Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

ACM TechNews (HTML) Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
August 15, 2007

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

Welcome to the August 15, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

California: The Top to Bottom Review
VoteTrustUSA (08/13/07) Simons, Barbara

On Aug. 3, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced the decertification of all electronic voting systems evaluated in her Top to Bottom review, writes former ACM president and League of Women Voters member Barbara Simons. All systems but one were conditionally recertified, but the recertification came with arduous conditions in certain cases. Such conditions include the requirements that only one direct recording electronic (DRE) unit may be employed per polling site on election day or during early voting; all DRE-cast votes must be counted manually using voter verified paper audit trails; software and firmware must be reinstalled on all machines by jurisdictions; and the vendor must foot the bill for any post-election auditing. Bowen also ordered vendors to generate plans for "hardening" their equipment to shield against certain security threats detected by her review. Bowen's decision was based on reports that the systems were highly vulnerable, insecure, and unreliable, and her office also issued an accessibility review study concluding that "the three tested voting systems are all substantially noncompliant when assessed against the requirements of the [Help America Vote Act] and specified in the 2005 VVSG guidelines." Testing and analysis was held up by vendor delays, leading testing teams to complain that they did not have enough time to sufficiently examine the systems and may have missed other major security holes. Vendors insisted that their voting systems are reliable, secure, accurate, and accessible for all voters, but Simons contends, "It is difficult to imagine that automobile manufacturers, in response to negative crash test results, would argue that their cars would not crash, because safe drivers or good road conditions would prevent such crashes. Yet that is precisely the kind of argument being made by voting machine vendors." For information regarding ACM's e-voting activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


New Technology Has Dramatic Chip-Cooling Potential for Future Computers
Purdue University News (08/13/07) Venere, Emil

Purdue University researchers have demonstrated new technology that uses tiny "ionic wind engines" to increase the heat-transfer coefficient of computer chips by as much as 250 percent. "Other experimental cooling-enhancement approaches might give you a 40 percent or 50 percent improvement," says professor of mechanical engineering Suresh Garimella. "A 250 percent improvement is quite unusual." The experimental cooling device generates ions using electrodes placed near one another, a positively charged wire, or anode, and negatively charged electrodes, or cathodes. The anode is positioned about 10 millimeters above the cathodes. When voltage passed through the device, the cathodes discharged electrons toward the anode. While moving from the cathodes to the anode, the electrons collide with air molecules, creating positively charged ions, which are attracted back to the cathodes, creating an "ionic wind," increasing the airflow to the surface of the chip. When combined with an ordinary fan to provide a constant stream of fresh air molecules, the ionic wind engines significantly improve chip temperature. Infrared imaging showed that ionic wind reduced the temperature from 140 degrees Fahrenheit to 95 degrees F. "This technology is very exciting and innovative," says Intel research engineer Rajiv Mongia. "It has the potential of enabling imaginative notebook and handheld PC designs in the future."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Intel Readies Research Papers on Programmable Multicore Architectures
InformationWeek (08/14/07) Gonsalves, Antone

Intel is releasing eight technical papers that describe the company's key findings from its work on future programmable multicore architectures. The papers provide details on how the company expects future microprocessors with simplified parallel programming models will advance. One of the papers examines the concept of a "data center-on-a-chip," which researchers have explored by looking at the possibility of running an e-commerce data center with 133 or more processors on a single system based on a 32-core tera-scale processor. Each core would have four threads that could take advantage of simultaneous multithreading (SMT). SMT improves overall efficiency by allowing tasks to be run as multiple independent threats. The data center paper proposes changing the memory architecture to balance processing on such a powerful system, including a model for a hierarchy of shared caches, a new, high-bandwidth L4 cache, and a cache quality of service to optimize how multiple threads share cache space. Two other papers demonstrate parallel scalability for realism in games and movies and in home multimedia search and mining. The papers also emphasize the need for more cache/memory bandwidth, provided by a large L4 cache. Another paper examines how high-bandwidth memory would eventually require memory to be built directly on top of the die, or the integrated circuitry of a chip. The second hardware paper focuses on how Intel might design and integrate caches shared between cores, and explores the on-die interconnect mesh and other non-core components. The last two papers examine new hardware and software innovations Intel is developing to simplify parallel programming, including tailoring runtimes to the special environment of tera-scale platforms and integrating non-Intel architecture accelerator cores.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Beyond Batteries: Storing Power in a Sheet of Paper
Rensselaer News (08/13/07) Mullaney, Michael

