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August 24, 2007

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Welcome to the August 24, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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How Close Is World War 3.0?
Network World (08/22/07) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

A series of coordinated, politically motivated cyberattacks against the Estonian government are provoking anxiety among American IT and network professionals about further incidents and what strategies should be followed to prepare for similar cyber-assaults on commercial networks. "As we move more critical infrastructure to the Internet and we depend on it more and more for communications, the threat [of cyberwar] is real," says Arbor Networks security researcher Jose Nazario. The success of the Estonian attacks and the media attention they attracted could encourage other people or groups with an axe to grind to launch similar exploits, warn experts. Most security experts say the Estonian incident was not an instance of all-out cyber warfare because there is no evidence that a government was behind the attacks. Eugene Spafford, executive director of Purdue University's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security, says authentic cyberwar would be an attempt by a country to impose its will on another, and network attacks would probably function as a complement to physical assaults. Columbia University professor Steve Bellovin believes cyberterrorists or hactivists are more likely to attack individual commercial or government targets than wage an all-out cyberwar. Security experts concur that the Estonian incident should serve as a wake-up call for CIOs, who have generally ignored the threat of politically motivated attacks in favor of profit-oriented ones. ISPs, banks, and oil and electric companies are considered ripe targets for politically motivated cyberattacks. Spafford says it is important for U.S. companies to realize that small groups of hactivists can cause considerable damage, as the Estonian attack demonstrates. The incident also shows that the strategy of acknowledging the problem and seeking help from ISPs and international governments can be successful.
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Many Skeptical on Vote Counting
Sacramento Bee (CA) (08/23/07) Smith, Dan

The majority of California's most avid voters do not have much confidence that their votes are being counted accurately, according to a Field Poll survey of likely voters, and are nearly equally divided over which type of voting machine they prefer--paper ballots with optical scanners, electronic touch-screen machines, or the punch card system that's no longer in use. The survey was taken at about the same time a panel of experts condemned touch-screen machines, prompting California Secretary of State Debra Bowen to restrict the use of touch-screen machines throughout most of California. Forty-four percent of respondents said they have a "great deal of confidence" in accurate vote counts, 41 percent said they have "some confidence," 11 percent said they have little confidence, and 3 percent said they have no confidence. Bowen says she is surprised and unhappy that so few voters have confidence in the voting systems and that her goal is to improve voter confidence to close to 100 percent. Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo says he expected to see lower voter confidence because of the controversy surrounding touch-screen machines.
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Two-Sided Touch Screen
Technology Review (08/24/07) Greene, Kate

Microsoft and Mitsubishi researchers are developing a touch-screen system that enables users to type, click, and navigate on both the front and back of the screen. As multi-touch screens become increasingly smaller, users' fingers cover more of the content on the screen, making it more difficult to operate the devices. The prototype developed by Microsoft and Mitsubishi as part of the LucidTouch program, is a "hacked together" device made from a variety of pieces. The team started with a seven-inch, commercial, single-input touch screen and attached a touch pad capable of detecting multiple points to the back. To make a user's hand visible when trying to control the gesture pad on the back, the researchers added a boom with a Web camera. The image from the Web camera and information from the gesture pad are processed to superimpose an image of the hand on the front of the device so the user can see his or her hand. Pointers are also added to the tips of the fingers so a user can precisely select targets on the touch pad that are smaller than their fingertips. The prototype has several limitations, including the fact that users will not accept a handheld device that has a boom and camera on the back, but possible solutions are available to overcome this problem. Stanford University professor of computer science Scott Klemmer says one of the biggest problems users face is inadvertently covering up content and LucidTouch distinguishes itself by providing better feedback about where your fingers are and by being multitouch. "What this points to for me is the idea that we're going to see this increased diversity of devices that adapt to different situations," Klemmer says.
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Sandia Researchers Help to Make Cars Smarter
Sandia National Laboratories (08/21/07) Burroughs, Chris

