon semiconductors. NRL is the first group to report a spintronics approach that would work with standard CMOS processing techniques. Their approach suggests that silicon semiconductors encoding bits based on the spin of individual electrons could be inserted into standard CMOS processing techniques with ferromagnetic materials similar to those already used for magnetic random access memory. Gallium arsenide and even chromium-doped indium oxide is being used by some researchers, but such materials can not be integrated like CMOS. "Our demonstration showed a 30 percent polarization of the injected electrons, which is not bad considering that polarization of electrons in magnetic metals is about 45 percent," says lead scientist Berend Jonker. "Now we want to build an electronic detector, rather than use an LED, as the next step toward silicon spintronics."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Australian R&D Investment Is 'Shockingly Bad'
ZDNet Australia (07/13/07) Tung, Liam

Australia ranked 12th in the world for its investment in information technology research and development in the Economist Intelligence Unit's recent IT competitiveness report, "The Means to Compete: Benchmarking IT Industry Competitiveness." "R&D in Australia is shocking," says IBRS analyst Kevin McIsaac. "The reason for this is that Australia is in the middle of nowhere, we've got a small economy and there are no tax incentives," McIsaac says. He points to Ireland as an example of a country that has provided those types of incentives and been successful in attracting new investment. Australia did rank fourth in the world in IT infrastructure in the EIU report and received special mention for its "advanced IT and communications infrastructure" and "IT talent and skills development geared to the future." The report said that most developed countries have broadband penetration rates of 20 percent or better. McIsaac says Australia could have ranked higher except for Telstra's segmented pricing strategy and Australian consumers' ignorance on high-speed alternatives.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Fun, Not Fear, Is at the Heart of Scratch, a New Programming Language
Chronicle of Higher Education (07/20/07) Vol. 53, No. 46, P. A27; Young, Jeffrey R.

MIT's freely available Scratch programming language is being used by schools and some colleges as a tool for teaching computer science basics without resorting to an arcane vernacular that students often find intimidating. With Scratch, users can drag in sounds or images from other sources to create interactive games, and Mike Resnick of MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten research group says the language forces students to think in a systematic manner. "What Scratch really did for us ... was to free us up and to free the students from some of the distractions of syntax" to concentrate on concepts and objectives, explains Harvard University lecturer David J. Malan, who has employed the language in his introductory computer course. MIT has launched an online playground where children can share the programs they created with Scratch; the playground also supports student collaboration and user commentary on each other's work. "Making computer science or programming more accessible to a broader audience can only help potentially recruit additional students to the science," says Malan. Even students who are not interested in pursuing careers in computer science can benefit from the creative mindset that Scratch can help nurture, Resnick says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Behind the Decline of Women in IT
CIO Insight (06/07)No. 82, P. 24; Cone, Edward

A 2005 ITAA survey concluded that women and other minority groups had a worse time finding IT work than white males during the IT downturn and rebound because their initial hold on such jobs was flimsy, and disadvantages women faced at the beginning only compounded and perpetuated the difficulty of finding new jobs when the downturn struck. There is little concrete proof to support this hypothesis, and a professor of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School theorizes that "In boom years, employers are much more open in terms of who they are interested in hiring," but the accommodations they make (such as flexible work scheduling) to increase the jobs' attractiveness to a broader category of worker disappear when the labor market once again softens. The professor believes a future upswing will likely support a higher percentage of female IT workers. Issues he thinks could be contributing to the decline in the female IT workforce include work experience quality, with "work/life balance issues getting better in the boom and worse later." Other possible contributing factors include women's limited access to informal networks in tech jobs, few mentors and role models, and gender-based stereotypes, according to a Catalyst study. Catalyst associate Kate Egan cites the tendency for diversity programs that advance women in IT to be scaled back or rescinded in periods of difficulty. KVH Industries CIO Kelly Heitmann opines that the move toward outsourcing has reduced the attraction of IT careers to women. Former head of IBM's diversity program Ted Childs warns that the United States will lose its advantage in terms of technology know-how unless more women and minorities are tapped for the IT workforce.
Click Here to View Full Article
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.