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers have developed a nanoengineered paper-thin energy storage device that is lightweight, flexible, capable of working in temperatures between negative 100 degrees Fahrenheit to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, and can be printed like paper. The battery is designed to fit the trickiest design and energy requirements that future gadgets, implanted medical equipment, and transportation vehicles may present. Another key feature is that human blood or sweat can be used to help power the battery. More than 90 percent of the battery is made from cellulose. The paper battery is infused with aligned carbon nanotubes that act as electrodes and allow electricity to be conducted. The device functions both as a lithium-ion battery and a supercapacitor and can provide a sustained, steady output or quick burst of high energy like a supercapacitor. The paper battery can be rolled, twisted, or cut into a shape without damaging its integrity or efficiency. The batteries can also be stacked to increase total power output. To power the battery, the researchers used ionic liquid, basically a liquid salt. Ionic liquid contains no water, so there is nothing in the battery that will cause it to freeze or evaporate which allows the battery to withstand extreme temperatures. The researchers also printed batteries without any electrolytes and demonstrated that naturally occurring electrolytes in human sweat, blood, and urine can be used to power the device. Implanted devices such as pacemakers could use the paper battery to avoid exposing the body to harsh chemicals found in most batteries. The materials used to make the paper batteries are not expensive, but the researchers have not found an inexpensive way to mass produce the devices. Eventually, the researchers expect to create a roll-to-roll system similar to how newspapers are printed.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


India Has the Brains, But Where's the Beef?
Forbes (08/13/07) Raghavan, Prabhakar

Many executives and journalists buy into the belief that India only needs to establish better infrastructure to become a major contributor to computer science and technology, but the problem is far more significant than airports, highways, and power, writes Stanford University computer science professor Prabhakar Raghavan, head of Yahoo Research and editor in chief of the Journal of the ACM. Despite the seemingly high number of highly-trained, English-speaking, computer capable workers in India, hundreds of millions of children in India do not have access to basic elementary education, Raghavan notes. For those that do manage to obtain an elementary and even college education, graduate programs in computer science are strikingly scarce. The United States produces about 1,400 Ph.D.s in computer science every year, and China awards about 3,000. India's annual computer science Ph.D. production is roughly 40, about the same number of doctorates as Israel, a country with about 5 percent of India's population. The quality of India's graduate work, with a few rare exceptions, also significantly lags behind the United States and Europe, because graduates from the top Indian science and engineering schools tend to go abroad to do their graduate work. The end result is that most IT jobs in India are outsourced from other countries and tend to be considered jobs at the bottom of the IT hierarchy. A disproportionately small fraction of these jobs contribute to technological innovation because they require advanced training that residents in India cannot get. With India's workforce of highly motivated and educated workers the possibility to become an innovative country exists, but will not become a reality unless the educational infrastructure is established, writes Raghavan.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


UNM Professor Thinks About How Robots Can Cooperate
University of New Mexico (08/14/07)

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $400,000 grant to Herbert Tanner, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of New Mexico, to study how robots that are programmed for different tasks can learn to work together to solve a problem. Tanner, who received the agency's Faculty Early Career Development award in the field of robotics, is working with doctoral student Wenqi Zhang to determine the theoretical shortcomings in this area. A simple puzzle is being used by Zhang to determine how robots can work together to slide tiles around and come up with a sequence of numbers. The robots would have to collaborate on how to move the tiles, on choosing which tiles to move, and on coming up with a plan to solve the puzzle. As part of her research she will address the areas in which scientific theory remains inadequate. Meanwhile, Tanner plans to have swarms of robots work as a team, communicate, divvy up responsibilities, and determine potential solutions for carrying out a task. Such collaboration could be useful in search and rescue missions or for autonomous construction of structures in space, says Tanner.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Putting Electronics in a Spin
BBC News (08/08/07) Fildes, Jonathan

