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ACM TechNews
August 6, 2007

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Welcome to the August 6, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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I.B.M. Near Supercomputer Contract
New York Times (08/06/07) Markoff, John

Documents accidentally posted for a short time on a federal government Web site show that the National Science Foundation plans to award a contract to build the world's faster supercomputer to I.B.M. The supercomputer is expected to be built at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and will cost $200 million to build and may cost more than $400 million during its five-year lifetime. The supercomputer will be the first machine capable of handling one thousand trillion mathematical operations a second, also known as a petaflop. Unlike most of the nation's academic research supercomputers, which serve a large community of users, the petaflop supercomputer will be reserved for handling a limited number of Grand Challenge science projects, like simulating the impact of global warming. The computer represents a significant shift in the balance of computing power between military and scientific computer centers. For most of the last two decades, the fastest computers in the United States were located at either the national laboratories at Los Alamos, N.M., or Livermore, Calif., and were primarily used for tasks related to the design and preservation of nuclear weapons and other classified applications. The documents have caused quite a bit of controversy, as several government supercomputing scientists say they are concerned that the decision might raise questions about impartiality and political influence. A second award listed in the documents shows that the NSF is also planning to install a Cray supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory at the University of Tennessee, which essentially would supply the Department of Energy with another supercomputer, because although the award was given to the university, the operation would be run by the Department of Energy. The I.B.M. supercomputer may not be the world's faster computer for long, however, as Japanese researchers are designing a machine that they believe will reach a computing threshold of 10 petaflops in 2011.
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37 Percent of Caltech's Incoming Class Are Women
San Luis Obispo Tribune (CA) (08/06/07)

This year, women will account for more than one-third, 37 percent, of Caltech's incoming freshman class, the highest percentage of a class since Caltech started admitting undergraduate women in 1970. Six years ago, women accounted for 36 percent of Caltech's freshman class, but that percentage dropped and reached a low of 28.5 percent in 2006. Caltech officials say the increased enrollment of women at the college indicates that progress is being made in getting more women interested in technology and science training. "The more women we have on this campus, the better it is for everybody," says Caltech's assistant vice president for student affairs Erica O'Neal. "It is better for women to not feel so isolated. And it is better for the guys to learn how not to be awkward with the opposite sex." Female enrollment at Caltech is still lower than MIT's expected 46.1 percent for this year's incoming class, and the 42.6 percent at science and math school Harvey Mudd College. Each of the technology schools fall dramatically short of the current 57 percent female enrollment at colleges nationwide. The National Science Foundation reports that women outnumber men in full-time graduate-level study in many biological sciences, but are underrepresented by a two-to-one ratio in physical sciences, like chemistry and physics, and a three-to-one ratio computer science. Caltech says the increased percentage of women entering the school is because of an increased effort to actively recruit women, which included efforts to ensure women were aware that they could major in a hard science but still be able to study other interests, like music and literature. Director of undergraduate admissions Rick Bischoff says that does not mean men are less interested in such subjects, but that the ability to have a diverse field of study particularly resonated with women.
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Analyze This
HPC Wire (08/02/07)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently approved plans to deploy Integrated Performance Monitoring (IPM) on all major NSF supercomputers. IPM, developed by NERSC's David Skinner in 2005, analyzes the performance of HPC applications and identifies load balance and communication problems that could prevent a system from running smoothly and reaching its highest level of performance. IPM is a particularly good tool for supercomputing because it is easy to deploy and use in systems with thousands or tens of thousands of processors. IPM has received approval from several other supercomputing centers, including the San Diego Supercomputer Center, the Center for Computation and Technology at Louisiana State University, the Swiss National Supercomputing Center, and the Department of Defense's Army Research Laboratory. IPM is easy to use because it has a low overhead and requires no source code modifications, and running IPM will not interfere with applications being profiled because it uses a fixed memory footprint. "Some means of doing performance analyses are quite invasive and disturb the application one is trying to study; others are more lightweight but don't provide adequate information to researchers to improve their codes. Some require all users of a system to actively participate in the profiling activities; others are more passive, operating in the background. Some scale to thousands of tasks and some do not," Skinner says. The NSF has awarded $1.58 million dollars to the IPM deployment project, which will also focus on expanding IPM's capabilities, including broadening the scope of what is profiled and improving data analysis, according to Skinner. The deployment of IPM is scheduled to start in August 2007 and will run for three years.
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The High-Tech Future for the Army
CNet (08/02/07) Skillings, Jonathan