Sandia National Laboratories augmented cognition researchers are designing safety features for cars that can analyze human behavior and make decisions based on how the user is driving. The research project could one day lead to cars that can determine when a driver is tired, or can observe the driving conditions and can instruct the driver's cell phone to hold incoming calls during difficult or stressful moments. Data was collected from drivers wearing electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes to monitor brain activity during unstructured driving conditions. The data was used to develop software, known as classifiers, that categorize driving behavior. The classifiers can detect certain driving situations such as approaching a slow-moving vehicle or changing lanes. The system detects the difficulty and stress involved with the task the driver is performing and tries to modify the task or the environment to lower the driver's stress levels. "The beauty of this is that we aren't doing anything new or different to the car," says principal investigator Kevin Dixon. "All the software that can make the determination of 'dangerous' or 'safe' driving situations would all be placed in the computer that already exists in the car. It's almost like there is another human in the car." Software classifiers can also be used to determine how difficult the driving situation is and who would be the best person to perform tasks. For example, during a difficult driving task it might be best for the passenger to receive radio transmissions so the driver can focus. "If our algorithms can identify dangerous situations before they happen and alert drivers to them, we will help save lives," Dixon says.
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Virtual Practice for Emergency Workers
Contra Costa Times (CA) (08/22/07) Mason, Betsy

Virtual gaming could provide first responders with another tool to help prepare them for emergencies, says Sandia National Laboratories computer scientist Donna Djordjevich. Sandia has teamed up with the University of Southern California's GamePipe Laboratory to develop "Ground Truth," a video game that will allow first responders to practice how to handle different emergency situations. So far, the project has designed a scenario in which a speeding car crashes into a tanker truck, which results in a cloud of chlorine forming over an unnamed city. As the green cloud emanates from the crash scene, the player is charged with directing police and fire departments, hazardous materials crews, medical personnel, and road barricades for the emergency response. An on-screen ticker that counts the rising death toll and tense, ominous background music help give players a rush of adrenaline. Over the next two years of the project, the scientists plan to add other virtual emergencies, including some involving weapons of mass destruction on a large scale. The Department of Homeland Security could provide the video game to responders across the country, says Djordjevich.
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MIT's 'Clutter Detector' Could Cut Confusion
MIT News (08/21/07) Halber, Deborah

A team of MIT scientists has developed a way to measure visual clutter, which could lead to more user-friendly displays and maps, and improvements to user interfaces and Web site designs. Creating a universal definition of what constitutes clutter proved difficult as what one person considers to be clutter may be seen by another as an organized system. "We lack a clear understanding of what clutter is, what features, attributes, and factors are relevant, why it presents a problem, and how to identify it," says MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences principal research scientist Ruth Rosenholtz. Rosenholtz and colleagues modeled what makes items in a display harder or easier to see using data on color, contrast, and orientation. The model was then used to develop software that measures visual clutter. The researchers tested the influence of clutter when searching for a symbol on a map and found a strong correlation between the time it takes to find a symbol and the amount of clutter on the map. In a previous study the team asked 20 people to rank 25 maps of the United States and San Francisco in order from most cluttered to least cluttered. While there was disagreement among human subjects as to what constituted clutter, when the researchers compared the human results to their clutter measurement system there was a good correlation. Rosenholtz now plans to offer the visual clutter tool to designers as part of a user study to see what insights designers get from using the program, such as what knowledge they gain on how a user will possibly perceive their designs.
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Rocketing Into HIPerSpace: New Visualization System at UC San Diego
UCSD News (08/21/07) Ramsey, Doug

University of California, San Diego engineers have created the highest-resolution computer display in the world. The system is located at the UCSD California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) and has a screen resolution of up to 220 million pixels. The system also connects to Calit2's building at UC Irvine to form the Highly Interactive Parallelized Display Space (HIPerSpace), which can deliver real-time rendered graphics simultaneously to audiences in Irvine and San Diego. "We don't intend to stop there," says Falko Kuester, architect of both systems, Calit2 professor for visualization and virtual reality, and associate professor of structural engineering in UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering. "HIPerSpace provides a unique environment for visual analytics and cyberinfrastructure research and we are now seeking funding to double the size of the system at UC San Diego alone to reach half a billion pixels with a one gigapixel distributed display in sight." The HIPerSpace system between Irvine and San Diego is connected by high-performance, dedicated optical networking that transfers data at 2 gigabits per second. The displays will be available to teams of scientists or engineers who work with extremely large data sets, in Earth sciences, climate prediction, biomedical engineering, genomics, and brain imaging. "The higher-resolution displays allow researchers to take in both the broad view of the data and the minutest details, all at the same time," says Kuester. "HIPerSpace also allows us to experiment on the two campuses with distributed teams that can collaborate and share insights derived from a better understanding of complex results."
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IT Still Trying to Find What Women Want
SearchCIO.com (08/22/07) Tucci, Linda; Braue, David