The world's fastest supercomputer, scheduled to be operational later this year, will be capable of performing 1,000 trillion calculations every second, but this may soon be considered slow as advancements in quantum computing and spintronics become a reality. "With quantum computing you are able to attack some problems on the time scales of seconds, which might take an almost infinite amount of time with classical computers," says University of California, Santa Barbara, professor David Awschalom. Spintronics has the potential to provide almost unlimited computing power and storage without generating heat. "You can store an almost infinite number of bits of information in one particle space," Awschalom says. The near-limitless possibilities would allow for the advanced computer processing needed in quantum computing. Basic spintronic devices, such as spin valves on hard drives, are already used in most computers and laptops. Spin valve inventor Stuart Parkin says the spin valve is part of the first generation of spintronic devices, which are relatively simple structures built from magnetic materials. However, Parkin says the second generation of spintronics is already available, primarily in the form of magnetoresistive random access memory (MRAM) which has no moving parts and can store data even when the power is turn off. Parkin is already working on what he calls the third generation of spintronic memory devices. A spintronic device known as "racetrack memory" has the potential to increase storage by as much as 100 times. Parkin says it will probably be about five years before a complete prototype is built. A major challenge is finding ways to control and manipulate the spin of atoms so data can be written and read accurately.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Local Teen Works to Advance Encryption Technology
Henry Herald (08/13/07) Jackson, Johnny

Billy Dorminy is still two years away from entering college, but he has already received $40,000 in scholarships, including a $10,000 scholarship from the Davidson Fellows Scholarship Program for his research and presentation on "Improper Fractional Base Encryption," new encryption software that uses the concepts of improper fractional bases. By using reduced redundancy representations of improper fractional bases, Dorminy created a more secure encryption system that requires less computer memory and uses both confusion and diffusion to protect data. Improper Fractional Base Encryption is the first secure method of encryption using improper fractional bases that allows a second message to be stored undetectably within the body of a main message. This year alone, Dorminy has received numerous scholarships, honors, and awards, including the Scientific Depth and Rigor scholarship from Alcatel-Lucent, a perfect score on the 2007 American Mathematics Competition 10.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


SIGGRAPH Asia Debuts in Singapore Next Year
PRNewswire (08/13/07)

ACM SIGGRAPH will be held in Singapore next year. ACM SIGGRAPH says SIGGRAPH Asia 2008 makes sense because of how much the digital media market has grown in recent years. The percentage of research papers from Asia in the SIGGRAPH Papers Program has more than doubled in recent years, with the region accounting for 17 percent in 2005. "Given the high quality contents that we seek to offer, we expect the computer graphics fraternity to be amazed by the cutting edge developments on show at SIGGRAPH Asia 2008," says Dr. Lee Yong Tsui, conference chair. The event is scheduled for Dec. 10-13, 2008, and is expected to draw 6,000 attendees to the trade exhibition and around 1,000 delegates to the conference. "There has been a huge increase in the amount of high quality technical and creative work from Asia and the event will be the perfect venue to showcase them," adds ACM SIGGRAPH President Scott Owen. The event will also offer original research papers, a computer animation festival, courses and tutorials, a digital art gallery, an educator's program, and a career fair. Yokohama, Japan, has already been approved as the site of SIGGRAPH Asia 2009, and Masa Inakage has been chosen to serve as full conference chair.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Rewritable Holographic Memory
Technology Review (08/13/07) Avasthi, Amitabh

University of Connecticut researchers may have demonstrated a way to produce rewritable holographic memory by using lasers to store data on fragments of a microbial protein. The holographic storage system is based on reengineered versions of proteins produced by bacteria-like organisms commonly found in salt marshes. The microbe, Halobacterium salinarum, produces a light-sensitive membrane protein when oxygen concentration drops too low. The protein, known as bacteriorhodopsin, is used to convert sunlight into energy. After the protein absorbs light, it cycles through several chemical states, and in some of the chemical states the ability to absorb light can be used to form holograms. The entire cycle takes only 10 to 20 milliseconds naturally, but shining a red light on the protein near the end of the chemical cycle can force it into a useful state known as the "Q state," which can last for years. To create a holographic memory system, the Q state protein is suspended in a polymer gel. A green laser beam split into two, with one beam encoded with data, is recombined in the gel to imprint the proteins with an interference pattern and store the data. A single, low-power, red laser beam is used to read the data, and a blue laser can be used to erase the data so the proteins can be used again to store different information. "Protein-based holographic media has the potential for low-cost removable media rewritable up to 10 million times," says Tim Harvey, CEO of Starzent, a company funded by DARPA that is developing a miniature holographic data storage drive. Harvey says the protein is extremely rugged and, if the right genetic variant is found, can be quickly produced in large amounts at a low cost.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Virtual Chainsaw
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (08/07)