The U.S. Army is planning a major technological overhaul, the heart of which is the Future Combat Systems (FCS) program that seeks to deploy a full spectrum of networked equipment running the gamut from unmanned aerial drones to more autonomous robots to battle command software to next-generation communications systems and more. U.S. Army chief scientist Thomas Killion says concepts and pieces of the FCS technology are being introduced to soldiers now rather than expecting them to understand it and learn how to use it once it's fully complete. Short-term visions for robots and drones include intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, while Killion projects an increase in the systems' autonomy over the next four or five years. Further out he sees the employment of very small robots for nonintrusive surveillance and intelligence, which entails the provision of more compact sensors and additional power efficiency, among other innovations. Other technologies U.S. forces will field include a truck-mounted high-energy laser being developed by Boeing, and non-lethal "heat rays" for crowd dispersal. Killion characterizes directed energy as "the next-generation capability particularly for counter-rocket/artillery/mortar capability to defeat inbound projectiles." However, he concedes that the directed energy initiative constitutes a major technical challenge.
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Internet Project Gears Up at Stanford
Stanford Daily (08/02/07) Trotter, Emma

Stanford University's Clean Slate Initiative, in partnership with Cisco Systems, Japan's DoCoMo, and Germany's Deutsche Telecom, is researching how to design the Internet if you were starting from scratch today. Stanford computer science professor Nick McKeown says the initiative gives Stanford an opportunity to have a hand in the future direction of the Internet. "With the breadth of world-class expertise here on campus, and the proximity to the center of the networking industry, Stanford is well-placed to do that," McKeown says. Stanford's Clean Slate team views security and mobility as areas of improvement. In plans outlined in July, the team cited network architecture, heterogeneous applications, heterogeneous physical layer technologies, security, and economics and policy as five important areas for research. Internet surveillance is an interest of governments worldwide, but political issues may have to be addressed.
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Action Plan to Beat Cybercrime
Information Today (08/07) Vol. 24, No. 7, P. 24; Ashling, Jim

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) recently announced the Global Cybersecurity Agenda, a two-year program to improve users' trust in the security of online transactions. ITU secretary general Hamadoun Toure said the agenda would focus on finding technical solutions for every environment, developing interoperable legislative frameworks, building capacity in all relevant areas, establishing appropriate organizational structures, and adopting effective international cooperative measures. The agenda says that because cybercrime is a global problem the solution needs to include a coordinated global response from invested parties, including governments, inter-governmental organizations, the private sector, and the civil society. The limited number of existing frameworks are enforceable only within geographical boundaries, national or regional, which allows criminals to exploit loopholes with impunity as they establish operations in countries without appropriate or enforceable laws. Initially, the objectives of the Global Cybersecurity Agenda appear to be overly ambitious, but because the ITU consists of 191 member countries and more than 700 nongovernmental members, the organization has the reach to cover a full spectrum of interests. The first action will be to establish a High-Level Experts Group (HLEG) to refine the goals, identify emerging threats, and develop solutions. The HLEG will produce legislation for interested countries, security and accreditation criteria for software developers, and numerous strategies to assist global cooperation.
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USU Lab Researching Cyberterrorism
The Herald Journal (Utah) (08/01/07) Burgess, Kim