A recent Gartner report suggest that women have superior communication and listening skills and are "innately better suited than men" to thrive in the new global economy, so the shrinking population of women in IT could cause trouble in the industry. Women control or influence 80 percent of consumer spending decisions, but 90 percent of IT products and services are designed by men, a formula for "going out of business," according to Gartner. If IT organization do not adapt to attract a strong female workforce, women will take their skills elsewhere, making the IT skills crisis even worse. "Men and women behave, think, and operate differently. To pretend otherwise is to ignore fruitful inputs into IT team-building, leadership, global projects, innovation, and talent management," says Gartner analyst Mark Raskino, co-author of the study "Women and Men in IT: Breaking Through Sexual Stereotypes." Last year, a University of California study found that the proportion of women undergraduates interested in computer science is at its lowest since the 1970s, unlike other scientific fields such as biology and physical sciences where the proportion of women continues to rise. Ilene Grossman, vice president of systems and technology at The Bank of New York, says a major reason women do not consider an IT career or leave the IT industry is the lack of advancement opportunity. "I still think men are more comfortable with men, and they're the ones who pick who gets promoted, because they are still the CEOs and COOs," Grossman says. "When women have more prominent positions on the business side, you'll see more women rise up higher in technology."
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Artificial Examiners Put to the Test
BBC News (08/24/07)

University of Buffalo professor Sargur Srihari is developing software that would make grading essays a fully automated, computerized process. Srihari had human examiners grade 300 answer booklets submitted by 8th graders. Half of the graded essays were fed into the computer so the software could identify key words and phrases repeatedly associated with high grades. Then the other half of the essays were entered into the computer to be graded. The software assigned grades to the tests within one grade of the teachers' scores 70 percent of the time. Srihari chose to test the system with younger students because they tend to have better handwriting and a smaller vocabulary. The true challenge for the system is accurately grading the answer, which is done through an artificial neural network. "The artificial neural network learns from the human scored answers to identify the important features of the text," says Srihari. "Some of the features are content dependent--key phrases or words in the answer--and some are content independent--the length of the sentences and the total answer length, for example." Limiting responses to a specific topic makes it easier for the program to predict what the answers should look like, and it would have difficulty grading more ambiguous exam questions. Additionally, any deployable computerized grading system would need to be able to examine more than key words and phrases because students could use the right keywords in the wrong configuration or context. Srihari says the reluctance to consider automated grading systems underestimates the technology and how it could benefit teachers by cutting down on grading time.
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OLPC Team Shows Off UI Design
Ars Technica (08/22/07) Wilburn, Thomas

OLPC project designers and Pentagram Design demonstrated the laptop's Sugar user interface on actual XO hardware at the recent UX Week conference. Sugar includes a "zoom" spatial navigation system and extensive collaboration tools and is based on the idea of abstraction and social networking, according to UI designer Christian Schmidt. The zoom navigation system is divided into four levels. The first level is the working application, which occupies the entire screen. The second level, called the Home Sphere, is the "XO" avatar surrounded by a ring of active or shared applications. The third level, the Friends Sphere, has the user's icon and icons for trusted friends. The last level shows all users on the mesh network displayed on the Neighborhood Sphere, organized visually into an overhead community layout. The demonstration only connected four laptops on the stage, but a Flash animation of the Neighborhood sphere showed XO avatars jumping between activity icons as users switched tasks. Choosing to share a file, document, or image makes it available to any friends on the network. The demonstration showed off a word processor document being shared and simultaneously edited between laptops, with changes appearing instantly on all four screens. The laptops replace a traditional file system with a time-based, non-hierarchical "journal" that saves file objects automatically and includes icons for the users that contributed to the object, a preview of each object, and integrated search and filters for locating objects.
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Scientists Create Their Own Web 2.0 Network With NanoHUB
Purdue University News (08/21/07) Tally, Steve