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGS in Darmstadt, Germany, contracted by the tool manufacturer Dolmar, have created a virtual chainsaw that can be used to train workers to use power tools. The Cybersaw combines the virtual world with the real world in what the researchers are calling "mixed reality." The user holds an actual chainsaw that has had its motor and carburetor replaced with electronics and vibration motors. Light-emitting diodes on the chainsaw's cutting bar allow a camera attached to a Perspex tree trunk to find the exact location of the chainsaw. When the user pulls on the starter, the chainsaw jumps to life. On a projection screen behind the Perspex tree trunk is an image of a sawhorse in the middle of a farm scene. As the user moves the chainsaw around, the virtual representation of the saw moves with it. To add more reality to the simulation, sounds of the motor are added, and the Perspex tree moves as the virtual chainsaw cuts through the wood. "Our system has a native interface," says Michael Zollner, developer of the Cybersaw. "In other words, the virtual environment fully corresponds to the real one. Normally, before someone can use a virtual world, you first have to explain the technology to them - how to use data goggles perhaps. But in this case they can get going straight away with no need for explanations." Mixed reality is quickly becoming a favorite training tool. Fraunhofer Institute researchers are developing medical simulation environments so health care professionals to practice using endoscopes, allowing them to see and feel what they actual experience would be like.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Computers Expose the Physics of NASCAR
University of Washington News and Information (08/09/07) Hickey, Hannah

University of Washington computer scientists have developed software that is being used to allow television audiences to instantly see how air is flowing around speeding cars. The algorithm dramatically speeds up real-time fluid dynamics simulations and ESPN has used it to create a new effect for racing coverage. Called Draft Track, the software calculates air flow over the cars and displays it as colors trailing behind the car, with different colors corresponding to different speeds and directions for air flow when two or more cars approach one another at speeds upwards of 200 miles per hour. The challenge was how to simulate and display complex systems in a short amount of time. Studios already use physical laws, such as the Navier-Stokes fluid equations, to realistically portray smoke, fire, hair, and fabric in animations, but these calculations take hours, run on multiple high-performance computers, and scenes do not change. "The studios shoot a two-second special effect and if it doesn't work they just change the parameters and try again," says Zoran Popovic, an associate professor in UW's department of computer science and engineering. "But in a real-time context the simulation has to run indefinitely, and for an unforeseen set of inputs." Popovic says the new algorithm first simulates all the ways modified stock cars can behave. Then the software runs the simulation for a smaller number of physically possible parameters, allowing the model to run a million times faster than when trying to process all possible parameters. The initial objective for the UW researchers was to create applications that could be used for video games or virtual firefighter training programs that would allow users to interact and move through the smoke.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Part-Time Jobs Scarce in IT
Network World (08/13/07) Garretson, Cara

Although many professionals are increasingly being given the opportunity to work part time, IT professionals are not being offered the same options because most employers would prefer their IT staff to work more hours. The urgency and complexity of the IT industry can require IT employees to work more than full-time hours, and the declining numbers of available IT workers only makes the situation worse. "IT problems are 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," says Ilyse Shapiro, founder of MyPartTimePro.com, a Web site dedicated to connecting experience professionals with employers looking for part-time, flexible, virtual, or seasonal employees. Shapiro says very few companies are looking for permanent, part-time help because more non-IT employees are working longer hours and require more support from IT. One IT professional says few part-time jobs are available because IT is not task-based, meaning jobs are rarely "finished" in IT, and because it is difficult to quantify IT work it is difficult to create a cut-back version of the position. Robert Half Technology vice president Brian Gabrielson says companies sometimes hire part-time IT workers to provide additional support at a help desk, or when the company is expanding and it is not yet ready for a full-time employee, but other than that there is little demand from either employers or job hunters for part-time IT work. Shapiro says the few IT professionals who have part-time jobs generally did not get hired into the position, but rather worked full-time at the company and eventually asked to have their hours cut back, which often leads to squeezing the workload of a full-time into part-time hours.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Recent Trends in Degree Production
CRA Bulletin (08/03/07) Vegso, Jay