Utah State University researchers in the Space Dynamics Lab's (SDL) Cyberconflict Research Consortium have been researching computer attacks for the past year and a half in an effort to prevent attacks on the United States' technological infrastructure from causing major disruptions. "We would want to avoid the cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor; that is, something that would catch us unprepared," says SDL program manager Jim Marshall. The researchers are working with four other institutions on the project, including the University of Nevada, Reno, the University of Miami, Ohio, Norwich University, and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies think tank. Each institution is addressing a different aspect of cyber security. The lab's main objective is representing cyber terrorism data in a visual format using visualization and computer graphic images. "With a large-scale cyber attack, you have a lot of information, gigabytes and terabytes of information," says USU computer scientist and research assistant Robert Erbacher. SDL has experience in visualization because the information collected from telescopes and sensor systems is best represented visually. The USU cyber terrorism researchers will work on representing cyber terrorism data in a visual manner that is easy for military and homeland security officers to understand. "Any country can try to attack the U.S. over the network," Erbacher says. "We need to be prepared to defend against them."
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Online Underworld
San Francisco Chronicle (07/30/07) P. C1; Abate, Tom

Over the past few years, international criminals have begun employing computer automation to transform unprotected PCs into law-breaking robots, or "bots." Owners of infected PCs remain unaware of the crime. The trend's scope is alarming, as up to 18,000 bands of infected PCs, or "bot nets," are in existence at any given time, according to Andre Di Mino of Shadowserver Foundation. Di Mino says security professionals believe there are roughly 8 million to 10 million compromised systems being controlled by "bot-herders." Intent on making money, these criminals are stealthier than hackers of the past. To carry out attacks on Web sites, steal from bank accounts on a large scale, and automate identity theft, the criminals have specialized in various skills. While some criminals create malware, others employ the malware in contaminating PCs, and still others negotiate bot-herding deals. Firewalls can provide PCs with a certain amount of protection, but phishing attacks can fool email recipients into opening tainted files that seem to come from a trusted source. Microsoft has worked to enhance the security in Windows, but bot herders are now instigating their attacks from Web 2.0 platforms. By dodging legitimate Web sites' security features, bot herders infect the sites with malware. Experts wonder whether small Web 2.0 startups will be able to fulfill high security standards, such as those used by Google.
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Divorce Software Designed to Handle Negotiations
LiveScience (07/31/07) Wenner, Melinda

Emilia Bellucci and John Zeleznikow, researchers at Victoria University in Australia, have developed software designed to help couples settle divorce disputes. The program, called "Family Mediator," combines artificial intelligence and game theory and uses an electronic or human mediator to help couples going through a divorce settle problems as fairly as possible. Family Mediator is based on "Family Winner," a program developed in 2004 that gave each person 100 points to assign to objects or issues in order of importance. The program would then chose a winner for each category, starting with the easiest one, or the one with the largest point difference. The loser of that category would be given extra points, and the process would continue down the list of items. The problem with Family Winner was that it did not account for third parties such as children. To compensate for this problem, Family Mediator uses either a family law practitioner or an electronic decision support system to ensure that all decisions are in the best interest of all parties, including any children. Currently, the programs only exist as research prototypes, but the developers hope that it will soon be commercialized. "We have applied for a university grant, which if successful will lead as a by-product to a commercially viable mediation program," says Bellucci, who notes the software could be used by social workers.
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'High-Performance Computing Boot Camp' to Educate Faculty, Researchers on Capabilities of Information Technology
UVA Today (University of Virginia) (07/30/07) Arco, Andrea

The University of Virginia's High-Performance Computing Boot Camp will teach faculty, graduate students, and research professionals from a variety of fields about the basics of high-performance parallel computing, the national cyber-infrastructure, and how advanced computing could be useful to their research efforts. "Computational science is one of the most important technical fields of the 21st century, because it provides a unique window through which researchers can investigate problems that are otherwise impossible to address--problems ranging from biochemical processes to weather patterns," says the dean University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science James H. Aylor. Participants will learn the differences between sequential and parallel computing systems, how to optimize sequential applications, how to locate and access high-performance computing resources nationwide, and gain an overall understanding of the opportunities and challenges data visualization tools and display technologies contain. The workshop is in response to the federal President's Information Technology Advisory Committee's report "Computational Science: Ensuring America's Competitiveness." The report highlights the necessity for a comprehensive understanding and dissemination of technology to maintain scientific leadership, economic competitiveness, and national security. In 2006, Aylor commissioned a computational science initiative and task force charged with the objective of producing a set of recommendations to improve the culture of computation at the university. In October 2006, the National Science Foundation awarded the University of Virginia's School of Engineering a two-year $250,000 grant to develop undergraduate and graduate courses in computational science.
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Taking the Lead
Red Herring (07/30/07) P. 21; Taylor, Marisa