Purdue University is hosting nanoHUB.org, a Web site dedicated to applying Web 2.0 tools to the academic pursuit of nano-science and nanotechnology. NanoHUB project leader Gerhard Klimeck, a Purdue University professor of electrical and computing engineering, says the site allows scientists and students to use resources that they would otherwise have to spend time learning. "I'm a computer scientist, so you can give me a Unix account and a password, and I'm good to go," says Klimeck. "But others would take weeks to learn how to use these tools ... NanoHUB puts scientific tools into the hands of people who wouldn't normally touch them with a 10-foot pole." NanoHUB use has increased fivefold over the past two years. University of Portland associate professor of engineering Peter Oseterberg says he is extremely enthusiastic about nanoHUB and calls it the absolute best nanotech Web site. "My students thoroughly enjoy the nanoelectronics course material along with the online simulations," Oseterberg says. "I use it almost daily since I first learned about it." NanoHUB allows researchers, professors, and students to upload and share software, tools, lectures, presentations, and other resources. So far, 55 nanosimulation software tools have been made available on the site for subjects including nanoelectronics, chemistry, and physics. In the past 12 months, more than 225,000 simulations have been run on nanoHUB. The only Web 2.0 technology nanoHUB is missing is a social network. Michael McLennan, a senior research scientist for the Office of Information Technology at Purdue, says several social networking tools have been tested on nanoHUB, but none are as popular as the scientific tools. "We're trying to make scientific tools available online, and we're succeeding," McLennan says.
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Students Sample Life of a Researcher
Binghamton University (08/23/07) Coker, Rachel

The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Binghamton University brought together computer science students from schools including Rutgers University and Florida State to gain research experience. The nine students who participated in the inaugural year of the National Science Foundation-sponsored program each received $5,000 and free campus housing for the 10-week program, which matched them with faculty members and graduate students at Binghamton University. "The faculty have a genuine interest in the outcome of the projects," says associate professor of computer science and director of the program Michael Lewis. "They're not just class projects to keep the students busy for a summer." NSF funds REU programs in 19 different subjects, and this summer there were more than 45 sites dedicated to computer and information science and engineering. The REU program is primarily intended to get more students interested in research careers, but it could lead to more collaboration between Binghamton faculty and educators at other schools and an increased interest in graduate school among participating students. "We don't have as many people entering graduate school as I think we should," says associate professor of computer science Patrick Madden. "I see this as a way of giving undergraduates a taste of what graduate school is like and helping them look a bit further off on the horizon to think about a career in research."
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Blueprints Drawn Up for Quantum Computer RAM
New Scientist (08/21/07) Battersby, Stephen

A group of physicists from Italy and the United States has proposed a method for retrieving quantum information from memory, which should make total quantum recall more reliable. Quantum computers have the potential to perform certain calculations at unprecedented speeds, but to perform these calculations effectively the machines will require access to a memory storage system similar to random access memory. Unlike RAM however, which uses bits and assigns each bit to be a 1 or 0, quantum computers use qubits, which can be both a 1 and a 0, known as a quantum superposition. Consequently, in quantum RAM, address qubits, which in normal RAM open and close switches to create a path to a memory cell, would not identify a single memory cell but a certain superposition of all possible memory cells. The problem is that the address qubit controls so many switches simultaneously that the quantum systems would become entangled and highly susceptible to interference form the environment, causing their quantum states to be scrambled and the information to be lost. The solution proposed by Vittorio Giovannetti of the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy, and his colleagues is to send the address down the branching tree of connections that leads to the memory cell so that only one quantum switch is affected at a time. Charles Bennett of IBM's Watson Research Center believes it is a good idea, though he says the system's advantage over conventional addressing is not as clear the researchers suggest. Bennett argues that some conventional addressing schemes do not require every switch to be flipped simultaneously, and that even inactive switches might contribute to interference.
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Most Active Open Source Projects in Codeplex
PlentyofCode (08/14/07)