A study using data furnished by the Taulbee Survey and the National Science Foundation outlined computer science degree production trends according to gender, citizenship, and ethnicity. According to the NSF, awarded degrees increased more than 100 percent between 1998 and 2004, and CS' percentage of all granted undergraduate degrees climbed from roughly 2 percent to 4 percent. However, the share of CS bachelor's degrees granted to women declined from 37 percent to 25 percent between 1984 and 2004, while the share of CS bachelor's degrees awarded to non-Hispanic Whites fell from 77 percent in 1991 to 64 percent in 2004. Just 8 percent of undergraduate CS degrees were earned by foreigners in 2004, says the NSF. Production of Master's degrees almost doubled between 1997 and 2004 to close to 20,000. In this period, CS enjoyed its biggest percentage of all degrees earned--3.8 percent--but there was a slight decline in 2004, a trend reflected in the awarding of undergraduate degrees. The share of master's degrees awarded to women ranged from between 25 percent and 30 percent. Forty-four percent of master's degree recipients in 2004 were temporary visa holders. CS doctoral degrees rose 40 percent between 2002 and 2005, while just slightly over 20 percent of doctoral degree recipients in that time were female; from 1993 to 2005, the share of doctorates awarded to whites ranged between 70 percent and 75 percent, while temporary visa holders earned about 50 percent to 53 percent of doctorates in that period, with significant gains recorded in the last few years.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Evolutionary Algorithms Now Surpass Human Designers
New Scientist (07/28/07) Vol. 195, No. 2614, P. 26; Marks, Paul

Evolutionary algorithms (EAs) imitate the processes of natural selection and random mutation by blending elements of designs, and then choosing and "rebreeding" the best combinations to produce designs over thousands of generations that utilize components in ways that would probably not have occurred to a human designer. Advocates say EAs could supplant traditional design techniques in numerous fields, while opponents claim that this method could generate designs incapable of proper assessment since no human comprehends which trade-offs were made and thus where failure is probable. EAs have been relegated to niche applications due to their reliance on super-fast computers, but this is changing thanks to the increasing availability of powerful computers, the emergence of distributed computing "grids," and the arrival of multicore chips. "To mainstream engineers there is a disbelief that a self-organizing process like an EA can produce designs that outperform those designed using conventional top-down, systematic, intelligent design," notes Cornell University computer scientist Hod Lipson. "That tension mirrors the tension between evolutionary biology and ID. That's the challenge we need to rise to in winning people over." Lipson and fellow colleagues in the ACM's Special Interest Group on Genetic and Evolutionary Computation (SIGEVO) are concerned that their failure to promote the use of EAs by engineers could result in the loss of evolved systems, software, and machines. SIGEVO runs the yearly Human Competitiveness Awards, which rewards EA-produced designs that are "competitive with the work of creative and inventive humans."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Making IT Work
Computerworld (08/06/07) Vol. 41, No. 32, P. 30; Brandel, Mary

Women can flourish in the IT sector, but finding success involves overcoming many obstacles and meeting numerous challenges. Chubb Group application manager Monique McKeon was discouraged by earlier employers whose corporate cultures did not promote a work/life balance, but Chubb was an exception. She took the initiative and eventually assumed chairmanship of the Chubb Partnership for Women, a grass-roots organization that offers skills training and networking opportunities, but her success did not come easy. She learned that achieving a work/life balance is possible, but it involved hard choices and a comprehension of trade-offs. Sun Microsystems' Katy Dickinson says the effects of being in the minority are very palpable for female software engineers, who can feel a weighty responsibility for representing their entire gender when they engage in meetings and other important company activities. Having a support group is very important, and Dickinson recommends that women join a networking group oriented around women IT professionals. University of Pennsylvania CIO Robin Beck has learned that establishing a healthy IT environment for women involves creating a culture that supports honesty and openness, so that strategies for making people worry- and stress-free can be clearly articulated; key to this is communicating to one's employer and one's family what accommodations they must make to ensure productive employment. Finally, L.L. Bean information services manager Donna Lamberth stresses the benefits, especially to senior IT professionals, of finding women who can act as role models or mentors.
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.