The limited number of women in the IT industry--only 18 percent of corporate officers at Fortune 500 information technology companies in 2006 were women according to research firm Catalyst--often have difficulty asserting themselves and voicing their opinions without being considered prickly or unfriendly. To help women in IT assert themselves in a positive and effect manner, two Harvard University professors, Lee Warren, a professor at the Center for Teaching and Learning, and Nancy Houfek, a theater professor, have run a workshop called "Strong Women/Strategic Performance," designed to improve women's communication in the work place and to teach them to get their point across effectively. The idea of a workshop to help women improve in an area that are supposedly already skilled in may seem unnecessary, but Warren and Houfek say that women are so outnumbered that they need to learn more advanced strategies for coping and getting ahead. The workshop uses theater training, specifically Method Acting, to help women gain a leg up on their male competition. First, Houfek and Warren demonstrate physical techniques to improve posture and relieve tension. Participants also learn vocal exercises used by actors and singers, and to practice inflection and how emphasizing different words in different tones of voice can change the meaning of a statement. Then participants act out different scenarios that might happen in the work place, acting through each one multiple times to find the most efficient strategy. The women are encouraged to know exactly what they want to accomplish and to develop a strategy before they enter meetings. Participants are also taught power techniques like where to situate themselves in a room.
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Biology Proves a Natural for Robotic Design
Bend Weekly (07/27/07) LaFee, Scott

Designers of robotics technology are being inspired by biology, basing machines and their functions on "fundamental physical principles," says Vassar College professor John Long. Under development at Carnegie Mellon University is the HeartLander, a minuscule medical robot designed to perform delicate heart operations--measurement readings, drug delivery, device installation, etc.--via remote control while moving like an inchworm on suction cups, obviating the need for invasive surgery. Another biologically inspired machine is Clemson University's OCTOR (sOft robotiC manipulaTORs), a robot with a flexible tubular appendage that mimics the grasping abilities of an elephant's trunk to manipulate objects; the appendage is driven by compressed air and outfitted with sensors and a camera. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is funding OCTOR, is also interested in BigDog, a quadrupedal, semi-autonomous robot that has potential as a tool for carrying supplies for troops. Vassar researchers have developed Madeleine, a robot that swims using remote-controlled polyurethane flippers modeled after those of a marine reptile. The robot, which is also equipped with sonar, cameras, an accelerometer, and an altimeter, has been used in experiments to determine whether two-flipper or four-flipper locomotion is more efficient. Other robots patterned after organisms include arthropod-inspired six-legged machines that can run, leap over obstacles, negotiate stairs, and scale walls and trees, while University of Southern California researchers are working on a system of modular robots that can link up like hive insects into cooperative machines capable of standing, crawling, wiggling, climbing, rolling, and flying.
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Satellite Multimedia for Mobile 'Phones
European Space Agency (07/26/07)

The European Space Agency's Telecommunication Department is encouraging the development of technology that is needed to use satellite systems to send digital multimedia such as video, television programs, radio, and data to mobile phones and vehicle-based receivers. The ability to use satellites to send content to mobile phones and similar devices will give content providers an alternative to terrestrial-based networks and will provide universal coverage and broadcasting. High-powered satellites in geostationary orbit could be used to broadcast data, and when combined with Earth-based repeaters, the system could ensure global coverage. Modern mobile telephones and vehicle-mounted receivers could be easily and inexpensively adapted to receive the satellite signals. The ESA is partially funding the development and qualification of important components and subsystems being developed by the European industry and satellite operators. SES Global and Eutelsat Communications are the first to work collaboratively toward establishing the infrastructure for S-band broadcasting of video, radio, and data to mobile devices. Eutelsat has commissioned a W2A satellite from Thales Alenia Space that will be launched in early 2009 and will transmit in the S-band, which is between 2 to 4 GHz. The S-band is a new frequency for both SES and Eutelsat, and is optimized for supporting the wireless distribution of multimedia broadcasting.
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Academics Seek UAVs That Think for Themselves
Defense News (07/16/07) Vol. 22, No. 28, P. 42; Kington, Tom