The author lists the 25 most active and popular open source projects in Microsoft's Codeplex open source hosting site, starting with the AJAX Control Toolkit, which eases the construction and consumption of rich client-side controls and extenders built on the Microsoft AJAX Library and ASP.NET 2.0 AJAX Extensions. Other notable projects include GoTraxx, a program written in C# that plays the game of Go; the SharpMap map rendering and display engine that boasts ease of use; the lightweight, easily extensible and modifiable BlogEngine.NET; and the VMukti P2P Multipoint Real-time Rich Media Collaboration Platform, which is a distributed, P2P, Web 2.0, grid computing, unified communications platform for Web, phone, and IM rich media collaboration and conferencing. Another significant open source project is Ajax.NET Professional, an AJAX framework for Microsoft ASP.NET that will generate proxy classes on client-side JavaScript to initiate techniques on the Web server with full data type support operating on all common Web browsers, including mobile devices. Also listed is Terminals, a multi-tab terminal client that makes it easier to link simultaneously to multiple terminal servers/remote desktops. DDotNet is a "Development for .NET" framework designed to aid all developers to produce better applications, while QuickGraph 2.0 supplies generic directed graph structures and associated algorithms. Additional projects include a new deployment of the Python programming language on the .Net framework (IronPython); a C#-drafted content management platform supported on the Microsoft .NET platform (umbraco); and a series of best practices, templates, Web components, tools, and source code that allows virtually anybody to construct a community Web site based on SharePoint technology for practically any group that shares a common interest (Community Kit for SharePoint).
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German Semantic Web Project Seeks Open-Source Experts
IDG News Service (08/20/07) Blau, John

Germany will launch a competition in November that will allow officials to scout software programming talent for its Semantic Web project, and hopes programmers from the open-source community will participate. "We want to attract bright minds to the project and let them work with the many other experts we have on board from the participating businesses, research institutes, and universities," says Stefan Wess, managing director of Empolis, which serves as coordinator for Theseus. Funded by the German government, Theseus has a budget of $243 million. Prototype Semantic Web technologies will be developed and tested in six application scenarios, including the Alexandria knowledge database that will benefit those involved in publishing, processing, or searching for content. Other scenario applications include Ordo for organizing digital content automatically, Medico for searching technology for medical images, and Texo for enabling business tools to communicate and for facilitating new services based on service-oriented architecture.
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FBI Launches Cybersecurity Project
Government Computer News (08/20/07) Dizard, Wilson P. III

The National Center for Supercomputer Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will host the FBI's National Center for Digital Intrusion Response, a new law enforcement cybersecurity research center. The FBI will provide $3 million to support the first two years of the program, which represents an expansion of the FBI's existing work with the university. "This effort will benefit the scientists, engineers and other researchers who use cyber-resources at NCSA and other federal centers by protecting the cyberinfrastructure they rely on," says NCSA director Thom Dunning. University IT security scholars will work with FBI cybersecurity specialists to understand what capabilities are necessary to detect and investigate cyberattacks, develop new tools, and ensure FBI agents in the field can use the tools effectively. The bureau says NCSA was chosen because it has 22 years of experience protecting high-performance computers from cyber attacks, including developing software for data analysis, visualization, collaboration, and communication. Expanding the bureau's work with the university is a reflection on the changing patterns of crime and national security threats. "While cyberattacks were once considered a specialized niche in law enforcement, today there are digital aspects to many crimes and national security threats; all investigators must be able to pursue criminals operating in cyberspace," the FBI says.
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Data Center in a Box
Scientific American (08/07) Vol. 297, No. 2, P. 90; Waldrop, M. Mitchell

The realization of "cloud computing" will require a major increase in the Internet's size, and Sun Microsystems could be an important player in this regard through Project Blackbox. The effort involves self-contained server farms that offer huge capacities of memory and storage space that can be delivered in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of setting up a traditional computer room of comparable capability. A typical Blackbox system fits into a standard 20-foot shipping container, and uses a power cable and Internet link, along with a water supply and an external chiller for cooling. Up to 250 servers supply as much as 7 terabytes of active memory and over 2 petabytes of disk storage, and Sun advises the use of a dedicated fiber-optic cable as optimal for fulfilling bandwidth needs. There are shock absorbers placed under each computer rack to cushion them from rough landings during shipping. University of California, Berkeley computer scientist David Patterson notes that the proliferation of Blackboxes "could significantly reduce the cost of utility computing--this notion that, in the future, an iPhone or whatever will be the only thing we carry with us, and most of what we do will be an online service."
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