Researchers in Europe and Israel are working on creating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that use artificial intelligence to "think" independently without being controlled by humans on the ground. For example, researchers at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology are using "genetic algorithms" to develop UAVs that can communicate and coordinate with one another while in the air. Under this model, a group of three UAVs would be able to constantly track a suspicious or enemy vehicle driving through a city, even if the vehicle disappears behind a tall building. "Each UAV will know the city map, and if one calculates it is about to lose sight of the target, it will position another UAV to maintain sight while it is blocked," explains Technion researcher Tal Shima. Similarly, a team of researchers at U.K.-based Cranfield University is developing a system in which a UAV flying 500 feet above a town can spot suspicious vehicles or gunmen. When the UAV spots such a target, it commands a smaller UAV hovering at rooftop level to swoop closer to the suspicious target; the detailed information from the smaller UAV is then sent to an unmanned ground vehicle in the town below, which navigates its way to the target. The Israeli and U.K. teams of researchers will participate along with 21 other teams in the U.K. Ministry of Defense's 2008 Grand Challenge contest for autonomous, unmanned vehicles.
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The Future Is in the Process
SD Times (07/15/07)No. 178, P. 5; Handy, Alex

The future of computing will almost certainly see software performing new uses as developers create new languages and systems, predicted software luminaries at the recent Supernova conference in San Francisco. Irving Wladawsky-Berger, chairman emeritus of the IBM Academy of Technology and a visiting professor of engineering systems at MIT, believes that although software development is still in its infancy when compared to physical engineering systems and practices, people are the biggest challenge facing businesses today. "If you're going to apply technology to a process, processes that are deterministic are much easier," he says. "Processes involving people are far, far more complicated." Other presenters at the conference demonstrated some of the capabilities of next-generation software. Google's vice president of engineering Udi Manber displayed some of the context-sensitive search capabilities of Google's software. "If you search for types of dogs, we'll give you good results, but in the middle of the page we'll insert suggestions for 'breed of dogs,' which will give you better results," Manber says. "Our attempt is to understand queries, and suggest different formulations of queries that will give better results." Manber says that Google's contextual awareness is one of the reasons unskilled users are attracted to Google and are able to improve their understanding of the Internet. Wladawsky-Berger believes that every business will need to be able to provide such services in the future. "Any business you run is constantly in a state of shift, so the architectures for this very complex system have to be flexible and adaptable," he says. "That's not where we are today."
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Despite Energy Efficient Hardware, Power Usage Rising in Data Centers
InformationWeek (07/03/07) Gonsalves, Antone

A new white paper from Uptime Institute reveals that power consumption per computational unit is down 80 percent over the past six years, but consumption at-the-plug is still up by a factor of 3.4. Part of the reason why power usage is rising in data centers is because processor manufacturers are packing more power-hungry chips into the same-size hardware, which leads to more heat and the subsequent need for more cooling. Consolidating more server software in a single box can only do so much. "After virtualization has taken some of the slack out of underemployed IT hardware, the trend in power growth will resume," Uptime says in "The Invisible Crisis in the Data Center: The Economic Meltdown of Moore's Law." Organizations should pay special attention to the total cost of ownership as they embark on the purchase of new data center servers, considering higher power consumption, cooling costs, and other factors will add $6.54 million more to $1 million spent on servers by 2012. Organizations could see hardware that reflects a decline in power consumption in real terms within the next 10 years. Still, using server virtualization, enabling server power-save features, turning off servers when no longer in use, trimming bloated software, and improving site infrastructure energy efficiency ratios can help reduce energy consumption by as much as 50 percent.
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